Tag Archives: New York Metropolitans

Albert Spalding on Superstitions

18 Dec

During a game in September of 1882 against the Worcester Ruby Legs, Albert Spalding, Chicago White Stockings President, sat “in the reporters’ stand” at Lakefront Park with a sportswriter from The Chicago Herald:

“The Worcesters had gained a run in the fourth inning, but the home team had been successfully retired for five straight innings.  The Chicagos were playing their best, but ‘luck was dead against them.’”

At that point Chicago outfielder Abner Dalrymple came to where the White Stockings’ president was seated and said:

“’Mr. Spalding, will you move other in some other chair?  That was the seat Harry Wright occupied during the games we had with his club.’  Spalding laughed, but hurried out of his place to a chair further down the line.  The home team made three runs in that inning and won—five to one.”

Abner Dalrymple

Abner Dalrymple

The reporter later asked Spalding about whether all players were superstitious:

“(A)nd he proceeded to explain some of the incidents and conditions supposed to influence the play.

“The players as surely believe that ducks or geese on the home ground presage defeat for that team as they do that an umpire can materially add to the discomfort of a nine,  Dalrymple had great belief that Spalding in Harry Wright’s seat would throw all the bad luck imaginable on the Chicago side.”

The Herald said when the second place Providence Grays came to Chicago that same month, the White Stockings “thought that by donning their old tri-colored caps…they would defeat them, and sure enough, they won three straight games.”

Spalding said it wasn’t limited to his own team:

“(Worcester) Captain (Arthur) Irwin always spits on the coin he tosses up for a choice of position in a game.  Jack Rowe (of the Buffalo Bisons) pulls the little finger of his right hand for luck, and all sorts of chance omens are seized upon by a club for indications of the great triumph they would like to win…(Terry) Larkin, now of the ‘Mets’ (the New York Metropolitans of the League Alliance), had an idea that he would get hurt some time for playing on Friday, and sure enough, in a game one year ago with a college team, he was struck with a ball in the stomach nd was so badly injured that his life was despaired of for a time.”

A.G. Spalding

A.G. Spalding

The 1882 White Stockings, due more to talent than superstition, won their third straight National League pennant beating Providence by three games.

Erastus Wiman’s Trophy

20 May

A trophy presented to the 1886 American Association Champions was created as a peace-offering to heal bitter feelings in the wake of one of professional baseball’s early controversies.

Erastus Wiman was a former Canadian journalist who had become a railroad, ferry and entertainment magnate on Staten Island.  Wiman, who promoted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and a circus at his Staten Island Amusement Company, wanted to add baseball, at the adjacent St. George Cricket Grounds, to the entertainment offerings on the island in order to increase commuter traffic.

 

The St. George Cricket Grounds--home of the 1886-87 Metropolitans. The Giants would play a handful of home games there in 1889.

The St. George Cricket Grounds–home of the 1886-87 Metropolitans. The Giants would play a handful of home games there in 1889.

In December of 1885 he purchased the American Association New York Metropolitans from John Day for $25,000; Day also owned the New York Giants in the National League.

The other American Association owners claimed the sale was merely a scheme to take the Mets out of Manhattan and thus weaken the Association, and immediately expelled the team and began making arrangements to assign the team’s players to other organizations.

Erasmus Wiman

Erasmus Wiman

Wiman went to court in Philadelphia and was granted an injunction.  His new players stood with him and agreed not to seek contracts with other teams until the issue was resolved, and George F. Williams, the general manager of his company, accused American Association owners of being the schemers, telling The New York Times:

“The real motive was a scheme on the part of Charles Byrne, of the Brooklyn club.  He knew that a strong club on Staten Island would lessen the attendance at Washington Park, in Brooklyn, and besides this he was anxious to secure two of players (first baseman Dave) Orr and (outfielder James “Chief”) Roseman…the only way in which to gain his point was to act in concert with others who are also anxious to get the services of some of our men.”

Later in the month, Judge Martin Russell Thayer ruled that there was no merit to the American  Associations’ expulsion of the Mets, The Times said:

“(Thayer) sent the ‘Mets’ all the way around the bases, and landed them safely home in the association, there to stay as long as the organization holds together as an aggregation of baseball clubs.”

Despite the victory in court, bad feelings between Wiman and the other owners remained throughout the winter and spring.

In April Wiman announced that he had ordered a trophy, described by The Sporting Life as “solid silver, 26 inches high, representing a batsman in position to bat a pitched ball. The whole will be enclosed in plate glass case.”

Newspaper drawing of Wiman's Trophy

Newspaper drawing of Wiman’s Trophy

Various reports put the trophy’s value between $1,000 and $2,000.

According to a wire service article that ran in several papers across the country, Wiman ordered the trophy for two reasons:

“(F)irst, to show that he had no ill feelings towards the members of the association because of the bitter legal fight which he encountered on entering it, and second, as a stimulant to extraordinary exertion by the various clubs in order that they might possess so valuable a work of art.”

Wiman’s Metropolitans would never have any hope of winning his trophy.  They finished in 7th place in 1886 and 1887, never drew well on Staten Island, and disbanded at the end of the ’87 season.

Brooklyn’s Charles Byrne got the last laugh; he purchased the team’s remaining assets to protect his territorial control and acquired seven Mets players, including Orr, Darby O’Brien and Paul Radford, who helped lead the team to a second place finish in 1888.  O’Brien, Brooklyn’s captain, would lead the team to a championship in 1889

Wiman would quickly fall upon hard times.  By 1893, the man who was reputed to have been worth between $2 and $3 million, was nearly broke.  In 1894, he was arrested for forgery and embezzlement, and according to The Times “was locked up in the tombs (NYC’s House of Detention).”  Wiman was found guilty, but the conviction was reversed.

The Times said that despite attempts to start businesses “He never recovered his ability to engage successfully in business after these reverses…and he died a poor man”

There are no references to the trophy after an 1886 mention in The Sporting Life that it was presented to the St. Louis Browns.

“California Wonder”

30 Apr

Two West Coast ballplayers dubbed “California Wonder” by the press made their Major League debuts less than a week apart in 1887.  One went on to be one of the best leadoff hitters of his era; the other remains almost completely unknown.

George Van Haltren was a 21-year-old left-handed pitcher, outfielder and first baseman who had played two seasons with the Oakland franchise in the California and California State Leagues.

James McMullin, birth date unknown, had pitched for Mike Finn’s San Francisco Pioneers in 1886.

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Pioneers

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Pioneers

Van Haltren’s rights were acquired by the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, but because of his mother’s illness he said he would instead play for the San Francisco Haverlys.  The Chicago White Stockings traded for Van Haltren in April, but he still refused.  The Sporting Life said “the California Wonder will not come east,” quoted him saying:

“No, I will not play with Chicago this season; but if my left arm holds out and my parents are blessed with good health I will be open to Eastern engagements next season.”

The White Stockings threatened to have him blacklisted for not reporting but Van Haltren dug his heels in; only changing his mind after his mother passed away in May.

The Chicago Inter Ocean announced that he had arrived in town on June 25 and would be making his debut for the White Stockings on the two days later:

“(Van Haltren) at one time retired the Pioneer Club of San Francisco with a hit, and struck out seventeen men.  If he can continue this record here the Chicagos will come out of the race this season with another set of figures to put on the big flag at the park.”

Van Haltren’s debut was not good.  He walked 16 Boston Beaneaters and lost 17 to 11.  He finished the season 11-7, and would spend one more season as a full-time pitcher; going 13-13 in 1888 (he was 15-10, splitting time between the mound and outfield with the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders in the Players league in 1890).  Van Haltren would distinguish himself as one of the game’s best leadoff men, hitting better than .300 every year from 1889-1901, except for 1892 when he hit .293.

Van Haltren ended his career in 1903 with 2544 hits.

George Van Haltren

George Van Haltren

McMullin’s debut was no better than Van Haltren’s.

He began the 1887 season with the Pioneers, but was acquired in June by the new York Mutuals of the American Association.

When McMullin joined the club The Sporting Life said:

“The Mets have got their new California pitcher and like him well in practice.  He has plenty of speed.”

McMullin made his debut on July 2 against the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  The New York Times said of his performance, under the headline, “A ‘Wonder’ Exploded.  The Mets’ California Pitcher A Failure:”

“The debut of McMullen, the ‘California Wonder,’ was made (in Cincinnati) today in the presence of nearly 7,000 people, who went into hysterics from laughing at the awful exhibition given by the Wonder and his support.  He was utterly unable to get the ball over the plate and was miserably supported in the field.  After the third inning he retired to right field and there made a couple of errors.”

He gave up eight runs, made four errors and had two wild pitches in a 21-7 drubbing.

The box score from McMullin's debut.

The box score from McMullin’s debut.

McMullin only made two more appearances for the Metropolitans, and while he was credited with wins in both games his performance was no better; in his eight-day, three-game career he pitched 21 innings, gave up  25 runs (18 earned),  25 hits, walked 19, and struck out 2.  He made a total of five errors, and had one hit in 12 at bats.  The Mets released him on July 10.

And with that McMullin disappeared—there is no record of him having pitched anywhere after he left New York, there’s no record of whether he  threw and batted left-handed or right-handed, no pictures survive, and no record of when or where he died.  Another enigmatic figure of professional baseball’s early years.

“Leather-Fisted Phil”

12 Apr

“Leather –Fisted Phil” is what Phillip J. Powers was called in his 1914 Associated Press obituary which said:

“(Powers) was famous for his ability to stop the swiftest throws of the league’s star pitchers.”

He most likely earned the nickname in 1877 when, like many other catchers of the era, he began using a small, leather pad on his hand while with the London Tecumsehs of the International Association.

After the London team disbanded in August of 1878 Powers joined the Chicago White Stockings.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“He is a tall young fellow…He is described as a good catcher, but liable to get hurt, fair at the bat, and a genial man on the grounds.”

Powers would spend parts of seven seasons and 155 games in the National League and American Association with the Boston Red Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Cincinnati Red Stockings and Baltimore Orioles, hitting .180.  In between his engagements as a player Powers was an umpire.

It was as an umpire that he made a name for himself, but it probably wasn’t what he had in mind.  Few umpires, even in an era when members of the “profession” were poorly trained and underpaid, were the target of as much criticism as Powers.

In 1881 he began the season as a National League umpire.  By July he had become a target in several cities,

The Detroit News said:

“Phil Powers has acquired reputation enough in the last two weeks to last him a lifetime.  The erroneous umpiring he did here, people were inclined to regard as errors of judgment, but to say the least his ‘mistakes’ have become so numerous that his utter unfitness for the position he holds is unquestioned.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer took the criticism even further:

“Powers is said to have been offered $150 to play ball (for the Detroit Wolverines) for one month, but refused it.  As an umpire he cannot, if square, earn more than $15 or $20 a week and expenses; and must take the chance at that of being chosen an umpire.  He preferred to be an umpire.  Several of his decisions on Saturday were grossly unfair, and, what is worse, they bore heavily on Cleveland.  They were so one-sided that many of the spectators believed he deliberately purposed to give the game to Troy.”

Despite the ill feelings in Cleveland, Powers joined the Blues in August and caught five games for the team after Michael “Doc” Kennedy was injured and John Clapp was “called away by an illness in his family.”   He finished the season with the New York Metropolitans in the Eastern Championship Association.

Powers again became a full-time player from 1882-1885, and was part of the Red Stockings American Association championship team in 1882.  He was released by Cincinnati in July of 1885, signed with the Baltimore Orioles and was again released the following month.

1882reds

1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings, Phil Powers standing 2nd from left

Powers was signed by the St. Louis Browns in the spring of 1886, but released before the beginning of the season, and was added to the National League umpiring staff in August.  He again worked as an umpire through the 1887 season, left to return to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumsehs in the International Association, but again returned to the National League as an umpire in August of 1888.   He came back just in time to find himself in the middle of a controversy involving two Hall of Famers.

New York Giants catcher/captain William “Buck” Ewing was hit on the wrist by a ball during a game with the White Stockings in Chicago.  In 1888 the opposing team’s captain had to agree that an injury was serious to necessitate a substitution; Chicago’s “Cap” Anson said he did not agree to a substitution when backup catcher “Big Bill” Brown entered the game in the 6th inning.  Anson appealed to the umpire, and according to The Chicago Inter Ocean, “(Powers) said that Captain Ewing was not so badly hurt that he could not play.”

After a heated argument, during which The Inter Ocean said Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner,” Powers declared the game “forfeited to Chicago by a score of 9 to 0.”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Powers had been involved in a similar situation in 1886, refusing to allow Philadelphia Quakers catcher “Deacon” McGuire to leave a game after an injury.  The Chicago Tribune said Quakers captain Arthur Irwin “told McGuire to catch ‘away back’ (from the plate).” The Tribune said Irwin’s actions created a “scene” and “pandemonium reigned,” until Anson agreed to allow Philadelphia to replace McGuire.  White Stockings President A.G. Spalding “preferred charges against umpire Powers” for losing control of the game.

The substitution rule was changed in 1891, putting an end to controversies regarding the replacement of injured players.

But controversies involving Powers continued.  More on Monday.

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