Tag Archives: Nig Cuppy

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #25

15 Aug

“Used to Come Upon Field Staggeringly Drunk”

Arthur Irwin was a scout for the New York Highlanders in 1912 when he declared to William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star that, “Players who are hard drinkers in the big leagues are scarce now.”

irwin

Arthur Irwin

Irwin said a combination of “the improvement in morals” of players, and more so the fact that current players were “money mad” were the reason:

“Long ago the hail fellow and the good fellow, who believed that drinking was the jolliest part of life, were numerous in the big leagues, and there were surely some wonderful soaks in the profession.  Stars whose names will shine forever used to come upon the field staggering drunk, and other stars who had sense enough not to exhibit their follies in public would wait till the game was over and then tank up till dawn.”

Irwin told Phelon about King Kelly’s American Association team:

“The club that tried to play ball under King Kel in 1891 at Cincinnati was about the limit.  They made their headquarters at a saloon across the street from the ball park and some of them could be found asleep there at almost all hours when not actually in the game.  Some of the champion Chicago White Stockings and some of the old St. Louis Browns were likewise marvels on the jag, and it has become a baseball legend that the Browns defeated Anson’s men for the world’s championship (in 1886) because (John) Clarkson, Kelly and two or three others were beautifully corned.”

Clarkson won his first two starts of the series, but lost his next two.  Kelly hit just .208 in the series and St. Louis won four games to two.

Jennings’ Six Best

In 1916, Hughie Jennings “wrote” a short piece for the Wheeler syndicate that appeared in several papers across the country, about the six best pitchers he faced:

hughiejennings

Hughie Jennings

Jack Taylor and Nig Cuppy had fair speed and a fine curve ball, with the added advantage of a slow ball, and good control.  The latter, I contend is the most important asset a pitcher can possess.  My six greatest pitchers are:

Amos Rusie

Jack Taylor

Cy Seymour

Denton (Cy) Young

Charles “Kid” Nichols

Nig Cuppy

“Rusie, Nichols and Young had wonderful speed and fast breaking curves.  Cy Seymour also belonged to this case.”

“Batters Might as Well Hang up Their Sticks”

Add Ned Hanlon to the long list of prognosticators who were sure a rule change would be the death of the game—in this case, the decision in 1887 that abolished the rule allowing batters to call for high or low pitches.

hanlon

Ned Hanlon

 

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

 “Hanlon of the Detroits says the abolition of the high and low ball was a fatal mistake, and the batters might as well hang up their sticks.  Ned argues that as the pitcher has the space between the knee and the shoulder in which to throw the ball, all he has got to do is vary the height of his delivery with every ball he pitches, and thus completely delude the batter.  He claims that pitchers capable of doing head work will have a picnic, and that Baldwin will be particularly successful.”

 

“Cuppy’s Coolness”

13 Jun

Chief Zimmer said:

“It would be interesting to know how many games Nig Cuppy ever won for Cleveland by sheer coolness.”

He told The Cleveland Press in 1904:

zimmer

Chief Zimmer

“I have caught him in many an important game, but I never saw him give the slightest indication of nervousness, no matter how critical the situation.”

To illustrate Cuppy’s “coolness,” Zimmer told a likely apocryphal story from an 1895 game—the details don’t match any game from that season:

cuppy

George “Nig” Cuppy

“At Baltimore one day we had the Orioles beaten 2 to 1 in the first half of the 11th inning.  In their half the Baltimores got three men on bases with two out.  Then came up Hughey Jennings, who generally managed to get hit with a pitched ball about every other time at bat (Jennings led the National League in HBP from 1894-1898 and holds the all-time record, 287).

hughiejennings

Hughie Jennings

“Two strikes were called and then three balls, the crowd meanwhile going into a delirium of delight.  Then Cuppy beckoned to me and I started in to meet him.  Naturally, I thought he wanted to discuss the kind of a ball to serve Hughey net, but all he said was:

‘”Give me a chew of tobacco, and be —– quick about it.’

“’I handed him a big handful of fine cut then went back to my position.  Jennings was fairly bending over the plate, hoping to be hit with the ball and force in the tying run.  Cuppy, cool and collected, looked up for my signal, and I called for a waist-high ball straight across.

“The smack of the ball in my glove was simultaneous with Umpire Tim Hurst’s incisive ‘three strikes,’ and the game was over.

“’That’s fine tobacco, Chief, said Nig as he came in.  Where do you buy it?’”

“Robison Laughs at Pitcher George Cuppy’s Threat”

8 Jun

George “Nig” Cuppy staged an unusual holdout before the 1897 season. He sent a letter to a friend in Cleveland which was published by The Cleveland Press:

“Before leaving the country I thought it best to write briefly in the way of explanation. You will not see my name in any score card this summer—possibly never again. I intend to enlist with a party of friends in the Cuban army. I expect to leave Logansport (Indiana) for Cuba December 26.”

cuppy

Cuppy

Cuppy said he would join the Cuban rebels—who had just lost their highest ranking officer Lt. General Jose Antonio Maceo y Grajales–fighting for their independence from Spain.  Cuppy, whose middle name was Maceo, was often referred to by sportswriters as “The Cuban Warrior,” or “The Cuban Hero,” because of his famous namesake.

The following day, The Cleveland Plain Dealer talked to Cleveland Spiders owner Frank Dehass Robison about Cuppy’s plans:

“President Robison laughs at pitcher George Cuppy’s threat to join the Cuban army.  He doesn’t for an instant entertain the idea that Cuppy is serious in his announced determination to go to the rescue of Maceo’s followers.”

Robison said:

“I am at a loss to know how we can fill his place. You see, Cuppy has for a long time been working on a big enterprise.  He proposes to build a hotel and has a great scheme to save on the ground lease.  He intends to have only one room on a floor and to build the hotel 126 stories high.”

robison

Robison

Robison said Cuppy’s building would include 125 elevators so “guests will be saved the annoyance of stopping,” and said that his pitcher had attempted to get him to invest in the plan:

“’It seems he was unsuccessful, for this is what I hear from him,’ and Mr. Robison handed out a telegram, under a Logansport date which read as follows:

“’I’m off for Cuba.  Will sell my hotel scheme to (General Valeriano) Welyer (Spanish Governor of Cuba) for Spanish hospital.  Cup.”

Robison might not have taken Cuppy seriously, but others did.  His hometown paper, The Logansport Journal said:

“(Cuppy’s) friend turned the letter over to a newspaper correspondent, who telegraphed he news far and wide…And now George’s troubles have fairly begun.  He received letters by the dozen yesterday from fellows who want to join his party.”

Cuppy might have preferred Cuba.  After winning 120 games in his first five seasons, Cuppy hurt his arm in 1897 and won just 42 games in his final five seasons.

The Decline of Baseball, 1899

8 Jan

Late in the 1899 season, The Chicago Tribune editorialized on the state of the game.  The paper was convinced that baseball’s best days were behind it:

“Once upon a time this city put on mourning when its ball club lost a game and when the club returned from a victorious tour it had a Dewey welcome.  Men left stores and offices to go to the ball field.  They knew the players on the home team and exulted in their powers.  There is no more of that.  There is no longer any civic pride in the local team.  Business men no longer attend the games.  In this city and in other cities baseball has ceased to be a high-class sport.  It has become a low-grade pastime.  It is patronized by the class of people who are interested in bicycle races, long-distance pedestrian contests, gamblers, horse races and poolrooms.  Baseball, once the sport of men and women of taste, is now the diversion of hoodlums.”

As for why the game was no longer of interest to “men and women of taste,” The Tribune said:

“There is no room for doubt as to what has pulled it down from its former high state.  Commercialism in part has done it.  The players have become chattels.  Teams are bought and sold and are transferred from city to city as if they were livestock.  The men who are playing in Chicago this year may be playing in Cleveland or New York the next.  That cuts up all sense of local pride in a club…There have been teams which really belonged to Chicago.  Of late years, there have simply been organizations of hirelings whose owners instructed them to hail from here.

“Professional baseball is in the hands of a few men whose sole object is to make all they can out of a sport they have ruined.  There is no competition among them.  That championship, in the winning of which cities took so much pride once, has become a farce.”

The actions of Frank DeHass and Martin Stanford “Stanley” Robison was a particular source of the paper’s ire. The Robison brothers, owners of the Cleveland Spiders, purchased the bankrupt St. Louis Browns and transferred Cleveland’s best players, including Cy Young, Nig Cuppy, and Jesse Burkett to the St. Louis club, now called the Perfectos.  What was left of the Spiders finished with a 20-134 record.

 “Sometimes one man owns two clubs and makes draft on one to help out the other. If it becomes evident that Cleveland must be at the tail of the procession, its best men are shifted over to the St. Louis organization, both being under one ownership.  Requisitions are made on Baltimore for the benefit of Brooklyn and on New York for that of Boston.  No city can have any feeling of city proprietorship in a club under such circumstances.”

The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos

The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos

The behavior of fans was of equal concern:

“Rowdyism has come in along with commercialism and has finished what interest was left in the game. Quiet, decent people can no longer go to baseball games because of the vulgarity and ruffianism displayed there.”

The Tribune felt current players were of lower moral character than those of the previous generation:

The morals of the players have deteriorated.  They used to try to behave like sportsmen.  They act now like foul-tongued bullies.  When a question comes up for the umpire to settle, the players surround him and blackguard and threaten him.  He is fortunate if he escapes without bruises.  Fair decisions cannot be expected from a man in danger of being mobbed.  Occasionally the contending players come to blows and the spectators, who went to see a game of ball, have to witness a game of slugging, garnished with profanity.”

How low had the game gone?

“Baseball has fallen so low that gamblers do not think it is worth paying any attention to.  They have not dropped it because they fancy it is not ‘on the square,’ but because it has become an uninteresting, second-class sport.  It does not interest them now any more than a race between professional bicyclists does.  Baseball has become a recreation of the people whom commercialism, vulgarity, and Rowdyism do not displease.”

The Tribune continued their crusade against the “uninteresting” sport a month later, with an “account of the more disgraceful of the many rows witnessed by spectators of baseball games.”

Chief and Cy

19 Dec

Charles “Chief” Zimmer caught Denton True “Cy” Young’s first Major League game; an 8-1 victory for the Cleveland Spiders over Cap Anson’s Chicago Colts.

Years later, Davis Hawley, a Cleveland banker and hotel magnate who also owned a minority share of the Spiders and served as the team’s secretary, related a story about Young’s debut:

“The night of Young’s first National League game, he complained to me that although he had let Anson’s team down with a few hits, he had not had his usual speed.”

Hawley who had watched him pitch in the Tri-State League asked why he felt that way.

“Well, down in Canton the catchers could not hold me I was so fast, but this man Zimmer didn’t have any trouble at all, so I guess I didn’t have much speed.”

Zimmer would go on to catch 247 of Young’s starts through 1898, including 19 shutouts; second in both categories to Lou Criger, who played with Young in Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston.

Zimmer would catch Young a few more times after 1898.

In 1921 the 54-year-old Young pitched two shutout innings, with the 60-year-old Zimmer catching, in a game between Cleveland Major League legends and amateur stars staged as part of Cleveland’s 135th anniversary celebration.  In addition to Young and Zimmer, Nap Lajoie, Earl Moore, Bill Bradley, Charlie Hickman, Nig Cuppy and Elmer Flick were among the participants.

Earl Moore, Cy Young, Bill Bradley, Charlie Hickman, Nap Lajoie and Chief Zimmer at the 1923 game.

Earl Moore, Cy Young, Bill Bradley, Charlie Hickman, Nap Lajoie and Chief Zimmer at the 1923 game.

The game was such a success that for the next four years it became an annual event at League Park (called Dunn Field during the 1920s); Young pitched the first two innings of each game with Zimmer catching. The event benefited the Cleveland Amateur Baseball Association medical fund.

Young always shared credit for his success with his catchers.  In the 1945 book “My Greatest Day in Baseball As told to John P. Carmichael and Other Noted Sportswriters,” he said:

“Every great pitcher usually has a great catcher, like Mathewson had Roger Bresnahan and Miner Brown had Johnny Kling. Well, in my time I had two. First, there was Chief Zimmer, when I was with Cleveland in the National League, and then there was Lou Criger, who caught me at Boston and handled my perfect game.”

A little more “Chief” tomorrow.

The Human Rain Delay

7 Nov

 “Baseball stars may come and they may go, but the name of Nig Cuppy will live forever.  There will be greater pitchers than Cuppy—but no slower ones.”—The Pittsburgh Press, 1910.

George Joseph “Nig” Cuppy (born Koppe) lived in the shadow of teammate Cy Young—Cuppy won 150 games for the Cleveland Spiders and St. Louis Perfectos from 1892-1899, Young won 231.

While Cuppy was successful, he was best known for being the slowest working pitcher of his era.

How Slow?  “Painfully slow,” according to The Toledo News-Bee; other contemporary accounts mention crowds counting in unison as they timed Cuppy between each pitch.  It was not unusual for a Cuppy pitched game to last more than two hours during an era when shorter games were the rule.

George “Nig” Cuppy

Almost all mentions of Cuppy attribute his success to his slow work.  Jake Morse’s Baseball Magazine described the effect he had on batters:

“(Cuppy) stood holding the ball, and holding it, and holding it some more. The maddened batsmen fumed and fretted and smote the plate with their sticks; the umpires barked and threatened; the fans counted and counted, often up to 56 or 59—and then Cuppy let go of the ball. By this time the batter, if at all nervous or excitable, was so sore that he slammed wildly at the pitch, and seldom hit it.”

While Cuppy remained a very good pitcher throughout the 1890s, he never quite matched his rookie numbers (28-13, 2.51 in 1892), and suffered from the 1893 elimination of the pitcher’s box.

Cuppy’s numbers dropped off dramatically after 1896, and his career came to an end with his release from the Boston Americans in August of 1901.  He rejected several minor league offers and returned home Elkhart, Indiana.

Cuppy and his former catcher and fellow Elkhart native, Lou Criger opened a pool hall called The Lucky Horseshoe.  Cuppy operated that business and a cigar store until his death in 1922.