Tag Archives: Northwest League

“There is only one Thing against him—he is Very Dark”

13 Jul

Vernon Ayau became professional baseball’s first player of Chinese descent when he appeared briefly in the Northwest League in 1917.

But he was the not the first Chinese player a West Coast team attempted to sign.  Two years earlier, Walter McCredie of the Portland Beavers tried to bring one Ayau’s teammates with the Chinese Athletic Club of Honolulu to the Pacific Coast League.

Fong Lang Akana was born in Hawaii in 1889 to a Chinese father and Hawaiian mother.

In the winter of 1914, McCredie announced that he had signed Akana.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Akana is a big, rangy fellow and bats left-handed.  He weighs about 180 pounds, according to the dope given to Mack.”

Lang Akana

Lang Akana

The Oregon Daily Journal said he was 5’ 10” and quoted Bert Lowry, the sports editor at The Honolulu Commercial Advertiser:

“He swings from the left side and hits the ball hard at all times, Akana is well-educated, has pleasing manners and is willing to learn.”

Two former major leaguers Jack Bliss and Justin “Mike” Fitzgerald, barnstorming with Pacific Coast Leaguers in Hawaii, were impressed with Akana.  Bliss said he was a great fielder who “had eyes all over his head.”  Fitzgerald said:

“He is a good fielder and very fast.  He is by far the best player in the islands.”

One additional observation from Lowry and Fitzgerald foretold that there would be trouble ahead:

Lowery: “He is a bit dark.”

Fitzgerald: “There is only one thing against him—he is very dark.”

McCredie told The Daily Journal that Akana would likely join the club at their Fresno, California training camp in the spring, the paper noted:

“Cubans, Indians, Poles and Italians have made good in baseball, but no Chinese or Japanese has yet won his spangles.”

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

It took less than a month for the plan to bring Akana to Portland to begin to fall apart.

The San Francisco Chronicle, while getting Akana’s name and position wrong, reported that:

“Portland players won’t play with a Chinese.”

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said:

“Narrow racial prejudices, or possibly the fear that if the bars are let down someone will lose his regular job, threatens to work a grave injustice to Lang Akana.”

In late December, McCredie was ready to bend to the pressure, telling Roscoe Fawcett the sports editor of The Oregonian:

“His skin’s too dark…The Coast Leaguers who played at Honolulu on that recent barnstorming trip came back vowing boycott.  I have received a couple of letters from players telling me Akana is as dark as Jack Johnson, so I guess I will have to give him a release.”

Walter McCredie

Walter McCredie

Pitcher “Seattle” Bill James, who also played against Akana in Hawaii, disputed the account that players were refusing to play with Akana, telling The Oregonian:

“I don’t think any ballplayer will object to playing on the same team as him.  But he might have some trouble around the hotels.  He is not black like a negro, more sepia colored—and his hair is straight.”

But in January, McCredie, who was by far the most progressive PCL magnates on the issue of race, switched direction, and vowed to keep Akana when Fawcett showed him a photograph of the outfielder:

“Dark or not dark, we’ll  have Lang Akana report to us at Fresno…This photograph shows him to be extremely dark-skinned…(PCL umpire) Jack McCarthy saw him at Honolulu this winter and says Lang is just as white as most ballplayers after they have been out all summer in the sunshine.

“He doesn’t look any blacker than Barney Joy, who used to pitch for San Francisco.”

Apparently, McCredie found a way out without explicitly saying he refused to put a Chinese player on his club.  Shortly before the Beavers headed to California, The Oregonian said:

“The Hawaiian, Akana, will not be considered unless he pays his own expenses to the spring camp at Fresno.”

The paper had said earlier that it would cost $175 to bring Akana over from Hawaii.  Akana, whose father was a doctor, and whose family, according to several accounts were “wealthy,” likely could afford the cost of transportation. So, it is unknown whether he refused to pay for his own way or if the paper’s account was incorrect.

The Beavers went to California and started the season without Akana, but there was still talk of his joining the team.  In May, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said McCredie was still considering adding Akana to the roster:

“Portland is wavering between the first and second division…’What we need here are bat artists,’ writes the sporting editor (Fawcett) of The Oregonian to a Honolulan…Naturally, Lang is watching the Portland field from a distance;  Manager Mac has not made good and Lang is playing the ‘watchful waiting’ polity to perfection.”

“Summed up, the situation now is: if Portland can gain a foothold in the Coast race within the next month or six weeks, it is probable that Akana will celebrate the Fourth of July and Christmas in Honolulu, if not then a demand for strengthening the team with a few good hitters will be forthcoming…’McCredie is silent on the Akana contract,’ (Fawcett) continued, ‘and I think that the Hawaiian-Chinese’s chances to play with the Beavers are good, unless Portland takes a sudden leap upward in the percentage column soon.”

The prediction was wrong.  Portland struggled all season, finishing in last place with a 78-116 record, but the call never went out to Hawaii for Akana to join the team.

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

McCredie finally saw Akana in person two years later when he brought the Beavers to Honolulu for spring training.  Fawcett said in The Oregonian that “Akana played left field and did not show up particularly well, owing it is said, that he had played little ball for several months.”

Akana continued to play in Honolulu—interrupted by service in the Hawaii National Guard in 1917—into the 1920s, but was “Too dark” to ever appear in a professional game.

Biographical notes: Some sources, including his Hawaii Birth and Christening (B&C) record list his name as Lan rather than Lang, the same B&C record lists his complete name as C. Fong Lan Akana.  Several sources, including the B&C record list his date of birth as April 15, 1890, several others, including his WWI and WWII Draft Registrations list the date of birth as April 15, 1889.

“If I ever get this Football Junk out of my Head”

23 May

George Henry Capron had a brief and relatively undistinguished professional baseball career.  He said football was what held him back.

Capron first made a name for himself at the University of Minnesota in 1906.  He excelled at football, track and field and baseball, The Minneapolis Tribune called him “a ten-second track man, a weight thrower, and a splendid ballplayer.”

The Golden Gophers football team was 2-2-1 that season; Capron, the starting halfback and drop kicker scored 44 of the team’s 55 points.  He accounted for all 12 of his team’s points (three four-point field goals) in a loss to Amos Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago team.  The Tribune said Capron “Figured in two-thirds of the offensive plays” for Minnesota.

Capron

George Capron

The Chicago Daily News said of Capron:

“(He) is an athlete of exceptional muscular development, although not above the normal size (the 5’ 10” 185 lbs).  he can punt from 50 to 60 yards with little effort with either foot.  The ball after leaving his toe acquires a most peculiar spiral motion, which makes it exceedingly hard to hold…In the work of scoring fielding goals, which appears to be Capron’s specialty, he is unquestionably a star.”

Capron kicking

Capron kicking

Early in 1908, there were rumors that Capron would leave Minnesota at the end of the baseball season and transfer to an Eastern school.  The New York Times said West Point football coach Bob Forbes was attempting to get Capron to accept an appointment, The New York Sun said he was headed to Dartmouth.

Capron chose instead to stay at Minnesota and was unanimously elected captain of the football team on September 14—although later the university would claim he wasn’t elected, but simply called local newspapers claiming an election had been held.  Two days after the “election,’ a scandal caused him to quit the team.

A story in The Chicago Tribune charged that Capron had played professional baseball for the Meridian Ribboners in the Cotton States League during the summer under the name “George Robb,” other reports said he played under the name “George Rapp.”  (The Sporting Life identified him as “Rapp” and “Robb” at various times in 1908).

The story also claimed that he met with “Captain Adrian C. Anson.  The later inquired of Capron’s ability as a ballplayer among local college men.”  Capron, the paper said, wanted to join the semi-pro Anson’s Colts.

Anson told paper:

“I didn’t sign Capron because he didn’t put on a suit and come out…I don’t remember that he said he played professional ball before.  I don’t care, anyhow.  There is no such thing any longer as a strictly amateur college team…They want their real names withheld.  I don’t care, I tell them.  (As long as) they can hit the ball on the snoot and can field decently.”

Sunday's "idol" "Cap" Anson

Sunday’s “idol” “Cap” Anson

Capron denied the charges.   He claimed he had never played professionally and “had never in his life” met Anson.  His denials were quickly dismissed, as his identity was something of an open secret in the South—his election as Minnesota’s captain was reported by several papers, including The Atlanta Constitution, The Atlanta Journal, and The (Nashville) Tennessean –each mentioned his election and that “he played (with Meridian) under the name of Robb,” and that his contract had been purchased by the Mobile Seagulls in the Southern Association.

Faced with overwhelming evidence, he admitted he had played professionally, but continued to deny that he had met with Anson.  It was also reported that Capron had been drafted by the New York Giants, The Minneapolis Tribune said:

(John) McGraw drafted Capron on the recommendations of one of the New York club scouts…but if McGraw was informed as to the real identity of the brilliant young diamond performer he has carefully kept the facts under his bonnet.”

He left school for good in September, and The Sporting Life reported he was “captaining a professional football team in Minneapolis” that fall.   He also admitted, in a letter to the National Commission that he had played professionally under the assumed names “Kipp” and “Katt” for the Mattoon Giants in the Eastern Illinois League in 1907 and in the Northern League with the Crookston Crooks 1905.

In the spring of 1909, The New York World said:

“Capron, the former diamond star of the University of Minnesota, has notified the management of the New York Nationals and of the Mobile Southern League team that he will not join either of them, but has decided to play outlaw ball.”

Capron signed with the Seattle Turks of the Northwest League and immediately went on a tear.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said he was hitting a league-leading .324 in his first 19 games.

He also found time to elope with the former Ednah Race, a Minneapolis resident.

At the end of the season, with his average down to .275, Capron told a reporter for The Post Intelligencer:

“’If I ever get this football junk out of my head, I’ll make good in baseball yet.’”

The problem he said, was taking out his frustration:

“’When I got mad when playing football I could charge the line or make a fierce tackle and let off steam,’ continued the greatest kicker Minnesota ever had, ‘but when I get mad playing baseball it is back to the bench for me with a fine plastered on me like as not.’

“’It doesn’t do a man a bit of good to get mad while playing baseball…that rough stuff does not go.”

The paper agreed:

“So many times during the season just closed, Capron was no good to himself or the team because he could not see anything but red and he wanted to fight someone or something.

“Capron had a world of natural ability.  He is far above the ordinary as a fielder and he is a dangerous man at the bat.”

Capron

Capron

Capron was sold to the Vancouver Beavers the following season, but was limited to 35 games as the result of a knee injury.  He hit just .207.

The following spring, the 25-year-old said he was finished.  He told The (Portland) Oregonian:

“No more baseball for me.  I am going to retire.”

The paper said “His teammates sniffed” and were sure he would return, but noted that “he is being sought by several clubs of the Northwest league this year and was tendered contracts by Seattle, Vancouver, and Tacoma, but has returned them unsigned.”  He said his new wife had encouraged the decision.

Capron left baseball and football for real estate.  He sat out the 1911 season.

In January of 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Barney Dreyfuss, president of the Pittsburgh Pirates sent a personal letter and contract to Capron:

“The contract is a ‘blank’ paper with the salary figure to be filled in by the recipient.

“Apparently, Dreyfuss was prompted in this move by some strong boosting out on the Pacific Coast, for in his letter he told George that information had reached him that a first-class ballplayer was going to waste.”

But despite the blank contract, Capron told The Oregonian:

“I guess (Dreyfuss) knows I can murder (right-handed pitching).  My wife says no, however, so it’s me for the bleachers.”

Capron also told the paper he expected his brother Ralph—a former Minnesota Quarterback– to make the major leagues soon—Ralph played one game that season with the Pirates and two the following year with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Following in his brother’s footsteps, Ralph abruptly quit baseball at age 25, before the 1915 season.  George told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review, his brother “expects soon to marry the daughter of a wealthy Minneapolis merchant, who is strongly opposed to a professional athlete for a son-in-law.”  Opposition from his father-in-law doesn’t appear to have stopped Ralph from dabbling in professional football.

Capron moved from the Pacific Northwest to Long Beach, and later Fresno, California, and found real estate to be more lucrative than either baseball or football.  In 1964, he was worth more than $30 million dollars, when, after 55 years of marriage, Ednah was awarded a $16 million dollar divorce settlement which The Associated Press said was “the largest ever.”

He died on October 26, 1972.

Alamazoo Jennings

16 Apr

Alfred Gorden Jennings earned his nickname the day after his only professional game, as the catcher for the  Milwaukee Grays in 1878; and it was given to him by on of the most famous baseball writers of the era.

The Grays had three catchers in 1878; Charlie Bennett, Will Foley and Bill Hobart, all of whom were injured on August 15 while Milwaukee was in Cincinnati for a series with the Reds.   Grays Manager Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman found Jennings, who had been playing with local semi-pro and amateur teams for a decade, and put him in the lineup for the August 15 game.

Pitcher Mike Golden was on the mound for Milwaukee, and Jennings told sportswriter Rem Mulford Jr. years later:

“We were all mixed in our signs.  I signed for an outcurve and got an inshoot which broke a couple of fingers.  ‘Go ahead,’ I said, ‘ I’ll stay here all day even if I have to stop ‘em with my elbows.  You can’t drive me away.’  Well they didn’t.”

Jennings was officially credited with 10 passed balls (he claimed he had 17), a record that stood until 1884.

The morning after the game in The Cincinnati Enquirer, the headline on Oliver Perry “O. P.” Caylor’s story read:

Alamazoo Jennings Makes His Debut Behind the Bat

His Gall Holds Out but His Hands Weaken

Caylor said:

“(Jennings) looked so large and handsome and very like a catcher that Manager Chapman was mashed, and straightaway engaged him, and clinched the bargain with a dinner.  When Al pulled on his sole- leather gloves and poised near the grandstand at three o’clock, the crowd scarcely breathed.  Zip came the ball from Golden’s hand; bang it went against the backstop because Al had stooped too late to pick it up.  It took several minutes for him to gauge the speed of Golden’s pitching, but he got it down fine at last, and stopped a ball every once in awhile.  But, the low comedy parts came in when the new catcher went up close behind the bat.  A batter had but to get on first base and a run was scored.  They went to second and third without danger, and tallied on a passed ball.”

Jennings told Mulford his reaction to Caylor’s story:

“I read a few lines and wanted to fight.  I read a few lines more and had to laugh.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

That game was the end of Jennings’ one-day professional career.  Shortly afterwards he began a more than 10-year run as a minor league umpire in the Bluegrass, Southern, Northwestern and Interstate Leagues.  He also served as an umpire in the Union Association in 1884, his only season in a major league.

Mulford would occasionally update his readers about Jennings, of whom he said:

“With all his peculiarities, Amamazoo is a good fellow, and he has as many friends in and out of the profession as anybody ever connected with the great national game.”

By 1891 he gave up umpiring to become “The Parched Corn King of America,”selling his product in “three cities–Cincinnati, Covington and Newport—and netting every day ten times the amount of the original capital invested in the enterprise.”

by November of 1894 Jennings had moved on from the “parched corn” business, to “pushing an insect killer,” when as The Sporting Life said: “Death entered another victory upon his scorebook.”  He was 43-years-old.

The Enquirer said for his funeral his friends ordered a “floral piece…over seven feet high.  It is made of beautiful flowers.  Two large floral bats cross each other above, and below then are two floral balls, and at the bottom of the piece the inscription: ‘His Last Decision.'”

Fielder Jones and the Chehalis Gophers

11 Feb

Most biographies of Fielder Jones—player-manager of the 1906 World Champion Chicago White Sox, the Hitless Wonders—mention that he managed the Chehalis Gophers, a team in the Washington State League, in 1910;  they never mention that he ended up there because of a near-fatal assault before he arrived.

The 36-year-old Jones left the White Sox after the 1908 season to settle in the Portland, Oregon and tend to his many business holdings in the area.  In 1909, he was named president of the Northwestern League, and served for one season.  According to West Coast newspaper reports, Jones was in the running to named president of the Pacific Coast League in 1910, before Thomas Graham was elected as a compromise candidate.

In the spring of 1910, Jones coached the Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State) baseball team to the school’s first conference championship.

At the same time, Jones was coaching at OAC, the Washington State League was getting underway—the league had been operating for at least three seasons, but 1910 was the first year it was recognized under baseball’s national agreement as an “official” minor league.

The Chehalis Gophers were led by 27-year-old Fred Nehring; he had previously played on the Pacific Coast, Northwestern and Connecticut State Leagues.  Nehring, who was born in Pueblo, Colorado in 1883, but grew up in Chehalis, had been playing on and off with the local team since leaving the Tacoma Tigers in 1908

1908 Chehalis team. Fred Nehring standing 2nd from left, Tamp Osburn, standing 4th from left.

1908 Chehalis team. Fred Nehring standing 2nd from left, Tamp Osburn, standing 4th from left.

Another player who had spent time with Chehalis since 1908 was a pitcher known variously as “Tamp” Osburn, Osborn or Osborne (for the purpose of this story we’ll call him Osburn—most common usage by contemporaneous sources).  Tamp Osburn has, at least, two separate, partial listings on Baseball Reference.

Osburn was considered a talented pitcher, but an erratic character.  While pitching for the Spokane Indians in Northwestern League in 1907, he quit the team in June.  According to The Spokane Daily Chronicle:

“The whole trouble yesterday started when a couple of misplays in the eighth inning put a losing aspect on the game…Tamp blames the whole trouble on (William ‘Terry’) McKune, who he says ‘threw’ the game on him.”

Osburn had additional problems with teammates and developed a reputation as an eccentric, and like all eccentric pitchers of the era there was one he was often compared; The Daily Chronicle called him “The Rube Waddell of the Northwestern League.”

After playing together for Chehalis in 1908, both Nehring and Osburn played in the short-lived Inter-Mountain League in 1909; both returned to Chehalis after that league folded in July.

???????????????????????????????

“Tamp” Osburn, 1908 with Spokane Indians

On May 20, just after the 1910 season opened, the Chehalis team boarded a train.  According to The Chehalis Bee-Nugget:

“(Osburn) who had been drinking before the train left Chehalis became so unruly on the train that the train crew called on Fred Nehring, captain of the Chehalis team to quiet him.  Tamp resented Nehring’s efforts to keep him from cursing in the presence of ladies, and pulled a knife and began to slash Nehring…Two severe cuts…in the left arm, and the other was in the breast.  If the latter had been an inch farther over, it would have penetrated the lungs.”

Nehring had the wounds dressed, left the hospital against doctor’s advice and managed the Chehalis team “from the bench.”  Despite the seemingly quick recovery, Nehring only appeared in a few games the rest of the season.  Osburn was arrested.

The Chehalis team floundered for the next several weeks.  In late June, it was announced that Fielder Jones would join the team as manager and centerfielder.

Under Jones, who was still property of the White Sox and needed Charles Comiskey’s approval to play, Chehalis easily won the league championship; Jones hit .358 in 37 games.

Jones had agreed to play for the team for no salary and was only reimbursed for his expenses.  This arrangement nearly cost Chehalis the league championship.  According to The (Portland) Oregonian, the second place Raymond Cougars protested to the league and the National Commission that all wins under Jones should be forfeited because Jones “was not under contract.”  The protest was denied and Chehalis was declared league champion.

Osburn was sent to the Lewis County Jail while awaiting trial, and according to The Oregonian was involved in an attempted escape along with other prisoners who occupied the jail’s first floor, a week after his arrest.  The paper said of Osburn “the baseball player, and one other man were taken to the cells on the second floor and locked up securely.”

There is no record of whether Osburn was convicted; in any case, he was free by July of 1911 and was pitching for the Missoula, Montana franchise in the Union Association when The Helena Daily Independent reported that Osburn:

“The Missoula pitcher, who started a rough house in a Missoula cafe and pulled a knife on a stranger, drew a severe panning from the judge, who, after fining him $25, -said: ‘There are some good men on your team, who behave themselves, but there is a lot of you whose conduct is a disgrace to the city and the national game. We don’t want that kind of men in Missoula uniforms, and you fellows have got to stop such actions.”

Contemporaneous newspaper accounts say he was a native of Utah, but given the inconsistent spelling of his last name, and a full first name never being listed, the trail for Osburn ends after this 1911 incident.

Nehring remained in Chehalis where he died on February 19, 1936.

Jones returned briefly to baseball in 1914 and 1915 as manager of the Saint Louis Terriers in the Federal League.  He died in Portland in 1934.

Fielder Jones, 1914

Fielder Jones, 1914

“A Vain and Foolish Kick”

23 Nov

The Brooklyn Bridegrooms won the 1890 National League Championship by 6 ½ games over the Chicago Colts behind pitcher Tom Lovett who posted a 30-11 record.

Just three years earlier there was speculation that Lovett’s career might be over due to overwork.

Tom Lovett, 1890

Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1863, Lovett began his professional career with Waterbury in the Connecticut State League in 1884.  He appeared in 16 games for Philadelphia Athletics in the American Association in 1885 and was in the New England League with the Lynn/Newburyport Clamdiggers.

In 1887 he signed with the Bridgeport Giants in the Eastern League and dominated the league in May and early June.  Despite getting off to a fast start (the team was 20-5 in May), Bridgeport was suffering a decline in attendance and the franchise was in trouble.

At the same time community leaders in Oshkosh, Wisconsin were determined to win the Northwest League championship, and they put enough money together to offer to purchase Lovett who was 21-3, as well as Tug Wilson, Bridgeport’s catcher and leading hitter, and shortstop Dan Shannon, the Eastern League’s leading base stealer.

Lovett was 20-2 for Oshkosh (40-7 for the season) and they easily won the championship, but he did not pitch during the season’s closing days; The Sporting Life reported that “Lovett is said to be lame in the arm.”

Despite speculation well into the next spring that his arm was permanently “lamed,” Lovett recovered and posted a 30-14 season in 1888 with Omaha in the Western Association.   In the fall of 1888 he was purchased by Brooklyn, then in the American Association.

Lovett was 17-10 in his first season with Brooklyn, and followed that with his pennant-winning performance in 1890.  He then dropped to 23-19 in 1891 as the team fell to 6th place; Lovett threw a 4-0 no-hitter in June against the New York Giants.

After the 1891 season Brooklyn attempted to cut his salary to $2800 (various sources say he either earned $3000 or $3500 in 1891).  Lovett demanded $3500 and turned down a compromise offer of $3200.

He said he could earn more money operating his tavern in Providence and chose to sit out the 1892 season.

The Sporting Life called it, “A vain and foolish kick against salary reduction.”

In this case the critics might have been correct.  The Lovett-less Grooms improved from 61-76 in 1891 to 95-59 in 1892.

Hat in hand, he returned to Brooklyn for the 1893 season signing for $2400.

Lovett pitched in only 14 games and had a 3-5 record before hurting his arm again.  The following season he pitched for the Boston Beaneaters until he was released in July.  His Major League career over, Lovett finished 1894 in the Eastern League with the Providence Clamdiggers and spent 1895 with the renamed Providence Grays in the same league.

Lovett, with Boston 1894

Lovett, most likely baseball’s first true hold out, spent the rest of his life in Providence and died in 1928.