Tag Archives: Northwestern League

Coast League Stories

5 Dec

Abe Kemp began working at newspapers in San Francisco in 1907, when he was 14 years old, and spent the next 62 years primarily at The San Francisco Examiner where he covered his two passions, baseball and horse racing.

kemp

Abe Kemp

Over the years he collected a number of stories of baseball on the West Coast.

Catcher Tubby Spencer hit just .127 in 21 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1913. Contemporaneous reports said Spencer wore out his welcome with manager Del Howard in Portland. Years later, Kemp said the decision to let Spencer go was made during a team stopover in Sonoma County, and not by Howard. Kemp said he saw:

“Spencer staggering down the highway at Boyes Hot Springs one morning and President/Owner Cal Ewing yelling at him, ‘Hey, ‘Tub,’ where are you going?’

“’I’m going for a little air,’ yelled back Tub.

“’Then keep going,’ shouted Ewing, ‘because you will need it. You’re through.’”

tubbyspencer

Tubby Spencer

Harry “Slim” Nelson was a mediocre left-handed pitcher and weak hitter who played a half a dozen years on the West Coast. Kemp told of witnessing him “hit a home run through the screen at Recreation Park” in San Francisco when Nelson was playing for the Oakland Oaks.

“(He) became so excited when he reached second base that he swallowed his cud of chewing tobacco. Later on the bench, Slim was asked how the home run felt and he replied ‘it would have felt a whole lot better if I could have cut it up into singles to last me the season.”

Kemp said when George Van Haltren made the switch from Oaks player to Pacific Coast League umpire in 1909 he told Kemp and umpire Jack McCarthy “umpiring would be easy…because he had so many friends,” throughout the league. Kemp said McCarty responded:

“You mean you had so many friends. You haven’t any now.”

McCarthy appears to have been correct. Van Haltren was criticized throughout his short time as a Coast League umpire, and became a West Coast scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates the following two seasons. Van Haltren made one more attempt as an umpire, joining the Northwestern League staff in 1912; he was no more successful, lasting only one season after incurring the season-long wrath of Seattle Siwashes owner Dan Dugdale who demanded Van Haltren not be retained for the 1913 season.

George Van Haltren

Another player who had similar training habits to Tubby Spencer, according to Kemp, was Charles “Truck Eagan. Kemp said he was with Vernon Tigers manager Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray one day when Eagan played for the Tigers near the end of his career in 1909:

“Eagan, suffering from the effects of a bad night (told) manager Hap Hogan he was suffering from an attack of ptomaine poisoning.

‘”What did you eat’ the artful and suspicious Hogan asked.

“Eagan scratched his head a minute, then said guiltily, ‘It must have been the (bar) pretzels and herring, Hap.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #20

25 May

A Twist on the Hidden Ball Trick, 1909

Jack Fournier had a favorite story that The Chicago Daily News said he told so often that “fellow members of the White Sox give the warning ‘Capron story’” every time he retold it.

Fournier

Fournier

Fournier was playing first base for the Portland Cubs in Northwestern League in 1909 while former college football star George Capron was playing for the Seattle Turks.

“A Seattle runner was on first when Capron came to bat.  He rapped a hot grounder down to (Phil) Cooney, who was at short for Portland.  The latter whipped the ball to second, forcing the runner and then the ball was relayed to Fournier.

“Capron had crossed the bag and was making his turn back by the time the throw reached Fournier.

“Jack tossed the ball up and down in his glove as Capron came up.  ‘Can you beat that Capron?’ said Fournier ‘the ump called you out.’

Capron, known for his temper on the field, became enraged and ran towards the umpire who standing near second base.

“Fournier was right on his heels and didn’t catch him until they covered half the distance.  He tagged the amazed Capron with the ball.”

Asked if Capron was angry, Fournier would deadpan, “Well, rather.”

An Umpire’s revenge

In 1907, long-time American League umpire Jack Sheridan told a story that appeared in several newspapers, including The Chicago Evening Post, about how he quieted a “Chronic Kicker,” Fielder Jones of the Chicago White Sox:

Jack Sheridan

Jack Sheridan

During the previous season, Chicago was playing the Detroit Tigers when Jones got on base:

Charley O’Leary, the Tigers shortstop brushed Jones’ leg with the ball as he was sliding into second on a steal.  Sheridan called him out and Jones kicked; said he didn’t feel the ball touch him.  Sheridan told O’Leary to make him feel it the next time.  A few innings later Jones got on and again attempted to steal.  This time, O’Leary jammed the ball onto Jones’ head.”

Fielder Jones

Fielder Jones

Sheridan said after the shaken-up Jones was called out and recovered from the blow:

“(He) walked to the bench without a single protest.”

A Pitcher’s Plea, 1898

After not playing professional ball in 1896 and 1897, Matt Kilroy returned to the major leagues with the Chicago orphans in 1898.

A decade later, Revere Rodgers of The Washington Evening Star said Kilroy, who won 46 games in 1887, “was in the game long after his arm went back on him.”

Matt Kilroy

Matt Kilroy

He also had another talent:

“As a baseball player Matt was real classy, but as a poker player he was king, and the Chicago bunch in those days was the most rabid pasteboard handlers then traveling over the circuit.

“Kilroy was lucky with the cards, his skill was marvelous, and he must have done well judging from a conversation at the time he was handed the customer ten days’ notice (of his release in August 1898) by Manager (Tom) Burns.

‘”Oh, say, Burns,’ cried Matt, when he received the notice, ‘allow me to stay with the club.  You won’t have to give me a cent of salary, and what is more, I will pay all my traveling expenses, and help the club out at the bat or in the pitcher’s box.’”

Burns told Kilroy he could earn “three hundred a month in the Eastern League.”

“I know,’ said Kilroy, ‘But you see I like the poker game the boys play here.”

Tug Arundel

16 Nov

Twenty-one years before catcher Gabby Street caught a baseball dropped. From the Washington Monument, another catcher attempted it with less success.

When news of Street’s feat was reported in 1908, Oliver Romeo Johnson, who had been a sportswriter for The Indianapolis News in 1887, recalled the circumstances:

“On one of our eastern trips we followed the Chicagos in Washington, and while there the catching of a ball dropped from the monument was much talked of, because one of the Chicago players was said to have done it a few days before.  My impression is that it was (Cap) Anson himself, although it might have been Silver Flint.

“One of our team, John Thomas ‘Tug’ Arundel, a catcher, said it was ‘dead easy’ to catch a ball dropped from the monument, and a bet was made on it.  A crowd of us went out to see the attempt.  Arundel wore catcher’s gloves—which were not so thick as they now are—on both hands and put layers of cotton under them. He tried eight or ten times to catch the ball…but failed every time, and after he had battered up his hands so he could not play for some days he gave it up.”

Tug Arundel

Tug Arundel

Several days after Johnson’s recollection appeared in The News, Horace Fogel, who had been Arundel’s manager with the Hoosiers and dropped the balls from the monument, weighed in.  Fogel, then sports editor of The Philadelphia Telegraph, disputed the claim that Anson or Flint had caught a ball and said of his catcher’s attempt:

“Arundel, if I remember alright, only succeeded in getting his hands on one ball and it almost tore them off at the wrists. Tug explained afterward that he had not figured on ‘A ball weighing a ton coming from that distance.’ The other balls, a dozen or more, I tossed out to him, Arundel missed, some by fifty feet, he misjudged them that badly.”

Horace Fogel

Horace Fogel

Bad judgment was a staple of Arundel’s career which was marred by arrests for drinking and fighting.    He appeared in just 76 major league games over four seasons from 1882 to 1888 and played for at least 16 different professional clubs during his 10 seasons in professional ball, often quickly wearing out his welcome.

The Memphis Appeal said he was:

“(T)he handsomest player in the profession, who would sooner fight than eat.”

The Washington Critic summed up the opinion many had of Arundel when he was acquired by the Nationals in 1888:

“’Tug’ Arundel has been secured by the Washington management, as last week’s reports indicated he would be.  He is not popular here.  However, it is to be hoped that Manager (Ted) Sullivan can keep him muzzled.”

After his release, when it was rumored he might join the Detroit wolverines, The Detroit Free Press told readers:

“Detroit wouldn’t have Tug Arundel under any circumstances.”

After every incident, Arundel pledged to change his ways.

After an 1887 drunken melee in Indianapolis, which resulted in the arrests of Arundel along with teammates Jerry Denny and John (Patsy) Cahill, he told The Indianapolis News he took “a total abstinence pledge for six months.”

In the spring of 1889, he was arrested in his hometown, Auburn, New York twice. First for assaulting a police officer and then for a bar fight with another former major leaguer, and Auburn native, Mike MansellThe Auburn Bulletin said Arundel “Got the worst of it.” A month after the fight, The Sporting Life said Arundel “writes he is in fine shape and looking for an engagement.”

In 1890, the 28-year-old Arundel was nearing the end of the line.  He signed with the Saginaw-Bay City (Michigan) club in the International Association and told The Detroit Free Press that he was serious about sobriety this time:

“I lost splendid situations and almost ruined my reputation through liquor, but, sir, I realize the baneful effects of over-indulgence in intoxicating liquors and I have resolved never to touch another drop.  I have kept aloof from it for the past three months and am now in as good condition as I ever was in my life.”

It is unclear whether, or for how long, Arundel kept his last public pledge.  He appeared to have played fairly well behind the plate for Saginaw-Bay City.  Although he hit just .152, The Free Press, which three years earlier assured readers that Arundel was not wanted on the city’s National League club, was pleased when he signed with the Detroit Wolverines of the Northwestern League:

“(Arundel) has faced the greatest pitchers on the field and held them all.  Arundel is a good trainer for young ones, and did good work while with the Hyphens in 1890.”

Whether because of drinking or injuries (The Free Press and The Detroit News said he suffered from “Split fingers” several times throughout the season) Arundel was finished after the 1891 season, at age 29.

Arundel returned to Auburn and was eventually committed to the Willard State Hospital for the Chronic Insane in New York where he died in 1912.

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.

Cy Swain

8 Jun

Charles R. “Moose” “Cy” Swain was for a short time, one of the best-known players on the West Coast and his brief time as the West’s home run king is all but forgotten.

Born in Palo Alto, California, Swain made his professional debut with San Jose franchise in the California State League in 1904.  Years later, Mike Steffani, San Jose manager, told The San Jose Evening News that his “discovery” of Swain was an accident.

Steffani was in need of a shortstop, and Swain’s brother Ira, who played at Stanford University,  was recommended to him by pitcher Win Cutter.  Cy, who accompanied his brother to San Jose, played first while Steffani worked out Ira at short.  Steffani said he told Cutter:

“I think young Cy is the best player.  I like the way he handles the ground balls.  He acts like (Charles) Truck Eagan to me.”

Cy Swain was signed.  Ira was sent home.

Charles "Cy" Swain

Charles “Cy” Swain

Swain was called “a hard hitter,” who struck out often.  He also apparently enjoyed a drink.  After hitting a disappointing .239 for the Spokane Indians in The Northwestern League in 1907, Swain was traded to the Butte Miners.

In announcing the news, The Spokane Press said, “Charley isn’t exactly a temperance man.”   The paper said that when the Spokane owner sent him a contract with a temperance clause, Swain wired back, “Send me two of those; I may break one.”

Swain, who also struggled with weight issues, went from Butte to the Tacoma Tigers, then the Vancouver Beavers.

In July of 1910, he was leading the league with a .298 batting average when the Washington Senators offered $1800 for his contract.  The Vancouver Daily World said the offer was turned down.  The club’s owner/manager/shortstop Bob Brown told the paper:

“That pennant looks awfully good to me, and until I have it clinched I intend to hold the team intact.  There have been numerous other clubs after Charlie’s services, but they will all have to wait until the season is over.”

Swain slumped badly the rest of the year and finished with a .250 average (and a league-leading 11 home runs). The Beavers finished second, six and a half games behind the Spokane Indians.

Despite Swain’s sluggish finish and questions about his weight—The Seattle Star said he was “carrying 220 pounds”– Washington purchased his contract at the end of the season.  Just before he reported to the team in Atlanta in February of 1911, The Washington Herald said:

“There is a reason why this man Swain should not be overlooked when the time comes for the final selection of the Nationals.  It was Cliff Blankenship who was sent scouting for Walter Johnson five years ago and who signed him…and Blankenship is sponsor for Swain.”

Cliff Blankenship

Cliff Blankenship

Swain responded to a letter from William Peet, The Herald’s baseball writer, about his weight:

“I note what you say about certain of my friends on the Western papers claiming I have taken on so much weight that I am handicapped thereby.  Just write them a personal letter and bet them all you’ve got that I haven’t taken on more than five pounds since I quit playing last fall…I will join the Washington club in shape and try my best to make good.”

Early reports from Atlanta in the Washington papers, The Post, The Times, and The Herald sounded promising:

“For a big fellow Swain is a wonder when it comes to covering ground in the outfield.”

“Though a six-footer, weighing 200 pounds, he runs like a sprinter.”

“He hits hard…his most distinguishing trait (is) a willingness to work and an inexhaustible fund of good humor.”

Swain was hitting .273 in spring games when he became sick (either a cold or the flu, depending on the source) and did not appear in a game, or practice with the team for a week.

Swain in Atlanta with the Senators

Swain in Atlanta with the Senators

On April 6 The Herald said:

“Swain and Manager Jim (McAleer) had a long talk this morning in the clubhouse and when the Vancouver husky emerged his face was wreathed in smiles.

“’It’s all right, boys,’ he said.  ‘I will probably go back to the Pacific Coast.  Had a nice chat with the boss and told him that if he decided he couldn’t use me to ship me (West) and he promised to do so.”

Swain was returned to Vancouver, where he hit. 309 and helped lead the Beavers to the Northwestern League pennant.  After hitting .286 for the last place Sacramento Sacts in the Pacific Coast league in 1912, Swain was sold to the Victoria Bees in Northwestern League in May of 1913, setting the stage for his record-breaking season.

On August 1, The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Swain) is electrifying the natives in the Northwestern League.  Playing for Victoria, up to last Sunday, Cy had connected with 17 home runs and was hitting .329.”

He hit 17 more by September 18.  Swain’s 34 home runs broke the previous West Coast high—Ping Bodie hit 30 for the San Francisco Seals in 1910 (Art Bues had the previous league record with 27 in 1910)—and his .329 average was a career high.

He benefitted from the small dimensions of the league’s parks; The (Portland) Oregonian said fourteen of his 34 home runs cleared Victoria’s 270 foot center field fence and 11 more came at Seattle where the left and right field fences were just 237 feet from home plate.

After another solid season in the Northwestern League in 1914–.310 with 12 homeruns—Swain was traded to the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association for Fred “Newt” Hunter on November 24.

While most of the newspapers in Northwestern League cities shared the view of The Spokane Chronicle, that “The exchange will effect a promotion for Swain as he will play in a class AA league, which has been his ambition.”  The Seattle Star, however, despite the numbers he put up, raised some doubts about Swain:

“It is not likely that Seattle will be disappointed in the trade…Swain did not deliver last season like the fans had hoped and expected.  He was the joke of the league in the pinches.”

Swain

Swain

Just three days after the trade, Swain was working his off-season job for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company in San Francisco, when he fell from the back of a company truck which ran over his right leg.  On December 4, the leg was amputated.

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“He was counting on making good with Minneapolis with the view of someday stepping into the big league, the dream of every ballplayer.  What Swain will do now with one limb lost has not been decided, for the unfortunate player is overwhelmed with grief at the sudden termination of his diamond career.”

Benefit games were held in San Francisco and Tacoma, drawing 4000 and 7000 fans; the games raised more than $4000 for Swain.

He used the money to open a cigar store in San Francisco with another former player, Tommy Sheehan.  The two also organized a team, managed by Swain, called the Independents.  The team was comprised of West Coast professionals—including Ping Bodie, Spider Baum, and Biff Schaller–and played during the winter and early spring.  One of their games in the spring of 1916 was the first game ever played by an outside team on the grounds of San Quentin Prison.  Swain’s team won 15 to 10.

In November of 1916, Swain and Sheehan organized team made up of major leaguers and West Coast players to travel to Hawaii for a series of games.  The team played local and military teams, as well as the All-Chinese team which included Vernon Ayau, the first Chinese player to have appeared in a professional game.

Ayau, played against Swain's team in Hawaii

Ayau, played against Swain’s team in Hawaii

News of the games in Hawaii was sketchy; based on various reports the team played between eight and 12 games on the trip; all sources agree the only game they lost was against a US Army Infantry team.

Swain continued to manage the Independents in 1917 and ’18.  He and Sheehan also sold the cigar store and opened the Maryland Bowling Alleys in Oakland with Cliff Blankenship, the former catcher who recommended Swain to the Washington Senators in 1910.

Early in the fall of 1918, Swain’s brother, Ira, who accompanied to the tryout in San Jose in 1904, contracted the Spanish Flu and died on October 21.  On November 5, The Oakland Tribune said:

“Charlie Swain, one of the most popular ball players in the history of the game in the West, died here last night, a victim of Spanish Influenza.  Two weeks ago today Charlie’s brother Ira fell victim to the malady.”

Swain was 36-years-old.  The Tribune said:

“Good-bye, Charlie, we’re going to miss that happy smile.”

Happy Labor Day—the Oberbeck Case

1 Sep

Henry Oberbeck is barely a footnote in baseball history—he appeared in 66 American Association and Union Association games in 1883 and 1884, hitting just .176—but he scored a rare, early victory for the rights of players.

Henry Oberbeck

Henry Oberbeck

 

In 1883, after appearing in just two games with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, Oberbeck was released and signed with the Peoria Reds in the Northwestern League.

No records survive for Oberbeck’s time in Peoria, but the outfielder caught the eye of St. Louis Browns owner Chris von der Ahe, and the St. Louis native jumped his contract with Peoria to sign with the Browns on May 24.

Chris von der Ahe

Chris von der Ahe

Oberbeck’s short tenure with St. Louis was unimpressive.  He played four games and was hitless in 14 at-bats.  The Browns released him on June 23.

He found himself out of a job in the American Association and was unable to return to Peoria because he had been blackballed by the Northwestern League.

Oberbeck filed a lawsuit in St. Louis claiming the Browns owed him the entire amount of his contract –$785.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the “case is regarded as a test,” and is “being fought very earnestly.”

The March 1884 trial included testimony from  Overbeck’s teammates, catcher/outfielder Tom Dolan and pitcher George “Jumbo” McGinnis.  Dolan, a .204 lifetime hitter whose .214 average lowest among the Browns 1883 regulars testified that Oberbeck was a poor hitter who “hit wind nearly every time.”  McGinnis also said Overbeck deserved to be released.

Despite the testimony of his teammates, the jury found in favor of Oberbeck and ordered the Browns to pay him $431.12—although most newspapers incorrectly reported the amount paid as $738.

The press assumed the decision would have a lasting impact.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“The case is one of interest to base ball players, inasmuch as it proves that the contracts are binding upon the part of the club as well as the player.”

Oberbeck was signed by the Baltimore Monuments of the Union Association for 1884, and played a total of 60 games for Baltimore and the Kansas City Cowboys that season—he hit .186 as an outfielder/first baseman and was 0-5 in six appearances as a pitcher.

The Browns appealed the case and lost, but by the time the appellate court upheld the original decision in Henry Oberbeck v. Sportsman’s Park and Club Association in April of 1885, Oberbeck’s victory for the rights of baseball players was already largely forgotten.

In 1885, The Post-Dispatch said Oberbeck had been reinstated by the Northwestern League, although there is no record of his ever having returned to the league.   The Youngstown Vindicator said he had signed with that city’s team in the Interstate league for 1885 season.

No statistics survive for Oberbeck after 1884, and his groundbreaking role in baseball’s labor movement is all but forgotten.

He returned to St. Louis after his career and worked for the post office until his death from cancer in 1921.

Brief Bios

7 Apr

Finley Yardley

Identified as “Findley” on Baseball Reference, Finley A. Yardley was born in Ben Arnold, Texas on March 21, 1895.

“Fin” Yardley was a good hitter, but his intelligence was questioned more than once during his career.

After a spring trial with the St. Louis Browns in 1917, he was released to the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association for 57 games, but according to The Arkansas Gazette, “Forgetting is what chased him out” and he was sent to the Spokane Indians in the Northwestern League.

Yardley hit well in Spokane (.339 in 115 at bats), but despite his success The Gazette noted that:

“His think tank still slips now and then.  Recently he hit a drive good for three bases but forgot to touch first.”

Fin Yardley was no rocket scientist—his son John Finley Yardley was.

John Yardley was an aeronautical engineer whose team from McDonnell Aircraft Corporation designed the Friendship 7 capsule in which John Glenn orbited the Earth in 1962—Glenn called him “one of the real pioneers of the space program.”  Yardley was also involved with the Gemini, Skylab and Space Shuttle Programs.

After his playing career, Finley Yardley settled in St. Louis where he worked as a sales manager at a car dealership.  He died in Tucson, Arizona on March 1, 1963.

Charles Gurtz

Charles Joseph Gurtz was born in DePauw, Indiana in 1890.  He served in the United States Army, where he was a member of the 22nd Infantry and played for the unit’s baseball team in the El Paso, Texas city league.  He then played in a number of leagues throughout the Southwest not recognized by the National Agreement, including stops with teams in the “copper circuit;” loosely connected teams and leagues in mining towns in New Mexico and Arizona

Gurtz was let out of his contract in Silver City, New Mexico in order to join the Bloomington Bloomers in the Three-I League in 1914.  He hit .333, finishing second to Howard Wakefield for the league batting title.

Shortly after the 1914 season ended, Gurtz broke his leg during a semi-pro game in Odell, Illinois and returned home to Indiana.

In February of 1915, The Associated Press reported that he was “suffering from mental trouble, due to excessive religious zeal (and) has been declared insane. “  He was committed to Indiana’s state hospital at Madison, where “Physician’s say that he should respond to treatment and become normal again if his mind can be kept off religion.”

A month later Gurtz was released from the state hospital, The Associated Press said the hospital’s “superintendent expressed the opinion that Gurtz would be able to play ball.”

Gurtz played, but not well.

He hit just .193 for Bloomington in 1915.  The following year he was released by Bloomington just before the season began, but was signed by the Oklahoma City Senators in the Western Association in May.  He split the 1916 season between the Senators and the Muskogee Mets in the same league, hitting just .210.  (Baseball Reference identifies the player with Oklahoma City and Muskogee in 1916 as “William Gurtz,” but contemporary references in The Oklahoma City Times confirm that it was Charles Gurtz)

Gurtz returned to his native Indiana after the 1916 season and died on November 9, 1989, three weeks short of his 100th birthday.

Jimmy Duchalsky

James Louis “Jimmy” “the Duke” Duchalsky was discovered in Hawaii between the 1922 and ’23 seasons when Herb Hunter’s touring big leaguers visited the island during their barnstorming trip which also included stops in Japan, Korea, China and the Philippines.

The International News Service, which called the 5’ 9” 150 lb. Duchalsky the “hardest hitting pitcher in Hawaiian baseball circles,” said he caught the eye of New York Yankee pitcher “Bullet” Joe Bush.  Bush “was so impressed with the youngster’s work in a game he pitched against the big leaguers that he recommended him highly to Duffy Lewis manager of the Salt Lake City Bees in the Pacific Coast League).”

Joe Bush, front, second from right

Joe Bush, front, second from right  photographed during the tour.

Bush said the only thing he lacked was “a change of pace and that can be developed under the instruction of a good coach and manager.”

Duchalsky was 24-years-old (the Bees claimed he was just 21), but not as polished as Bush thought and struggled through 15 appearances, most in relief, for Salt Lake.  He posted a 1-3 record and 7.59 ERA in 51 innings—he did have 8 hits in 20 at bats, with one home run.   In May, he and teammate Tony Lazzeri were sent to the Peoria Tractors in the Three-I League; Duchalsky was 13-8 in 28 appearances.

The following season Duchalsky rejoined the Bees but pitched just one-third of an inning, allowing two runs and two hits in an 18-17 loss to the Oakland Oaks on April 10.  He was released later that week and returned to the Three-I League, this time as a member of the Decatur Commodores; he was 11-9 with a 4.13 ERA for the last-place (58-78) Commodores.

Jimmy Duchalsky 1923

Jimmy Duchalsky 1923

At the end of October he returned to Honolulu to play winter ball.

On December 7, 1924 Duchalsky was involved in an altercation with a cab driver. The Decatur Review said:

“Jim Duchalsky, known to all Three Eye League baseball fans as “The Duke,” has pitched his last game of ball… (he was) shot to death in his native city last evening after a street argument…It will be hard to convince Decatur baseball fans who have come in contact with Jim that he was the aggressor in any brawl that might have taken place for he was the most quiet player both on and off the field to ever appear here… Despite his quiet manners and the fact that he was not a mixer, many fans in both Decatur and Peoria will mourn his loss.  Duchalsky was admired by fans in every city where he played for his sportsmanlike conduct on the ball field and in all his games pitched at Staley Field was never seen disputing an umpire’s decision, even on balls and strikes.  He pitched his game and left the arguments out of his assortment.”

The Associated Press said, “The encounter was believed to have started in jealousy over a woman.”  The cab driver, John Emmeluth, claimed self-defense, but several witnesses said he approached and shot the pitcher with no warning.  He was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison.  Duchalsky was buried in Honolulu.

“There is a Constant fear that Someday the Men will Decline to go on the field.”

31 Mar

The St. Louis Maroons were a big league franchise for just three seasons.  After winning the inaugural (and only) Union Association championship in 1884, the team was absorbed into the National League and was a dismal 36-72 in 1885, and 43-79 in 1886.

The club disbanded after the ’86 season and throughout the winter there was speculation about whether the franchise would end up in Kansas City (where local businessmen were looking to replace the Cowboys, who also went broke after the ’86 season) and Indianapolis.

The deal was finalized on March 8 when the franchise and nine players were sold to Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis News announced on the front page:

The Base Ball Deal

It Is Finally Completed

The story said:

“There is general rejoicing about the city over the certainty of having a league baseball club here.”

The team would be called the Hoosiers, and play at the Seventh Street Grounds, a ballpark owned by local businessman John Tomlinson Brush.

John T. Brush

John T. Brush

Brush was the driving financial force behind the deal and had been involved in local baseball in Indianapolis for several years, first having financed and organized a local amateur league in the city in order to promote his business—the When Store, and later the When Clothing Company—he was also an investor in the short-lived 1884 incarnation of the Hoosiers who struggled through one twelfth-place (29-78) season in the American Association.

The Hoosiers first year was unsuccessful and chaotic.

The first manager was George Walter “Watch” Burnham, who had been a National League umpire for 41 games in 1883 and one in 1886.  His role in the effort to acquire the franchise, his selection as manager, and the manner in which he acquired his nickname, gave some pause about the seriousness of the Indianapolis operation.

"Watch" Burnham

“Watch” Burnham

The Chicago Tribune said:

“The promoter of the Indianapolis movement is George W. Burnham, known as “Watch” Burnham.  At Cleveland, in 1883, while acting as a league umpire, he endeavored to establish himself in the public esteem by buying a watch, having ‘Presented to George W. Burnham by his friend and admirers’ inscribed on it, then having it sent out to him on the field during the progress of the game.  It is not surprising that some of the league people are suspicious of the Hoosier effort.”

Brush was not the team’s original president, that duty fell to a local attorney named Louis Newberger who spent his entire two-month tenure in the position complaining that he had no time to run the team; Brush took over as president in late May.

The Hoosiers limped to a 6-22 start—no doubt aided by 22 straight road games from May 5 through May 30.  Burnham resigned once, just five games into the season, but returned a few days later.  By mid May, as the team struggled through their endless road trip, The Chicago Tribune said a mutiny was expected:

“The dissatisfaction on the part of the players with Burnham, the manager, amounts almost to insubordination and there is a constant fear that someday the men will decline to go on the field.”

The Tribune said Burnham had fined “the entire team,” and Captain Jack Glasscock “said he would be black-listed before he would play again under the management of Burnham, but was finally prevailed upon to do so.”

Jack Glasscock

Jack Glasscock

Upon the team’s return to Indianapolis Burnham was replaced with team secretary Fred Thomas.  Thomas, like Burnham, had no professional experience as a player or manager, and his tenure was not much more successful.  The club lost 18 of 29 games with him at the helm.

The team’s third manager also had no previous professional experience.  Horace Fogel was a sportswriter for The Philadelphia Press when he was tapped to be the third manager.  The Indianapolis News said hopefully:

“Mr. Horace Fogel, the new manager, is a good-looking young man, and makes a favorable impression on a stranger.  He is evidently very anxious to make the club a winner.”

The same July day The News opined on Fogel the paper also noted that maintenance of the ballpark had also angered some fans:

“Very unwisely the management had the chairs in the gallery varnished recently and yesterday several ladies had their dresses ruined.”

Things were no better under Fogel.  The Hoosiers went 20-49 under their third manager, and finished their inaugural season in eighth place with a 37-89 record.

The News said:

“Staring out under unfavorable circumstances…with inefficient management throughout the season, and many more defeats than victories, the club nevertheless, was accorded a generous support.”

The 1888 season became a matter of civic pride for the team’s ownership, local businesses and the newspaper.

In January it was announced that the Hoosiers would have a manager with at least some experience.  Harrison “Harry” Spence had played and managed in, among others, the Eastern, Northwestern and New England Leagues.  The News said of the new manager:

“A number of ball players of various clubs, who know Harry Spence…speak very highly of him.  Sam Thompson says he is a thorough gentleman, well liked by the players, and a fine manager.”

The News said the success of the Hoosiers was necessary for the future Indianapolis:

“Business and professional men are all interested in it, for, aside from the pleasure they derive from witnessing the games, they recognize the fact that the club is of great benefit in advertising the enterprise and prosperity of the city.”

The paper organized a campaign called “Boom for Baseball.”  Sixty-eight local businessmen “representing the leading establishments in the city,” donated their advertising space back to the newspaper “for the purpose of setting forth the advantages that will accrue to the city, from the maintenance of a National League Baseball Club here.”

Brush told the paper:

“We want at least five hundred subscribers for season tickets, and with this as a guarantee, we can get the money we want.  If any such player as (Fred) Pfeffer or (Larry) Twitchell can be bought we can and will buy him, and we can get the club in first-class shape for opening the season.”

Season tickets were sold for $25 each, and Brush said “We will have a grandstand that will be a beauty, with all the latest improvements, so that there will not be one uncomfortable seat in it.  Then we will have a space set aside for carriages and a special department for ladies and their escorts.”

88indy4 88indy2

Some of the advertisements from Indianapolis' "Baseball Boom"  campaign

Some of the advertisements from The Indianapolis’ News’ “Baseball Boom” campaign

Most importantly, Brush assured the people of Indianapolis that they “would have a ballclub here that nobody would be ashamed of.”

He was wrong.

While not as bad as 1887, the Hoosiers got off to a 2-11 start, and struggled to a 50-85 seventh place finish, 36 games behind the champion New York Giants.

By 1889 Indianapolis had all but given up.  The team nearly went under before the season started.  In January a headline in The News said:

The Ball Club Gone

With debts of more than $5,000, the paper said Brush would “surrender the franchise” to the league.  Brush was able to raise enough capital to keep the club operating for one more sub .500 season (59-75), and another seventh place finish.  The only highlights for Indianapolis in 1889 was the arrival of 18-year-old Indiana native Amos Rusie, who posted a 12-10 record, and Jack Glasscock who hit .352, for the Hoosiers.

The team was dropped after the 1889 season, but not because of money.  The National League bought out Brush’s Hoosiers and the Washington Nationals.  Brush received a reported $67,000 for the team, he also received stock in the New York Giants as payment for former Hoosier players.  One year earlier when The News reported that Brush was on the verge of losing the team, the paper claimed “the franchise is now worth $15,500 cash.”  While that figure might have been low there was no doubt that Brush did well on the deal.  A year later he was president and majority stock holder of the Cincinnati Reds.

Indianapolis would only be a major league city one more time; in 1914 the Hoosiers were champions of the Federal League, but were relocated the following season, becoming the Newark Peppers.

“The Game was not Exactly ‘On the Square’”

21 Mar

After the 1886 season, Jim Hart brought a team composed of members of his Louisville Colonels and other American Association players west.  The team played their way out towards California, winning twenty games against minor league, semi-pro and “picked nines.”

Jim Hart

Jim Hart

They finally lost their first game of the tour in San Francisco on December 26 to the Haverlys of the California League.  Dave Foutz, who had won 41 games for the champion St. Louis Browns pitched for Hart’s club.  Foutz allowed three runs on four hits in the first inning then shut out San Francisco on one hit the rest of the way, but Pete Meegan of the Haverlys held the American Association players to just two runs.

Pete Meegan

Pete Meegan

The San Francisco Morning Call said that Foutz who was “rather superstitious” and tried to “have a lemon in his possession whenever he steps on the diamond,” attributed the loss to the fact that the he had purchased a lemon “but was careless and did not put it in the pocket of his uniform.”

After the loss, Hart’s team defeated every California League team, including a Foutz one-hitter against the San Francisco Pioneers.

Dave Foutz

Dave Foutz

On January 23, with some of his players injured, Hart added three local players to his roster for a game with a “picked nine’ of local players in Alameda.  The game was tied 4 to 4 after seven innings, but Foutz gave up two in the seventh and four in the eighth and lost 10 to 4. The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“A large crowd was in attendance at the Alameda Baseball Grounds yesterday to witness the game between the Louisvilles and a picked nine of California players… the impression of many of the spectators was that the game was not exactly ‘on the square’…The cause of suspicion was as to the fairness of the game was caused by the appearance among the spectators of men well known at baseball games offering large odds against the Louisvilles.  At about the seventh inning these men were offering odds of twenty to one against a team that has hitherto been almost invincible.”

The Morning Call headline said simply:

“Hippodrome!”

There was no doubt, said the paper, that the game had been “pre-arranged” and “made up for the picked nine to win.”

In St. Louis there was more concern that Foutz had “broken down,” having given up fourteen hits rather than speculation that he might have thrown a game.  The Globe-Democrat said:

“Regarding the reported break down of Foutz in California… (Manager Charles) Comiskey received a letter from Foutz in which he denied that he had broken down, and said he was as good as ever.”

No one reported whether the pitcher had carried a lemon into the contest.

The evidence of a fix consisted of the activity of the gamblers, Foutz’ performance in the seventh nd eight innings, and an alleged conversation between Louisville’s second baseman Joseph “Reddy” Mack and Ed Morris the pitcher for the “picked nine.” Discussing how the result of the lightly attended game would improve attendance at the next game Louisville was scheduled to play in Alameda two days later.

reddymack

Reddy Mack

Jim Hart was indignant and wrote letters to West Coast papers denying that anyone on his team could have been involved:

“I wish to say that I have made the fullest and most searching investigation and can find no foundation for the charges.  Not one of my men wagered a dime.”

Hart blamed the loss on the “weakened condition” of his team and noted that three local players filled in with his squad for the game.  The players he “brought out here all enjoy national reputations, and they could not afford to hazard their good names for the small amount of gain there would be for them.”

In another letter, written to The Sporting Life, Hart attacked the credibility of the unnamed writer of the article in The Morning Call:

“(I)t was not much of a surprise to in the issue of a sensational morning journal last Monday the flaming headline ‘Hippodrome!’  The journal referred to, I understand, instructs its reporters and correspondents in the following language—‘Make your articles sensational even at the expense of the truth,’ and the young man who wrote the article under the above referred-to head line was evidently closely following instructions…What the young man who wrote the article don’t [sic] know about baseball would make a very large book.”

Hart went on to detail his additional complaints with “the young man” from The Morning Call, but as with his letters to West Coast newspapers, he never addressed the allegations regarding the abrupt changes in the odds offered on the game, and instead of asserting that “Not one of my men wagered a dime,” as he said in the earlier letters, the letter in The Sporting Life said:

“I have investigated the whole matter religiously, and if any of the boys were implicated in any way, they are too smart for me to find out.”

The California League conducted the only official” investigation into the allegations; that inquiry was limited to determining if any of their players were involved in any wrongdoing and according to The Chronicle, simply determined that no California League players “had anything to do with it or were cognizant of it,” and made no statement regarding whether there was evidence of a fixed game.

The Chronicle evidently didn’t think the case was closed and said:

“If Foutz, Mack or (Hubert) Hub Collins expect to come out here again, they must arise and explain to the entire satisfaction” of the league president.

The Louisville team wrapped up the tour in early February; Hart resigned his position and relinquished his interest in the team in order to take over the operation of the Milwaukee Cream Citys in the Northwestern League.  Mack and Collins returned to Louisville, Foutz headed to St. Louis and another 19th Century allegation of dishonest play disappeared into the ether.

“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.