Tag Archives: O. P. Caylor

“In Chicago, the Baseball Slump is what the Crank would call Disgusting”

8 Jun

Oliver Perry (OP) Caylor of The New York Herald came to a conclusion in August of 1892 that many have shared before and since:  baseball‘s best days were behind it.

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Earlier,  National League President Nick Young had declared 1892—featuring an expanded twelve team circuit after the collapse of the American Association and just weeks into the only scheduled split-season in major league history—an unqualified success.

But now, into what Caylor called “A Dog Days Depression,” reality had set in.

“Much has been said since the League’s second championship season opened (the second half began July 15) about the renewed interest which was alleged to have sprung up and was keeping pace with the new season.  It has taken no more than a month to prove that this so-called revival was an illusion.”

Caylor noted that there was brief uptick in attendance in games played in Eastern cities during the first three weeks of the second half:

“(B)ut before the teams started west the same old rut of passing indifference seemed to be struck.  And nowhere in the west thus far has there been a sign of a promising revival.”

Caylor pointed to two cities as evidence of baseball’s bleak state;

“In Chicago, the baseball slump is what the crank would call disgusting.  People of that progressive center have use for nothing but the best, and Uncle (Cap) Anson this year has not succeeded in giving them such an article in baseball.  The great general has done the best possible, handicapped as he was in the beginning of the season by the poor allotment of players from the Indianapolis (Hoosiers, the defunct American Association franchise) consolidation pool.”

Cap Anson, 50 errors in 1876

Cap Anson

Caylor blamed most of Anson’s problems on a weak middle infield:

“(Jimmy) Cooney, his shortstop, turned out a sudden complete failure and he has never been able to successfully fill (Fred) Pfeffer’s vacant shoes on the nine.  Any team which is weak at short field and second base is bound to be weak all over, and that is the condition of the Chicagos.

“The old man has been experimenting on new material with more or less success and less success than more.  But by the time he gets his men into what he is pleased to consider championship form, the season will be so far spent that he will have no chance to arouse the chilled pride of the army of Chicago baseball ‘rooters.’”

Caylor said Anson had some optimism for “next season.”

“Maybe the Chicago club can well afford to waste this year whipping together a winning team for 1893.  For next year, the World’s Fair (The World Columbian Exhibition) should be bring a small fortune to the treasury of the Chicago club if they can get a winning team together by that time.  Yet there are those who will argue that the World’s Fair is bound to be a financial injury than a benefit to the Chicago club under any circumstance, and the argument is based upon baseball experience in Philadelphia during the year of the Centennial (1876).”

World's Colombian Exhibition

World’s Colombian Exhibition

 

Caylor said even, A. G. Spalding, former White Stockings president, felt the fair “will be a financial burden” on the team.

Spalding believed:

“(T)hat for every visiting stranger who will be attracted to the ball grounds three resident patrons will be kept away by the unusual demand upon their time by excessive business.”

But Caylor said, his former home was in even more distress than Chicago:

 “Cincinnati, the best-paying city of the circuit during the first half of the year, has become financially alarming.”

Cincinnati had suffered as a result of the National League’s cost cutting measure agreed upon in late June, which resulted in rosters being reduced from 15 to 13 players and across-the-board pay cuts of 30-40 percent for all players.  The Reds best pitcher, Tony Mullane, quit as a result of the cuts.

Tony Mullane

Tony Mullane

“The sorry slump in baseball interest at Cincinnati is another exemplification of that old moral taught by the fable of the ‘Hen Which Laid the Golden Egg.’ I know it is modern usage to speak of the golden egg producer as a goose, but my Latin book called it a hen.  As applied to the Cincinnati case it makes little difference whether we call it a hen or a goose…The Cincinnati club’s hen was laying golden eggs regularly through the first season.  The newspapers put the club down as a sure winner financially.  Then came the greed mentioned in the fable.  The officials thought they saw a way to squeeze  the old hen into more active and valuable work, and on the squeezing they killed her.”

As a result of the pay cuts:

“Cincinnati patrons became disgusted.  For the sake of saving a few thousand dollars in salaries while working at a profit, this club had thrown away its chances to win the second championship.  Nobody who understands human nature need wonder the result.”

Cleveland, home of the second half champion Spiders, was the only town where Caylor said the “national game is appreciated.”   But even that, he said was temporary and favorable financial conditions were “a question of considerable doubt.”

The 1892 season was a disaster for Chicago—on and off the field—they finished 70-76, in seventh place, and attendance dropped by more than 72,000 from the previous season.

While Cincinnati led the National League in attendance, the club lost money.

But, contrary to Caylor’s gloomy outlook, the league—after dropping the spilt-season format—bounced back well in 1893.

In Chicago, where Anson put an even worse product on the field—the Colts were 56-71—predictions that the Columbian Exhibition would destroy attendance were wrong.  Aided by the opening of a new ballpark in May, the club drew the fourth-largest attendance in the league—223,500—more than doubling their 1892 numbers.

Cincinnati’s attendance dropped by just 2200 fans despite a disappointing season where the team hovered near .500 all year and finished sixth.

National league attendance increased by nearly half a million from 1892 to 1893.

While baseball was not on a long-term decline, Tony Mullane was.

He returned to the Reds in 1893, but the 34-year-old was never the same–259-187 with a career ERA below 3.00 before his departure, he was 25-33 with a 5.74 ERA after.

“Silly Assertions by a Brace of Newspaper Nincompoops”

1 Apr

Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson’s Chicago White Stockings cruised to the National League championship in 1880.  The team was never out of first place and won the pennant by 15 games over the Providence Grays.

The 1880 National League Champions

The 1880 National League Champions

Two influential newspapers, The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Washington Capital spent the offseason downplaying the White Stockings’ victory and questioning the team’s integrity.

The Enquirer’s OP Caylor had a long-time feud with White Stockings—and National League– President William Hulbert which heated up further at the close of the 1880 season when the Cincinnati Reds were banished from the National League.   Cincinnati management routinely leased the team’s Bank Street Grounds out for Sunday games—games where beer was sold as well.  Hulbert pushed through a ban on both practices for the 1881 season, then, as was his original intent, forced the Reds out of the league.

William Hulbert

William Hulbert

Caylor attributed the White Stockings’ success to favorable schedules approved by Hulbert’s “well-trained minions,” and he declared:

“The League, as owned and operated by Hulbert, is rotten and corrupt.”

The Capital, an independent, crusading weekly, took it further.  Not content to limit the accusations to off-field corruption, the paper claimed it was common knowledge Chicago had thrown games late in the season.

Over their last fourteen games, the White Stockings were 9-4 with a tie.  The Capital said:

“Everybody knows that when the Chicagos had the championship well in hand last season they gave games away to attract gate money…(Hulbert) does not seem to know that the public knows that every time his league goes into secret session it is to concoct some means of swindling the public or the players, or both.”

The Chicago Tribune would not let the insults stand.  Their defense was no surprise, in 1875 the paper’s baseball writer, Lewis Meacham had been Hulbert’s conduit for selling the public on the formation of the National League as a successor to the National Association–one free of drunkenness, gambling and corruption.  While Meacham had died in 1878, the paper remained Hulbert’s staunch ally.  The Tribune said:

Silly Assertions by a Brace of Newspaper Nincompoops

“Everybody knows that this assertion is a silly falsehood, without a shadow of basis in fact or reasonable probability.  So far from losing games to attract gate-money, the Chicago club finds that nothing pays so well as to win all games and lose none.  If such a thing were not possible, the club that should go through the greater part of a season without once suffering defeat would attract more patronage and make money than any club ever organized.

“Reason and fairness are, however, wasted upon two such hopeless imbeciles as the fellows who butcher base-ball in the columns of The Washington Capital and The Cincinnati Enquirer.”

The Tribune said jealousy over the lack of a National League club in each city was the only explanation:

 “The Capital man has been standing on his head ever since the League was impelled by geographical reason to refuse the Washington club’s application for admission;  and The Enquirer man has been similarly inverted both as to body and brain ever since the Cincinnati Club was kicked out of the League on account of its refusal to abolish Sunday games and beer jerking on the club grounds in Cincinnati.”

like most 19th-Century allegations of malfeasance on and off the field, the allegations were quickly forgotten.

The White Stockings cruised to another championship in 1881 with a 56-28 record, finishing nine games ahead of second place Providence.  It was Hulbert’s final season.  He died three weeks before opening day in 1882.

The Tribune, Hulbert’s greatest ally to the end, said upon his death:

“His great force of character, strong will, marked executive ability, unerring judgment of men and measures, and strict integrity and fairness were of incalculable value to the league, and he was rightly considered to be the brains and backbone of that organization.  In him, the game of base-ball had the most useful friend and protector it has ever had; and in his death the popular pastime suffers a loss the importance of which cannot easily be exaggerated.”

“The Contest is going to be the Hottest in the History of Baseball”

6 Jun

Just weeks into the 1892 season, National League president Nick Young declared the newly expanded league, which absorbed four franchises from the defunct American Association and included the only scheduled split-season in major league history, an unqualified success.

Nick Young

Nick Young

The schedule, which called for the first half to end on July 15, and the second in later October, necessitated starting league play two weeks earlier than 1891 resulting in a large number of early season games being played in inclement weather.

Young spoke to a reporter named Max Ihmsen, who usually covered politics for The Pittsburgh Dispatch, about the state of game

“(T)here is no doubt of the overwhelming success of the new deal.  Considering the wretched weather that prevailed everywhere during April the showing, both financially and as to skill displayed, has been remarkable.  Everyone is making money, and I look for the most successful season ever known in the history of the game.  The reconciliation of the clashing interests, a reconciliation effected during the past winter, has been the salvation of the sport…This year there is every prospect of each club quitting a big winner.  Never before have such games, as are now being put up, been seen.”

Young said an April 19 doubleheader in Chicago, which brought in $4,000 accounted for the league’s highest single-day gate receipts of the season so far.

As for the pennant race Young said:

“The contest is going to be the hottest in the history of baseball.  Everybody is ‘out for blood,’ and at the close of the season I anticipate seeing a tie for every place up to fourth or fifth.  A difference of 10 or 15 games between the highest and lowest clubs will reflect no discredit on the lowest club…All the clubs are in good shape and I expect quite a number of absolutely errorless games will be recorded before the season closes.”

Young got nearly everything wrong.

At the close of the season, Ernest J. “Ernie” Lanigan said in The Philadelphia Record that only two teams (Cleveland and Pittsburgh) operated in the black.  He said their profits were less than $20,000 combined while “ten clubs have lost in the neighborhood of $150,000.”

O.P. Caylor said in The New York Herald the league’s financial state was a “disaster more astonishing than any which have preceded it and knocks the hot air out of President Nick Young’s prosperity balloon, which went sailing up so grandly.”

At a June meeting in New York team owners agreed to cut rosters from 15 to 13, and the salaries for the remaining thirteen players were cut (as much as 40 percent).  At the same time, they increased to 12 ½ percent the 10 percent of gate receipts each club was assessed to pay off the debt incurred to buy out the American association franchises that were not absorbed into the league.

Caylor said salaries would continue to fall and “This is the year when the owners of huge blocks of baseball stock are not classed with the Vanderbilts, Goulds, Astors, and Rockefellers.  Every one of the holders has been ‘touched’ heavily, more or less, by the financial disappointments of the year.”

The Baltimore Sun put it more succinctly:

“The season has been a failure financially.”

The Boston Beaneaters won the first half (52-22) over the Brooklyn Grooms (51-26), after the June roster and salary reductions, the Cleveland Spiders (fifth place with a 40-33 record in the first half) won the second half (53-23) over the Beaneaters (50-26).

Initially, Boston owner Arthur Soden said his team would not meet Cleveland in a post-season series as a result of charges in Boston that his team tanked the second half.  He told Caylor:

“You cannot make a large number of our patrons believe that the Boston club has not purposely lost the last championship for the sake of making money out of a series of finals.  That belief has hurt us to the extent of thousands of dollars during the last half of the season, and unless it be removed will hurt us equally as much next season.  The only way we can remove the wrong impression is by refusing to play.”

Caylor said at the October owners meeting “the rest of the league took up the case and literally forced the Boston club to play…Boston’s refusal to play would do more harm to the interests of the League at large than the Bostons could possibly suffer by the playing of the games.”

The nine-game championship series began with an 11-inning pitching duel between Boston’s Jack Stivetts and Cleveland’s Cy Young that ended in a 0-0 tie.  Boston swept the next five games.

The Boston Beaneaters

The Boston Beaneaters

The split schedule and the resulting longer season were dropped for 1893.

Max Ihmsen, the reporter Nick Young spoke with, became city editor of The New York Journal, a William Randolph Hearst paper, in 1895.  Ihmsen went on to manage Hearst’s unsuccessful campaigns for mayor of New York City and governor of New York; he was also the Hearst-backed candidate for Sheriff  of New York County in 1907, a race he lost to the Tammany Hall-backed candidate.

Ihmsen later became the managing editor of another Hearst paper, The Los Angeles Examiner.  He died in 1921.

“I am thoroughly Disgusted with the Business”

12 May

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

Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The result is interesting. Incidentally, also, repulsive.”

14 Apr

While writing for The New York Herald in 1895 Oliver Perry “OP” Caylor had the hands of several members of the New York Giants photographed.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said, “The result is interesting.  Incidentally, also, repulsive.”

Caylor said:

“It is hard to say who has had the most marvelously disfigured hand among the catchers since the game became professional, but the award lies between the late (Frank) “Silver” Flint and Tony Suck.”

Flint had died three years earlier, and Suck (born Zuck) had died earlier that year.

Of the Giants, Caylor said backup catcher William “Pop” Schriver “takes first prize in a display of distorted joints   His right hand, as it is seen in the photographic view, has lost much of its resemblance to the natural member.”

Schriver

Schriver

Caylor said starting catcher Charles “Duke” Farrell and the team’s other catcher, Parke Wilson, had hands that were in good shape in comparison to Schriver:

“Farrell, for a man who has done so much catching and has faced so many swift and wild pitchers, possesses remarkably well preserved and shapely fingers.”

Farrell

Farrell

Wilson

Wilson

Caylor said third baseman George Davis “has what’s known as a ‘daisy.’ The first joint of the little finger on his right hand is crooked like the elbow of a stove pipe.”  Captain and first baseman Jack Doyle “has several angles and curves on his hands.”

Davis

Davis

Doyle

Doyle

Rightfielder Mike Tiernan ‘has escaped very luckily,” and among pitchers Amos Rusie, William “Dad” Clarke and Jouett Meekin “disfigured fingers are scarce.”

Tiernan

Tiernan

Rusie

Rusie

Clarke

Clarke

Meekin

Meekin

Caylor said:

“Baseball players as a rule, are not proud of their unshapely hands.  Yet a close examination of the hands of the men of New York City under 40 years of age will disclose the fact that more than half of them have one or two ‘baseball joints’ apiece to remind them of the time when a foul tip went wrong or a high fly took a sudden shoot out of its natural course…The non-professional invariably is proud of this reminder of the day or days when he played.

“Such Men are Demoralizing Agents in any Team”

19 Dec

Henry Chadwick is called by many “The Father of Baseball.”  Is Hall of Fame plaque calls him “Baseball’s preeminent pioneer.”  Chadwick is credited with creating the box score and writing baseball’s first rule book.  He was also a sportswriter for more than 50 years.  In 1880 he wrote an article for The New York Clipper about what qualities teams should looks for in the players they sign.  O.P. Caylor of The Cincinnati Enquirer said Chadwick “Never wrote more truth in so little space:”

“In the first place, what a manager must avoid is the engagement of players is the habit of indulging in intoxicating liquors.  Such men are demoralizing agents in any team in which they allowed to play, as the experience of 1879, especially in the League arena, fully proved.  Not only is a drunken professional his own enemy, but his presence in a team is also necessarily destructive of its morals.  In fact, temperate habits among professional ball players are more essential to success than is any special skill they may possess in playing their several positions; for a poor player who is a temperate man and earnest in his work is more serviceable than any man who is a fine player can be who is under the influence of drinking habits.

“Secondly, quick-tempered, passionate men are unfit to be in a nine made up to play for the side.  Hot temper is not only opposed to clear judgment, but it entirely prevents a man under its influence from playing for the side.  Such men, when they ‘get their mad up’ at anything, do not hesitate a moment to indulge their spite at a brother player at the cost of even the loss of the match.

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

“Thirdly, in making up a team for carrying out this policy, you must avoid putting players in it who have any ambitious views for preferment, such as a desire to be made captain of the nine or manager of the team.  It is impossible for such men to play for the side.  They are so busy in organizing cliques against the powers that be, and in maneuvering for the desired place, that they think of little else, and they play the game only with this one object in view.  This has always been a cause of difficulty in teams in which there are two or more ex-captains or ex-managers.  The player who has once tasted the fruit of authority is rarely amenable to control when occupying a subordinate position unless it be under some ruler whom he knows to be his superior as a captain or manager.  Ex-captains or ex-managers might serve under Harry Wright, for instance, but they would be restive under the rule of a less experienced and capable man.

“Fourthly, players who have an “itching palm’ should be avoided in the make-up of a team selected for carrying out the policy of playing for the side.  Men of this class are always (on the alert) for opportunities to do a little outside business in a quiet way which will help to increase their pecuniary receipts of the season.

“Fifthly, the longer players are kept in the service of one club the more they may be relied upon to play for the side, as a general rule; and it is not an unfair conclusion to arrive at that that player who is ready to leave the service of a good club at the temptation of the offer of a couple of hundred dollars a year more salary, is a man whose heart is not in his work sufficiently to make him a good player for his side.  In fact, this club feeling—that is, a feeling of special interest in the success of his club outside of any interested motive of a more personal nature—is one of the foundation stones of the policy of playing for the side.  Players who possess none of this kind of feeling are of that class who are ready to exclaim ‘I don’t care a snap for the club; I go in to play my best for my record, and if this helps to win games, well and good; but you bet I ain’t a-going to spoil my average just to win a match for no club in the league.  That’s the kind of a player I am, and don’t you forget it.’”

Nearly a Century before his Time

22 Oct

Baseball’s Reserve Clause was first instituted in September of 1879; the eight National League clubs agreed at a meeting in Buffalo, New York, that each team would be able to “reserve” five players for the following season.

In August of 1880, as it appeared the league would renew the agreement, Oliver Perry “O.P.” Caylor of The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote a scathing article about the practice; one that could have been written 10 years later by John Montgomery Ward during the creation of the Players League, or almost 90 years later by Curt Flood.

opcaylor11

O.P. Caylor

“It has frequently been urged in these columns that the so-called Buffalo agreement made by the league clubs last year…was a gross outrage and unworthy of the organization.  We did not believe until recently that the league would have gall enough to enact the disgrace.  But already there is log-rolling going on to bring it into existence for next season.”

Caylor said the only way to defeat the “five-men fraud” was for the players to stand up against it.

“What right has the league to say to any player where he shall play ball next year?  The days of slavery are over.  This system of Ku-Kluxism in ball-playing ought to be quashed.  A ballplayer has no better right than to place a price on his services in Cincinnati, and another for his services in Chicago.  It may be that he would rather play in Chicago for $100 less than in Cincinnati, or vice versa.  Let him name his price for each place.  Let the city which considers him worth the salary asked pay for it.  If he asks too much; that city need not engage him.  No man with common business sense would engage a clerk at a salary he could not earn”

Caylor did seem to miss the point that several owners did lack “common business sense” and that the Reserve Clause was instituted in large part to protect them from themselves.  He also overestimated the resolve of players to exercise their influence.

“It is time such outrageous policy was ended.  If the league will not do it, the players must.  It is a poor rule that will not work both ways.  Let the players then anticipate the fraud, and meet it half way.  Let every league player sign a solemn agreement with every other league player not to play ball next season for any club that shall attempt to coerce players in this manner.  The players command the field.  Clubs cannot do without them; but they can do without clubs.  If the league intends to repeat the fraud, it should deserve to have its existence ended.  Such men as George Wright, Jim (Deacon) White and John Clapp cannot afford to be driven out of the profession by such repeated outrages.  If the players, or, at least, the better part of them, will but demand their rights as men—freemen—they can have them.  If they go on supremely careless and do nothing until forty of them are under the yoke of despotism, they will richly deserve all that they suffer by it.  This is the time to act.  We warn players that the log is already rolling which is intended to pin them down again under the dictation of a despotic power.”

“Fear of the Black List has Stopped Many a Crooked Player from Jumping”

9 Sep

For a brief period in the mid1890s, George Jouett Meekin was considered among the top pitchers in the game; he might never have had the opportunity, but for what The Sporting Life called “The disastrous effects of Chairman Young’s somersault.”

Jouett Meekin

Jouett Meekin

 John Montgomery Ward, Meekin’s manager with the New York Giants, said he was, along with Amos Rusie, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson and Kid Nichols, the “most marvelous pitchers as ever lived.”

Charles “Duke” Farrell, who caught Meekin and Rusie with the Giants, said:

“Sometime, it seemed to me that (Meekin) was actually faster…Rusie’s speed struck the glove with a bruising deadening, heavy shock, and Meekin’s fastest gave a sharp, sudden sting.”

But in 1891 Meekin was a 24-year-old pitcher in his third season with the St. Paul Apostles in the Western Association. The New Albany, Indiana native became a well-known amateur player across the Ohio River in Louisville before signing his first professional contract with the Apostles in 1889.  His sub .500 winning percentage was not enough to keep the American Association’s eighth place Louisville Colonels, from inducing Meekin to jump his contract with St. Paul.

In June Meekin jumped; at the same time third baseman Harry Raymond jumped to Colonels from the Western League’s Lincoln Rustlers.

The National Board of Control, created after the 1890 season as part of the “peace agreement” between the National League and The American Association after the collapse of the Players League, to arbitrate contract disputes, acted quickly.  Board Chairman (and National League President) Nick Young announced that Meekin and Raymond would be “forever ineligible to play with or against a National Agreement club.”  The statement, signed by Young, also said:

“This order or any other that may hereafter be made for the same cause, will never be modified or revoked during the existence of the present board, whose term of office will not expire for five years.”

The move was applauded by the press and no less a figure than “the father of baseball,” Henry Chadwick, who called Raymond and Meekin part of a “venal cabal” of jumping players.

Despite the promise that the order would “never be modified or revoked,” Young did just that.  Within weeks of issuing the order, both players were reinstated.

The backlash was swift.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer called the reversal “nauseating.”  The Cincinnati Times-Star said it was “one of the greatest mistakes ever made.”  The Milwaukee Evening Wisconsin said Young and the board chose to “toss the National Agreement into the fire.”

nickyoungpix

Nick Young

James Edward Sullivan, founder of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) said the reinstatement of the “arch-culprits” Meekin and Raymond “was the worst in the history.”  He predicted dire consequences as a result:

“Heretofore the fear of the black list has stopped many a crooked player from jumping or doing dishonest work.  But from now on it will be different.  A precedent has been formed.”

Raymond jumped back to Lincoln, taking Colonels’ pitcher Phillip “Red” Ehret with him to the Rustlers.  Meekin remained with Louisville and moved to the National League with the Colonels the following season.

Meekin had a 10-year big league career as a result of Young’s reversal.

From 1891-93, Meekin was 29-51 with Louisville and the Washington Senators and was traded to the Giants (along with Duke Farrell) before the 1894 season.  He was 33-9, and fellow Indiana native Amos Rusie was 36-13, for the 2nd place Giants.  Meekin had two complete game victories in the Giants four game sweep of the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the Temple Cup series (Rusie won the other two games).

The New York Evening Journal called Meekin “Old Reliable,” and said, “He can push ‘em up to the plate in any old style, and is factor with the stick.”  The pitcher hit .276 with 29 RBI in 183 at bats in 1894 (including hitting 3 triples in a game on July 4) and was a career .243 hitter.

Meekin won 102 more games (including 26, and 20 win seasons in 1896 and ’97), but as O. P. Caylor said in The New York Herald he suffered from “a lack of control.”  Meekin walked 1056 batters and struck out only 901 in more than 2600 innings, he also hit 89 batters; in 1898, he broke Hughie Jennings nose with a pitch.

After posting a 16-18 record for the seventh place Giants in 1898, Meekin, along with Rusie, and second baseman William “Kid” Gleason, were blamed by New York owner Andrew Freeman for the team’s disappointing finish.  Freeman told reporters:

“Meekin, Rusie and Gleason will be either sold or traded.  We do not want them.  I’m going to break up cliques in the team even if I have to get rid of every man.  There must be harmony.  Without it we can’t win games.  We have too many men who are simply playing for their salaries and do not seem to care whether they win or not.”

Rusie had injured his arm late in the season and sat out the next two years.  Meekin and Gleason, despite Freedman’s promise, returned to the Giants for the 1899 season.  The team finished in tenth place, and Meekin struggled with a 5-11 record.

He was sold to the Boston Beaneaters in August for a reported $5000, although it was commonly assumed that the Giants received much less, or simply “loaned” Meekin to Boston for the stretch run; a charge made by Brooklyn Superbas manager Ned Hanlon.  Although Hanlon’s charges have become “fact” in countless books and articles over the years, several newspapers, including The Pittsburgh Press refuted Hanlon’s story:

“All that talk and fuss about Freedman giving Jouett Meekin to Boston in order to help that team win the pennant and thus get even with Brooklyn is nonsense.  The truth of the matter is that Freedman thought Meekin’s days as a pitcher were over, and he offered him to the Pittsburgh club, but President (William) Kerr thought the same way and did not take him.  At the time Boston’s pitching corps was in bad shape and manager (Frank) Selee took a chance on the big fellow.  There was no underhand dealing in the matter at all.”

Meekin was 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA for Boston, but the team finished second to Brooklyn.  He was released by Boston before the 1900 season and pitched just two games with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being released again in July.  He finished the season with the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers in the Western Association and spent 1902 in the Southern Association with the Memphis Egyptians.

Meekin returned home to New Albany, Indiana, where, in 1910, according to The Trenton True American “his earnings from baseball are well invested in real estate.”

Meekin slipped into relative obscurity by the time he died in 1944.

The original picture that appeared with this post–now below–was misidentified as Jouett Meekin in this blog and by The Louisville courier-Journal in 1897.  According to Mark Fimoff co-chair SABR Pictorial History Committee, the picture was actually Lave Cross.  

Lave Cross--picture earlier misidentified as Jouett Meekin.

Lave Cross–picture earlier misidentified as Jouett Meekin.

“The Sudden Reappearance of ‘Silver’ King”

27 Jun

Oliver Perry “O.P.” Caylor wrote in June of 1896 in The New York Herald:

“One of the baseball surprises of the season is the apparently successful reappearance of ‘Silver’ King upon the National League diamond.  Without any warning the Washington club sent him in against the Pittsburgh team, and he not only won his game, but held the latter down to six hits, Of course all this caused a great deal of gossip wherever baseball is a subject of interest.”

When Charles Frederick “Silver” King (born Koenig), took the mound for the Washington Senators and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8 to 1 in the second game of a May 30 doubleheader, it was his first appearance in professional baseball in nearly three years.

King had been one of baseball’s best pitchers of the 1880s, with a 142-70 record from 1887-1890 while playing for Charlie Comiskey, first with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association and then following Comiskey to the  Chicago Pirates in the Players League.

Comiskey (8) and pitcher Silver King (14) with the 1888 St. Louis Browns, King would follow Comiskey to the Chicago Pirates in the Players League in 1890

Comiskey, seated center(8) and Silver King standing second from right (14) with the 1888 St. Louis Browns, King would follow Comiskey to the Chicago Pirates in the Players League in 1890

Caylor said that during Flint’s heyday:

“His most successful delivery was what is known as ‘the cross fire,’ first used effectively, I believe, by (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourne and at present the prominent stock in trade of (Wilfred “Kid”) Carsey of the Philadelphias (Phillies).  It consists of standing on the extreme end of the pitcher’s plate, stepping away still farther from the direct line towards the batsman and sending the ball across the home base at an angle, which, although small, is very bothersome to the man with the bat.”

Silver King

Silver King

Caylor said King was “put out of the business” in 1893 when “the pitcher’s box was set back five feet,” (to the current 60’ 6”).  While King’s record slipped during the last two seasons the distance was 55 feet to a combined 36-53 while pitching for the Pirates and New York Giants, he had respectable ERAs of 3.11 and 3.29.  After the rule change King went 8-10 with a 6.08 ERA pitching for the Giants and Comiskey’s Cincinnati Reds in 1893, and then disappeared.

Caylor thought there was “a great deal of significance to King’s return to the diamond,” and predicted a trend:

“It means managers, having exhausted the new crop and finding nothing before them worth a trial, are forced to look behind and try to rekindle some of the half burned out embers. Washington not only took up King, but they gave (Les) German a trial after the New York club let him go.  (Cap) Anson (Chicago Colts) went back to (Fred) Pfeffer after finding (Algernon “Algie”) McBride, (Josh) Reilly and (George) Flynn wanting and was even forced to put himself into his nine to fill out the weak spots.”

Caylor said it was “astonishing  to look over the list of new material which was brought into the National League last spring and notice how small a part of it has been able to keep ‘in the swim.’  Every day one hears that some younger player has been released or that another has been loaned or farmed to a minor league club.”

Caylor’s prediction of success for the “trend,” and the players named was a mixed bag.  Anson, who had never really gone away, hit .331 in 108 games, for the Colts, but Pfeffer hit just .244 in 94 games. German fared the worst, he was 2-20 in 1896 and 3-5 the following season before being released in August.

King managed to post a 16-16 record for the Senators in 1896 and ’97 but never found his early career form.  After the 1897 season, he returned to St. Louis where he died in 1938.

Caylor would become ill the following season, and died in October of 1897.

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.'”