Tag Archives: Ogden Canners

Charles Barngrover

27 Oct

Charles Andrew Barngrover pitched in just a handful of minor league games, but his career as an itinerant professional baseball player in the first decade of the 20th Century provides a window into the world of the hundreds of young men who traveled the country earning a living on the fringes of the game.

He was born on January 1, 1883 in Ellinwood, Kansas, and started his career with a team in Great Bend in 1902; the league was comprised of most of the Central Kansas cities that would make up the Kansas State League when it was formed in 1905.

In 1903 he joined a team in Larned, Kansas and was involved in an incident that that made headlines across the state.

The Topeka Daily Capital said Barngrover and his teammates “fought their way from the hotel to the Hutchinson & Southern depot in Kingman last night after a disagreement concerning a 17-inning ballgame.”  When the fleeing ballplayers reached Hutchinson, Barngrover described the chaos to a reporter from The Hutchinson News:

“The Kingman boys have a good club and they managed to put it on us by a score of 3 to 0 in Monday’s game.  We had a series of three games in sight and were to receive $25 a game.  The game yesterday (Tuesday) was a hard one and there was a tie at the end of the ninth inning.  The tie lasted until the seventeenth inning.”

In the seventeenth, the umpire, a Larned player, called a close play at the plate in favor of his team, which gave the visitors a 7 to 6 victory.

“When the decision was made (a $60 side bet) was turned over to us and five of us started for town.  The Kingman club and the citizens generally went after the other Larned) boys (about the call) saying it would have to be changed of the $25 a game would not be forthcoming. “

According to Barngrover the umpire was forced to reverse his decision, and the four remaining Larned players told to take the field.  Kingman quickly scored a run and claimed victory.

“A short time after this the crowd came into town.  The Kingman boys found that we had the side bet money and they came to the hotel and demanded it.  We refused to turn loose and the fight started…There were about forty Kingman boys in the mob and they said they were going to get us.  Baseball bats and everything else in sight were used and we fought all the way from the hotel to the depot and stood them off until the train came in…As we got on the train we heard someone say that there were several broken heads in the crowd…We were lucky to get out alive, as the Kingman people are the worst we ever went up against.”

The following year, Barngrover’s hometown paper, The Ellinwood Leader reported that the pitcher “was lynched at Fort Worth, Texas a short time ago.  It is said that during a ball game he disputed a decision of the umpire and struck him over the head with a bat, killing him.  The crowd was so angered they avenged the murder by hanging him.”

The Hoisington (KN) Dispatch added:

“(Barngrover’s parents) are fairly well to do and highly respected…He pitched several games for Hoisington last spring but was not so popular among the ballplayers here on account of being accused of throwing a game.”

Several weeks later The Leader reported that the rumor was wrong; Barngrover’s parents had received word from him that he was in San Francisco, the paper gave no explanation for how the rumor arose, or whether or not Barngrover was involved in any such incident in Texas.

It’s unclear where Barngrover played after arriving in San Francisco in the spring of 1904, but he turned up two years later in Reno, Nevada.  The Nevada State Journal said the local agent for the Rainier Brewing Company had organized a team which “will defeat any Nevada team,” and signed Barngrover, who the paper said was “reputed to be the best amateur pitcher in California.

The stop in Nevada lasted just three months, and by June he was back in Kansas pitching for a team in his hometown and pitched for them on and off for the remainder of the 1906 season.  In August The Kansas City (KN) Globe said he had joined a barnstorming club called the National Bloomers:

“(He) is wearing bloomers and appearing as ‘Lady Rupert, one of the two World Renowned Lady Pitchers.’”

In 1907 he made his first appearance with a team recognized by the national agreement when he was signed by the Springfield Midgets in the Western AssociationThe Hutchinson News was not thrilled with his prospects:

“Hutchinson fans are wondering whether or not Barngrover can stick at Springfield.  He got off extremely lucky in three of his games but in the other four or five he has been radically wrong.”

Charles Barngrover

Charles Barngrover

After just 10 games, and a 4-6 record, he was released and returned to Kansas to play for a semi-pro team in Kinsley.  Barngrover then went from Kansas to Colorado to New Mexico and back to Kansas the next two years, playing with various semi-pro teams.

And, while he does not appear on any published rosters, Barngrover pitched in two games for the 1909 Western League Champion Des Moines Boosters in September; a 15-8 victory over the Topeka Jayhawks and he pitched the final two innings of an 11 to 4 loss to the Sioux City Packers.

He began the 1910 season, according to The Sporting Life, under the name “Smith” pitching the Quincy Vets of the Central Association to a 13-inning opening day victory over the Burlington Pathfinders—the game was later awarded to Burlington and after just one game, Barngrover was on the road again, to the Minnesota-Wisconsin League, where he was a combined 2-9 in eleven games with the La Crosse Outcats and the Rochester Roosters.

Barngrover, as "Smith" won his only game on the mound for the Quincy Vets

Barngrover, as “Smith” won his only game on the mound for the Quincy Vets

The wandering pitcher spent the next two seasons bouncing back and forth from the semi-pro fields of Kansas to La Crosse for a handful of games in 1911; then to Utah in 1912, where he spent a month with the Ogden Canners of the Union Association, and back to Kansas again.

He spent one more season pitching in Kansas before retiring.

Barngrover went to work for the Fort Worth & Denver Railway; it was as a result of his second career that he received the most media attention.

In the fall of 1921 he was indicted by a United States grand jury for theft of interstate shipments.  Barngrover cooperated with the government and, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram “was the government’s star witness in the prosecution of four men indicted with him.”  In all twenty-three men were indicted for stealing more than $100,000 in goods; the indicted men would hide in rail cars and throw “stolen goods along the tracks as the trains left Fort Worth, which were picked up by other members of the gang in motor cars.”

On March 10, 1922, Barngrover was preparing to testify at the trial of several more co-conspirators. While he had been fired from his job after the indictment, he was at the rail yard talking to former coworkers when he was shot and killed.  Two days after his murder, The Star-Telegram said:

“The body of C.A. Barngrover, ex-railroad man, self-confessed boxcar robber and Government witness, was placed in a modest grave in Greenwood Cemetery Saturday afternoon.

“And while the funeral services were said over his grave, police were endeavoring to solve the mystery surrounding the identity of the assassin who, concealed in a boxcar, shot Barngrover to death…Barngrover had 3 cents in his pockets when killed.”

A railroad employee was indicted for the murder, but there is no record of a conviction in the case.

McCloskey, Mays and Hair Color

12 Mar

Carl Mays is best known for being the pitcher that hit Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman with a pitch, resulting in the only hit by pitch death of a Major League player. In fifteen seasons he posted a 208-126 record with a 2.92 ERA.

Five years before he became infamous for Chapman’s death, Mays became embroiled in a strange feud with former National League manager John James McCloskey; the dispute was over hair color.

Carl Mays

Carl Mays

In December of 1914, McCloskey was a well-respected figure in baseball, credited with being the “father” of the original Texas League in 1888, McCloskey had spent five seasons as manager of the Louisville Colonels and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League, and another 23 as a minor league manager and owner.

Mays was coming off a 24-8 season for the Providence Grays in the international League, and while called up to the Red Sox in the closing weeks of the season had not yet appeared in a big league game.

The controversy originated when Charles “Toby” Fullerton, a pitcher for the Seattle Giants in the Northwestern League was quoted in an article that appeared in The Pittsburgh Press and several other newspapers about pitcher “Seattle Bill” James, who had just led the Boston Braves to a World Championship.  Fullerton said when he and James were teammates in Seattle in 1912, manager Shad Barry had “condemned the youngster for being a blond,” then was quoted saying McCloskey also “has no use in the world for blonde ball players.”

"Seattle Bill" James

“Seattle Bill” James

The strange, silly, throwaway quote should have been the end of it, but it was apparently serious enough for McCloskey to issue a long denial from his home in Louisville, Kentucky.   The full-page letter McCloskey wrote appeared in more newspapers than the original story, and read in part:

“Let me say, I have been accused of every crime in the calendar, but this is too much.”

McCloskey claimed the “rumor” originated when he was managing the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association in 1910.  Outfielder Rube DeGroff played for McCloskey (incidentally, Shad Barry was also a member of the team), and according to McCloskey:

“We were playing in Kansas City, we were behind…and made a big rally that came near giving us the game.  The bases were full in the last inning, with two men out, when the big, blonde and good-natured Rube DeGroff, who was a splendid all-around player and life of the club, came to bat with the bases full and struck out.  I was sore over losing the game and made the remark that I never saw a cotton-top who ever made good in a pinch.”

McCloskey said he also believed anything Barry might have said to or about James was certainly a joke, and closed with a final defense:

“In fact, in my humble opinion, I think the blonde has a shade over the brunette.  But why the color of a man’s hair should have anything to do with his ability as a ball player is a mystery to me, and I hope this explanation will put an end to these silly rumors.”

It didn’t.

Within days Carl Mays weighed in, claiming that he had twice been rejected for an opportunity to pitch for McCloskey’s Ogden Canners in the Union Association because he was blond.

Mays said:

“McCloskey is a liar pure and simple…In 1912, when I was on my way to Boise to try out for the Boise team; I stopped off at Ogden, thinking possibly owner McCloskey might give me a trial.  I met him downtown in a billiard parlor and went up and introduced myself.

“McCloskey looked me over carefully, like a horse-trader examining a piece of horseflesh, and then suddenly espied my blond hair.  ‘No,’ said he coolly, ‘I don’t want you.  In fact I wouldn’t have you around the ranch.  I don’t want any blonds in my camp.’”

Mays also claimed that later in 1912 while compiling a 22-9 record for the Boise Irrigators in the Western Tri-State League; he was nearly sold to McCloskey’s pitching-strapped Ogden Canners until:

“One of the Ogden players happened to mention the fact that he was the same blond-haired fellow who had asked for a job earlier.”

According to Mays, McCloskey said:

“’Deal is off.  Send that white-haired guy over here and I’ll kill him.’”

The story stuck with McCloskey for more than 20 years.  A 1916 story in The Providence Tribune said:

“Scouts all over the country know McCloskey and never did one in his employ recommend a light-haired ballplayer…His peculiarity was well-known, and he knew that no one would have the temerity to recommend to him a blond or light-haired ballplayer. “

The black-haired John McCloskey

The black-haired John McCloskey

In 1934, The Milwaukee Journal called McCloskey “one grizzled veteran who frowned on blond athletes.”  The article quoted E. Lee Keyser, a long-time minor league executive, who said when McCloskey managed Butte “One of (McCloskey’s) players was an Indian outfielder whose hair was black,” the player struck out in a critical situation.  According to Keyser, when the unnamed player returned to the clubhouse later, McCloskey grabbed his hair and said:  “I just want to know if you’re wearing a wig.  You hit like a blond.”

McCloskey managed in the minor leagues until he was 70-years-old, he died eight years later in 1940.