Tag Archives: Ohio-Pennsylvania League

“They Have the Most Wonderful Ballpark in the Country”

2 Apr

The Interstate Association lasted less than one full season. The eight-team league with clubs in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, organized in 1906, seemed a stretch to some, to begin with. The Richmond (IN) Palladium said:

“League baseball will be an experiment in several of the cities…There has been little interest in the national sport at Muncie for several years, while Marion was a failure the second season it had a berth in the Central League.”

The experiment failed quickly; the league struggled from opening day and folded in July.

The demise of the Interstate Association created an opportunity for another league in its first season. The Southern Michigan League had just five clubs—Mt. Clemens, Jackson, Tecumseh, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek—and according to Sporting Life:

“(H)as taken the Saginaw territory of the defunct Interstate Association, with Clarence Jessup as manager of the team.”

Jessup had managed the Marion, Indiana club in the Interstate Association, and brought with him to Saginaw his best player, 18-year-old shortstop Donie Bush (most biographies of Bush say he spent part of 1906 with the Marion, Ohio team in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, but according to The Sporting Life he was sent by the Dayton Veterans in the Central League to the Marion, Indiana club in the Interstate Association in April.)

doniebush

Donie Bush

The Dayton Journal suggested that Bush and James Elmer Duggan, who had been sold to Marion with Bush, should be returned to the Veterans after the Interstate Association disbanded:

“The (Saginaw) club will be strengthened…by several of the Marion players. This doubtless explains the failure of Bush and Duggan to report here. Jessup may bump up against it good and hard if he persists in keeping these two players away from here.”

A lot was expected of the league’s new entry and Sporting Life said:

“Saginaw now has a salary list that will take a corking good attendance to pay off, but the fans promise loyal support.”

Jessup’s club finished last in their half-season in Saginaw, and the town failed to field a club for the Southern Michigan League’s 1907 campaign. The reason might have been the Saginaw ballpark.

Apparently hastily built on the site of a former lumber yard, the playing field in Saginaw might have been less than optimal.

The Superior (WI) Times told the story the following spring:

“They have the most wonderful ballpark in the country at Saginaw, Mich. Originally the field was a lumber yard and it is not much better today, the sod having been worn away in spots, allowing sawdust to percolate through.”

The paper spoke to William “Billy” Ragan, an infielder for the Jackson Convicts during the 1906 Southern Michigan League season. During one game:

“The batter hit a slow grounder toward third and the pitcher and third sacker started for the ball. About the time the latter was ready to pick up the sphere the earth seemed to move from under his feet, a cloud of dust struck him fairly in the eyes and the ball rolled to the left field.

“Another time when on the field Ragan kept jumping up and down around the third bag but was abruptly called down by the pitcher, who yelled, ‘Don’t you see you are jostling me off the rubber and I can’t pitch until you keep still?

“A little later in the game, Ragan was at bat and on an adverse decision by the umpire, the Saginaw team came running in to object in a body.

“A strange sight greeted Ragan’s eyes. The park seemed to swim before him, rolled like the swell of Lake Erie after a storm and little spurts of dust came shooting up all over the infield.

“’It’s an earthquake,’ screamed (Ragan) and he made ready, to make a hasty exit, but the laughter of his fellow players quieted him down and he pinched himself to make sure it wasn’t a dream.”

Ragan said he asked the Saginaw catcher what was happening. The catcher explained the park had been built over the old lumber yard:

“There are a lot of boards just under the surface. Every time you step on one end you tilt up the other end. This throws up the dirt and when the pitcher yelled at you a little while ago you were on one end and he on the other of a plank and you were bounding him around.”

Presumably, with a more stable ballpark, Saginaw joined the Southern Michigan League again in 1908.

“Hard Luck” Harry Welchonce

23 Nov

In January of 1913, as Harry Monroe Welchonce was preparing for his fourth attempt to stick with a major league club, The Washington Herald said:

“Welchonce is one of the most unfortunate young men that ever tried to get a steady job in the majors.”

He did not make his professional debut until he was 25-years-old.  He worked as a telegraph operator for the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad while playing amateur ball in Pennsylvania until 1909 when he signed to play with the Steubenville Stubs in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.

Harry Welchonce

Harry Welchonce

A .321 hitter over seven minor league seasons, Welchonce was purchased by three major league teams—The Phillies, Dodgers, and Senators—and went to spring training at least five times with big league teams, but earned just one 26-game trial with Phillies in 1911. He hit just .212 and made two errors in 17 games.

After failing to make the Senators in 1912, he hit a Southern Association leading .333 for the Nashville Volunteers, earning himself another spring trial with Washington.  The Washington Times said of him:

“(Welchonce) is said to have the abilities of a major leaguer without the inside adornment. In other words, he is easily disheartened. This is said to have caused his failure with the Phillies three years ago.”

While under the headline “Welchonce is Hard Luck Guy,” The Herald attempted to explain his big league failures:

“Welchonce is one of the most unfortunate young men that ever tried to get a steady job in the majors. He has always batted for more than .300 in the minor leagues, and he has the natural speed and ability to make good in the majors.

“Welchonce is a telegraph operator, and his hard luck really dates from several summers ago.  He was seated at his key at Indiana, PA, one afternoon, when a thunderstorm came up. A bolt of lightning shattered a tree outside his office and he was a long time recovering from the shock…He joined the Phillies (in 1910), and his dashy work made a big hit in the training camp at Southern Pines (North Carolina)

“The team had been there only about a week when lightning struck the hotel and a ball of fire ran down into a room in which Johnny Bates, Welchonce, (Lou) Schettler, and (Jim) Moroney were sleeping. The players were all badly scared, and the shock was such that Welchonce did not get over it.”

A contemporary account of the incident in The Philadelphia Inquirer said all four players were badly shaken and that “Welchonce was the first to recover his speech.”  The Associated Press said all four players “were covered with plaster and debris from the ceiling,” and that Schettler “could not talk for two hours.”

Adding to Welchonce’s woes in 1910 was an injured shoulder, or as The Philadelphia North American put it: “(He) still plays with a wrenched shoulder and it affects the fleet youngster’s batting. He can only get a very ladylike swing at the sphere.”

The Phillies sent Welchonce to the South Bend Bronchos in the Central League.  He hit .315, leading South Bend to the pennant.

The Times picked up the story:

“(In 1911) he took the training trip to Birmingham, Alabama (with the Phillies).Again it looked as if Harry would give (John) Titus a hard battle for right field honors.  Then came more hard luck. One of Earl Moore’s cross-fire slants struck Welchonce in the head, and Harry went to a hospital in Birmingham for several days. “

The contemporary account in The Inquirer said that he did not lose consciousness, but “was sick to his stomach,” and quoted a doctor saying he suffered from “nervous shock.”  When he was released from the hospital three days later, the paper said, “He looks weak and colorless.”

He failed to make the Senators again in 1913 and was released to the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association again and led the league with a .338.

Welchonce returned to Atlanta in 1914, and so did his “hard luck.”

He was hospitalized at the end of the April with pneumonia and was out for much of May.  By late June, The Atlanta Constitution said he was “Back in Stride,” and he was again hitting above .300.  But his season came to end in August when he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis.  The Atlanta Journal said he “Went to Ashville, North Carolina for the mountain air,” and treatment.

Atlanta held a benefit game and various other fundraisers and presented Welchonce with a check for $883.10.

Welchonce recovered, but not enough to rejoin the Crackers the following season.  He returned to his job with the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad and managed the company’s baseball team.

He returned to pro ball in 1915, accepting an offer from the  to be player-manager of the Texas League club.

welchoncedallas

Welchonce, 1915

He played fairly well, hitting .297, but the Giants were a last place club and Welchonce became ill again in August and retired from professional baseball.

He again returned to the railroad and management of the company baseball team until 1920, when poor health necessitated a move to the West.  He settled first in Denver where he was employed as an accountant, and later Arcadia, California where “Hard Luck” Harry lived to age 93.  He died in 1977.

“He fell off the Face of the Earth”

28 Aug

Charles Hazen Morton could run.  When he was playing shortstop and managing the Akron Independents in 1881 The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“Morton, shortstop with the Akrons, can run like a deer.  It is probably that no one in the country can beat him for fifty yards.”

Morton’s major league career in the National League and American Association was unspectacular; he hit less than .200 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1882, and the Toledo Blue Stockings and Detroit Wolverines in 1884 and ’85, he also managed Toledo and Detroit–Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday Wilberforce Walker played for Morton with the Blue Stockings  He also managed the 1890 Toledo Maumees; Toledo’s only other season as a major league city.

Morton continued to manage minor league and independent teams through 1899.

After five years away from baseball he was the driving force in organizing several independent teams in Ohio and Pennsylvania into the eight-team Ohio-Pennsylvania League.  He was named president.

For two seasons, the league ran smoothly.  So smoothly that, according to The Akron Beacon Journal he was being aggressively pursued by owners in the Central League to assume the presidency of that league during the summer of 1906.  Morton chose to stay put.

As smoothly as things ran for two seasons, the tide turned badly in 1907.  Attendance was down all season and several franchises were on the verge of bankruptcy, and four teams wanted to leave the league entirely.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer said:

“Four O and P League clubs want a new league; four do not.  Four assert they will retire from baseball rather than be associated with the other four.  The league is deadlocked.  Neither side will give in.”

The Youngstown Vindicator said, “There seems to be no question that President Charles H. Morton will have strong opposition.”  Despite efforts to unseat Morton, he was narrowly reelected president of the league.

Ultimately, four teams did leave to form the Ohio State League.  But Morton told The Sporting Life at the beginning of 1908 that he had managed to bring in four new clubs and was confident for the future of the O and P despite rumors that the league was in financial disarray:

“No, I do not think this is going t0 be a disastrous campaign.  The money stringency may hurt the crowds to a certain extent, yet people in this section of Ohio differ little from their brothers in other parts of the country. The germ of baseball Is not sporadic.”

He predicted that attendance would increase.

It didn’t, and things never got better for Morton.  After the 1908 season, it appeared all but certain he would be removed as president.

In December, two days before the league meeting was to begin in Pittsburgh, Morton abruptly canceled it.  A new meeting was scheduled for January in Cleveland and Morton’s fate seemed to be sealed.

On January 12 he traveled to Cleveland with representatives from the Canton Watchmakers and Akron Champs, likely his last two supporters.  But when the meeting was called to order Morton was nowhere to be found.  Samuel Wright, who had managed the Youngstown Champs the previous season, was elected president.

The Youngstown Vindicator said:

“He fell off the face of the earth so far as anybody knows.”

Charles Hazen Morton

Charles Hazen Morton

Some speculated he had run.

He disappeared with $2500 of the league’s money.  As days dragged into weeks there was no sign of Morton.

The Chicago Tribune said his friends were concerned that he had “done away with himself,” despondent over his pending removal as president.

The Marion Star said, “It is feared he has been thugged.”

The Pittsburgh Press advanced a conspiracy theory.  Under the headline “See Deep Plot in Morton’s Absence.”  The paper claimed  the Canton and Akron clubs realizing that he would be ousted had conspired with the president to have him disappear so, “Wright while really elected is far from president (of the league).”

But there was no conspiracy, Morton had really disappeared and remained missing for more than two months.

On March 16 he resurfaced.  Morton was found “wandering aimlessly” on Wabash Avenue in Chicago, near his brother’s home.  The Akron Beacon Journal said he was diagnosed with “Acute dementia (and) his mind is now a blank.”

The only clues where Morton had been for more than two months, were papers in his pockets which indicated he had been in Mexico and Texas and, The Beacon Journal said, “He mutters incoherently about Corpus Christi.”

He recovered enough to return to Akron by August of 1909.  His brother reimbursed the league $1500 that was not recovered after he was found.

Morton faded into obscurity after his return to Akron.  There was no follow-up to his story.  None of the many questions about his disappearance were ever answered.  And whatever happened in Corpus Christi died with him in 1921.

This is a longer version of a post from 12-14-2012.

“Then the Harder I threw the Harder they hit them”

3 Oct

Walter Newton Justis–often misspelled “Justus” during his career– performed an incredible feat in 1908.  While posting a 25-17 record for the Lancaster Links in the Ohio State League, he pitched four no-hit games between July 19 and September 13.

Walter Justis

Walter Justis

The performance earned him his second shot to make the big leagues.  The first consisted of two relief appearances (8.10 ERA in 3.1 innings) with the Detroit Tigers in 1905 when he was 21.  He said later that he wasn’t ready:

“All I knew was to burn them over.  And the harder they hit them the harder I threw.  Then the Harder I threw the harder they hit them.  Most of the time in the three months that I was there I lugged the big bat bag, and I guess I earned my salary then about as much as at any time I know of.”

Justis’ bizarre behavior often made as big an impression as his pitching.  Roy Castleton was pitching for the Youngstown Ohio Works in 1906 when Justis joined Lancaster (the team was in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League in 1906 and ’07, and joined the Ohio State League in 1908).

Castleton, while playing for the Atlanta Crackers two years later told The Atlanta Constitution  he thought “Rube Waddell and Bugs Raymond, two players well-known for their eccentricities…will have to take off their top pieces,” to Justis.  Castleton was staying in the same hotel as the Lancaster team:

“Early one morning he heard someone raising a disturbance in the hotel hallway and taking a look to see what was doing, he observed pitcher Justis…running down the hallway.

“’At the end of the hall Justice placed a pillow against the wall.  He would get a good start down the hall and after the fashion of a man on the paths would take a running slide at the pillow.  When he arrived at his destination he would hold out his hand as umpires do and yell ‘safe!’  Justis would keep this up for hours at a time playing base runner and umpire out in the hall at daybreak.’

“’Sometimes he would stop the double existence of umps and runner and would (just) be the judge of the play.  Standing over the pillow he would hold out his hand and yell ‘safe’ so loudly that he could be heard a block off.’”

The Constitution also said that Justis was superstitious:

“He never goes into a game without wearing a pair of ladies’ silk hose supported in the usual manner.  Regular baseball stockings would never do for him, as he believes his career as a pitcher would be cut short if he were to wear them in a game.”

He was signed by the St. Louis Browns, and Manager Jimmy McAleer told The St. Louis Globe-Democrat the pitcher’s eccentricities were a positive:

“McAleer says that the reason he signed pitcher Justis of Lancaster was because Justis bears the reputation of being a baseball ‘bug.’  ‘Bugs,’ says McAleer, ‘make good in St. Louis.  We have Waddell, while the Cardinals have ‘Bugs’ Raymond.’”

Justis joined the Browns in Dallas in the spring of 1909.

The Globe-Democrat said after he had a poor outing in an exhibition against the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League:

“Justis pitched two innings for the Browns Saturday and the Houston team got six runs.  Until this bombardment he was tagged for the regular club, and the label hasn’t been removed yet, though slightly loosened.”

And Justis appeared to have made the team when they broke camp in Texas and returned to St, Louis in early April, but The Associated Press reported on April 6:

“Walter Justus, a pitcher recruit of the St. Louis Browns, is confined to his room by a severe nervous collapse, and the nurse in charge says he may be able to leave for his home in Indiana in a few days.  Justis lost his power of speech at the end of a wrestling bout with Arthur Griggs in Sportsman’s Park today.  It is claimed Justus fell to the floor, striking his head, and reopened an old wound received when a boy.”

Justis suffered similar attacks at least four other times during his career; in June of 1907, twice in 1908, and August of 1909.  In July, 1908 after a double-header with the Lima Cigarmakers, The Marion (Ohio) Daily Mirror said “(Justis) suffered a sudden brain stroke akin to apoplexy.  He fell in a dead faint at the close of the second contest.  He was removed to his hotel in an unconscious condition.”   In September, after another attack left Justis hospitalized, The Sporting Life said prematurely “physicians say he will never twirl another game.”   It is likely that he suffered from epilepsy.

Within days of returning to Indiana from St. Louis Justis fully recovered.  The Associated Press said “His recovery is one of the most remarkable in the history of athletes.”  But, despite his recovery, Justis was returned to Lancaster by the Browns, and lost his opportunity to return to a major league team.

He threw another no-hitter for Lancaster in 1909, on May 18 against the Marion Diggers, and went 19-16 for the season.  Justis continued pitching until 1913, finishing with the Covington Blue Sox in the Federal League—where he played with the equally eccentric, enigmatic Fred “Humpy” Badel.

Justis shut out the St. Louis Terriers 4 to 0 on the opening day of the Federal League season, but no complete records remain for the season.  By late September of 1913 he was back home in Greendale, Indiana pitching for a local team.  He remained in Greendale until his death in 1941.

“I Consider him a Weak, Foolish Talker”

13 Nov

Bill Phyle was a no-show.  He failed to appear before Southern Association President William Kavanaugh at the league’s hearing regarding his charges that the end of the 1903 season was fixed.  After the league suspended him he failed to appear in St. Louis to defend his charges in front of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL).  He claimed he was too ill to attend either meeting.

As a result he was expelled from organized baseball in October of 1903.  His appeal was denied in December.

Phyle had very few supporters by the time his fate was settled by the NAPBL, but he still had at least one—kind of:  Milwaukee Brewers Manager “Pongo” Joe Cantillon, the man who sold Phyle’s contract to the Memphis Egyptians.

Joe Cantillon

Joe Cantillon

Cantillon told William A. Phelon of The Chicago Daily News that his former player wasn’t too bright, but that he also wasn’t wrong:

“I consider him a weak, foolish talker, who opened his head when it did not do him any good.  Just the same, Billy Phyle had cause for the charges which he made, and I got it good and straight that there was work done in the Southern league last season which was on the scandalous pattern.”

Cantillon stopped short of saying the season was fixed—but not very far short:

“Understand I do not say, neither does Phyle charge, that any games were sold, or that either manager or club owners were in on any such deals.   Even though there are thousands who say—apparently with mighty good reason—that the league is crooked, always has been crooked since it started, and always will be crooked—I do not accuse anyone of selling out.”

Cantillon then came pretty close to accusing Atlanta of selling out:

“This is the way the thing was done—and if anybody wants to howl I’ll show the goods and produce the names.  When Memphis was playing Atlanta it was a case of anything to beat out Little Rock.  The Atlanta players, knowing that their only chances had gone glimmering, were anxious to help their friend’s to beat Mike Finn’s gang (Little Rock).  There was no sell out and there were no intentional errors—nothing so gross and coarse as that.  But a couple of the best regulars on the Atlanta team were laid off; a couple of substitutes were put in their places; a raw, unseasoned amateur was sent in to pitch, and then, to make assurances doubly sure, the Atlanta catcher told each Memphis batsman just what to expect as he came to the plate.”

Cantillon also said the Birmingham Barons were “trying to help (Little Rock) along,” and:

“Every player in the league was dead wise to the whole situation, but Billy Phyle was the only man who was foolish enough to open his face, and he got soaked proper.”

Cantillon claimed to “positively know” that Phyle had been sick, and that was the only reason he failed to appear to substantiate his claims in front the league and the NAPBL.  Regardless, he said Phyle would have had a difficult time:

“Even if he had been able to attend, what show would he have had, with every manager determined to clear his own skirts and swat Bill for the squeal he made?”

Cantillon challenged anyone in the Southern Association to refute his allegations.

In February of 1904 Cantillon cancelled a scheduled spring tour of the South and Phelon said in The Daily News that Southern Association teams had refused to play against Brewers.

The following month Clark Griffith, who was in the South with the New York Highlanders, told The Atlanta Constitution that Cantillon was “ a nice fellow,” who “had been misquoted and had not authorized the interview, and in fact knew nothing of it until it appeared in the press.”

Cantillon himself never directly denied his statement, but The Constitution, content to keep the focus of Southern wrath on Phyle was happy to give the Milwaukee manager a pass:

“(Griffith’s claim) puts a new light on the question and it is very probable that he has been judged too harshly in the south…Phyle as a baseball issue is now dead.  Any effort to revive him and bring him forward on the stage either as a hero suffering persecution or a sick man worrying his life out by the blacklist hanging over him, will meet with the opposition of every paper in the south.”

Phyle went to Toledo and spent the spring and summer wiring Southern Association President Kavanaugh asking for reinstatement so his contract could be assigned to the Mud Hens.  After his application was rejected in May, and again in July, Phyle joined the independent Youngstown Ohio Works team.  The team played exhibition games that summer with the Brooklyn Superbas and Pittsburgh Pirates—both National League clubs were fined $100 for playing against the blacklisted Phyle.

(Some sources list Phyle as a member of the 1904 Johnstown Johnnies in the independent Pennsylvania League, but several Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Williamsport Gazette and The Scranton  Republican said in August “Phyle turned down a $225 per month offer from Johnstown.”)

Phyle became part of another scandal in 1905.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

Youngstown joined the newly formed Ohio-Pennsylvania League, and needed to submit a roster to the NAPBL for approval.  Phyle’s name did not appear on the submitted list, but he played third base for the club all season, including an exhibition with the Cincinnati Reds on August 31. Youngstown was fined $500 in mid September and ordered to release Phyle.  Cincinnati was fined $100.

Phyle was finally reinstated in February of 1906, after he submitted a letter to the directors of the Southern Association retracting all of his 1903 allegations.

His contract was assigned to the Nashville Volunteers who sold him to the Kansas City Blues in the American Association.  After hitting .295 in 72 games, Phyle got one last trip to the National League.  He was traded to the St. Louis; he hit just .178 for the Cardinals.  He retired after playing three years in the Eastern League with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1907-1909.

More than twenty years later Joe Cantillon was apparently forgiven in the South.  He managed the Little Rock Travelers to back-to-back eighth place finishes in 1926 and 1927.

The rest of Bill Phyle’s story next week.

What Goes Around…

12 Dec

Harry “Bird Eye” Truby’s best days were behind him by 1905.  He broke in with Rockford in the Central Interstate League in 1888, had spent part of 1896 and ’96 in the National League with the Chicago Colts and Pittsburgh Pirates, and for the next decade was a solid minor league player.  But his skills had eroded and by 1902 he was playing in lesser quality leagues.

Truby started the season in the D-level Cotton States League with the Jackson Blind Tigers, by June he was either released or sold (depending on the source) to the Meridian Ribboners in the same league—he was acquired by the Niles Crowites in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League on September 1—within days his career was over.  The Youngstown Vindicator said:

“Harry Truby won’t have a chance to slug any more umpires for a while (sic) unless he makes a special appointment with them.”

In a Labor day game against the Akron Buckeyes Truby punched an umpire named List after he called a Niles player out for not tagging up on a fly ball; The Vindicator said of the resulting melee which involved at least two other players and some fans:

“It was a disgraceful scene, indeed.”

League president  Charles Hazen Morton suspended Truby indefinitely; the suspension effectively ended his career.

Harry Truby, 1898

Harry Truby, 1898

The following season Truby became an umpire, quickly worked his way back to the Big Leagues,  and was named to the  National League staff at the beginning of the 1909 season; however, he was let go or resigned in July (again, sources disagree).  In August Truby became an umpire in the Tri-State League.

Within days of joining the Tri-State,  Truby umpired a game between the Williamsport Millionaires and Trenton Tigers in Williamsport, PA.  Williamsport argued a number of calls and Truby had already ejected three of their players: Bert Conn, George Therre, Tom O’Hara, when in the seventh inning he ejected a fourth, outfielder Rip Cannell. The Pittsburgh Press said:

“(T)he crowd, enraged by (Truby’s) poor work and apparently uncalled for action against the local team swarmed  upon the diamond.  He was knocked down…and struck on the nose by a stone.  The police quickly ended the disturbance, but after the game the crowd was in waiting and ran the umpire into a shed from which he was rescued by two officers in an automobile.  The crowd tried to pursue the automobile but it pulled ahead and at 7 o’clock he reached his hotel.”

Truby worked as an umpire in the Tri-State and Ohio State Leagues through the 1913 season, and seems to have avoided any additional attacks by angry mobs.

He died in 1953 in Ironton, Ohio.

Three Balls in Play

28 Nov

Bill Speas played 22 seasons in the minor leagues.  At the height of his career he was numbered among the best fielders in the Pacific Coast League, and The Los Angeles Times said he had the best arm in the league.

Bill Speas

Born in Ohio, Speas began his career with Mansfield Giants in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League in 1906; there he was involved in one of the most unusual plays ever in a game against the Youngstown Ohio Works.

Speas, the Giants left fielder, told the story several times over the years.  Harvey Bailey was pitching for Mansfield; Youngstown had runners on first and second:

“The batter hit a long foul to right field, which the right fielder went after, unobserved by the umpire who was behind the pitcher.  He immediately threw another ball to the catcher which bounded over his head…the umps tossed out another ball to Bailey who made a quick heave to the batter, not noticing that his catcher was not in position.”

The batter singled to left field, where Speas picks up the story:

“I got it and threw it into the plate; only it hit the grandstand instead.  In the meantime the fielder had recovered the foul ball (and the catcher had retrieved the other ball) and the shortstop had one, running a man down between second and third, and the second baseman had the other trying to catch a man between first and second…everybody was running around I was almost sick from laughing out there in left field“

The umpire, who caused most of the confusion, and whose name is lost to history, eventually ruled the foul ball and the ball he threw over the catcher’s head out of play.  Youngstown went on to win the game.

Joe Jerger

26 Nov

Through a pronunciation fluke and poor subsequent research, Joseph J. Jerger remains the least known player to have been involved in a fatal beaning in a professional game.

Jerger was born in Germany, February 14, 1877, and began playing professionally with the Fall River Indians in the New England League in 1902.  With the exception of two short stints in the Eastern and Central Leagues, he remained with Fall River through 1907.

On August 9, 1906, with Thomas F. Burke, left fielder for the Lynn Shoemakers at the plate Jerger threw a pitch that broke inside and struck Burke in the temple.  Burke was immediately knocked unconscious, he was caught by the umpire as he fell.

According to newspaper reports Burke was  “a former player for Boston University and a law student in the off season,” this could be true, or Burke might have been confused with Boston athlete and Olympian Thomas E. Burke, who was attending law school during this period.

The real confusion was with Jerger.

Every contemporary newspaper account of the event, using the name as it was pronounced rather than as spelled, called Jerger “Joe Yeager.”   It was probably also due to Joseph Francis “Little Joe” Yeager, who had been a pitcher and in 1906 was playing infield for the New York Highlanders.

The Sporting Life had only added to the confusion in July of 1906 when they said:

“The name of the Fall River pitcher is Jegger not Yeager.”

Early reports were optimistic, The Boston Globe said “Doctors have hope,” for Burke’s recovery. Burke underwent surgery, but never regained consciousness and died on August 11.

Jerger was arrested and charged with manslaughter on August 18.  Contrary to some accounts, like in the otherwise excellent, “Death At The Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities of Players, Other Personnel and Spectators in Amateur and Professional Baseball, 1862-2007,” Jerger was never in danger of being convicted–the local authorities had determined that the best way to “place (Jerger) in good standing,” was to make his exoneration official.  (Incidentally, the book also incorrectly identifies Jerger as “Yeager”).

At the time of his “arrest,” the Lynn Chief of Police (named Burke), called the manslaughter charge “a mere formality,” and said it was only to “have a complete record of Burke’s death.”

Judge Berry of the Lynn Police Court, who had been in attendance at the game, presided over the brief hearing on August 20.  Six witnesses testified on Jerger’s behalf and according to The Boston Evening Transcript, Berry ruled that “(Jerger) was in no way to blame for the death of Burke,” and:

“Judge Berry told Yeager (sic) that he was a good pitcher and it gave him pleasure to exonerate him.”

Unlike other pitchers who were involved with hit by pitch deaths, the name confusion meant that the incident did not seem to follow Jerger.  I cannot find a reference to Jerger in any newspaper article after 1906 that mentions Burke’s death.

After being released by Fall River at the close of 1907, Jerger joined the Wheeling Stogies in the Central League.  In 1909 he had his best season, posting a 20-12 record for the East Liverpool Potters in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.  Jerger finished his career in 1910 with the Quincy Vets in the Central Association.

Jerger died in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, February 6, 1961.

Lost Team Photos

19 Nov

Another photo I’ve never seen published before, the 1908 Akron Champs, Ohio-Pennsylvania League Pennant Winners.

Top left to right:

Dick Breen—a minor leaguer for 12 seasons, his career overlapped with another career minor leaguer named Dick Breen—this Breen’s career came to an end in 1917, when while playing for the Reading Pretzels in the New York State League he got in a fight with Wilkes-Barre Barons  manager Jack “Red” Calhoun.  Both men were suspended indefinitely; Breen was released several days later, neither ever appeared in organized ball after that season.

Bill Speas—longtime minor league player and manager, Speas hit.284 in 22 seasons and won three Mississippi Valley League pennants as a player/manager with the Cedar Rapids Bunnies and Dubuque Dubs.

John Brackenridge—appeared in seven games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1904, Brackenridge pitched in the Pacific Coast League from 1909-1913.

Fred “Buff” Ehman—a 6’ 4” (some sources list him an inch shorter) right-handed pitcher, the enigmatic Ehman was 81-36 for Akron from 1906-08, but according to The Akron Beacon Journal, was known for disappearing for days at a time and “sulking.” He had multiple trials with Major League clubs; according The Mansfield (OH) Daily Shield he never stuck with a team because of “his refusal to exert himself.”  Through 11 minor league seasons he won 214 games.

Wilbur Good—spent parts of 11 seasons in the Major Leagues: Joe Tinker said of him, “He is one of the fastest runners in the National League and still one of the poorest base runners.”

Edward Murphy—a light hitting catcher, Murphy played five seasons in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.

Bottom left to right:

Bill Kommer—there is no listing for Kommer on any minor league data base.  He was left-handed pitcher who played for many amateur and semi-pro teams in Ohio during the first decade of the 20th Century;  he was released by Akron in July, there is no record of his statistics for the ’08 season.

William Hille—“Silent Bill” was a shortstop who played until 1917 primarily in the Texas and South Atlantic League.

Jim Callahan—his Major League career consisted of one game with the 1902 New York Giants; played three seasons for Akron (1906-08), was reported to have played in the Western League in 1909, but no records exist.

Matt BroderickThe Reading Eagle called him “one of the best shortstops who ever played on a minor league field,” Broderick played two games in the Major Leagues with Brooklyn in 1903—played minor league and amateur baseball for the remainder of the decade while working for Carpenter Steel Works in Reading, PA.

George Texter—one of the first players to sign with the Federal League in 1913, Texter played for the Indianapolis Hoosiers/New Jersey Pepper during the Fed’s two seasons as a Major League (1913-14).  Managed teams throughout the 1920s in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League (no longer recognized by the National Association, the OPL was nonetheless a strong semi-pro/industrial league during that period).

Cecil Armstrong—a dominant right-handed pitcher, first with the Youngstown Ohio Works team in 1905 during his three seasons with Akron (64-33 from 1906-08), Armstrong spent 1909 and 1910 with New Bedford Whalers in the New England League. Armstrong retired to Akron after the 1910 season.

Reports of His Death Were Greatly Exaggerated

18 Sep

Harry “Rube Allemang’s career was on the upswing at the close of the 1902 season; after a disappointing 4-15 record in his first season in pro ball with the Youngstown/Marion franchise in the Interstate League, Allemang had turned it around at Little Rock in the Southern League posting 20-4 and 19-11 season in 1901 and ’02.  (Contemporaneous newspaper accounts say he also played for Fort Wayne in the Interstate League in 1899, but there are not available records)

The Cincinnati Reds had just purchased Allemang’s contract and he was out celebrating with friends on the Evening on November 8.  Walking home at around 3 am, Allemang stumbled upon the lookout for a robbery in progress in the Mason City, West Virginia post office.  The lookout told Allemang to stop; when the pitcher kept walking he was shot, robbed and left for dead.

News of the shooting appeared in papers the following day:

Chicago Tribune: “Ball Player in Murdered”

New York Times: “Harry Allemang, Ballplayer, is Dying”

Fort Wayne Gazette: “Harry Allemang Mortally Wounded”

Arizona Republican: “Shot and Mortally Wounded”

The reports were premature.

Despite being shot just above the heart, with the bullet passing through his right lung, Allemang was out of the hospital in less than a month.  The Associated Press said “His case puzzles leading physicians.”

While still in the hospital he sent a letter to Reds owner August Herrmann to “Let you know I am still alive and expect to report in the spring.”

Allemang, with the bullet still lodged in his upper back, got ready for the 1903 season by doing ten mile runs while being pursued by blood hounds borrowed from the Mason County Sheriff.  But Allemang was never the same pitcher after the shooting.

He struggled that spring with the Reds and was sent to St.Paul in the American Association.   He was 12-11 in St. Paul in ’03 and 10-23 with Indianapolis in the same league in 1904.  After just two games with Sioux City in Western League in 1905, Allemang signed with the Niles Crowites in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League in May, and then jumped to an outlaw league team in Coatsville, Pennsylvania in July.  He came back to Southern League with Nashville in 1906, but lasted just six games, posting a 2-4 record.

Allemang passed away in Linton, Indiana in March of 1938—more than 35 years after the newspapers pronounced him dead.