Tag Archives: Old Hoss Radbourn

“I’m the Only Michael”

12 Sep

The Chicago press treated Michael “King” Kelly’s return to Chicago like a coronation.  Kelly was sold by the White Stockings for a then record $10,000 in February of 1887, and arrived for his first series in Chicago on June 24.

kingkelly

Mike “King” Kelly

 

The Chicago Tribune said he was greeted at the Leland Hotel on Michigan Avenue with a brass band, a crowd estimated at 5000, and a song:

“Michael Kelly, he came down to sing a little chanson; says he, ‘I’ve come from Boston Town to do up Baby Anson.  I love Chicago, but you know the Hub spondulicks bought me—I hated like the deuce to go, but $10,000 caught me.  I’ve come to lay Chicago flat and knock you all to blazes, for I’m a corker don’t forget—the daisy of the daisies.  Away with every Bill and Jim that’s in the baseball cycle—the dickens take the whole of thim!  Sure, I’m the only Michael.’”

The Chicago Inter Ocean described the “King” as “terribly bored…fast losing his good nature by this ovation business.”  Despite his boredom, The Chicago Daily News said:

“Kelly was taken to the grounds in a four-horse carriage, escorted by a band and all the players.”

There were more than 12,000 fans in the stands when the procession arrived

The Tribune described the arrival at the ballpark:

“(Fans) kept on yelling as the procession wended its way past third base, back of the home plate and over towards Anson’s territory.  When the carriage with its four proud horses stopped in front of the grand stand and the Hon. Mr. Kelly stretched his red-hosed legs and hopped out to the ground the volume of yelling was doubled.  The Hon. Mike took off his grey cap and smiled.  The crowd howled some more.  Then the Bostons scattered themselves over the field and began practice.  Every play, good, bad, or indifferent of the ex-member of the home team was applauded.”

The game itself was interrupted on at least three occasions, according to The Inter Ocean “to allow presentations of flowers,” to Kelly, and at another point to present Cap Anson “a pillow in white roses with the words ‘Old Man’ in red with roses therein.”  The paper noted that the “interruptions wasted several moments of the playing time.”

The Tribune said Kelly was also presented with “a gay satin jockey cap of red, white, and blue, which the Hon. Mr. Kelly was induced to wear during a part of the first inning.”

The game, and Kelly’s performance, according to The Inter Ocean were anti climatic after the buildup.

Chicago and John Clarkson, beat Boston and Old Hoss Radbourn 15-13, the paper said:

radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

“Strange to say, however, the expected Kelly tactics in base running was not made manifest during the course if the game.  He did not play with the vim that used to make him the great man when he played here.  Kelly misses his place, and all the flowers and gold watches in the country will never make him the same ‘Old Kel’ of yore.  Kelly with the Chicagos may be worth $10,000, but Kelly with any other team would not bring $2000.”

Kelly was 3 for 6 and made two errors at second base.

Chicago took three of four games  from Boston , Kelly 6 for 11 with six errors in the first three games, and sat out the final game, a 19 to 6 Chicago victory.

The Tribune noted that Kelly’s return brought 34,000 fans out for the series:

“Fully 17,000 represented 75 cents each and the others 50 cents each.  This gives a total in the neighborhood of $21,000.  They got $10,000 for Kelly and the club is still playing winning ball.  This is some evidence of good business management on President (A.G.) Spalding’s part.”

The Kelly-less White Stockings finished in third place.  Boston ended the season in fifth.  Kelly, who led the league with a .388 average in 1886, hit .322 for Boston in 1887.

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

“Sweeney was Drunk, but I didn’t Know it”

22 Aug

In 1884 Frank Bancroft’s Providence Grays won the National League pennant and defeated the American Association’s New York Metropolitans in the World Series—the first post-season exhibition to be called the World Series.  Late in 1896 he told a reporter for The Boston Post his version of the story of the turning point in that season:

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

 

“We were leading the championship race (the Grays were in 2nd place at the time of the game in question).  Both (Charles) Sweeney and (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourne were pitching in grand style.  In those days you couldn’t take a player out of the game and put another one in his place unless he was sick.  I wanted to save my pitchers all I could.  One day we were playing the Bostons (Bancroft was incorrect; the game was against the Philadelphia Quakers on July 22).  I had (Joseph) Cyclone Miller in right field and Sweeney in the box.  I told Joe Start, who was captain of the team that if we got far enough ahead in the game to take Sweeney out of the box and bring in Miller.  I did this to save Sweeney’s arm.  In the sixth inning we had a lead of 7 to 2 (the score was 6 to 2).  I told Start to make the change.  He asked Sweeney to go out in the field.  Sweeney was drunk, but I didn’t know it.  Start’s request made Sweeney mad.  He didn’t take it in the way it was meant.  He walked off the field.  I went after him, but couldn’t get him to come back.

“He called me a vile name.  The president of the club (J. Edward “Ned” Allen) went to him and asked him what he meant, and he called him everything vile on the calendar.  Sweeney was very drunk.  We had to finish the game with eight men, and the Bostons [sic] beat us out (Providence lost 10 to 6).  The directors of the club had a meeting that night, expelled Sweeney and came within an ace of breaking up.  In fact, they did vote to disband.”

Charlie Sweeney

Charlie Sweeney

With Sweeney gone, the team was left without their two top pitchers.  Bancroft had suspended Radbourn earlier in the month, and he was still sitting out at the time—Radbourne was unhappy sharing the pitching duties and was rumored to be heading to the St. Louis Maroons in the Union Association–The Providence Evening Press in describing Sweeney’s July 22 outburst said he had “caught Radbourn’s complaint.”

Picking up the story in The Post, Bancroft said:

“They said there was no use of going on with one pitcher.  I said to President Allen: ‘If you will give me authority to tell Radbourne that you will not reserve him at the end of the season, I can get him to pitch all the rest of the games this year.’  ‘All right,’ said Allen, ‘you have that authority.’  I found old Rad at his boarding house.  I told him about the proposition.  ‘It’s a go,’ said Rad.  ‘I’ll get rid of reservation if I lose my arm.  I’ll pitch all the other championship games this season.”

Radbourn did not pitch “all the other” games that season but did pitch 75—with 73 complete games, 678 2/3 innings.  Bancroft said of his pitcher:

“It was the greatest feat of endurance I ever witnessed.  Rad was in awful shape before it was all over…Why, (his arm) hurt him so bad when he would get up in the morning that he couldn’t get it up high enough to fasten his collar button.  He had to comb his hair with his left hand.  It used to make me shudder to look at him, but he was gritty.  He would go out in the afternoon before the game, and instead of loosening up by easy pitching, as pitchers do nowadays, he would go in the field and throw the ball just as far as he could.  He would throw for ten or fifteen minutes, until he got wound up, and then he would go in to pitch a winning game.”

"Old Hoss" Radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

Bancroft said the pitcher “could split the plate any time he wanted to,” and that during “morning practice, to show what he could do, Radbourn would set a pop bottle on the home plate and knock it down three out of four times.”

The release of Sweeney had an immediate positive effect on the Grays.  On the day of the incident, The Evening Press said: “The pennant is no doubt out of the reach of Providence this year.”

The following day, after Radbourn pitched the team to an 11 to 5 over the New York Gothams, the paper’s outlook brightened:

“The summary expulsion of Sweeney for crookedness seemed to have a salutary effect, on Wednesday, for the purging of the club of such a bad egg resulted in a better class of patrons on the grand stand than for many weeks.  The attendance throughout was better than the management had looked for after the airing of Sweeney’s revolt, about 700 being present. “(There were just 450 in the stands the day before for “Sweeney’s revolt”)

Sweeney had not yet left for St. Louis and the paper took the opportunity to take one final shot at the pitcher:

“Sweeney is still about town, and wherever he goes the women whom he escorted to the ball game on Tuesday are seen with him.  The conduct of this fellow is shameful, and he will regret it when he fully wakes up to its enormity.”

The twenty-one-year-old Sweeney pitched the Maroons to the Union Association championship with a 24-7 record and 1.83 ERA.  Whether his arm couldn’t handle the strain, or as a result of his off-field habits, he would only win 16 more games (losing 30), and was out of the major leagues at age 24.

He returned to his home in California and played for teams in the California, Central California Leagues, after his retirement he worked for a short time as a police officer and later worked in saloons around San Francisco.

By the time Bancroft shared his reminiscences of 1884 with The Post, Sweeney was incarcerated in California, and Radbourne was dying in Illinois.

In July of 1894, Sweeney shot a man named Cornelius McManus during an altercation in a bar.  The San Francisco Chronicle said when he was informed the following day that the victim was dead “he broke down and wept bitterly.”  Sweeney was convicted of manslaughter four months later and sentenced to eight years.

The Chronicle said he was released after serving “a little over three years of his sentence,” after which “his health broke down.”  Sweeney died of Tuberculosis in 1902—most sources say he died on April 4—The Call and The Chronicle both said he died on April 3.

Radbourn pitched 1311 innings in 1883 and ’84, and started and won all three games in the 1884 World Series.  Bancroft said that after the Grays won the championship:

“President Allen kept his word, and gave him his release; but Rad didn’t take it.  The club offered him just twice as much salary for the next year.”

Radbourn pitched seven more seasons and finished his career with a 309-194 record.  After being accidentally shot in a hunting accident, and suffering from a variety of ailments, he died in February of 1897.

Bancroft remained in baseball until January of 1921 when he retired a business manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He died two months later at age 74.

“First thing I know they had the Cushions Populous”

15 Aug

Nearly two decades after he claimed it happened, Clark Griffith told a reporter from The Sporting News a story about getting the final out, and humiliating a friend in the process:

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

“It has been my luck to see a large number of peeved and angry people in this old game of baseball, particularly gentlemen against whom I have been lucky enough to do some successful pitching.

“I still think, however, that the maddest man I ever did behold was that grand old Monolith of the Boston team—Mr. Thomas Tucker.  The Occasion on which I beheld the fury of this famous warrior is still green in my memory, and can never forsake me.

“Old Tommy Tucker was pretty nearly on his last legs so far as big league baseball was concerned, and hits to him were more precious than rubies and diamonds when we bumped together one summer afternoon.  It was a big game, a most important game, and I really had to win it.  I love Tom Tucker very much, but I loved my salary more.

Tommy Tucker

Tommy Tucker

“The battle was a hot one, running along on pretty even terms till near the close, when we managed to get a couple on the bases when good old Uncle (Cap) Anson did the rest with one of those murderous  hits that they don’t make now, the old man not being there to soak them.  That Boston bunch was never whipped till the last man was counted out, and they went after me strong in the last death rally.  First thing I know they had the cushions populous, two down and old Tom Tucker standing grimly at the plate.  I worked him into biting at two wide ones, then fed him two more which he refused to reach after.  It was coming down to cases and no mistake.

“Just at this juncture I happened to remember a trick of indoor baseball—the enormous upshot which is put on an indoor ball by swinging it underhand, with the knuckles uppermost and the ball rolling off the palm.  It causes a huge upshot ball, but it is not practicable for outdoor ball because, at the greater pitching distance, the ball would lose all its speed before it reached the platter.

“I decided to throw the ball just once, as a desperate experiment, and I threw it.  The globule sauntered along, way low, below Tom’s knee line, and he stood scoffing at it.  Then, just as the ball came parallel with him it leaped up and whirled over the plate, while the umpire yelled ‘strike three.’

“Old Tom Tucker laid down his bat and started toward me, with evidence of much excitement on his face, but I was already on my way, and was going fast.  That night he came to the hotel looking for me, and publicly announced that he intended to slay me on sight, but I was not in, and he never got his hands upon me.”

The pitch used to strike out Tucker was not the only one Griffith said originated with him.  In addition to his claim to have invented the screw ball, in 1899 The Chicago Daily News said Griffith claimed to have perfected a new type of curve which “is said to be an amplification of his celebrated slow ball, with which he has in times past puzzled so many batsman.”

The “celebrated slow ball” was taught to Griffith by Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourne—as a result The Chicago Tribune’s Hugh Fullerton said Griffith held “practically a monopoly on the slow ball and (used) it with wonderful effect.”

Griffith said he developed this new curve when shooting pool:

“You simply English the ball with your hand instead of the cue that is the only difference.  In other words, before the ball leaves my hand it is set to spinning in a direction towards my body.  All the time it is going through the air towards the batter it has this rotary motion.”

The Daily News described the pitch:

“It is believed that the air in the case of a curve of this kind acts like the cushion of a billiard table and accentuates the tendency to return, which underlies the forward motion of the baseball.  Be that as it may, the result is astonishing.  A ball that starts out with great velocity from Griffith’s hand in this experiment, as it gets to the batter suddenly slows up to a speed not more than one-half as great as that at which it was launched.  The effect on the batter, who is expecting a swift ball, can readily be imagined.  He strikes at the leather globe before it reaches him, and the chance that he hits it is reduced to a minimum.”

“Radbourn would only Accept the Money on Condition that the Money be bet on him”

28 Feb

Like most 19th-Century players, Arthur Irwin was convinced the game didn’t get any better after he played.  He talked to a reporter from The Buffalo Times in 1906 and said there still had never been a pitcher who was better than one of his former teammates.

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

Irwin said:

“In my opinion (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourn was the greatest pitcher the world ever saw and I doubt if his equal will appear.  He had a spit ball and worked it to perfection, only it was not known under that name.”

Irwin’s recollections of Radbourn highlight how open gambling was in 19th Century baseball:

“I remember on one occasion when we (the Providence Grays) were playing the Boston team one of our stockholders came to the hotel the night before the game and said he had wagered $6,000 on the Providence club.  Then he told Rad that he would give him $500 if he would pitch.  Radbourn would only accept the money on condition that the money be bet on him and the $500 was so placed.  The afternoon of the game found Radbourn in grand form and he made the Boston players look like a bunch of minor leaguers, not one of them scoring.”

If the story is not apocryphal, it could refer to Radbourn’s 4-0 shutout of the Beaneaters on August 12, 1884 in Boston—it was his only shutout there while he and Irwin were teammates.

"Old Hoss" Radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

Irwin also told the reporter about an exhibition game in 1884 against the Toledo Blue Stocking in the American Association:

“When we arrived the night before the game we found that they were betting $10 to $7 against us.  That same evening the mayor of a small town some few miles away drifted into the hotel and during the conversation remarked that he guessed we were not very anxious to win the game.  Naturally, we asked why he said that and he said the odds were against us, with no Providence money in sight, but he was willing to bet $2,500 on us if Radbourn pitched.  It was not Radbourn’s turn, but when the mayor supplemented his remarks by offering to give Rad $100 if he went into the box, the offer was snapped up.  Toledo had such stars as Curt Welch and (Tony) Mullane.  Welch, who was the first man up, got to first base.  After that there was nothing to it and not another man reached first during the entire game.”

Not only were no current pitchers as good as Radbourn, Irwin said no current catcher was nearly as tough as another of his teammates with the Worcester Ruby Legs in 1880:

“One of the most remarkable exhibitions of catching I ever saw was performed by Charles Bennett…As you know, we did not use gloves in those days and the pitcher was allowed to take a hop and step before throwing the ball from the box, which was only 45 feet from the batter.  On three successive days Bennett caught 14, 15 and 16-inning games without any protection.  The following day we were booked to play New York and Bennett went in to catch.  After half a dozen balls had been pitched , Charley suddenly dropped his hands and walked away from the plate.  I at once ran over to him and a glance at his hands told me all I wanted to know.  Both hands were black and blue from the base of the fingers almost to the wrist and the bruises went clear through the hands.  Of course it was impossible for him to continue, but imagine the torture he must have suffered before he was forced to quit.  I don’t believe you could find a catcher today who would go through that experience.”

Charlie Bennett

Charlie Bennett

Irwin also didn’t have much use for the belief that the game had progressed in terms of strategy since his playing days:

“It is amusing to hear (John) McGraw and other talk about the wonderful progress made in playing scientific baseball.  I am sure we put up just as clever a game in the 80s as they do today, but we did not have fancy names for our plays.  We worked the squeeze, hit and run and other tricks.  When I first came to the Philadelphia club (1886) I worked the trap play and got away with it.  There were men on first and second and the ball was hit into short left field.  I yelled for (George) Wood to let me have it, although it was his ball.  Then I let it drop through my hands and the bleachers let out an unearthly holler.  I picked up the ball; shot it to second in time to tag the man there and then the other man was easy.  We had taken our places on the bench before the crowd got wise to the play and then the cheers more than made up for their hisses.”

“Show yourself a man, Borchers, and Leave Boozing to the Weak Fools”

10 Feb

After defeating the Boston Beaneaters and “Old Hoss” Radbourn in his major league debut, George Borchers returned to the mound five days later in Chicago and beat the Philadelphia Quakers and William “Kid” Gleason 7 to 4.

With two wins in two starts the 19-year-old Borchers was, according to The New York Evening World, one of the most sought after players in the National League:

“There are several league clubs who would like to get hold of Borchers, the latest Chicago wonder, the only thing in the way of his acquisition is the $10,000 (the White Stockings were asking).”

Chicago probably should have sold Borchers while there was interest.  He injured his arm sometime in June, missed most of July, and according to White Stockings Manager “Cap” Anson “lacks the heart to stand heavy punishment.”

George Borchers

George Borchers

After his fast start, Borchers was just 4-4 in 10 starts when Chicago released him and Chicago’s other 19-year-old “phenom” Willard “Grasshopper” Mains (1-1 in 2 games) on September 6.

The Chicago Tribune said Borchers was on his way to Cincinnati to play for the Red Stockings, “he has plenty on speed and good curves, and it will not be surprising if he makes a success in the American Association.”

After the Cincinnati deal failed to materialize, Borchers accepted $100 in advance money to join the Stockton franchise in the California League.  After receiving the money he never showed up in Stockton.

No less a figure than the “Father of Baseball,” Henry Chadwick held out hope that Borchers would eventually be a successful pitcher:

“There is a chance that a first-class pitcher, who played in the Chicago team last season, is going to reform the bad habits which led to his release by Captain Anson in August (sic) last. I refer to Borchers.   (John Montgomery) Ward told me that Borchers was a very promising pitcher, and had he kept himself straight be would undoubtedly have made his mark. I learn that be is going to try and recover his lost ground, and if be shows the possession of the moral courage to reform, and the intelligence to keep temperate, he will yet find his way to fame and fortune. Show yourself a man, Borchers, and leave boozing to the weak fools of the fraternity who indulge in it at the cost of a fair name and of pecuniary independence.”

Borchers didn’t appear ready to “reform.”  Between the 1888 and ’89 season, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, he signed a contract to play for the Canton Nadjys in the Tri-State League, receiving $100 in advance money and also signed a contract with that Kansas City Cowboys in the American Association, receiving a $300 advance.

In February of ’89 Borchers was awarded to Canton.  Kansas City offered to purchase his contract.  Canton Manager William Harrington said in The Sporting Life that “Borchers will play in Canton or not at all.”

Borchers left for California.

Upon arriving in Sacramento Borchers was arrested as a result of the Stockton contract.  The Los Angeles Herald said:

“George Borchers, the well-known baseball player, was arrested this afternoon on a warrant from Stockton, charging him with having received money by false pretenses.”

Borchers pleaded guilty and paid a fine in March.  In April he attempted to sign with the Sacramento Altas.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Sacramento being in need of a pitcher, induced Borchers to agree to play there and asked the Stockton Club to allow him to do so.  This President Campbell (of Stockton) refused and the league directors have sustained the action.”

The California League ruled Borchers ineligible for the season.

With too much time on his hands, Borchers couldn’t stay out of trouble.  The Associated Press reported on June 27:

“Shortly after 11 o’clock tonight a barn belonging to Mrs. Borchers, mother of George Borchers, the well-known baseball pitcher, was destroyed by fire, causing a loss of nearly $1000.  When the Fire Department arrived on the scene George Borchers tried to prevent the firemen from fighting the flames.  He was drunk and very boisterous.  Finally Chief Engineer O’Meara ordered his arrest.  When two officers took him in custody he fought desperately, and had to be handcuffed and placed in a wagon before he could be got to prison.”

The story said Borchers, who “has been loafing about town (Sacramento) for several months, drinking heavily” had made threats that he’d burn down the barn because his mother would not give him any more money.  Mrs. Borchers had “recently expended a large sum of money to get him out of trouble at Stockton.”

Whether his mother paid his way out of this or not is unknown, but the charges against Borchers went away, and he spent the remainder of the 1889 baseball season pitching for a semi-pro team in Merced, California.

He returned to the California League on March 23, 1890 when he pitched for Stockton in the season opener against the Haverlys at San Francisco’s Haight Street Grounds.  Borchers and Stockton lost 11 to 5.

His time in the league would be short.

In Early May he began complaining of a sore arm; The San Francisco Call said that “Borchers is known to have received an offer from the New York Brotherhood (Players League) Club and the Stockton directors think he’s playing for his release.”

On May 11 Borchers, according to The Sacramento Bee arrived at the ballpark in Stockton, on horseback and “extremely drunk.”  Catcher/Manager Mike DePangher sent Borchers home.  Borchers instead went on a bender that ended the following evening in a Stockton restaurant where he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

The Call said:

“If he took this means to sever his connection with the Stockton Club and join the Brotherhood, he not only brought disgrace in more sense than one upon himself, but has probably ruined his chance of an Eastern engagement.”

Borchers was fined $10 in court, the Stockton club fined him $100 and suspended him for the remainder of the season and sold his contract to Portland in the Pacific Northwest League–but not before the Sacramento Senators attempted to use him in a game.  The Call said Stockton protested:

“(Sacramento) Manager (George) Ziegler thought it best not to play him.  When George was informed that he was not to play he good-naturedly said:  ‘All right, old man,’ and then added, ‘One suspension, one release, all in two weeks.’”

George Ziegler

George Ziegler

On June 1 he won his first start for Portland, beating Spokane 7 to 6.  The Oregonian said “Borchers pitched a splendid game for the Portlands.”

Borchers split the remainder of the season between Portland and Spokane, compiling a 14-14 record with a 1.44 ERA.  When the Pacific Northwest League season ended Borchers returned home to play in the California League again; The Sacramento Record-Union printed a letter from his manager at Spokane, William “Kid” Peeples:

“Borchers has been pitching ball out of sight, and has not tasted a drop of liquor while up north.  He says he is going to stay straight, and finish the season with the Sacramentos.  He will have all the California boys guessing, as he did here.”

The San Francisco Call said Borchers was “a dismal disappointment” after he lost his first two starts for the second place Senators—both losses were against the league-leading San Francisco Haverlys.  San Francisco Manager Mike Finn filed a protest with the league, claiming Borchers should be declared ineligible because he was still on the reserve list of the Spokane club.

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Haverlys

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Haverlys

In his third start Borchers allowed Stockton to score three runs in the first inning on five walks and a wild pitch, but settled down and won 7 to 6. He beat Stockton again three days later, 15 to 10. The Record-Union criticized all four of his performances and said he had reverted to “his old ways.”

The 21-year-old finished the 1890 season with a 2-2 record for the second place Senators; San Francisco won the championship.  At the end of the season the California League upheld Finn’s protest over Borchers and fined Sacramento $500.

The rest of the George Borchers story on Wednesday.

The Adventures of George Borchers

7 Feb

George Bernard “Chief” Borchers was a West Coast phenom.  The Sacramento native was so good as a 16-year-old in 1885 that the town’s two professional teams battled for his services.  After pitching half the season for one club, The Sacramento Record-Union said:

“George Borchers, heretofore pitcher for the Alta Baseball Club, has resigned his position in that club and will hereafter pitch for the Unions.”

Box score for Borchers' first start for the Sacramento Unions (July 26, 1885) after jumping the Sacramento Altas.  Borchers beat his former team 3 to 0.

Box score for Borchers’ first start for the Sacramento Unions (July 26, 1885) after jumping the Sacramento Altas. Borchers beat his former team 3 to 0.

He played for the California League’s Sacramento Altas in 1886 and the Oakland Greenhood & Morans in the same league in 1887. The Sporting Life said of him:

“Borchers is possessed of Herculean strength, great endurance, and is a heavy batsman.”

The Sacramento Bee said Borchers “would soon rank as one of best pitchers on the coast,” if he got “command of the ball and his temper.”

Before the 1888 season the 19-year-old became the subject of a bidding war.  He pitched several games against the New York Giants during John Montgomery Ward’s barnstorming/honeymoon tour of the West Coast in the winter of 1887.

Ward told New York reporters that Borchers was the best pitcher in the California League.  The Sporting Life called him “Ward’s especial favorite,” and “Ward’s find.”  By January The Boston Post said he turned down an offer from the Beaneaters, The San Francisco Chronicle said he rejected the Detroit Wolverines, and The Philadelphia Times said “(Athletics Manager Bill) Sharsig is hopeful to sign Borchers.”  The Times also said Ward’s Giants had made an offer but:

“The young man wanted a mortgage on Central Park and a large chunk of Coney Island.”

The San Francisco Chronicle said Borchers came from a wealthy family (his father owned a brewery) and were “opposed to his playing ball.”

Whatever the reason, Borchers opened the 1888 season with the Greenhood & Morans.  He pitched at least four games for Oakland before it was announced on May 2 that the 19-year-old had signed a major league contract.  The  Chronicle said:

“The baseball world was thrown into a state of excitement yesterday when the press dispatches made the unexpected announcement that George Borchers prize pitcher of the Greenhood & Moran club, had been signed to pitch for the Chicagos.”

The paper said when White Stockings President Al Spalding sent a telegram to Borchers asking his terms, the pitcher, “treated the telegram as more of a joke than anything else, and in the spirit of fun telegraphed back” asking for $3000, with a $500 advance.

“He never dreamed of receiving a favorable answer, and his surprise can well be imagined when a few hours later the answer came accepting his terms.”

Despite being what The Chronicle claimed was the “largest salary ever paid to a California player in the East,” Borchers immediately regretted the agreement:

“He says he does not feel much like leaving here and would like to back out if he could, but, knowing that he is legally bound by his act, he will of course stand by it.”

The pitcher arrived in Chicago on May 13 to great fanfare.  The Chicago Tribune said “if he equals the reports of his ability that precede him, the team will be as nearly invincible as it is possible for a baseball organization to be.”

Caricature of Borchers from The Chicago Tribune--1888

Caricature of Borchers from The Chicago Tribune–1888

White Stockings shortstop Ned Williamson, who batted against Borchers on a West Coast trip, compared him to another California pitcher who made his big league debut at age 19:

“He pitched more like Charley Sweeney than any other man I ever saw, and Sweeney was as good as any that ever stepped in the box.”

Borchers made his debut on May 18.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Another wonder has been discovered and the Chicago Ball Club has it.  The wonder is George Borchers, the California pitcher.  He was put in the box to pitch for the Chicagos yesterday against the Bostons in the closing game of the series.  The result is manifest in the score—13 to 0…Borchers was made the hero of the hour.  He has come to stay, and his work yesterday is a guarantee of his ability to keep his place.”

The Chicago Tribune was more subdued than The Inter Ocean:

“(Borchers) has an easy delivery. Good curves and great speed, but his command of the ball remains to be determined.  Yesterday he was wild.  Three wild pitches were charged to him, and with a less active and reliable man than (Tom) Daly behind the bat more would have been recorded.  Those that got by Daly were extremely wild.  Still he was effective.”

The game, played in the rain at West Side Park, in what The Chicago Daily News called “practically a swamp,” was called after five innings.

The papers couldn’t agree on the attendance either–The Inter Ocean said it was 3000, The Tribune, 1500 and The Daily News 2000.

Borchers allowed just three hits and beat Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn in his first major league game.

Things went downhill from there; the rest of Borchers’ story on Monday.

“A Historical Account of a Great Game of Ball”

5 Mar

The headline above appeared in 1907 above an article written by Frederick North Shorey in The Freeman regarding a series between Andrew “Rube” Foster’s Leland Giants and Mike Donlin’s All-Stars “an aggregation composed of such noted players as Mike Donlin, Jake Stahl, Jimmie Ryan and Jimmy Callahan, probably the best semi-professional team in the country.”

Shorey said the series at South Side Park “exceeded in interest to the people it attracted anything that took place between the White Sox and Cubs last fall (1906 World Series).”

Rube Foster beat the Donlin All-Stars 3-1 in the first game, allowing only three hits:

“Rube Foster is the pitcher of the Leland Giants, and he has all the speed of (Amos) Rusie, the tricks of a Radbourne, and the heady coolness and deliberation of a Cy Young.  What does that make him? Why, the greatest baseball pitcher in the country; that is what the best ballplayers of the white persuasion that have gone up against him say.”

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

Foster was so important to his fans, Shorey said:

“If it were in the power of the colored people to honor him politically or to raise him to the station to which they believe he is entitled, Booker T. Washington would have to be content with second place.”

The Chicago Tribune said of Foster’s domination of the All-Stars:

lelandsvsdonlins

Back to the series, and back to Shorey:

“While the all-stars were confident in their ability to win, several of the old players, including Mr. Donlin himself, who have known of the prowess of Mr. Foster…knew that it was by no means a certainty…but they had hopes that the colored team behind him might do something to undo the efforts of the twirler.

Mike Donlin

Mike Donlin

Shorey said the all-stars were over matched:

“The colored men set a new pace for base running, while foster’s cool, deliberate pitching was too much for the old-time players on Donlin’s team.  Both teams put up brilliant fielding games.”

Foster pitched in four games in the series; he won all four.

David Wyatt–who had been a teammate of Foster’s with the Chicago Union Giants in 1902, and who in 1920 was asked by Foster to help draft the constitution of the Negro National League—also wrote about the series in The Freeman:

“All the baseball critics in the city were out to look the Lelands over, many under the impression that they were overrated.  The most interested of the number was Mr. Comiskey, owner of the white Sox…After witnessing the first game the white sox boss said if it were possible he would have annexed the signature of at least three of the boys to contracts, and he was so enthused over the fast, snappy work of the Lelands that he had his world’s champions to lay over one day in Chicago to watch the boys play.”

Wyatt had higher hopes for “Baseball as the common leveler” in general and the series specifically:

“There was no color line drawn anywhere; our white brethren outnumbered us by a few hundred, and all bumped elbows in the grand stand, the box seats and bleachers; women and men alike, all whetted freely with one another on the possible outcome of the series, the effect it would have upon the future of the negro in baseball, the merits of the different players etc…”

Foster’s heroics, Wyatt’s hopefulness, Comiskey’s words and Chicago’s enthusiasm were, of course, not enough to change the status quo; regardless of the “Great game of ball,” played at South Side Park in that 1907 series, the color line would remain intact for four more decades.

David Wyatt

David Wyatt