Tag Archives: Oscar Bielaski

“A Weird and Wonderful Thing.”

10 Sep

Although the paper never said how he obtained them, The Buffalo Times said in 1905 that Chicago Cubs pitcher Herbert “Buttons” Briggs “is the possessor of some valuable old bombast documents in the way of contracts of the Chicago club players back in 1884…He also has a contract between the Chicago Baseball Association and Oscar Bielaski for the season of 1875.”

buttons

Buttons Briggs

The paper said of the 1875 contract:

“This contract is a simple one, and calls for the service of Bielaski for eight months, from March 15th to November 15th, at a salary of $1400.  The player agrees to play for the Chicago club only and to obey all rules and regulations and “to refrain from any dissipation which may impair his physical condition.’”

Briggs also had the 1884 contract of Cap Anson, which the paper called:

anson

Anson

“(A) weird and wonderful thing compared with the present day player’s contract.  It consists of seven pages and twenty-three sections, and a ballplayer was forced to almost sign his life away in those days…Anson’s contract calls for $2500 for seven months services and is payable monthly…Nowadays the greenest youngster breaking in from the minor leagues wants, and usually gets, that much per season, while players of the present day who rank with Anson in his day get twice and three times that amount.”

The paper outlined other features of the contracts:

“In the 1884 contracts the team is never referred to as the club, but always as the ‘nine.’ Different sections of the contract provide for expulsion of the player if he be guilty of drunkenness, gambling in any form, insubordination, conspiring to lose and game, or be interested in any pool or wager on a game.  This expulsion could be given without any notice.  This section regarding injuries and illness reads as follows:

“It is understood and agreed that the said party of the second part (the player) assumes all risk of accident in play or otherwise, and of illness from whatever cause, and of the effects of all accidents, injuries, or illness occurring to him during the period of his employment.

“It is also required that when requested by the club a player must submit to an examination at the hands of the club’s physician, the player to pay for such examination.”

In addition to paying for their own medical examination, The Enquirer said:

“It was required that each player furnish himself at his own expense with a uniform designated by the club, the uniform to consist of two pairs of flannel pants, two flannel shirts, two pairs stockings, one pair leather shoes with spikes, one cap, one belt and one neck tie, ‘all of which during the whole of his term of employment, he is to keep in thorough repair and replenish as required, at his own expense; and he agrees to appear on the field at the beginning of each and every game in which he is to play in an entirely clean uniform, all cleaning of the same to be paid for by himself.’”

Finally, the paper said the “funniest” portion of the 1884 contract was the section that addressed road expenses:

“It reads as follows: ‘It is further agreed that while absent from Chicago with the ‘nine’ in other cities and while traveling with the ‘nine,’ the sum of fifty cents per day shall be deducted from the player’s wages on account of his board.’

“What a howl would go up from most of the present day players if they were asked to pay any part of their living expenses while on the road.”

No Such Thing as “Off the Record”–Even in 1875

19 Aug

James Leon “Jimmy” Wood was a baseball pioneer.  The second baseman began his playing career as a 17-year-old in Brooklyn with the Eckfords in 1860.  After spending a decade as one of the best-known players on the East Coast Wood went to Chicago where he became the first manager of the newly formed White Stockings.

Wood is sometimes credited with being the man who invented spring training (a claim first advanced by Al Spink of The Sporting News) because in 1870 he took the Chicago team to New Orleans for a series of games with local teams, the Robert E. Lee’s, the Lone Stars, the Pelicans and the Southerns—most of those sources fail to mention that Harry Wright’s Red Stockings were in New Orleans at the same time.  (Wood’s reminiscences about the early days of the White Stockings coming up later this week).

Jimmy Wood, 1871

Jimmy Wood, 1871

Wood also managed the team the following season, when the White Stockings became one of the charter members of the National Association.  They finished second in 1871  but disbanded as a result of the great Chicago Fire in October.

Wood next played for and managed two teams that wouldn’t survive the year; the Troy Haymakers went bankrupt in July and the Brooklyn Eckfords who folded at the conclusion of a 3-26 1872 season.

After leading the Philadelphia Whites to a second place finish in 1873, Wood returned to Chicago and the newly re-formed White Stockings.

Wood was slated to play second and serve as captain, but would never play a game for the White Stockings or any other team.  After falling at his home during the spring of 1873, he developed an abscess on his leg, which kept him out of the lineup as the infection got worse.

In July The Chicago Tribune said:

“The well-known base ball player and former captain of the Chicago nine Jas. Wood, has had his leg amputated.  He has been unable to play this summer, owing to a disease of the bones, and has been under medical care for some months.  He was a most conscientious player, and has the esteem of all with whom he was connected.”

On August 20 The Chicago Inter-Ocean said Wood was named “manager of the club for the remainder of the present season and for the season of 1875.”  While he “officially” served as manager for the last 23 games of the season, both The Inter-Ocean and The Tribune said Wood was “unable to assume active duties,” and would be led on the field by team president William Hulbert (called “Hurlburt” by The Inter-Ocean).

By the spring of 1875, Wood had returned full-time to the management of the White Stockings, with plans to take the team for “two weeks of practice,” in April.

The Chicago manager had an off the record conversation with a reporter for The St. Louis Democrat in which he unfavorably compared the newly formed St. Louis Brown Stockings to his own team.  The paper printed the manager’s comments verbatim; even including his assertion that the comments were “private:”

“Now, said he, let us compare the players individually.  ‘For catcher there is (Tom) Miller and Higham; the former is inexperienced, poor runner, fair batter, and the only catcher you have, while Dick Higham is one of the surest and heaviest batters in the country, has experience and is a first-class base-runner.  (George) Bradley and (George) Zettlein—Zett is a poor batter and runner, to be sure, but on a pitch you ought to know as much as I can tell you.  I do not know anything about Bradley, but, if (Jim) Devlin pitches, I think we have the best of it, as he was second on our batting list last season.  First base, (Herman) Dehlman and (John) Glenn,  the former may play the base the best, but in batting, base running and general playing, Glenn can discount him.  Second base, (John) Peters and (Joe) Battin.  Well, I won’t compare notes with them, as anyone ought to know that Peters is head and shoulders above Battin in every respect.  (Davy) Force and (Dickey) Pearce, shortstop.  There is no better player in the country than Force, he being one of the very best batters.  Pearce has been one of the best, but, I think his race is run.  This is private, remember(Frank) Fleet and Warren White, third base.  Why just think of it; there is as much difference in them as in Battin and Peters.  White is first-class at the bat, and led the score on the Baltimore team last season, and is a fine base-runner in the bargain, while Fleet is not as good, by a jug full.  (Ned) Cuthbert and (Paul) Hines, left field.  The latter took balls away out in Cuthey’s field last season (Hines had played left field, with Cuthbert in center for the White Stockings the previous season).  Hines stands better at the bat—Cuthey is a fast baserunner.  (Lip) Pike and (Oscar) Bielaski center field.  Pike is the hardest batter, but no surer than Bielaski, while both are about the same in the field, they being the fastest runners in the country.  (Jack “Death to Flying Things”) Chapman and (Winfield Scott) Hastings right field.  The former won’t begin to show up with Hastings, as he is one if the finest batters and catchers in the business.

“’Take us all in all we are much stronger at the bat.  While St. Louis has but Pike and Cuthbert for base runners, we have but one poor base-runner in Zett; all the others are first class.  We have change pitchers and catchers—St. Louis has not.  If we don’t beat St. Louis eight out of ten games, we deserve to be thrown into the lake.’”

Dickey Pearce, "his race is run," according to Wood

Dickey Pearce, “his race is run,” according to Wood

A few of the players Wood referred to in early March ended up playing different positions, or like Davy Force, of whom Wood said “There is no better player in the country,” didn’t play for the White Stockings at all.

Regardless, he underestimated the ability of most of the St. Louis’ roster, while wildly inflating his club’s prospects; Wood’s team would underperform all season, finishing 30-37 in sixth place, behind the fourth place (39-29) Brown Stockings.

Wood wildly overestimated the quality of his team and presided over a season of dysfunction and scandal.  More on the 1875 White Stockings tomorrow.

The Curve and The Spitter

26 Jun

Hugh A. “Hughey” Reid only appeared in one professional game; he went 0-4 and played right field in a game for the American Association’s Baltimore Canaries against the White Stockings in Chicago in August of 1874,  as was the practice at the time, Baltimore recruited Reid, a local semi-pro player to fill in for the injured Oscar Bielaski.

Reid wasn’t known in the amateur and semi-pro leagues in Chicago as an outfielder.  He was considered one of the best pitchers in town, and played for the Chicago Aetnas, one of the premier teams in the city, and according to The Chicago Tribune “The champion amateur team of 1869.”

Hugh Reid

Hugh Reid

Among Reid’s teammates with the Aetnas were future big leaguers Jimmy Hallinan and Reid’s brother-in-law and catcher Paddy Quinn.

Reid worked as a stereotyper (made metal printing plates), for The Chicago Evening Post after his career ended.

In 1920, Reid was interviewed by Alfred Henry “Al” Spink, founder of The Sporting News.  By 1920, Spink, who had played amateur baseball in Chicago against Reid with a team called the Mutuals (named for the more famous aggregation in New York), had relocated to Chicago and was writing for The Evening Post.

Al Spink

Al Spink

The occasion was “field day exercises of the old timers” at Pyott Park at the corner of Lake Street and Kilpatrick Avenue in Chicago; the days events were followed by a banquet.  “Cap” Anson, Charles Comiskey, Hugh Nicol, and Fred Pfeffer were among the dozens of former pro, semi-pro, and amateur players who attended.

Spink described the 70-year-old Reid; “same old smile, same old swagger, same old don’t care a tinker’s, same old Hughey.”

Nine years earlier Spink had credited William Arthur “Candy” Cummings with originating the curveball in his book “The National Game,” but by 1920 others were making the case for different candidates.  Spink asked Reid his opinion:

“Without a doubt Cummings was the first pitcher to put the curve on the ball.

“As Cummings was using the outcurve as early as 1867, and Bobby Matthews only broke into the game at Baltimore in 1869, there is very little doubt as to who discovered the art of curving.

“In fact, it was not until years later, when the rules allowed the pitchers to raise their arm above the waist, that Matthews became master of the curve.”

Candy Cummings

Candy Cummings

Reid also talked about the pitch Mathews did introduce:

“I am quite sure that Mathews was the first to work the delivery mow bearing the insanitary name

“Before delivering the ball he would rub it hard on his trousers, always on the same spot, where the seams are the farthest apart…he would draw his two fingers across his lips, take the ball with two fingers and a thumb and send it in with only fair speed.  He had perfect control and usually sent the ball about waist-high for a player calling for a low ball.  The break came just in front of the plate and the ball usually went into the ground or very high in the air.  Few line drives were made off of Mathews.”

Bobby Mathews

Bobby Mathews

Reid also talked about Alphonse Case “Phonney” Martin.  At the same time that Spink was making the case for Cummings in “The National Game,” Martin told William Aulick of The New York Globe that he developed the pitch. Aulick concluded:

“Some people say this was the first cousin of the curve ball, but they don’t say this when old Alphonse Martin is around.  He insists it wasn’t anyone’s cousin–it was Mister Curve himself.”

Reid disagreed, he described Martin’s pitch as a “freak ball,” and said:

“I first saw Martin pitch down on the old lake front grounds in Chicago against the original White Stocking team.  He simply threw a slow lob ball that came so slow you had to nearly break your back to hit it.  But, at that, his delivery was a success, and most of the balls hit from it went high in the air and came down in some fielder’s hands…He threw a slow teaser that reached the plate about shoulder-high and dropped while still spinning.”

Alphonse "Phonney" Martin

Alphonse “Phonney” Martin

Reid insisted Martin’s pitch was not a curve:

“Cummings and Cummins alone was the originator of the curve.”

1876 Salaries

14 May

In July of 1876, The Brooklyn Argus published the salaries of the two highest paid teams in the newly formed National League; many of these have never appeared in any of the collections of early baseball salaries.

According to the article, the highest paid player was Chicago White Stockings pitcher Albert Goodwill Spalding who “as pitcher and manager, receives $3,000 for the year, with $1,000 bonus for producing the secession from the Hub (Boston) to Chicago.”  (The 1950 book “100 Years of Baseball,” by Lee Allen said Spalding earned $3,500 and a $500 bonus for the season).

A.G. Spalding, highest paid in National League

A.G. Spalding, highest paid in National League

The three players Spalding brought with him from the Boston Red Stockings in the National Association, Catcher James “Deacon” White, first baseman Cal McVey and second baseman Ross Barnes were all paid $2,500.  The two players signed away from the Philadelphia Athletics, third baseman Adrian “Cap” Anson and outfielder Bob Addy received $2,200 and $1,500 respectively.

Outfielder Paul Hines earned 1.800, utility player Fred Andrus was paid 1,000, and the remaining members of the first National League Champions, shortstop John Peters and outfielders John Glenn and Oscar Bielaski were made $1500 each.

Chicago White Stockings, 1876 National League Champions--and highest salaried team.

Chicago White Stockings, 1876 National League Champions–and highest salaried team.

Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings filled the vacancies of White and Barnes with 18-year-old Lew Brown and 21-year-old John Morrill who The Argus said received “between 800 to 1000 dollars each.”

Manager Wright, who only appeared in one game, and his brother George were the highest paid members of the Boston club at $2,500 each.  Andy Leonard, who played second and outfield was paid $2,000.  Two other notable players on the Red Stockings, Hall of Famer “Orator Jim” O’Rourke and Tim Murnane received “between fifteen hundred and eighteen hundred dollars.”

According to The Argus, the White Stockings payroll of $21,500 topped the league, with Boston’s total of 18,000.