Tag Archives: Otto Knabe

George Chalmers

5 Aug

George “Dut” Chalmers is one of only seven big league players born in Scotland.  He came to New York City as a young child and, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer “his baseball education was begun” with the Bradhurst Field Club which played their games at 145th and Lenox Avenue.  He also played on amateur teams in Hoboken, New Jersey and Red Hook, Brooklyn.

After attending Manhattan College, Chalmers began his professional career in 1909 with the Scranton Miners in the New York State League, managed by Gus ZeimerThe Sporting Life said:

“In George Chalmers, the giant young Manhattan College grad, Zeimer has landed what looks to be the prize-package pitcher of the league.   His work has been sensational.”

There are no complete statistics for 1909, but the following season the 22-year-old Chalmers was 25-6 for Scranton; finishing second in victories to 23-year-old Syracuse Stars pitcher Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander who was 29-11.

The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader said Chalmers:

“Looks like one of the very best in the minor leagues, having a major league head and everything in the pitching line, including fine control and a spitball.”

At the end of the 1910 season the Philadelphia Phillies acquired both of the New York League’s star pitchers; Chalmers was purchased, for either $3000 or $4000, depending on the source, and Alexander was obtained through the Rule 5 Draft.

Both rookies made the club after spring training in Birmingham, Alabama.  Six years later The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger said of Chalmers’ first days with the 1911 Phillies:

“Chalmers came with an elaborate trousseau, together with lots of pinch neckwear and considerable toggery that aroused the brunette population of Birmingham to deep, empurpled envy. “

chalmersasadude

George Chalmers, left, with teammate Alonzo Earl “Crossfire” Moore Displaying the style “that aroused the brunette population of Birmingham to deep, empurpled envy. “
Caption reads “Chalmers as a Dude.”  Photo from Chalmers’ personal scrapbook.

In addition to his fashion sense, Chalmers also impressed the Phillies with his pitching ability.

While Alexander got off to a great start, Chalmers started slow, but after back-to-back victories in July, Phillies manager and catcher Charles “Red” Dooin told The Philadelphia Times:

“That youngster is a great twirler.  You know they told me up in the New York League that Chalmers was a better pitcher than Alexander.

“Of course this is impossible because I think that ‘Alex’ is the greatest pitcher that ever drew breath, but I am going to say there’s not a club in either league which could beat the ball Chalmers has pitched for the last two weeks.

“I think I have another Alexander in Chalmers and if he don’t make good prediction I will say that he lacks the nerve and nothing else.  Chalmers has more stuff than Matty (Christy Mathewson) had.  He needs the experience and knowledge of batsmen, but aside from that he is the best young twirler I have ever seen excepting Alex.”

A syndicated story from The American Press Association said Chalmers had given up other sports for baseball:

“George Chalmers, one of the pitching sensations of the Philadelphia National League team, is a motorcycle rider as well as a box artist.  Before he joined the Phillies Chalmers occasionally picked up a little spare change acting as a pacemaker for Elmer Collins, the bicycle rider.  Chalmers has paced Collins several times in the latter’s races against Bobby Walthour.  Chalmers, however, doesn’t intend riding any more.  He fears a spill that might injure his arm and affect his pitching.

“Chalmers at one time had an ambition to become an automobile race driver.  He gave up this notion when he got his chance to join Philadelphia.  The big right-hand pitcher is not sorry that he sidetracked that ambition, for his pitching now is yielding him a healthy income.”

While he was overshadowed by Alexander, who was 28-13 with a 2.57 ERA, Chalmers had a respectable rookie season posting a 13-10 record with a 3.11 ERA.

In September it was announced that the Phillies would travel to Cuba for a 12-game series with the Almendares and Havana teams in November.  As the October 31 departure date drew near it became clear that, for a variety of reasons, many of the Phillies would not be making the trip.  Most notably Alexander, locked in a contract dispute, and Dooin would remain at home.

Besides Chalmers, the players who made the trip were:

Wallace “Toots” Shultz P

Eddie Stack P

Bill Killefer C

Fred Luderus 1B

Otto Knabe 2B

Hans Lobert 3B/MGR

Jimmy Walsh SS

Sherry Magee OF

Mike Mitchell OF (Borrowed from Cincinnati Reds)

Dick Cotter OF

Chalmers and his Phillies teammates on the beach in Havana, Cuba

Chalmers and his Phillies teammates.  Caption reads “In the surf Havana Cuba”
Photo from Chalmers’ personal scrapbook.

The first game of the series, reduced from 12 to nine games because of the Phillies’ limited roster, took place on November 5.  Chalmers faced Almendares and Cuban legend Jose Mendez; the Phillies lost 3-1.  It is likely Chalmers hurt his arm during the series; he did not start another game, and Schultz picked up the slack, pitching six games, he was credited with the victory in the five games the Phillies won.

Upon returning to Key West the last week of November, Chalmers was briefly detained by authorities. The Philadelphia Times said the ship’s manifest listed Chalmers as American, but:

“On arrival in the states when he had to sign a long paper of identification, he told the officials that he was Scotch and never naturalized…Chalmers was reprimanded and the ship company was fined for carelessness”

Heading into the 1912 season The Philadelphia Times, and the second year pitcher, had high hopes:

“Chalmers is young and has every confidence in himself.  He is big and strong and is a perfect running mate for Alexander the Great.”

But the George Chalmers who returned from Cuba would never be the same pitcher.

More tomorrow.

Special thanks to Karen Weiss, George Chalmers’ great niece, for generously providing copies of photos from Mr. Chalmers’ scrapbook.

Thanks to Mark Fimoff co-chair SABR Pictorial History Committee for identifying Earl Moore in the first picture and correcting my incorrect, original caption placing Chalmers on the right–the information has been corrected in the caption.  October 18, 2013

Bill Brennan versus Philadelphia

10 Jul

Umpire William “Bill” Brennan was at the center of the controversy that led to Philadelphia Phillies owner Horace Fogel being banished from the National League.  Fogel maintained that the 1912 pennant race was fixed, and that Brennan and the rest of the league’s umpires were in the tank for the champion New York Giants.

After Fogel was expelled Brennan dropped a threatened libel suit against him and the umpire’s life went back to normal, until August 30, 1913.

Fogel was working the game in Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl between the Phillies and the New York Giants.  The Giants, who were in first place by nine games, were trailing the Phillies 8-6 in the ninth inning.

Harry “Moose” McCormick, pinch-hitting for Fred Merkle, led off the inning with a groundout to second baseman Otto KnabeThe Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“As the big Giants’ pinch hitter started for the players’ bench he motioned towards the center field bleachers and shouted to Brennan that the white shirts there had blinded him.”

Brennan walked out to the center field bleachers and told the fans seated in the area to vacate their seats:

“They greeted him with jeers and catcalls; Brennan paused helplessly for minute and then walked back into the diamond.  Approaching Mike Doolan, captain of the Phillies, he ordered him to have the crowd removed.  Doolan laughed and said that it was impossible.  Then Brennan walked over to the New York bench and held a conference with Manager (John) McGraw.”

Philadelphia manager Charles “Red” Dooin had been ejected earlier in the game, so Brennan told acting manager Hans Lobert to move the crowd out of center field.  Lobert and the Phillies “explained that it could not be done.”

Brennan again went out to the center field bleachers, this time ordering a Philadelphia police officer to remove the crowd:

“The bluecoat laughed at him and said that he could not, under any circumstances, take his orders.

“’You’re under my orders,’ said Brennan.

“’I’m under no orders except from my sergeant or captain,’ was the answer.”

The crowd of 22,000 was “storming angrily for the game to proceed,” and the other umpire, Mal Eason, suggested the game be continued and played under protest.  Instead, Brennan again huddled with McGraw.

“Strangely enough, McGraw, who is generally the most volatile man in the world and charges all over the field in excitement, this time, remained quietly on the New York Players’ bench.”

Brennan walked back on the field and said, “This game is forfeited to New York, 9 to 0.”  The Giants were “running towards the clubhouse before (Brennan) completed his statement,” according to The Inquirer.

“Bedlam cut loose at that instant.  Screaming in rage the bleacherites by the thousands poured over the low rail into the playing field…a cushion seat struck Brennan in the face as he was walking towards the exit…His walk turned into an undignified run.  The bleach crowd had first tried to stop the New York players who butted their way to safety.  Then they turned toward Brennan.”

Bill Brennan

Bill Brennan

Escorted by police “with drawn revolvers,” Breen was able to get off the field.   Mobs formed outside the Baker Bowl and pursued the Giants, and Brennan, with his police escort, on their separate routes to the North Philadelphia Railroad Station:

“Brennan and his guard reached the entrance to the station just at the instant McGraw and his players came fleeing around the corner at Broad Street.  The police forsook the umpire to try and head off the larger crowd behind the New Yorkers.  With drawn guns they held them at bay for a few minutes. “

While police held two mobs at bay, a third waited for Brennan inside the station and “jumped upon him by the dozens.  (Brennan) was beaten to the ground, rose, (and) was beaten down again.”

The Inquirer claimed that McGraw and Brennan in their haste to escape the crowd boarded the wrong train, “an extra fare train from Pittsburgh,” rather than the train to New York.

Despite the mob, the chaos, and the “Missiles of all kinds,” that were thrown by Phillies fans, there was only one injury.  Giants’ utility man Arthur Tillie Shafer was hit in the head with a brick, but was not seriously injured.

Two days later National League President Thomas Lynch assigned Brennan to work the Phillies September 1 double-header with the Dodgers. The Inquirer said:

“President Lynch, of the National league, exhibited anything but a keen sense of delicacy in sending Brennan in to umpire the two games between the Phillies and Brooklyn on Monday,  or perhaps he is trying to work up a reputation as a humorist.”

National League President Thomas Lynch

National League President Thomas Lynch

Philadelphia won both games without any serious incidents.  The Inquirer headline read:

“Man Who Helped Giants Couldn’t Aid Dodgers.”

Two days later Lynch reversed Brennan’s decision, The Associated Press said:

“Lynch, in his decision says that Umpire Brennan exceeded his authority in declaring the game forfeited to the New York club and formally awards it to the Philadelphia team by a score of 8 to 6.”

While New York appealed Lynch’s decision, Brennan‘s troubles were just starting.

He learned that a warrant was issued for his arrest in Philadelphia; a Phillies fan named Henry Russell claimed “Brennan in his efforts to get out of the park pummeled him and knocked him to the ground where he was trampled by the crowd.”  At the same time, it was rumored that Brennan would be let go by the National League.  The Associated Press said:

“(Tom Lynch) is certain to let him out, it is said if he is reelected, and if another man is chosen to head the circuit he will be instructed by his nominators to dispense with Brennan.  It is not the case of the forfeit that mitigates against Brennan so much, according to the yarn circulated, but his generally inconsistent work in games where the spirit of battle ran high.  He is said to be over excitable.”

Two weeks after Lynch’s decision, he was overruled by the National League Board of Directors, and it was determined that the game would be completed on October 2,

The Philadelphia Record and The Inquirer called the decision unfair and gave the second place Phillies “all the worst of it.”

In the end, the decision made no difference.  The Phillies, nine games behind the Giants on the day of the forfeit, never got closer than seven games out of first place, and finished the season twelve and a half games behind the Giants.  The pennant was a foregone conclusion when what The Inquirer called “The longest game on record,” was finally completed.

The anti-climactic two-thirds of an inning ended quickly on October 2.  Tacked on to the beginning of a double-header, pitcher George Chalmers faced three batters:  John “Red” Murray grounded out, John “Chief” Meyers singled; Eddie Grant ran for Meyers and was forced at second on Larry McLean’s ground ball.  The Phillies “ran from the bench and danced in glee at the speedy decision in favor of the long-standing dispute.”

billbrennan

After New York won the 1913 pennant, Giant pitcher and cartoonist Al Demaree featured Brennan in one of his nationally syndicated cartoons.

In December Lynch resigned as National League president; the following month it was announced that Brennan had jumped from the National League, signing a three-year contract to become a Federal League umpire (the league would only last two seasons).

The last word in the Brennan/Philadelphia controversy belonged to a journeyman boxer and fight promoter in Superior, Minnesota named Curly Ulrich.  Three weeks after the 1913 season ended The Duluth News-Tribune said Brennan, a St. Paul resident,  “attended the bouts in Superior.”  Promoter Ulrich introduced him:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to present to you Bill Brennan, National League umpire and member of the New York Giants.”

The box score as it appeared on August 31

The box score as it appeared on August 31

More “Chief” Johnson

30 Aug

Last week I told you about George “Chief” Johnson’s release from the Chicago White Sox in the spring of 1913, allegedly because of his affiliation with the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) Native-American Tribe.

Cincinnati Reds owner August Garry Herrmann and manager Joe Tinker were apparently more concerned with a good arm than the so-called “Winnebago ban,” and signed Johnson.

George “Chief” Johnson

Through the first month of the season, Johnson was the only effective Reds pitcher, winning three games (including two shutouts) for a team with a record of 5-16.

The New York Times took notice in an article, the racist tone of which was typical of the era:

“Big Chief Johnson of the Winnebagos [sic] is copper-colored and fat. At bat he displays as much activity as the wooden Redmen who hold forth at the doors of countless cigar stands. But on the mound this latest Indian to edge his way into the select circles of major leaguedom can deal out ciphers with as much success as the more illustrious Johnson of Washington.”

Johnson ended the season 14-16, with a 3.00 ERA for a team that finished 25 games under .500.

In 1914, the Federal League came calling.  Otto Knabe, Manager of the Baltimore Terrapins sent a telegram to Johnson asking for his terms.  According to Knabe, Johnson replied with a telegram sent collect saying “Will sign for $10,000 bonus and reasonable salary.” Knabe telegrammed Johnson collect “Asked for your terms, not Walter Johnson’s”

Otto Knabe

Johnson signed the following month with the Federal League Kansas City Packers for a more modest $3000 advance and $5000 salary; the only problem was that Johnson had already signed a contract with the Reds for 1914.

Johnson’s 1914 season was highlighted by a series of injunctions and court rulings that kept him sidelined for much of the season while organized baseball battled the upstart Federal League.  (The saga of the Federal League has been rehashed in numerous books and blogs, no need to reinvent the wheel here—I recommend this book)

Johnson played for Kansas City in 1914 and 1915 posting records of 9-10 and 17-17.  Throughout his tenure in Kansas City Johnson had numerous run-ins with the law over his drinking and was cited for desertion and non-support of his wife. Additionally, his weight ballooned to well over two hundred pounds.

Johnson’s major league career was over after 1915, but he pitched three more seasons in the Pacific Coast League.  Pitching for the Vernon Tigers near the end of the 1916 season Johnson was so out of shape that it was reported in the Los Angeles Times that the Portland Beavers chased him from a game in the third inning by having several hitters in a row lay down bunts that the overweight pitcher was unable to field.

Johnson reportedly returned in better shape in 1917 and was 25-23 pitching for Vernon and the San Francisco Seals.  Johnson returned  in 1918, posting a 2-6 record, and was joined in San Francisco for a short time by his brother John who appeared in one game for the Seals.

After his release by San Francisco Johnson barnstormed with a variety of teams throughout the Midwest and West and sold “snake-oil” in a traveling tent show.  On June 11, 1922, Johnson was in Des Moines, Iowa with his tent show when he was killed in a dispute over money during either a dice or poker game (news accounts varied).  Johnson’s killer, an African-American gambler named Ed Gillespie, was originally charged with first-degree murder, but the charges were reduced to manslaughter based on eye-witness accounts that claimed Johnson was “drunk and belligerent.”  He was buried at the Winnebago Cemetery in Winnebago, Nebraska.

A postscript.

A few days after Johnson’s death a small item appeared in Iowa newspapers; it was about a druggist in Des Moines who had agreed to put a display in his store window to promote Johnson’s tent show. The story said:

“Anyone anxious to own a nice horned rattlesnake may have one by taking the one left in his show window by the late Mr. Johnson.”