Tag Archives: Pacific Coast League

“The Sacred Cloth”

26 Apr

In 1923, Bill Byron again didn’t make it out of April without being pelted by bottles. During a game between the Oaks and the Salt Lake City Bees in Oakland. The Salt Lake Telegram said:

“The smiling and sarcastic indicator…was the target for a volley of pop bottles and cushions in the eighth inning of the morning game, when he made what the fans thought a rotten decision. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t much good.”

The Oakland Tribune said Byron’s decision—he called a player out at second on a force when the fielder was, according to the home team and visiting team’s local papers, “fully eighteen inches off the bag,” which led to the incident–“the worst decision ever witnessed at a Coast League game.”

This led to the third attempt since 1920 by Oakland management and fans in, “petitioning prexy McCarthy against Byron, claiming he is unjust to Oakland.”  McCarthy made no response.

Byron’s long history of bearing the brunt of a physical attack from a player continued during a July game Between Sacrament and Seattle. The Sacramento Star said:

“Fred Mollwitz got himself into an awful jam…And the worse of it all was that Fred was right, DEAD RIGHT, in his argument. Not right in smacking Lord Byron one in the kisser but right in protesting that majestic gentleman’s decision at first base.”

The paper said Mollwitz had tagged Seattle’s Jimmy Welsh who was picked-off first base:

“Welsh’s hand was a good distance (from first base). Byron promptly waved him safe. Mollwitz held Welsh pinned to the ground and called for Byron to come over and look at it.”

Byron ignored him.  After allowing Welsh up, Mollwitz got in a “hot argument” with the umpire and was ejected and began to leave the field.

“It couldn’t be determined from the grandstand whether or not Byron said something or not, but, for some reason Molly turned around and poked him in the jaw.

“It took half the Seattle Aggregation and a whole assemblage of Solons talent to drag the battling first baseman off. After that it was a riot of nearly ten minutes.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reminded readers that Byron’s “favorite hobby (is) putting a chip on his shoulder,” and many suggested the umpire was to blame for the incident.

The Salt Lake Telegram labeled Byron “a player baiter,” and said, “Bill usually gets busted once or twice a year. Molly’s action isn’t at all unusual.”

Mollwitz

A group led by the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce petitioned the league president to punish Byron, their letter read in part:

“Byron’s attitude toward Mollwitz Friday was so provocative that any red-blooded American under similar circumstances would probably have done just as Mollwitz did.”

League president McCarthy once again ignored criticisms of Byron and said:

“Mollwitz’ act was cowardly and I am sorry I cannot fine him several hundred dollars and suspend him for a month.”

Instead, he fined Mollwitz $100 and suspended him for a week and chastised Mollwitz’ supporters:

“When the people of Sacramento cool down, they will find that Mollwitz was wrong and Byron was right. The suspension stands and I will continue to employ Byron.”

Whether it was his animus towards Oakland or something else, Byron showed rare compassion for a player late in the 1923 season, a pitcher for the Vernon Tigers named Merrill “Heine” File was on the mound against the Oaks.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“An Oak on second and Heinie File was pitching. He made a couple of balks and the Oaks howled loud. The squawking became so boisterous that Lord Bill Byron raised both hands in the air and in a loud voice said: ‘He’s only a young pitcher trying to break in!’ Then Byron went to the pitching box to show the young pitcher how to stand on the rubber. The kid balked again and then umpire Ward behind the plate stepped into the diamond and called a balk.”

Oaks manager Ivan Howard asked Byron:

 “How old a pitcher must be before a balk can be called on him, and Ivan refused to tell anyone what Byron told him, but we understand it was something about how old a fellow must be to know how to run a ball club.”

By the end of the 1923 season, the Tigers, not withstanding Byron’s attempt to help File, joined the chorus of people asking the league to part ways with the singing umpire:

The Los Angeles Record team owner Ed Maier and Secretary Howard Lorenz felt the umpire, “lost $1700 insurance for the Tigers and the Beavers, robbed Vernon of a ball game and deprived spectators of a right to secure rain checks,” during the team’s series in Portland. 

Lorenz told the paper:

“The game was tied when we finished the fourth. Rain was pouring down. Manager (Jim) Middleton of Portland urged Byron to call the game, but he refused. A Portland player made a home run in the fifth and Byron called the contest as soon as they finished their half.”

In December McCarthy was replaced as PCL president by Los Angeles Express sportswriter Harry Williams; The Sacramento Star said, “Byron announces he will quit the league.”

Byron sat out 1924 but missed the PCL and apparently, despite everything, the league missed him. He agreed to come back in 1925 but broke his leg and could not return. The Sacramento Bee said while team officials in that town had been among the umpire’s biggest detractors, they would have supported his return:

 “Just to show Bill that Sacramento did not have any hard feelings against him. Edwin Bedell, chairman off the baseball committee had planned to have a ‘Byron Day’ when Bill first appeared here.”

Byron never worked as an umpire again.  He spent the rest of his life in Detroit and died in 1955.

Abe Kemp, who spent decades at The San Francisco Examiner and was the only sportswriter still working on the West Coast who covered Byron’s stormy four years in the PCL, wrote:

“Bill Byron was my friend. He was not a man who made friends easily. He was a dedicated man; a man dedicated to the profession of umpiring baseball…He went out of his way to inflame (fans). As on occasions he went out of his way to inflame ballplayers.”

Kemp told a story about Byron that explained Byron better than any other ever written during his life:

 “’This blue uniform,’ he turned on towering ‘Truck’ Hannah one afternoon at Recreation Park, ‘has got to be respected.’

“From his lofty height of six feet four, Hannah carefully inspected Bryon’s sacred blue uniform.

“’You know Bill,’ he said slowly, ‘I would have more respect for your blue uniform if it didn’t have a patch in the seat of the pants.’

“Theatrically, Byron waved Hannah out of the ball game.”

The other umpire, Bill Guthrie scolded Byron for throwing Hannah out of the game:

“Byron leveled his ejection finger at his partner. “’Hannah cast aspersions on the sacred cloth.”

“Byron has our Players Feeling Like a lot of Spanked Kids”

23 Apr

Bill Byron resigned as a National League umpire after the 1919 season but “The singing umpire” couldn’t stay away.

He accepted a position with the Pacific Coast League (PCL) for 1920. The (Portland) Oregon Daily Journal said he was the only umpire in the PCL who did not have a reserve clause in his contract.

Byron was partnered with another former National League umpires, Mal Eason. The Los Angeles Evening Express said:

“This pair throws players out of the game on the least provocation.”

Byron

Byron cemented his reputation for throwing out players shortly after joining the PCL.

The Los Angeles Examiner said after he ejected five players during a May game between the Vernon Tigers and the Sacramento Senators:

“Byron, according to all accounts, is rapidly approaching that stage of popularity with everybody that caused him to be dropped from the National league.”

While his exit from the National League appears to have been voluntarily, The Sporting News later made the same claim The Examiner did, telling readers the umpire’s “chip in shoulder attitude caused his dismissal from the National staff.”

In September, Byron called Lu Blue of the Portland Beavers out at the plate on a play that would have tied the score in an eventual 1-0 loss to the Seals:

Blue

The San Francisco Examiner said Blue grabbed Byron, the umpire broke away and punched Blue in the nose, then:

“Lu hit Bill with a left hook and by that time every ball player, ‘copper,’ and umpire in the league were mixed up in one grand shoving contest.”

Blue got to Byron again and punched him in the eye. After that, Portland’s Dick Cox, “grabbed the ump around the neck and dragged him halfway around the park, while Bill’s nose proceeded to pick up stray hunks of pop bottles and rocks.”

Blue was fined $100 and suspended for a week, Cox managed to escape with neither.

Portland manager Judge McCredie was said to be “chafing under” Blue’s suspension, telling The Oregonian Blue acted in self-defense and that Byron should have been punished as well.

A month after the incident, Seals pitcher Sam Lewis yelled to the Byron:

“Hey, Bill, I know you are the king of umpires, for I saw Lu Blue of the Portland club crown you.

The Oregonian concluded:

“Even Byron had to laugh.”

When he was retained by the league for the 1921 season, The Evening Express said:

“Byron had an opportunity to return to the National League but preferred to remain on the Coast.

“Important if true.

“If true, it is too bad he didn’t accept (National League President) John Heydler’s offer.”

Byron was no less controversial his second year on the West Coast. In May, Oakland Oaks third baseman, and future National League umpire, Babe Pirelli knocked him down “with a blow over the eye,” after he ejected Pinelli for disputing a call.

Most of the players and fans–including one famous fan, actor Al Jolson–told The Oakland Tribune that Byron threw the first punch:

“Al wired President McCarthy of the Coast League at once, declaring that the umpire and not the player was to blame.”

Pinelli missed several games with an injured hand but was never officially suspended and was fined $50 by McCarthy who said, “he didn’t place all the blame,” on the player for the incident.

Shortly after the incident with Pinelli, Byron drew the ire of San Francisco fans for indecision on a ball hit by Morrie Schick of the Seals in a game against Oakland. Jack James of The Examiner described the play:

“He looked up. It wasn’t there.

He looked down. It wasn’t there.

He looked at both sides. It wasn’t there.

“He decided to call in an expert for advice.

‘”Where did it go?’ says to the Oakland third baseman a Mister White, temporarily taking the place of Mr. Pinelli, who recently assaulted Mister Byron, they do say, with cause.

“’Foul!’ Says Mr. White.

‘”Foul it is then,’ says Mr. Byron.”

Despite that call in their favor, the Oakland management—J. Cal Ewing and Del Howard—sent a letter to McCarty, asking the league president to not assign the umpire to Oakland games:

“Byron has our players feeling like a lot of spanked kids who are afraid to make a false move or stand up for their rights for fear that will get tossed out of the ball game and then be further punished by having a fine slapped on them.”

The request was ignored.

Soon after, Byron attempted to pull the trick he once pulled on John McGraw on San Francisco Seals manager Charlie Graham—pulling out his watch and giving his a minute to leave the field after an ejection.  Graham, said The Sacramento Bee:

“Graham grabbed the time piece from the indicator man…Byron tried to to wrench his watch from Graham’s hand but he could not do so. The crowd gathered around and finally Graham gave the ‘umps’ back his watch and left the field.”

Graham drew a five-game suspension and $50 fine.

Within days, Los Angeles Angels manager Wade Killefer was fined $50 and suspended for five games, and two of his players—George Lyons and Red Baldwin–were fined and suspended. Baldwin was ejected and given “thirty seconds” to leave the field, Killefer and the rest of the Angels came out on the field and “surrounded” the umpire, who promptly “declared the game forfeited” to the Seattle Rainers:

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Byron should demand a commission, for he fines more players than all of the other umpires combined.”

After Byron’s active first half of the season, The Express noted on August 1:

“Bill Byron didn’t suspend anyone yesterday.”

Byron’s reputation was such, that The San Francisco Examiner headlined a story about a riot involving players, umpires, and fans at an International League in Buffalo that resulted player arrests:

“Here’s one that Bill Byron Missed”

The Chronicle referred to him and partner Jake Croter as “the demon umpires.”

The Los Angeles Record said, “the much-abused umpire” had also taking up singing on the field again:

“When a player protests a called strike too vehemently, Bill will drone in a sing-sing voice:

‘”Can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder; can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder!’

“And when a player tells Bill things that Bill doesn’t think he is paid to hear, Bill grabs the whiskbroom and starts dusting the plate to the accompaniment of:

“’Some one’s going to the clubhouse; some one IS going to the club house!’”

Not everyone thought Byron was bad for the league. Carl “Boots” Weber” spent more than 30 years in the front office with the Los Angeles Angels and later served as treasurer for the Chicago Cubs. Shortly after Byron’s dust up with manager Wade Killefer and the two Angles players, The Los Angeles Examiner recounted a conversation between Weber and Byron:

“You’re an absolute attraction,’ Weber told Byron, ‘and I’m for you. You help to draw the people through the gate.’

“’Yes, and I help draw them on me,’ replied Byron.

“that’s just the point,’ enthused Weber. ‘Keep them on you. The more they get on you the more they will come out to see you, and that, after all, is the first and main consideration.”’

Byron, not particularly wisely, might have taken Weber’s comment to heart. In mid-August, The Bee said the umpire endured a “pop bottle shower” after making a call at the plate that cost the Beavers the tying run in a game with the Sacramento Senators:

“Senatorial ball players say that Bill Byron showed a lot of courage…it is said he never retreated an inch, nor did he look toward the stand from where the barrage was coming. Bill walked up and down the line never flinching…There was a little too much courage in the umpire’s manner according to the players, who say if one of the bottles had hit Bill on the head, he might have been through for the season, and perhaps forever.”

The Bee also reported that after the bottle throwing incident, a rookie pitcher named Carroll Canfield was told by his teammates to “tell Bill” that an opposing player missed first base.  The paper said the players meant Canfield to tell manage Bill Rodgers; the 18-year-old instead approached Byron:

“(Canfield) in a meek way, went out and told the umpire about the runner missing the sack.

“’You get back to that bench kid,’ roared Bill, ‘and watch those other fellows play for a coupe of years more before you ever come out and talk to me.”

Despite two seasons of controversy, PCL President William H. McCarthy enthusiastically retained him for the 1922 season, telling The Associated Press:

“Byron is as good an umpire as there is in baseball and the Coast League is fortunate to have him numbered among its list of officials.”

The Singing Umpire didn’t make it through the first week of the 1922 season before being pelted with pop bottles. During the April 15 game between the Oaks and the Seals, The Oakland Tribune said Byron called Dee Walsh of the Seals out on a close play at third base in the 10th inning; then reversed himself and ruled Walsh safe, “after a flock of Seals charged him from the dugout.”

The paper called what happened next, the biggest baseball riot witnessed here since the days at old Freeman’s park,” which the Oaks vacated nearly a decade earlier. After changing the call, Byron was showered with bottles and “surrounded” by Oaks players.  Calm was restored and Walsh scored on a sacrifice fly.

When the Oaks came to bat in the bottom of the tenth, Byron ejected Oakland’s Ray Brubaker and Ray Kremer who were heckling him from the dugout; the ejections resulted in another round of bottles throw at the umpire. When the final Oaks batter was retired:

“(F)ans dashed from the stands as a flock of gray-coated policemen sought to give Byron protection. Pop bottles and cushions were heaved through the mob and the dressing room was wrecked by the angered fans.”

He continued ejecting players at a clip that caused The San Francisco Examiner to say after a June game between the Seals and Oaks:

“Umpire Bill Byron gave the crowd a little taste of the unusual when he failed to prescribe an early afternoon shower for a single player. This was without doubt, the most notable feature of the game.”

Late in the 1922 season, he stopped what could have been an ugly incident and received unusual praise in The Los Angels Times. During the September 30 game between the Vernon Tigers and Seattle Indians, Vernon pitcher Jakie May hit Seattle third baseman Tex Wisterzil with a pitch, for the second time in the game, this one struck the batter behind the right ear:

“Tex was plainly out of patience, and started for the box in a brisk walk, bat in hand. Jakie awaited the impending onslaught with folded arms, fearless, dignified, and Napoleonic. Just when everybody expected the spark to be struck with the bat which would inflame the whole world, Bill Byron, the great pacifier, made a flying tackle from the rear and nailed Wisterzil’s elbows to his floating ribs. Thus, crisis was averted.”

The dinal Byron chapter, Monday

“The Cream Puff Era in Baseball”

31 Mar

During his scouting trip to the West Coast looking for talent for the Boston Braves, Johnny Evers talked to Brian Bell, the Associated Press Bureau Chief in San Francisco:

“(He) has been sitting up late looking at games in the Pacific Coast League. The once great second baseman frankly is puzzled.

“Night baseball has turned the game topsy-turvy. A scout dislikes to recommend the purchase of an infielder or pitcher because with the lights the players have to adjust themselves to various conditions.

“’Recently, I looked at a promising shortstop.’ said Evers. ‘He was playing almost in left field. The next time I saw him in another park he was almost in back of the pitcher. When I spoke to him about it, he said that each park in the league has its dark spots and he has to play accordingly.’”

Johnny Evers

The shortstop Evers was scouting, according to The Los Angeles Express was Carl Dittmar. The club was said to be looking for a replacement for 39-year-old Rabbit Maranville, in order to move the veteran to 2nd base; the Braves instead purchased Billy Urbanski from the Montreal Royals.

Pitchers told Evers they would have to throw low pitches at the parks with lights mounted on top of the grandstand and high pitches at the parks with lower mounted lights:

“How can a scout tell whether these pitchers that are so good at night can pitch in the majors in the daytime?”

As for baseball as a whole?

“Evers calls the present ‘the cream puff era’ in baseball. ‘There’s no more fight in the game.”

He complained that one West Coast manager told him a player we wanted to scout had ‘a bad cold’ and would not be in the lineup:

“I cannot understand players staying out of a ball game because of a cold.”

 There were at least two players of “the cream puff era” that Evers approved of:

“Babe Ruth and Lefty O’Doul are the greatest hitters today. They realized that conditions are changing in baseball. Ruth’s mighty swings eliminated the bunt and put the homerun at a premium some years ago. With the slowing up of the baseball, Ruth is accepting the changed conditions.

“The big fellow of the Yankees now just meets the ball most of the time. Because of his strength, the ball leaves the bat like a shot and is past the infielders before they are able to take a full step.

“O’Doul is meeting the ball in a sweeping motion, which results in many base hits. He started the season in a terrible slump, but he was smart enough to discover the trouble.”

O’Doul

The scout, and co-author with Hugh Fullerton of “Touching Second: The Science of Baseball” remained a fan of the dead ball:

“Evers thinks the slower the ball the better the players and the game. Brainy players and plays have been sacrificed by the lively ball for fellows who can do nothing but ‘cut and slash.’”

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“A Colorful Critter”

17 Feb

John Walter “Duster” Mails was another left-handed pitcher with talent who never lived up expectations and was labeled “eccentric,” or “Another Rube.”

John B. Foster of The New York Sun said:

“Mails’ ability is conceded so far as his arm is concerned, but when it comes to the illuminated phases of baseball Duster must have the center of the stage or he moans in a corner like a monkey with the pip. If he’d make the best use of his left arm, he should be able to win two games for every one he loses.”

Billy Evans, the American League umpire, and syndicated newspaper columnist called him, “A colorful critter.”

In 1925, when the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Mails from the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League for what would be Mails’ third and final shot at the big leagues, Evans wrote:

“Walter Mails has as much natural ability as Rube Waddell and no southpaw ever had more stuff than George Edward.

“Mails has a dazzling fastball. I umpired back of Waddell when he was at his best. If anything, Mails’ fastball had something on Rube’s.”

Mails

Evans concluded that Waddell “seemed to have uncanny control” of his pitches, which Mails lacked.

He argued that given Mails’ personality quirks, he would be “rival Babe Ruth” as a newspaper copy generator if he could recreate his short period of major league dominance in 1920:

“Joining Cleveland late in the season, when the Indians were on the ropes because of lack of pitching, Mails proved the man of the hour.

“Taking part in nine games he turned in seven victories and didn’t suffer a single defeat.”

The Indians won the pennant by two games over the White Sox.

“Late in the season when Cleveland met Chicago in the final and all series between the two clubs, Mails remarked to me before the first game:

“Those birds are made to order for me; If (Tris) Speaker starts me against them I won’t be satisfied with anything but a shutout.”

Mails shut the White Sox out and beat Urban Faber 2 to 0; the September 24 victory increased the Indians lead over the Sox to 1.5 games.

“In one inning, after walking three men a la Waddell, he continued Rube’s trick by striking the next three out.”

Evans’ recall was slightly off.

In the fifth inning, Mails retired Swede Risberg, then walked Ray Schalk, Faber, and Amos Strunk. 

Mails then struck out Buck Weaver and Eddie Collins, The Chicago Tribune said, with a full count, Collins:

“(H)it three fouls in succession, swung at a bad ball and struck out.”

Mails’ dream season continued through the World Series, he relieved Ray Caldwell in the first inning of game three, pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 2 to 1 loss to the Brooklyn Robins.

Evans said Mails told him:

“If Speaker had only started me that one run we made would have been enough to win. He says he is going to give me a chance against (Sherry) Smith the next time he starts. Those birds will be lucky any time they score on me.”

He shut out the Robins and Smith 1 to 0.

Mails posted a 1.85 regular season ERA in 1920 which ballooned to 3.94 in 1921 and 5.28 in 1922, before he was sold to Oakland.

Mails’ final big-league stint ended like his first two, flashes of brilliance punctuating an overall lack of control and discipline.

He returned to the minor leagues for another decade. 

Early in his career, Mails tried to explain his control issues to The Spokane Spokesman Review:

“In my younger days, my folks used to live just a short distance from the San Quentin penitentiary. It was always a hobby with me to throw stones at the guards on the ramparts to kid them. One day I thought I could get control by aiming at them, but the darn fools always used to be on the move and even today when I am out on the mound pitching, the home plate seems to act like those guards, always on the move. So, you can see I have an excuse coming.”

“Satchel Paige is not old”

11 Dec

Satchel Paige was still a big enough draw in 1961 for his appearance in Spokane with the Portland Beavers to rate a front-page story in The Spokesman Review.

Reporter Dorothy Rochon Powers, called “Spokane’s best known and beloved journalist,” who spent more than 40 years with the paper, interviewed Paige:

“Satchel Paige is not old and no man’s got any business sticking his nose on the moon.

“And the man to tell you both is Leroy Satchel Paige.”

Satchel 1961

Paige told Powers:

“I’m the onliest man in the United States they don’t anybody know anything about his age!”

He vowed he was “never gonna turn that secret loose.”

Paige said Bill Veeck was the cause of the perpetual questions about his age.

“Veeck made a gag out of how old I was. People took it and haven’t let loose.”

As for the moon, Paige opined:

“People trying to get to the moon now. They didn’t put the moon up there; they got no business seeing what’s there.”

He told Powers he only ate two meals a day:

“I never had three meals in my life. When I got to the place where I could have three meals, I had six children—and I had to give it to them.”

Asked about his kids, the pitcher took out “a hand-printed list” of their names and ages.

And some Satchel wisdom:

“I don’t have no money. I never had none, so it don’t worry me. My hair’s gonna be black a long time if they wait for me to get gray hair worryin’ over money.”

Ad for Spokane vs. Portland

Paige pitched four innings for The Beavers on August 31, Harry Missildine, sports columnist for The Spokesman Review said:

“He was entertaining in four innings. He was effective for at least three.”

Paige ended each inning with a cigarette at the top of the dugout steps, “which is contrary to Pacific Coast League rules and custom…but I guess Paige is old enough to smoke if he wants to.”

Satchel gave up two earned runs in four innings and was pulled for a pinch hitter with Portland trailing 2 to 1; the Beavers came back to win 9 to 8.

The 54-year-old Paige appeared in five games for Portland with no decisions and 2.88 ERA in 25 innings.

I Have Yelled a lot of Games out of bad Umpires”

9 Jun

Wallace Louis Bray was so well known by the pseudonym Happy Hogan, that some sources still do not include his given name. The Santa Clara, California native spent his entire professional career as a player and manager on the West Coast.

He was popular enough to be featured as the only non-big-league manager to be included in a series of syndicated articles by Chicago journalists Joseph B. Bowles called “How I win.”

He wrote Bowles:

“I am willing to write what I know about winning ballgames to help out the young fellows and perhaps give them some points. I tell it to them so loud and so often I might as well print it.”

happyhogan

Happy Hogan

Hogan said:

“The difference between a winning ball player and a losing one is all in the disposition of the man himself. Almost any ball player who is skillful enough with his hands and feet to play minor league ball is good enough for the major leagues if he only will study the game, and has the courage and the nerve to go forward.”

He said the “great weakness” of most players was their lack of interest in studying the game:

“(T)o win a man must devote a lot of time and thought to every point of the game. I attribute what success I have had in the profession to the fact that I always have kept hustling and studying the game.”

He said that after he each game:

“I get out by myself and study it over, figuring how plays were made, and how they might be improved upon, and then I try to explain my theories to players. I find that when the manager can go into his own clubhouse and discuss plays with his men, he not only helps himself, but helps the team.”

Hogan said he believed in “strict discipline on ball fields, but I also believe in fighting the umpires when they are wrong.”

Hogan said he questioned calls before they were made:

“I believe claiming everything in sight and claiming it quick. If there is a chance for argument on a decision make the claim for decision before the umpire makes his decision and the chances are you will get the decision by thinking quicker than the umpire did.”

And once the umpire had rendered a decision:

“Yell real loud at the umpire and then quit, for there is no good nagging at a man, no matter how bad he may be. Let the yell be loud enough to impress him. I have yelled a lot of games out of bad umpires, but I claim I never yet have let out a yell when I did not think I was right.”

As for how to win on the field:

“I am a firm believer in doing the unexpected all the time and upsetting the other team by making plays for which they are not looking. Playing for one run at a time is my theory, and when runners are on bases, within scoring distance, I believe in abandoning all the rules of the game in order to get the runs home. It may be bad baseball to hit with three balls and no strikes, but if a hit will score runs I want the batters to hit. It may be bad baseball to refuse to sacrifice with men on bases and none out, but if the player sees a chance to hit through the field, let him hit. I try to place the responsibility on the player himself, and to rely upon his judgment as to when to hit, or not to hit.”

Hogan said, “The unexpected” is what wins “and breaks up games and makes contests more spectacular and exciting.”

Hogan managed the Vernon Tigers for six full seasons, never winning a pennant—his teams finished second  twice—his club was 16-18 in 1915 when a cold developed into double pneumonia and the man The San Francisco Chronicle called “unquestionably the most popular figure” in the Pacific Coast League, died at age 37.

 

 

 

“Piggy Ward, and Rightly Nicknamed is he”

15 May

After his off-season heroics, pulling an Altoona, Pennsylvania man from a fire, Piggy Ward, having been released by the Washington Senators, joined the Scranton Coal Heavers in the Eastern League for the 1895 season; The Scranton Times called him, “a very good man and will be heard from on the lines.”

He quickly became popular with his new club. The Scranton Tribune said:

“(He is) clearly a favorite with the unwashed bleacher—or, with the grandstand, for that matter…He is large bodied, somewhat round shouldered and looks awkward in repose. In action he is one of the quickest on the team and plays and steals bases with a vim and action that is refreshing.”

He hit .357—45 players with at least 200 at bats hit better than .300 that season in the Eastern League—The Sporting News said his manager found a way to get the most out of Ward:

“(Billy) Barnie gave him instructions to be in bed at least two nights a week. A little sleep and less booze and Ward is all right.”

 

ward1902

Ward caricature, 1902

His “coaching” did not seem to change, and on several occasions, according to the Scranton newspapers, he was ordered off the field “for offensive coaching.” And he was unpopular in the other league cities.

After Ward was thrown out of a game with the Rochester Browns in the third inning, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said:

“’Piggy’ Ward, and rightly nicknamed is he.”

He was even less liked in Buffalo; The Courier said: “Ward is one of the most offensive coachers extant, and he would gain friends by bottling some of his exuberant flow of nonsense.” While The Enquirer was even less charitable:

“(H)is calliope-like voice is about as musical as a dynamite blast in a stone quarry. He evidently imagines he is pretty all right as a ‘kidder,’ but what he doesn’t know about being funny would fill several large volumes. Altogether as a joker, ‘Piggy’ is a rank, dismal, decided failure.”

The Tribune noted that the second baseman was a bit eccentric in other ways as well:

“Ward has a nondescript practice uniform which is a cross between the scant apparel of a Feeje [sic] islander and the hay-making garb of a farmer. It consists of a white negligee coat cut like a robe de chambre and reaching to the knees, a pair of loose trousers of the same color which reach to the shoe tops, a white cap and a sleeveless undershirt that is open to the waist.”

In 1896, Ward was again in Scranton, and he had vowed in the off season to be in the best shape of his life. In a letter to The Tribune he said he spent the winter “handling a pair of spirited mules,” and expected to report to Scranton weighing 185 pounds, down from his 217 the previous season. The paper said he appeared to have lost 20 pounds from the previous season upon his arrival.

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Piggy Ward

Also, in 1896, his one-man “coacher” show became a two-man show when Arlie Latham, released by the St. Louis Browns in mid May, joined the Coal Heavers. The Springfield (MA) News was one of the rare league newspapers that thought it was good thing:

“With two such comedians…the Scranton team ought to prove a great drawing card on the circuit, The Springfield crowd are anxious for Scranton series here.”

Neither made it through the season, Latham was released July 17, Ward, one month later.  When Ward signed with the Toronto Canadians, The Wilkes Barre Record said:

“Ward is a great batter and base runner. There we quit.”

The Wilkes Barre News said:

“(Ward) is just where he belongs on that gang of Toronto hoodlums.”

Al Buckenberger’s Canadians were considered to be the dirtiest team in the league, The Springfield Union said with the addition of Ward:

“The opponent that gets around first base now without being tripped is lucky to get past Piggy Ward in safety and is sure to be blocked or tripped at third by Jud Smith.”

After the 1896 season, some of the papers in the Eastern League cities suggested rules changes to eliminate Ward’s type of “coaching.” The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said:

“The majority of ‘fans’ take as much delight in lively, witty coaching, such as has made Arlie Latham and Billy Clymer famous…There need not be anything offensive in aggressive work by men on the lines…but all players are not like Clymer (and Latham) and that big beast s like ‘Pig’ Ward make themselves obnoxious by their actions and language when in the coacher’s box.”

The Syracuse Herald suggested adopting a rule “ousting ‘Pig’ Ward and others of his ilk from the game entirely.”

Whether it was an attempt to improve his image or a function of playing on a smaller stage—with his hometown Lancaster Maroons in the Atlantic League and the Mansfield Haymakers in the Interstate League—Ward seemed to stay fairly quiet and avoid controversy among the press in the league cities from 1897 through 1899.

The 5’ 9” Ward seems to have played in his later years at between 220 and 230 pounds from various reports. Frank Rinn, who managed Ward for the three seasons in Lancaster talked to The Hartford Courant about him:

“Although he is heavy and sluggish Piggy has more ginger than a dozen ordinary players. Rinn was telling the other day how hard it was to get Ward to train…He was sent out to coach once and he pulled a cushion out from under his shirt and had a good seat on the ground.”

Ward bounced from no less than eight teams between 1900 and 1905, including playing for John McCloskey again—in 1902 in Pacific Northwest League with the Butte Miners—Ward stayed with the McCloskey for the entire season this time—winning a championship and receiving a gold watch and chain at season’s end for being voted by fans as the team’s most popular player in a promotion for a local jeweler. He also led the league with a .332 batting average; only seven players in the six-team Pacific Northwest circuit hit .300 or better that season.

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Ward and Butte Miners teammate Thomas Kelly in 1903.

The Cincinnati Times Star, still not recovered from his tenure with the Reds nearly a decade earlier said of Ward winning the watch:

“The booby prize was the best Ward could have captured in a similar contest during his stay in this city.”

In 1903, Ward reverted to some of his old ways.  With an already signed contract to return to Butte and a $100 advance in his pocket, he signed a contract and collected a $100 advance from the Portland Browns in the upstart Pacific Coast League. He ended up back in Butte, and when McCloskey left the club to manage the San Francisco Pirates, he told the Butte newspapers that Ward, who was already the team captain, was his choice to succeed him as manager; the club instead named shortstop Billy Kane manager.

When rumors swirled in 1905 that the cash-strapped Pacific National League might cut player salaries, The Spokane Chronicle said Ward tried to form a player’s union chartered by the American Labor Union which was formed in 1898 as the Western Labor Union to create a federation of mine workers. The rumored pay cuts never came, nor did the union.

Ward was reported to have died in January of 1906; the news made all the Philadelphia dallies and several other East Coast papers, and over the next month spread West.  The papers had confused Piggy—Frank G. Ward—with Frank P. Ward, a former amateur player who had died in Newark, N.J.

Ward was seriously injured that same winter when working as an electrician; he was shocked and fell from a pole.

The news of his death—despite being corrected in the papers—and the accident, were enough to make many believe Ward had died. When he traveled to Chicago in August of 1911 for former teammate Charles Comiskey’s birthday, The Chicago Daily News said Comiskey was shocked to see Ward, “whom he thought was dead.”

The not-dead Ward did not play professionally in 1906—the Frank Ward who appeared with the Glens Falls-Saratoga Springs team in the Hudson River League—listed among Ward’s career statistics on Baseball Reference—is a different Frank Wad.

He was hired in 1907 as an umpire in the Northwestern League. The Butte News celebrated the move:

“’Piggy’ promises to be as popular an umpire as he was a player…He is firm, has a good voice, and is known to all the of the Northwest, and President (William Henry) Lucas made a 10-strike when he appointed him  on the league staff.”

He lasted just two games. The Spokane Press said he:

“(B)roke down completely last night. This morning he was almost a nervous wreck. A collection was taken up among the ballplayers and he was sent back to his home in Scranton, Pennsylvania”

The paper said Ward’s wife had suggested he take the position because it might “build him up,” after the electrocution, but the stress was “too much for him.”

Four months after Ward’s reunion with Comiskey, The Pittsburgh Gazette Times said he was “near death,” a pitiable wreck,” suffering from “brain disease,” in an Altoona hospital.

Ten months later, on October 23, 1912, 45-year-old Piggy Ward died. The Altoona Tribune called him “one of the most famous diamond stars in the land,” and said:

“He possessed several expensive pins, a beautiful watch, and other jewelry presented to him by admirers when he was thrilling fandom with his feats.”

“Fencing Conversationally with Luke Easter”

13 Apr

Robert C. “Rube” Samuelson was called “Mr. Rose Bowl;” he covered the game for 34 straight years as sports editor of The Pasadena Star-News.

In 1949, he interviewed Luke Easter, two months before Easter made is major league debut.

Samuelson said:

“Fencing conversationally with Luke Easter the San Diego Padres fancy-dan first sacker, takes more than a bit of parrying. To come up with something worthwhile one has to dig in and keep after the big fellow.”

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Easter

Samuelson asked Easter—who hit .363 with 25 home runs and 92 RBI in 80 games with the Padres–which Pacific Coast League (PCL) pitcher was the toughest to hit. Easter said 42-year-old Tommy Bridges, in his third season with the Portland Beavers after 16 seasons with the Detroit Tigers.

“He’s about the best I ever faced.”

Easter was asked if he thought he’d be able to hit Hollywood Stars’ Willie Ramsdell’s knuckle ball later that week:

“Why not? I’ve hit knucklers before.”

Samuelson then asked about his badly injured knee:

“I don’t know how long it will hold up. I may have to have it operated on before the season ends.”

Easter said his knee hurt, “All the time. Even when I step on the brakes of my car. Even when I go upstairs. It keeps me from going to the right and I can’t pull the ball as well as I otherwise could.”

Easter said the knee was injured when he collided with Larry Doby during spring training, he was later hit in the same knee with a pitch and had “a chipped bone” in the kneecap.

Easter lied when Samuelson asked the next question:

“’How old are you, Luke?’

“’Twenty-seven.’”

Easter would turn 34 on August 4—a week before his big-league debut.

When asked if he was ready to be called up to the Indians, he said:

“Sure. Anytime. But it’s best that I spend one year out here. You can always use experience. Mr. (Bucky) Harris and Mr. (Jimmy) Reese always talk to me and help me. That makes you feel good.”

Asked if he idolized our followed any players, he said:

“Phil Cavarretta of the Cubs. He may not be the best first baseman in baseball, but I like the way he plays.”

He also said Josh Gibson was the best Negro League player he ever saw and that “Doby” was his current “favorite Negro player.”

Easter said the quality of players was better in the PCL than he had faced when he played for the Homestead Grays in 1947 and 1948:

“It’s very good every day in the Coast League. The pitchers especially. You get the same class of pitching about every third or fourth day in the Negro circuits.”

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Easter

On July 2, Easter had knee surgery at the Cleveland Clinic; he made his major league debut with the Indians 40 days later.

“There is a Fault in the Armor of the Greatest Slugger”

21 Feb

 

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In 1927, a News Enterprise Association syndicated series of columns promised readers the secrets to “Fooling the great batters.”

Of Babe Ruth, the article said:

“There is a fault in the armor of the greatest slugger of them all, the man who has inspired more fear in the breasts of more pitchers than any other hitter, present day or past.”

St. Louis Browns pitcher Hub Pruett’s success against Ruth as a rookie in 1921 was noted as the gold standard for shutting him down—in six appearances against the Yankees that season, Pruett struck Ruth out 10 times; overall, Ruth was 2 for 13 with a home run and three walks in his 16 plate appearances against the 21-year-old lefty:

“(Pruett)  found that Ruth couldn’t hit a slow curve ball which sank close to the knees…Time and again it came up, slow and twisting, so that you could almost read the Ban Johnson signature, and time out of mind the Great Ball Murderer swung and missed.”

The scouting report on Ruth:

“A curve which sinks towards the batter can be hit by the Babe, but one which sinks away is harder. That was the great Pruett discovery. It is still in the big leagues, but Pruett isn’t”

Pruett, was 14-18 over three seasons for the Browns with a 3.55 ERA, and had less success against Ruth in 1923 and ’24 than he had during his rookie season. He never faced Ruth after 1924. He spent two years in the Pacific Coast League then returned to the major leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1927 and ’28; and in between two stints in the International League, he pitched for the New York Giants in 1930 and the Boston Braves in 1932.

“Some People Think I’m Eccentric, and Maybe I am”

10 Jul

In March of 1920, Hal Chase provided a short, sometimes self-serving, eulogy for his major league career to a United Press reporter “while attending a dinner at the Ritz Carlton” in New York:

“I wanted to quit big league baseball before it quit me, I realize that I would lose out in two or three years, and I’d rather quit while I’m top of my baseball career than wait for the career to leave me flat. That is the principal reason why I am not with the Giants on their training trip.”

Chase told the reporter he was heading West:

“I want work that is more regular. I’d like to work my eight hours daily and be free after that. It must be work in which I can advance. I can’t get any higher in baseball. My old parents live in San Jose and I haven’t seen them in four years. They want to see me and I’m going out.”

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Hal Chase

Chase believed he had a future in Hollywood:

“If the film business offers me an opportunity for money-making, I’ll go into it.”

The report suggested to Chase that he might have the same impact as another recent arrival to films:

“Look how well Will Rogers, cowboy, has done.

“’That’s right,’ said Chase. ‘Say, I’d like to join hands with Rogers and put on a film comedy based on Ban Johnson. It would be a scream. I’ll bet.”

As for his baseball career coming to an end, Chase said:

“Some people think I’m eccentric, and maybe I am. However, I have no sore spots. McGraw is a fine fellow and my friend. I understand he is to put (George “High Pockets”) Kelly in my place at first base. Kelly in a regular baseball player and should make good.”

Within days of giving that interview, The New York Daily News reported that Chase was working with a theatrical agent named Thaddee Letendre–who represented several actors, including French silent film star Max Linder–and had signed a contract for Chase’s “exclusive appearance in films.”

The paper said:

“In a short while Hal probably will be the screen idol of the small boy, Letendre intends to fit Chase into the role of Frank Merriwell, whose episodes have been chronicled in novels by Burt L. Standish (pen name for author Gilbert Patton). The role of Merriwell probably will fit Chase like a glove, inasmuch as he is a versatile athlete.”

The irony of Chase playing a character Patten said he created to embody “truth, faith, justice, the triumph of right, mother, home (and) friendship,” was not mentioned in the article.

Whether it was an unsubstantiated rumor, or whether the deal fell through is unknown. But by the time Chase reached California on April 13, there was no talk of a movie contract and The Los Angeles Examiner said Chase “would like to play ball in the Pacific Coast League (PCL).”

The Seattle Star reported the next day that the Seattle Rainiers “puts in bid for services” of Chase. Team president William Klepper telegraphed the Giants offering to but Chase’s contract.

That never materialized either—The Examiner said, “apparently a hitch in the proposed deal developed;” the “hitch” was likely when revelations made by Lee Magee went public just as Chase was traveling West, that they had conspired to throw games in 1918.

The Seattle option gone; Chase joined the San Jose Bears in the Mission League He made his Mission League debut on May 2—Chase was 1 for 4 with a double and drove in both San Jose runs in a 10 to 2 loss to Monterey.

In mid-May, with San Jose 1 and 4, despite having “Prince Hal” in the lineup, Mission League officials met and attempted to ban Chase; A.J. O’Connor, director of the San Jose club told The San Jose in June, The San Jose Evening News:

“The effort is going to be made to bar Chase, but it’s not going to get anywhere. We simply will not stand for it. We are going to keep Chase for we know the fans want him.”

O’Connor told the paper the team would withdraw from the league if Chase was ruled ineligible.

On May 24, The Evening News reported:

“The (Mission League) board voted (May 23) in favor of allowing Hal Chase to continue his playing with the local club, which brought joy to the hearts of the fans all over the circuit.”

Chase celebrated the decision by hitting an RBI double—his third hit of the game–in the tenth inning to give San Jose a 4 to 3 victory over Watsonville.

As Chase was settling into his role as Mission League drawing card, he was again making headlines in the East; Lee Magee’s case against the Chicago Cubs went to trial and Chase’s alleged role in fixing games was a key feature.

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Lee Magee

Chase told The San Jose Mercury-Herald:

“There is absolutely no truth in this statement made by Magee. I was exonerated of all charges by the national commission after it made a full investigation. I do not know what Magee did at the time of the game he mentions, but I do know that I did not place any bets and the statement is untrue from start to finish.”

Days after Magee lost his suit against the Cubs, The Mercury Herald reported “the greatest stir in baseball circles;” Chase had purchased a one-third interest in the San Jose club:

“This announcement will no doubt please the local fans as it shows what an active interest Hal has taken in baseball here and that he is out to do his share in giving San Jose real baseball and a winning team.”

Both San Jose papers reported a rumor that Chase had been in contact with former Giants teammate Heinie Zimmerman to join the San Jose team–Zimmerman never came West,

Chase made several trips to Southern California in search of players and to watch PCL games—primarily a pitcher—for San Jose. Failing to secure one, Chase took the mound for the club. On July 24, he pitched a complete game shutout against King City; he pitched again a week later, losing 4 to 1 to Watsonville.

Never far from trouble, two days after he pitched against Watsonville, Chase was in the news again. William H. McCarthy, President of the PCL barred him from all league parks after a sworn statement from Charles “Spider” Baum of the Salt Lake City Bees that Chase had approached him at the Hotel Lankersham in Los Angeles with an offer to throw a game; Baum told Chase he would likely not pitch in the series.

In response, Mission League President James J. Nealon, who had backed San Jose in its earlier effort to keep Chase, issued a statement:

“The Mission League has stood for all that is clean and wholesome and doesn’t intend to have its name smeared by such an incident as Baum relates of Chase.

“The directors of the league unite with me in declaring that Chase is barred. Whatever interest he may have in the San Jose ball club must be forfeited.”

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Chase, 1920

The San Jose papers which had been among his biggest cheerleaders, were split on the quick action of the Mission League. The Evening News said:

“There is no room on the San Jose club for Hal Chase. He is finished. If the club attempts to play Chase the baseball fans should absent themselves from the game. Chase wired yesterday (from the Clark Hotel in Los Angeles) that the latest charges against him were ridiculous. If these charges had been made by some player whose reputation for honesty, decency, and truthfulness was less known than Spider Baum’s we might withhold judgment for a minute.”

The Mercury-Herald countered:

“The latest accusation—that Chase actually approached a pitcher with the view of inducing him to ‘throw’ the game—is the most serious of any yet revealed, and if true should at once and forever eliminate him from the baseball field. But it should be proved, not hinted at; it should be made so clear that none shall say hereafter that the player was ‘railroaded’ out of the game, or that jealous managers anxious to get him on their teams fought over him and finally decided to put him out of the way…Otherwise the ‘fans’ will continue to idolize the player and regard him as a martyr rather than as a ‘short sport,’ which we trust he is not.”

On August 8, Chase was in uniform and on the bench when San Jose took the field against Hollister. In the third inning, San Jose was down 5 to 0, with two runners on base, when Chase was brought in in relief. Umpire Al Erle forfeited the game Hollister. The remainder of the contest was played as an exhibition game; Chase pitched the rest of the way in the 14-9 loss.

Three days later, the league directors voted 10-2 to uphold Chase’s banishment from the Mission League. Four days later, Chase was on the field—along with Harl Maggert who had been banned by the PCL—with the Madera team in the Northern San Joaquin Valley League and led Madera to an 11-0 victory over Chowchilla. The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Chase thrilled spectators with two headlong slides to second.”

Chase and Maggert were banned from playing in the Northern San Joaquin Valley League two days later by league president J. C. Lesher who also announced that the game they participated in would be thrown out.

Chase spent the remainder of the 1920s playing semi-ball in California, Arizona, Texas, and anywhere that would have him.