Tag Archives: Pacific Coast League

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #29

2 Jan

McGraw on Brouthers, 1907

T.P. Magilligan covered baseball for Bay area newspapers during the first two decades of the 20th Century.

In 1907, he talked to John McGraw during the New York Giants’ West Coast tour:

“Dan Brouthers was the greatest hitter I ever saw.  Lajoie is a good and wonderful hitter, and so was the late Ed Delahanty, but for straightaway slugging I think the equal of big Dan never lived.  He used to take a nice healthy swing at it, and I tell you that when Brouthers rapped the ball on the nose that she sped with the force of Gatling gun.  Getting in the way of one of Brouther’s shots generally meant the loss of a hand for a time.  He was the best batter of them all, and that bars none of them.  Brouthers seldom hit them high in the air.  He had a way of smashing them on a line to right field and they fairly whistled through the air.

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Dan Brouthers

McDonough on Anson, 1910

Ed McDonough played semi-pro ball in Chicago before beginning his professional career at age 22.  The Chicago Evening Post said, “Mac played with and against (Cap) Anson for a couple of seasons,” when Anson owned and played for Anson’s Colts in the Chicago City League:

“’During practice Uncle Anson used to step up to the plate and offer fifty dollars to any man on the grounds who could strike him out,’ says Mac.  ‘He would give the fellow who attempted it the right to choose any player he wanted for his umpire.  Sometimes they would get two strikes on him, but I never saw anybody earn a fifty.  Cap didn’t ask them to give him anything if he kept from fanning.  That was before he went broke and he made the offer more to show the fellows he could still clout a few.”

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 “Cap” Anson

Foster on Bugs, 1911

After Arthur “Bugs” Raymond slipped from an 18-12, 2.47 ERA season in 1909 to an 4-11 3.81 performance in 1910, many still held out hope that Raymond, still just 28 years old, could overcome his demons.  When the pitcher checked himself into a hospital in Dwight, IL that winter, John B. Foster of The New York Telegram wrote:

“If Raymond does not break up the institution with his pranks, and if he really makes an effort to put himself in proper condition, the chances of the New York National League club in 1911 will be greatly enhanced.

“If some of the self-constituted friends of this unfortunate young man—and he is unfortunate, for he has the skill of a great ball player and the physical ability to earn thousands of dollars for himself—will be kind enough to let him alone, and assist in the good work which has been begun, they will prove their friendship to be far more lasting that if they cajole him away from those who are doing their best to help him.

“There are some who think it funny to encourage a man of Raymond’s peculiar temperament in a line of conduct which leads to his downfall…There are more than ball players who would like to see Raymond have a real chance to show what is in him.  The skill of the man as a player is too great to be thrown away in idle rioting.

“Help him out.”

Raymond quickly reverted to his old ways in 1911, and despite a 6-4 record and a 3.31 ERA he was released by the Giants in June.  He was dead 15 months later, at age 30.

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Raymond

White on Risberg, 1916

Doc White, the former White Sox pitcher was working in the front office of the Pacific Coast League Vernon Tigers—he managed the team on an interim basis the previous season as well—and told The Los Angeles Times that the “greatest arm in baseball” was playing in Vernon:

“(Charles) Swede Risberg…in addition to being everything else, is a pitcher of real ability.  White says if the Swede would perfect a wind-up that would enable him to get his body behind his delivery he would have more speed than Walter Johnson.”

The 21-year-old Risberg, the starting shortstop, appeared in two games as a pitcher for Vernon in 1916, he was 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA.  It would be the last time he pitched in organized ball.  He was purchased by the Chicago White Sox the following season.

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Swede Risberg

Coast League Stories

5 Dec

Abe Kemp began working at newspapers in San Francisco in 1907, when he was 14 years old, and spent the next 62 years primarily at The San Francisco Examiner where he covered his two passions, baseball and horse racing.

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Abe Kemp

Over the years he collected a number of stories of baseball on the West Coast.

Catcher Tubby Spencer hit just .127 in 21 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1913. Contemporaneous reports said Spencer wore out his welcome with manager Del Howard in Portland. Years later, Kemp said the decision to let Spencer go was made during a team stopover in Sonoma County, and not by Howard. Kemp said he saw:

“Spencer staggering down the highway at Boyes Hot Springs one morning and President/Owner Cal Ewing yelling at him, ‘Hey, ‘Tub,’ where are you going?’

“’I’m going for a little air,’ yelled back Tub.

“’Then keep going,’ shouted Ewing, ‘because you will need it. You’re through.’”

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Tubby Spencer

Harry “Slim” Nelson was a mediocre left-handed pitcher and weak hitter who played a half a dozen years on the West Coast. Kemp told of witnessing him “hit a home run through the screen at Recreation Park” in San Francisco when Nelson was playing for the Oakland Oaks.

“(He) became so excited when he reached second base that he swallowed his cud of chewing tobacco. Later on the bench, Slim was asked how the home run felt and he replied ‘it would have felt a whole lot better if I could have cut it up into singles to last me the season.”

Kemp said when George Van Haltren made the switch from Oaks player to Pacific Coast League umpire in 1909 he told Kemp and umpire Jack McCarthy “umpiring would be easy…because he had so many friends,” throughout the league. Kemp said McCarty responded:

“You mean you had so many friends. You haven’t any now.”

McCarthy appears to have been correct. Van Haltren was criticized throughout his short time as a Coast League umpire, and became a West Coast scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates the following two seasons. Van Haltren made one more attempt as an umpire, joining the Northwestern League staff in 1912; he was no more successful, lasting only one season after incurring the season-long wrath of Seattle Siwashes owner Dan Dugdale who demanded Van Haltren not be retained for the 1913 season.

George Van Haltren

Another player who had similar training habits to Tubby Spencer, according to Kemp, was Charles “Truck Eagan. Kemp said he was with Vernon Tigers manager Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray one day when Eagan played for the Tigers near the end of his career in 1909:

“Eagan, suffering from the effects of a bad night (told) manager Hap Hogan he was suffering from an attack of ptomaine poisoning.

‘”What did you eat’ the artful and suspicious Hogan asked.

“Eagan scratched his head a minute, then said guiltily, ‘It must have been the (bar) pretzels and herring, Hap.”

Lost Pictures: 1898 PCL Santa Cruz Club

3 Dec

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A 1952 photo of 80-year-old Bill “Brick” Devereaux holding a picture of the 1898 Santa Cruz club in the Pacific Coast League.

The Oakland Tribune said Devereaux was able to remember the first and last names of every player in the photo “but one, Cristall, a pitcher.”

Devereaux said the other ten players, in addition to him and Cristall, were Jack “Ike” Walters, Lyle Gorton, Charles “Buck” Francks, Ernest “Kid” Mohler, Julius Streib, Bill Dunleavy, Pete Lohman, George “Hardy” Hodson, Walter “Judge” McCredie, Henry “Smilin'” Schmidt.

Devereaux who spent 1894 and ’95 primarily as a pitcher for teams in Lincoln, Nebraska and Troy, Kansas, told the paper after those two seasons he ‘refused to go east again,” and spent the next 17 seasons playing for California based clubs.  He only left the state to play for a team once, spending his final year in pro ball, 1914, in Calgary, Canada.

Devereaux was something of an eccentric during his playing day.  Del Howard told a story about Devereaux, late in his career, to The San Francisco Call in 1921:

“Brick swiped six bases during the battle (against the San Francisco Seals) and promptly claimed a world record.  ‘Not bad for an old man, eh?’ He chuckled.

“(Seals Manager) Danny Long, sitting on the Frisco bench shouted over ‘Record, where do you get that stuff?  When I was with the Baltimore Orioles I stole seven bases myself in one game.  Read it up.'”

Howard said Devereaux “grew red as a beet,” but didn’t respond.

“Next day, when he came up for the first time, Devereaux hit an easy grounder to short and was out at first base by 20 feet.  Instead of stopping, he turned first at full speed, dashed for the Frisco bench and slid feet foremost into the visitors’ pile of bats scattering them in all directions and throwing dust and cinders in Long’s face.

“Brick rose and carefully brushed off his uniform.

“Well, I’m the best base stealer in Alameda County, anyway, Danny.”

Note:  In the original posting, I misidentified the team shown as the 1902 Oakland Clamdiggers–I misread a caption on an old newspaper photograph.  Thanks for the sharp eye of Jeff Dunn from Santa Cruz who brought the error to my attention.

 

 

Lost Advertisements: Satch’s Palm Springs No-Show

13 Jul

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An advertisement for the October 1950 game between Bob Lemon‘s All-Stars and Satchel Paige‘s All-Stars at Polo Grounds in Palm Springs–later the Spring Training home of the Los Angeles Angels–both the Pacific Coast League and American League clubs, currently known as Palm Springs Stadium.

According to The Desert Sun, Paige instead “(A)ccepted a lucrative offer to pitch a series of Hawaii exhibition games,” and failed to appear in Palm Springs.

Just 639 fans came out to watch Lemon and a team comprised of Indians teammates and PCL players beat the Paige-less Kansas City Royals 9 to 3.

The most notable aspect of the game was Indians second baseman Ray Boone had his wrist broken with a pitch in the first inning–Boone who hit .301 for Cleveland in 1950, hit just .233 in 1951 after the injury.

“There is a Heap about Baseball that I do not Know”

4 May

After Ted Sullivan blamed Joe Nealon’s father for his failure to secure the first baseman for the Reds, James C. Nealon was not going to let his accusations stand, and sent a letter in response to Sullivan’s letter to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“The public has always permitted, and will always permit a man who has lost the object he was seeking to compensate himself for the loss is excusing his failure by some worthy and absurd explanation, or by throwing the responsibility of the failure on someone else.”

Nealon said he was forced to respond because Sullivan “falsely placed myself and my son in an unenviable light.”

Nealon said he only cared about his son going to the club with “the best and most congenial associations,” and initially, many people he trusted told him Cincinnati was the best option.

He said Sullivan was the reason he and his son changed their minds.  Nealon said he checked train schedules and determined that Sullivan—who left Cincinnati on October 28—could have arrived in California no later than November 3, yet he did not hear from the Reds representative until after the contract was signed with Pittsburgh on November 6.

Nealon also said while he received a telegram from August Herrmann, Cincinnati Reds owner, with the offer of “a certain sum more than any other club,” he never shared that information with the Pirates Fred Clarke, and that the combination of being insulted by the Reds making their offer just about money and Sullivan not arriving in time made up his mind, and as a result:

 “I advised my son to sign a contract with any club he desired.”

After Sullivan arrived in San Francisco, Nealon said:

“He admitted to me that it was all his fault, yet he seeks in your paper to advise the public that it was the fault of my son and myself…I would rather (Joe) fail then to commit a dishonorable act, and I do not want the people of Cincinnati to believe his entry into the major league was associated in any manner with unfairness or unfair dealing.  Mr. Sullivan knows it was not.”

Joe Nealon wrote a letter to The Pittsburgh Post, and said he understood that when he joined the team in Hot Springs. Arkansas:

“There is a heap about baseball that I do not know.  I am eager to learn, however, and will gladly go under instructions.”

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Joe Nealon

Even after the beginning of the 1906 season, the stories about what influenced Nealon to sign with the Pirates would not go away.  In May is was reported that it was Jake Beckley, former first baseman for the Reds and Pirates who influenced Nealon to accept Clarke’s offer.  Nealon told The Pittsburgh Press that Beckley had nothing to do with his decision, and continued to blame Sullivan who he said did not “keep faith” with him and his father.

Nealon appeared in every game, hit the Pirates first home run of the 1906 season on May 5, tied Harry Steinfeldt for the league lead in RBI, and led all NL first basemen in total chances and putouts.

At the end of the season it was widely reported that Nealon would not return to the Pirates for the 1907 season.  After the team lost five straight games in September and slipped to third place, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss went on a tear to a wire service reporter—The Philadelphia Inquirer, under the headline “Barney Dreyfuss Lets Himself say Things” said:

“(Dreyfuss said) if his team doesn’t win second place for him he will keep their noses to the grindstone barnstorming for him until their contracts have run out (on October 16)”

Dreyfuss told the reporter:

“One of the things that ails our team is that there are too many capitalists on it.  The boys know that they do not have to play ball for a living, and sometimes that may affect their playing.  There is only one of the old players on the Pittsburgh team who is playing as a means of livelihood—that’s (Tommy) Leach.  The other could give up the game anytime.”

Nealon left the team immediately after the final game in Cincinnati and did not participate in the tour.  The San Francisco Call said he was done:

“Nealon, who became a great favorite in Pittsburgh and all over the league circuit, has had several grievances against Pittsburgh, and it was announced some time ago that the big San Francisco lad had declared himself in no unmeasured terms that he did not have to take the worst of it from anyone connected with the club, nor would he more than one season.”

The Call said Nealon became disenchanted in Pittsburgh when Dreyfuss attempted to trade him and “other Pittsburgh players” to the Brooklyn Superbas for Harry Lumley and Tim Jordan “although Captain Clarke had guaranteed him a full and free tryout for a year.”

Nealon returned to San Francisco to play winter ball, but he failed to make a trip to Stockton for the first game.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Many San Joseans who took the trip to Stockton…were disappointed in not seeing Joe Nealon…the big first baseman, met with an accident Saturday evening.”

While racing to catch the train to Stockton, Nealon tripped and fell into a stone wall.  He broke two bones in his left hand.”

In December, the Pittsburgh papers reported that Nealon had declared himself “Completely healed,” in a letter to Barney Dreyfuss.

By February The Pittsburgh Press was assuring readers:

“Reports from the West have Joe Nealon in the best condition of his career.  Just keep your eyes on this big fellow this season; he is going to be a winner in every sense of the word.”

Despite the high expectations, Nealon was a disappointment to the pirates when he reported to  West Baden, Indiana in March.  The Press said:

“If the fans at home could see big Joe Nealon now they would not know him.  With his sweater on he looks like a three hundred pounder.”

Nealon actually weighed 216 pounds, roughly 20 pounds heavier than he was in 1906.

Additionally, The Pittsburgh Post said Nealon was experiencing stiffness in his left hand.

The Press announced that Nealon had gotten down to his playing weight and that his had had healed just in time for the opening of the season, but a knee injury sliding into second during the Pirates third game sidelined him for nearly two weeks, and according to The Post included a visit to John “Bonesetter” Reese, the Youngstown, Ohio doctor who treated many major leaguers.

Nealon was hitting just .217 in June when The Washington Post noted that two California Thoroughbreds—Nealon and Joe Nealon—both bred by friends of Nealon’s father, and both stakes race winners in 1907, were having decidedly better years than the first baseman.

Nealon steadily improved his batting average but had already fallen out of favor with fans and in the papers.  Rumors persisted that the Pirates were trying to trade for Fred Tenney of the Boston Doves.  By September, The Press said:

 “There is suspicion among the Pittsburgh players that Tenney may be secured as first baseman…to succeed Joe Nealon whose work this season is said to have been below standard.”

When Harry Swacina was purchased by the Pirates from the Peoria Distillers in the Three-I League that same month, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Sporting News said:

 “He is an improvement over Joe Nealon in every department of the game.”

The New York Sun summed up the consensus view:

“Joe Nealon came out of California with the reputation of being a better first baseman than Hal Chase was, but in making a big league reputation Chase simply lost his fellow Californian.”

Swacina hit just .200, but got most of the playing time at first base in September, Nealon finished with a .257 average.

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Nealon

The Press speculated in November about who would play first base for the Pirates in 1908:

“Most of the fans have eliminated Joe Nealon from the competition all together, for it is an open secret that both President (Barney) Dreyfuss and Manager (Fred) Clarke were displeased with the way the young Californian acted this year, and it is presumed that no further time will be wasted with him, but that he will either be traded or released outright.”

In December, Nealon ended any remaining speculation by announcing his retirement—two weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Post said:

“The big Californian has quit the professional diamond for all time and will become a partner in business with his millionaire father…But for the intercession of Fred Clarke, it is said he would have been asked to retire about mid season, alleged infractions of the club’s rules and his general attitude of indifference being criticized by the local management.”

Nealon went to Hawaii in December with a team of West Coast stars—including Bill Lange and Orval Overall— formed by Mique Fisher and told reporters he would play weekends in San Francisco in 1908.

After returning from Hawaii, Nealon made his retirement official in a letter to Dreyfuss.  The Press said:

Joe writes that he is helping his father  who has a contract to erect a large public building in California…he asks, however, that his name be kept on Pittsburgh’s reserve list and wishes his teammates the best of luck.”

Nealon went to work with his father and appeared in 62 games for the Sacramento Senators in the California State League in 1908—hitting .372; as late as July he was hitting .436.  Nearly every Pacific Coast League time tried to sign him that summer, but The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Nealon) declared positively to the writer yesterday that he would not play ball, except as he is doing now, and Joe said there was not enough money in any of the Coast League treasuries to make him change his mind.”

Despite his protestations, nearly every team on the West Coast sought to sign Nealon.  Charlie Graham, Owner of the Sacramento Sacts made an offer that The San Francisco Call said led Nealon to tell a friend he wasn’t sure he could refuse.  He eventually did refuse, and instead signed to play for the Oakland Commuters in the California State League. The Call said he was the highest paid player on the West Coast.

Nealon captained the Oakland club, and hit .274 in 138 games.  How Nealon differed from his teammates and most players was probably best illustrated during a bench clearing brawl between Oakland and the Stockton Millers in June.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“(E)very man on both teams, with the exception of Joe Nealon, was mixed up…Nealon simply walked about the field and sat on the bench while the trouble was going on, and if anyone should ask right quick what player showed the only good judgment on the field the answer would be Joe Nealon.”

Nealon announced his retirement again, a week after his 25th birthday.

Nealon’s father had just helped elect San Francisco’s new mayor, Patrick Henry McCarthy, The Tribune said Nealon was “slated for a fat political job.”

Nealon was appointed deputy in the San Francisco County Clerk’s office in January.

On March 28, The Tribune said:

“(Nealon) is lying on death’s door in his home in San Francisco, suffering from typhoid fever.  Several physicians have been at the bedside of the ill athlete almost constantly for the past few days, and although they hold out but slight hope for his recovery, they state that his splendid physique may enable him to pull through.”

Nealon died five days later.

 

“(He) Should Remain an Outcast Forever”

8 May

Thomas Stevens Rice was an attorney, a criminologist, and covered baseball for The Brooklyn Eagle for nearly 20 years.  In 1921, he related a story that he said showed:

“That the mills of the gods may grind rapidly, as well as grind exceedingly fine.”

 

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Thomas Stevens Rice

 

The story was told to him by George A. Putnam, the business manager of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.

“Outside of San Francisco in the small towns is the Mission League, composed of semi-pro clubs and containing many old professional ballplayers, who turn an honest penny on the side in the sport now that they have passed from the big show and are regularly engaged in their occupations.

“Among the towns in the Mission League is San Jose. And San Jose has a semi-pro park that would delight Ring Lardner.  Far out in center is an ambitious scoreboard, liberally decorated with the advertising sign of the town’s leading hardware merchant and a strong supporter of the team.

“About a month ago San Jose was playing at home and a ball was hit to center it was diligently pursued by two outfielders, both formerly in organized baseball, one of them a major leaguer in his day.  They chased the ball up to the scoreboard and tried to retrieve it before carried out of sight of the umpire, but failed.

“As the two veterans whipped around the corner of the board they surprised a man peeping at the game through the planking.  He was seedy in apparel, had a beard of several days growth, and a general air of utter forlornness. Both outfielders were at first indifferent to the stranger, but a second glance identified him.

“The utterly forlorn stranger was Hal Chase, who two years ago was a member of the New York Giants, at a salary that was probably beyond that which until war times was paid a United States Senator.  It was the same Hal Chase who had been tried by the National League on the charge of throwing games when a member of the Cincinnati Reds and acquitted for lack of definite evidence; the same Hal Chase who had been given another chance by the New York National League club; the same Hal Chase who had been fired by the New York National League club on charges which were never fully explained, but were clearly understood to be based upon alleged crookedness; it was the same Hal Chase who had left New York, returned to his home state of California, and had been barred from the ball parks of that state on the ground of being involved in betting.”

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Hal Chase

Rice had no complaints about the “forlornness,” or fate, of Chase:

“Chase, who stands before the world bearing unrefuted charges of having crooked the game which brought him fame and fortune, and which is an institution of which his country has been vastly proud, should remain an outcast forever he would be no more than bearing part of the penalty he deserved.  If every man who had a hand in the crooking of the national game should die an outcast in the gutter, despised by the potter’s field men who bury him.  It would be no more than they deserved.”

Rice also said there were fans who deserved the same fate as Chase:

“The baseball fan who patronizes semi-pro or other games openly participated in by men who have brought the national sport into disrepute and cast a cloud over its honesty merits the fate of a Chase for helping to encourage crookedness.”

He said his statements were in no way exaggerating his position—one he said was critical to protect the integrity of the game:

“The effective penalty imposed upon (Bill) Craver, (George) Hill [sic Hall], (Jim) Devlin, and (Al) Nichols in the 1870s (all were banned for accepting money to lose games in 1877), was not their being dropped from baseball and forced to turn to other means of making a living.  It was the ostracism that followed them their graves and made them anathema even in the society of professional thieves.”

And, he said, all penalties related to gambling should remain in effect forever:

“To impose a definite penalty on baseball crooks and then have the public forgive and forget when it is worked out, would be nothing less than an incentive to a repetition of the crime.  Let the possible throwers of games and the pawns of gamblers know they will be sneered at on the street by every pickpocket and dog-stealer who recognizes them, and that a bartender at a black and tan speakeasy will refuse to serve them.”

One Minute Talk–Lefty Williams

19 Sep

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Claude “Lefty” Williams, on his way to winning 13 games for the Chicago White Sox during his first full season as a major league pitcher, after two brief trials with the Detroit Tigers:

“The boy who enters baseball will never be a success until he takes the profession seriously.  I learned my lesson (in 1913 and 1914) when I had my first chance in the majors.  I had always regarded baseball as a game just for fun but Manager (Hughie) Jennings of the Detroit Tigers  soon showed me the error of my way, by shipping me to the Salt Lake club of the Pacific  Coast (League).  Once in the minors I got wise to myself and determined to regain a big league job.

Lefty Williams

Lefty Williams

“I started in baseball as a pitcher for the school team at Springfield, MO., and though I was only a kid I was a pretty successful southpaw.  Now that I am back in the majors I’m certainly going to work my head off to remain here.”

Williams won 33 games for the Salt Lake City Bees in 1915 which earned him his return to the major leagues.  Williams, who vowed to “work my head off to remain here,” won 81 games over five seasons with the White Sox before being banned for his role in the Black Sox scandal.

The PCL and the Goldsmith Baseball, 1912

24 Aug

In 1912 the Pacific Coast League opted to replace the Spalding cork-centered baseball, which they used the previous season, with the Goldsmith ball which had a solid rubber core.

The decision sparked an advertising war between the two companies in West Coast newspapers.

The Goldsmith ads bragged:

“After severest tests, the Pacific Coast League, with many others all over the country, have officially adopted the Goldsmith baseball…The Goldsmith Guaranteed Baseball will be used in all Pacific Coast League games, beginning with this season.  It is guaranteed for 18 innings against softening, ripping, losing shape or elasticity.”

Spalding countered with ads which said:

The Cork Center Ball is the only Ball recognized by the Official Baseball Rules and the only Ball that can be played with in the World Series games for the next twenty years.  Do you realize this?  Every professional base ball player, every professional base ball manager, every professional club owner should insist upon The Cork Center Ball.  The Official Ball of the World Series.

“Of what value are players’ percentages to compare with the records of the National and American Leagues unless they play with The Cork Center Ball.”

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In another version of the ad addressed directly to “Mr. Ball Player,” the Spalding Company asked:

”Don’t you want to compare your playing and the records of your team with the playing of men on National and American League teams, and how can you do so if you do not play with a Cork Center Ball?  Your accurate throwing, your perfect stick work, your long throws, and above all that perfect confidence which all ball players need, all depend upon a standard ball and the real standard ball is the style used in the World Series games.  The Spalding.”

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Spalding even warned players in another ad:

“You are shutting the door to your further advancement if you have hopes of getting ahead in professional base ball if you play with anything but a Cork Center Ball.”

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While the company’s battled, The (Portland) Oregonian suggested a more sinister reason for the switch during spring training:

“When the czars of the Pacific Coast League adopted a new official ball for a period of five tears at Los Angeles last winter, little did the younger generation dream of an impending disaster.

“The opening of the practice season, however, reveals a deep, dire plot to rob the corner-lot Ty Cobb in embryo of his unlawful spoils, the ‘dollar an’ two-bit’ spheres fouled over the fences and so seldom returned.

“Every ball put out by the new Cincinnati firm (Goldsmith) has the name of the home club indelibly stamped into the horsehide, along with the signature and stamp of approval of President A. T. Baum…This safeguard means that Coast League moguls will be able to identify every ball sneaked away by the crafty kids of the sand heaps.

“When one stops to consider that close to 1000 balls, or approximately $1200, went scampering away to the rendezvous of the juveniles last season in Portland alone, the effect of a crimp in the visible supply can readily be seen at a glimpse.

“Of course a mere Bertillonizing (a reference to the criminal identification system developed by Alphonse Bertillon) of the ball cannot absolutely stop the depredations, but with the penalty of a stiff fine and possible imprisonment hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles, the magnates believe the small youth will lay off the petty thievery from now on.”

The paper said Portland Beavers Manager Walter McCredie had received seven dozen balls, “and these are expected to last until the start of the season.”

There was no word on how many balls were recovered from young criminals as a result of the stamp.

At the end of the 1912 season The Oregonian said they had not:

“(H)eard any kicks on the Goldsmith ball, which is giving the old-line companies quite a scare all over the nation.”

There didn’t seem to be a significant impact on offense.  Twenty players hit better than .290 in 1911; 24 did so in 1912.  Buddy Ryan led the league with 23 home runs in 1911; Bert Coy led with 19 in 1912.  Six players hit 10 more home runs in 1911; eight did so in 1912.

After the five-year contract with Goldsmith expired, the Reach Baseball, which had a cork center, became the official ball of the Pacific Coast League

“There is only one Thing against him—he is Very Dark”

13 Jul

Vernon Ayau became professional baseball’s first player of Chinese descent when he appeared briefly in the Northwest League in 1917.

But he was the not the first Chinese player a West Coast team attempted to sign.  Two years earlier, Walter McCredie of the Portland Beavers tried to bring one Ayau’s teammates with the Chinese Athletic Club of Honolulu to the Pacific Coast League.

Fong Lang Akana was born in Hawaii in 1889 to a Chinese father and Hawaiian mother.

In the winter of 1914, McCredie announced that he had signed Akana.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Akana is a big, rangy fellow and bats left-handed.  He weighs about 180 pounds, according to the dope given to Mack.”

Lang Akana

Lang Akana

The Oregon Daily Journal said he was 5’ 10” and quoted Bert Lowry, the sports editor at The Honolulu Commercial Advertiser:

“He swings from the left side and hits the ball hard at all times, Akana is well-educated, has pleasing manners and is willing to learn.”

Two former major leaguers Jack Bliss and Justin “Mike” Fitzgerald, barnstorming with Pacific Coast Leaguers in Hawaii, were impressed with Akana.  Bliss said he was a great fielder who “had eyes all over his head.”  Fitzgerald said:

“He is a good fielder and very fast.  He is by far the best player in the islands.”

One additional observation from Lowry and Fitzgerald foretold that there would be trouble ahead:

Lowery: “He is a bit dark.”

Fitzgerald: “There is only one thing against him—he is very dark.”

McCredie told The Daily Journal that Akana would likely join the club at their Fresno, California training camp in the spring, the paper noted:

“Cubans, Indians, Poles and Italians have made good in baseball, but no Chinese or Japanese has yet won his spangles.”

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

It took less than a month for the plan to bring Akana to Portland to begin to fall apart.

The San Francisco Chronicle, while getting Akana’s name and position wrong, reported that:

“Portland players won’t play with a Chinese.”

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said:

“Narrow racial prejudices, or possibly the fear that if the bars are let down someone will lose his regular job, threatens to work a grave injustice to Lang Akana.”

In late December, McCredie was ready to bend to the pressure, telling Roscoe Fawcett the sports editor of The Oregonian:

“His skin’s too dark…The Coast Leaguers who played at Honolulu on that recent barnstorming trip came back vowing boycott.  I have received a couple of letters from players telling me Akana is as dark as Jack Johnson, so I guess I will have to give him a release.”

Walter McCredie

Walter McCredie

Pitcher “Seattle” Bill James, who also played against Akana in Hawaii, disputed the account that players were refusing to play with Akana, telling The Oregonian:

“I don’t think any ballplayer will object to playing on the same team as him.  But he might have some trouble around the hotels.  He is not black like a negro, more sepia colored—and his hair is straight.”

But in January, McCredie, who was by far the most progressive PCL magnates on the issue of race, switched direction, and vowed to keep Akana when Fawcett showed him a photograph of the outfielder:

“Dark or not dark, we’ll  have Lang Akana report to us at Fresno…This photograph shows him to be extremely dark-skinned…(PCL umpire) Jack McCarthy saw him at Honolulu this winter and says Lang is just as white as most ballplayers after they have been out all summer in the sunshine.

“He doesn’t look any blacker than Barney Joy, who used to pitch for San Francisco.”

Apparently, McCredie found a way out without explicitly saying he refused to put a Chinese player on his club.  Shortly before the Beavers headed to California, The Oregonian said:

“The Hawaiian, Akana, will not be considered unless he pays his own expenses to the spring camp at Fresno.”

The paper had said earlier that it would cost $175 to bring Akana over from Hawaii.  Akana, whose father was a doctor, and whose family, according to several accounts were “wealthy,” likely could afford the cost of transportation. So, it is unknown whether he refused to pay for his own way or if the paper’s account was incorrect.

The Beavers went to California and started the season without Akana, but there was still talk of his joining the team.  In May, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said McCredie was still considering adding Akana to the roster:

“Portland is wavering between the first and second division…’What we need here are bat artists,’ writes the sporting editor (Fawcett) of The Oregonian to a Honolulan…Naturally, Lang is watching the Portland field from a distance;  Manager Mac has not made good and Lang is playing the ‘watchful waiting’ polity to perfection.”

“Summed up, the situation now is: if Portland can gain a foothold in the Coast race within the next month or six weeks, it is probable that Akana will celebrate the Fourth of July and Christmas in Honolulu, if not then a demand for strengthening the team with a few good hitters will be forthcoming…’McCredie is silent on the Akana contract,’ (Fawcett) continued, ‘and I think that the Hawaiian-Chinese’s chances to play with the Beavers are good, unless Portland takes a sudden leap upward in the percentage column soon.”

The prediction was wrong.  Portland struggled all season, finishing in last place with a 78-116 record, but the call never went out to Hawaii for Akana to join the team.

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

McCredie finally saw Akana in person two years later when he brought the Beavers to Honolulu for spring training.  Fawcett said in The Oregonian that “Akana played left field and did not show up particularly well, owing it is said, that he had played little ball for several months.”

Akana continued to play in Honolulu—interrupted by service in the Hawaii National Guard in 1917—into the 1920s, but was “Too dark” to ever appear in a professional game.

Biographical notes: Some sources, including his Hawaii Birth and Christening (B&C) record list his name as Lan rather than Lang, the same B&C record lists his complete name as C. Fong Lan Akana.  Several sources, including the B&C record list his date of birth as April 15, 1890, several others, including his WWI and WWII Draft Registrations list the date of birth as April 15, 1889.

The Baseball Bandit

28 Jun
Frank Quigg hit .313 and went 1-0 as a left-handed pitcher for the Topeka Capitals in the Western Association in 1893; no statistics exist for the remainder of his career which included stops in the Southern Association and Texas League.

After he was done playing, Quigg became a pioneering figure in Oklahoma, organizing professional ball in the state with the creation of the Southwestern Association in 1901.  Quigg managed the Oklahoma City team in that league until 1903.  He also spent some time as an umpire in the California League.

An article in The Wichita Eagle in 1901 about the Southwestern Association provides interesting insight into the finances of turn of the century minor league baseball:

  “The salary limit of the league is to $450 per month and room and board for the Players…home teams paying the visiting club $25 per scheduled game, rain or shine.”

“The umpires are to receive $2.50 a game plus transportation.”

Later Quigg became an umpire in several leagues.

Bobby Eager, a former Pacific Coast League catcher, claimed he was the instigator in an incident that led to Quigg quitting his job as an umpire. Writing in The San Jose Evening News, Eager said the incident took place in Los Angeles during a game with the Oakland Oaks:

“Quigg was umpiring and he seemed to have an off day. I kept after him about not calling (strikes) and (Bill) Red Devereaux happened to be at the bat when (Quigg) missed one that was squarely over the middle.”

Eager said the pitch should have been the third strike and “hollered” at the umpire:

Bobby Eager

Bobby Eager

“And Devereaux immediately took up the umpire’s part by saying ‘What’s the idea? Are you going to let Eager run the game and do the umpiring too?  Throw him out of the game and take some of his money, he’s trying to make a bum out of you.’”

Devereaux singled on the next pitch, driving in a run. Eger said he “put up a holler” and was ejected and fined $10.

The next day Eager sought to pay Devereaux back:

“I kept telling Quigg that all that Devereaux did was try and bull the umpires and that he boasted downtown that he got him, meaning Quigg, to chase me out and that he knew that he was out on the third strike.  This statement made Quigg pretty sore and about the fifth inning he called bill out on third on a close decision. Red Dog sure told him a few things and the result was he ran Bill out of the game and fined him $10.”

Devereaux

Devereaux

Devereaux attempted to attack Quigg and police were called to escort him from the field and the fine was raised to $25.

Devereaux, now in the stands, began to heckle Quigg to an extent that the game was again halted and the police officer escorted Devereaux to the clubhouse.  According to Eager, and contemporary accounts, Devereaux was just getting started.

“He was on the roof waving a red flannel shirt and running up and down like a monkey; everybody laughed and enjoyed it more than the bad game.  Somebody went over and slipped Bill a pair of false whiskers and about the eighth inning he came back to the bench and sat there, and when the umpire wasn’t looking he went over to third base and was getting ready to play, when Quigg saw him.  Of course Bill wouldn’t be allowed to play, but it was some minutes before the umpire got wise as to who he was.  I never saw such a demonstration in my life, and people just went wild.”

The day after the incident, The Los Angeles Examiner said Devereaux was suspended “for his abuse of Quigg” and:

“Umpire Quigg resigned his position.”

The paper said his decision was the culmination of the events the previous day, and an incident two weeks earlier when San Francisco Seals pitcher Clarence “Cack” Henley threw a baseball at Quigg during an altercation.

The umpire joined the Texas League the following season.

Throughout his career, Quigg had an excellent reputation in baseball circles. His father was a Civil War veteran, and according to The Associated Press, his brother George served under Theodore Roosevelt with the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.  Contemporaneous newspaper accounts described the family as being extremely wealthy—already well off; Quigg’s mother married another wealthy man after the death of her first husband.

All of which made what happened next so unusual.

On December 31, 1909, Quigg and four other men attempted to rob the bank and post office at Harrah, Oklahoma.  Newspaper accounts said the robbery was well planned but that one of Quigg’s associates had discussed it with a friend who reported the plan to postal authorities.

John Reeves “Catch-‘em-alive” Abernathy, who was appointed as Oklahoma’s first US Marshall by his good friend, and Quigg’s brother’s former commanding officer, President Theodore Roosevelt, staked out the post office and attempted to the apprehend the robbers as they entered through a back door. Abernathy didn’t “Catch-‘em alive” that day.

abernathy

Abernathy

As the robbers attempted to escape Abernathy and his men shot three members of the gang. Quigg, who was living under the alias Barney and an associate named Frank Carpenter were killed.  One robber was wounded and captured while two escaped.

In the aftermath of Quigg’s death, it was reported by several newspapers, including The Abilene Daily Reflector, his hometown paper, that the gang had recently pulled off successful post office robberies in Trinidad and Golden, Colorado.

Most newspapers continued to paint Quigg as a good man gone wrong for no apparent reason, other than a vague observation about his mother’s remarriage:

“The match did not please the son.”

But one paper, The Arkansas City (KS) Traveler saw it differently:

“(Quigg) worked this town for several hundred dollars a few years ago, got the money, organized a club, went to Enid (OK) and that was the last ever seen of him by his backers.  He was a booze-fighter by the full meaning of the word and if there was any good in him it never came to the surface so the public could catch a glimpse of it.

Whatever the reason for his descent into a life of crime, it appeared Quigg hadn’t completely given up on baseball at the time of his death.  According to The Fort Wayne Sentinel he “Had an application in (to work as) an umpire in the Central League” for the 1910 season.

I published a  shorter version of this post was published in September of 2012.