Tag Archives: Pacific Coast League

“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.

Lost Advertisements: Lil Stoner for Mail Pouch

21 Jun

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A 1928 advertisement for Mail Pouch Tobacco featuring Detroit Tigers pitcher Ulysses Simpson Grant “Lil” Stoner:

“Mail Pouch can be chewed all day long without causing a sign of heartburn.”

The following season–Stoner’s final with the Tigers–The Detroit Free Press determined that the pitcher was “jinx” for certain teammates:

“It shall be the fate of those who room with Lil Stoner to trek back over the trail of the minors.”

The paper said “nothing can save,” the players fated to have roomed with Stoner during his time with Detroit:

“King ‘Jinx’ speaks and his word is law. To be a ‘roomie’ of Stoner voluntarily is the next thing to suicide.”

The Free Press said the most recent victim of the  “jinx” was Al “Red” Wingo, who was sold to the San Francisco Seals after rooming with Stoner in 1928:

“Before ‘Red’ were (Johnny) Bassler, (Josh) Billings, (Jess) Doyle, (Clyde) Barfoot, (Les) Burke, and Rufus Clark.”

Bassler was released and joined the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) after rooming with Stoner in 1927. Billings was sent to Reading Keytones in the American Association while rooming with Stoner in 1927. Stoner and Doyle were also roommates in 1927 when the latter was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League, Barfoot suffered the same fate in 1926–he was released by the Tigers while rooming with Stoner and joined the Mission Bells in the PCL; Stoner’s final roommate in 1926 was Burke, who was released after the season and went to Toronto.  Clark roomed with Stoner in 1924 before being released to the Birmingham Barons in the Southern Association.

The paper suggested:

“Were Babe Ruth a roommate of Stoner he would contrive some way to break his neck. The jinx is more certain than death and taxes, and the only way to stop it is to shoot Stoner or lose him in the desert.”

The solution, according to The Free Press was to room Stoner with coach George McBride for the 1929 season because “George is going to remain.”

It was Stoner who finally succumbed to the “jinx” in 1929, after posting a 3-3 record and 5.29 ERA and finished the season with the Fort Worth Panthers in the Texas 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