Tag Archives: Pants Rowland

Bill Setley

1 Oct

William Warren “Wild Bill” Setley was a career minor league player and umpire, and one of the most colorful figures in 19th and early 20th Century baseball.

He was born in New Jersey in 1871—Setley often claimed he was born in 1859; his grave marker and several sources still list this date, but there is a New Jersey birth certificate that confirms the 1871 date.

Bill Setley 1895

Bill Setley 1895

Setley spent the early part of his playing career in the Pennsylvania State League (PSL).  The Shenandoah Evening Herald said in 1893:

“(Setley) kept the home management on the anxious bench for many weeks last summer by his daring and acrobatic plays on the diamond and his eccentric whims between games.”

As a pitcher, Setley was credited with introducing the hidden potato play (made famous nearly a century later when Williamsport Bills Catcher Dave Bresnahan pulled a similar stunt), and he was known for turning routine plays in the outfield into spectacular circus catches.

William A. Phelon said Setley was “crazier than Rube Waddell ever thought of being,” and described an incident “when the pennant hung on the final game,”  with the winning runs on base in the ninth inning:

“Out came a fly to Setley.  Instead of catching it squarely in both hands he deliberately turned his back, reached out behind and made a dazzling circus catch—almost an impossibility.”

Years later, another Pennsylvania paper, The Mount Carmel Item described him as:

“(O)ne of the most erratic players in his day and while here a dozen years ago he was in his prime, but for a pack of cigarettes or a drink of whiskey he was liable to throw a game.”

George McQuillan who played in several leagues Setley worked as an umpire said:

“He is one of the real wonders of the game, and it’s too bad the big league fans have never had the chance to see him in action.”

There were many versions of the most often told story about Setley, and  Clarence “Pants” Rowland told the version that most often appeared in print:

Pants Rowland

Pants Rowland

“’I was managing Dubuque in the Three-I League at the time,’ says Rowland.  ‘The game was being handled by Wild Bill Setley, who was quite the character in those days.

“’I was coaching at third base and we got a runner to first during the early innings.  The next batter made a single and our runner started on the dead run from first, rounded second and bore down on third.  Right at his heels was Bill Setley.

“The ball was quickly recovered and beat the runner to third by a couple of steps.  Setley waved him out, and I had nothing to say.  But you should have heard me yell when, on turning, he also called my other man out at second, although he was standing on the base.  The third sacker had whipped the ball down to the second sacker, trying to complete a double play on our man who was trying for the base.

“’Where do you get that way? I demanded.  You had your back turned on the play how could you call him out?’

“’Setley grinned, came over to me, and showed me a small mirror he had concealed in his hand.  ‘I had my eye on the play all the time,’ he said, ‘and you know he was out.’  I was stopped all right, had nothing further to say.’”

Setley, on a few occasions, told a different version of the story.  This one placed the event in Pennsylvania and substituted Jack Tighe for Rowland.

In this rendition, Setley claimed that on the way to the ballpark he received “an advertising mirror” as a present for his daughter.  During the game, Tighe scored from second base on an infield hit, but Setley said:

“(I) knew he couldn’t have reached there if he had gone within 50 feet of the third bag.  The crowd kept yelling ‘Throw the ball to third,’ and when the first baseman did so I called Tighe out.  ‘What’s that?  Out! What do you mean?’ He yelled, chasing out on the diamond like a wild man.  ‘You are out for cutting third.’  ‘Well, if I did you didn’t see me’…’Be reasonable, Jack’ I replied, pulling out the mirror and holding it up in the palm of my hand before my face.  ‘When I was running over to first I had this glass up this way watching you.’  That wilted Tighe and he walked back to the bench as meek as a lamb.”

The Texas League was one of the many minor leagues Setley worked as an umpire.  On September 5, 1910, a triple-header (the first two games were five innings each) was scheduled between the Houston Buffaloes and the Galveston Sand Crabs on the season’s final day, with Setley working as the umpire in all three games.  After the teams split the first two games, The Houston Post said:

“The last game of the Texas League race progressed nicely here until the second inning when (with Galveston at bat) (Gus) Dundon singled to left and (Joe) Kipp had walked.  Then (Houston pitcher  Roy) Mitchell and umpire Setley, while (Bert) James was at the bat, had some words.  Suddenly Mitchell turned on the umpire and knocked him down.  Setley arose and ran towards short position, when Mitchell threw the ball at him, striking him in the back of the head rendering him unconscious.  Immediately the crowd surged into the field.”

The Associated Press added a few details, including that Mitchell “ran up and cuffed (Setley) several times,” after hitting him with the ball, and:

“(S)everal thousand fans had swarmed into the field, all of them apparently in sympathy with Mitchell.

“Setley remained motionless on the ground and the rumor spread like wild-fire over the field that his neck was broken.  Six men picked him up, shouldered him and carried him to the club house, where a physician examined him only to discover that his pulse was perfectly normal and that he was uninjured.  It suddenly dawned on the physician that someone was playing possum.

“’Come out of it Setley,’ said the physician, ‘no one is going to hurt you.’

“Setley ‘came back’ with a grin and said nothing but his feelings had been hurt.”

During the “riot” on the field, the Galveston club left the ballpark in a wagon “and returned to town.”  The game was awarded to Houston as a forfeit.

Mitchell was arrested but quickly released on bond.  Five days later he made his big league debut for the St. Louis Browns, beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 2.

Roy Mitchell

Roy Mitchell

Somehow the Texas League and the National Commission failed to take any action against Mitchell for more than a month.  The Sporting News said:

“It was a matter of surprise that Mitchell was allowed to come direct to St. Louis and continue play, as if nothing had happened.”

He was fined $50, and while it was announced he was also suspended indefinitely, he was allowed to begin the 1911 season with the Browns.

Setley was let go by the Texas League in November.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram said:

“(He) will always remember his short sojourn in this league as an umpire, as it probably was one of the most strenuous periods of his existence.  His first appearance was in Fort Worth, where he narrowly avoided a serious conflict with a spectator, and he precipitated wrangles at nearly every point he officiated, with the climax coming in the memorable last day’s game at Houston.”

More Setley stories later this month.

“I Object to Being Made a Freak.”

17 Jul

In 1913 American League President Ban Johnson set out to put an end to the practice the Baseball Writers Association called “A growing Evil,” ghost-written articles appearing under the by-lines of famous ballplayers.

William Peet of The Washington Herald revealed the identities of the ghost writers in March of 1913; Gerhard “Roger” Tidden of The New York World had been the man responsible for articles bearing the name of Ty Cobb, but Tidden died just three months after the revelation.   While the practice waned after 1913, Cobb remained defiant, and continued “authoring” a syndicated column for the next several years.

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

Cobb’s articles, for the most part, steered clear of trouble with the league president, but the assertions he made about the Chicago White Sox and manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland in June of 1915 caused a major stir.

Cobb said:

“Battery signal stealing, which has been the cause of several scandals in big league baseball threatens to make more trouble this season if anyone is able to prove what is generally suspected about one of the American League clubs.

“I will not mention the name of the organization which has been accused by the opposing players…because I couldn’t present any proof.”

Cobb then went on for seven paragraphs trying to present proof, and provided enough hints to make it clear he was talking about the White Sox.

Cobb’s said

 “The team I have in mind has won almost all its home games…It looks mighty funny, though, the way this club could hit at home and the feeble manner in which it has been swatting on the road and almost all of the Tigers will take an oath that something out-of-the-way is coming off.”

Chicago, through 49 games, was in first place; 22-8 at home and 9-10 on the road.  Detroit was in second place a game back.  If he left any doubt Cobb said later in the column when discussing the American League pennant race in general:

“The White Sox, who burned up things at home, have not been doing so well on the road.”

Everyone, including American League President Ban Johnson, assumed Cobb was talking about the Sox.  Johnson said:

 “(Cobb) must prove the charges, or I will keep him from playing baseball.  If any man in the American League makes a charge of dishonesty and refuses to back up his charge with the absolute evidence, that man will have to get out of the game.”

The White Sox were less concerned; The Chicago Tribune said the charges made Sox players “grin,” and Rowland told reporters:

“I suppose we had out tipping instruments planted in the Polo Grounds when we made nineteen hits in New York the other day.”

Clarence "Pants" Rowland

Clarence “Pants” Rowland

In his next column Cobb issued a non-denial denial and at the same time openly, and loudly, defied Johnson:

“I made no specific charge against the White Sox…What I did say was that a strong rumor of sharp practice was abroad, and I reiterate that statement right here.”

___

“Mr. Johnson even went to the extreme of saying that he would drive me out of baseball.  He hasn’t done this yet and I expect to stay around for a few more days.  If the league president is willing to pay the salary that my three-year contract calls for, I will be perfectly willing to take a vacation at that, for I have long wanted to do a number of things that baseball interferes with.”

Cobb reiterated the charges and offered no evidence, but said he was justified in making the claims because his manager might have believed them:

“(Tigers) Manager (Hughie) Jennings thought the report sufficiently serious to detail one of our players for plain clothes duty in the bleachers, and he also wrote Manager (Bill) Donovan of New York, telling him of a warning we had received and cautioning him to be on the lookout.  So you see the signal tipping report was not a creature of my own imagination, but a matter of sufficient seriousness to warrant an investigation by our manager in his official capacity.”

Cobb’s only bit of backtracking was to say that if “it should be proved the White Sox tried signal stealing it would be without the knowledge of Mr. (Charles) Comiskey.”  Cobb said Comiskey “wouldn’t countenance anything of this sort for a moment.”

Cobb took one last swing at Ban Johnson, charging the league president with giving “sensational interviews” about him to get “the people excited artificially. If this is Mr. Johnson’s idea, I wish he would abandon it.  I object to being made a freak.”

If there was any doubt whether the American League’s star player or the league president wielded more power, it became obvious within a week.

Johnson, who The Associated Press said “long has been opposed to players permitting their name to be used over baseball stories,” decided not only had Cobb not written the columns, but claimed “a Detroit newspaperman” made up the allegations “out of whole cloth,” and incredibly said that Cobb had “no knowledge,” of the columns despite Cobb being quoted by numerous sources discussing the charges.

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner summed it up best:

“We are rather surprised each morning upon picking up our newspaper to discover that Ty Cobb is still making two-base hits, two steals and catching a few flies instead of being driven out of baseball by (Ban) Johnson.  By the way how did Johnson get into baseball?”

As quickly as Johnson backed down, the charges went away.  Despite the strong start the White Sox faded, and continued to fade even after the acquisition of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson on August 21, finishing third, nine and a half games behind the pennant-winning Boston Red Sox and seven games behind the Tigers.

Cobb led the league for the ninth straight season, hitting .369.

The one legacy from the brief 1915 controversy seems to be Cobb’s dislike of Rowland, who later became a scout for the Tigers.  In his 1984 book “Ty Cobb,” Charles C. Alexander said Cobb only agreed to manage the Tigers before the 1921 season because he was told:

 “Pants Rowland, whom Cobb considered an incompetent fraud, might very well get it and Cobb would have to play for him.”

Rowland, who remained in baseball until 1959 as a manager, scout and executive with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League and Chicago Cubs in the National League, appears to have also held a grudge.   Up until his death at age 90 in 1969, Rowland often said two of his former players, Jackson and Eddie Collins were better than Cobb.

 In 1953 at the Old Timers Baseball Association of Chicago Banquet Rowland said “I wouldn’t have traded (Collins) for Cobb.  What made him greater than Cobb was that he inspired the entire ball club.  Ty was an individualist.  He was interested only in Cobb.”

Rowland called Jackson the “greatest natural hitter,’ he ever saw, and said Ted Williams, not Cobb, was the only player “of the same make-up.”