Tag Archives: Pat Luby

“He is Thoroughly Incompetent and Could do no Better”

12 May

After the Cincinnati Reds traded for Piggy Ward in June of 1893, Alonzo Flanner of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of his first visit to play the Browns with his new club:

“Ward, one of Comiskey’s latest acquisitions, is a great baseball player. He got his base every time he came to bat yesterday. He steals bases with a gavotte step and coaches like a cow with a cough but can’t field a little bit.”

Flanner had more to say later the same month:

“Ward, the young man with the waddle and voice like a catarrhal cow, who essayed to play right field for Cincinnati. He shows the happiest faculty for muffing, fumbling, and wild throwing of any young man masquerading in a League uniform and drawing salary.”

The observations appear to be accurate; in 42 games with the Reds, Ward hit .280, stole 27 bases, and made 13 errors in just 75 chances in the outfield. The Reds released him in August.

piggyward

Frank Gray “Piggy” Ward

The Cincinnati Enquirer said of Ward’s two-month tenure with the club:

“His opening was a dream. For weeks after he started in with the Reds, he was the talk of the town. He stood on the topmost pinnacle in the esteem of the local enthusiasts. Then came the awful exhibition of yellow fielding in the Fourth of July games.”

Ward played right field in the first game and left field in the second against Philadelphia on July 4. He was charged with two errors in the first game and one in second, and the paper said, “His miserable work in the field,” accounted for “no less than six” of Philadelphia’s 15 runs in their 15-14 victory in the first game, but allowed:

“Ward should not be blamed too harshly, because he is thoroughly incompetent and could do no better.”

After the Fourth of July debacle, The Enquirer said:

“No one could be found to fill his place as well, and again Ward had a chance to show himself. So well did he take advantage of this opportunity that it is safe to say of all the players that have been released by the Cincinnati Club none of them ever left behind such a feeling of universal regret as this same Ward.”

ward4thofjuly

The Cincinnati Enquirer after the July 4 double header

The Enquirer was so appalled by Ward’s performance that the paper referenced it at length a year later on Independence Day:

“The Exhibition of how not to play the game of ball given by Piggy that day will never be forgotten by those unfortunate enough to witness it. Such fielding was nauseating.”

The Cincinnati Commercial Gazette said, “There is nothing that that so disgusts a Cincinnati base ball crowd as poor fielding.”

Ward had arrived in Cincinnati with a reputation. He appeared in a major league game at age 16—playing third base for the Philadelphia Quakers on June 12, 1883; he was 0 for 5 and reached on an error. The Philadelphia Times description of Ward’s debut is ironic given later assessments of his skills:

“(Ward) fielded well but was weak at the bat and a very slow runner.”

After that single game, he bounced all over the US and Canada—and made two more brief stops in the big leagues between 1887 and 1891—after his first game in the outfield for the Quakers in his second trial with the club in 1889, The Philadelphia Enquirer said, “he proved conclusively he cannot play the outfield.”

He was also, by all accounts, a bit eccentric:

While playing with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Toronto Mail said he, “tried one of his supposed funny fakes.”

Ward handed a potato to pitcher Bill Pfann who was supposed to throw the potato over first baseman Ed Swartwood’s head.  Pfann was apparently slow on the uptake and threw the potato to Swartwood “and (Toronto Canucks Tom) McLaughlin was therefore not caught by the trick.”

Ward made at least one other documented attempt at the hidden ball trick—this time without a potato—during his brief stop with the Baltimore Orioles in June of 1893 in a game with Louisville. The Baltimore Sun described the play:

“Ward walked to the pitcher’s plate as if to advise (Kirtley) Baker on some point of the game. Then he walked back to first base. Baker resumed his position on the plate as if to pitch, but (Fred) Pfeffer had seen Ward take the ball and did not remove his foot from first base.”

Pfeffer pointed out the situation to umpire Michael McLaughlin and Baker was charged with a balk.

Pfeffer told the paper:

“I did intend at first , for the fun of the thing, to let Ward touch me with the ball by stepping off the base and then calling the umpire’s attention to the balk, but it occurred to me that the umpire might not have seen the play and would therefore decide against me. You have to be careful on such points.”

Ward’s was also considered by many to be a clubhouse cancer throughout his career. He started the 1893 season with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association. After Ward left the Pelicans, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said team president Charles Genslinger called Ward “a dissenter of the worst type and kept the local club in constant internal turmoil until his departure.”

Among Genslinger’s charges were that Ward had been the “sole cause” of an early season uprising that caused several of the team’s best players—including Count Campau, Pat Luby, and Mark Polhemus– to attempt to secure their releases, and that manager Abner “Powell ordered Ward to stop smoking in uniform, and as he persisted in the disobedience to orders he was compelled to impose a heavy fine.”

More of Ward’s story tomorrow.

“You are mostly Fakes, and yet I love you all!”

19 Mar

Elmer Foster became better known after his career had ended than he ever had been as a player because of sportswriter Hugh Fullerton who included stories he said were about Foster in his columns for more than twenty years.

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

The first story appeared in 1897, shortly after Fullerton arrived at The Chicago Tribune:

“The long-lost is found.  A few days ago a traveling man who is a baseball fan climbed on the train with the Colts and engaged Jimmy Ryan in Conversation.

“’Who do you think I saw the other day?’ he queried…I was up in Minnehaha, the village at the falls of St. Paul.  About 10 o’clock at night I was preparing to go to bed, when suddenly there came a series of war whoops up the street.  A man came tearing down on horseback, whipping the animal to dead run and whooping like a Comanche Just as he got to where we were standing he pulled two revolvers and, still whooping, emptied them into the air.  I was scared to death, but no one else paid any attention.  When the danger was over I crawled out from under a cellar door and said ‘Who is that?  ‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ said one of the gang.  ‘It’s only Elmer Foster going home.’”

The 1897 article also told a more accurate version of the incident in Pittsburgh that led to Foster’s release than Fullerton told in later years–it mentioned that he was with Pat Luby (incorrectly identified as “Harry” Luby), and Fullerton, in this version, did not claim to be present.

With that the legend was born.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

By the turn of the century the legend grew.  Fullerton said:

“Foster was a great baserunner…He ran regardless of consequences, and perhaps no man that ever played in fast company ever took an extra base on a hit oftener than did Elmer.  He simply refused to stop at his legitimate destination, and kept right on.  When he got caught he always said: ‘Why, I wasn’t a bit tired.  Why should I have stopped running?’”

By 1903 Fullerton said of Foster:

“No man who was interested in baseball during the early ‘90s can certainly have forgotten the name of the man who was perhaps the best center fielder who ever wore a Chicago uniform.”

Like Bill Lange, another player he helped make famous long after his career was over, Fullerton’s most often repeated story about Foster was a dubious one involving a catch—a story that was repeated over the years as having happened three years after Foster’s big league career was over:

“Back in ’94 one of the Eastern teams was playing Chicago on the West Side, with Foster in center field.  The man at bat made a terrific swipe at the ball and hit it.  The shadow was deep over the infield and Foster could not see the ball.  He started to run out into far center, so as to be prepared.

“As a matter of fact the ball was only a bunt.  The shortstop caught it and threw the batter out at first.  But Foster kept on running—running like mad….Foster ran at the top of his speed almost to the center field fence.  Then he jumped high up into the air, threw up his left hand, and came down to the ground with—an English sparrow tightly clenched in his fist.”

In addition to Fullerton repeating the story over the years,  “Gentleman” Jim Corbett retold it in his syndicated sports column in 1919 and Al Spink, writing for The Chicago Evening Post in 1920 quoted former Chicago White Sox Manager Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan telling the story in 1920—like the original, both Corbett’s version and Spink’s via Callahan say the “catch’ happened three years after Foster left Chicago.  The story survived until at least 1925 when it appeared in several paper as park of a King Features syndicated column of short baseball stories.

Fullerton’s Foster stories—including several regarding drunken pranks Foster was alleged to have played on Cap Anson—became so ubiquitous that William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star  said in 1912:

“It is now an accepted tradition that Elmer Foster, the famous fielder, led the Chicago team on a glorious, care-free, drunk through a whole wild merry season in 1891.  That is believed by everybody—yet the records show that Foster played just a few games with Chicago in 1890, and was released in April [sic] of 1891, before the season was even one week old!  Oh, you legends!  Oh, you deceiving old stories!  You are mostly fakes, and yet I love you all!”

Hence his Careless, Indifferent air when he goes to the Plate to Bat.”

18 Nov

In 1911 Reds manager Clark Griffith told The Cincinnati Times-Star that pitchers no longer hit like they did when he played:

“Give me pitchers who can hit the ball instead of fanning out weakly, I wish there were a few more pitchers available like the top notchers of twenty years ago.  In those days a pitcher believed that he was hired to soak the ball as well as curve it, and he always did his best to get a hit.

(Tim) Keefe (career .187), (Mickey) Welch (.224), (Thomas “Toad”) Ramsey (.204), and (James “Pud”) Galvin  (.201) were among the old-time pitchers who could not bat, but they tried all the time, and if one of them got a hit he was as proud as a kid just breaking into the big league.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

The problem, said Griffith, was that “The pitcher seems to think that when he is delivering the goods in the box nothing more is required of him.  Hence his careless, indifferent air when he goes to the plate to bat.”

Griffith said Cap Anson, “wouldn’t hire a pitcher who couldn’t hit,” and said former Chicago pitchers Pat Luby (.235), Ad Gumbert (.274),  Walter Thornton (.312) and  George Van Haltren (.316, but was primarily an outfielder appearing in 93 games as a pitcher over a 17-year career), “were bear cats with the stick.”

Griffith said of his ability with the bat:

“The old guide-book will show that even your humble servant hit over .300 for Anson.”

Griffith hit .319 for Anson in 1895, and .233 for his career.

The 1911 Reds had only one starting pitcher who hit better than .214, (George Suggs. 256).  He was also the only starter with a winning record (15-13) for Griffith’s sixth place Reds.

George Suggs

George Suggs