Tag Archives: Peoria Distillers

“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.”

joenealon2

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.

joenealon

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.

 

“You have to be Diplomatic Sir, you have to be Diplomatic”

29 Oct

“Wild Bill” Setley’s adventures did not all take place on US soil.  In 1911 Cincinnati Reds pitcher George McQuillan told William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star a story about Setley’s attempt to organize a barnstorming tour in Cuba two years earlier.

Bill Setley 1895

Bill Setley 

“Setley went over to Cuba early in the winter, and conceived the idea that fortunes were to be made in the island.  He wired to a number of ballplayers, urging them to come over, an telling them Cuba was just full of money.  Quite a number of the boys went over on spec, all paying their own fares, and in the near future they all went broke.  The Cubans wouldn’t come across with any money for salaries, some of the boys, being Southern-born, refused to play when they found the Cuban clubs were mostly (black players), and in two weeks Havana was overrun with hungry ballplayers.    They hunted Setley up and chided him for his statement that the island was full of money.  ‘It is,’ said Setley, ‘and I gave you no misinformation.  But I didn’t say anything about your taking any of that money away with you.  The island is fuller of money than before , for you fellows have spent all you brought with you, thus adding to the total.’

“After starving a few days, the boys all got over their race prejudices and caught on with various clubs.  And, a few days later they had the sublime delight of seeing Setley get his.  He was umpiring a big Sunday game at Havana, with an enormous audience in the stands.  His decisions were either fearfully bad, or else he had got the Spanish terms for ball, strike, safe, and out badly twisted when he tried to learn them.  Suddenly, when he called a man out after he had stamped both feet upon the plate, the audience uprose and came flooding towards Mr. Setley.

“Bill had a gun.  Always toted one.  But here came 5,000 Cubans with long knives and machetes, and Setley didn’t stop to make any gun plays.  Far from such.  Out through the gate he galloped, and straight down the Cuban road.  On and on he went, the mob shaking machetes in full cry behind him, and presently he became a speck upon the far horizon.  He had won.  Nobody could catch him.

“Next day I met him, and asked why he didn’t draw his gun and stand at bay.  ‘My boy,’ said he, ‘our relations with Cuba are strained enough as it is.  What would have been the result had I shot down half a dozen of those fellows?  You have to be diplomatic sir, you have to be diplomatic.”

There was no shortage of Setley stories.  Albert Francis “Red” Nelson, who pitched in the major leagues between 1910 and 1913, and played in a number of the minor leagues Setley worked as an umpire, told a few to The Memphis News-Scimitar in 1911.

Red Nelson

Red Nelson

Nelson said when he was playing in the Three-I league:

“A player named (Jim) Novacek was at bat (with the count 3 and 1).  Ball came along, on the outside, way wide.  ‘Strike,’ said Setley.  Novacek roared and howled, quite naturally.  Next ball was also wide .  ‘Four balls, take your base,,’ quoth Setley.  As Novacek started for first he exclaimed sneeringly, ‘That ball was in exactly the same place as the one you called a strike, just before.’  ‘In that case,’ said Setley, ‘I will do anything to oblige you.  Three strikes—you’re out!”

Nelson claimed that Setley had been involved in an incident he said took place in Rock Island, Illinois that included a few elements of the Cuba story;

“Setley is, in my opinion,  a funnier card among umpires than (Rube) Waddell ever was among eccentric ball tossers…On one occasion he was umpiring in some town—I think it was Rock Island—and a couple of his decisions turned the tide in the favor of the Peoria club.  The Rock Island fans promptly stormed into the field and took after Setley, who fled through the gate and down the street with the mob in mad pursuit.  And as Setley ran he threw up one arm in commanding fashion and shouted: “I hereby forfeit this game to Peoria, 9 to 0, you sons of monkeys.”

Nelson also told yet another version of the “mirror story,” which appeared in print in many different versions over the years.  Nelson’s version located the story “at Peoria,” but unlike most versions, failed to name any of the other participants.

It was not unheard of for Setley to simply create a new rule—in force for one game only—when the mood struck.  In one case, while working a Western Association game between the Muskogee Redskins and the Coffeyville White Sox he instituted a one-game only rule that would make him a hero with today’s advocates for shorter games.  The Muskogee Times-Democrat approved as well:

“Umpire Bill Setley yesterday set in force the rule annulling the privilege of the pitcher to throw to a baseman to warm up between innings, and the practice of throwing the ball around the infield, which takes up so much time.  The rule worked well, as the game, with nineteen runs, was finished in a minute over an hour and a half.”

“This Wealth of Mr. Gertenrich has cost the Game an A-1 Player”

7 Jul

Sportswriter William A. Phelon said Louis Wilhelm “Lou” Gertenrich “is not a ball player because he has to be, but because he wants to be.”

The son of a successful candy maker, Gertenrich was rumored to be one of Chicago’s wealthiest young men.  He was also an excellent ballplayer and sprinter, but spent a great deal of time focused on business rather than sports.  Phelon said:

“Gertenrich hasn’t played ball, even when he desired to play the game, because his business interests would not allow him the leisure time.  In other words, Mr. Gertenrich, being a man of income and financial substance, cannot dally with the ball and bat as he would like, and this wealth of Mr. Gertenrich has cost the game an A-1 player.”

Lou Gertenrich

Lou Gertenrich

He began to be noticed as a ballplayer in 1891 as a 16-year-old pitcher with a team called the American Boys (later called the Mystics), the following year he joined the Clybourn Juniors.

At 19, in 1894 he joined Chicago’s City League, first with the Brands and then the Garden Cities, pitching and playing shortstop and outfield.  As local clubs found they could do better as independents than as members of a league the City League went from an eight, to six to finally a four-team league before disbanding at the close of the 1895 season.

Gertenrich remained a popular figure in semi-professional circles in Chicago, playing primarily for the Maroons and the Auburn Parks.

In 1898 The Sporting Life said Hank O’Day thought Gertenrich “is a sure comer.”

On September 15, 1901 the last place Milwaukee Brewers were in Chicago for a doubleheader, the final two home games for the first place White Sox.  Brewers Outfielder/Manager Hugh Duffy, and another outfielder, Irv Waldron, were injured.  As a result, The Chicago Daily News said:

“Manager Duffy gave Louis Gertenrich, a city league star, a trial.”

Starting the first game in right field, Gertenrich singled in his first big league at bat and scored a run on a home run hit by another player making his debut; Leftfielder Davy Jones.  Gertenrich was 1 for 2 before being removed in the fifth inning of a 5 to 4 loss.

In the second game he pinch hit for pitcher Ned Garvin and grounded out in the bottom of the ninth of a 9 to 4 loss to Chicago.

Gertenrich returned to the Auburn Parks with a .333 major league batting average.

He got a big league call again in 1903.  On July 21 the first place Pittsburgh Pirates were in Chicago to playing the Cubs.  Pirates Manager Fred Clarke, who was injured, had allowed outfielder Jimmy Sebring three days off to return to Williamsport, Pennsylvania for his wedding.

Gertenrich was brought in to play right field; he went 0 for 3 with a sacrifice bunt and handled two fly balls.  He returned to the Auburn Parks’ lineup the following day.

He spent most of the next decade playing in the re-formed Chicago City League—spending time with the Logan Squares, Gunthers, the Roger Parks, the West Ends, the Riverviews and Anson’s Colts.  He also coached baseball  at the Morgan Park Academy on Chicago’s South Side.

The Daily News said:

“Gertenrich is recognized as one of the heaviest hitters in local semi-pro ranks, and there is no batter more feared by the pitchers than this speedy fielder.”

1906 advertisement for the Rogers Parks, when Gertenrich played for and managed the team

1906 advertisement for the Rogers Parks, when Gertenrich played for and managed the team

William A. Phelon wrote for The Chicago Journal when Gertenrich left Chicago briefly in 1905, at age 30,  to join the Springfield Babes in the Central League and the Decatur Commodores in the Three-I League.  Phelon told a story about Gertenrich’s stay in Springfield:

“Mr. Gertenrich was able to arrange his affairs for a lay-off of three months (in order to play for Springfield, and) the rich man negotiated with (Manager Jack) Hendricks for a position…The very next afternoon beheld Mr. Gertenrich, free from business care and happy as a proverbial lark, capering in the Springfield pasture and slamming that old ball like seven Cobbs and a Lajoie thrown in for luck.

“On his first day out he got three singles.  Next day he amassed two triples and a double.  The third day he whacked a home run and a single.  On his fourth day he drew three passes and connected for a triple.  On the morning of the fifth day Mr. Hendricks summoned him to headquarters.

“’Mr. Gertenrich,’ said Mr. Hendricks, pausing to wipe away a tear ‘you are a great batsman and a good fellow.  You are setting this league afire.  You are the wonder of the Twentieth Century.  But you are breaking the hearts of my younger players.  They cannot bat like you.  They are losing their ambition.  A few more games with you among them and they will pine away and die…Moreover Mr. Gertenrich, you have money.  You do not need this job.  The boys whom you are shoving into obscurity have little families and need the coin.  I hate to say it Mr. Gertenrich,’—and the manager again wiped away a tear—‘but you and I must part.  Here is your release.  Goodbye, Mr. Gertenrich, and good luck be with you.  Please go away, for I weep every time I look at you.”

Gertenrich also appeared in several games for Decatur after his release from the Springfield Babes, against Springfield’s other team, the Senators, and the Peoria Distillers.

For the next four seasons, Gertenrich remained one of Chicago’s best local athletes.  At 33-years-old in 1908 he was still a good enough runner to win the City League Field Day title of fastest player; The Daily News said he rounded the bases in 14 and 1/5 seconds.

The Chicago Eagle called him:

“(O)ne of the best known and most popular players in Chicago.”

In 1909 he hit .318 (5th in the league) and The Sporting Life said the Brooklyn Superbas were trying to sign Gertenrich and made an offer “which he has taken under consideration.”  The deal was never completed.

Gertenrich hit .350 in 1910 (3rd in the league), playing for Rogers Park.

In 1912 he returned to professional baseball as a member of the Chicago Green Sox in the United States League.  William C. “Billy” Niesen, a long-time City League operator had initially been one of the organizers of another proposed outlaw organizations, the Colombian League, but when then venture failed, and after one of the proposed New York team dropped out of the United States League in late March Niesen was awarded a Chicago franchise; Niesen was a good fit for the fledgling league because already had a ballpark on the North Side of Chicago at the corner of Clark Street and Leland Avenue–called Gunther Park, also referred to frequently in the Chicago press as Niesen’s Park.

The Sporting Life said “Base ball men are still betting that the new league doesn’t open the season,” but Niesen had high hopes.  He hired Burt Keeley, a long-time City League figure who had pitched in 30 games for the Washington Senators in 1908 and 1909.

He also signed Gertenrich, who had played for Niesen’s Gunthers in the City League the year before, and according to The Chicago Examiner had hit a home run off of Bill Lindsay of the Chicago American Giants that was “the longest hit ever seen at Niesen’s Park.”

gunther

Gunther Park, where The Examiner said Gertenrich was responsible for “the longest hit ever seen at Niesen’s Park.”

An ambitious 126-game schedule was announced, but the upstart league was under-capitalized and low attendance doomed it to failure.  The league folded after just more than a month of play.  The Green Sox were 10-12.  Gertenrich returned to the candy business and semi-pro ball.

On March 8 of 1913 the Federal League rose out of the ashes of the United States League and was incorporated in Indianapolis.  Keeley was named manager, and many of the same players, including Gertenrich, who played for the Green Sox signed with the new club.

The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Gertenrich will be the mainstay of the outfield and is a heavy hitter.  He has made final arrangements for joining the club by procuring a competent manager for his candy business.  He will devote his time to the interests of the club.”

The team won their opener on May 6 against the St. Louis Terriers, and got off to a 7-1 start.  Chicago led the league until the middle of June when they were overtaken by Indianapolis.  They faded quickly after that; at the same time the team’s front office was in chaos, the team’s president was removed  and a new set of directors were elected in July.

On August 16 The Chicago Tribune said the team, hopelessly out of the pennant race, ten games behind Indianapolis, released Gertenrich “on the ground of cutting down expenses.”

Individual records are scare, but the 38-year-old Gertenrich was called “one of the classiest outfielders” in the league by The Associated Press.  In March of 1914 The Daily News said Gertenrich “was batting .413” at the time of his release, but had not received an offer from one the Federal League teams for 1914.

While Gertenrich relinquished some of the responsibilities of his company during 1912 and 1913 he had time to receive two United States patents for inventions for his candy company, including one described as a “corn confection” called the “Ball Tosser.”

Gertenrich was finished with professional baseball after his release in 1913, but continued playing semi-pro ball for several teams in and near Chicago, and formed a team called the Gertenrich Stars which played in Chicago through 1917.

He was a regular sponsor and attendee of alumni events for semi-pro and professional ballplayers in Chicago and played on the German Club of Chicago’s baseball team until his death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1933.

As a candy maker he had one more connection with professional baseball.  An advertisement for his company appears on the back of a baseball card set.  The 120 card set–the more common version advertises American Caramel on the back (E121)—was issued in 1922.  The Gertenrich variations are extremely rare.

The Gertenrich back variation of an E-121

The Gertenrich back variation of an E-121 card

Assumed Names II

9 Oct

Players using assumed names were common enough during professional baseball’s first four decades that some players still exist in the record books as separate individuals.

John Berkel is one such case.  He has four separate listing on Baseball Reference.

The “official” record for John H. Berkel begins in 1910 with the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association and ends in 1914 with the Fort Forth Panthers of the Texas League.

That was the second half of his career.

Under the name John Bierkotte he started playing pro ball with the Mattoon-Charleston Canaries in the Kitty League when he was 20 years old.

A slick fielding, weak hitting shortstop and third baseman, Berkel, as John Bierkotte, played with the Jacksonville Jays and Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League from 1907-1910 (further complicating the trail of Berkel-Bierkotte is that Baseball reference lists him as “Bierkortte” on the Jays’ 1909 roster with a unique player listing).

John Bierkotte with the Augusta Tourists, 1909

On June 30, 1910 John Bierkotte was acquired by Atlanta from Augusta.

John Bierkotte made his debut with the Crackers on August 1.  On August 2 the Atlanta Constitution said:

“John Berkel.  You fans will have to learn to call our new shortstop by that name, for that is really his name…When he first broke into baseball he was trifle afraid he might not make good and rather than cause the laugh to be thrown on him, he decided to change his name.  This he did, and he chose Bierkotte, a weird name, as the one.”

John Berkel 1910

Berkel received high marks for his fielding but struggled at the plate and hit only .207 for Atlanta.  At the end of the 1910 season he was sold to Albany in the South Atlantic League.  From there he went to the Scranton Miners in the New York Penn League in 1912.  The “official” listing for Berkel only adds 10 games with Fort Worth in 1914.

The rest of his career is under the listing “Berkel.”

Berkel spent 1914 on the West Coast, playing for the Fresno Packers of the California State League.  After those 10 games in Fort Worth he played for the Decatur Commodores in the Three-I League, and then was sold to the Peoria Distillers in the same league.  Berkel was offered a contract by Peoria for 1915, but chose to retire and move to the west coast.

The Berkel trail runs cold until 1926 when he turns up as a 40-year-old infielder for the Spokane Eagles in the semi-pro Idaho-Washington League.

Berkel continued to live in Spokane until his death in 1975.  There is no record of why he chose the name Bierkotte.