Tag Archives: Perry Werden

“The Montgomery Team Threw to us Three Games by Arrangement”

12 Nov

The Southern Association kicked off their 1903 season assuming things couldn’t help but go better than the previous year.  The actions of Memphis Egyptians owner/manager Charlie Frank—who continued to put players in the Memphis line up who had been blacklisted by the league—had thrown the season into chaos.  The situation became so contentious that the headline in The Atlanta Constitution said after the final day of the season:

  To The Relief of All the Season is Now Over

A post season agreement restored the league—and made Frank even a greater power in the league.

As part of the settlement Frank received an estimated $5000 which he immediately put towards building a contender for 1903.

Frank built a good team and continued to improve it; as the team battled for the pennant in the final month the roster included veterans Perry Werden, Joe Delehanty, and Charles “Dusty” Miller.

In July he paid a reported $2500 to the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association for outfielder Sam Dungan, pitcher Ray “Dad” Hale and third baseman Bill Phyle; Frank named Phyle team captain.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

Frank’s team finished strong and edged out the second place Little Rock Travelers on the final day of the season; Memphis beat the Atlanta Crackers 9 to 5 in front of 7500 fans—the then largest ever crowd at Atlanta’s Red Elm Park.

The final standings

The final standings

The following week Little Rock defeated Memphis 3 games to 2 in a best of five series; the Southern Association season appeared to have come to peaceful close on September 28, 1903.

That changed two days later.

Newspapers across the South reported on serious charges that were being made in Memphis.  The Associated Press said:

“According to statements made by William Phyle, former National League player and this year a captain of the pennant-winning Memphis team…the Memphis club won first honors by inducing players on the opposing team to ‘throw’ the final (series).”

Phyle told reporters the scheme began earlier in September:

“The Montgomery team (Black Sox) threw to us three games by arrangement, but Little Rock kept on winning and kept it close on out heals.  I knew that Birmingham (Barons) threw to Little Rock too.  Then the deciding and final game of the season between Memphis and Atlanta arrived, and we had to win the last two games to keep the lead.  Two of the Atlanta pitchers were given $25 each to allow Memphis to win…and another player was also bought.  We won one game by (George) Winters misjudging a fly that allowed (Ted) Breitenstein a three-bagger and the deciding run.”

Winters error came in the second to last game; he was absent from the final game of the season.

Phyle later told an Atlanta reporter that the pitchers who were paid off were Frank “Zeke” Wilson and John Ely.  Charlie Frank, who had just announced he was leaving Memphis to take control of the New Orleans Pelicans, denied the charges and claimed Phyle was simply angry over a “dispute involving money.”

Zeke Wilson

Zeke Wilson

Phyle also said the five-game post season series was “prearranged, so that the deciding game was played in Memphis before a Sunday crowd.”

League President William Kavanaugh scheduled a meeting in Memphis for October 17 to investigate the charges, and Phyle went to West Baden, Indiana.

Phyle demanded travel expenses to return to Memphis for the meeting, he initially claimed that the money the league wired came too late. Then Kavanaugh ordered him, by telegram, to “catch the first train for Memphis,” Phyle refused, now claiming he was ill.

The meeting was held without Phyle.  Zeke Wilson testified that he had received $50 from Charlie Frank, but that it was given to him after the season in order to secure his release from Atlanta.  He said he intended to sign with Frank in New Orleans (he ended up signing with Montgomery in 1905, but joined Frank in New Orleans in 1905).

As for Winters, who made the error that allowed Memphis to win the second to last game and was absent for the final game, The Sporting Life said that charge was “very easily explained.” It was claimed he failed to appear in the final game because of a dispute with Atlanta management over transportation money.

Managers Lew Whistler of Montgomery and Michael “Duke” Finn of Little Rock denied that either club was involved in “anything crooked.”  John Ely did not appear but sent a letter denying all charges.

Without Phyle in attendance to provide his evidence the league “exonerated all clubs and players mentioned in his charges,” and suspended Phyle indefinitely.

Next Phyle was ordered to St. Louis to defend his charges before the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.  He again failed to appear.

On October 25 Bill Phyle was expelled indefinitely from professional baseball.

The following week he appealed the decision; claiming his illness was the only reason he failed to appear and that if allowed “he will appear and substantiate the charges which he has made.”

He was never given another opportunity to present his case.  His appeal was denied in December.

Tomorrow: More on Bill Phyle.

The 1903 Memphis Egyptians--

The 1903 Memphis Egyptians–Bill Phyle is number 11, Joe Delehanty 2, Perry Werden 4, “Dusty” Miller 12, Ted Breitenstein 13, Charlie Frank, bottom left with bow tie

Jimmy Rogers

16 Sep

In January of 1897 owner Barney Dreyfuss and the directors of the Louisville, Colonels met to determine the future of the club.  The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“The most important meeting in the history of the Louisville Base-ball club was held last night at the Louisville Hotel.  It was marked by more liberality than had been shown by the club during all the years since it became a member of the big league.”

No one was surprised that Dreyfuss’ protégé, team secretary Harry Clay Pulliam was named team president, nor was it surprising that Charles Dehler was retained as vice president.

But no one had predicted the Colonel’s choice to replace Bill McGunnigle as manager.

McGunnigle had succeeded John McCloskey, and the two combined for a 38-93 record and a twelfth place finish.

James F. “Jimmy” Rogers would be a first-time manager; three months short of his 25th birthday and only 110 games into his major league career.  The Courier-Journal knew so little about the new manager that the paper got his age and place of birth wrong, and also reported incorrectly that he had minor league managerial experience.

While he had only played 72 games with Louisville in 1896 and only 60 at first base, The Courier-Journal called Rogers “the best first baseman the Colonels ever had.”  Even so, the paper acknowledged that “as a manager he is yet to be tried.”

Just why was he the right man to manage the team?

“One of the chief reasons Rogers was selected was that he is sober.”

Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy Rogers

Despite being “the best first baseman the Colonels ever had,” Rogers opened the season as the team’s starting second baseman; thirty-five-year-old minor league home run king Perry Werden, acquired from the Minneapolis Millers of the Western League played first base for Louisville.

The team won five of their first seven games, and then went 12-22 through June 16 when Rogers was fired as manager and released; he was hitting .144 and made 16 errors in forty games at second base.

Rogers was replaced as manager by Fred Clarke; the future Hall of Famer was two weeks shy of his 24th birthday.

The Cincinnati Post said the outgoing manager was not only to blame for the team’s poor performance but also for center fielder Ollie Pickering’s slump; Pickering hit .303 after joining Louisville in August of 1896 but was hitting .243 on the day Rogers was let go:

“The claim is made that Jimmy Rogers is responsible for the decline of Pickering.  The Virginian created a sensation last fall, but “Manager Jimmy” tacked the title “Rube” to Pick, and it broke his heart.”

Ollie "Rube" Pickering

Ollie “Rube” Pickering

Pickering was released in July, signed with the Cleveland Spiders, and apparently recovered from his broken heart, hitting .352 in 46 games for Cleveland.

Rogers would never play another major league game.  He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates the day after Louisville released him, but became ill with the flu and never played for them.  A month later he joined the Springfield Ponies in the Eastern League and finished the season with them.  Rogers played for East Coast minor league teams until in August of 1899 when he became ill while playing with the Norwich Witches in the Connecticut League.

In January of 1900, Rogers died at age 27.  Two different explanations for his death appear in various newspapers; both may be wrong.  The Courier-Journal and several other newspapers said his death was the result of the lingering effects of “being struck on the head by a pitched ball several years ago while playing in the National League.”

The New Haven (CT) Register repeated the story about Rogers being hit by a pitch, and said that while that injury contributed to his death, he had died of Bright’s disease—a kidney ailment now referred to as nephritis.

Rogers’ Connecticut death certificate listed the cause of death as a bacterial inflammation of the brain.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #1

7 Mar

There are many interesting, odd, great stories I stumble across when researching that are too short for a full post.

Sydney J. Harris, the late Chicago Daily News and Sun-Times Columnist had a regular feature by the same title as this post.  It seemed an appropriate name for this feature—so with a hat tip to Mr. Harris:

Arrested for Refusing to Fight Forest Fire

In December of 1911, Boston Red Sox pitcher Charley Hall and Pacific Coast League outfielder Harry Price were teammates on a winter league baseball team in Ventura, California, when a forest fire broke out in the area.  According to The Associated Press:

“When the fire was at its height Hall and Price…were sitting on the veranda of a hotel,  a deputy fire warden ordered them to fight the fire but they refused.”

Charley Hall, arrested for refusing to fight fire

Charley Hall, arrested for refusing to fight fire

Fire Warden John Kuhlman placed both players under arrest.  There is no record if they were ever convicted.

Baseball 1860

The New York Herald report on a July 5, 1860 game:

“The friendly game of ball between the Excelsior Club of Brooklyn and the Niagara Club of Buffalo resulted in an easy victory for the Excelsiors.

“The score was, Excelsior 50, Niagara 19.  In the fifth inning the Excelsiors made twenty-four runs.”

The Excelsiors, 1860

The Excelsiors, 1860

Carrier Pigeons

According to The Philadelphia Record in 1883 a zookeeper in Philadelphia used carrier pigeons dispatched between the zoo and Jefferson Street Grounds to provide updates on Athletic games.

Pigeons were also used by news organizations for the next several decades.  In 1900 The Milwaukee Journal bragged of their “carrier pigeon news service” which delivered updates from Milwaukee Park to the newspaper offices.  According to The Journal, sometimes the pigeons were more interesting to Brewers fans than the games.

The Journal’s carrier pigeon service attracted much attention on the field, and as each bird was released from the grand stand, the spectators of the game invariably lost interest for a moment in the diamond as they watched the bird dart upward and shape its course toward the city.

“Even the members of the contesting teams allowed their attention to be distracted at times by the unusual spectacle, and once, at the beginning of the sixth inning, when one of the liberated birds swooped down past big Perry Werden (Minneapolis Millers first baseman) as he stood guard over the initial bag…(Werden) raised an imaginary gun as though to take a shot at the pigeon, and of course the bleachers laughed.

“That The Journal’s service by means of the birds in not unknown to Milwaukeeans was well illustrated by the conversation of people seated around the spot from which the birds were set free.  They discussed the enterprise and those who did not understand the plan were quickly enlightened by the others, who knew all about how fast the birds flew, how they were kept and how they carried the news.”

The practice was continued at The Journal over the next decade.

Cincinnati radio station WLW revived the practice for at least one game in 1939, when the station used pigeons to deliver information from a Reds game against the Pittsburgh Pirates to the studio.

Carrier Pigeons being released at Crosley Field,  Cincinnati, 1939

Carrier Pigeon being released at Crosley Field, Cincinnati, 1939

“One of the Two Greatest Sluggers”

28 Jan

On July 19, 1920, Babe Ruth hit his 30th home run of the season off Dickie Kerr of the Chicago White Sox, breaking the Major League record he had set the previous season.  Perry Werden, working as an umpire in the South Dakota League was largely forgotten.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

The Minneapolis Tribune, as a point of local pride, reminded readers that Ruth had not eclipsed the record set in their town:

“Beyond all doubt the mark made yesterday is a major league record of all time but the Babe has yet to equal the mark of 45 made by Perry Werden of the Minneapolis Western League club in 1895.”

Some reporters, like Al Spink of The Sporting News, dismissed Werden because “the park at Minneapolis, which was an unusually small inclosure (sic), with the right and left field fences close in.”  Regardless, Werden was back in the public eye; his forgotten record was revived as fans followed Ruth’s record season.  The Associated Press said:

“(Werden) admits that Babe Ruth has a harder swing than he had when he made his mark. ‘There is no doubt that Babe has it on all of them—modern and ancient’ says Werden”

When Ruth hit numbers 45 and 46, one in each game of a double-header at Fenway Park, The Associated Press said:

“(Ruth) broke all known world’s records for circuit drives in a single season.”

Werden, in his role as “the former holder of the home run record for organized baseball” was often asked about Ruth over the next decade.  Werden called Ruth “One of the two greatest sluggers that I have seen in fifty years.”

Perry Werden, 1930

Perry Werden, 1930

The only player Werden considered Ruth’s equal?   Ed Delahanty.

Werden told The North American Newspaper Alliance, in a nationally syndicated story:

“Ed Delahanty would have equaled or bettered the home run record of Babe Ruth if the lively ball had been in use…If Delahanty had any weakness no pitcher ever found out what it was.  He hit left-handers as easy and effectively as he did right-handers, and it made no difference to him where they threw the ball—high, low, inside, outside, curve fast ball or slow ball—they all looked alike to Big Ed.”

Werden said while playing first base for the Saint Louis Browns he saw just how hard Delahanty could hit:

“The Phillies had a runner on first base, and when Delahanty came up to bat we played in close for him, thinking he would bunt.  That was a mistake we never made again when Delahanty batted.  Instead of bunting he hit a ground ball so hard that it tore a shoe off George Pinkney, our third baseman, in addition to fracturing his right ankle.”

As further proof Werden said “Even with the lively ball…it was thirty-six years before Delahanty’s record of hitting four home runs in a single game was equaled by Lou Gehrig.”  Werden didn’t mention that Bobby Lowe had accomplished the same feat two years before Delahanty.

Ed Delahanty

Ed Delahanty

While Werden will never join Delahanty and Ruth in the Hall of Fame, he is remembered as one of the greatest minor league players of the 19th Century.  He died in Minneapolis in 1934.

“King of the Natural Hitters”

25 Jan

Percival Wheritt “Perry” “Moose” Werden began his baseball career as a pitcher for the semi-professional team of his employer; the Ira Perry Pie Company in Saint Louis.  He was discovered by the St. Louis Browns who offered him a contract but ultimately signed with the Saint Louis Maroons in the Union Association.

(An oft-repeated story that Werden’s discovery involved him leaving a pie wagon unattended to join a game, resulting in the wagon being destroyed is almost certainly apocryphal, although it has been repeated as fact with little or no support by several writers)

In 1884 the 22-year-old was 12-1 with a 1.97 for the Maroons who at 94-19 won the Union Association pennant by 21 games; despite the strong start, Werden would never pitch in the Major Leagues again.

The Maroons joined the National League the following season and Werden ended up with the Memphis Reds in the Southern League.  He was primarily a catcher a first baseman, and his career as a pitcher pretty much ended; he appeared on the mound in only three games that season and had only 14 more minor league appearances over the next 10 years because of arm trouble.

Perry Werden, 1908

Perry Werden, 1908

From 1886-88, Werden played with five minor league teams and played three games in the National League with Washington in 1888.  In 1889, Werden joined the Toledo Black Pirates in the International League, where he became a great hitter.

Werden hit .394 for Toledo; in 424 at-bats, he had 167 hits, which was the hit record for the franchise for nearly 100 years, finally broken by Greg “Boomer” Wells in 1982 (Wells had 182 hits in 541 at-bats).

Toledo became a Major League franchise the following season, joining the American Association as the Maumees, Werden was the their starting first baseman, hit .295 and led the team in hits, runs, triples, and RBIs.  The Maumees finished 68-64 in their only season.

Werden was sold by Toledo to the Baltimore Orioles in 1891 and had another solid season, leading the team in hits, triples and RBI’s.  The following season he was signed by the Saint Louis Browns to replace Charles Comiskey at first base; Comiskey had jumped the Browns to join the Cincinnati Reds.

Werden hit .256 and .290 in two seasons with the Browns.  In 1894, he returned to the minor leagues with the Minneapolis Minnies in the Western League.  That’s where he became a legend.

In 1894, Werden exploded.  He hit .417 with 43 home runs.  In 1895, he improved to .428 with 45 home runs.

The Western League was no doubt a hitter’s league; eight players with at least 100 at-bats hit .400 or better in 1894 and 11 did so in 1895.  And the Minnies home field, Athletic Park, where Werden hit most of his home runs, was by all estimates a hitter’s paradise with a short (some sources say 250 feet) fence.

Regardless, 45 home runs would remain a professional baseball record until 1920. The Duluth News-Tribune said several years later that Werden hit seven home runs in a double-header in 1895; under the headline “Perry Werden was King of the Natural Hitters:”

“It was one of the greatest batting feats ever seen on a baseball lot anywhere.”

Werden had one last season in the Major Leagues.  At 35-years-old in 1897, he hit .301 for the Louisville Colonels, then returned to the minor leagues where he continued to hit well; .330 for his minor league career.

Werden became an umpire in the American Association in 1907, and became a baseball pioneer in 1908 when he joined the Indianapolis Indians in the same league; he was one of the first full-time coaches in professional baseball.  The Associated Press said:

“Perry Werden will go to Indianapolis to act as assistant manager, coach and advisor in general of the Indianapolis baseball club this year.”

In October The Indianapolis News declared Werden a success in the new role:

“Werden was one of the biggest factors in bringing Indianapolis her first pennant since 1902.  Without his services it’s highly probable the flag would have flown elsewhere”

The Indianapolis Star predicted that Werden’s “novel position,” would become the norm with the Indians, and throughout baseball.

Werden eventually returned to umpiring, working in the western, Dakota, South Dakota and Northern leagues.

His 43 home run season became news again in 1920 as Babe Ruth was closing in on Werden’s professional record.  Werden said there was one player in his era who was Ruth’s equal as a hitter.  Who was it?

Read about it on Monday.