Tag Archives: Pete Browning

“The Things That Bring Good Luck to the Various Clubs”

26 Nov

In 1886, The St, Louis Post-Dispatch noted:

“Gamblers and old women are not the only ones who are given to superstitious observations of signs and to the carrying of luck tokens…Baseball players are more given to that sort of thing of late years than any other class of men.”

Under the Headline The Things That Bring Luck to the Various Clubs, the paper laid out the different “mascottic tastes” of the teams.

The paper said the success of the Cincinnati Red Stockings the previous season, was attributed in part to “Kid Baldwin’s pink jersey,” but the team’s fortunes turned in 1886 after:

“(A)fter a St. Louis laundry women’s daughter eloped in ‘Kid’s’ jersey and the club is now in last place.”

The Louisville Colonels had recently found a new “lucky hanger-on,” for a mascot; a calf born with a caul—the rare instance has long been the subject of superstition. The team took the calf ad proceeded to take five out of six games from the defending champion St. Louis Brown Stockings.

Pete Browning of the Colonels,“(C)arries a loaded die in the hip pocket of his knickerbockers for luck.  Before a recent game somebody took the die out of Pete’s pocket and he failed to make a hit that day,” ending a long hitting streak.

petebrowning

Pete Browning

The paper said that Brown Stockings captain Charles Comiskey and third baseman Arlie Latham disagreed on the best mascot for the team:

“Comiskey argued in favor of a mule, for which he has a kindly fellow feeling, and he said he knew where he could get one cheap.  Latham held out for (a small white) mouse because he owned one and won the day, though Comiskey still believed in the efficacy of the mule, and had his heel spikes made out of a cast-off shoe from the foot of his favorite animal.”

The mouse died–suffocating when Latham, carrying the mouse, got in a fight with teammate Doc Bushong—right around the time Louisville acquired their calf and the Brown Stockings dropped those five games to Louisville,

The Post-Dispatch said New York Giants President John Day had recently had a prospect for a new mascot for the team:

“(He) tore his hair out the other day when he was informed that the youngster born with a full beard in Williamsburg had died. Day was sure that he would have in him one of the best mascots in the country.”

The paper noted the better known mascots, “Little Willie Hahn,” of the Chicago White Stockings and Charlie Gallagher of the Detroit Wolverines—who was said to have been born with a full set of teeth—and said of other National League clubs:

williehahn

Willie Hahn

“The Bostons never had a mascot because they haven’t luck enough to find one.  The Washington and Kansas City teams are unable to get a mascot to even look at them.”

And concluded:

“The strangest thing about a baseball mascot is that he is occasionally traitorous and transfers his services to the other side without the slightest warning.  He will never play with a cripples, badly-managed or broken-up team, and as soon as a club begins to go down hill it is a clear case of desertion by the mascot.”

 

 

Things I Learned on the way to Looking Up Other Things #24

1 Aug

Pitching to Ruth

According to the International News Service, during a discussion before a game in 1919, Frank Baker was talking to his Yankees teammates about “the days when batters demanded the sort of delivery they could hit best.”

ruth

Babe Ruth

The players agreed:

“If that rule were in force in the present day the outfielders would have to be mounted on motorcycles, and Muddy Ruel said that the playing field would have to be as big as the parade grounds at old Camp Pike, where he was at officers training camp.

Just imagine Babe Ruth coming up with the bases filled and a hit needed if he had the privilege of demanding a fastball waist high.  The question of how to pitch to him under such conditions was placed in open discussion.  Ping Bodie solved it.  ‘I’d get back on second base, throw the ball and then duck,’ said Ping.”

Negotiating with Murphy

When it was first rumored that Fred Mitchell would step down as president of the Chicago Cubs in the summer of 1919, there was speculation that Charles Webb Murphy might return to the club as president (Bill Veeck Sr. was ultimately given the position)

Hearing word of Murphy’s possible return, Johnny Evers told The Sporting News what it was like to negotiate a contract with Murphy after the team’s back to back World Series wins in 1907 and 1908:

charlesmurphy

Charles Webb Murphy

“We had made lots of money for the Cubs and certainly expected owner Murphy to give us a big boost in salary.  I received my contract, gave it the once over and returned it to C.W. with the curt reply that I thought I deserved more money for my labors.

“It was not a big salary,  In fact, the sum mentioned was so small that if I were to tell you the amount it would shock you.  Mr. Murphy was shrewd enough to get around my request for a raise.  His reply was to the effect that I might deserve more money, but should be satisfied to work for the amount he mentioned in view of the fact that I had such wonderful stars to help me as Frank Chance on my left and Joe Tinker on my right.

“Joe Tinker also protested against the figures mentioned in his contract that year and the crafty Mr. Murphy’s reply to him was that he should be satisfied to play for almost anything since he was teamed up with such stars as (Harry) Steinfeldt on his right, Evers on his left and Frank Chance at first base.  There was no way to get around an argument like that, and when the season opened Tinker and I were playing at the original figures offered by chubby Charley.”

Arguing with Browning

The Louisville Courier-Journal recalled in 1908 an incident “When Pete Browning played with the Louisville club.”

Browning, said the paper, was “no prize beauty…still he was sensitive regarding his un-Apollo like appearance and would get angry in a moment if any allusion was made to his lack of pulchritude.”

petebrowning

Pete Browning

During a game in Cincinnati, umpire John Gaffney called Browning out on strikes.

 “The big fellow rushed up the umpire roaring like a toreador stuck bull.  But John Gaffney was afraid of no living man, and he ruled the field with a rod of iron, but he was also a reasonable man and would explain his decisions.  However, Pete would listen to no explanations.  Finally, Gaffney became angry, and walking up to Browning, he shook his finger in his face and said:

“’I would like to have a photograph of your face, Browning.’

“’And for why,’ shot back Pete, who was taken wholly by surprise, and began to color up when allusion was made to his face.

“’Why, I have a chicken farm back home,’ said Gaffney, ‘and I would like to put your picture in the coop so as to frighten eggs out of the hens.’”

Stealing Bats, 1889

26 May

In 1889, The Cincinnati Enquirer said of the quest the average ballplayer made to secure a bat to his liking:

“The average ball-player has trouble in securing a bat of the size and weight to suit his fancy.  He will run over the stock of bats in sporting goods stores, buy pieces of wood and have them turned, and go miles to secure the article, but the season may be half over before he will find one that suits him exactly.  When he does find one to his fancy he will have trouble in keeping it, as opposing players will try to steal it.”

The paper said theft was so common:

“A bat is looked at as common property, and there is no crime in base-ball to swipe a bat providing you do it without getting caught.”

The Enquirer said John Reilly of the Red Stockings was a “Bat crank,” and “(H)as a mania for hunting good sticks.’”   Reilly was asked if he ever had a bat stolen:

“’I should say I did,’ was John’s reply.  ‘There are ball-players who make a business of stealing good bats.  I never knew Pete Browning to ‘swipe’ a bat, but you can get a trade out of the Gladiator at any stage of the game.  He has always got a stick or two to trade, and about the first thing he does when he strikes a lot is to size up the opposing club’s pile of bats and tries to drive a bargain.”

 

reilly

John Reilly

 

Reilly said there was a problem with Browning’s trades:

“Some of the Louisville players complain that Pete never trades his own bats, but grabs the first one he runs across in the Louisville pile.”

As for Browning’s use of heavy bats, Reilly said:

“Pete uses the heaviest bat of any man in the business…he had one here once that must have weighed twelve pounds.  It felt like it had an iron sash weight in the end of it.  Once, when I was in Louisville, I saw a bat floating around in a bath tub in the clubhouse.  ‘Whose bat is that? I inquired.  ‘it belongs to me,’ replied Pete:  ‘I put it in there so it will get heavy.”

petebrowning

Pete Browning

Reilly also told the story of “a splendid stick,” that had been stolen from his team in 1888.  Hick Carpenter had acquired the bat in a trade with John Sneed of the New Orleans Pelicans:

“(N)early all the players were using it.  We had it until sometime in May when it disappeared.  That was the last we saw of it until the Clevelands came around late in the summer.  One of our players saw the bat in the Cleveland club’s pile, and at once claimed It.  The Clevelands stopped the game and would not play until the bat was returned.  (Charles “Pop”) Snyder said it might belong to us, but he didn’t know anything about it.  He claimed that Tip O’Neill, of the St. Louis Browns brought it to Cleveland and forgot it, and that (Ed) McKean took it.  We had to give it up”

Reilly said another bat had been stolen from him in 1888:

“I cut the letter ‘R’ in the knob of the handle…I did not run across it again until late in the season in Brooklyn.  The bat had been painted and the knob sawed half in two to get rid of the little ‘R.’ I claimed the bat but did not get it”

Reilly said the New York Metropolitans, the American Association franchise that folded in 1887, were:

“(T)he best bat swipers in the business. They would leave New York on a trip with an empty bat bag and after they had played on a few lots they would have bats to sell.”

“I guess I am Rotten”

24 Nov

It was in doubt where Pete “The Gladiator” Browning would play in 1892.

There is no record of exactly how he parted ways with the Cincinnati Reds—Released by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Browning hit .343 for the Reds in 55 games in 1891 after signing with the club on June 29—but, by January of 1892 there were a steady stream of rumors about where he would sign.

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

Speculation included the Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Browns, but Browning opted to return home to Louisville, and signed with the Colonels—he was released again after an early spring salary dispute, but signed a new contract with the team a week into the season.

Browning returned Louisville with much fanfare.  The Courier-Journal said, after he contributed two singles and two sacrifice hits in a 7 to 2 victory over the Chicago Colts:

“Prodigal Pete…walked out—‘Prods’ do not return in carriages—to his old home in left field at Eclipse Park yesterday afternoon, where he had spent a happy, happy youth before the false adulation of the outer world called the Gladiator away.”

After am 11-3 start, the Colonels were returning to form, and were beginning to look like the ninth place team with a 63-89 record they would be at season’s end.

To make matters worse, “Prodigal Pete” struggled after his first game, hitting just .247—94 points less than his career average—in 21 games.

Browning explained his sump to Harry Weldon of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“’I guess I am rotten. I guess I ought to be out of the business,’ said Pietro Gladiator Browning, as he walked on the field.  ‘Old Gladdy ain’t to his speed yet, but he’s hitting ‘em, and hitting ‘em good, but not as good as he will hit ‘em though, cause he’s got the catarrh, and is stopped up in the head.  When you’re stopped up your ‘lamps’ ain’t right.  Wait until the sun gets hot and the catarrh leaves the old hoss.  Then the pitchers will have to look out.  Will I lead the league in hitting?  Why not?  Look out for me.  None of ‘em are getting away from me in the outfield.  Did you read about me going up in the seats and pulling down a fly that saved the game?  I can do it right along.  None of them big stars, Jim) McAleer, Curt Welch or any of the rest of them fellows have the best of old Pete on fly balls.  The old boy is still ready money, and worth one hundred cents on the dollar.”

Within days the Colonels gave up on the Gladiator and handed him his release on May 18.

For a time Browning got his “lamps’ right again.  After signing with the Reds again, he hit .303 the rest of 1892.  He returned to Louisville in 1893 and hit .355 in part-time role.

Wagner’s Mysterious Bat

20 Aug

In 1911 Honus Wagner hit .334, it was his thirteenth straight season hitting better than .320, but he still wondered how much better he could have hit if he had the opportunity to regularly use a bat he once found in Ohio.  He told the story to William A. Phelon in The Cincinnati Times-Star:

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

“There was never yet a perfect bat, and I don’t suppose there ever can be.  Not while the shape has to remain perfectly round and fouls can slip off the curving surface, and not while the material breaks just as you are administering a sure home run with the bases full.  I have had bats break when I met the ball fair and square—break deliberately, after months of faithful service—and a feeble grounder would go trickling off the treacherous stick when the force I put into the wallop had spelled at least three bases.”

Wagner said, “bats are strange and moody things,” and that he understood why Pete Browning “used to talk to his bats and credit them with human understanding.”

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

He said he had “handled one that was almost perfection” during 1898, his first full season with the Louisville Colonels.  The team was playing an exhibition game “against some small club in an Ohio river city,” and the Colonels’ bats had already been shipped to their next stop:

“We figured, of course that we would borrow bats from the locals, but we didn’t need to.

“On arriving at the local ball park we found some urchins knocking flies.  One of the kids was using a curious looking bat, long, finely shaped and of a peculiar red-brown color.  I took it from the youngster, examined it, and found that, while it was very heavy, that it balanced nicely in the hand.  I slipped the boy half a dollar for the loan of his bat, and we started the game with the red stick and three or four others of the ordinary pattern which had been scared up by admiring natives.

“We never used the ordinary bats.  That red stick proved to be the proper medicine.  Of course there wasn’t any big league team against us, but the pitcher was one who was destined to be a mighty star in the after years, and he had something that day, believe me.”

Wagner did not say who the pitcher was, but said it didn’t matter how good he was:

“The least tap with that red bat and the ball whirred out in the field like a bullet.  There was spring and a texture to the wood that gave incomparable hitting power.  Tap a fast ball with that bat and it would go for two bases.  Meet a curve and you could send it to the bleachers.  With that bat a man who ordinarily hit .200 would be a .300 hitter, easy, and I blush to estimate the record I could have made therewith.”

Wagner said he and his teammates had “about twenty-eight long hits” during the game, and he asked the boy about the bat’s origin:

“(H)e explained that he had laboriously turned the wood to proper shape himself, and that it was originally the leg of an old-fashioned, broken-down table that his grandfather possessed.  It was some strange oriental wood, something like mahogany, but much heavier and of firmer grain…When the game ended I turned to find the boy, intending to hand him good money for that bat, but the kid was gone.  Apparently afraid we intended to steal his bat…I never saw the boy again, and although I twice played games in that town years after, he never came near the park.  The mysterious bat, brimful of hits, vanished the same afternoon it first appeared and its equal has never been discovered.”

“Perhaps the most Superstitious Class of People”

31 Jan

In 1886 The San Francisco Chronicle said of contemporary baseball players:

“With all the enlightenment of civilization superstition still holds potent sway.  Perhaps the most superstitious class of people to be met today in the United States, aside from gamblers and actors, are baseball players and worshipers of the game, whose faith in “mascots” and jonahs” as influences for good or bad luck is almost if not fully as strong as their belief in religion itself.”

Jim Hart, in San Francisco with his Louisville Colonels, told the paper about some of the specific superstitions which influenced the 19th Century ballplayer:

“The St. Louis Browns have their club house at home just off from right field, and whenever the bell rings for the practice preceding each game the whole nine form into line in front of their house and then walk abreast to first base, where they disperse and take their positions.  This is invariably done under the belief that it insures good luck.  Bill Gleason too, the famous shortstop, always walks astride of the foul chalk line to third base before going to his place on the diamond.  He has never once failed to do it in the whole five years he has been playing baseball.”

Bill Gleason

Bill Gleason

“Why there’s (Albert “Doc”) Bushong, the catcher of the St. Louis Browns.  He’s got a pair of gloves that are so dilapidated that even the patches are patched.  He wouldn’t part with those gloves, though, for a ten-acre lot.  He thinks as mascots they are infallible.  (Walter Henry) Porter, the pitcher of the Brooklyns , also has a red sleeveless jacket  or shirt which he has worn regularly for more than two years.  It doesn’t match the uniform of the club, but he wears it anyhow, for he sincerely believes that if he laid the shirt aside the game would be lost.

“(Pete) Browning, our center fielder and the crack batter in the league, is the greatest fanatic on mascots, I reckon, of anybody in the business.  He did not come out with us this time.  He got out of whack during the summer and I sent him to the springs to recuperate.  He returned home before we came out here, but I thought it best to leave him behind.  Well, Browning has a practice of always walking over and touching one foot on third bag when going from field to bat, or vice versa.  A stack of twenties as high as that house wouldn’t be inducement enough for Browning to refrain from carrying out this program every time he plays, he’s got so much faith in it, you know.  To show you how earnest he is in this respect, I’ll relate a short anecdote about him which occurred last summer.  It may amuse you.  Browning has a pretty good idea of himself as a ballplayer, and it rather hurt him to be sent off from us, even if it was to the springs” (Browning was in such poor physical condition in July of 1886—The Cincinnati Enquirer said “it is doubtful if he appears on the diamond again.”– that he was sent to the springs in French Lick, Indiana for a month).

Hart said the rest of the Louisville team let Browning know they did just fine without him in the lineup, including their best road trip of the season, when they won 8 of 12 games:

“The rest of the boys naturally joshed him a good deal about it, and gleefully referred to their splendid record while he was away. ’Yes,’ replied Browning, driven to desperation, ‘but I was touching third bag every day, or you couldn’t have done it.’  It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?  It’s true, nevertheless, for I found out afterwards that he had marked out a diamond just back of the hotel at the springs, and on the days that we were booked to play he would go out to his field and soberly go through his regular ceremony of touching third bag.”

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

Hart claimed he was an exception, “I’m not very superstitious,” he said, but he conceded “I hear and see so much of these things that hang me if I don’t almost believe in them myself sometimes.”   As an example, he told the story of arriving at the ballpark during a losing streak:

“I went into the club-room with a new white plug hat on my head.  Everybody jumped up at once and shouted, ‘A mascot! A mascot! Our luck will change now, sure.’ We did meet with rather better success after that, and the hat naturally got the credit for it.  Four or five weeks later I exchanged my white hat for a black mackinaw, and, my Lord! You should have heard those fellows kick.  They said I was a jonah and we’d lose the next game, and by thunder, we did, too.”

Browning and Delahanty

25 Jun

John Anthony “Honest Jack” Boyle played in the American Association, Players League and National League from 1886 to 1898.

Boyle’s career was on the decline by the end of the 1898 season (he had only appeared in six games with the Philadelphia Phillies that year), but was effectively ended in November when he was the victim of a mysterious knife attack in his hometown of Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune said Boyle was “attacked from behind by an unknown man, who, before the player could defend himself, plunged a knife into his shoulder.”

A piece of the knife broke off in Boyle’s shoulder and he didn’t play regularly again until 1905 when he appeared in 101 games for the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association ; he was a player-manager for the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League the following season.

Jack Boyle

Jack Boyle

By 1910 Boyle, who was operating a saloon in Cincinnati, told William A. Phelon of The Chicago Tribune that the two best hitters he ever saw were Pete Browning and Ed Delahanty, and provided a window into the minds of two of the biggest stars of the 19th Century:

“(T)here never were two men more radically different in their ideas of and their opinions of the game than these two great sluggers.  They looked at the game from totally different angles, and they regarded their occupation with widely varying views.

“Pete Browning was an artist.  To him baseball was an art or a profession and batting an absorbing passion.

“Delahanty was a workman.  Baseball to him was labor or a trade, and batting simply part of the daily toil.

“When Browning left the field the game wasn’t over.  He continued to talk batting, theorize on batting, figure out new ideas on batting, and I think, dreamed of batting all night long.

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

“When Delahanty left the ballpark the game was all through for the day, exactly as if he was a laborer going home to supper.  He ceased to think baseball.

Ed Delahanty

Ed Delahanty

“If Browning failed to make a hit at the time of need, he would have tears in his eyes and would bitterly bewail his misfortune.  If Delahanty fell down in the pinch, he shrugged his shoulders, hoofed back to the bench and began to talk racing or the weather.

“When an outfielder galloped to the fence and pulled down one of Browning’s mighty drives, Pete would regard it as a personal insult, and glower at the outfielder like a baffled tiger.  When a fielder robbed Del of a home run, Ed would grunt ‘Good catch, boy, didn’t think you’d get it’ and forget it forever.

“If you had told Pete Browning that the business was losing money, and that you would have to cut his salary next season, he would have accepted the money rather than lose the chance to play the game.  If you handed that talk to Delahanty, he would have sneered scornfully and remarked that you’d have to come up with 500 more beans before he’d even look at a contract.

“Neither Pete nor Del cared much where their teams finished on the season.  Pete thought only of hits and the glory of making them.  Del thought of a comfortable winter life on the money he had made in the summertime.”

Boyle said the only thing the two really had in common was an inability to bunt:

“Del wouldn’t simply try.  Pete, with much groaning and protestation, would be coaxed to make the attempt, but his attempts were fizzles.”

Boyle, or Phelon, omitted the other thing the two had in common: serious drinking problems that hurt them on and off the field and contributed to their early deaths.

Boyle died in Cincinnati in 1913.

“To be Hissed and Hooted at in the East is too much”

20 Jun

In 1886  Thomas Jefferson “Tom” York retired after a fifteen-year career.   As a 20-year-old he joined the Troy Haymakers in the National Association in 1871, he was with the Hartford Dark Blues for the National League’s inaugural season in 1876, and finished with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association; he also served two brief stints as a player/manager with the Providence Grays.

York, who suffered from rheumatism, had considered retiring before the 1894 season after the Cleveland Blues sold him to the Orioles, but The Baltimore American said he was induced to continue playing with a $5000 salary and “the scorecard and cushion (concession)” at Oriole Park.  After hitting just .233 in 1884, he was only able to play in 22 games the following season before calling it quits.

Tom York, middle row, far right, with the 1876 Hartford Dark Blues

Tom York, middle row, far right, with the 1876 Hartford Dark Blues

Just before the beginning of the 1886 season York was hired as an American Association umpire.  After the May 22 game in Baltimore which the Orioles lost 2-1 to the Louisville Colonels, The Baltimore Sun said:

“(York) received a dispatch yesterday ordering him to Brooklyn.  Instead of going he telegraphed his resignation.  His reason for doing so was the abuse he received from some of the spectators of Saturday’s game.  In fact, he was nearly equal to that of John Kelly, ‘the king of umpires.’  He declared (Pete) Browning’s hit near the foul line a fair hit.  He was in the best position to know, but, as it was made at a critical point, some of the audience objected, and York came in for pretty severe abuse.”

The paper said York also made a “questionable decision,” when he “evidently forgot that it was not necessary to touch a runner in a force,” and incorrectly called a runner safe at second:

“York became discouraged and the Association lost a good umpire.”

Within weeks York became a National League umpire; that didn’t last long either.

On June 30, the Kansas City Cowboys lost at home to the New York Giants 11-5, The Chicago Inter Ocean said York “was escorted from the grounds by the police on account of disapproval manifested over his umpiring.”

Less than a month later, after York was “roundly hissed” at the Polo Grounds after making “some very close decisions against the New Yorks,” in a July 22 game against the Philadelphia Quakers, he sent a telegram to National League President Nicholas Young resigning his position.  York told The New York Times:

“I have been badly treated in the West, but to be hissed and hooted at in the East is too much.  I have often heard that an umpire’s position was a thankless one, but I have never realized it before.  It’s bad enough to be hissed and called a thief, but in the West when the local club loses an umpire in fortunate if he escapes with his life.  Of all the cities in the league Kansas City is the worst.”

York said there was another incident Kansas City the day before he was escorted from the field by police:

“On June 29 when the New York men beat the Cowboys 3 to 2 (William “Mox”) McQuery hit a ball over the fence, but it was foul by 25 feet, and I declared it so.  After the game Vice President (Americus) McKim, of the Kansas City club wanted to know how much money I would get from the New Yorks fir That decision.  I remarked that I received my salary from the league and did not take a penny from the New Yorks or any other none.  Then he grew furious, and said he would end my days.  This in conjunction with other things incidental to the life of an umpire has made me tired of the business, and I intend to make room for some other victim.”

Despite quitting both leagues within two months, The Baltimore American said the American Association sent York a telegram in two months later “asking him if he wanted an appointment as umpire.”  The paper said “York replied no, emphatically, as his past experience was sufficient to justify his remaining at home.”

York remained at home for the rest of the season and the next, but while he never worked as an umpire again he returned to baseball in 1888 as manager of the Albany Governors in the International Association.  Over the next decade he was connected with several East Coast minor leagues, including the Connecticut State League, the New York State League and the Eastern Association, as a manager and executive.

York retired to New York where he became one of the many former players employed at the Polo Grounds at the behest of manager John McGraw.  In 1922 The New York Telegraph described his position:

“York has the pleasant post of trying to keep the actors, tonsorial artists and plumbers out of the press stand.  It is old tom who examines your pink paste board and decides whether you are eligible for a seat in the press cage.”

Tom York, 1922

Tom York, 1922

In February of 1936, as preparations were being made for York, along with James “Deacon” White, George Wright, Tommy Bond,  to be honored that summer at the  All-Star Game  as the last four surviving players from the National League’s first season, the former player, manager, executive and umpire died in New York.

“A Man Can’t Play Ball When He ain’t Getting no Money for it”

29 May

In January of 1890 Louis Rogers Browning, Pete, “the Gladiator,” the biggest star, even if no longer the best player, of the 27-111 Louisville Colonels of the American Association, jumped to the Cleveland Infants in the Players League.

Browning, illiterate, alcoholic, superstitious, and nearly deaf as a result of an untreatable ear condition, had quickly become popular among his hometown fans—despite being called out for on-field drunkenness as early as 1882 by The Louisville Courier-Journal.

Browning had won two American Association batting titles (1882, 1885), but had slipped to .313 in 1888 and .256 in 1889 playing in 99 and 83 games.

The New York Sun said the signing caused a “sensation” in Louisville despite that:

“(I)t has been said for two years that he had lost his usefulness by reason of his  defective eyesight and intemperate habits.”

Browning’s “defective eyesight” was said to be the result of his belief that stating into the sun would improve his “lamps.”

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

The Sun said Browning provided a “funny explanation” (all grammar errors are from the original text) for leaving his hometown to sign with Cleveland:

“I have been waiting for this chance for four years.  They ain’t treated me right here since 1886.  I used to play great ball for ‘em till they put the screws on me so hard, then I just quit.  I don’t mean that I didn’t play honest ball, but I just got discouraged and couldn’t do it.  A man can’t play ball when he ain’t getting no money for it.  I tell yer they have been socking it to me ever since 1886.  I’ve been fined so heavy that my salary ain’t ever been over $1,000, when I could have been making $2,000 and $3,000 from other clubs.  Newspapers have done me up so that people in the East have thought I was no more good.”

Browning said that after financially troubled owner Mordecai Davidson turned the Louisville franchise over to the American Association in July of 1889, and the league secured new, local ownership, he thought his situation would improve.

“They said my peeps was out of condition and I couldn’t hit a balloon.  Well, you ought to a ‘seed me line ‘em out.  They couldn’t put the ball nowhere I couldn’t get ‘em.  I played the game of my life.  I knocked the cover off the ball right along.  When I come home (from a road trip in August) I thought they would meet with a brass band.  Well I got a letter from (the Colonels new management) sayin’ I was laid off.  The papers said I had been drinkin’ when I hadn’t touched a drop for months.  They wouldn’t give old Pete a chance.”

In the fall of 1889 Browning played for a team in Knoxville, Tennessee, The Sporting Life’s “Louisville correspondent” said he had stayed out of trouble:

 “I understand that Pete’s conduct while recently with the Knoxville Club was quite exemplary, and tat be drank nothing but water.  Since his return to Louisville he has behaved himself in the same manner. Pete, however, always had a strange way of keeping sober during the winter and getting drunk in the spring when it was time to play ball.”

Browning told The Sun that his performance in Knoxville had earned him several offers from other teams, that he was in great shape, and that Louisville management was to blame for a lot of his problems:

“I give you my word of honor I haven’t touched a drop of anything for seven months.  I know that I have gone wrong sometimes, but if they had come to me an’ talked to me like gentlemen, I’d a done anything for ‘em: but they don’t do it, an’ they run off to the papers with another story of old Pete bein’s on a tear.  That just made me worse.  Do you think I’ve got no feelin’s left?

“Well I’m goin’ away, an’ you just watch me.  Talk about my peeps, there was never nothin’ the matter ‘em.  It was my nerve that was weak…Pete knows his biz, and he’ll get a chance someday.  An’ he has.  Keep an eye on me this season.”

Presumably Browning’s “peeps” were not completely ruined yet by his staring into the sun; he hit .373 and won the Players League’s only batting championship.

He would play through the 1894 season, compiling a lifetime .341 average.  The sad story of Browning’s post-baseball life and his death in Louisville in 1905 are well documented elsewhere.