Tag Archives: Pete Donnelly

“Ballplayers were Some Sort of Cattle”

8 Feb

The Chicago Tribune printed Bill Lennon’s rebuttal to his expulsion by the Fort Wayne Kekiongas—he was one of four players expelled from the team, and by extension, the National Association, in July of 1871.

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Lennon, lower center and the Kekiongas

The Tribune followed Lennon’s letter with it’s take on the Fort Wayne club’s actions:

“It was well known in the club and city that (Lennon) intended to leave, and several citizens have, all along since his return from the Eastern trip, taken it upon themselves to remonstrate with him, and request him to stay the year out, at least.”

The paper claimed that if the first three charges “had any real weight in them,” Fort Wayne should have acted on them much sooner.  He also took the team to task for failing to allow Lennon to be present “at his ‘trial’” and said:

“(T)he fact that no prosecution was attempted until after he had left the city, shows clearly enough that the first three charges were merely put in to fill up the real gist of the matter…Mr. Lennon has too good a record as a ballplayer and a gentleman to allow him to lay himself liable to such persecution as he has had from Fort Wayne people without some good cause.”

Then the gloves came off—with the claim that “a little investigation into the way matters are carried on by the Kekionga management may serve to show why neither Mr. Lennon nor any other self-respecting man will stay long with the Fort Wayne pets.”

The paper said:

“The officers of the club are: C.M. Dawson, President, Max Nirdlinger, Vice President; George Myers [sic Mayer], Secretary.  The first of these is a gentleman; the other two are like each other, not like Dawson.”

It was claimed that Nirdlinger and Mayer “the active” members of the team’s management, felt “ballplayers were some sort of cattle, having some of the characteristics of men, but not enough to entitle them to human or humane treatment.”

The salaries paid to Fort Wayne players, were “not as much as a deck hand on a raft would get.”

In addition to the low salaries, the paper claimed that most players were not paid what was owed them which was “the main cause of the difficulty.”

They also accused Mayer of operating the team payroll in much the same way a company town operated:

“Money for services rendered was an impossibility, but the players could get some things if the seller would accept script on the Kekionga Ball Club.  A player could not buy clothes because no money was given him, but he might now and then get a garment if the tailor would take an ‘order on (Mayer).’ The matter had reached a pretty fine point when, instead of giving the men money to pay their board, they were compelled to give their respective landladies an ‘order on (Mayer).”

Players were said to have to go to Mayer for money for something as simple “as a shave,” and based on the level of pay “no one could get under the influence of liquor,” while playing for the team.

Of the treatment of the Fort Wayne players on the East Coast trip, The Tribune said it “was almost inhumane, in two cases at least the men were kept without food from early in the morning to 9 or 10 at night.”

Two players, it was claimed, were forced to sleep in chairs on the hotel porch because the team refused to pay for rooms.

Lennon and Sellman were said to be “put off the train” on the team’s return to Fort Wayne after they were unable to pay their own fare:

“This was accompanied by such language to the men themselves as only Mayer could use.”

The turnover on the club, made the case as strongly as all their other claims; the paper said Bill McDermott, who played two games with Fort Wayne became “sick and disillusioned with the whole affair,” and left the team.  A  player named Riley “formerly of the Railway Unions, of Cleveland,” appeared in “a few” of the non-Association games on the East Coast trip before being “discharged” and given just $1.15 to get home.

Charles Bierman, who appeared in one game on the East Coast trip (he committed two errors in the outfield) was let go, and according to The Tribune, “Of course, he got no pay.”

Ed Mincher and Pete Donnelly  received their expulsions because they were so fed up with their treatment that they skipped the team in Baltimore, and Philadelphia respectively.  Frank Sellman, expelled along with Lennon, had been so broke he had to borrow money to skip the team, with the “club owing him between $100 and $200.”

The Tribune also said Lennon was still owed at least $75 and that the paper would provide “proof of any assertion contained herein” to the Fort Wayne management.

Fort Wayne would have none of it. Despite the fact that none of the papers in the city had printed a negative word about Lennon before his expulsion, they were all in with the club’s management.

The Sentinel ran two letters, one purported to be from the ten remaining members of the Kekiongas which read in part:

“(W)e, the undersigned, have always received all moneys due us and further have been paid in advance our forfeits, besides receiving many valuable gifts from the citizens…When a fault was committed it was over-looked, and that is the reason Lennon was not expelled sooner, as he truly deserved.  We were never kept without food as claimed by the Tribune liar.”

And another from the team’s officers, which attempted to discredit Lennon’s version of evets.  Lennon, the letter said, was “very much under the influence of liquor” at the Hotel Earle in New York, he “did threaten to assault” a team official on the East Coast trip, and he was guilty of “deserting the club” on June 23.

As for the other players The Tribune claimed were treated poorly by Fort Wayne, the management had no problem airing their dirty laundry to defend themselves. Of McDermott, who spent two games with the Kekiongas:

“Mr. McDermott was properly and promptly paid, but instead of paying his board with the money betook himself to a gambling hall, lost his money, and when excused for this offense a short time after, appeared in the company of a lewd woman.”

Of Sellman, who was expelled along with Lennon:

“He had become, as his own companion and friend (Wally) Goldsmith, our 3rd baseman, had said, ‘Selly has become an inveterate toper, he has killed himself for baseball.’ What more be said?”

In regard to other players who had been dismissed quickly by the team, the letter said those players were “accepted on trial, and not proving satisfactory to us, we paid all expenses and money due.”

The Gazette claimed The Tribune engaged in “Slander” of “the character of Fort Wayne’s young men.” The paper said the response was indicative of the attitude of the Chicago press towards the Indiana town:

“(The Gazette) expected that The Chicago Tribune would plant itself in the middle of some cesspool and throw mud much to the discomfiture of all decent people.  This is its style, especially when the victim of its attack resides in Fort Wayne.  We have therefore not been disappointed in our expectations.”

Engaging in an argument with The Tribune writer, the paper claimed, was not worth their time:

“His ability to throw dirt and cast villainous slurs upon the character of our young men, has been too well developed to allow it.”

As for Lennon:

“A baseball player whose conduct in this city has been most infamous and would be regarded as such in every city.  If it is not in Chicago it is because he has the advantage of training there in a crowd more corrupt than himself.”

The Tribune responded with a breezy dismissal of everything thrown its way by the Fort Wayne management and papers, and specifically scoffed at the letter “signed” by the remaining members of the team:

“Don’t they know that the only possible way chance they ever will have of getting their pay depended on signing the card? Suppose for a moment one of them had refused to append his name.  ‘Expelled, club owing him $–’ would be his epitaph.”

Lennon finished the season catching for the Olympic Club of Baltimore—not to be confused the National Association Olympic Club of Washington.

The Gazette took one last swipe at Lennon and The Chicago Tribune at the end of August.  The paper claimed that “Mr. W. W. Rambo, of this city, lost last October a very valuable breast pin under circumstances that led him to believe that William Lennon, the catcher of the Kekiongas, had taken it.”

It was unthinkable at the time, said the paper that Lennon, “at the height of his popularity” in Fort Wayne would be responsible.  But The Gazette claimed after two letters sent by the Fort Wayne club to Lennon in Baltimore, he “saved (himself) some trouble” and returned the pin:

“Mr. Lennon is, however, and honorable gentleman, for proof of which we refer to The Chicago Tribune, which will please copy.  Mr. Rambo is now in Chicago, and will be pleased to furnish The Tribune reporter any information he may desire on the subject.”

Lennon returned to the National Association in 1872, playing 11 games with the Washington Nationals and in 1873 he appeared in five games for the Baltimore Marylands—Lennon never participated in a winning game in his final two seasons.  The National lost all 11 Association games they played in 1872; the Marylands lost all six of their Association games in 1873.

Fort Wayne did not fare much better.  The team finished 7-12 in 1871, and despite promises by the team directors in July and August of 1871 that they had formed a stock company and were raising $10,000 to field a team the following year, Fort Wayne’s time as a major league city was over after 1871.

 

“Lennon Violated all Rules of Decency”

6 Feb

Bill Lennon is a footnote. Best known for appearing in the first official major league game–the May 4, 1871 National Association opener between the Cleveland Forest Cities and the Fort Wayne Kekiongas–and for being the first catcher credited with throwing out someone trying to steal a base—in the same game.

When he is mentioned at all, it is said he “deserted the Kekiongas” in mid-June; actually, he was with the club through most of July and was expelled by the team. His expulsion led to charges and counter charges between the parties, and a war of words between the Fort Wayne papers and The Chicago Tribune.

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Bill Lennon

Lennon, like all 19th Century catchers, took a beating. When the club went to the East Coast in June the Fort Wayne papers reported that he was playing with injuries and the road trip got off to a rocky start on the 19th. Fort Wayne was leading the Troy Haymakers 6 to 3 heading into the seventh inning, The Fort Wayne Gazette said:

“The game was called in favor of the Haymakers by George Leroy, umpire…because the Kekiongas refused to substitute a ball for the one which had been in use, and which had become ripped.”

The Fort Wayne Sentinel said the ripped ball was a ruse by Troy catcher and captain Bill Craver, who the paper called “a noted fault finder” and was intended as a “trick gotten up to dupe the Kekies into accepting a ‘lively ball’ instead of the dead one they were at the time playing with.”

Lennon caught a game the next day in Boston against a team from Lowell, Massachusetts. Lennon caught again the following day when the Boston Red Stockings beat Fort Wayne 21 to 0.

A report of the game in The Gazette noted that Lennon, as well as outfielder Ed Mincher and pitcher Bobby Mathews played with injuries.

The Kekiongas traveled to New York the next day and Lennon umpired that day’s game between the New York Mutuals and the Washington Olympics.

On June 23 and 24 the team played two non-Association games versus the Atlantics and the Eckfords in New York. Lennon did not appear in either game.

He was back in the lineup on June 26, when Fort Wayne beat the New York Mutuals 5 to 3. The New York Herald noted that Lennon played “with a lame hand.” The New York Sun said, “Lennon did not allow a single ball to pass him,” despite the fact that his hands “are in a very bad state.”

The New York World said of Lennon’s performance:

“Lennon as catcher did splendid service; not a single passed ball could be charged to him.”

The Fort Wayne Gazette said:

“The pitching of (Bobby) Mathews was simply immense, while the catching of Lennon was wonderful, not a ball or point of the game escaping either of them.”

In early July The Chicago Tribune noted Lennon’s “Crippled condition.”

Lennon remained injured throughout the rest of June and into July, but the Fort Wayne papers never suggested his injuries were not real. The Gazette chided the rival Sentinel on July 15 after the latter paper reported a rumor that Lennon had left the club. Both papers reported that he traveled to Cleveland to umpire a game between the Forest Cities and the Philadelphia Athletics on July 23.

While Lennon was in Cleveland the Kekiongas’ expelled outfielder Ed Mincher and utility man Pete Donnelly. The team claimed the two “violated their contracts…by leaving without warning or permission, and the same Mincher and Donnelly being in arrearages to the Kekionga club.”

Both players denied the charges and claimed the team owed them money.

With Lennon still in Cleveland on July 25, it was his turn. The Gazette said: “At a meeting of the Directors of the Kekionga Base Ball Club…William Lennon was charged and found guilty,” of four accusations.

The club said Lennon deserted the team on June 23 during the game with the Atlantics and “did not return to said game.”

The second charge was that on June 24 at New York’s Hotel Earle, Lennon “violated all rules of decency,” although the charge was not specific as to the violation and that he “refused to obey orders” from the club’s directors.

The third charge was that on four occasions during July, Lennon “wholly violated all obligations and rules of said club,” and refused to practice while he also appeared “in public under the influence of intoxicating liquors.”

The final charge was that Lennon left Fort Wayne without notifying the team, when he went to Cleveland.

In addition to Lennon, The Gazette said third baseman Frank Sellman was expelled as well, having been “found guilty of the last three charges,” although the specifics of his alleged infractions were not reported.

Lennon would not go down quietly. He had previously played in Chicago for the Excelsior Club, and presented a letter rebutting the claims, to the baseball writer at The Chicago Tribune.

The expelled captain of the Fort Wayne club addressed the charges:

“On the night preceding the (June 23) game, I was informed by the manager of the club that on account of the state of my hand, I would not be required to play…Nevertheless, I went to the Capitoline Grounds with the nine and saw the game begin, Sellman acting as catcher. I then went over to the Union Grounds and saw part of the game there. On returning to the hotel I learned for the first time of the result of the game, and the management then found fault with me for not directing the movements of the nine. Any ball-player will see the absurdity of asking me to Captain a nine in which I was not playing. Neither the rules nor the opposing club would allow such a proceeding.”

For the second charge, Lennon did not address the part about violating “all rules of decency,” but claimed the entire charge amounted to misunderstanding when one of the club’s directors had told him the night before he would not play in the June 24 game against the Eckfords “on account of my hand, which was in a very bad state,” but then “An hour or two before the game,” the same club executive asked Lennon if he intended to play. “I told him I was not in condition on account of my hand. This was all the conversation; there was no order to play given,” therefore said Lennon, he had not disobeyed an order.

Lennon called the third charge “totally false. I never was under the influence of intoxicating liquor at any time in Fort Wayne, or in any other place while I was a member of the Kekionga Club. Furthermore, I never refused to practice when notified to do so.”

On the fourth charge, Lennon said it was Fort Wayne club and not him who had violated his contract.

“(My) contract stipulated that that I should receive $70 per month, $7 to be paid each Saturday, and the remainder at the end of each and every month. The Kekionga Club have entirely ignored this clause, and so far from making monthly settlements have never given me my full pay.”

Lennon claimed he had not once received the entire balance owed to him since joining the team.

His letter concluded:

“I have been known for some years to the ballplayers of this country, and I desire as a favor that all papers which have published the ‘expulsion’ will do me the justice to give my reasons for leaving the club.”

The Tribune then took up Lennon’s case.

The rest of the story, Friday.

Note:  The original version of this post was an early draft that names Lewis E. Meacham as the sports editor of The Chicago Tribune.  While Meacham was with the paper in 1871 and later served as the sports editor, he was likely not the author of the article in defense of Lennon, as he was primarily a general assignment reporter covering local news in 1871.  It has been corrected to reflect that.