Tag Archives: Phil Powers

Alternate Realities

26 Feb

Philip “Leather Fisted Phil” Powers went from respected major league catcher to one of the National League’s most controversial and disliked umpires.

Phil Powers

Phil Powers

One of his most explosive episodes of his umpiring career involved a run in with Reds pitcher Tony Mullane in Cincinnati. The incident took place at the end of a 7 to 4 loss to the Chicago White Stockings on April 30, 1891; Mullane walked ten batters.

The Cincinnati Enquirer saw it this way:

 “Phil Powers’ Very Yellow Umpiring “

The Chicago Tribune:

“Mullane’s Cowardly Assault”

The Tribune said Cincinnati had turned on a local hero:

“That either baseball cranks are devoid of memory or that gratitude does not enter into their composition was amply demonstrated today at the Cincinnati ball park.  Back in 1882 a sallow-complexioned youth wore a Queen City uniform, and by his clever work behind the bat aided in no small way to bringing the only championship banner that ever waved over the Queen City.  That youth was Phil Powers.  Today that same man, grown gray in active service on the ball field in various capacities, was assaulted by Tony Mullane on the ball field after the game and 700 brutes in the stands urged the curly-headed twirler on in his dastardly work, and all because of fancied wrongs at Powers’ hand in today’s game.”

The Enquirer said Mullane was the aggrieved party:

“Phil Powers’ umpiring was something awful.  Mistakes were not the exception; they were the rule.  He gave Tony Mullane a terrible roast.  His miserable work was enough to rob any pitcher of his nerve, but it did not rattle Tony.  He stood up like a hero under Powers’ Jesse James tactics, and pitched ball that would have been a winner under ordinary circumstances.  The Chicagos owe their victory to Mr. Powers, not their own efforts.”

Tony Mullane

Tony Mullane

The papers couldn’t even agree on how much Mullane was fined during the game The Tribune said $75, The Enquirer said $150; the  altercation after was also given a local spin.

The Tribune version:

“After the game was over Powers started across the field with Mullane at his heels pouring out a tirade of abuse which made the air in the vicinity assume a sulfurous odor.  Powers with an expression of scorn on his face walked on towards the clubhouse.

“Mullane, like a tiger lashing itself into a fury, grew more and more angry, until finally he lost all self-control, and drawing back struck Powers in the face with a clenched fist.  The latter immediately increased Mullane’s fine to $250…The scene attracted the attention of the crowd, which, be it said to the shame of Cincinnati, encouraged Mullane’s ruffianly conduct.”

The Enquirer saw it differently:

“Tony Mullane and Umpire Powers had some trouble near the clubhouse.  Powers was to blame for the controversy.  He gave Mullane an awful deal while the game was in progress and then soaked him $150 in fines simply because Tony grumbled and asked him to come closer to the bat and pay more attention to his delivery.  On the way down to the clubhouse Powers said to Mullane in a sort of apologetic manner:  “I couldn’t rob the Chicagos to please you.’

“’Oh, get out,’ said Mullane.  ‘No one asked you to rob them.  I only wanted what belonged to me, and you robbed me bald-headed.’

“Powers said something in return and Mullane replied angrily.  Then Powers put on another fine of $100.  This so incensed Mullane that he drew back as if to assault Powers.  The latter in a most exasperating way put his face right up against Tony and said: ‘I dare you to strike me.’  It was a cowardly act on the part of Powers, for he well knew that if Mullane hit him it would mean disgrace…Mullane almost forgot himself.  It was all he could do to restrain himself.  He simply pushed Powers’ face away.  Then other players separated them.”

The papers did agree on the final total of Mullane’s fines: $250.  Mullane beat the Cleveland Spiders 7 to 4 two days later with Powers as umpire.  The game went off without incident.

“By-By, Baby Anson”

26 Dec

On August 20, 1888 Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson and his Chicago White Stockings were set to begin a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Chicago was in second place, six and a half games behind the New York Giants.

Anson’s club had been in first place for most of the season, but  relinquished the lead to the Giants after dropping eight of nine games at the end of July.

After sweeping two games from the Giants in New York earlier that week, Anson said he had just improved his team by signing pitcher John Tener, who was playing for the East End Athletic Club in Pittsburgh, for a reported $2500 for the remainder of the season.   He also spoke to a reporter from The New York Times:

“Mr. Anson is inclined to think that New York will ‘take a tumble,’ and if it occurs soon the Giants’ chances of closing the season at the top of the pile are woefully thin.”

Another New York paper, The World, was determined to not let Anson forget his prediction.

Three days after he made the comment, The World said Anson and Giants Manager Jim Mutrie had bet a $100 suit on the National League race, and:

“(Anson) has been busily engaged in predicting a tumble for the Giants. Jim says that tumble is not coming.”

Within a week the White Stockings had dropped to eight games behind the Giants.  The World said:

“Anson’s prophecies much resemble the boomerang.  He swore Mutrie’s men would take a tumble, and his own men are fast getting there themselves.”

The paper also taunted Anson with a front-page cartoon:

 anson18880

The taunting continued.  After Chicago lost 14 to 0 to the Indianapolis Hoosiers on August 31:

“Did Brother Anson notice anything falling in Indianapolis yesterday?”

Another front-page cartoon on September 6:

anson18881

A week later, after the Colts took three straight from the Giants in Chicago, and cut the New York lead to five and a half games, The World attributed it to “Two new men for Anson’s team;” umpires Phil Powers and Charles Daniels.   The Giants managed win the fourth game of the series 7 to 3; the paper said Giant pitcher Tim Keefe was “too much for Anson and the umpires.”

Chicago never got within six and a half games again.  On September 27 the Giants shut out the Washington Nationals, putting New York nine games ahead of the idle White Stockings.  The World declared the race over on the next day’s front page:

anson1888

All was finally forgiven on October 10.  The Giants had won the pennant, and Anson, on an off day before his club’s final two games of the season in Philadelphia, came to the Polo Grounds and met with Mutrie:

“(Anson) gave Mutrie a check for $100, in payment for the suit of clothes won by the latter.  The two then clasped hands over a similar bet for the next season—that is, each betting his club would beat the other out..  Anson then cordially congratulated his successful rival upon the winning of the pennant, and stated his belief that New York would surely win the World’s Championship.”

The Giants beat Charlie Comiskey’s American Association champion St. Louis Browns six games to four.

Anson’s White Stockings won five National League championships between 1880 and 1886, he managed Chicago for another decade after the 1888 season; he never won another pennant.

Tener, the pitcher signed by Chicago in August posted a 7-5 record with a 2.74 ERA.  He played one more season in Chicago and finished his career in 1890 with the Pittsburgh Burghers in the Player’s League.  Tener later became a member of the United States Congress (1909-1911) and Governor of Pennsylvania (1911-1915), and served as President of the National League.

Mutrie’s Giants repeated as champions in 1889 (and he presumably claimed another $100 suit from Anson), he managed the team through the 1891 season.

“Phil Powers Seems to be Dead to the World”

15 Apr

Phillip J. Powers again left the National League umpire staff at the close of the 1888 season.  In 1889 he returned to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumseh’s, quit in May to become an umpire in the International Association, and then resigned from that job to return to the National League as an umpire in July.

Phil Powers

Phil Powers

The Detroit Free Press said the former and current National League arbiter “would never be a success as an umpire.”

Within weeks he was again at the center of controversy.

After the Boston Beaneaters beat the Philadelphia Quakers on July 25, The Philadelphia Inquirer placed the blame for the home team’s loss squarely on the shoulders of one man:

“Anyone who saw Phil Powers umpire yesterday would set him down as incompetent or dishonest.  While he is neither of these he gave a combination of glaring decisions which robbed the Philadelphia club of the game…It was a hard game to lose and it was no wonder that nearly every one of the 6,7000 spectators joined in hooting at Powers.”

The Inquirer would continue to criticize Powers for the remainder of his career; a few sample quotes.

From 1890:

“Umpire Phil Powers seems to be dead to the world.”

From 1891:

“The rank work of umpire Powers.”

From 1892:

“Umpire Phil Powers has been unanimously elected a member of the Society for the Promotion of Riots.”

The Sporting Life joined the chorus and derided as a “decided detriment to the game,” his work in the Giants-White Stockings series in early August:

“Mr. Powers is not a competent umpire…He does not know the rules, and judging from his decisions on the bases his eyesight is certainly impaired.”

 The Chicago Daily News quoted “Cap” Anson saying Powers “ didn’t know his business.”

Powers did have one defender.  “Orator” Jim O’Rourke, of the New York Giants, wrote a long letter that was reprinted in The Sporting Life, and other papers, making the case for the “High opinion in which Mr. Powers is held by the majority of professionals”, and using the opportunity to heap scorn on Anson:

“No man ever filled the position to better advantage and with more honor and credit to himself.   Mr. Powers is conscientious, faithful and absolutely fearless in voicing his convictions; neither can there be any doubt of his intentions to discharge impartially the irksome duties which the office entail upon him.

“Anson’s hate of such a man is only limited by the capacity of his nature for hate. Now why is this so? Because this cross-grain brow-beater, with the swaggering air of a Mexican bandit, who is so susceptible to becoming red-headed In the presence of umpires and spectators, is forced by this honest referee to have the result of a game settled by the contesting clubs upon its merits and not by his disgusting methods, which have made him the laughing-stock of all players, not even excepting his own.”

Jim O'Rourke--Defender of Powers

Jim O’Rourke–Defender of Powers

Despite O’Rourke’s defense, the criticisms of Powers continued, but he managed to stay on the National League staff in 1890 and ’91.

The Sporting Life updated readers about the umpire through the 1891 season:

“(Powers) has been catching it along the Western line from spectators, players and reporters.”

“(The Pirates) ready to meet Anson’s team to the call of Umpire Phil Powers, who has never pleased Pittsburgh’s audiences”

“Western critics are unanimously of the opinion that Phil Powers argues too much with the players.”

“(Cleveland papers) roasted Phil Powers to their hearts’ content.”

In August of 1891 Powers was released as an umpire by the National League.  He died in New York City in 1914.

A postscript:

A story that has appeared in several books and articles (all citing previous secondary sources) claims Powers pulled a gun on enraged fans in either 1888 or ’89.  While similar stories have been attributed to other umpires (for example umpire Joe Ellick, in 1886, was escorted off the field in Philadelphia by police who drew their weapons to protect him from an angry mob) and there are numerous contemporaneous references to irate fans at games, some with Powers as umpire,  none mention the gun incident.

It is probably a conflation of stories such as Ellick’s and a wire service article that appeared in several newspapers in 1906, shortly after “Buck” Ewing’s death, and described another incident involving Powers and Ewing.

“It was in 1889 that one of the worst rows in the history of baseball was precipitated at Cleveland by “Buck” Ewing.  Phil Powers was umpiring and his weakness whenever a critical decision came up was so apparent that the crowd was on pins and needles as to which way the cat would jump.

“(Jimmy) McAleer hit for two bases.  After he had got (sic) to second, Ewing said something to Powers, and the umpire hesitated a moment and then declared McAleer out for not touching first base…(Powers) was not looking at first when McAleer passed, having turned his head as somebody yelled at him from the opposite side of the field.  This was plainly evident to the crowd, and the moment that the spectators understood why McAleer was out they bolted from the stands and made a rush for the umpire.

“(Powers) took one look at the approaching mob and fled to the players’ clubhouse.  The police cleared the field after a while and Powers was induced to come forth and finish the game, but with police protection on either side of him.”

According to the story (which makes no mention of a gun), Powers later admitted that he had no idea whether McAleer had touched first base and simply took “Ewing’s word for it.”

Jimmy McAleer, called out on Ewing's word

Jimmy McAleer, called out on Ewing’s word

“Leather-Fisted Phil”

12 Apr

“Leather –Fisted Phil” is what Phillip J. Powers was called in his 1914 Associated Press obituary which said:

“(Powers) was famous for his ability to stop the swiftest throws of the league’s star pitchers.”

He most likely earned the nickname in 1877 when, like many other catchers of the era, he began using a small, leather pad on his hand while with the London Tecumsehs of the International Association.

After the London team disbanded in August of 1878 Powers joined the Chicago White Stockings.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“He is a tall young fellow…He is described as a good catcher, but liable to get hurt, fair at the bat, and a genial man on the grounds.”

Powers would spend parts of seven seasons and 155 games in the National League and American Association with the Boston Red Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Cincinnati Red Stockings and Baltimore Orioles, hitting .180.  In between his engagements as a player Powers was an umpire.

It was as an umpire that he made a name for himself, but it probably wasn’t what he had in mind.  Few umpires, even in an era when members of the “profession” were poorly trained and underpaid, were the target of as much criticism as Powers.

In 1881 he began the season as a National League umpire.  By July he had become a target in several cities,

The Detroit News said:

“Phil Powers has acquired reputation enough in the last two weeks to last him a lifetime.  The erroneous umpiring he did here, people were inclined to regard as errors of judgment, but to say the least his ‘mistakes’ have become so numerous that his utter unfitness for the position he holds is unquestioned.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer took the criticism even further:

“Powers is said to have been offered $150 to play ball (for the Detroit Wolverines) for one month, but refused it.  As an umpire he cannot, if square, earn more than $15 or $20 a week and expenses; and must take the chance at that of being chosen an umpire.  He preferred to be an umpire.  Several of his decisions on Saturday were grossly unfair, and, what is worse, they bore heavily on Cleveland.  They were so one-sided that many of the spectators believed he deliberately purposed to give the game to Troy.”

Despite the ill feelings in Cleveland, Powers joined the Blues in August and caught five games for the team after Michael “Doc” Kennedy was injured and John Clapp was “called away by an illness in his family.”   He finished the season with the New York Metropolitans in the Eastern Championship Association.

Powers again became a full-time player from 1882-1885, and was part of the Red Stockings American Association championship team in 1882.  He was released by Cincinnati in July of 1885, signed with the Baltimore Orioles and was again released the following month.

1882reds

1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings, Phil Powers standing 2nd from left

Powers was signed by the St. Louis Browns in the spring of 1886, but released before the beginning of the season, and was added to the National League umpiring staff in August.  He again worked as an umpire through the 1887 season, left to return to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumsehs in the International Association, but again returned to the National League as an umpire in August of 1888.   He came back just in time to find himself in the middle of a controversy involving two Hall of Famers.

New York Giants catcher/captain William “Buck” Ewing was hit on the wrist by a ball during a game with the White Stockings in Chicago.  In 1888 the opposing team’s captain had to agree that an injury was serious to necessitate a substitution; Chicago’s “Cap” Anson said he did not agree to a substitution when backup catcher “Big Bill” Brown entered the game in the 6th inning.  Anson appealed to the umpire, and according to The Chicago Inter Ocean, “(Powers) said that Captain Ewing was not so badly hurt that he could not play.”

After a heated argument, during which The Inter Ocean said Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner,” Powers declared the game “forfeited to Chicago by a score of 9 to 0.”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Powers had been involved in a similar situation in 1886, refusing to allow Philadelphia Quakers catcher “Deacon” McGuire to leave a game after an injury.  The Chicago Tribune said Quakers captain Arthur Irwin “told McGuire to catch ‘away back’ (from the plate).” The Tribune said Irwin’s actions created a “scene” and “pandemonium reigned,” until Anson agreed to allow Philadelphia to replace McGuire.  White Stockings President A.G. Spalding “preferred charges against umpire Powers” for losing control of the game.

The substitution rule was changed in 1891, putting an end to controversies regarding the replacement of injured players.

But controversies involving Powers continued.  More on Monday.