Tag Archives: Philadelphia Quakers

“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.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #2

8 Apr

A few items from 1888 to 1890:

Largest bat 

Jonah William “Quiet Joe” Knight appeared in the National League as a pitcher for six games with the Philadelphia Quakers in 1884, posting a 2-4 record, and returned in 1890 as a left fielder with the Cincinnati Reds, hitting .312 in 127 games.  He also spent 16 seasons in the minor leagues and was one of the premier hitters in the Eastern League.

When Knight joined the Reds in 1890 The Cincinnati Post said he “uses a larger bat than any other professional.”  Reds shortstop Ollie Beard said:

“I can hardly swing the bat Knight uses let alone hit a ball with it.”

It was said Knight had his bats made to order in his home town St. Catherine’s Ontario, Canada.

joeknight

“Quiet Joe” Knight

Baseball in German

The Boston Herald reported in 1890 that New York’s German language paper Staats-Zeitung hired a baseball editor and would be recapping National League and American Association games:

“Naturally he has been obliged to invent words to describe the technical plays and points and how well he’s succeeded  will be seen from the following:”

???????????????????????????????

Harry Wright’s Team Unimpressive

After the 1887 season Hall of Famer and baseball pioneer Harry Wright took his Philadelphia Quakers on a tour of West Coast along with the Chicago White Stockings, New York Giants and St. Louis Browns; playing exhibition games against each other and with California League teams.

After seeing Philadelphia play The San Francisco Call was unimpressed with the National League’s second place team:

“The ‘Phillies’ will have to improve wonderfully to make their games at all interesting.  They may plead excuses, but they cannot disguise the fact that they played rank ball, and very rank at that.  Their initial effort stamps them as about fourth class, and it will require a brilliant rally to convince people in this section that they are ball-players.  There is not a team in the California League that will not give them a hard game and perchance defeat them.”

Unfortunately there is no record of  how Philadelphia fared on the rest of the tour.

Harry Wright, center, with his 1887 Philadelphia Quakers

Harry Wright, center, with his 1887 Philadelphia Quakers