Tag Archives: Phillip “Red” Ehret

“Demoralizing a Successful Organization For the Sake of a Few Unimportant, Mediocre Ball Players”

19 Sep

When Charlie Babb jumped from the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association to the Memphis Egyptians in the Southern Association in June of 1902, he was not alone.

Pitcher Jim St. Vrain, recently released by the Chicago Orphans and under contract with the Tacoma Tigers in the Pacific Northwest League, signed with Memphis rather than going to Tacoma.

Another American Association player, Second baseman Bill Evans of the Columbus Senators, also jumped to Memphis.  The Cincinnati Enquirer said he jumped being suspended by the Senators for being “too drunk” to take the field on June 18.

Memphis manager Charlie Frank’s three new players would be a source of controversy in the Southern Association for the remainder of the season and a continuation of an ongoing feud over the league’s salary limit which The Sporting Life said: “a majority of the clubs are known to have violated.”

Charlie Frank

Charlie Frank

Southern Association President John Bailey Nicklin, acting on orders from Patrick T. Powers, president of National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL), ordered Frank not to play any of the three.  Frank not only defied the order but according to The Atlanta Constitution, gave Nicklin a “lecture in abuse,” and threatened to “break the league.”

Throughout July, the situation became increasingly absurd.

On July 11 Nicklin ordered umpire Ed Cline (the same Ed Cline who may, or may not, have initially approached Babb about jumping) to not allow St. Vrain to pitch against the Nashville Volunteers, managed by Frank’s biggest ally in the league, Isaac Newton “Ike” FisherThe Atlanta Constitution said Cline became mysteriously “sick and could not work,” although he “was upon the grounds while the game was being played.”  St. Vrain and the Egyptians beat the Volunteers 8 to 5 with “Red” Ehret and Nashville’s Bill Dammann acting as umpires.

After the game Frank was suspended for 10 games and threatened with being blacklisted if he played St. Vrain again.  Later that week Frank received a temporary injunction allowing him to continue using St. Vrain. And while Babb and Evans had been suspended by the league and were not covered by the ruling, Frank continued to put both in the lineup.  Frank also continued to manage the team despite his own suspension.

On July 25 Frank was again ordered by Nicklin not to play Babb and Evans.  This time, he complied, for one day.  The two players sat out an 8 to 4 victory over Atlanta (St. Vrain pitched for Memphis).  Both were again in the lineup the following day, and on July 27 Frank filed a suit against the league and Nicklin seeking $10,000 in damages.  He also sought and received an injunction “restraining President Nicklin from interfering with the playing of Babb and Evans.”

The Constitution began calling the team the “Memphis Injunctionists.”

The Sporting Life said Frank was:

“Demoralizing a successful organization for the sake of a few unimportant, mediocre ball players.”

Nicklin, the league, and the NAPBL blinked first.

Two days after the suit was filed an agreement was reached.  Babb and Evans would remain with Memphis and were reinstated from suspension; the fourth place Egyptians agreed to forfeit every game in which Babb and Evans participated in while under suspension—dropping the team to fifth place.

The controversy appeared to be over.  It wasn’t.

On August 4 the Egyptians arrived at Athletic Park in New Orleans to play the second place Pelicans.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune said:

“Under orders of (Pelicans) manager Abner Powell a big policeman today refused admission to St, Vrain, Evans and Babb, of the Memphis club, when they tried to enter.”

The game was canceled

The following day:

“Manager Frank again took his team to out to the park, but admission was refused to St. Vrain, Evans and Babb.”

The umpire, picked by the Pelicans, “declared the game forfeited to New Orleans,” and Powell shared with the press a telegram from the Little Rock Travelers which read:

“Congratulations upon your firm methods.  We will stand with you.”

Despite the earlier agreement, the NAPBL announced that Frank and St. Vrain were still under suspension.

Jim St. Vrain

Jim St. Vrain

On August 9 the Shreveport Giants refused to allow St. Vrain into the ballpark for a double-header.  Memphis took the field for each game with only eight players and no pitcher.  They forfeited both games to the Giants.

Memphis was due to travel to Little Rock for a three-game series from the 11th through the 13th.  The Travelers announced that they “would not play with St. Vrain and Frank in the game.  Babb and Evans will be allowed to play (but) under protest.”

On August 12 Nicklin resigned at a meeting of league owners in Chattanooga (Memphis and Nashville refused to attend).  He said he was “almost helpless to enforce the rules of the league,” because of Frank’s numerous injunctions.  He was replaced by vice president William Kavanaugh.  A motion was passed to suspend Frank and St. Vrain indefinitely, but Babb and Evans were officially reinstated.  Again.

In response, Frank filed another $10,000 lawsuit naming every team in the league except Nashville.

On August 27 in Nashville, St. Vrain started for Memphis.  President Kavanaugh fined Nashville $1000 and “suspended that club for the balance of the season,” he threatened “drastic measures’ towards Memphis as well, but for the several injunctions that kept him from acting.  Two days later the suspension was lifted.

On August 30 a Little Rock judge enjoined Frank from “playing or attempting to play St. Vrain in any state.”

The Atlanta Constitution headline summed up the opinion of most Southern baseball fans on September 22:

To The Relief of All the Season is Now Over

As an appropriate end, Memphis beat Atlanta on the final day of the season behind the pitching of the still suspended Jim St. Vrain.

The no longer suspended Nashville Volunteers won the pennant.

The Indianapolis Indians, the team Charlie Babb jumped, won the American Association pennant.

Charlie Babb

Charlie Babb

The Indianapolis papers had predicted that Babb’s career would be doomed when he jumped.  In 1903, he was purchased by the New York Giants.  He played in the National League with the Giants and Brooklyn Superbas through the 1905 season.  In 1906, he became a minor league player/manager; with the Memphis Egyptians.  He stayed with Memphis until 1910 and managed to become embroiled in one more controversy.

Jim St. Vrain was only 19-years-old during that 1902 season.  He finished 12-4 with Memphis.  He went to the West Coast in 1903.  His career was over after the 1905 season.

Bill Evans played in the Southern Association until 1906; he eventually became a member of three different teams who refused to play against him in 1902: New Orleans, Shreveport, and Little Rock.

Charlie Frank did just fine in the end.  More on that next week.

“Baseball will be in Utter Disrepute”

18 Sep

As common as contract jumping was during the first 30 years of organized baseball, there are very few cases in which the particular inducements that led to the player breaking his contract are available.  Such is the case with Charlie Babb.

Before the 1902 season, Babb, a 29-year-old journeyman infielder, signed to play with the Indianapolis Indians in the newly formed American Association (Indianapolis was a member of the Western Association in 1901).

The Sporting Life described  as “a base-hit killer,” but “anything but a graceful fielder.”  The St. Paul Dispatch said:

 “He covers all kinds of ground, and it is next to impossible to lay down a bunt and get away with it.”

Charlie Babb takes batting practice in Indianapolis in 1902.

Charlie Babb takes batting practice in Indianapolis in 1902.

Babb was installed at third base where The Indianapolis Times said he would be an improvement over previous third baseman Eddie Hickey who had committed 49 errors in 101 games in 1910; Babb told The Indianapolis News “he will try his best to make Indianapolis fans forget that there ever was a third-baseman by the name of Hickey.”

Babb quickly became a favorite with fans and the press.  When the Indians moved into second place in June The Times said Babb won games for the team with “his hands, feet and bat.” The News said:  “Babb can borrow a dollar from the left field bleacherites any time he wants to.”

Babb was hitting .308 in 182 at bats through June 22, and his popularity in the city was why a small item that appeared in several Midwest and Southern papers that day was largely ignored in Indianapolis.

Charlie Babb

Charlie Babb

It said that earlier in June, while the Indians were playing in Louisville, Babb was approached by Philip “Red” Ehret, a Louisville native who knew something about jumping, and currently played for the Memphis Egyptians in the Southern Association (some versions said it was a Southern Association umpire named Ed Cline who approached Babb).  The story said Ehret had “urged” Babb to jump and that “Babb turned him down.”

Disinterest over the story in Indianapolis turned to outrage two days later.  Babb had not turned Ehret and Memphis down; he jumped the Indians to join the Egyptians.

The News said:

“Babb, the deserter, was one of the most popular players ever in this city, and by his action it is doubtful he ever again will have such a place in the affections of any city.”

The Indianapolis papers provided precise details of just what was offered:  Babb would receive $45 more a month, a $300 bonus, $80 transportation expenses, and a winter job in Memphis.

The News said “Contract jumping is the greatest evil that afflicts baseball at present,” and warned that “baseball will be in utter disrepute,” if something wasn’t done to end the practice; Ignoring the “evil” of the reserve clause.

Orville “Sam” Woodruff replaced Babb at third base.  Within days, The News, which less than a month earlier had called Babb “the best third baseman” to ever play in Indianapolis; said Woodruff had played so well that “Indianapolis fans don’t care if he never comes back.”  The Times said “Babb has nothing on Orville Woodruff in the field or at the bat.”

Orville "Sam" Woodruff

Orville “Sam” Woodruff

Babb was not the only jumper to join Memphis is June.  Bill Evans, a Louisville native and friend of Ehret left the American Association’s Columbus Senators to join the Egyptians and Jim St. Vrain, after being released by the Chicago Orphans, signed with Memphis despite being the property of the Tacoma Tigers in the Pacific Northwest League.

Tomorrow: the fallout from Babb, Evans and St. Vrain signing with Memphis.

“Fear of the Black List has Stopped Many a Crooked Player from Jumping”

9 Sep

For a brief period in the mid1890s, George Jouett Meekin was considered among the top pitchers in the game; he might never have had the opportunity, but for what The Sporting Life called “The disastrous effects of Chairman Young’s somersault.”

Jouett Meekin

Jouett Meekin

 John Montgomery Ward, Meekin’s manager with the New York Giants, said he was, along with Amos Rusie, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson and Kid Nichols, the “most marvelous pitchers as ever lived.”

Charles “Duke” Farrell, who caught Meekin and Rusie with the Giants, said:

“Sometime, it seemed to me that (Meekin) was actually faster…Rusie’s speed struck the glove with a bruising deadening, heavy shock, and Meekin’s fastest gave a sharp, sudden sting.”

But in 1891 Meekin was a 24-year-old pitcher in his third season with the St. Paul Apostles in the Western Association. The New Albany, Indiana native became a well-known amateur player across the Ohio River in Louisville before signing his first professional contract with the Apostles in 1889.  His sub .500 winning percentage was not enough to keep the American Association’s eighth place Louisville Colonels, from inducing Meekin to jump his contract with St. Paul.

In June Meekin jumped; at the same time third baseman Harry Raymond jumped to Colonels from the Western League’s Lincoln Rustlers.

The National Board of Control, created after the 1890 season as part of the “peace agreement” between the National League and The American Association after the collapse of the Players League, to arbitrate contract disputes, acted quickly.  Board Chairman (and National League President) Nick Young announced that Meekin and Raymond would be “forever ineligible to play with or against a National Agreement club.”  The statement, signed by Young, also said:

“This order or any other that may hereafter be made for the same cause, will never be modified or revoked during the existence of the present board, whose term of office will not expire for five years.”

The move was applauded by the press and no less a figure than “the father of baseball,” Henry Chadwick, who called Raymond and Meekin part of a “venal cabal” of jumping players.

Despite the promise that the order would “never be modified or revoked,” Young did just that.  Within weeks of issuing the order, both players were reinstated.

The backlash was swift.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer called the reversal “nauseating.”  The Cincinnati Times-Star said it was “one of the greatest mistakes ever made.”  The Milwaukee Evening Wisconsin said Young and the board chose to “toss the National Agreement into the fire.”

nickyoungpix

Nick Young

James Edward Sullivan, founder of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) said the reinstatement of the “arch-culprits” Meekin and Raymond “was the worst in the history.”  He predicted dire consequences as a result:

“Heretofore the fear of the black list has stopped many a crooked player from jumping or doing dishonest work.  But from now on it will be different.  A precedent has been formed.”

Raymond jumped back to Lincoln, taking Colonels’ pitcher Phillip “Red” Ehret with him to the Rustlers.  Meekin remained with Louisville and moved to the National League with the Colonels the following season.

Meekin had a 10-year big league career as a result of Young’s reversal.

From 1891-93, Meekin was 29-51 with Louisville and the Washington Senators and was traded to the Giants (along with Duke Farrell) before the 1894 season.  He was 33-9, and fellow Indiana native Amos Rusie was 36-13, for the 2nd place Giants.  Meekin had two complete game victories in the Giants four game sweep of the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the Temple Cup series (Rusie won the other two games).

The New York Evening Journal called Meekin “Old Reliable,” and said, “He can push ‘em up to the plate in any old style, and is factor with the stick.”  The pitcher hit .276 with 29 RBI in 183 at bats in 1894 (including hitting 3 triples in a game on July 4) and was a career .243 hitter.

Meekin won 102 more games (including 26, and 20 win seasons in 1896 and ’97), but as O. P. Caylor said in The New York Herald he suffered from “a lack of control.”  Meekin walked 1056 batters and struck out only 901 in more than 2600 innings, he also hit 89 batters; in 1898, he broke Hughie Jennings nose with a pitch.

After posting a 16-18 record for the seventh place Giants in 1898, Meekin, along with Rusie, and second baseman William “Kid” Gleason, were blamed by New York owner Andrew Freeman for the team’s disappointing finish.  Freeman told reporters:

“Meekin, Rusie and Gleason will be either sold or traded.  We do not want them.  I’m going to break up cliques in the team even if I have to get rid of every man.  There must be harmony.  Without it we can’t win games.  We have too many men who are simply playing for their salaries and do not seem to care whether they win or not.”

Rusie had injured his arm late in the season and sat out the next two years.  Meekin and Gleason, despite Freedman’s promise, returned to the Giants for the 1899 season.  The team finished in tenth place, and Meekin struggled with a 5-11 record.

He was sold to the Boston Beaneaters in August for a reported $5000, although it was commonly assumed that the Giants received much less, or simply “loaned” Meekin to Boston for the stretch run; a charge made by Brooklyn Superbas manager Ned Hanlon.  Although Hanlon’s charges have become “fact” in countless books and articles over the years, several newspapers, including The Pittsburgh Press refuted Hanlon’s story:

“All that talk and fuss about Freedman giving Jouett Meekin to Boston in order to help that team win the pennant and thus get even with Brooklyn is nonsense.  The truth of the matter is that Freedman thought Meekin’s days as a pitcher were over, and he offered him to the Pittsburgh club, but President (William) Kerr thought the same way and did not take him.  At the time Boston’s pitching corps was in bad shape and manager (Frank) Selee took a chance on the big fellow.  There was no underhand dealing in the matter at all.”

Meekin was 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA for Boston, but the team finished second to Brooklyn.  He was released by Boston before the 1900 season and pitched just two games with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being released again in July.  He finished the season with the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers in the Western Association and spent 1902 in the Southern Association with the Memphis Egyptians.

Meekin returned home to New Albany, Indiana, where, in 1910, according to The Trenton True American “his earnings from baseball are well invested in real estate.”

Meekin slipped into relative obscurity by the time he died in 1944.

The original picture that appeared with this post–now below–was misidentified as Jouett Meekin in this blog and by The Louisville courier-Journal in 1897.  According to Mark Fimoff co-chair SABR Pictorial History Committee, the picture was actually Lave Cross.  

Lave Cross--picture earlier misidentified as Jouett Meekin.

Lave Cross–picture earlier misidentified as Jouett Meekin.