Tag Archives: Phonney Martin

“Since I was a boy, I Have Heard this Question Asked”

9 Jan

Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman began his career in 1860 with the Putnam Club in Brooklyn, after spending 50 years in baseball, “Baseball Magazine” asked him to weigh in on the best players he had ever seen.

Chapman hedged on who was the greatest pitcher:

“Ever since I was a boy, I have heard this question asked.  I maintain that it cannot be answered, for the simple reason that there have been so many really wonderful pitchers…Let us go ‘way back in the old days.  There was Tom Pratt, Dick McBride, (Phonney) Martin, Jim Creighton, Arthur Cummings, Bobby Mathews, and Al Spalding, all first-class men.”

chapman

Jack Chapman

Of Spalding, Chapman said, “He had speed and command.  He knew how to use his head to fool and opponent.” McBride could “outwit” opposing hitters, and Mathews and Cummings were “foxy.”

Chapman also described what he said led to Creighton’s death in 1862—this version of events appeared later that year in Al Spink’s book, “The National Game,” and remained the narrative surrounding Creighton’s death until the home run story was debunked in recent years.

Chapman said of Creighton’s death:

“(B)aseball met with a most severe loss.  He had wonderful speed, and with it, splendid command.  He was fairly unhittable.”

creighton

Chapman rattled off another 20 names, then said:

“Now mind you, I am not undertaking to mention all the crack pitchers that ever lived—just those who occur to me.  Of course, I never knew one who was a bit better than Charley Radbourn, a man who would go in the box day in and day out and work under any and all conditions, who would pitch when men of the present day would shrink from undertaking.  Rad would go in the box when his arm was so lame that he could not lift it as high as his head when he started to warm up; yet he would keep at it and pitch a game his opponents could not fathom.  He was a very strong man, full of pluck, and used splendid judgement in his pitching.”

Chapman said the Providence Grays teams that Radbourn was a part of were “the best balanced” of their time.  Chapman mentioned third baseman Jerry Denny could “play with either hand,” and that:

“Rad was about as capable with his left as he was his right and was a wonderful fielder.  He liked to go on the field and warm up with the boys and would go in the infield or the outfield—it mattered not to him—anywhere there was an opening—he loved the game so well.  Rad could hit a little bit, too.”

radbourn

Radbourn

Chapman also singled out Charlie Ferguson, “who died in the zenith of his career.  Chapman said Ferguson, “could doubtless play every position better than any one man ever could.  He was also a very fine batsman and a speedy chap on the bases.”

Chapman said of Cy Young:

“No man ever had better command of the ball than did this pitcher.  Here certainly is a model ball player, just as modest as he is skillful.”

While Chapman named as many as 20 “greatest” pitchers, he settled easily on the best player of all-time:

“To name the best man in baseball history in any position is almost invariably a matter of opinion and often one is just as good as another.  I know of but one ballplayer upon whom I firmly believe the burden of opinion will rest as the best ballplayer ever produced, and that man is John Henry [sic, Peter] Wagner— ‘Honus,’ as he is known.  He certainly is the best card and is strong in every particular.  He is a wonderful batsman, base runner and fielder.  He makes easy work of the most difficult plays, and he would certainly excel in any position to which he were assigned—whether in the outfield or the infield.  Wagner is fairly in a class by himself.  Others have shown for awhile then lost their glory, but Wagner shines forever.”

wagner

Wagner

When Chapman died six years later, The Brooklyn Eagle mourned the loss of “one of the few remaining links between the pioneer days of baseball and the present.”