Tag Archives: Pie Traynor

“Gibson Comes as Close to Ruth as You’ll Ever get”

24 Mar

In July of 1944, Jim McCulley of The New York Daily News sat with two men watching a game:

“’The greatest ball players I ever saw?’ Said the fellow on my left. ‘That’s easy.’

“’Pitchers? Well, there was Christy Mathewson, old Pete Alexander, Walter Johnson and Three-Fingered Brown. There was Ty Cobb, a fat guy named Ruth and Joe Jackson in the outfield. Catchers? Let’s see now; there was Roger Bresnahan and I guess I have to put Ray Schalk in there along with Roger; There was (Pie) Traynor at third and the old Dutchman at short, of course, but do I have to tell you his name, Hans Wagner? Rogers Hornsby at second and Georg Sisler at first. They were the greatest I ever played against or saw, anyway, and I don’t think they can come much better.

“’Speaker? He was great all right, but naw, not in their class.”

McCulley’s other companion responded that Hal Chase belonged in place of Sisler.

“The fellow on the left smiled and said: ‘Leave me out of it.”

Hal Chase, 61 years old and in failing health, was on the East Coast “on a little vacation” attending games and attempting to rehabilitate his reputation. Although he shaved three years off his age and told McCulley his birthday was in a “couple of days, July 21st to be exact;” Chase’s birthday was February 13.

Chase

McCulley said the former first baseman, despite his many illnesses and injuries, “still has that athletic figure and moves around quickly and with the same grace which made him so outstanding on the ball field.”

Chase said he watched a dozen games on his trip East:

“Even went out to see Josh Gibson play the other day. There’s a hitter. One of the greatest of all time. He hit two home runs and they were belts. Say, if he played in the Polo Grounds 75 games a year, he’d hit 75 home runs.”

Chase even told an apocryphal story about the Negro League star:

“’You know how Gibson happened to start playing pro ball?’ asked Chase. ‘Well, one day the old Pittsburgh Crawfords were moving out of Pittsburgh in a bus. They happened to stop along side of a sandlot diamond on account of a traffic tie up. So they all took a look out the windows to watch the in progress. There was a mighty loud crack and a couple of seconds later a ball bounced off the top of the bus, which was parked about 400 feet from the home plate. Oscar Charleston, who managed the Crawfords at the time, got right out of the bus and hot-footed after the kid who had socked the ball.”

It is not clear whether the story was invented by Chase or a story he had picked up, but it ignores that Gibson began his professional career with the Homestead Grays and was well-known as a semi-pro player before his first professional game.

Chase said Gibson was the second-best player he’d ever seen:

“That fat guy was the greatest, of course. Nobody can come close to Ruth. He was the greatest that ever lived, better than Cobb or anybody else. If Ruth ever shortened up on the bat, he’d have hit over .400 every year. But Gibson comes as close to Ruth as you’ll ever get.”

Gibson

As for his own legacy:

“Chase still gets emotionally upset when the talk gets around to his final days as a player. It’s a well-known fact that he didn’t leave the game of his own accord, but we won’t go into that here.”

McCulley said the “name of Chase belongs alongside those of other all-time greats of the diamond,” and:

“The fact that his name isn’t listed in the Cooperstown museum cuts deeper and deeper into Hal as time goes on. It’s the one regret and the one dark thought in an otherwise brilliant baseball saga.”

Chase was dead less than three years later with thesame regret and dark thought unresolved.

His first major league manager, Clark Griffith told Shirley Povich of The Washington Post:

“You wouldn’t believe a man could do all the things on a ball field Chase could do. There wasn’t a modern first baseman who can come close to him. There wasn’t ever any ‘second Hal Chase.’ He was in a class by himself.”

“An Awkward Bunch of Monkeys”

24 Dec

Arlie Latham was the oldest living former major leaguer in 1951—the 91-year-old made his major league debut 71 years earlier.

Will Grimsley of The Associated Press tracked down “The Freshest Man of Earth” and had him pick his all-time all-star team:

“(Latham) has seen them all from Cap Anson right down to Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial.

“’It is tough picking this team,’ said the thin, bent old infielder of baseball’s cradle days, whose memory is still razor-sharp. ‘There are so many good players—so many, especially today.”

Unlike many 19th Century veterans, Latham only selected three players whose careers began before 1900. He said:

“I think the players today are far better than back in the old times. Why, on the whole there is no comparison. Where we had one or two stars on a team back then today every man has to be standout to hold his position.”

Latham at 91

Latham’s team:

P: Cy Young, Rube Waddell, Carl Hubbell, Christy Mathewson

C: Bill Dickey

1B: Bill Terry

2B; Frankie Frisch

#B: Pie Traynor

SS: Honus Wagner

OF Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio

Latham called Cobb, “the greatest all-around player there was.”

He gave Terry the nod over Lou Gehrig because “he was a smoother fielder.”

Buck Ewing was the only catcher “he’d mention in the same breath” as Dickey.

He said “it was hard” to keep Walter Johnson off.

Of his own career, Latham said:

“I was the best man of my day at getting out of the way of a hard-hit ball.”

Arlie Latham

He called the players of his era, “an awkward bunch of monkeys.”

Latham died the following year at age 92.

Billy Evans’ Best Infielders

2 Jun

In his nationally syndicated column, Billy Evans was asked to pick the best 10 infielders he saw during his career as an umpire from 1906 to 1927. He said, “The period has been more productive in great infielders than stars at the other positions.”

billyevans

Billy Evans

Evans starting four were:

1B: George Sisler

2B: Eddie Collins

SS: Honus Wagner

3B Jimmy Collins

The other six were: Hal Chase, Napoleon Lajoie, Rogers Hornsby, Pie Traynor, Buck Weaver, and Roger Peckinpaugh.

Evans acknowledged:

“(A)t only one position do I feel safe against the opinion of fandom and critics and that is shortstop with Hans Wagner as the selection. The great Honus stands out at that position, a remarkably brilliant performer in all departments of the game. I cannot name anyone who quite compares with him.”

wagner2

Wagner

And despite his bias towards the American League, Evans said “Wagner is out if front of all” AL’s shortstops he saw “by a considerable margin.”

He said of his choice for Wager’s backup:

“Although Roger Peckinpaugh was anything but a slugger and couldn’t be rated as more than a fair hitter, I like him better than any other shortstop I have ever seen in the American League. Just as great a fielder as Wagner, one of the smartest players that ever stepped on a major diamond, and a dangerous hitter, particularly in the pinch.”

He said that with “three such sterling performers” at second base, some might disagree with him but:

“I have never seen a smarter player than Collins. On every club that he ever played he was the directing genius, the spark plug. Very fast, a great hitter, an awkward yet brilliant fielder.”

Evans said he picked Weaver as his third-string third basemen, however:

“Were it not for the fact that Weaver dropped out of baseball when he was at the peak of his career, he probably would have established a standard for third base play that would have given him the number one rating.”

buckweaver

Weaver

As for the choice at first base:

“(I)t is simply a matter of taking your choice between George Sisler and Hal Chase. Sisler was a trifle the better batter, Chase a bit better fielder. Sisler a trifle faster. I would give Sisler a slight edge although it might be possible for many to see an equal margin in favor of Chase.”

Lost Advertisements: Hank DeBerry for Mail Pouch

22 May

deberrymailpouch

A 1928 ad for Mail Pouch Tobacco featuring Brooklyn Robins catcher Hank DeBerry:

“Baseball causes more nerve strain than most people think. That’s where Mail Pouch fits in so well. I find that a pinch of Mail Pouch is soothing to my nerves, steadies my work behind the bat, and is the most satisfying chew I know of.”

He caught Dazzy Vance with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1921 and joined the Brooklyn Robins together the following year, they remained together in Brooklyn until DeBerry’s release after the 1930 season.

Before what turned out to be their final season together, the Robins were training in Atlanta, Vance talked about his relationship with his catcher with Ralph McGill–then a sports writer for The Constitution who later became the paper’s editor he was called “The Conscience of the South” as an outspoken anti-segregationist and was awarded the  Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964:

Vance said of DeBerry:

“There are other good catchers, but none of them suit me like Hank. He and I have been together for nine years now. I don’t guess there is another battery in baseball that has been together as long as we have.

“He’s caught every game for me in these nine years except a few he missed  when he was out with a broken thumb. That knuckle ball got away from him and broke that thumb. But at that he is the only man who can catch it when it comes in there just right.”

Not everyone shared Vance’s opinion of DeBerry.  After DeBerry was let go, William H. Ritt, who wrote a column for King Features’ Central Press Association told a story about when Vance signed for $25,000 in 1929 and his salary “was a National League topic” of conversation:

“‘Here,’ chuckled Pie Traynor, ‘comes the other half of that $26,000 battery.’

“‘Pie,’ answered the unperturbed Hank, settling down on the Pirates bench, ‘maybe Dazzy gets the top dough and maybe my pay isn’t so hot, but this is a big sight better than being down on the farm rousing at 3 a.m. to wrestle with the cows.”

 

“I mentioned Satchel and Josh and Cool Papa, I told Him he was Missing the boat”

18 May

After Heywood Broun’s remarks at the 1933 Baseball Writers Association dinner about integrating the game, The Pittsburgh Courier initiated a campaign to push the issue.  Despite some support inside baseball and from well-known newspapermen, the effort fell flat by opening day.

That summer, after the first East-West Game—won by the West All-Stars 11 to 7—at Comiskey Park, Henry L. Farrell of The Chicago Daily News suggested several “(M)ajor league club owners who are now on their knees might have their prayers answered,” by signing some the Negro League stars.

In the fall, The Chicago Defender briefly picked up the mantle from The Courier.  The paper asked their readers:

“How would you like to see the great baseball players of the Race performing in the major leagues? Wouldn’t you like to see Willie Foster, Satchel Paige and (Sam) Streeter pitch to Babe Ruth?”

If so:

“Sit down and write K.M. Landis commissioner of baseball, 333 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.”

The following week, the paper reported that Landis’ office had refused to comment.  When baseball’s winter meetings commenced in Chicago in December, The Defender promised readers that the letters they had sent:

“(A)re not being passed on lightly as many suggested would be the case.  On the contrary, the club owners are downright concerned and from the inside word leaked out that some action would be taken.”

The optimism was tempered later that week when their reporter was barred from covering a meeting where he was told “vital points were discussed.”  The Defender reporter was told no newspapermen would be admitted, but:

“That sinister moves were being made against your author’s admission became a certainty when a well-known writer from one of the downtown papers came along, gave the high sign and was admitted.”

When 1933 came to a close, integration was no closer to being a reality than it was 11 months earlier as Broun stood to deliver his remarks to the baseball writers.

Four years later, Sam Lacy from The Baltimore Afro-American met with Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith in an attempt to revive the subject:

“I mentioned Satchel and Josh and Cool Papa, I told him he was missing the boat.”

Sam Lacy

Sam Lacy

Griffith, he said, told him the timing was wrong, and that Southern-born players would not accept integration.

The next major effort came in 1939.

Political support had generally been limited to socialist and communist organizations—the Young Communist League spent the summer of ’39 gathering signatures to present to Commissioner Landis.  But, in July of that year, the Illinois House of Representatives adopted a resolution which read in part:

“Resolved, by the House of Representatives of the Sixty-first General Assembly.  That the owners of all professional baseball teams in the United States, both in the major and minor leagues be strongly urged to give baseball players of the colored race the same opportunity of becoming players on their respective teams as is accorded to such players of the white race.”

Another push came from Pittsburgh as well.

Wendell Smith, who was playing baseball at West Virginia State College when Broun made his speech in 1933, was now a reporter for The Courier. In July, he promised readers:

“The most exclusive, startling and revealing expose, of the attitude of the major league players and managers themselves, ever written.”

Wendell Smith

Wendell Smith

Over the course of several weeks Smith asked 40 players and eight managers as they passed through Pittsburgh, “Are Negro ballplayers good enough to ‘crash’ the majors?”

The Courier’s Chester Washington said in a column to introduce the series of articles:

“One of the major reasons why Mr. Smith’s discovery is so revolutionary is that the club owners, in trying to pass the buck, have blamed the ban on the players themselves.  They claimed that the injection of colored stars into the clubs would bring about friction and dissention… (Smith) practically disproves this contention.

“Fearlessly buttonholing the managers and outstanding players of all the National League clubs, Mr. Smith received scores of testimonials which should be a revelation to the owners.”

A sampling of the statements collected by Smith:

Ernie Lombardi, Cincinnati Reds:  “(Satchel) Paige is as good as (Dizzy) Dean.”

Johnny Vander Meer, Cincinnati Reds:  “I wouldn’t object.”

James “Doc” Prothro, Philadelphia Phillies: “If given permission I would jump at the opportunity to sign up a good Negro ballplayer.”

Leo Durocher, Brooklyn Dodgers:  “(Satchel) Paige, (Bill “Cy”) Perkins, (Mule) Suttles and (Josh) Gibson are good enough to be in the majors right now…I certainly would use a Negro ballplayer if the bosses said it was all right.”

Gabby Hartnett, Chicago Cubs:  “I am sure that if we were given permission to use them, there would be a mad scramble between managers to sign them.”

Gabby Hartnett

Gabby Hartnett

Dizzy Dean, Chicago Cubs: “If some of the colored players I’ve played against were given a chance to play in the majors they’d be stars as soon as they joined up.”

Pepper Martin, St. Louis Cardinals: “Some of the big league players would object, but on the whole I think they would be accepted.”

Pie Traynor, Pittsburgh Pirates: “believe me when I say I have seen countless numbers of Negro ball players who could have made the grade in the majors.  Only their color kept them out.  If given permission, I would certainly use a Negro player who had the ability.”

Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates:  “Yes, down through the years I have seen any number of Negro players who should have been in big league baseball.”

Over the next five years, Smith would interview more than 150 additional major leaguers, who would echo the sentiments of his original 40, keeping the pressure on professional baseball to desegregate.

Kid Nichols

25 Jun

Add Hall of Famer Charles “Kid” Nichols to the list of those who were convinced that players from an earlier era were of better quality than those “of today,” even if the earlier era was less than a decade before.

Kid Nichols

Kid Nichols

While pitching for the Kansas City Blue Stockings in the Western League in 1903, the 33-year-old pitcher told a group which included a reporter for The Associated Press:

“I am not so sure that the ball players of today are much superior to those of ten years ago in general utility.  It seems to me there was more life and spirit in the games of a decade ago than in those of the present regime.  They weren’t so mercenary in those days and there was much more sportsmanlike spirit.  Nowadays the paramount question with the average player is salary.  He doesn’t care so much about the record of the team he plays with makes as opportunities offered him to make himself individually famous and thus increase the value of his services.  In many clubs teamwork is lacking on account of the intense desire of some of the men to make an impressive showing by individual work.  In the old days one didn’t hear so much of the individual as the playing of the team as a whole an in my opinion baseball would stand on much firmer foundation if the same spirit prevailed nowadays.”

Among the best:

“Take old (Tommy) McCarthy for instance.  As an outfielder none of them had him beaten, and in my opinion there is not an outfielder his equal now.  It was McCarthy who originated the trap ball which he worked so effectively.

“He was absolutely the headiest man in the outfield I ever saw.  You have seen outfielders throw men out at first on line drives, but you haven’t seen it done often.  I’ve seen McCarthy spoil many a legitimate one-base hit by that same play.  Another favorite play of his was this:  A man would be on first and second.  The man at bat would drive to left.  McCarthy would snap it up on a short bound and flip it to second as quick as a flash in time to catch the man who had run off first.  In turn the second baseman would throw the ball to third in time to head off the man who had started from second.  Thus a really legitimate one-base hit was turned into a double play.

“But, speaking of outfielders, Willie Keeler was about as good as any of them for all around ability.  He was like lightning on his feet and was no slouch at hitting.  He certainly did things to me one day in Baltimore.  He faced me four times and this is what he did:  Made four hits to four different parts of the field off of four different kinds of curves.  Keeler was the hardest man to fool I ever pitched to.”

Nichols said Herman “Germany” Long, his teammate for 12 years was:

“(O)ne of the greatest shortstops in the business.  He played with Boston while I was a Beaneater, and of course I had good opportunities to watch him work.  He could cover a world of territory and was a sure and accurate fielder.  You hear many people say that Hughie Jennings in his palmy days was the best infielder ever developed.  In my opinion Long could cover a foot more territory than Jennings.

“When it comes to catchers my preference is, and always has been, Charlie Bennett, whose legs were cut off in a railroad accident at Wellsville, Kansas.  Charlie was always consistent and knew what his brain was given to him for.  He was also an accurate, quick thrower…Martin Bergen was another good catcher.  He was the one who went crazy, you know, and murdered his wife and children.  Bergen always was ‘a little bit off of the top,’ but when he took a notion to do his best, his playing was beyond criticism.  Ed McFarland and (Billy) Sullivan are two right good men, and then there was reliable old Jim McGuire and Charles Zimmer, both of whom were cracker jack.”

bergen

Martin “Marty” Bergen–” always was ‘a little bit off of the top,’

Nichols said as a pitcher “I can hardly be considered a competent judge” of fellow “slabsters,” but continued:

“Personally, I admire the old war-horse, Cy Young, more than any of the others.  He is certainly a remarkable man.  Of the left-handers there a few better than (Frank “Noodles”) Hahn, of Cincinnati; (Christy) Mathewson and (Joe) McGinnity are undoubtedly valuable men.  Clark Griffith is, I think, the headiest pitcher that ever stepped on a rubber.  Among the other great ones are Jack Taylor, Joe Corbett, (Bill) Bernhard, of Cleveland and our own Jake Weimer.

Nichols was largely forgotten as one of baseball’s great pitchers by the time the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaugural class was selected in 1936.  In the late 1940s, a push for his inclusion was led by sportswriter Grantland Rice.  Rice frequently mentioned the pitcher in his columns and in the summer of 1948 quoted two Hall of Famers regarding Nichols’ prowess:

“A few decades ago I asked Christy Mathewson to name the best pitcher he ever faced.  ‘That’s easy,’ Matty answered.  ‘His name is Charles Kid Nichols of Boston.  Nichols isn’t a good pitcher.  He is a great one.’

“I recalled this talk when the mail brought a letter from Ty Cobb at Menlo Park, California.

“‘I think everyone has overlooked one of the greatest pitchers of all time,’ Cobb Writes.  ‘His name is Kid Nichols.  Here are just a few of his records from 1890 to 1906:

“1.  Won three consecutive games on three consecutive days, all pitched in different cities.

“2.  Won 20 or more games for 10 consecutive years.  He won 360 and lost 202. (Nichols’ record was 361-208)

“3.  Won 28 or more games for eight consecutive seasons.  (Nichols won more than 28 games seven times, and not consecutively).”

Despite the inaccuracies in the letter, Cobb and Rice continued to campaign for Nichols and the push to honor him worked.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.

Nichols, right, with Pie Traynor, left, and Branch Rickey at the Hall of Fame in 1949. Traynor was elected in 1948, but his plaque was not presented until 1949

Nichols, right, with Pie Traynor, left, and Branch Rickey at the Hall of Fame in 1949. Traynor was elected in 1948, but his plaque was not presented until 1949