Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Alleghenys

“This Player has More Honor Than 99 Business men out of 100”

17 Sep

James Palmer O’Neill was the President of the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys—one of baseball’s worst teams of all-time.  With mass defections to the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Players League, the club won four of their first six games, then began a free-fall that ended with the team in eight place with 23-113 record.

O’Neill, who held an interest in the club, but bought controlling interest from Owner William Nimick before the 1891, kept the team afloat during that disastrous 1890 season, and according to The Pittsburgh Dispatch, never lost his faith in the prospects of National League baseball in the city right through the final road trip:

“(The team) landed at Jersey City, bound to play the last series of the disastrous season…They had great difficulty in raising the  money to pay ferryboat fares to Brooklyn and things were awfully blue.  It was raining hard when I met Mr. O’Neill later that morning at Spalding’s Broadway store, and the prospects of taking the $150 guarantee at the game in the afternoon were very slim…(reporters) asked Mr. O’Neill about his club and the outlook for the League.

‘”Never better!  Never Better! We shall come out on top sir, sure.  We’ve got the winning cards and we mean to play them.’”

The paper said O’Neill’s luck changed that day as “he wore his largest and most confident smile, and used the most rosy words in his vocabulary…such pluck compelled the fates to relent.”

The rain stopped and O’Neill was able to leave Brooklyn “with $2000 or more in his clothes,” to meet expenses.

Before the 1891 season, O’Neill told Tim Murnane of The Boston Globe, just how difficult it was to run a National League club during the year of the Brotherhood:

“I think I could write a very interesting book on my experience in baseball that would be worth reading.  How well I remember the opening game in Pittsburgh last spring, and how casually President Nimick was knocked out—and O’Neill laughed heartily at the thought of Nimick’s weakening

“After witnessing the immense crowd of nearly 10,000 people wending their way to the brotherhood grounds, Nimick and I went to the league park.  As we reached the grounds, Nimick walked up to the right field  fence and looked through a knot hole. ‘My God,’ said he, and he nearly fell in a heap at my feet,  ‘Can it be that I have spent my time for 10 years trying to build baseball up in this city and the public have gone entirely back on me?’”

oneillpix

O’Neill trying to catch a championship, 1891

O’Neill said:

“I looked and could see about two dozen people in the bleachers, and not many more in the grand stand (contemporary reports put the attendance at 1000).  Nimick and I then went inside the grounds, and when the bell rang to call play we started up the stairs to our box, carrying the balls to be used in the game.  When about half way up, the president staggered and handed me the balls.  I went up to throw one out for the game.  Nimick turned back, went home without seeing the game, and was not in humor to talk base ball for several weeks.”

O’Neill then told how he managed to keep the team going for the entire season while Nimick planned to fold the team:

“When he came around about four weeks later it was to disband the club, throw up the franchise and quit the business.  I talked him into giving me an option on the franchise for 30 days.  When the time was up I put Nimick off from time to time, and as I didn’t bother him for money he commenced to brace up a little.  I cut down expenses and pulled the club through the season, and now have the game on fair basis in Pittsburgh, with all the old interests pulling together.”

Despite the near collapse of the franchise—or maybe because the near collapse allowed him to get control of the team—O’Neill had good things to say about the players who formed the Brotherhood:

“I have great admiration for the boys who went with the Players’ League as a matter of principle, and will tell you one instance where I felt rather mad.  About the middle of the season, Captain Anson was in Pittsburgh and asked me if I couldn’t get some of my players to jump their contracts (to return to the National League).  “All we want,’ said Anson, ‘is someone to make the start, and then (Buck) Ewing, (King) Kelly, (Jimmy) Ryan, (Jim) Fogarty and other will follow.’

“I told Anson that I had not tried to get any of my old players back since the season started in, but that Jimmy Galvin was at home laid off without pay, and we might go over and see how he would take it.  The Pittsburgh PL team was away at the time.

“We went over to Allegheny  , where Galvin lived, and saw his wife and about eight children.  They said we could find him at the engine house a few blocks away, and we did.  Anson took him to one side and had a long talk, picturing the full downfall of the Players’ League and the duty he owed his family.  Galvin listened with such attention that it encouraged me.  So I said: ‘Now, Mr. Galvin, I am ready to give you $1000 in your hand and a three year contract to return and play with the League.  You are now being laid off without pay and can’t afford it.’

“Galvin answered that his arm would be all right in a few days, and that if (Ned) Hanlon would give him his release he might do business with me, but would do no business until he saw Manager Hanlon.  Do what we would, this ball player, about broke, and a big family to look out for, would not consent to go back on the brotherhood.”

galvin

Galvin

O’Neill said he told Anson after the two left Galvin:

“’I am ashamed of myself.  This player has more honor than 99 business men out of 100, and I don’t propose any more of this kind of business.’ I admire Galvin for his stand, and told Anson so, but the Chicago man was anxious to see some of the stars make a break so the anxious ones could follow.”

O’Neill, after he “lit a fresh cigar,” told how Murnane how he negotiated with his players:

“At the close of (the 1890) season (George “Doggie”) Miller came to me and wanted to sign for next year, as he had some use for advance money.  I asked him how much he thought he was worth, and he said $4000 would catch him.

‘”My goodness son, do you what you are talking about?’ said I, and handing him a good cigar asked him to do me a favor by going home, and while he smoked that cigar to think how much money was made in base ball last season by the Pittsburgh club.  I met Miller the next day at 3 o’clock by appointment, and he had knocked off $800, saying he thought the matter over and would sign for $3200.

“’Now you are getting down to business,’ said I.”

O’Neill sent Miller home two more times, and after he “smoked just for of my favorite brand,” Miller returned and signed a three year contract at $2100 a season.

O’Neill said:

“You see that it always pays to leave negotiations open until you have played your last card.”

Murnane concluded:

“For his good work for the league and always courteous treatment of the players’ league, Mr. O’Neill has the support of not only his league stockholders, but such men as Hanlon, John M. Ward, and the entire Pittsburgh press.  He has the confidence of A.G. Spalding, and is sure to give Pittsburgh baseball a superior quality next season.”

Reborn as the Pirates under O’Neill, the club improved slightly in 1891.  O’Neill, who according to The Pittsburgh Press, lost as much as $40,000 during the 1890-91 season “a blow from which he never recovered financially,”  left Pittsburgh to start the Chamberlain Cartridge Company in Cleveland; he returned to Pittsburgh and served as president of the Pittsburgh Athletic club—which operated the Pirates—from 1895-1898.

He died on January 6, 1908.  The Associated Press said in his obituary:

 “(He was) known from coast to coast as the man who saved the National League from downfall in 1890, ‘the brotherhood year.’”

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The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

“He fell off the Face of the Earth”

28 Aug

Charles Hazen Morton could run.  When he was playing shortstop and managing the Akron Independents in 1881 The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“Morton, shortstop with the Akrons, can run like a deer.  It is probably that no one in the country can beat him for fifty yards.”

Morton’s major league career in the National League and American Association was unspectacular; he hit less than .200 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1882, and the Toledo Blue Stockings and Detroit Wolverines in 1884 and ’85, he also managed Toledo and Detroit–Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday Wilberforce Walker played for Morton with the Blue Stockings  He also managed the 1890 Toledo Maumees; Toledo’s only other season as a major league city.

Morton continued to manage minor league and independent teams through 1899.

After five years away from baseball he was the driving force in organizing several independent teams in Ohio and Pennsylvania into the eight-team Ohio-Pennsylvania League.  He was named president.

For two seasons, the league ran smoothly.  So smoothly that, according to The Akron Beacon Journal he was being aggressively pursued by owners in the Central League to assume the presidency of that league during the summer of 1906.  Morton chose to stay put.

As smoothly as things ran for two seasons, the tide turned badly in 1907.  Attendance was down all season and several franchises were on the verge of bankruptcy, and four teams wanted to leave the league entirely.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer said:

“Four O and P League clubs want a new league; four do not.  Four assert they will retire from baseball rather than be associated with the other four.  The league is deadlocked.  Neither side will give in.”

The Youngstown Vindicator said, “There seems to be no question that President Charles H. Morton will have strong opposition.”  Despite efforts to unseat Morton, he was narrowly reelected president of the league.

Ultimately, four teams did leave to form the Ohio State League.  But Morton told The Sporting Life at the beginning of 1908 that he had managed to bring in four new clubs and was confident for the future of the O and P despite rumors that the league was in financial disarray:

“No, I do not think this is going t0 be a disastrous campaign.  The money stringency may hurt the crowds to a certain extent, yet people in this section of Ohio differ little from their brothers in other parts of the country. The germ of baseball Is not sporadic.”

He predicted that attendance would increase.

It didn’t, and things never got better for Morton.  After the 1908 season, it appeared all but certain he would be removed as president.

In December, two days before the league meeting was to begin in Pittsburgh, Morton abruptly canceled it.  A new meeting was scheduled for January in Cleveland and Morton’s fate seemed to be sealed.

On January 12 he traveled to Cleveland with representatives from the Canton Watchmakers and Akron Champs, likely his last two supporters.  But when the meeting was called to order Morton was nowhere to be found.  Samuel Wright, who had managed the Youngstown Champs the previous season, was elected president.

The Youngstown Vindicator said:

“He fell off the face of the earth so far as anybody knows.”

Charles Hazen Morton

Charles Hazen Morton

Some speculated he had run.

He disappeared with $2500 of the league’s money.  As days dragged into weeks there was no sign of Morton.

The Chicago Tribune said his friends were concerned that he had “done away with himself,” despondent over his pending removal as president.

The Marion Star said, “It is feared he has been thugged.”

The Pittsburgh Press advanced a conspiracy theory.  Under the headline “See Deep Plot in Morton’s Absence.”  The paper claimed  the Canton and Akron clubs realizing that he would be ousted had conspired with the president to have him disappear so, “Wright while really elected is far from president (of the league).”

But there was no conspiracy, Morton had really disappeared and remained missing for more than two months.

On March 16 he resurfaced.  Morton was found “wandering aimlessly” on Wabash Avenue in Chicago, near his brother’s home.  The Akron Beacon Journal said he was diagnosed with “Acute dementia (and) his mind is now a blank.”

The only clues where Morton had been for more than two months, were papers in his pockets which indicated he had been in Mexico and Texas and, The Beacon Journal said, “He mutters incoherently about Corpus Christi.”

He recovered enough to return to Akron by August of 1909.  His brother reimbursed the league $1500 that was not recovered after he was found.

Morton faded into obscurity after his return to Akron.  There was no follow-up to his story.  None of the many questions about his disappearance were ever answered.  And whatever happened in Corpus Christi died with him in 1921.

This is a longer version of a post from 12-14-2012.

Happy Labor Day—the Oberbeck Case

1 Sep

Henry Oberbeck is barely a footnote in baseball history—he appeared in 66 American Association and Union Association games in 1883 and 1884, hitting just .176—but he scored a rare, early victory for the rights of players.

Henry Oberbeck

Henry Oberbeck

 

In 1883, after appearing in just two games with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, Oberbeck was released and signed with the Peoria Reds in the Northwestern League.

No records survive for Oberbeck’s time in Peoria, but the outfielder caught the eye of St. Louis Browns owner Chris von der Ahe, and the St. Louis native jumped his contract with Peoria to sign with the Browns on May 24.

Chris von der Ahe

Chris von der Ahe

Oberbeck’s short tenure with St. Louis was unimpressive.  He played four games and was hitless in 14 at-bats.  The Browns released him on June 23.

He found himself out of a job in the American Association and was unable to return to Peoria because he had been blackballed by the Northwestern League.

Oberbeck filed a lawsuit in St. Louis claiming the Browns owed him the entire amount of his contract –$785.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the “case is regarded as a test,” and is “being fought very earnestly.”

The March 1884 trial included testimony from  Overbeck’s teammates, catcher/outfielder Tom Dolan and pitcher George “Jumbo” McGinnis.  Dolan, a .204 lifetime hitter whose .214 average lowest among the Browns 1883 regulars testified that Oberbeck was a poor hitter who “hit wind nearly every time.”  McGinnis also said Overbeck deserved to be released.

Despite the testimony of his teammates, the jury found in favor of Oberbeck and ordered the Browns to pay him $431.12—although most newspapers incorrectly reported the amount paid as $738.

The press assumed the decision would have a lasting impact.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“The case is one of interest to base ball players, inasmuch as it proves that the contracts are binding upon the part of the club as well as the player.”

Oberbeck was signed by the Baltimore Monuments of the Union Association for 1884, and played a total of 60 games for Baltimore and the Kansas City Cowboys that season—he hit .186 as an outfielder/first baseman and was 0-5 in six appearances as a pitcher.

The Browns appealed the case and lost, but by the time the appellate court upheld the original decision in Henry Oberbeck v. Sportsman’s Park and Club Association in April of 1885, Oberbeck’s victory for the rights of baseball players was already largely forgotten.

In 1885, The Post-Dispatch said Oberbeck had been reinstated by the Northwestern League, although there is no record of his ever having returned to the league.   The Youngstown Vindicator said he had signed with that city’s team in the Interstate league for 1885 season.

No statistics survive for Oberbeck after 1884, and his groundbreaking role in baseball’s labor movement is all but forgotten.

He returned to St. Louis after his career and worked for the post office until his death from cancer in 1921.

Sam Crane on International Baseball

30 Jul

Samuel Newhall “Sam” Crane, like Tim Murnane, turned to sports writing after his career on the field ended.  His involvement in a scandal might have contributed to his departure from the diamond—but contrary to oft-repeated stories it was not the direct result.

Sam Crane

Sam Crane

Crane was named as a respondent in a Scranton, Pennsylvania divorce in 1889—a prominent Scranton businessman named Edwin Fraunfelter (some contemporary newspapers incorrectly said “Travenfelter”) charged that Crane had stolen his wife, and $1500.  Crane had played for the Scranton Miners in 1887 and ’88 and departed the city with Fraunfelter’s wife Hattie in 1889, relocating to New York.  Crane and Hattie Fraunfelter were returned to Scranton to face trial for the theft.

In October of 1889, they were acquitted.  The Philadelphia Times said the two were released and Mr. Fraunfelter was ordered to pay the court costs, and “The congratulations which were showered on the second baseman and the woman made a scene in the courtroom.”

Despite the scandal the New York Giants (twice) and the Pittsburgh Alleghenys were happy to sign Crane in 1890.  The end of his career was more of a result of the 36-year-old’s .179 batting average and diminishing fielding skills—twelve errors in 103 total chances at second base–and, of course, he probably wouldn’t have found himself in Scranton in 1887 and ’88 had his career not already been on a downward trajectory.

Crane immediately went to work for The New York Press upon his retirement and remained one of the most respected sports writers in the country.  He edited the “Reach Guide” from 1902 until his death in 1926.

In 1905 Crane, then with The New York Journal, wrote about the boom in International baseball on the eve of the visit of the Waseda University baseball team:

“The Japanese are nothing if not progressive, and even with their country in the throes of a disastrous war (The Russo-Japanese War) they have found time to devote attention to our national game.”

Crane said the Waseda visit would:

“(M)ark a red letter day in the history of the game,  It will be a sensational era in the life of the sport, and in fact, that of all athletic sports.”

Japan was not alone in embracing the game:

“Baseball is also flourishing in South Africa.  The Transvaal Leader, a progressive newspaper, has taken up the sport and publishes full scores of the games and the records of the players.

“There is a South African baseball association and the players of the different teams can hit the ball, even if they have not yet attained the accuracy and agility in fielding their American cousins have reached.  According to The Leader, out of thirty-seven batsmen who figure in the official  record from July 1 to October 8, twenty-three of them batted over .300…A batter named Suter of the Wanderers was the Lajoie of the league, and he made our own ‘Larruping Larry’s’ record of .381 look like a bush league mark.  Suter’s batting percentage was .535.

“The second batter to Suter was Hotchkiss, also of the Wanderers, who walloped out a base hit every other time at bat, making his average .500…Wonder what the Africans would do with ‘Rube’ Waddell and the Chesbro ‘spit ball?’”

As evidence that the South Africans had “grasped the American style of reporting games” Crane gave an example from a recent edition of The Leader:

“’The diamond was very hard, and, as a consequence, the ball frequently wore whiskers, as some infielders can testify.’”

Crane expressed surprise that baseball had taken such a “stronghold” in an “English possession”  like South Africa:

“Britons, wherever found, look upon the great American game as a direct infringement on the sporting rights as established by cricket.

“’It is only an offshoot of our rounders,’ they are wont to say, and that ancient game is about on the level of ‘one old cat’ and ‘barnball.’

“Englishmen are extremely conservative about their sports, especially of cricket, which is considered their national game, and in their own stanch little island they have always pooh-poohed baseball.  But when the Briton gets away from home influences he becomes an ardent admirer of the American game and is loud in his praise of the sharp fielding it develops.

“In Canada, South Africa and Australia, where there is more hustling, and time is more valuable than in the staid old mother country, the quick action, liveliness and all around hustling of baseball that give a result in a couple of hours, is fast becoming more popular with the colonials than cricket, that requires as many days to arrive at a decision.

“Great strides have been made in baseball in the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands.  Honolulu is the headquarters just now, but the game is fast spreading to other localities.  The game has been played in the Sandwich Islands for many years, but it was not until the United States was given possession that it flourished.”

Crane mentioned that his late brother Charles–who died in 1900, and incidentally, married his brother Sam’s ex-wife who Sam divorced before leaving Scranton with Mrs. Fraunfelter) had been the catcher on the team representing the naval vessel the USS Vandalia and frequently played games against teams in Hawaii and Samoa during the 1880s:

“The natives took to the game very quickly and soon learned to enjoy it.  They welcomed every arrival of the Vandalia with loud demonstrations of joy, and there was a general holiday whenever a game was to be played.”

Crane predicted that baseball would continue to flourish in the islands, and throughout Asia, noting that a Chinese player “plays third base on the leading club, and has the reputation of being the best player in the whole league.”

He was likely referring to 20-year-old Charles En Sue Pung, a teammate of Barney Joy’s on the Honolulu Athletic Club team who was also one of Hawaii’s best track athletes.  Pung was rumored to be joining Joy when the pitcher signed with the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League in 1907, and in 1908 there were brief rumors in the press that Chicago Cubs Manager Frank Chance wanted to sign the Chinese third baseman—neither materialized, and he remained in Hawaii.

Charles En Sue Pung

Charles En Sue Pung

Crane said the growth of the game internationally would be endless; he said the introduction of the game in the Philippines was a prime example:

“(T)here are several enclosed grounds in Manila to which are attracted big crowds…I know they can learn to play the game, for when the (New York) Giants were in Savannah (Georgia) for practice last spring a team of soldiers from a nearby fort played an exhibition game with the Giants.”

Crane said the team was accompanied by “a young Filipino, who, while he did not play on the soldier team, practiced with them and showed surprising proficiency… (The) youth knew all the points of the game as well as Henry Chadwick.”

For Crane, that was enough to declare that “in short order” the Philippines would adopt the game as had, and would, “all people that are blessed with real red blood and progressive.”

“Each Club has its own Particular Omens”

29 Jan

James Aristotle “Jim” Hart gave one of the earliest interviews on the superstitions of ballplayers.

Hart sold his interest in the Louisville Colonels of the American Association before the 1887 season—he was an original investor in the team in 1882 and managed the club in 1885 and ’86—and bought controlling interest in the Milwaukee Cream Cities in the Northwestern League.

James Hart, 1886

James Hart, 1886

 

Before he left the Colonels, Hart accompanied the team on a tour of the  West Coast in December of 1886, and talked to a reporter from The San Francisco Chronicle:

“Why my dear fellow you have no idea to what ridiculous extremes most ball players allow their superstitious inclinations to carry them.  It’s a wonder to me that none of you newspaper men have ever written them up.”

Hart said “Each club has its own particular omens, you know there are four or five favorite beliefs which are held in general esteem by all.  In the East the boys always go to the grounds on the day of the game in hacks, and if they should win they go next time in the same carriages if they can get them, but anyway by the same route, around the same corners and along the same streets.  Should fortune prove averse and defeat be their lot another route is chosen next time and different carriages selected.  To meet a funeral procession on the way to the ball grounds it is also considered good luck, but should their driver be so rash as to cross the road and break through the line of mourners’ carriages I verily believe the boys would murder him.  It is considered such a bad omen that the boys would remain on one side of street all day rather than cross the line.”

“To meet a cross-eyed person is the worst kind of luck.  The only antidote for it is to turn around immediately and spit over your left shoulder before you speak.  It’s kind of amusing sometimes to see half a dozen or so fellows suddenly whirl around altogether like pivot machines and spit over their shoulders while walking quietly along the street, and without saying a word, too.  It was done here on Market Street a few days ago by some of my boys, and I guess the people must have thought then either drunk or crazy.  Another good mascot is to have a dog run across the diamond either just before or during a game.   The Pittsburgh team carried a dog around with it all last season that had run across the field early in the summer.  It didn’t matter that the poor brute had no tail, and was all over sores and all that, he was a mascot just the same and the boys were proud of him.  I reckon there has never been a dog so handsomely treated as that one was.”

“One of the greatest jonahs we have is to commence packing up the bats before the game is finished.  No matter how the score stands at the time, your luck is sure to flop right over and give the victory to the other side.  To illustrate it to you more clearly, I will relate an incident that occurred to our nine early last season at home (the game was actually played August 16, 1885).  We were playing a match game with the Pittsburgh team.  Luck went clear against us all day, and at the beginning of the ninth inning the Pittsburghs (Alleghenys) had ten runs to our five.  It seemed an utter impossibility to catch up that difference in one inning, and I can tell you we felt pretty blue.  Victory looked so sure for the Pittsburghs that Pete Meegan, an extra man belonging to that team, who was sitting on the bench, begin packing up the bats when the last inning was commenced.  You may not believe it, but it’s an actual fact and a matter of record; our luck changed from that instant (Louisville won 11-10).  Manager (Horace) Phillips of the Pittsburghs was crazy with rage, but he didn’t blame any of his players.  He could have murdered Meegan though for bringing on a jonah by packing up those bats before the game had finished. I don’t remember very clearly, but I think Meegan got let out subsequently.  At any rate he was fined heavily for his offense (Meegan never played in the major leagues after 1885; whether he was “let out” by Phillips because of this incident or his 14-20 record in two American Association seasons is unknown).

Pittsburgh Alleghenys Manager Horace Phillips

Pittsburgh Alleghenys Manager Horace Phillips

Another funny idea we’ve got is to pick out a saloon we think to be lucky, and drink a glass of beer there on the day of the game and have the glass set on one side for us.  If we win, then we go to that saloon every day after and drink out beer out of the same glass.  Of course if our luck should change then we try another saloon.  This don’t apply to every nine, because some of them are not allowed to drink at all during the season, under penalty of a heavy fine.  In addition to these things, some clubs belonging to the league are called jonah clubs.  That is, there are some clubs against which it is useless for us to attempt to play.  It doesn’t make any difference whether we consider our own the best team or not, they are jonahs and we can’t beat them.  Loss of confidence has a great deal to do with it, I suppose.”

“The Chicagos’ mascot for the past three seasons has been a little boy in short clothes named Willie Hahn.  The tiny fellow is just able to talk and always sits on the bench during the game.  The Chicagos have the greatest confidence in him as a promoter of success and make a great fuss over him.  Two seasons ago, when the Chicagos won the championship of the league, they hired an open landau upon their return home, put Master Willies in it, bedecked him with flowers and wreaths and hauled him all over the city by hand.  It was a regular triumphal march, you bet. “

Willie Hahn, Chicago White Stockings mascot with Ned Williamson

Willie Hahn, Chicago White Stockings mascot with Ned Williamson

Hart said Willie Hahn, who was white, was unusual.  Most of the teams had black mascots and the players rubbed their heads before batting:

“Sometimes the black boy is kept in a closed hack during the game to prevent contamination from other hands.  The kid then has to duck his head out of the carriage window when the boys want to rub it.”

Hart said the Pittsburgh Alleghenys kept a seat in the stands open for an old black woman “Just before the game commenced the boys would invariably look up to see if old aunty was in her place, and if by chance, she was not there they would lose heart, say the game was ‘jonahed,’ and in all probability, lose it.”  He said the Alleghenys also had two sets of uniform pants “one pair white and the other blue.  One color would be worn so long as the club was successful.”

More from Hart on Friday.

Sam Barkley and the Mobster

29 Oct

Samuel W. Barkley’s brief career on the diamond was highlighted by two legal disputes over his services; his life off the field was more complicated and interesting.

Barkley rose from amateur and semi-pro teams around Wheeling, West Virginia, to a solid season (.306, league-leading 39 doubles) as a 26-year-old rookie with the Toledo Blue Stockings in the American Association in 1884.  Among his teammates in Toledo were Fleetwood and Welday Walker.

Toledo was only a major league franchise in 1884—The Toledo Blade said the team had lost “nearly $10,000–and disbanded, selling five players, including Barkley, to the St. Louis Browns—the sale included pitcher Tony Mullane, who attempted to sign with Cincinnati after agreeing to sign with St. Louis, leading to his year-long suspension.  By the time all the legal wrangling was done, only Barkley and Curt Welch reported to the Browns.

After a .268 season in St. Louis, owner Chris Von der Ahe sold him to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, but Barkley had already signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles.  The American Association suspended and fined Barkley; Barkley sued.  The dispute was settled with Barkley being reinstated and Pittsburgh paying the fine on his behalf.

Sam Barkley

Sam Barkley

After two years in Pittsburgh, he was purchased by the Kansas City Cowboys, and that’s when his life got more interesting.

In Chicago, he met an 18-year-old woman named Dora Feldman, who followed him to Kansas City, where as The Toledo News-Bee said, “most of his money was thrown at the feet of the young woman.”

Barkley later told The Chicago Inter Ocean that the day before he married Dora “she went to her room in a Kansas City hotel and took poison, fearing he would not marry her.”

He hit just .216 in 1888 but was hitting .284 the following season when he was sold to the Toledo Black Pirates in the International League.  After just 50 games there his career was over.  At some point during the 1888 season he suffered a knee injury he said ended his career:

“I knocked a safe one to left field, and was dancing around between first and second bags when (Mike) Mattimore, the Philadelphia (Athletics) pitcher attempted to catch me napping.  He ran to the base line, and as I attempted to slide back to the first bag he unintentionally gave me the ‘knee’ and it injured severely the knee cap on my left leg.”

With his playing days behind him, Barkley, who was reported to have made as much as $1,800 a season with the Alleghenys, returned to Pittsburgh with a young wife who had aspirations to be an actress and opened a cigar store.  It didn’t end well.

It didn’t end well.

After just more than a year in business, The Pittsburgh Press said Barkley’s store on Smithfield Street closed by order of the sheriff, due to “claims aggregating $3,600.”

The couple moved to Chicago.  Things initially went better there.

Barkley opened a tavern at 292 West Madison Street, and he and Dora had a son who was born around 1895.

Shortly after they returned to Chicago Dora met Chicago’s first crime boss Michael Cassius “Mike” McDonald.  Richard Henry Little of The Chicago Tribune said McDonald “never held office but ruled the city with an iron hand.”  McDonald built a gambling and protection syndicate, controlled the Garfield Park racetrack, and solidified his control of the city as leader of the local Democratic Party.  He was also heavily involved in legitimate businesses—he owned The Chicago Globe newspaper and financed the building of Chicago’s first elevated rail line.

Mike McDonald

Mike McDonald

Years later Barkley told The Inter Ocean about his wife’s first meeting with McDonald:

“She was introduced to him at a box party in McVicker’s Theater shortly after the close of the big fair (World’s Columbia Exposition), in 1893…I remember the night distinctly.  Dora came home to our place at 319 Washington Boulevard and told me that she had met a very fascinating old man (McDonald was 44), who reputed to have a lot of money.

“’Watch me get a piece of that money,’ Dora said to me, jestingly, and fool that I was I laughed at the supposed joke.”

Dora Feldman Barkley McDonald

Dora Feldman Barkley McDonald

There are several versions of what happened next.  One involves an elaborate (seemingly too elaborate) story that suggested Barkley was lured by a friend of McDonald into a compromising position involving women and drugs—only to be “caught” by his wife.  The more likely version was that he was simply paid off—The Inter Ocean said he received $30,000 to divorce Dora.

Barkley never acknowledged receiving the money and only said:

“(Dora and McDonald) had planned between them to oust me, and no matter what I might have done, it would have been all the same in the long run.  With his money and his influence, McDonald could put it over me any time he wanted.”

Dora eventually became McDonald’s second wife in 1898, (his first wife, who once shot a police officer—she was acquitted—had eloped to Europe with a priest).

By 1897, Barkley had opened a new tavern at 15 North Clark Street, which was frequently in the news.

Sam Barkley

Sam Barkley

The Chicago Tribune called it a “notorious saloon,” and The Chicago Daily News reported on several occasions that the saloon had its license revoked temporarily for various criminal activities and violations; in 1900 The Inter Ocean said a grand jury report was “almost an indictment of the city administration for its toleration of the dives, all-night saloons, and resorts for thieves and the depraved.”  Of Barkley’s location the grand jury said:

“Men and women drinking, swearing and carousing, with music; open after midnight in the past.  Several murders have been committed in front of this door.”

As with all such “clean-up” drives during that era in Chicago, nothing came of the grand jury report.

Dora again made headlines in 1907—and as a result so did her ex-husband.

The Inter Ocean said:

‘Mike ‘ M’Donald’s Wife Kills Artist in His Studio

“Dora McDonald, wife of Michael C. McDonald, millionaire, politician, traction man, and ex-gambler, shot and killed Webster S. Guerin, an artist, behind the locked doors of his studio in the Omaha Building, LaSalle and Van Buren Streets yesterday.”

Barkley was quickly contacted by reporters and told his sad story of how Dora had left him.  The paper said:

“The story that Sam Barkley slowly grieved his life away over the loss of his pretty wife is disproved by the discovery of Sam Barkley alive and prosperous in Chicago today.”

Dora McDonald was eventually acquitted, but Mike McDonald did not live to see it, he died during her trial.

Barkley fell on hard times in Chicago soon after the killing.  In August of 1908 a six-inning benefit baseball game was played at Comiskey Park between two Chicago City League teams–“Nixey” Callahan‘s Logan Squares and the Rogers Parks–“to raise enough money to start him in the cigar business.”  The Chicago Examiner said, “A fair-sized crowd turned out.”

Fred Pfeffer played first base for the Rogers Parks and “was the hero of the game with two hits besides fielding in grand style,” another former big leaguer, Emil Gross, served as umpire.

Shortly after that Barkley was operating a cigar store in his hometown, Wheeling, West Virginia.

There was one last chapter in the Barkley story.  Soon after he returned to West Virginia he was living in poverty and became ill, and died on April 20, 1912.  The Chicago Daily News said several days before his death a former baseball acquaintance was summoned to his side:

Billy Sunday called on him.  He talked baseball for a while and then religion.  At the end Sam liked both equally well.”

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

Dora McDonald was contacted for a comment:

“It is a closed incident—it’s so long ago that I knew him.  But I’m sorry.”

She eventually married a doctor, moved to California and died in 1930.

The First Triple Play in the West

12 Sep

On April 4 of 1880, the California League San Franciscos and Athletics met at the Recreation Grounds (the park was located at 25th and Folsom).

San Francisco's Recreation Grounds

San Francisco’s Recreation Grounds

Two newspapers in town treated the key play of the game very differently.

The San Francisco Bulletin’s coverage of the game was headlined:

Extraordinary Base-Ball Play

The San Francisco Chronicle headline:

An Uninteresting Game with a Score of 4 to 1—Very Poor Playing on the Part of the San Franciscos

In the eighth inning, the San Franciscos’ Al Mast was on second and Andy Piercy was on first.  George “Live Oak” Taylor was at the plate.

Hall of Famer James “Pud” Galvin was pitching for the Athletics; Galvin, in a contract dispute with the  Buffalo Bisons, played several months in California before jumping the Athletics to return to Buffalo in May.

Pud Galvin

Pud Galvin

The second baseman was Jim McDonald, a 19-year-old San Francisco native.

The Bulletin’s first paragraph referred to “The feature of the game” and said:

“(Taylor) struck a powerful ‘liner’ to second base, which was neatly captured by McDonald, and placing his foot on second forced Mast out, and then threw the ball to first in time to cut Piercy off.  The play was vociferously applauded.  There is but one other instance in the history of the national game where this play has been made.”

(The article was referring to Providence Grays center fielder Paul Hines’ disputed unassisted triple play, turned two years earlier versus the Boston Red Caps)

The Chronicle, while mentioning McDonald’s play was less impressed, mentioning the play deep into its much longer recap of the game.  The paper noted that McDonald made three errors earlier, and “in a measure he redeemed himself by an effective pay in the eighth inning,” the paper described the play and noted that McDonald “was deservedly applauded for it.”

Despite the triple play The Chronicle questioned the wisdom of McDonald being in the lineup:

“(McDonald) is a player of some promise, but the policy of putting him in the important position he fills is a questionable one.  In his practice games his playing in brilliant, but in a match contest he appears to lack the necessary confidence, and in baseball vernacular he falls all to pieces.”

Jim McDonald

Jim McDonald

McDonald played primarily on the West Coast, but had a brief career in the East, spending time in all three major leagues in 1884 and 1885.  He played two games for the Washington Nationals in the Union Association, 38 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in the American Association and five with the Buffalo Bisons in the National League.

After his playing career ended in 1894, McDonald was an umpire in the National League and California League, and a West Coast boxing referee; he officiated many fights including Jim Jeffries 1898 victory over Peter Jackson and Abe Attell’s 1903 20 round draw with Eddie Hanlon.

His active career came to an end in 1904 when he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis; he died in 1914 in San Francisco.

“He was Greater than Ty Cobb ever dared to be.”

15 Aug

Hall of Famer Jake “Eagle Eye” Beckley still holds the all-time record for putouts and total chances for first baseman, more than 100 years after his career ended.  He also hit .308 for his career and his 244 triples rank fourth on the all-time list.

However, it appears he wasn’t a great source on who was the greatest player ever.

Jake "Eagle Eye" Beckley

Jake “Eagle Eye” Beckley

In 1915 Beckley told a Kansas City reporter that he had played with the greatest player ever.  Over the next year the quotes appeared in many newspapers including The Washington Post and The Pittsburgh Press:

“You can have your Ty Cobbs and your Benny Kauffs, I’ll take Billy Sunday for my ball club right now, and I said the same thing back in the nineties.”

Beckley said the ballplayer turned evangelist was as good as any player he’d seen:

“He’s fifty-two years old today, but he’s running bases and sliding every day in that pulpit just as he did back in the old days.  If he’d stayed in the game Cobb never would have been famous.

“He was greater than Ty Cobb ever dared to be in three departments of the game.

“Everybody thinks Cobb can run bases.  I’d spot him a second against Billy Sunday and then watch Bill score first.”

Sunday was the first player to circle the bases in 14 seconds.

“They think Cobb covers outfield territory.  They should have seen Sunday in his prime.

“And throw—say he could throw from center field just as easily as Tris Speaker.”

Beckley had several excuses for Sunday’s weaknesses as a hitter:

“Batting was where Sunday was weak, but in another year or so he would have overcome that weakness.  E was just that kind.

“He had more fight in his heart than any man I ever saw.  He was learning more about the art and science of batting every day.

“You see, Billy Sunday broke in under a handicap.  Pop Anson picked him up because of his speed and not because of his baseball ability.  He was fast, but when he started in a bat was strange to him.

“He fanned so many times his first year (18 in 55 plate appearances) he must have been busy when the season ended.  But when he came to our ball club (Pittsburgh Alleghenys 1888) he was improving and improving fast.”

Sunday’s “fast” improvement resulted in .236, .240 and .258 batting averages from 1888-1890.

Beckley concluded that Sunday’s “calling” was the real reason he never became a good hitter:

“But he didn’t give enough attention to his batting.  He used to spend a lot of time before the game in the clubhouse always reading the bible or studying.”

Sunday walked away from baseball after the 1890 season to accept the position of assistant secretary with the YMCA in Chicago; he became one of the nation’s most popular evangelists and died in 1935.

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

Beckley played until 1907, collecting 2934 hits during his 20-year career.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971, more than 50 years after he died in Kansas City at age 50.

“California Wonder”

30 Apr

Two West Coast ballplayers dubbed “California Wonder” by the press made their Major League debuts less than a week apart in 1887.  One went on to be one of the best leadoff hitters of his era; the other remains almost completely unknown.

George Van Haltren was a 21-year-old left-handed pitcher, outfielder and first baseman who had played two seasons with the Oakland franchise in the California and California State Leagues.

James McMullin, birth date unknown, had pitched for Mike Finn’s San Francisco Pioneers in 1886.

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Pioneers

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Pioneers

Van Haltren’s rights were acquired by the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, but because of his mother’s illness he said he would instead play for the San Francisco Haverlys.  The Chicago White Stockings traded for Van Haltren in April, but he still refused.  The Sporting Life said “the California Wonder will not come east,” quoted him saying:

“No, I will not play with Chicago this season; but if my left arm holds out and my parents are blessed with good health I will be open to Eastern engagements next season.”

The White Stockings threatened to have him blacklisted for not reporting but Van Haltren dug his heels in; only changing his mind after his mother passed away in May.

The Chicago Inter Ocean announced that he had arrived in town on June 25 and would be making his debut for the White Stockings on the two days later:

“(Van Haltren) at one time retired the Pioneer Club of San Francisco with a hit, and struck out seventeen men.  If he can continue this record here the Chicagos will come out of the race this season with another set of figures to put on the big flag at the park.”

Van Haltren’s debut was not good.  He walked 16 Boston Beaneaters and lost 17 to 11.  He finished the season 11-7, and would spend one more season as a full-time pitcher; going 13-13 in 1888 (he was 15-10, splitting time between the mound and outfield with the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders in the Players league in 1890).  Van Haltren would distinguish himself as one of the game’s best leadoff men, hitting better than .300 every year from 1889-1901, except for 1892 when he hit .293.

Van Haltren ended his career in 1903 with 2544 hits.

George Van Haltren

George Van Haltren

McMullin’s debut was no better than Van Haltren’s.

He began the 1887 season with the Pioneers, but was acquired in June by the new York Mutuals of the American Association.

When McMullin joined the club The Sporting Life said:

“The Mets have got their new California pitcher and like him well in practice.  He has plenty of speed.”

McMullin made his debut on July 2 against the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  The New York Times said of his performance, under the headline, “A ‘Wonder’ Exploded.  The Mets’ California Pitcher A Failure:”

“The debut of McMullen, the ‘California Wonder,’ was made (in Cincinnati) today in the presence of nearly 7,000 people, who went into hysterics from laughing at the awful exhibition given by the Wonder and his support.  He was utterly unable to get the ball over the plate and was miserably supported in the field.  After the third inning he retired to right field and there made a couple of errors.”

He gave up eight runs, made four errors and had two wild pitches in a 21-7 drubbing.

The box score from McMullin's debut.

The box score from McMullin’s debut.

McMullin only made two more appearances for the Metropolitans, and while he was credited with wins in both games his performance was no better; in his eight-day, three-game career he pitched 21 innings, gave up  25 runs (18 earned),  25 hits, walked 19, and struck out 2.  He made a total of five errors, and had one hit in 12 at bats.  The Mets released him on July 10.

And with that McMullin disappeared—there is no record of him having pitched anywhere after he left New York, there’s no record of whether he  threw and batted left-handed or right-handed, no pictures survive, and no record of when or where he died.  Another enigmatic figure of professional baseball’s early years.