Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Alleghenys

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.

The League That Billy Sunday Helped Shut Down

12 Nov

The Eastern Illinois League began with great promise in the spring of 1907 to fill the void created by the collapse of the first incarnation of the Kitty League.  Joe “Wagon Tongue” Adams, an Illinois native who appeared in one game for the 1902 St. Louis Cardinals, was said to be the guiding force behind  the league, he was also manager on the Pana Coal Miners.  Adams had helped create the Central Illinois League two years earlier with teams from many of the same cities—unlike the 1905 effort, the Eastern Illinois League was granted membership in the National Association.

The six-team league had franchises in Centralia, Charleston, Mattoon, Pana, Shelbyville and Taylorville, and elected Charles Welvert, a Pana businessman  league president.  Midway through the 1907 season the Centralia team relocated to nearby Paris, Illinois, and replaced Welvert as league president by Louis A. Godey Shoaff (often incorrectly spelled “Schoaff”), editor and publisher of The Paris Gazette.

The teams in Charleston, Mattoon, Pana and Paris were supported, as The Associated Press said, “In great part from saloon interests.”

The league made news in August, when during a heated series between the Mattoon Giants and the Pana Coal Miners, The Sporting Life reported that Mattoon second baseman Fred Wilson during a dispute with  Pana manager Adams:

“Wilson put Adams down with a straight jab on the jaw. The manager came up, but another blow in the same place fractured his chewing apparatus.”

The Mattoon Giants won the 1907 championship, led by the pitching of future Major Leaguer Grover Lowdermilk, who posted a 33-10 record with a 0.93 ERA.  Although records for the league are nearly nonexistent, contemporary newspaper accounts mention other past and future Major Leaguers who appeared in the league including Harry Patton, Joe Yeager (after his release from the St. Louis Browns in 1908), Cecil Coombs, and Hosea Siner.

The league appeared to be in good shape heading into 1908, adding teams in Danville, Illinois and Vincennes, Indiana.  But as it prepared for the beginning of its second season other forces were ensuring it would be its last.

William Ashley “Billy” Sunday, the former outfielder for the Chicago White Stockings, Pittsburgh Alleghenys and Philadelphia Phillies, turned evangelist and temperance supporter was spending the early months of 1908 holding a five-week long  revival in Decatur, Illinois and advocating for citizens throughout Illinois to vote their towns dry during local option elections in April.

Sunday’s revival was a huge success, according to The Associated Press “there were 5,843 conversions;” and the service “on ‘booze’ was attended by 8,000 enthusiastic local optionists.”

When the polls closed on April 7, six of the league’s eight towns were voted dry.  The Associated Press said:

“With the saloons out of business, subscriptions of new stock (in the teams) will be cancelled in many instances.”

The league was in trouble.  It got worse worse when Sunday moved his revival to Charleston in April and began a new crusade against playing games on Sunday.

The 1908 season was chaotic.  New investors were scarce.  Some Sunday games were played, but attendance was down.  In July the Danville Speakers relocated to Staunton and the Pana Coal Miners moved to Linton, Indiana (incorrectly listed on Baseball Reference as Linton, Illinois).  Early in August the Mattoon Giants were on the verge of collapse.  The league finally disbanded on August 20, 1908, the Speakers were declared 1908 champions.

Professional baseball never returned to Charleston, Pana, Linton, Staunton, and Shelbyville.  Taylorville had a team in the Illinois-Missouri League in 1911.  Vincennes was part of the reformed Kitty League in 1910-11 and 1913.  Beginning in 1910 Danville was in and out of the Three-I League for the next forty years.  Mattoon did not have a professional team again until 1947, Paris until 1950.

%d bloggers like this: