Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Pirates

One Minute Talk: Frank Schulte

28 Oct

Frank Schulte found his stroke again in 1916.  The two previous seasons the left fielder hit .241 and .249 for the Chicago Cubs; when he was featured in the syndicated “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers” series in mid-July, he was hitting in the .290s:

Schulte

Schulte

“I do not feel a bit older than I did 12 years ago (Shulte was a 21-year-old rookie with the Cubs in 1904), and I do not find it any harder to play to ball.  The game has not advanced so much in that time as to make me take a back seat for any younger player and you will find that I will be well up in the batting averages by the end of the season.”

Schulte also took a shot at his managers in 1914 and 1915—Hank O’Day and Roger Bresnahan:

“I think I am giving the Cubs better baseball than I have for years because we have a manager (Joe Tinker) for whom it is a pleasure to work for.”

Tinker

Tinker

Schulte was hitting .296 on July 29 when the Cubs traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates; he hit just .254 for Pittsburgh and finished the season at .278.

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One Minute Talk: Nixey Callahan

27 Oct

As part of the 1916 syndicated series “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers, ” Nixey Callahan, manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, lamented his position:

“It’s the hardest job in the world to manage a big league ball club.  If you win the players discount the manager. ‘We made him’ they say.  If the club loses the cry is, ‘How could we win with such club management.’  Between owner and the public and internal troubles on a club the manager’s lot is no bed of roses, believe me.

Callahan

Callahan

“But it is a stirring life and there’s never any lack of interest if you look at things that way.  The most a manager can do is to teach and direct the players and endeavor to secure their best work.  Beyond that none can go.”

Callahan was not able to “secure” the Pirates “best work,” he was 85-129 with Pittsburgh in 1916 and part of 1917.  The team was 20-40 when he was let go in 1917

President Taft “Not only Likes the Game, but Knows it”

5 Oct

taftbrown

President William Howard Taft,  above shaking hands with Cubs pitcher Mordecai Brown, attended the September 16, 1909 game at Chicago’s West Side Grounds.  Tickets for the game went quickly and scalpers who expected a windfall were foiled by Cubs’ management.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Ticket scalpers who tried to dip their hands into the pockets of local baseball fans  through the opportunity offered to see President Taft at Thursday’s Cub-Giant game were foiled in a novel way by the Cub officials.  How thoroughly did not develop until (the morning after the game).”

The Cubs limited the number of tickets to three for each purchase, but “A flock of scalpers and their agents obtained a couple hundred seats in blocks of three,” but the paper said they were unable to sell most of them.

Taft attended a make-up game, necessitated by a June 9 postponement.

“(Cubs management) had no set of reserved and box seat tickets for (the make-up date).  Instead the regular set printed for the game of June 9, which was postponed, was revised for president’s day…when (scalpers) tried to hawk and dispose of them around the ‘L’ stations and elsewhere prospective buyers were seeing the date ‘June 9,’ became suspicious and would not buy.  Consequently, practically all the seats the scalpers purchased were left in their hands.”

taftcartoon

A syndicated cartoon that appeared the day before the game.

In addition to shutting down the scalpers, the paper said the Cubs went to great lengths to ensure that the game would be incident free:

“Few of those who thronged the park knew of the preparations made to insure safety not only of the nation’s chief but of every person present, nor how ‘carefully the seat reserved for President Taft was guarded from danger that might arise from the presence of any crank.

“On the day before the game the entire plant was inspected by the police and building departments.  Wednesday night three watchmen spent the night in the park.  From early morning two Pinkerton men remained beneath the section of the stand in which the president’s seat was located, and from noon until the president left the grounds there were twelve detectives and secret service men directly beneath that section of the stand.

“The actual number of guardians of the president was close to 500 aside from his own immediate bodyguard.”

The paper said the security force included 50 Secret Service agents, 60 Chicago police detectives and nearly 400 uniformed officers.

The overflow crowd 0f nearly 30,000 watched the Giants behind Christy Mathewson further dash the Cubs pennant hopes with a 2 to 1 victory–over Mordecai Brown–dropping the Cubs six and a half games behind the Pittsburg Pirates.

tafttenney

President Taft meets Giants first baseman Fred Tenney after the game.

The visit by Taft–and his interest in baseball in general–was, important for the game according to The Chicago Daily News:

“The prestige which baseball gains by numbering among its admirers a President of the United States who has graced three major league diamonds during the current season is inestimable.”

Taft attended games at Washington’s American League Park and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh in addition to his Chicago trip.  His presence sent a message to the public that:

“(I)t’s leading citizen, blessed with a clear mind and a great one, approves of its favorite pastime.”

The paper said that while at the game in Chicago, “Taft for an hour and 30 minutes…ate popcorn and drank lemonade as simply as a big boy enjoying a long-expected holiday.”

And, the paper said, his interest in the game was real:

“President Taft is not a baseball fan because it is the popular pastime, but because he is one and because he not only likes the game, but knows it.  That was manifest by the closeness with which he followed each play, scarcely ever taking his eyes off the ball while it was in action.  A leading constituent might be confiding an important party secret to the presidential left eat while another citizen whose name appears often in headlines might be offering congratulations on the outcome of the battle for revision downward to the right auricle, but while both ears were absorbing messages from friends both presidential eyes were steadily watching Christy Mathewson and the Giants revise downward the standing of the Cubs.”

Taft attended games at major league ballparks 10 more times during his presidency.

“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.

 

“The Fourth of July in Baseball has Always been a Day of Reckoning”

4 Jul

During the 19th Century, when completing any given season in the black, or finishing the season at all, was not a foregone conclusion for a large percentage of professional teams; in 1892 O.P.  Caylor of The New York Herald said of Independence Day:

“The Fourth of July in baseball has always been a day of reckoning, as it were.  All clubs, associations or leagues endeavor to retain their breath of life until after America’s natal day so that they may partake in the feast of the turnstiles upon that baseball festival.  The great anniversary of liberty has served many times to lift a weakened club out of financial distress and give it a chance to continue in business probably till the season’s end—at least for a month or two longer.”

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Caylor said everyone in baseball held their breath two years earlier during the run up to the holiday:

“In the early fight between the League and the Brotherhood in 1890, old League generals declared that if the Fourth of July that year should be a rainy day, generally on the circuit many of the Brotherhood clubs would be compelled to suspend before the season ended, but if the day should be fair they might pull through to the season’s end. The day was fair, and the attendance everywhere was large.  That meteorological condition was a blessing not only to the Brotherhood but to the old League clubs as well.”

According to The New York World, on the day after the holiday in 1890, Caylor’s recollections were mostly correct; while the weather was “mostly fair” in several cities, the paper said there was “Bad weather in Boston, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.”  Overall, the Players League won the day, drawing more than 48,000 fans, followed by more than 38,000 for the American Association.  The “old League clubs” were not quite as “blessed“ as Caylor indicated; with home games in two of the three “Bad weather” cities, the National League drew just more than 31,000 fans.

Caylor said while the 1892 season—which included the National league’s only scheduled split-season schedule, with a 12-team league which included four clubs picked up from the defunct American Association —was a struggle for the National League, the only remaining major league would not face the fate of some minor leagues.  The Eastern League’s New Haven franchise folded in June, and in order to not play out a schedule with a nine-team league, “The Athletics of Philadelphia were a little more than willing to ‘cash in,’ and so the circuit was hewed down to an octagon.”

Caylor called the situation in the National League “not so promising,” but said:

“(A) club franchise in that body is so valuable as a piece of property the year around that no fears are entertained of even the most unfortunate of the twelve putting up its shutters and turning its grounds into a sheep’s pasture before the season ends.”

Despite the fact that no team would be “putting up its shutters” before the end of the season, Caylor said that as of Independence Day, only the Pittsburgh Pirates, who “Not one reader in a hundred would have picked,” were operating in the black for the first half of the season, and only because Pittsburgh “has a cheap team.”

Caylor said:

“Of the other eleven clubs a few were about even on receipts and expenditures and some were far behind with losses.  Especially was this the case with the New York and Chicago Clubs.”

Hindsight being Hindsight, just six weeks later, Caylor would suggest that the decision made by league magnates to pare down rosters and institute across-the-board pay cuts at mid-season (July 15), was, at least in Cincinnati, “(A) way to squeeze the old hen into more active and valuable work (laying golden eggs), and on the squeezing they killed her.”

But on “America’s natal day,” he seemed to support the decision of baseball’s executives:

“(They decided the) remedy much be retrenchment. Clubs must employ only the minimum number of players…and salaries must come down…The fact that at least four of the twelve clubs pay over $50,000 each in team salaries proves the ruinous and unbusinesslike height to which baseball salaries were forced by the two years of conflict between the fighting factions.  (John Montgomery) Ward and (Charles) Comiskey each receive $7,000 salary for seven months’ service—a sum proportionately larger than that paid to United States Senators and more while the service lasts than is received by the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

The most egregious example, according to Caylor was:

“The present New York team is a whole sermon against expensive teams.  It draws $50,000 from the club treasury and is one of the bitterest disappointments ever placed upon the field.  There is not even the excuse of ‘hard luck’ or accident to lift the team out of its disgrace.”

The Caylor of August—who called the season “a Dog’s Day Depression,” still held out hope in July:

“There is every reason to believe that this (the second half) will be a much more exciting fight than the first.  The clubs will all start into it with much more certainty of equality, and those that have been weak will make a mighty effort to strengthen the vulnerable places of their teams.”

“In Baseball Words, ‘I Wised up’”

17 Jun

Charles “Babe” Adams was on his way to an 18-9 season with a 2.24 ERA (on the heels of 12-3, 1.11) in his second full season in the major leagues.  The 28-year-old was asked by Chicago journalist Joseph B. Bowles to tell readers “How I Win,” for a series of syndicated articles.

Babe Adams

Babe Adams

Adams was initially reluctant:

“I have been asked to tell how I win, and it may sound immodest for a new man to try to tell such things.  You say it is for the benefit of young players, so I’ll tell some of the things I learned after coming to Pittsburgh.  The first thing I found out was that (Fred) Clarke was boss, and that he knew more about the game than I ever thought was in it. After a few bumpings, I learned that (catcher George) Gibson knew a lot more about what to pitch to batters than I did.  I think I began to improve as soon as I found out these things.  The next was that I had to have confidence in the team to make them have confidence in me.  In baseball words, ‘I wised up.’”

George Gibson

George Gibson

Adams’ view of what made a good pitcher was the same in 1910 as it would be nearly a decade later after he had been released by the Pirates and worked his way back to the team and reestablishing himself as an effective pitcher in his late 30s:

“Now a pitcher can have all the speed and curves and control in the world and still not be a good pitcher until he gets wise.  This Pittsburgh crowd plays the game to win, and it is because they work together, hit together, and because each man relies on the others, that they win.  At first, I thought Gibson made some mistakes in telling me what to pitch.  In fact, I was wrong most of the time.  He taught me what to do with a curve ball, and when my control was good enough to pitch where he wanted the ball pitched, things went right.   Sometimes I laughed at myself remembering the mistakes I used to make—some of them I still make…The pitcher must remember that the chances are the batter is as smart and experienced as he is, and keep thinking all the time;  trying to guess what the batter is thinking, and then pitching something else.”

Adams

Adams

Adams continued to credit his teammates for his success:

“It is a big help tp a pitcher to look around in a tight situation and see where Clarke, or (Tommy) Leach, or (Honus) Wagner are playing.  A fellow can learn a lot and get a lot of help by taking his cue from them and pitching the ball where they seem to want it pitched.  It gives a man confidence, too, to know he can make that batter hit the ball, and that back of him are a crowd of men who will come to the rescue and save him when he needs it.

“I think Gibson did more to make me a winner than anyone else.  He is a great catcher, and he rather inspires a pitcher, and makes him do better.”

Adams credited Gibson with his success in the 1909 World Series—when he won three games:

“In the World Series against Detroit, I made a lot of bad breaks in the first game.  Gibson steadied me up and coached me all the way.  He had a theory the Detroit team would not hit low curves , and after we began to study them and see how they hit, we fed them low curves , fast and slow, just inside the outside of the plate, but always low, and we beat them with that kind of pitching.”

Adams also shared a view of strikeouts that would be repeated by Hall of Famer Addie Joss during Joss’ final interview, two days before his death in 1911:

“I found out striking out batters is not the way to win, and that a pitcher must depend rather on making them hit bad balls or balls where the batter does not expect them to be, than in pitching himself out early in a game trying to strike out hitter.”

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

Adams, who won 194 games (losing 140) with a career 2.76 ERA, struck out  just 1036 batters in 2995.1 innings over 19 seasons.

“If I ever get this Football Junk out of my Head”

23 May

George Henry Capron had a brief and relatively undistinguished professional baseball career.  He said football was what held him back.

Capron first made a name for himself at the University of Minnesota in 1906.  He excelled at football, track and field and baseball, The Minneapolis Tribune called him “a ten-second track man, a weight thrower, and a splendid ballplayer.”

The Golden Gophers football team was 2-2-1 that season; Capron, the starting halfback and drop kicker scored 44 of the team’s 55 points.  He accounted for all 12 of his team’s points (three four-point field goals) in a loss to Amos Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago team.  The Tribune said Capron “Figured in two-thirds of the offensive plays” for Minnesota.

Capron

George Capron

The Chicago Daily News said of Capron:

“(He) is an athlete of exceptional muscular development, although not above the normal size (the 5’ 10” 185 lbs).  he can punt from 50 to 60 yards with little effort with either foot.  The ball after leaving his toe acquires a most peculiar spiral motion, which makes it exceedingly hard to hold…In the work of scoring fielding goals, which appears to be Capron’s specialty, he is unquestionably a star.”

Capron kicking

Capron kicking

Early in 1908, there were rumors that Capron would leave Minnesota at the end of the baseball season and transfer to an Eastern school.  The New York Times said West Point football coach Bob Forbes was attempting to get Capron to accept an appointment, The New York Sun said he was headed to Dartmouth.

Capron chose instead to stay at Minnesota and was unanimously elected captain of the football team on September 14—although later the university would claim he wasn’t elected, but simply called local newspapers claiming an election had been held.  Two days after the “election,’ a scandal caused him to quit the team.

A story in The Chicago Tribune charged that Capron had played professional baseball for the Meridian Ribboners in the Cotton States League during the summer under the name “George Robb,” other reports said he played under the name “George Rapp.”  (The Sporting Life identified him as “Rapp” and “Robb” at various times in 1908).

The story also claimed that he met with “Captain Adrian C. Anson.  The later inquired of Capron’s ability as a ballplayer among local college men.”  Capron, the paper said, wanted to join the semi-pro Anson’s Colts.

Anson told paper:

“I didn’t sign Capron because he didn’t put on a suit and come out…I don’t remember that he said he played professional ball before.  I don’t care, anyhow.  There is no such thing any longer as a strictly amateur college team…They want their real names withheld.  I don’t care, I tell them.  (As long as) they can hit the ball on the snoot and can field decently.”

Sunday's "idol" "Cap" Anson

Sunday’s “idol” “Cap” Anson

Capron denied the charges.   He claimed he had never played professionally and “had never in his life” met Anson.  His denials were quickly dismissed, as his identity was something of an open secret in the South—his election as Minnesota’s captain was reported by several papers, including The Atlanta Constitution, The Atlanta Journal, and The (Nashville) Tennessean –each mentioned his election and that “he played (with Meridian) under the name of Robb,” and that his contract had been purchased by the Mobile Seagulls in the Southern Association.

Faced with overwhelming evidence, he admitted he had played professionally, but continued to deny that he had met with Anson.  It was also reported that Capron had been drafted by the New York Giants, The Minneapolis Tribune said:

(John) McGraw drafted Capron on the recommendations of one of the New York club scouts…but if McGraw was informed as to the real identity of the brilliant young diamond performer he has carefully kept the facts under his bonnet.”

He left school for good in September, and The Sporting Life reported he was “captaining a professional football team in Minneapolis” that fall.   He also admitted, in a letter to the National Commission that he had played professionally under the assumed names “Kipp” and “Katt” for the Mattoon Giants in the Eastern Illinois League in 1907 and in the Northern League with the Crookston Crooks 1905.

In the spring of 1909, The New York World said:

“Capron, the former diamond star of the University of Minnesota, has notified the management of the New York Nationals and of the Mobile Southern League team that he will not join either of them, but has decided to play outlaw ball.”

Capron signed with the Seattle Turks of the Northwest League and immediately went on a tear.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said he was hitting a league-leading .324 in his first 19 games.

He also found time to elope with the former Ednah Race, a Minneapolis resident.

At the end of the season, with his average down to .275, Capron told a reporter for The Post Intelligencer:

“’If I ever get this football junk out of my head, I’ll make good in baseball yet.’”

The problem he said, was taking out his frustration:

“’When I got mad when playing football I could charge the line or make a fierce tackle and let off steam,’ continued the greatest kicker Minnesota ever had, ‘but when I get mad playing baseball it is back to the bench for me with a fine plastered on me like as not.’

“’It doesn’t do a man a bit of good to get mad while playing baseball…that rough stuff does not go.”

The paper agreed:

“So many times during the season just closed, Capron was no good to himself or the team because he could not see anything but red and he wanted to fight someone or something.

“Capron had a world of natural ability.  He is far above the ordinary as a fielder and he is a dangerous man at the bat.”

Capron

Capron

Capron was sold to the Vancouver Beavers the following season, but was limited to 35 games as the result of a knee injury.  He hit just .207.

The following spring, the 25-year-old said he was finished.  He told The (Portland) Oregonian:

“No more baseball for me.  I am going to retire.”

The paper said “His teammates sniffed” and were sure he would return, but noted that “he is being sought by several clubs of the Northwest league this year and was tendered contracts by Seattle, Vancouver, and Tacoma, but has returned them unsigned.”  He said his new wife had encouraged the decision.

Capron left baseball and football for real estate.  He sat out the 1911 season.

In January of 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Barney Dreyfuss, president of the Pittsburgh Pirates sent a personal letter and contract to Capron:

“The contract is a ‘blank’ paper with the salary figure to be filled in by the recipient.

“Apparently, Dreyfuss was prompted in this move by some strong boosting out on the Pacific Coast, for in his letter he told George that information had reached him that a first-class ballplayer was going to waste.”

But despite the blank contract, Capron told The Oregonian:

“I guess (Dreyfuss) knows I can murder (right-handed pitching).  My wife says no, however, so it’s me for the bleachers.”

Capron also told the paper he expected his brother Ralph—a former Minnesota Quarterback– to make the major leagues soon—Ralph played one game that season with the Pirates and two the following year with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Following in his brother’s footsteps, Ralph abruptly quit baseball at age 25, before the 1915 season.  George told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review, his brother “expects soon to marry the daughter of a wealthy Minneapolis merchant, who is strongly opposed to a professional athlete for a son-in-law.”  Opposition from his father-in-law doesn’t appear to have stopped Ralph from dabbling in professional football.

Capron moved from the Pacific Northwest to Long Beach, and later Fresno, California, and found real estate to be more lucrative than either baseball or football.  In 1964, he was worth more than $30 million dollars, when, after 55 years of marriage, Ednah was awarded a $16 million dollar divorce settlement which The Associated Press said was “the largest ever.”

He died on October 26, 1972.

“Even when he Wins he Loses”

18 Apr

During his most successful season as a major leaguer, Bobby Byrne had some advice for the children who wished to follow in his footsteps:

“If they asked me I would tell them everything I could to keep them from starting.  Not that I knock the profession, but I think it is a poor one to choose, not because of the life itself, but because of its temptation and hardships, and worse than that, the small chances of being successful.”

Bobby Byrne

Bobby Byrne

That answer was given to syndicated journalist Joseph B. Bowles during the 1910 season when he asked Byrne questions about how he started in baseball “in order to help young and aspiring players.”

Despite being the starting third basemen for the defending World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and on his way to leading the National League in hits (tied with Honus Wagner) and doubles (178, 43), while hitting a personal-best .296 in 1910, he told Bowles:

“If I had it to do over again I do not think I ever would become a professional ballplayer, in spite of the fact that I love the game and love to play it.  I think a young fellow would do better to devote himself to some other line than to take the chances of success in the national game, for even when he wins he loses.”

He talked about how he started, and offered a theory about where the best players come from:

“I wanted to be a ballplayer and was educated at the game in a good school, on the lots around St. Louis.  I think that ballplayers develop faster when they are in the neighborhood of some major league team.  One or two of the players on a ‘prairie’ team are at every game the big league (team) plays.  They see how the game is played, and being at that age as imitative as monkeys, they work the same things on their own teams and teach all the other boys.  I have noticed when any city has a pennant winning club the quality of baseball played by the boys and the amateurs in that vicinity are much improved.”

Byrne

Byrne

Byrne said because of his time playing on the sandlots of St. Louis, he “picked up the game rapidly,” but said it wasn’t until he began to play professionally, first in Fort Scott, Arkansas, then in Springfield, MO, that he corrected the biggest flaw in his game:

“The hardest thing I had to learn was when to throw.   I think I must have thrown away half the games we played before I learned not to throw when there was no chance to get the runner. I think that is one of the first things a young player should learn; to look before he throws and only throw when he has a chance to make a play.  The next thing, it seems to me, is to learn to handle one’s feet and to keep in the game all the time, and be in position to move when the ball is hit.”

Even at the pinnacle of his career, the man who discouraged children from following in his path, was also somewhat cynical about his own experience:

“The biggest thing I had learned was that, no matter how far a fellow gets up in the business, there still is a lot he does not know, and by dint of watching and learning I held on, and still am learning and willing to learn.  When I know it all I’ll quit, or be released.”

Byrne continued “learning” for seven more seasons, and the end of his career was fitting for someone who warned that a young man should steer clear of baseball because “even when he wins he loses.” After being acquired on waivers by the Chicago White Sox in September of 1917, he appeared in just one game, on September 4.  He was with the team when they clinched the pennant 20 days later; and was released the day after he appeared in the team photo commemorating their American League Championship.

Group portrait of American League's Chicago White Sox baseball team posing in front of a section of the grandstands on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1917.

White Sox team photo after clinching 1917 pennant, Byrne is fourth from right in second row–he was released the following day.

While the Sox were beating the Giants in the World Series, Byrne was back in St. Louis operating a bowling alley.   After three years away from baseball, he managed minor league teams—the Miami (OK) Indians and Saginaw (MI) Aces—in 1921 and ’22 before returning again to the bowling business.

His admonition against professional baseball didn’t stop his two sons from having their own brief minor league careers; Bobby played for several clubs between 1939 and 1941, and Bernie (listed as “Byrnes” on Baseball Reference) played for the Paragould (AK) Browns in the Northeast Arkansas League in 1940.  Both had their careers interrupted by WWII, Bernie was an airforce fighter pilot in Asia, while Bobby was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Purple Heart while flying for the airforce in the Mediterranean Theater.

“It’s the Noodle that Throws the Ball, not the Wing”

13 Apr

Charles Benjamin “Babe” Adams appeared washed up at age 34.  After posting a 2-9 record and 5.72 ERA in 1916, the Pittsburgh Pirates released him.  But, Adams wasn’t done.

He won 20 games in the Western League in 1917 and was 14-3 with a 1.67 ERA for Kansas City Blues in the American Association when the Pirates reacquired Adams in July of 1918.

Babe Adams

Babe Adams

Adams was 49-29 with a 2.17 ERA from his return through the 1921 season, and now turning 40, talked about his success with Roy Grove, a cartoonist, and writer for The Cleveland Press:

“A ballplayer has lots of time in which he can do himself harm.

“A fellow can’t disregard nature and get away with it.  He can kid himself along for a while but finally, he’ll snap…A fellow my years has to dig some to get by the young chaps.”

But, said Adams, baseball had changed a lot since his debut in 1906,and most younger pitchers could never approach his longevity:

“The pitching game isn’t what it used to be.  In my day, I used to have to sit down and figure out the different things that go to make pitching and then go out and practice them hard.  The young pitcher today can pick the game up in a few weeks.  He has two or three coaches, with modern methods of tricks and systems and so forth that have been accumulated through years of experience.  That‘s the reason I think they crack so fast.  They don’t get the right seasoning during youth to stand the grinds of the years.”

But in the end, Adams said he was just smarter than most:

“It’s not so much the old pitching arm these Twentieth Century days as it is the pitching head.  After all, it’s the noodle that throws the ball, not the wing.  There are some fellows I can throw a high inside ball to and they won’t touch it, and then let some other pitcher come up and do the same thing and that same player will knock it outa the lot.

“If a fellow were to stop thinking out there in the box and resort to strength, he’d darn soon find out he was losing all his friends.”

babeadams1

A Roy Grove cartoon that accompanied the article.

Adams’ “Noodle” and excellent control (18th all-time lowest walks per nine innings) kept him in the National League for five more seasons, until he was 44.

Los Advertisements–Hans Wagner, Lewis 66

26 Feb

wagner66

A 1912 advertisement for Lewis 66 Rye, featuring Honus Wagner:

“Hans Wagner–‘The Flying Dutchman’

“When the National League official averages for 1911 were issues, Hans Wagner ranked ‘King of Swat,’ with a batting credit of .334–for the eighth time the hitting premier of his league.  Nobody ever approached the long record of the Pittsburgh Pirate–big, whole-souled and modest.”

Five years later, as Wagner’s career was drawing to a close, Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune said:

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

“Wagner stands to date, for team worth, as the most valuable ball player that ever lived.

“A great infielder is of more value than a great outfielder, so in this respect Wagner has even ranged beyond Ty Cobb.

“Hughey Jennings was a star–a great hitter, a brilliant infielder and a brainy workman.

“But even Hughey has to make way before Wagner a man who for twenty years could average .340 [sic 21 years, .328] at bat and cover all the ground in sight between third base and the right field bleachers.

“Wagner is the game’s main marvel…He was as marvelous in the field as at the bat.  Floundering, awkward looking, bow-legged, with his vast hands dangling at his side, no one would ever have taken him for any action snapshot of grace.

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

“But when it came to killing base hits back of third and back of second, mopping up his side of the field with a deadly certainty, he had no equal.

“If Wagner had been a .240 hitter he would have been one of the most valuable man of all time through his great defensive value alone.”