Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Pirates

“Baseball After Dark Made its Initial Gesture in Pittsburgh”

18 Jun

With light standards set up just behind the first and third base coaching boxes, the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs took the field for the first night game at Forbes Field on July 18, 1930.

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Frank Duncan at the plate, “Buck Ewing catching July 18, 1930

The night before, the Grays played under lights for the time.  A similar lighting system was deployed at the Akron, Ohio Central League ballpark, and Smokey Joe Williams shut out the Akron Guard, a local amateur club, 10 to 0, and held the Guard to two hits.

Ralph Davis, the sports editor of The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Baseball after dark made its initial gesture in Pittsburgh last night…More than 6,000 fans turned out through curiosity or other motives to see the spectacle, and the vast majority of them gave the night baseball plan their unqualified approval.”

Davis declared the field “as bright as day,” and said:

“With 33 huge floodlights as illuminants, the play-field of the Pirates was turned from inky blackness into something approaching mid-afternoon brightness.

“The scene was a revelation to many doubting Thomases who went to scoff and left the field declaring that perhaps, after all, the national pastime, if it ever has to be saved, will find night performances its savior.

“Hardly a shadow was discernible as the rival teams fielded apparently as surely and as speedily as they would have done in broad daylight.  Balls hit high in the air were easy to follow in their flight, and long hits to the outfield could be traced without ‘losing’ the ball.”

Davis said the one exception in the field were ground balls “which skimmed along the ground.” Pitchers he said, appeared “to use just as much speed,” as during the day, and the lights seemed to not affect the catchers, and:

“Pitched balls, waist-high or higher, were easy picking for the eager batsmen, but it looked as if balls around the knees were harder to judge.”

The first pitch was not thrown until 9:15, because “the darker it was, the better the lighting system worked.”

As for the crowd, which Davis said “The color line was not drawn,” and the number of black and white fans were roughly equal:

“It was a typical baseball scene, with enthusiasm just as evident as any major league game.  Rooters went into a frenzy when the Grays tied the score after the Monarchs had gotten away in the lead, and almost tore down the stands when they finally won out.”

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“The color line was not drawn” in the crowd

The game went 12 innings, and ended, The Press said, “Precisely at midnight,” when George Scales scored the winning run on a hit by catcher William “Buck” Ewing.

Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss was “an interested spectator” who “Watched the play closely,” Davis asked him his opinion:

“It is interesting, and provides entertainment for many people who cannot get away from work for afternoon contests.  It is not as fast as daylight ball, and I imagine the infielders have some difficulty in judging hard-hit grounders but it is remarkable how well the men handle themselves.”

Dreyfuss summed up his feelings:

“I don’t think night baseball will ever replace the daylight brand in popularity.”

Smoky Joe Williams, who had pitched in the Grays’ first night game in Akron two days earlier, agreed with Dreyfuss when Davis asked his opinion of playing under the lights:

 “’Night baseball causes an eye strain,’ said he.  “’It is all right as long as you don’t look into one of those big lights.  If you do, you lose sight of the ball entirely.  I’ll take the daylight stuff for mine.”

The next night, Williams pitched in the second night game to played in Pittsburgh, he took a 4 to 3 lead into the ninth inning when Kansas City scored five runs and beat him 8 to 8.  Two weeks later, Williams struck out 27 Monarchs batters under the lights in Kansas City.

Wagner is the Nearest Approach to a Perfect Baseball Machine”

30 May

Claude Johnson was the long-time sports editor for The Kansas City Star.  Al Spink, in his book “The National Game,” called the paper “one of the greatest newspapers in the Western world,” and said of Johnson:

”He is a real baseball enthusiast… (The) sports pages are widely read and perfectly edited by little Johnson… (he) ought to be dancing in the big league.”

When the Pittsburgh Pirates came to town to play exhibition games with the American Association Kansas City Blues, Johnson wrote a long profile of Honus Wagner:

“Hugh Fullerton, who writes on baseball topics, has said that Hans Wagner is the nearest approach to a perfect baseball machine ever constructed.  ‘Constructed ‘ is good.  Wagner is put up solidly, after the fashion of government architecture.  And you may take it straight from any bug who ever saw Hans Wagner that he is some baseball machine.“

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 Honus Wagner

Johnson said in the Kansas City games Wagner had the “star role:”

“Do you know, it’s lots of fun to watch Hans Wagner play ball.  A good deal of this is due to the fact that Honus enjoys it himself.  He has as much fun playing ball as a kid on a corner lot.  He romps about and kids the opposition…and nags good naturedly the umpire. For Hans is field captain this year and feels that he must do some beefing.  But beefing is hard work for Hans.  He is too good natured.  Hans would much rather take a bun decision with a humorously protesting wave of his enormous hands and make up for it later by one of his terrific wallops.

“Hans has a lot of little mannerisms on the field.  He is a born comedian, though so bashful he will hide himself under the bat rack if he sees a reporter coming.”

Johnson said Kansas City fans were as impressed with his work in the field as at the plate:

“Most of what you read of Hans is about his tremendous hitting, and it is all true, too.  But Hans is a miraculous fielder, also.  He has a style that is all his own.  No bush leaguer would dare try to play short like Hans Wagner.  He plays wherever he pleases; retreating to the edge of the outfield grass, whence only his mighty arm would carry to first in time to head off a fast runner.  When he goes after a ground hit he goes after it like a runaway gondola loaded with coal—but he gets it, if it is getable.  And when once one of those ponderous hands clamps down on the pellet there it remains quietly until the great shortstop wings it on its way.

“Wagner’s pegging is something to ponder.  Several times in the Kansas City series he would field a sharply hit line drive lazily, merely lobbing the ball over to first and beating the runner only by a step.

“’Shucks,’ remarked some of the bugs who were watching Honus for the first time, ‘that guy’s as slow as molasses.  A fast man would have beat him.’

“Wait a bit though.  There goes a fast man—and his hit was a slow one .  But he’s out, by the same distance.  And if you want to see Honus really peg, watch him finishing up a double play.  The big frame moves like a streak.  He gets the ball away in a twinkle—and it nearly knocks the first baseman off the bag.”

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Wagner

Next Johnson described Wagner at the plate:

“At bat Honus is a study.  He is built like a piano mover above the waist and below he resembles a pair of parenthesis.  He is one of the few celebrities who can stand bowlegged and pigeon-toed at one and the same time, and he does it with ease and aplomb.  At least it looks very much like aplomb.

“Hans twiddles his ponderous bat as if it weighed about as much as a feather duster.  He balances it between his fingers, pulls down his cap and takes his stand–bowlegged and pigeon-toed—well back of the plate.  You see the reason for the latter.

“Wagner watches the ball from the time pitcher starts his delivery.  He steps into the pitch with a long, swinging stride, and meets the ball with a heave of his whole powerful frame.  It looks very easy, and there is a certain grace about it too.  But what you mainly notice is the streaky appearance of the ball, whatever way it may travel, tearing its way through the hands of an infielder or flying like an arrow over the outfield.”

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Wagner

Johnson said, in the final game of the series, Wagner “walked into the first” pitch he saw in the eighth inning:

“He did not seem to hit the ball hard, yet, it soared away into the top of the center field bleachers—one of the longest hits ever made inside the park.”

The Pittsburgh Post called the home run, “a wallop into the center field bleachers…the longest hit of the series.”

As for Wagner himself, Johnson said:

“Hans is a likable chap—a retiring, modest sort of star.  He is fond of dogs and collects strays in nearly every city he visits.  He can’t bear to see a dog hungry.  If he can’t provide for them elsewhere he ships them home, where he has a dog farm collected in that way.  Hans’ main pet is a Dachshund, whose legs, he says, are dead ringers for his own.

“And he’s a great old boy, is Honus.  And you can start something with nearly any bug by suggesting that there is a greater player doing business today.”

“Fans Come out Here to see a Ballplayer Hustle at all Times”

23 May

William G. Nunn was city editor, and later, managing editor of The Pittsburgh Courier.  He wrote a regular baseball column “Diamond Dope” for the paper throughout the 1920s, and later he would on occasion also write a sports column for paper called “WGN Broadcasts.”

.In 1934, he told a story about how “Gentleman” Dave Malarcher managed his Chicago American Giants:

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Malarcher

“Chicago was sporting a small lead going into late innings.  A Crawford player, with a man on first knocked a slow roller to (Jack) Marshall, keystone-sacker of the Windy City team.  Marshall failed to field the ball in a hurry and loafed the throw to first base, with the result that all hands were safe.

“From the bench came running Dave Malacher, present manager of the team and one of the most astute diamond students Negro baseball has ever produced.  We noticed a whispered conference.

After the game we asked Dave what it was all about.  ‘I fined him five dollars,’ said Dave.  ‘Fans come out here to see a ballplayer hustle at all times, ‘he continued, ‘and when he fails to do that, he’s hurting Negro baseball.

“Give us some more of that type of management.  We don’t have any too much use for these all-star teams anyway.  They look like a million dollars on paper, and like buns when they face real competition.”

Eight years later Nunn was a key figure in The Courier’s push—along with The Daily Worker— to integrate professional baseball.  Nunn and his sports editor, Hall of Famer Wendell Smith attempted to broker a deal for four Negro League players to try out with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Chicago Defender said in August of 1942:

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William G. Nunn Sr.

“The four Negro baseball players to receive a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates the latter part of this month or first of September will be named next week.

“Three weeks ago William Benswanger, owner of the Pirates, stated that he was willing to give Negro players a tryout…Wendell Smith and William G. Nunn will confer with officials of the Negro American and National Leagues here (at the East-West Game)…and select the four players.”

Smith and Nunn, in collaboration with Negro League magnates, chose Josh Gibson, Leon Day, Sam Bankhead, and Willie Wells to receive tryouts.

Smith called Benswanger “The greatest liberal in baseball history,” at the end of August. The accolades were premature.  The tryouts were never scheduled.

“There is a Heap about Baseball that I do not Know”

4 May

After Ted Sullivan blamed Joe Nealon’s father for his failure to secure the first baseman for the Reds, James C. Nealon was not going to let his accusations stand, and sent a letter in response to Sullivan’s letter to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“The public has always permitted, and will always permit a man who has lost the object he was seeking to compensate himself for the loss is excusing his failure by some worthy and absurd explanation, or by throwing the responsibility of the failure on someone else.”

Nealon said he was forced to respond because Sullivan “falsely placed myself and my son in an unenviable light.”

Nealon said he only cared about his son going to the club with “the best and most congenial associations,” and initially, many people he trusted told him Cincinnati was the best option.

He said Sullivan was the reason he and his son changed their minds.  Nealon said he checked train schedules and determined that Sullivan—who left Cincinnati on October 28—could have arrived in California no later than November 3, yet he did not hear from the Reds representative until after the contract was signed with Pittsburgh on November 6.

Nealon also said while he received a telegram from August Herrmann, Cincinnati Reds owner, with the offer of “a certain sum more than any other club,” he never shared that information with the Pirates Fred Clarke, and that the combination of being insulted by the Reds making their offer just about money and Sullivan not arriving in time made up his mind, and as a result:

 “I advised my son to sign a contract with any club he desired.”

After Sullivan arrived in San Francisco, Nealon said:

“He admitted to me that it was all his fault, yet he seeks in your paper to advise the public that it was the fault of my son and myself…I would rather (Joe) fail then to commit a dishonorable act, and I do not want the people of Cincinnati to believe his entry into the major league was associated in any manner with unfairness or unfair dealing.  Mr. Sullivan knows it was not.”

Joe Nealon wrote a letter to The Pittsburgh Post, and said he understood that when he joined the team in Hot Springs. Arkansas:

“There is a heap about baseball that I do not know.  I am eager to learn, however, and will gladly go under instructions.”

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Joe Nealon

Even after the beginning of the 1906 season, the stories about what influenced Nealon to sign with the Pirates would not go away.  In May is was reported that it was Jake Beckley, former first baseman for the Reds and Pirates who influenced Nealon to accept Clarke’s offer.  Nealon told The Pittsburgh Press that Beckley had nothing to do with his decision, and continued to blame Sullivan who he said did not “keep faith” with him and his father.

Nealon appeared in every game, hit the Pirates first home run of the 1906 season on May 5, tied Harry Steinfeldt for the league lead in RBI, and led all NL first basemen in total chances and putouts.

At the end of the season it was widely reported that Nealon would not return to the Pirates for the 1907 season.  After the team lost five straight games in September and slipped to third place, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss went on a tear to a wire service reporter—The Philadelphia Inquirer, under the headline “Barney Dreyfuss Lets Himself say Things” said:

“(Dreyfuss said) if his team doesn’t win second place for him he will keep their noses to the grindstone barnstorming for him until their contracts have run out (on October 16)”

Dreyfuss told the reporter:

“One of the things that ails our team is that there are too many capitalists on it.  The boys know that they do not have to play ball for a living, and sometimes that may affect their playing.  There is only one of the old players on the Pittsburgh team who is playing as a means of livelihood—that’s (Tommy) Leach.  The other could give up the game anytime.”

Nealon left the team immediately after the final game in Cincinnati and did not participate in the tour.  The San Francisco Call said he was done:

“Nealon, who became a great favorite in Pittsburgh and all over the league circuit, has had several grievances against Pittsburgh, and it was announced some time ago that the big San Francisco lad had declared himself in no unmeasured terms that he did not have to take the worst of it from anyone connected with the club, nor would he more than one season.”

The Call said Nealon became disenchanted in Pittsburgh when Dreyfuss attempted to trade him and “other Pittsburgh players” to the Brooklyn Superbas for Harry Lumley and Tim Jordan “although Captain Clarke had guaranteed him a full and free tryout for a year.”

Nealon returned to San Francisco to play winter ball, but he failed to make a trip to Stockton for the first game.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Many San Joseans who took the trip to Stockton…were disappointed in not seeing Joe Nealon…the big first baseman, met with an accident Saturday evening.”

While racing to catch the train to Stockton, Nealon tripped and fell into a stone wall.  He broke two bones in his left hand.”

In December, the Pittsburgh papers reported that Nealon had declared himself “Completely healed,” in a letter to Barney Dreyfuss.

By February The Pittsburgh Press was assuring readers:

“Reports from the West have Joe Nealon in the best condition of his career.  Just keep your eyes on this big fellow this season; he is going to be a winner in every sense of the word.”

Despite the high expectations, Nealon was a disappointment to the pirates when he reported to  West Baden, Indiana in March.  The Press said:

“If the fans at home could see big Joe Nealon now they would not know him.  With his sweater on he looks like a three hundred pounder.”

Nealon actually weighed 216 pounds, roughly 20 pounds heavier than he was in 1906.

Additionally, The Pittsburgh Post said Nealon was experiencing stiffness in his left hand.

The Press announced that Nealon had gotten down to his playing weight and that his had had healed just in time for the opening of the season, but a knee injury sliding into second during the Pirates third game sidelined him for nearly two weeks, and according to The Post included a visit to John “Bonesetter” Reese, the Youngstown, Ohio doctor who treated many major leaguers.

Nealon was hitting just .217 in June when The Washington Post noted that two California Thoroughbreds—Nealon and Joe Nealon—both bred by friends of Nealon’s father, and both stakes race winners in 1907, were having decidedly better years than the first baseman.

Nealon steadily improved his batting average but had already fallen out of favor with fans and in the papers.  Rumors persisted that the Pirates were trying to trade for Fred Tenney of the Boston Doves.  By September, The Press said:

 “There is suspicion among the Pittsburgh players that Tenney may be secured as first baseman…to succeed Joe Nealon whose work this season is said to have been below standard.”

When Harry Swacina was purchased by the Pirates from the Peoria Distillers in the Three-I League that same month, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Sporting News said:

 “He is an improvement over Joe Nealon in every department of the game.”

The New York Sun summed up the consensus view:

“Joe Nealon came out of California with the reputation of being a better first baseman than Hal Chase was, but in making a big league reputation Chase simply lost his fellow Californian.”

Swacina hit just .200, but got most of the playing time at first base in September, Nealon finished with a .257 average.

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Nealon

The Press speculated in November about who would play first base for the Pirates in 1908:

“Most of the fans have eliminated Joe Nealon from the competition all together, for it is an open secret that both President (Barney) Dreyfuss and Manager (Fred) Clarke were displeased with the way the young Californian acted this year, and it is presumed that no further time will be wasted with him, but that he will either be traded or released outright.”

In December, Nealon ended any remaining speculation by announcing his retirement—two weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Post said:

“The big Californian has quit the professional diamond for all time and will become a partner in business with his millionaire father…But for the intercession of Fred Clarke, it is said he would have been asked to retire about mid season, alleged infractions of the club’s rules and his general attitude of indifference being criticized by the local management.”

Nealon went to Hawaii in December with a team of West Coast stars—including Bill Lange and Orval Overall— formed by Mique Fisher and told reporters he would play weekends in San Francisco in 1908.

After returning from Hawaii, Nealon made his retirement official in a letter to Dreyfuss.  The Press said:

Joe writes that he is helping his father  who has a contract to erect a large public building in California…he asks, however, that his name be kept on Pittsburgh’s reserve list and wishes his teammates the best of luck.”

Nealon went to work with his father and appeared in 62 games for the Sacramento Senators in the California State League in 1908—hitting .372; as late as July he was hitting .436.  Nearly every Pacific Coast League time tried to sign him that summer, but The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Nealon) declared positively to the writer yesterday that he would not play ball, except as he is doing now, and Joe said there was not enough money in any of the Coast League treasuries to make him change his mind.”

Despite his protestations, nearly every team on the West Coast sought to sign Nealon.  Charlie Graham, Owner of the Sacramento Sacts made an offer that The San Francisco Call said led Nealon to tell a friend he wasn’t sure he could refuse.  He eventually did refuse, and instead signed to play for the Oakland Commuters in the California State League. The Call said he was the highest paid player on the West Coast.

Nealon captained the Oakland club, and hit .274 in 138 games.  How Nealon differed from his teammates and most players was probably best illustrated during a bench clearing brawl between Oakland and the Stockton Millers in June.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“(E)very man on both teams, with the exception of Joe Nealon, was mixed up…Nealon simply walked about the field and sat on the bench while the trouble was going on, and if anyone should ask right quick what player showed the only good judgment on the field the answer would be Joe Nealon.”

Nealon announced his retirement again, a week after his 25th birthday.

Nealon’s father had just helped elect San Francisco’s new mayor, Patrick Henry McCarthy, The Tribune said Nealon was “slated for a fat political job.”

Nealon was appointed deputy in the San Francisco County Clerk’s office in January.

On March 28, The Tribune said:

“(Nealon) is lying on death’s door in his home in San Francisco, suffering from typhoid fever.  Several physicians have been at the bedside of the ill athlete almost constantly for the past few days, and although they hold out but slight hope for his recovery, they state that his splendid physique may enable him to pull through.”

Nealon died five days later.

 

Joe Nealon

2 May

There was a race to sign Joe Nealon in 1905.  The San Francisco Chronicle said he was “thought to be the equal of Hal Chase,” the fellow first baseman and Californian who made his major league debut that season.

By November, West Coast newspapers had reported that at least four teams were after Nealon—the New York Highlanders, Boston Americans, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates were after Nealon.

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Joe Nealon

There likely would have been even more interest in Nealon if not for his background; as The Chronicle said after Nealon signed with the San Francisco Seals before the 1905 season:

“Parental objection had to be overcome, and this was accomplished through an understanding that the boy would remain in professional baseball not more than two or three seasons.”

Nealon was the son of the James C. Nealon, a wealthy real estate executive, elected official, owner of thoroughbreds, and one of the best known handball players on the West Coast who often played with boxer Jim Corbett.

Nealon attended St. Ignatius College (now the University of San Francisco) and had played in the California State League in 1903 and 1904.

Cincinnati and Boston appeared to be the most aggressive pursuer of Nealon; according to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Everybody who has seen him work says that Nealon will fill the bill.  He is described as a second Bill Lange at the bat, and a new edition of Charley Comiskey on the bag.  Allowing for exaggeration he seems to be the real goods.”

The Reds dispatched Ted Sullivan to San Francisco. The Americans sent Dan Long.  They did not know that Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Fred Clarke was on his way West as well; Clarke arrived first. The Pirates manager won out.  The Pittsburgh Post said:

“It was against these two men that Clarke had to use his ingenuity in securing Nealon.  The player is a freelance and was at liberty to join a team of his own selection.  Being independently wealthy and playing baseball only for the sport he finds in it.  Nealon was not influenced by any financial proposition.”

Reds owner August Herrmann told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I had become very much interested in young Nealon and regret that we did not succeed in getting him, but there is no use mourning over his loss.”

While Herrmann might not have been mourning, others in Cincinnati were and blamed Sullivan.

Jack Ryder of The Enquirer said:

“Why was not Ted Sullivan on the ground earlier?  Ted left Cincinnati a week ago last Saturday (October 29) with instructions to make a bee line for Frisco.  Mr. Herrmann knew that there was keen competition for  the services of Nealon…If Sullivan had reached San Francisco on Tuesday or Wednesday, as he was expected to do he would have got in ahead of Fred Clarke, and the chances would have favored his securing the player.”

Ryder said he had a letter from James C. Nealon written to Herrmann promising “that his son would sign with Cincinnati, ‘other things being equal,’” Ryder noted that the Reds “offered the boy more salary than any other club including Pittsburgh.”

Ryder concluded:

“Fred Clarke, who was on the spot, while Ted Sullivan was not, was able to persuade (Nealon) that the Pirates are a far better aggregation than the Reds.”

Ted Sullivan was not about to blamed, and fired off a letter to The Enquirer:

“There is not a man in the city of Cincinnati that would feel as much hurt as myself to lose a good man for the Cincinnati club.  The two years that I have acted as agent for Mr. Herrmann he has treated me like a king, and has showed a disposition to back my judgment on the skill of a player.”

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Ted Sullivan

Sullivan said in the letter, he had discovered Nealon’s “hidden skill” in August:

“The skill I noticed in Nealon (I wrote Mr. Herrmann at the time) was skill hidden beneath a dross of inexperience and youth.”

While he conceded that some time in the major leagues would “make him a star,” he assured The Enquirer he was not of the caliber of Sullivan’s favorite first baseman:

“The greatest first baseman in the history of the game, Charles Comiskey, was my own selection and making (which I say without egotism), but the California fledgling, without disparaging him, is a pallbearer compared to the magnetism of the matchless Comiskey.”

Sullivan blamed his inability to sign Nealon on Nealon’s father.  He claimed to have offered $3,800 to the first baseman in August, and was told that money was not the critical consideration, but complained that Nealon Sr. had immediately “proclaimed throughout Frisco, with the aid of a flashlight, and had also the newspaper men transmit (the offer) to all of the papers in the East.”

As for arriving is San Francisco after Clarke, Sullivan blamed that on the railroads:

“(I) was blocked between Salt Lake and Sacramento, caused by the immense amount of trains”

But, said Sullivan, none of that mattered.  Nealon’s father had not dealt with the Reds in good faith:

“Mr. Nealon Sr., who claimed he was not out for the money, called Fred out on the porch of the house and showed him, in confidence, the offer from Cincinnati.”

The latest Cincinnati offer was $6500—with a clause that promised $1000 more than any other offer Nealon would receive–Sullivan said.  Clarke matched the $6500, he said, and signed Nealon.

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Fred Clarke

There was more said Sullivan:

“Now comes the most brazen effrontery of offended dignity that has more hypocritic brass in it than the Colossus of Rhodes.  With this standing offer of Mr. Herrmann’s in his hands for days before I arrived,  I asked Mr. Nealon Sr., why he did not close with Mr. Herrmann on such a grand offer.  ‘Why,’ says he, ‘I consider it an insult for any man to make me such an offer as that, as it would appear that I was playing one club against the other.”  Think of that insult—one man offers another man $1000 more than the highest bidder and he is insulted.”

Sullivan closed his letter by again questioning Nealon’s prospects of making an immediate impact, and said:

“I would rather go down to Millcreek bottoms and pick up some young fellow that wanted to make baseball a profession, than any young man in the United States who thinks that he is condescending to play ball for $7000.”

Sullivan was not the only representative of a club who had expressed interest in Nealon who now questioned the prospects ability.  In response to Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs who said Nealon was “not of National League Caliber,” The Pittsburgh Press responded:

“Sour Grapes?”

The rest of the story on Friday.

Segregation and Spring Training, 1961

11 Apr

Will Grimsley was a New York based sportswriter for The Associated Press for nearly forty years; he covered 35 World Series and at least that many spring training’s.

Before teams opened their camps in 1961, he reported on segregated living arrangement.

Grimsley introduced readers to the woman who housed the Milwaukee Braves

“Mrs. K. W. Gibson’s boarding house at 211 Ninth Avenue is a modest, spotlessly clean two-story dwelling which stands out in the dilapidated Negro section of Bradenton.

“Mrs. Gibson prides herself on “setting the best table in town.”

“The tiny, gray-haired matron for years has been house mother for Negro members of the Milwaukee Braves baseball team.  ‘I’ve treated them like my own sons,’ she said.

“At Mrs. Gibson’s place, the Negro players have basic comfort and ‘eat high on the hog’ as the saying goes.  Yet, they sleep two to a room; queue up for use of the two bathrooms and sometime bicker over the choice of a television program on the single set in the living room.”

Hank Aaron said:

“Sometimes the place is so crowded they have two guys sleeping in the hall.  You wake up in the morning and rush for the bathroom and if you’re the last one all the hot water is gone.”

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Mr. and Mrs. K.W. Gibson in their Bradenton home.

Grimsley said of their teammates’ accommodations:

“The white members of the team meanwhile have headquartered in a Bradenton motel. This year they move into a new motel in the center of town—glistening glass and stone, wall-to-wall carpeting, private baths, television sets and a modern central dining area”

“Aaron, Wes Covington and Andre Rodgers have been most outspoken in criticism of Jim Crow treatment.”

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Aaron and Covington

Duffy Lewis, traveling secretary of the Braves, expressed shock that Aaron and some of his teammates were not thrilled with the situation:

“Why, we thought they had an ideal setup and we’ve never heard a fuss.  That Mrs. Gibson sets the best table I’ve ever seen.  I’ve eaten there myself.”

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Braves in Bradenton

Grimsley conducted “A reporter’s survey” of each team’s spring training quarters with details provided by the teams and/or their spring training hotels. He said hotel managers were, “generally jumpy and gun-shy on the issue but many (were) ready to acknowledge that the problem soon must be met head on—maybe next year.”

Some highlights:

Yankees:  “Have trained at St. Petersburg for years.  The Soreno, a resort hotel, has politely said ‘no’ to Yankee owner Dan Topping’s request that all players…be housed ‘under one roof.”

Tigers: “Local ordinance in Lakeland, FL forbids four Negro players to stay at club headquarters, New Florida Hotel.

Athletics:  General Manager Frank Lane told Grimsley “We are not spearheading any political movements,” when asked why Bob Boyd, the only African-American with the club would not be staying with the rest of the team at the George Washington Hotel in West Palm Beach, FL.

Reds:  “Eight Negros on roster to be housed and fed in private homes, not at team headquarters at Floridian Hotel, Tampa.  Both club and hotel said they never had difficulty and not rocking the boat.”

Pirates:  “Headquarters at Bradford Hotel, Fort Myers, FL.  ‘We don’t anticipate any trouble,’ said the hotel’s resident manager, Howard Green.  ‘The colored players will get excellent accommodations in private homes.”

Phillies:  “Again will stay at Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater.  General Manager John Quinn wants all players in same hotel, but no immediate prospect.”

Twins:  “Five Negro players to be housed in new motel, while headquarters will be Cheery Plaza in Orlando, FL”

Senators:  “(T)o train at Pompano Beach, FL. The chamber of commerce is working on housing which will be segregated.”

White Sox: “Bill Veeck, president, is negotiating with Sarasota, FL., civic leaders to have six Negro players…stay with rest of team at Sarasota Terrace.  Negroes likely will wind up at motel.”

Orioles: “McAlister Hotel in Miami…says there has been no correspondence on the matter.”

According to Grimsley, the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Indians, Angels, and Red Sox all had integrated accommodations—the Dodgers—who housed all players “together at old air base in Vero Beach,” were the only team in Florida with such an arrangement.  The other five trained in Arizona and California.

Grimsley concluded:

“Next year or the year later perhaps, but not now—the baseball clubs must abide by the traditions of the people whose land they have invaded for a couple of months of each year.”

Bill Nunn Jr., sports editor of The Pittsburgh Courier, interviewed Aaron a week after the original story:

“’I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating that I don’t like the situation the way it now stands,’ Aaron disclosed here.  ‘I think it’s wrong for us to have to live apart from the rest of the team.’

“At the same time Aaron went out of his way to emphasize that he didn’t want the numerous Negro friends he has made in Bradenton to be offended by his stand on this matter.

“Aaron was speaking specifically of Mr. and Mrs. K. W. Gibson, the people in whose home he and members of the Braves stay while in Florida.

“’Mrs. Gibson was hurt over all the things she heard concerning our statements about Bradenton.  She thought we were being critical of her and her home.’

“’Actually that wasn’t the case at all.  We were trying to get over the point that we didn’t like being segregated against our will.  I explained all this to Mrs. Gibson.  I told her about the moral issues concerned.  I think she’s on our side now.'”

United Press International (UPI) reported the following spring that, “The Braves switched their Bradenton hotel headquarters to nearby Palmetto this spring to permit integration of their athletes.”

UPI said six clubs “still have the integration problem:” the Orioles, Tigers, Athletics, Twins, Senators, and 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.

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.