Tag Archives: Pop Swett

“As a Trickster he was a Marvel”

12 Jun

Dan Brouthers was working at the Polo Grounds in 1917—after John McGraw got Brouthers hired, he held a variety of jobs there according to contemporary news accounts, including night watchman, custodian, and operating the gate at the press entrance to the ballpark—when The New York World asked him to reminisce about some of the his experiences as a player.

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Dan Brouthers

Brouthers said he was told by McGraw when he had earlier scouted for the Giants, “brains and speed are what you are to look for.”

Brouthers said:

“If you get hold of a good, speedy man, with something more than a bone above the ears, you probably have the makings of a good ball player.”

He said players with the combination of brains and a willingness to flout the rules had won many games when he was playing:

”It may be that the poorer team had a fox on it somewhere, and every time the umps are asleep or looking the other way, he pulls one over…There are of course, some people who believe in playing baseball on the level. But a good many other birds realize that it is played on a diamond, and so take advantage of all corners.”

One player stood out in that category for Brouthers:

“Mike (King) Kelly was a shark for that sort of thing. He could have sold earmuffs in the Philippines or palm-leaf fans in Alaska. He was a wonder as a baseball player, but as a trickster he was a marvel. Whenever he was on the field the umpires spent half their time combing the wool away from their eyes.”

Brouthers described The King:

“He was very little short of six feet tall, weighed in the neighborhood of 180 pounds, had a fine, full mustache which was the fashion in those days and a bluff, genial manner that disarmed suspicion and made you like him from the first.”

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Kelly

He said:

“Mike was the idol of the fanatics, and anything he did was right…He was so popular that he had three nicknames—The King of the Diamond, The Only Kel, and the $10,000 Beauty…Kelly was as full of tricks as a monkey, and couldn’t stand to lose a game if he could win it—by any means at all.”

Brouthers provided his version of the most famous story about Kelly, which he said happened when they were both with the Boston Reds in the Players League in 1890:

“One afternoon Kel was sitting on the bench, while (Charlie) Bennett was catching.”

Brouthers is confusing his former teammate with the Detroit Wolverines—Bennett–with Morgan Murphy and William “Pop” Swett who were the other two catchers in addition to Kelly on the club.

“The game was close, but Kel had made up his mind we had to win it and had his peepers skinned for a chance to put one over. Suddenly the man at bat knocked a high foul that Kelly saw (the catcher) could not catch. It is hardly likely that what Kelly did would have occurred to any other manager. What Kel did was jump up and run for the foul ball at the top of his speed. And while running for it he kept shouting to the umpire that he had taken (the catcher) out of the game and had substituted himself. Then he caught the foul ball.

“According to Mike’s way of doping it out, it was strictly according to Hoyle.”

Brouthers said Kelly then walked over to the catcher and took his mask and glove:

“Then the astonished umpire and the spectators came out of their trance at the same time and there was a yell from both of them. Kel insisted everything was O.K. In fact, he didn’t even concede there was room for an argument. There was nearly a riot over the affair, but it ended by Kelly being shooed back to the bench, and the batter being called safe. That one was a little too raw for the ump. But Kel wore an injured air all the rest of the game, and although the crowd knew he was wrong, they all sympathized with him.”

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Cartoon by Herb Roth of The New York World which accompanied the article

Brouthers said Kelly had more success with other stunts:

“When I was with Detroit Kel was playing with Anson’s Chicago club. At a game in Detroit, when I came to bat in the ninth inning, there were two out and three on base. Moments like that are big ones in a batter’s life, and I got a toe hold and made my mind to tear the cover off the first good one that came across. I believe we needed three runs too. Kel was playing in the field that day. I picked out one that I liked and hit it hard enough to drive it out of the lot. I was sure the ball was going over the fence, because Kelly was running in that direction like a mountain goat. Just as he got near the fence, he made a wonderful jump and got the ball. That made three out; the game was over, and Kel kept running into the clubhouse, taking the ball with him. We lost the game, of course.

“Some time later Kel confessed to me that the ball he apparently caught he had never even touched. It had cleared the fence by 10 feet!”

Brouthers said Kelly often hid a ball in the outfield, “opposing teams didn’t know this at the time. If they had, Kel probably would have died a violent death.”

“One foggy afternoon in Philadelphia, with Phil Powers umpiring, Philadelphia had a man on base when Sam Thomson came to bat. Sam picked out one he liked, and, as we found out later, poled it clear over the right field fence. But because of the fog the umpire couldn’t follow the flight of the ball.

“Now Kelly had a ball hidden in the long grass near the fence, and when Thompson made his hit, Kelly never looked at the ball in play at all, but dived for the extra ball. He fumbled around a bit as though he were looking for it and then picked it up and made an accurate throw to home, putting out the man who had been on first when the ball was hit.”

Brouthers said Thompson was sure the ball had cleared the fence and, “roared like a lion and called down the vengeance of high heaven” on Powers.

“And while he was ranting and roaring, Kelly, with an injured and innocent air, was calmly proving that the ball never went near the fence at all. Powers believed Kelly and his own eyesight, and Thompson, almost crying with rage, was fined for kicking.”

Brouthers said Kelly showed of his “foxiness” coaching third base as well.

“If a ball had been fouled by the man at bat and hit the grandstand, Kelly would demand that the pitcher throw it to him, in order that Kelly might be sure it was not cut or ripped. He only pulled this stunt when there was a man on base. Then the pitcher, if he were not wise, would throw the ball to Kelly. Kelly, instead of catching it, would dodge it, and allow it to roll past him, and the man on base would streak for home. And probably get there before the ball could be returned. Of course, this only worked once on the same man, but it sometimes helped to win a game.”

Brouthers also said Kelly attempted to use a potato as a ball in the 1880s:

“I can remember one time he took a potato to right field with him, and when a hit ball bounded past him, he made believe he had caught it, and then turning whipped the potato to the second baseman. The second baseman relayed the potato to third in order to get the man trying for that base. And he might have got him but for the fact that the potato was not a solid one and burst when the third baseman caught it.”

Brouthers said Kelly “was the most genial fellow in the world off the diamond,” but considered umpires “an eyesore.” He said “he would stand as close to him as he could and jaw him until the ump would run up a $100 fine on him in $5 and $10 clips. But that didn’t work the King any, because someone else always paid his fines.”