Tag Archives: Providence Grays

Albert Spalding on Superstitions

18 Dec

During a game in September of 1882 against the Worcester Ruby Legs, Albert Spalding, Chicago White Stockings President, sat “in the reporters’ stand” at Lakefront Park with a sportswriter from The Chicago Herald:

“The Worcesters had gained a run in the fourth inning, but the home team had been successfully retired for five straight innings.  The Chicagos were playing their best, but ‘luck was dead against them.’”

At that point Chicago outfielder Abner Dalrymple came to where the White Stockings’ president was seated and said:

“’Mr. Spalding, will you move other in some other chair?  That was the seat Harry Wright occupied during the games we had with his club.’  Spalding laughed, but hurried out of his place to a chair further down the line.  The home team made three runs in that inning and won—five to one.”

Abner Dalrymple

Abner Dalrymple

The reporter later asked Spalding about whether all players were superstitious:

“(A)nd he proceeded to explain some of the incidents and conditions supposed to influence the play.

“The players as surely believe that ducks or geese on the home ground presage defeat for that team as they do that an umpire can materially add to the discomfort of a nine,  Dalrymple had great belief that Spalding in Harry Wright’s seat would throw all the bad luck imaginable on the Chicago side.”

The Herald said when the second place Providence Grays came to Chicago that same month, the White Stockings “thought that by donning their old tri-colored caps…they would defeat them, and sure enough, they won three straight games.”

Spalding said it wasn’t limited to his own team:

“(Worcester) Captain (Arthur) Irwin always spits on the coin he tosses up for a choice of position in a game.  Jack Rowe (of the Buffalo Bisons) pulls the little finger of his right hand for luck, and all sorts of chance omens are seized upon by a club for indications of the great triumph they would like to win…(Terry) Larkin, now of the ‘Mets’ (the New York Metropolitans of the League Alliance), had an idea that he would get hurt some time for playing on Friday, and sure enough, in a game one year ago with a college team, he was struck with a ball in the stomach nd was so badly injured that his life was despaired of for a time.”

A.G. Spalding

A.G. Spalding

The 1882 White Stockings, due more to talent than superstition, won their third straight National League pennant beating Providence by three games.

“To be Hissed and Hooted at in the East is too much”

20 Jun

In 1886  Thomas Jefferson “Tom” York retired after a fifteen-year career.   As a 20-year-old he joined the Troy Haymakers in the National Association in 1871, he was with the Hartford Dark Blues for the National League’s inaugural season in 1876, and finished with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association; he also served two brief stints as a player/manager with the Providence Grays.

York, who suffered from rheumatism, had considered retiring before the 1894 season after the Cleveland Blues sold him to the Orioles, but The Baltimore American said he was induced to continue playing with a $5000 salary and “the scorecard and cushion (concession)” at Oriole Park.  After hitting just .233 in 1884, he was only able to play in 22 games the following season before calling it quits.

Tom York, middle row, far right, with the 1876 Hartford Dark Blues

Tom York, middle row, far right, with the 1876 Hartford Dark Blues

Just before the beginning of the 1886 season York was hired as an American Association umpire.  After the May 22 game in Baltimore which the Orioles lost 2-1 to the Louisville Colonels, The Baltimore Sun said:

“(York) received a dispatch yesterday ordering him to Brooklyn.  Instead of going he telegraphed his resignation.  His reason for doing so was the abuse he received from some of the spectators of Saturday’s game.  In fact, he was nearly equal to that of John Kelly, ‘the king of umpires.’  He declared (Pete) Browning’s hit near the foul line a fair hit.  He was in the best position to know, but, as it was made at a critical point, some of the audience objected, and York came in for pretty severe abuse.”

The paper said York also made a “questionable decision,” when he “evidently forgot that it was not necessary to touch a runner in a force,” and incorrectly called a runner safe at second:

“York became discouraged and the Association lost a good umpire.”

Within weeks York became a National League umpire; that didn’t last long either.

On June 30, the Kansas City Cowboys lost at home to the New York Giants 11-5, The Chicago Inter Ocean said York “was escorted from the grounds by the police on account of disapproval manifested over his umpiring.”

Less than a month later, after York was “roundly hissed” at the Polo Grounds after making “some very close decisions against the New Yorks,” in a July 22 game against the Philadelphia Quakers, he sent a telegram to National League President Nicholas Young resigning his position.  York told The New York Times:

“I have been badly treated in the West, but to be hissed and hooted at in the East is too much.  I have often heard that an umpire’s position was a thankless one, but I have never realized it before.  It’s bad enough to be hissed and called a thief, but in the West when the local club loses an umpire in fortunate if he escapes with his life.  Of all the cities in the league Kansas City is the worst.”

York said there was another incident Kansas City the day before he was escorted from the field by police:

“On June 29 when the New York men beat the Cowboys 3 to 2 (William “Mox”) McQuery hit a ball over the fence, but it was foul by 25 feet, and I declared it so.  After the game Vice President (Americus) McKim, of the Kansas City club wanted to know how much money I would get from the New Yorks fir That decision.  I remarked that I received my salary from the league and did not take a penny from the New Yorks or any other none.  Then he grew furious, and said he would end my days.  This in conjunction with other things incidental to the life of an umpire has made me tired of the business, and I intend to make room for some other victim.”

Despite quitting both leagues within two months, The Baltimore American said the American Association sent York a telegram in two months later “asking him if he wanted an appointment as umpire.”  The paper said “York replied no, emphatically, as his past experience was sufficient to justify his remaining at home.”

York remained at home for the rest of the season and the next, but while he never worked as an umpire again he returned to baseball in 1888 as manager of the Albany Governors in the International Association.  Over the next decade he was connected with several East Coast minor leagues, including the Connecticut State League, the New York State League and the Eastern Association, as a manager and executive.

York retired to New York where he became one of the many former players employed at the Polo Grounds at the behest of manager John McGraw.  In 1922 The New York Telegraph described his position:

“York has the pleasant post of trying to keep the actors, tonsorial artists and plumbers out of the press stand.  It is old tom who examines your pink paste board and decides whether you are eligible for a seat in the press cage.”

Tom York, 1922

Tom York, 1922

In February of 1936, as preparations were being made for York, along with James “Deacon” White, George Wright, Tommy Bond,  to be honored that summer at the  All-Star Game  as the last four surviving players from the National League’s first season, the former player, manager, executive and umpire died in New York.

McCloskey, Mays and Hair Color

12 Mar

Carl Mays is best known for being the pitcher who hit Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman with a pitch, resulting in the only hit by pitch death of a Major League player. In fifteen seasons he posted a 208-126 record with a 2.92 ERA.

Five years before he became infamous for Chapman’s death, Mays became embroiled in a strange feud with former National League manager John James McCloskey; the dispute was over hair color.

Carl Mays

Carl Mays

In December of 1914, McCloskey was a well-respected figure in baseball, credited with being the “father” of the original Texas League in 1888, he had spent five seasons as manager of the Louisville Colonels and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League, and another 23 as a minor league manager and owner.

Mays was coming off a 24-8 season for the Providence Grays in the international League, and while called up to the Red Sox in the closing weeks of the season had not yet appeared in a big league game.

The controversy originated when Charles “Toby” Fullerton, a pitcher for the Seattle Giants in the Northwestern League was quoted in an article that appeared in The Pittsburgh Press and several other papers about pitcher “Seattle Bill” James, who had just led the Boston Braves to a World Championship. Fullerton said when he and James were teammates in Seattle in 1912, manager Shad Barry had, “condemned the youngster for being a blond,” he then was quoted saying McCloskey also, “has no use in the world for blonde ball players.”

“Seattle Bill” James

The strange, silly, throwaway quote should have been the end of it, but it was apparently serious enough for McCloskey to issue a long denial from his home in Louisville, Kentucky. The full-page letter McCloskey wrote appeared in more newspapers than the original story, and read in part:

“Let me say, I have been accused of every crime in the calendar, but this is too much.”

McCloskey claimed the “rumor” originated when he was managing the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association in 1910. Outfielder Rube DeGroff played for McCloskey (incidentally, Shad Barry was also a member of the team), and according to McCloskey:

“We were playing in Kansas City, we were behind…and made a big rally that came near giving us the game. The bases were full in the last inning, with two men out, when the big, blonde and good-natured Rube DeGroff, who was a splendid all-around player and life of the club, came to bat with the bases full and struck out. I was sore over losing the game and made the remark that I never saw a cotton-top who ever made good in a pinch.”

McCloskey said he also believed anything Barry might have said to or about James was certainly a joke, and closed with a final defense:

“In fact, in my humble opinion, I think the blonde has a shade over the brunette. But why the color of a man’s hair should have anything to do with his ability as a ball player is a mystery to me, and I hope this explanation will put an end to these silly rumors.”

It didn’t.

Within days Carl Mays weighed in, claiming that he had twice been rejected for an opportunity to pitch for McCloskey’s Ogden Canners in the Union Association because he was blond.

Mays said:

“McCloskey is a liar pure and simple…In 1912, when I was on my way to Boise to try out for the Boise team; I stopped off at Ogden, thinking possibly owner McCloskey might give me a trial. I met him downtown in a billiard parlor and went up and introduced myself.

“McCloskey looked me over carefully, like a horse-trader examining a piece of horseflesh, and then suddenly espied my blond hair. ‘No,’ said he coolly, ‘I don’t want you. In fact I wouldn’t have you around the ranch. I don’t want any blonds in my camp.’”

Mays also claimed that later in 1912 while compiling a 22-9 record for the Boise Irrigators in the Western Tri-State League; he was nearly sold to McCloskey’s pitching-strapped Ogden Canners until:

“One of the Ogden players happened to mention the fact that he was the same blond-haired fellow who had asked for a job earlier.”

According to Mays, McCloskey said:

“’Deal is off. Send that white-haired guy over here and I’ll kill him.’”

The story stuck with McCloskey for more than 20 years. A 1916 story in The Providence Tribune said:

“Scouts all over the country know McCloskey and never did one in his employ recommend a light-haired ballplayer…His peculiarity was well-known, and he knew that no one would have the temerity to recommend to him a blond or light-haired ballplayer. “

The black-haired John McCloskey

The black-haired John McCloskey

In 1934, The Milwaukee Journal called McCloskey, “one grizzled veteran who frowned on blond athletes.”

The article quoted E. Lee Keyser, a long-time minor league executive, who said when McCloskey managed Butte, “One of (McCloskey’s) players was an Indian outfielder whose hair was black,” the player struck out in a critical situation. According to Keyser, when the unnamed player returned to the clubhouse later, McCloskey grabbed his hair and said: “I just want to know if you’re wearing a wig. You hit like a blond.”

McCloskey managed in the minor leagues until he was 70-years-old, he died eight years later in 1940.

“Bill Abstein Denies he is a Bonehead”

20 Feb

Pittsburgh Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss and manager Fred Clarke felt all they needed to win a World Series was a first baseman.  Since winning the National League Pennant with Kitty Bransfield in 1903, only one Pirate first baseman hit better than .260 (Del Howard .292 in 1905).

In 1908 the Pirates finished second with four different first basemen, Harry Swacina, Alan Storke, Jim Kane and Warren Gill; none played more than 50 games, none hit better than .258 and they combined for 29 errors.

The man who took over in 1909, and was with the Pirates for their World Series victory, might have preferred to have never been given the job.

Bill Abstein had played eight games at second base and in the outfield for the Pirates in 1906, before returning to minors.

-Abstein had put up respectable, but by no means spectacular, numbers with the Shreveport Pirates in the Southern Association and Providence Grays in the Eastern League from 1906 to 1908—but as early as August of 1908 The Pittsburgh Press said he was the answer to the Pirates problem at first base:

“Fred Clarke is very eager to secure Bill Abstein from Providence.  Bill is rated the best first baseman in the Eastern League, and he would no doubt strengthen the Pirates where they are weak.”

When Abstein joined the Pirates before the 1909 season The Press said:

“The acquisition of bill Abstein has rounded our infield nicely.  He’s the best first baseman we have had in years and he certainly fits in nicely.”

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Abstein, Providence 1908

In a letter sent to Dreyfuss with his contract, Abstein told the Pirate owner:

“Fred Clarke will not have to worry about a first baseman after he sees this big German hustling around the bag.”

In keeping with his career performance, Abstein had a respectable season for the pirates.  He hit .260 and drove in 70 runs.  His 27 errors were only a slight improvement over 1908’s first baseman by committee.

The Pirates won 110 games and won the National League Pennant by six and half games over the Chicago Cubs and met the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.  The series would be the beginning of the end of Abstein’s Major League career.

09pirates

1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, Abstein 11th from left.

Abstein struggled at the plate (6 for 29 with nine strikeouts) and in the field (5 errors total, 2 each in games 3 and 4).  The Pirates won the series in seven games, but despite the victory, Abstein quickly became the subject of ridicule in Pittsburgh.

An Associated Press article after the series said:

“During the games with Detroit Abstein appeared to forget all that he knew about base ball.  He ran the bases foolishly, made a number of costly errors, failed to hit and disobeyed orders.  In fact, his playing was worse than that of any other man on either team.  The other Pirates, seeing that Abstein was the ‘goat’ for the combination, kept up the cry against him…Before the series was ended many of the Pirates shunned Abstein and it was reported he would be traded.”

The Pittsburgh Press was less generous:

“Bill Abstein denies he is a bonehead and says baseball is largely a case of ‘if-you-can-get-away-with-it,’ well it’s a cinch that Bill couldn’t in the National League.”

The Pirates were unable to trade Abstein and finally put him on waivers.  He was claimed by his hometown St. Louis Browns.

Even though the Pirates had actually won the Worlds Series and even though Abstein was gone, that didn’t mean the Pirates, and The Pittsburgh Press, wouldn’t continue to pile on.

Barney Dreyfuss told The Associated Press shortly after Abstein was claimed by St. Louis:

“We have discarded the weakest offensive player we had—Abstein—and hope to improve the team by doing so.”

Dreyfuss also claimed:

“Fred (Clarke) told me as early as last June that we should get someone else for Abstein’s place in 1910, as Bill mixed up the team’s plays too frequently.”

The Pittsburgh Leader said:

“(Abstein) had deplorable batting weaknesses which the opposing pitchers were certain to fathom in time.”

The Pittsburgh Press was even less generous:

“Bill Abstein is reported to be making a hit with the Browns by his work in the spring practice.  Just wait about three months friends, before declaring Bonehead Bill a wonder.”

When the Pirates sold pitcher Vic Willis the St. Louis Cardinals in February of 1910, newspapers reported that Willis and Abstein had “engaged in a bitter fight,” during the series.

Abstein quickly wore out his welcome in his own hometown of St. Louis.  Abstein made 11 errors in 23 games at first base and hit .149; he was released on June 2, 1910.  It appears Abstein was no more popular with Browns Manager Jack O’Connor than he was in Pittsburgh.  O’Connor was quoted in The St. Louis Times in May:

“How did Abstein get away with it last year?  How could he make plays like he has been making for me and get away with it all year for Pittsburgh?  I never dreamed that some of the plays made by him were even possible.”

His Major League career over, Abstein returned to the minor leagues for seven seasons.  He had one above average year with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League in 1914; in 202 games he hit .308, with 234 hits and 40 doubles.

Abstein moved on, Pittsburgh apparently did not.  For years, Pittsburgh newspapers took every opportunity to take a shot at the first baseman.  In 1915 The Pittsburgh Press, in an article about the revolving door the Pirates still had at first base–in the five post-Abstein seasons, the Pirates had four different starting first baseman–(emphasis theirs):

“No one will ever forget the way Bill did NOT play the bag in the Worlds Series.  In fact, Bill did NOT play the bag all the time he was stationed there.”

Pittsburgh finally seemed to move on by the time they won their next world Championship in 1925.  Abstein died in St. Louis in 1940.

“A Vain and Foolish Kick”

23 Nov

The Brooklyn Bridegrooms won the 1890 National League Championship by 6 ½ games over the Chicago Colts behind pitcher Tom Lovett who posted a 30-11 record.

Just three years earlier there was speculation that Lovett’s career might be over due to overwork.

Tom Lovett, 1890

Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1863, Lovett began his professional career with Waterbury in the Connecticut State League in 1884.  He appeared in 16 games for Philadelphia Athletics in the American Association in 1885 and was in the New England League with the Lynn/Newburyport Clamdiggers.

In 1887 he signed with the Bridgeport Giants in the Eastern League and dominated the league in May and early June.  Despite getting off to a fast start (the team was 20-5 in May), Bridgeport was suffering a decline in attendance and the franchise was in trouble.

At the same time community leaders in Oshkosh, Wisconsin were determined to win the Northwest League championship, and they put enough money together to offer to purchase Lovett who was 21-3, as well as Tug Wilson, Bridgeport’s catcher and leading hitter, and shortstop Dan Shannon, the Eastern League’s leading base stealer.

Lovett was 20-2 for Oshkosh (40-7 for the season) and they easily won the championship, but he did not pitch during the season’s closing days; The Sporting Life reported that “Lovett is said to be lame in the arm.”

Despite speculation well into the next spring that his arm was permanently “lamed,” Lovett recovered and posted a 30-14 season in 1888 with Omaha in the Western Association.   In the fall of 1888 he was purchased by Brooklyn, then in the American Association.

Lovett was 17-10 in his first season with Brooklyn, and followed that with his pennant-winning performance in 1890.  He then dropped to 23-19 in 1891 as the team fell to 6th place; Lovett threw a 4-0 no-hitter in June against the New York Giants.

After the 1891 season Brooklyn attempted to cut his salary to $2800 (various sources say he either earned $3000 or $3500 in 1891).  Lovett demanded $3500 and turned down a compromise offer of $3200.

He said he could earn more money operating his tavern in Providence and chose to sit out the 1892 season.

The Sporting Life called it, “A vain and foolish kick against salary reduction.”

In this case the critics might have been correct.  The Lovett-less Grooms improved from 61-76 in 1891 to 95-59 in 1892.

Hat in hand, he returned to Brooklyn for the 1893 season signing for $2400.

Lovett pitched in only 14 games and had a 3-5 record before hurting his arm again.  The following season he pitched for the Boston Beaneaters until he was released in July.  His Major League career over, Lovett finished 1894 in the Eastern League with the Providence Clamdiggers and spent 1895 with the renamed Providence Grays in the same league.

Lovett, with Boston 1894

Lovett, most likely baseball’s first true hold out, spent the rest of his life in Providence and died in 1928.

“The Greatest Play Ever Made”

2 Aug

Most fans know that the first confirmed major league unassisted triple play was turned by Neal Ball of the Cleveland Naps July 19, 1909, and that one credited to Paul Hines of the Providence Grays against the Boston Red Caps May 8, 1878 has been disputed.

What most don’t know is that the first confirmed unassisted triple play in professional baseball was turned on August 18, 1902 by Hal O’Hagan of Rochester in an Eastern League game in Jersey city, New Jersey.  The New York Times called it “The Greatest Play Ever Made in Baseball.”

Patrick Henry “Hal” O’Hagan had two brief stays in the major leagues.  He played in one game as a twenty-two-year-old rookie with Washington in 1892, and trials with Chicago and New York in the National League and Cleveland in the American League in 1902.

After being released by the Giants in mid-July, O’Hagan was signed by Rochester to manage and play first base.

John Butler was batting for Jersey City with George Shoch on second and “Mack” on first (every contemporary newspaper account identified the runner on first this way, it was probably catcher/1st baseman Frank McManus).  Butler attempted a sacrifice bunt as The Times reported “O’Hagan ran in and caught the ball within a few inches of the ground, a seemingly impossible catch.”

According to the glowing account: “Having in his quick-thinking mind the possibility of a triple play, O’Hagan, with the coolness and agility which are part of a baseball player’s earning capacity, ran back and placed his foot on the initial bag thus completing a double play.”  O’Hagan then ran to second as Shoch returned from third, “It was a hot race, but O’Hagan, ball in hand, reached the bag first, thus dismissing the side.”

Diagram of the play published in The New York Times and several newspapers across the country

O’Hagan continued playing until 1908, finishing his career with Lynn in the New England League.  He passed away on January 14, 1913 in Newark, New Jersey at 43 years old.

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