Tag Archives: Recreation Park

“The Sacred Cloth”

26 Apr

In 1923, Bill Byron again didn’t make it out of April without being pelted by bottles. During a game between the Oaks and the Salt Lake City Bees in Oakland. The Salt Lake Telegram said:

“The smiling and sarcastic indicator…was the target for a volley of pop bottles and cushions in the eighth inning of the morning game, when he made what the fans thought a rotten decision. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t much good.”

The Oakland Tribune said Byron’s decision—he called a player out at second on a force when the fielder was, according to the home team and visiting team’s local papers, “fully eighteen inches off the bag,” which led to the incident–“the worst decision ever witnessed at a Coast League game.”

This led to the third attempt since 1920 by Oakland management and fans in, “petitioning prexy McCarthy against Byron, claiming he is unjust to Oakland.”  McCarthy made no response.

Byron’s long history of bearing the brunt of a physical attack from a player continued during a July game Between Sacrament and Seattle. The Sacramento Star said:

“Fred Mollwitz got himself into an awful jam…And the worse of it all was that Fred was right, DEAD RIGHT, in his argument. Not right in smacking Lord Byron one in the kisser but right in protesting that majestic gentleman’s decision at first base.”

The paper said Mollwitz had tagged Seattle’s Jimmy Welsh who was picked-off first base:

“Welsh’s hand was a good distance (from first base). Byron promptly waved him safe. Mollwitz held Welsh pinned to the ground and called for Byron to come over and look at it.”

Byron ignored him.  After allowing Welsh up, Mollwitz got in a “hot argument” with the umpire and was ejected and began to leave the field.

“It couldn’t be determined from the grandstand whether or not Byron said something or not, but, for some reason Molly turned around and poked him in the jaw.

“It took half the Seattle Aggregation and a whole assemblage of Solons talent to drag the battling first baseman off. After that it was a riot of nearly ten minutes.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reminded readers that Byron’s “favorite hobby (is) putting a chip on his shoulder,” and many suggested the umpire was to blame for the incident.

The Salt Lake Telegram labeled Byron “a player baiter,” and said, “Bill usually gets busted once or twice a year. Molly’s action isn’t at all unusual.”

Mollwitz

A group led by the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce petitioned the league president to punish Byron, their letter read in part:

“Byron’s attitude toward Mollwitz Friday was so provocative that any red-blooded American under similar circumstances would probably have done just as Mollwitz did.”

League president McCarthy once again ignored criticisms of Byron and said:

“Mollwitz’ act was cowardly and I am sorry I cannot fine him several hundred dollars and suspend him for a month.”

Instead, he fined Mollwitz $100 and suspended him for a week and chastised Mollwitz’ supporters:

“When the people of Sacramento cool down, they will find that Mollwitz was wrong and Byron was right. The suspension stands and I will continue to employ Byron.”

Whether it was his animus towards Oakland or something else, Byron showed rare compassion for a player late in the 1923 season, a pitcher for the Vernon Tigers named Merrill “Heine” File was on the mound against the Oaks.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“An Oak on second and Heinie File was pitching. He made a couple of balks and the Oaks howled loud. The squawking became so boisterous that Lord Bill Byron raised both hands in the air and in a loud voice said: ‘He’s only a young pitcher trying to break in!’ Then Byron went to the pitching box to show the young pitcher how to stand on the rubber. The kid balked again and then umpire Ward behind the plate stepped into the diamond and called a balk.”

Oaks manager Ivan Howard asked Byron:

 “How old a pitcher must be before a balk can be called on him, and Ivan refused to tell anyone what Byron told him, but we understand it was something about how old a fellow must be to know how to run a ball club.”

By the end of the 1923 season, the Tigers, not withstanding Byron’s attempt to help File, joined the chorus of people asking the league to part ways with the singing umpire:

The Los Angeles Record team owner Ed Maier and Secretary Howard Lorenz felt the umpire, “lost $1700 insurance for the Tigers and the Beavers, robbed Vernon of a ball game and deprived spectators of a right to secure rain checks,” during the team’s series in Portland. 

Lorenz told the paper:

“The game was tied when we finished the fourth. Rain was pouring down. Manager (Jim) Middleton of Portland urged Byron to call the game, but he refused. A Portland player made a home run in the fifth and Byron called the contest as soon as they finished their half.”

In December McCarthy was replaced as PCL president by Los Angeles Express sportswriter Harry Williams; The Sacramento Star said, “Byron announces he will quit the league.”

Byron sat out 1924 but missed the PCL and apparently, despite everything, the league missed him. He agreed to come back in 1925 but broke his leg and could not return. The Sacramento Bee said while team officials in that town had been among the umpire’s biggest detractors, they would have supported his return:

 “Just to show Bill that Sacramento did not have any hard feelings against him. Edwin Bedell, chairman off the baseball committee had planned to have a ‘Byron Day’ when Bill first appeared here.”

Byron never worked as an umpire again.  He spent the rest of his life in Detroit and died in 1955.

Abe Kemp, who spent decades at The San Francisco Examiner and was the only sportswriter still working on the West Coast who covered Byron’s stormy four years in the PCL, wrote:

“Bill Byron was my friend. He was not a man who made friends easily. He was a dedicated man; a man dedicated to the profession of umpiring baseball…He went out of his way to inflame (fans). As on occasions he went out of his way to inflame ballplayers.”

Kemp told a story about Byron that explained Byron better than any other ever written during his life:

 “’This blue uniform,’ he turned on towering ‘Truck’ Hannah one afternoon at Recreation Park, ‘has got to be respected.’

“From his lofty height of six feet four, Hannah carefully inspected Bryon’s sacred blue uniform.

“’You know Bill,’ he said slowly, ‘I would have more respect for your blue uniform if it didn’t have a patch in the seat of the pants.’

“Theatrically, Byron waved Hannah out of the ball game.”

The other umpire, Bill Guthrie scolded Byron for throwing Hannah out of the game:

“Byron leveled his ejection finger at his partner. “’Hannah cast aspersions on the sacred cloth.”

“The Sock on the jaw ended the game and their Friendship”

2 Sep

In June of 1922, Seventy-two-year-old Cal McVey was still working; more than 40 years after his final game with the Cincinnati Reds, he was a night watchman at a San Francisco lumber company.

A reporter from The San Francisco Call and Post called him to let him know the National League had just voted him a monthly pension.

“It was welcome news to the old-timer.  Jobs have been more and more infrequent and difficult to hold…Rheumatism and other ills of advancing age have meant weeks in the hospital…The idea of a benefit for the veteran had been suggested and abandoned, for the name ‘Cal McVey’ carried little significance to the bulk of 1922 fans.”

A benefit game on McVey’s behalf between two military teams held in 1919 at San Francisco’s Recreation Park had drawn a very small crowd.

The paper said

“(T)he league will only be doing what is partially due a man who was one of the real founders of organized baseball and one who did his full share toward keeping the game out of the clutches of the gamblers.”

McVey had been “approached” while playing for the Boston Red Stockings.

“This gambler was a friend of Cal and the two were playing billiards one day in Boston when the proposition was made…(McVey hit the gambler) so hard on the jaw that he forgot all about baseball and everything else for awhile…The sock on the jaw ended the game and their friendship.”

Cal McVey

                   Cal McVey

The Call and Post claimed McVey left major league baseball behind while still in his prime at the age of 30 partly as a result of his disdain for gamblers.  After the 1879 season, McVey, then manager of the Reds came to the West Coast with the team for a series of games with the Chicago White Stockings and local teams:

“Cal suspected two men on his team of being too friendly with gamblers.  But he could not prove anything on them, nor could he get the owner of the club to fire them (and) he was disgusted that fall because his team did not win the pennant when he thought it had the class to do so.”

After finishing in second place in 1878, the Reds added shortstop Ross Barnes and had high expectations for the 1879 season—McVey replaced Deacon White as manager in June—they finished the year 43-37 (34-28 under McVey) in fifth place.

McVey “took a flyer” on an investment in a mine while in California and The paper said he was “unlucky enough” to have quickly made a $3500 profit—he earned $2000 with the Reds that season.

“That settled it.  No more baseball for him (not entirely, McVey did play in the California and Pacific Leagues in 1880 and played with some independent teams in the mid-1880s). He was cut out for a mining broker.  He sold his stuff in Cincinnati and moved to San Francisco.”

McVey was successful in San Francisco until the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires:

“Cal was running a cigar store at Third and Folsom Streets…His wife (Abbey) was hurt in the disaster and, after a lingering illness of two tears, she died.  Cal says the light of his life went out when his wife died.”

After the loss of his wife and business, McVey worked a series of jobs.  In 1913, a wire service report said he had been “crippled” in a mine explosion in Nevada and friends in California asked many of his former teammates to help him financially.

It is unclear how incapacitated McVey was from the accident, in 1919 he was healthy enough to travel to Cincinnati for the World Series, but by 1922, when the National League granted his pension, McVey was nearly destitute and in poor health.  He told the reporter who called him with the news he “was proud today that the National League had ‘remembered an old fellow like me.’”

McVey 1922

                  McVey 1922

McVey died in San Francisco four years later.

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