Tag Archives: Red Murray

Oyster Joe Martina

26 May

Joseph John “Oyster Joe” Martina made a name for himself in New Orleans before he threw his first professional pitch. Martina’s father Anthony was at one time the city’s largest oyster dealer, a business he passed on to his sons.

Martina was playing semi-pro ball for the Sam Bonarts—a team sponsored by the owner of a local clothing store, and for a club called the Beavers  when he decided in addition to pitching, he had a talent for distance throwing.

He won $25 in a contest at Pelican Park in July of 1909, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said Martina “threw the sphere from home plate over the back fence.”

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Martina, circa 1909

The throw was said to be 394 feet; just 11 feet short of what was considered the world record—there was some dispute in contemporaneous accounts about who actually held the record, some credited it to Larry Twitchell, said to have accomplished the feat in 1888 and others to Same Crane, whose was made in 1884.

Martina made his next attempt on July 31.

The New Orleans Picayune said:

“Joe Martina met with success this afternoon in his effort to break the world’s record for throwing a baseball, his best throw being 416 feet and 2 inches.”

The paper said he “threw a standard league baseball, which was inspected by several representatives of the southern division of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).”

The event was of interest to local gamblers and when Martina made the record-setting throw it created a stir:

“Disputes also arose over Martina being allowed five throws. Those placing wagers against his breaking the record claimed that only three throws should be allowed. It was on the fifth throw that Martina made the record.”

There was also initially some doubt that the record would be accepted by the AAU because of the five throws. The Times-Democrat said:

“Usually only three throws are allowed. But as there are no definite rules governing contests of that kind, Martina’s record will likely stand. Whether it was his fifth of fiftieth it was a great heave and one which should go as a record.”

The Picayune said there might be another problem with the record:

“One regret remains, that the throw was not measured with a steel tape. It was measured with a linen tape, and may not be accepted by the AAU officials, although the throw was so much over the record the is no question of it being farther than Crane’s”

The record, and Marina’s performance in New Orleans’ semi-pro league earned him a tryout the following spring with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association—pitching three innings in the first game of Atlanta’s exhibition series with the Philadelphia Athletics. Marina gave up one run and struck out three.

The Atlanta Georgian and News said:

“Martina is nothing if not confident.

“After his try-out against Philadelphia he said: ‘Why, it’s just as easy to pitch against those big leaguers as it is against the New Orleans semi-pros. I don’t see anything very hard. I think I can make good in the Southern league all right I certainly had the steam against the Athletics. How many his did they make, anyhow’”

The Crackers did not agree, and sold the 20-year-old to the Savannah Indians in the Sally League

Martina bounced from Georgia, to Louisiana, to Mississippi and then Texas over the next four years.

In the spring of 1914, entering his third season with the Beaumont Oilers in the Texas League, Martina faced the New York Giants.  The Giants beat him 5 to 2, but The New York Sun said:

“The Giants had practice hitting speed the other day. Joe Martina, who prescribed the medicine for the National League champions, had it in caloric quantities…I yearned for a chance in the majors, felt I had more stuff than many pitchers sent up from the South but the big opportunity always passed me by.”

Red Murray of the Giants, barely avoided getting hit in the head with a Martina fastball, and told the paper:

“’That fellow’s got as much speed as I ever saw.’ Said John after the game, and the other Giants corroborated him. He’s as fast as (Chief) Bender.”

The Sun took notice of more than the pitcher’s speed:

“This Martina is something of a character. In the course of the game the umpire announced that Mathewson would pitch today. ‘Mathewson?’ queried Martina, who appears to be n iconoclast. ‘What busher’s that?’

“’Say,’ exclaimed the skeptical Martina to Chief Meyers when the latter made a base hit after several fruitless tries in that direction, ‘you’re lucky to get a hit off of me,’ and then, by the way of an afterthought: ‘All the hits you ever get are lucky.’

“Evidently, Mr. Martina is no hero worshiper.”

When he struck out Fred Snodgrass, he asked, “How do you like that, busher?”

Throughout his 20s, Martina was considered an “iron man,” pitching from 261 to 330 innings every year from 1910 through 1915; he also, according to The Picayune regularly pitched Sunday games in New Orleans throughout each off season.
In 1916, he injured his arm—or as The Arkansas Democrat said, his “arm cracked after hard usage.”

Speed Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald compared Martina to White Sox ace Ed Walsh, “The spitball king of other days now is a bench-warmer.”

Johnson said Chattanooga Lookouts manager Kid Elberfeld was the culprit:

“Performing under orders from (Elberfeld) Martina pitched seven games in the first sixteen games of the season. From May 1 to May 13 he officiated in five engagements, toiling with a sore arm.”

Elberfeld claimed that Martina injured his arm throwing too many spitballs, Johnson said, “it behooves young pitchers bent on winning fame as iron men to work only in their turn.”

Despite the reported injury, and a release from Chattanooga, Martina pitched 278 innings in 1916 with three teams.

Martina went back to the Texas League for four more seasons—including a 28-win season for Beaumont in 1919.

In 1921 he came back to the Southern Association, with his hometown Pelicans. From 1921-1923 he won 56 games, including a 22-6 mark in 1922. He told The Times-Picayune:

“It’s the old story, “You don’t learn how to pitch until your arm is gone.”

His three-year run with the Pelicans finally earned him a major league contract in 1924.  Umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“Speaking of miracle workers, supermen, and rookie phenoms of baseball, don’t overlook pitcher Joe Martina of the Washington Nationals.

“At the age of 34, when most big leaguers are wondering how much longer they will be able to stand the pace, Joe Martina is making his debut.”

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Martina, 1924

Martina told Evans:

“I had as much stuff fifteen years ago as I have today, and with-it youth, but somehow the major leagues scouts would annually pass me up.”

He was 6-8 for the World Series Champion Senators, he pitched one perfect inning in game three of the World Series. In the off season, Washington Manager Bucky Harris told The Washington Post that Martina “will win at least 15 games this year and may reach the 20 mark.”

He was due to join the Senators in Tampa, Florida on February 19, 1925, but failed to show up. The Post said Martina wired President Clark Griffith and asked to report later because he was having a new home built. Griffith refused and he was “notified by telegraph” that he was suspended. The Washington Evening Star said he would be fined and forced “to labor at a smaller salary,” for the season.  The paper suggested that the pay cut would not impact him greatly because:

“The Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, with the resulting big crowds in attendance and the consequent increase in the oyster business conducted by Martina probably mean that the pitcher can suffer these financial setbacks and still be ahead of the game.”

He arrived in Tampa on March 1; The Star said Griffith withdrew the fine because Martina claimed he had received a letter from the Washington owner that he could report late:

“Griff admitted that in the stress of arranging for the annual pilgrimage South of his club he might have forgotten the original letter to Joe.”

On April 9, Martina, along with left-handers–Jim Brillheart and Jim McNamara—were released by Griffith. The Star said

 “(Martini’s) work this spring indicated he has passed the peak of his form which is not quite good enough for fast company.”

He returned to New Orleans for four more seasons—winning 77 games and leading the Pelicans to Southern Association championships in 1926 and 1927. The 39-year-old went back to the Texas League for one more season in 1929; after a disappointing 10-13 campaign for the Dallas Steers, Martina purchased—or bartered for—his release. The Times-Picayune said:

“Martina has been given his unconditional release at the price of two barrels of oysters. This was the price demanded by Fred McJunkin, president of the Dallas club.”

He played two more seasons in the Cotton States League and took a crack at managing with the Baton Rouge Standards in 1931—he was released mid-season at age 41.

With both the Pelicans and the Knoxville Smokies hopelessly out of the 1931 Southern Association pennant race, Knoxville signed Martina to pitch against New Orleans on the final day of the season. He started the first game of a double header, gave up six runs over eight innings and lost his final game as a professional.

Zipp Newman, sports editor of The Birmingham News and official scorer for the Birmingham Barons for 44 years said Martina’s strong arm was with him to the very end::

“After pitching a full game for Knoxville against New Orleans Sunday, Joe went to the outfield and made the longest throw-in. Joe threw the ball right up to the grandstand. There wasn’t a youngster on the field who could come close to him. Joe Martina arms are few and far between in baseball.”

Martina, who died of a heart attack in 1962, said in an interview with Newman in 1941:

“I am convinced I had more human endurance than any man who ever lived. In all my life I was never tired, even when it was 110 out there on the mound. The answer is simple: I was a good boy. I behaved myself and every at 8 o’clock I was in bed…When my arm was live the ball would sail slightly upward, and nobody could hit me. When it was dead, although the pitch was just as fast, the ball went straight, like on a string, and I was a goner.”

Lost Advertisements–“Baseball Players won $10,550 for ‘Hitting the Bull’ Last Season”

19 Jul

bd1913

 

A 1913 advertisement for Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco.

“The Immense Cut-out ‘Bull’ Durham Sign is a familiar sight in the outfield of Baseball Parks!

“Hitting this ‘Bull’ Sign with a fairly-batted fly-ball for a $50.00 prize is a feature of the National Game!”

In 1912 the Bull Durham signs were hit 211 times, among the players who collected $50 that season were: Chick Gandil, Walter Johnson, Ping Bodie, Red Murray, Harl Maggert, Hans Lobert, Gavvy Cravath and Ben Houser.

Bull Durham also gave “72 sacks of ‘Bull’ Durham,” for every home run hit in a ballpark with one of their signs.

“Last year, baseball players won 257,400 sacks ($12,870 worth) of ‘Bull’ Durham by batting out 3575 home runs!”

Chick Gandil hit the Bull Durham sign in 1912

Chick Gandil hit the Bull Durham sign in 1912

Bill Brennan versus Philadelphia

10 Jul

Umpire William “Bill” Brennan was at the center of the controversy that led to Philadelphia Phillies owner Horace Fogel being banished from the National League.  Fogel maintained that the 1912 pennant race was fixed, and that Brennan and the rest of the league’s umpires were in the tank for the champion New York Giants.

After Fogel was expelled Brennan dropped a threatened libel suit against him and the umpire’s life went back to normal, until August 30, 1913.

Fogel was working the game in Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl between the Phillies and the New York Giants.  The Giants, who were in first place by nine games, were trailing the Phillies 8-6 in the ninth inning.

Harry “Moose” McCormick, pinch-hitting for Fred Merkle, led off the inning with a groundout to second baseman Otto KnabeThe Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“As the big Giants’ pinch hitter started for the players’ bench he motioned towards the center field bleachers and shouted to Brennan that the white shirts there had blinded him.”

Brennan walked out to the center field bleachers and told the fans seated in the area to vacate their seats:

“They greeted him with jeers and catcalls; Brennan paused helplessly for minute and then walked back into the diamond.  Approaching Mike Doolan, captain of the Phillies, he ordered him to have the crowd removed.  Doolan laughed and said that it was impossible.  Then Brennan walked over to the New York bench and held a conference with Manager (John) McGraw.”

Philadelphia manager Charles “Red” Dooin had been ejected earlier in the game, so Brennan told acting manager Hans Lobert to move the crowd out of center field.  Lobert and the Phillies “explained that it could not be done.”

Brennan again went out to the center field bleachers, this time ordering a Philadelphia police officer to remove the crowd:

“The bluecoat laughed at him and said that he could not, under any circumstances, take his orders.

“’You’re under my orders,’ said Brennan.

“’I’m under no orders except from my sergeant or captain,’ was the answer.”

The crowd of 22,000 was “storming angrily for the game to proceed,” and the other umpire, Mal Eason, suggested the game be continued and played under protest.  Instead, Brennan again huddled with McGraw.

“Strangely enough, McGraw, who is generally the most volatile man in the world and charges all over the field in excitement, this time, remained quietly on the New York Players’ bench.”

Brennan walked back on the field and said, “This game is forfeited to New York, 9 to 0.”  The Giants were “running towards the clubhouse before (Brennan) completed his statement,” according to The Inquirer.

“Bedlam cut loose at that instant.  Screaming in rage the bleacherites by the thousands poured over the low rail into the playing field…a cushion seat struck Brennan in the face as he was walking towards the exit…His walk turned into an undignified run.  The bleach crowd had first tried to stop the New York players who butted their way to safety.  Then they turned toward Brennan.”

Bill Brennan

Bill Brennan

Escorted by police “with drawn revolvers,” Breen was able to get off the field.   Mobs formed outside the Baker Bowl and pursued the Giants, and Brennan, with his police escort, on their separate routes to the North Philadelphia Railroad Station:

“Brennan and his guard reached the entrance to the station just at the instant McGraw and his players came fleeing around the corner at Broad Street.  The police forsook the umpire to try and head off the larger crowd behind the New Yorkers.  With drawn guns they held them at bay for a few minutes. “

While police held two mobs at bay, a third waited for Brennan inside the station and “jumped upon him by the dozens.  (Brennan) was beaten to the ground, rose, (and) was beaten down again.”

The Inquirer claimed that McGraw and Brennan in their haste to escape the crowd boarded the wrong train, “an extra fare train from Pittsburgh,” rather than the train to New York.

Despite the mob, the chaos, and the “Missiles of all kinds,” that were thrown by Phillies fans, there was only one injury.  Giants’ utility man Arthur Tillie Shafer was hit in the head with a brick, but was not seriously injured.

Two days later National League President Thomas Lynch assigned Brennan to work the Phillies September 1 double-header with the Dodgers. The Inquirer said:

“President Lynch, of the National league, exhibited anything but a keen sense of delicacy in sending Brennan in to umpire the two games between the Phillies and Brooklyn on Monday,  or perhaps he is trying to work up a reputation as a humorist.”

National League President Thomas Lynch

National League President Thomas Lynch

Philadelphia won both games without any serious incidents.  The Inquirer headline read:

“Man Who Helped Giants Couldn’t Aid Dodgers.”

Two days later Lynch reversed Brennan’s decision, The Associated Press said:

“Lynch, in his decision says that Umpire Brennan exceeded his authority in declaring the game forfeited to the New York club and formally awards it to the Philadelphia team by a score of 8 to 6.”

While New York appealed Lynch’s decision, Brennan‘s troubles were just starting.

He learned that a warrant was issued for his arrest in Philadelphia; a Phillies fan named Henry Russell claimed “Brennan in his efforts to get out of the park pummeled him and knocked him to the ground where he was trampled by the crowd.”  At the same time, it was rumored that Brennan would be let go by the National League.  The Associated Press said:

“(Tom Lynch) is certain to let him out, it is said if he is reelected, and if another man is chosen to head the circuit he will be instructed by his nominators to dispense with Brennan.  It is not the case of the forfeit that mitigates against Brennan so much, according to the yarn circulated, but his generally inconsistent work in games where the spirit of battle ran high.  He is said to be over excitable.”

Two weeks after Lynch’s decision, he was overruled by the National League Board of Directors, and it was determined that the game would be completed on October 2,

The Philadelphia Record and The Inquirer called the decision unfair and gave the second place Phillies “all the worst of it.”

In the end, the decision made no difference.  The Phillies, nine games behind the Giants on the day of the forfeit, never got closer than seven games out of first place, and finished the season twelve and a half games behind the Giants.  The pennant was a foregone conclusion when what The Inquirer called “The longest game on record,” was finally completed.

The anti-climactic two-thirds of an inning ended quickly on October 2.  Tacked on to the beginning of a double-header, pitcher George Chalmers faced three batters:  John “Red” Murray grounded out, John “Chief” Meyers singled; Eddie Grant ran for Meyers and was forced at second on Larry McLean’s ground ball.  The Phillies “ran from the bench and danced in glee at the speedy decision in favor of the long-standing dispute.”

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After New York won the 1913 pennant, Giant pitcher and cartoonist Al Demaree featured Brennan in one of his nationally syndicated cartoons.

In December Lynch resigned as National League president; the following month it was announced that Brennan had jumped from the National League, signing a three-year contract to become a Federal League umpire (the league would only last two seasons).

The last word in the Brennan/Philadelphia controversy belonged to a journeyman boxer and fight promoter in Superior, Minnesota named Curly Ulrich.  Three weeks after the 1913 season ended The Duluth News-Tribune said Brennan, a St. Paul resident,  “attended the bouts in Superior.”  Promoter Ulrich introduced him:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to present to you Bill Brennan, National League umpire and member of the New York Giants.”

The box score as it appeared on August 31

The box score as it appeared on August 31