Tag Archives: Roger Connor

“It will be a Local Patriotic Game for Blood”

4 Aug

In 1902, John Montgomery Ward was asked to predict the future.  He wrote about what baseball would look like in 1922 in an article that appeared in a number of East Coast and Midwest newspapers:

“What will the game of baseball be two decades hence?  Frankly I don’t know.  But believe me if it has withstood what it has during the last few years it will still be here.  I believe it is going through the fire now, but it will come out whole in the end…No other game has the same hold on the public from a spectator point of view, and that is why I am confident that it will last.”

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

Ward envisioned a system in which all the players on each team would be natives of the area the teams represented:

“Two decades from now it may be no longer a mere exhibition—for that is all it is now—an exhibition of the ability of a clever manager, with more money and more tact in managerial council to get together the best players in the market—it will be a locally patriotic game for blood.

“The time is coming when the players instead of being bought to play in any team that calls them, irrespective of where they live and whence the team is located, will belong to the locality from which the team hails.

“There is a tendency in that direction already.

“The Brooklyn management is an instance of one that appreciates the value of a player who has a local following.  They have retained (Wee Willie) Keeler, though the offers of other clubs have forced them to pay him a very large salary.  But they have their reward in his great popularity with the Brooklyn patrons of the game.  He was born there.  The people know him, know his history and they feel that he is always doing his best for his town and their town.

"Wee Willie" Keeler

“Wee Willie” Keeler

“Not only is this state of affairs characteristic of this team, but it is to be seen in one or two other teams in both leagues.  The managers appreciate the money value of a ‘local attraction,’ as they call it, and they want more men of the same kind.  They can’t find them but that is due to the mistaken system of buying and selling players for their worth as players, which has killed the local end of the game and stunted the development of the town boy on the town lot.  As soon as the new system of localizing the players comes into vogue there will be a revival of general interest in the game among the ‘town boys’ and players will be made to meet the demand.

“This revitalization of the game must come, and come it will in the next twenty years because baseball as an exhibition has reached it height.  It can be developed no further, and something must be done to advance or there will be a deterioration.

“Of course, if this is done, there will be some work for the Rules Committee to do.  It will be necessary to have some sort of legislation to apportion the territory fairly among the teams.  New York being the largest city in the United States will have the advantage of a smaller city, like Boston or Baltimore, and to even up matters it would be necessary for the committee to give the smaller town enough territory to make all available population the same.  The details must be decided by the events of the future.  But I believe that something like that is about to come and will be a feature of the game of baseball in 1922.”

Ward, who engaged in, and encouraged contract jumping in order to establish the Players League just more than decade earlier, now, because of the changes in the economics of baseball, saw the practice as the greatest threat to the game:

“There will be no ‘contract jumping’ which has given the national pastime such a setback in the last two years.  And much depends upon the decision of the courts.  This contract jumping is a two-edged sword.  It will someday cut back at the American League when their players start to jump.

“Every successful game nowadays and in the future must have money invested in it. Look at the progress the game of baseball has made in the last twenty years and that will give you an idea of what we might expect.

“Twenty years ago each team had about $1,000 invested in it to put it on a working basis.  Some did not have even that much.  To-day, in Philadelphia, there is a plant which is values at about $350,000.  They own a lot in the residence section of the town and the ground is daily growing more valuable for building purposes.  In twenty years it will have tripled in value.  There is also a substantial brick wall around it and a valuable iron grand stand.

“Twenty years from now we may expect to find the conditions in Philadelphia existing all over the country, and there will be a hundred million dollars invested in the sport.  All this if the contract-jumping business is made impossible for the future.

“Take it as a fair business proposition.  Would any sane man invest his money in an enterprise which could be ruined at any moment by the failure of any outside party to fulfill his end of the contract?

“In baseball the ruin may come at any time, for if a man can ‘jump’ in March he can jump in May or June, just when his help is needed most, and there is no redress for the man who invests.  The courts, for the most part, claim that, if there is any damage done, the laws are open for redress and the manager can sue the player for damages.  But whom can he sue and from whom get redress?  Yhe contract-jumper has nothing and is generally irresponsible.  If a coal company contracts to deliver so many tons of coal to you in so many months, and you, in turn contract to deliver so many tons to other parties in so many months, and you are made to lose money because the coal company breaks the contract and fails to deliver the goods, you can get legal redress in an action for damages.  But not so with the baseball manager.

“If contract-jumping is allowed, the future of baseball is a future full of small things and a lack of progress.  But contract-jumping will not be heard of twenty years hence.  Already one state in the Union has declared against it legally—the state of Pennsylvania.  They have good lawyers down there, and they know what they are talking about.  And the crucial test and the future of baseball—a future full of big things as yet undreamed of, is now in the hands of the Circuit Court of the United States.

“If the Circuit Court of the United States falls in line with the Pennsylvania decision (Philadelphia Ball Club v. (Napoleon) Lajoie) there will be no more contract-jumping, and the manager, after signing his contracts with his players, can invest his whole fortune, safe in the belief that he will not risk it subject to loss at the whim of his players or through the wiles of a rival organization.

“Then the game will take on a luxury which has not heretofore been possible, and the game of twenty years from now will see as much improvement as it saw in the last twenty years.”

Ward predicted no major rule changes, saying they “seem to have reached perfection” but conceded “Still, there is a Rules Committee, created to make rules, and it naturally feels it must do something to earn its salary.”  Ward said he endorsed two major rule changes during the past decade; the rule to “move the catcher up under the bat,” (adopted in 1901 in the National League and ’02 in the American), and the 1893 change that increased the pitching distance to 60’ 6”.

“It gives the batter a better chance to fix his attention on hitting the ball, because he does not need to be afraid of an inshoot or know when he takes the bat in his hand that he is also taking his life in his hand.  I tell you it was a serious matter in those days to get hit by a ball from the strong arm of one of those fast pitchers, as my own experience can testify.”

As with every era of baseball, Ward said some of his contemporaries thought the game had already changed so much as to no longer resemble the game they played twenty years earlier:

“I was talking to one the other day in Philadelphia (Arthur Irwin).  He is of the old school you know (and said) ‘Oh, it’s not like the old days, when I played on the Philadelphia team for four years without men being changed.  All we had were (Jack) Clements and (Deacon) McGuire as catchers, (Charlie) Ferguson, (Charlie) Buffington and (Dan) Casey as pitchers, (Joe) Mulvey, (Charlie) Bastian, (Sid) Farrar and myself in the infield and (George) Wood and (Jim) Fogarty in the outfield.

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

“’We didn’t need to be nervous every time we made an error, and look to have one or more of a half dozen substitutes take our place.  And we played ball, we did, and no mistake, for we knew our jobs were safe.’”

Irwin’s recollection was fuzzy—the lineup as he described was only in place in 1887  (but even that season Barney McLaughlin played more games at second than Bastian) –but he insisted the lack of competition for a roster spot made players better:

“’We could give these boys who are playing now cards and spades on lots of things, inside work and out, and best them.  We had the hit and run, and we didn’t bunt as much as they do now.  I can’t see how runs can be made by so much bunting.  Oh, for the good old time back again when the swatting game was the thing.  I believe the public would rather see the boys slug the ball and run.  Shades of Roger Connor, ‘Buck’ Ewing and Jim O’Rourke!  What would they think of this bunting business?  It makes me sick to think of it.’”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

Ward said Irwin was one of many “old-style players who feel the same way,” but he was more optimistic, but still managed to take a shot at current, and future,  players:

“I have great hopes for the future of the game, and I believe that all that has been done in the past to make it take the place it occupies to-day will not be a circumstance to what will be done in the next twenty years to make it take the place in the heart of the nation which has not been dreamed of heretofore.

“The players may not be as good as the players of the past, and this especially true of the local player idea becoming a fact, but the interest will be great, and after all, the interest in the game is the fountain source of its life.”

Frank Bancroft

14 Jul

When Frank Carter Bancroft died in 1921 at age 74, “Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide” said:

“His executive ability and Knowledge of Base Ball, combined with the fact that he was for sport first and the show element of Base Ball secondarily, rendered him one of the most competent of men to handle the affairs of a professional team.”

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

While working in the front office of the Reds in 1892, Bancroft talked with Harry Weldon, sports editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer about some of the players who got their start with his teams.  He also didn’t seem to mind taking a swipe at a couple former players:

“Probably no man now before the public except Harry Wright or Adrian C. Anson have had a longer or more varied experience with the intricacies of the great National Game than Frank C. Bancroft.  He never wore the spangles, like a great many other managers, but he has been connected with the game in a managerial capacity since the early seventies.  ‘Bannie’ is one of the wittiest men in the profession and he has a fund of anecdotes about players and plays that are well worth hearing.  Many of the great baseball stars now before the public made their debut under Mr. Bancroft’s management.  Many of them who are now drawing $4,000 or $5,000 a season worked under Bannie for about one-tenth that amount and were glad to get it.  Bancroft was one of the leading lights in the original New England League, which graduated a great many of the stars of today.

“At the present time Mr. Bancroft is business manager of the Cincinnati Reds.  He has nothing whatever to do with the players. All of that part of the club’s affairs being under the supervision of Captain (Charlie) Comiskey.  All Bannie has to do is look after the gate, railroad rates and dates.  The other evening the veteran manager was in The Enquirer office and grew reminiscent.  His recital of the details of the debut of some of the stars is worth reproducing.

Harry Stovey, one of the greatest ballplayers today, began his professional career under Manager Bancroft.  He began his career in the pitcher’s box and graduated out of the ranks of a Philadelphia amateur team called the Defiance in 1877 (the Philadelphia Defiance were a professional team, part of the league Alliance).  Manager Bancroft heard of him, and in 1878 engaged him as a change pitcher for the New Bedfords.  G. Washington ‘Grin’ Bradley was the regular pitcher of the team, and as he was an every-day pitcher Stovey was never allowed an opportunity of displaying his pitching abilities on the New Bedford team.  He had to be content with warming the bench until fate was kind and he had a chance.

Stovey

Harry Stovey

“‘Stovey played his first game with our team at Baltimore,’ said Mr. Bancroft.  ‘we were making an exhibition tour when John Piggot, the first baseman, was taken ill, and as we only carried ten men, Stovey was called on to make an attempt to play first base.  His maiden effort was a brilliant one—so brilliant that it lost Piggott his job and made Stovey a fixture on first.  He had at least twenty putouts, no errors and several cracking hits to his credit that day.  He played the season with us, and his fame spread so that he was signed by the Worcester (Ruby Legs) League team and afterward with the Athletics Stovey’s salary the first season in New Bedford for $50 a month.  Now he is paid nearly that much a game.’

George Gore, the crack center-fieder of the New Yorks is another player who came into prominence with the New Bedfords that year.  Gore’s home was in Maine, at a little town called Saccarappa…Gore was about as green a specimen as ever stepped into the business.  He played a few games with the Fall Rivers, and then the New Bedfords got him.  He was a big, awkward country boy then, but he could run like a deer and hit the ball like a trip hammer.  Gore signed with the New Bedfords under Manager Bancroft for $50 a month, but he did not stay with them long.  His terrific batting attracted the attention of the whole baseball world, and soon the more prominent clubs were after him.  While the Chicagos were in Boston the late lamented (William) Hulbert, President of the National League, who was with them, ran up to New Bedford to have a talk with Gore.  Luck was with big George.  He had his eye with him, and made three home runs in the game.  That feat settled his fate.  Before Hulbert left New Bedford he had Gore’s name to a contract to play in Chicago in 1879 at $150 a month.  His career since that time is well known.  Today he is yet a great hitter, and reached first base as frequently as any player in the business, by either hits, errors or bases on balls.  His ability to reach first causes him to be selected to head the battery list of the New Yorks.

Arthur Irwin is another player whom Manager Bancroft put in the business. ‘He made a grand impression in his opening game with me,” said Manager Bancroft.  ‘I was then manager of the Worcester League team, and we were on the hog train for a while, owing to Charlie Bennett’s glass arm and Buck (William “Farmer”) Weaver’s faint heart.  Matters were so bad that a crisis was at hand.  A meeting of the stockholders of the club was called, and it was voted to place the team in my hands for one month, and if no improvement was shown at the end of that time I was to be given the chase.  It was a dying chance for me, and you could gamble that I had my eyes and ears open for a savior of some kind.  Arthur Irwin was then playing with an amateur team called the Aetnas, of South Boston, and I engaged him to play short with the Worcester.  (J. Lee) Richmond, the once famous left-handed pitcher, who played here with the Reds in 1886, was then with the Brown University team and he was telegraphed to come for a trial.  We played the Chicagos that day, and we shut them out, only one man getting first base.  Irwin made a great hit at short, and Richmond was a wizard.  Irwin was a fifty-dollar-a-month man, and that was the start of his professional career.  Richmond is now a physician at Geneva, Ohio.’”

The game Bancroft referred to was an exhibition between Worcester (a member of the National Association) and the National League’s Chicago White Stockings played on June 2 in Worcester. Richmond walked the first batter, Abner Dalrymple, and then retired the next twenty-one before the game was called after seven innings.  The Chicago Tribune said Richmond struck out 8.  Worcester tagged Frank Hankinson for 12 hits and 11 runs (Chicago also committed 11 errors).  Bancroft was correct that Richmond became a physician, but by 1892, he was no longer practicing and was working as a teacher in Toledo, Ohio.

J. Lee Richmond

J. Lee Richmond

“Big Roger Connor of last season’s New Yorks, but now of Philadelphia, received his professional introduction under Manager Bancroft.  ‘It sounds queer to say that such a cracking hitter as Roger Connor was ever released for poor batting, but such was the case’ said Manager Bancroft

“’I had him with the New Bedfords in 1878, but he was hitting so poorly that I released him.  He afterward signed with the New Havens the same season, but the disbanded.  Roger left New Haven and went to Waterbury, his home, where he joined an amateur team in that city called the Monitors.  Up to that time he had batted right-handed, but he decided to turn around and try it left-handed.  The change saved his life.  He blossomed out as a great slugger, and his reputation has been growing ever since.

“Connor, like Stovey, began his professional career at $50 a month, and has since climbed to the top rung of high salaried players.  Many young players of today should look upon these as examples for honest and temperate habits have enabled them to remain at the head of the profession, while the path is strewn with a multitude of others who might have been where they are if they had not thought this world was a continuous round of gaiety and fun and discovered their mistake when it was too late.”

 

“No Exhibition was ever Received in this City with more Enthusiasm”

2 Jul

The New York World unveiled a newly updated attraction for baseball fans on August 6, 1889; the “Baseball Bulletin,” a version of which had also been introduced at the Boston Music Hall earlier that summer.

The Boston Music Hall "Bulletin Board."

The Boston Music Hall “Bulletin Board.”

The Associated Press said some fans thought the board was “an advantage over the actual game, in that it not only reproduces the plays graphically and simultaneously, but it keeps at the same time a simple and conspicuous record of the contest.”

The New York World's "Bulletin Board."

The New York World’s “Bulletin Board.”

The Boston Herald said their board measured “fifteen feet square.”  New York’s board was an improved version of one that had been used the previous October for the Giants six game to four World Series victory over the American Association’s St. Louis Browns.

The crowd on Park Row for the 1888 World Series

The crowd on Park Row for the 1888 World Series

The board was the creation of  reporter Edward Van Zile of The World; Van Zile received a patent for the invention, although it was another member of the paper’s staff, Publisher Joseph Pulitzer’s secretary Edwin A Grozier, who turned it into a profitable enterprise. After purchasing the original rights from Van Zile, Grozier improved the design and received his own patent.

The World said the new version was a bigger sensation than the one introduced the previous October:

“’Perfection’ is the word which expressed the verdict of the baseball public who had the good fortune to witness the game between the New York Giants and Baby Anson’s team on The  World’s Baseball Bulletin Board yesterday afternoon…it is safe to say that no exhibition was ever received in this city with more enthusiasm than was the baseball bulletin.

“And the crowd too!  What a vast number!  There must have been fully 10,000 people in the audience, and the way they cheered when the Giants made a run was a sound that would have made Baby Anson sick.”

The presentation of the game took place on New York’s “Newspaper Row” (Park Row), with a crowd on the east side of the street

“(E)xtending from above The World Building to far below it (and) on the west side of the street the crowd was much larger.  There was a long line of people from Mail Street almost down to the other end of the big Federal Building.

“No point from which the game could be witnessed was left vacant.  The boys climbed up and lodged themselves in among the pillars of the Post Office…Even the lamp post was monopolized by the urchins, and when our boys made a good play they generally led the cheering.”

The “expert board operator placed the Chicago men in the field,” for the first inning, and leadoff hitter George Gore at the plate:

“When (Gore) slid down to first base the crowd were just ready to cheer, but they saw him put out and they reserved their applause for another occasion.

“They did not have long to wait, however, for (Mike) Tiernan and (Buck) Ewing  each succeeded in gaining bases, and then big Roger Connor was placed over home plate

“The crowd held its breath in anticipation of what was to come.  Their enthusiasm was drawn up to a high pitch, and was just waiting for a chance to break its bonds.  And they got it!  The little red disk representing Connor slid up to first and Tiernan slid across home plate.  Then there was a volley of cheers.  It broke forth clear and strong, and the sound could be heard blocks away.

“Up on the tops of the tall buildings in the neighborhood the cheers of the crowd could be heard resounding forth as a victorious army returning from battle.

“And it was all the same through the game. A great many people were attracted to the spot by the cries of the crowd, and when they saw the baseball bulletin they all united in declaring it to be the greatest thing they had ever seen.”

Chicago scored seven runs off Tim Keefe in the ninth to tie the score at 8.  The crowd’s “disapproval resolved itself into a continued groan.”

The Giants scored two runs in the tenth, and when the white Stockings came to bat in the last half of the inning:

“(T)he crowd watched more intently than at any time before.As each Chicago man went out there was a yell, and when they all went out without having made a run it was impossible to say a word that could be heard.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

The paper commemorated their innovation with a poem:

A boy was passing down the street,

Another lad he chanced to meet;

‘I’ll bet,’ he said, ‘we’re licked once more.

What is the score?’

A merchant coming down that way,

Lifted his bearded head so gray;

And ceased o’er book and cash to pore—

‘What is the score?’

A preacher wrestled with his text,

And wondered what he’d best say next;

Then called out through his study door;

What is the score?’

The Mayor in his office sat

And pondered over this and that,

The said: ‘I’m sure the game is o’er.

What is the score?’

If they had only chanced to go

Into the middle of Park Row,

And see the bulletin of The World,

And the glorious pennant there unfurled,

They’d never ask the question more

‘What is the score?’

The  World predicted the initial crowd was just the beginning:

“Today’s game between the Chicagos and the New Yorks will be duly recorded on the board.  There is room for everybody to see, and it is expected that the crowd will be twice as large as yesterday.”

The following day the paper did not say the crowd had doubled—to 20,000—but claimed it was “The largest crowd that had ever been on Park Row,” for the Giants 4 to 2 victory over the White Stockings.

Crowds continued to come to Park Row as the Giants battled the Boston Beaneaters and won the pennant on the final day of the season.

Baseball Bulletin Boards, and other versions of the concept, remained a popular feature well into the 20th Century. More often than not they were sponsored and presented by local newspapers.

The New York Sun presented their own "Baseball Bulletin Board"  on New York's Park Row in 1914

The New York Sun presented their own “Baseball Bulletin Board” on New York’s Park Row in 1914

 

“Death to Flying Things”

3 Apr

The nickname “Death to Flying Things,” is likely the only thing most baseball fans would know of John Curtis “Jack” Chapman, and even that is a morass of different and often questionable research.  He shares the nickname with one-time Brooklyn Atlantics teammate Bob Ferguson, and competing versions of the story disagree about whether first baseman/outfielder Chapman or infielder Ferguson is the one most commonly referred to by the nickname—and never with contemporaneous citations to back up the assertions.

Regardless, Chapman was an important figure during the advent of the game.

He was a well-known amateur player in the 1860s with the Brooklyn Atlantics (as opposed to the National Association team of the same name he and Ferguson played for in 1874) and the Quaker City’s of Philadelphia. Beginning at age 30 he played a total of 113 in the National Association, with Brooklyn and St. Louis, and during the National League’s inaugural season in 1876 he played and managed the Louisville Grays.

Jack Chapman, far right, with 1868 Brooklyn Atlantics

Jack Chapman, far right, with 1868 Brooklyn Atlantics

After the 1876 season, the career.246 hitter retired as a player.  Over the next 22 years he managed parts of ten seasons in the National League and American Association; including an 88-44 finish and American Association championship with the Louisville Colonels in 1890.  He also managed for 11 seasons in the minor leagues, retiring from baseball after the 1899 season.

When his managerial career ended Chapman was often asked to discuss the current state of baseball; carrying on a tradition as old as the game, and one that will never end, Chapman was adamant that the game as it was currently being played did not measure up the game during his prime.  In a column that appeared in several newspapers in 1900 he said:

“Our great national game is today in bad shape both financially and in other ways.  Whether this situation is caused by the rowdyism of the players I cannot say, but it seems to me that if the rules were strictly lived up to and the chief of umpires and his staff did their duty the game would soon climb back to the high plane it once occupied.

“The players of 10 and 15 years ago were just as fast, tricky and well up in the game as those of today…Years ago the ball used to have two and one-half ounces of rubber in it, whereas now there is only one ounce.  This reduction has made the sphere less lively and consequently easier to field…The men are now harnessed almost like football players, with gloves, pads masks and other paraphernalia.  We hadn’t these accessories in the old days, yet I don’t think the fielding is much improved.”

But mostly Chapman seemed to be concerned with his legacy as a manager:

“Probably no other man has brought out so many players as I have, mainly because I always have made it a point to be on the lookout for new blood by means of which I could improve my team…I think I may claim without anyone gainsaying my assertion, that I have turned out and sold to the National and other leagues more players who have proved to be crackerjacks than any other man living.

Robert Winchester and Mickey Welch, two old timers were ‘finds’ of mine, while Hugh Jennings, Roger Connor, Jimmy Collins, (Bill) Hoffer, (Harry) Howell and many others too numerous to mention in the major and minor leagues were developed by myself.”

Jack Chapman 1900

Jack Chapman 1900

Unfortunately, he said little and provided no details about the most significant incident of his career: as manager of the Louisville Grays in 1877 his team was the first to be involved in a gambling scandal:

“I had four men of my own team—(George) Hall, (Bill) Craver, (Al) Nichols and (Jim) Devlin—put out by the league because they were caught throwing a game.  That was the first time such a thing had ever happened, and it caused a great sensation at the time.”

“Death to Flying Things” died in 1916 in Brooklyn at age 73.