Tag Archives: Rube Levy

Road Trip High Jinks, 1891

1 Oct

The Sacramento Daily Record-Union described the 50-mile road trip the California League’s Sacramento Senators and San Francisco Metropolitans took to play a game in Stockton, on the box car of a freight train:

 “(The players) commenced to playing craps…The San Francisco players and also umpire (John) Sheridan were on the train, and everyone was betting his ‘chicken feed.”  Big (Edward “Jumbo”) Cartwright borrowed ten cents to start on, and came out (with) over $7…Sheridan won about the same amount, but did not stop playing and dropped $3 of what he had won.  Red (Frank) Armstrong was intensely interested in the game, except for an intermission of about five minutes, when he poked a drunk’s hand through a window in the caboose.

“At Stockton both clubs were accorded a royal reception; but the heat was sweltering and everyone was in a half-way stupor.  Just about then ‘Rube’ (Reuben) Levy and ‘Bony’ (James Peck) Sharp and a couple of others came running up the middle of the street with their coats off yelling ‘Fire!’   They ran about four blocks and when they stopped the population was running at a lively rate.  But there was no fire, except in the air”

Reuben "Rube" Levy

Reuben “Rube” Levy

The teams played that morning in Stockton, Sacramento winning 10 to 3.  Immediately after the game, the teams re-boarded the freight train (there was no description of the return trip) and played an afternoon game in Sacramento.  San Francisco won that game 13-4.

Game 1 Box Score

Game 1 Box Score–played in Stockton

Game 2 Box Score

Game 2 Box Score–played in Sacremento

“All Men were his Friends”

12 Jun

Among the reasons Rube Levy remained one of the most popular figures in West Coast baseball was his refusal to accept offers to play for teams outside of California.  The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“With all his vast experience on the baseball diamond, the young man has never ventured beyond the confines of the state in which he was born…Time and time again Rube has received princely offers from Eastern magnates bidding against each other, but he always declined their advances.  He knew that California needed him, and he said he never would desert the state.  This sacrifice on his part is what has endeared Reuben in the hearts of the populace and why he is always greeted with plaudits.”

Reuben "Rube" Levy

Reuben “Rube” Levy

Levy disappeared from professional rosters after the 1896 season, but appears to have remained active as a player and umpire in semi-pro baseball in San Francisco.

Levy, along with his brother David who also played professional ball on the West Coast in the 1880s and 90s, also worked for the San Francisco Fire Department.  A  city report from 1898 shows the brothers working out of Engine Company 14 on McAllister Street.  Reuben, badge number 187, was an assistant foreman, David, number 184, a hoseman.

In 1899 he became an umpire in the California League.  Early in the season The Sporting Life said “he is not altogether conversant with the playing rules,” and later said he “is umpiring in style, but is a little off on balls and strikes.”

The following season Levy returned as a player with the San Francisco Brewers in the California League.   On April 2, 1900 The Chronicle, which incorrectly said he had been away from professional ball for seven years, said of the crowd:

“It applauded every move made by Rube Levy, who played out in the western prairie for San Francisco, and made one hit and four putouts and otherwise distinguished himself before rooters who used to yell for him years ago.  Old timers referred to the epoch when Rube used to be the darling of the kindergarten bleachers at the old Haight Street Grounds, when 2000 shrill-voiced youngsters, at 10 cents a voice used to go into ecstasies over Rube.”

The article said of the 37-year-old, “(He) chased flies and caught them as cleverly as though he were Rube’s grandson.”

Levy appeared in 87 games in 1900, hitting .205, and returned to umpiring the following season.

In 1903 he joined the newly formed Pacific Coast League.  It’s more likely he acquired the position because of his brother-in-law, rather than based on his reputation as an umpire.  Levy’s wife was the former Rebecca Fisher, sister of Mike “Mique” Fisher one of the league’s founders and owner/manager of the Sacramento Senators.

"Mique" Fisher, Levy's brother-in-law.

“Mique” Fisher, Levy’s brother-in-law.

The reviews of his work as an umpire never improved, The San Francisco Call said about one game: “He did not give either nine the worst of it, He was just impartially rank.”   The Los Angeles Times was especially critical of his work, calling him “notoriously incompetent.”

He managed to remain on the league umpire staff through the 1904 season.

The Spokane Daily Chronicle summed up his career as an arbiter:

“He was anything but a success as an umpire, but he had the reputation of being one of the few men in the business who refused to get mad.  The players started in time and again to bait him and get him mad, but Rube always preserved his abundant good humor.”

After the 1904 season Levy opened a cigar store on Fillmore Street in San Francisco.  On February 8, 1907 the 42-year-old Levy died after a brief illness, his death was attributed to a brain tumor.

The Sporting Life said of his death:

“(T)here was never a more popular ball player in San Francisco, and of whom it can be truly said that all men were his friends.”

“The Idol of the Haight Street Grounds”

11 Jun

Reuben “Rube” Levy was one of the first Jewish professional players, and one of the biggest stars in the early days of West Coast baseball.

Born in 1862 to Prussian-Polish immigrants, Levy worked as a shoe cutter and began his professional career as a teenager, playing left field for the San Francisco Californias in the New California League in 1881.

A good fielder, but not particularly fast, The San Francisco Morning Call once described him chasing a ball: “Reuben Levy, following the ball as it sped gleefully along, looked like a cow chasing a coyote across a pasture.”

Reuben "Rube" Levy, 1888

Reuben “Rube” Levy, 1888

Levy quickly became a fan favorite.

The Morning Call, and The San Francisco Chronicle called him “the hero of the kindergarten” during the years he played at Haight Street Grounds; the title referred to the section of the grandstand adjacent to left field occupied mostly by young fans.  The Sporting Life said “there never was a more popular player in San Francisco,” and called him “The idol of the Haight Street Grounds.”

Years later, The South of Market Journal recalled that the “kindergarten” fans “applauded the genial Rube for any kind of play.”  The paper said one reason why Levy was the most popular West Coast player with children was because in the days when baseballs were a valuable commodity he would:

“Get hold of a ball that he would bide and save till the game was over, when the kids would swarm down the field and gather around their idol. He would take a ball from his pocket; toss it high in the air with hundreds of healthy youngsters, among them future greats, in a big drive to capture it. Believe us, many a spunky kid emerged from this huddle with something other than a smile, yes, more like a blue forget- me-not under the eye in the struggle for the possession of the prize. Then away Rube, the idol of the Kindergarten would gallop lo the clubhouse joyful in the thought that his juvenile admirers were
made happy for the day.”

In 1890 The Sporting Life said Levy had won a contest for the most popular player in the California League, beating out popular Oakland Colonels infielder, and fellow San Francisco native, Jim McDonald:

 “(A)t the eleventh hour the friends of Rube Levy executed a grand coup by unloading three thousand votes into the ballot box, thereby flooring McDonald and other favorites ‘out of sight.’  Sixth Street and the Kindergarten by a straight stroke had outwitted Mac’s friends and landed their boy first under the wire, and distanced all others. Well, Levy deserves it, as he is a quiet, unobtrusive gentleman and first-class ball player, and Jim would rather have been beaten in the race by his old neighbor than by any other player.”

San Francisco's Haight Street Grounds

San Francisco’s Haight Street Grounds

Levy was said to have a good arm, and while with the San Francisco Metropolitans in 1892 manager Henry Harris decided to use the left-hander on the mound in an early season game.  The Chronicle said:

“The Los Angeles (Seraphs) team has a majority of left-handed batters in its make-up, and they generally hit the ball on the seam for bases. Harris is a firm believer in the theory that a southpaw is particularly effective against this class of hitters.”

The experiment failed.  The Chronicle said Levy “with the speed of a (Amos) Rusie, but without control…entered the box against (Bob) Glenalvin‘s men (and) gave them the game in the first few Innings.”

Harris used Levy three more times on the mound, but the results were no better.  He ended up 0-2, giving up 12 hits, three walks and 14 runs (although only 2 earned) in six innings.

Levy pitched at least one more game each during the 1893 and ’94 season.  The Chronicle said of his 1894 effort pitching for the San Francisco Hot Peanuts against the Californias of San Francisco:

“Rube Levy was elected to do the twirling yesterday and in consequence of the arrangement the San Francisco team was defeated.  Throughout the afternoon Reuben’s opponents at the bat straightened out his curves for long-distance jolts, and stole bases on him unawares.  Levy’s work in the box was so ineffective that the crowd was continually provoked to offering him words of cheer and comfort.”

Levy pitched a complete game, losing 18-10, the Californias had 17 hits, stole seven bases, and the Peanuts committed 11 errors behind him.

Levy was generally described as a clutch hitter, but almost no statistics survive.   Baseball Reference lists his 1892 and ‘93 averages at .237 and .283.

Levy, unlike other pioneering Jewish players seems to have been spared  of anti-Semitism and Insensitivity, perhaps owing to San Francisco’s large Jewish population (second only to New York during his career).

While the San Francisco based Breeder and Sportsman referee to his “little Hebraic curve,” in an article about one of his pitching appearances, nothing seems to have risen to the level of what Zeke Ferrias faced when pitching in the Three-I and other Midwest leagues during the first decade of the 20th Century.   It was not unusual for newspapers, like The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald to attribute a victory to Ferrias’  “Jew luck,” and conversely, when he began to fade as a pitcher to mention that “his Jew luck had quit him.”

The first part of Rube Levy’s career came to a close when he retired after the 1896 season; the second part tomorrow.

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