Tag Archives: Saint Louis Browns

The Decline of Baseball, 1899

8 Jan

Late in the 1899 season, The Chicago Tribune editorialized on the state of the game.  The paper was convinced that baseball’s best days were behind it:

“Once upon a time this city put on mourning when its ball club lost a game and when the club returned from a victorious tour it had a Dewey welcome.  Men left stores and offices to go to the ball field.  They knew the players on the home team and exulted in their powers.  There is no more of that.  There is no longer any civic pride in the local team.  Business men no longer attend the games.  In this city and in other cities baseball has ceased to be a high-class sport.  It has become a low-grade pastime.  It is patronized by the class of people who are interested in bicycle races, long-distance pedestrian contests, gamblers, horse races and poolrooms.  Baseball, once the sport of men and women of taste, is now the diversion of hoodlums.”

As for why the game was no longer of interest to “men and women of taste,” The Tribune said:

“There is no room for doubt as to what has pulled it down from its former high state.  Commercialism in part has done it.  The players have become chattels.  Teams are bought and sold and are transferred from city to city as if they were livestock.  The men who are playing in Chicago this year may be playing in Cleveland or New York the next.  That cuts up all sense of local pride in a club…There have been teams which really belonged to Chicago.  Of late years, there have simply been organizations of hirelings whose owners instructed them to hail from here.

“Professional baseball is in the hands of a few men whose sole object is to make all they can out of a sport they have ruined.  There is no competition among them.  That championship, in the winning of which cities took so much pride once, has become a farce.”

The actions of Frank DeHass and Martin Stanford “Stanley” Robison was a particular source of the paper’s ire. The Robison brothers, owners of the Cleveland Spiders, purchased the bankrupt St. Louis Browns and transferred Cleveland’s best players, including Cy Young, Nig Cuppy, and Jesse Burkett to the St. Louis club, now called the Perfectos.  What was left of the Spiders finished with a 20-134 record.

 “Sometimes one man owns two clubs and makes draft on one to help out the other. If it becomes evident that Cleveland must be at the tail of the procession, its best men are shifted over to the St. Louis organization, both being under one ownership.  Requisitions are made on Baltimore for the benefit of Brooklyn and on New York for that of Boston.  No city can have any feeling of city proprietorship in a club under such circumstances.”

The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos

The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos

The behavior of fans was of equal concern:

“Rowdyism has come in along with commercialism and has finished what interest was left in the game. Quiet, decent people can no longer go to baseball games because of the vulgarity and ruffianism displayed there.”

The Tribune felt current players were of lower moral character than those of the previous generation:

The morals of the players have deteriorated.  They used to try to behave like sportsmen.  They act now like foul-tongued bullies.  When a question comes up for the umpire to settle, the players surround him and blackguard and threaten him.  He is fortunate if he escapes without bruises.  Fair decisions cannot be expected from a man in danger of being mobbed.  Occasionally the contending players come to blows and the spectators, who went to see a game of ball, have to witness a game of slugging, garnished with profanity.”

How low had the game gone?

“Baseball has fallen so low that gamblers do not think it is worth paying any attention to.  They have not dropped it because they fancy it is not ‘on the square,’ but because it has become an uninteresting, second-class sport.  It does not interest them now any more than a race between professional bicyclists does.  Baseball has become a recreation of the people whom commercialism, vulgarity, and Rowdyism do not displease.”

The Tribune continued their crusade against the “uninteresting” sport a month later, with an “account of the more disgraceful of the many rows witnessed by spectators of baseball games.”

Lost Advertisements–“The World’s Best Pitchers Recommend…”

8 Jul

adreach

A 1910 advertisement for Reach Baseball Goods  “The World’s Best Pitchers Recommend Reach Balls”–from International Book & Stationary Co. in El Paso, Texas.  The ad features “Detroit’s Great Pitcher,” George Mullin, “Another Detroit Expert,” Ed Willett (Misspelled Willetts in the ad), and “Athletics’ Left Hand Star,” Harry Krause.

In 1909, the 20-year-old Krause, who had been 1-1 in four appearances with the Athletics in 1908, became the talk of baseball when he opened the season with 10 straight victories–including six shutouts.  A San Francisco native who played under Hal Chase and was a teammate of Hall of Famer Harry Hooper at St. Mary’s College, Krause was asked by The Oakland Tribune what led to success:

“That’s easy.  A capable manager in Connie Mack, one of the best pitching tutors in the world in Ed Plank, fairly good control on my part and lots of luck.”

The Tribune‘s scouting report on Krause:

“He has a good curve, but many pitchers in the league have a better one.  He has speed, but any number of American League twirlers have more smoke than he.  However, there are very few twirlers, whether right or left-handers, who can equal him in control of the ball.

“He doesn’t appear to have much to the opposing batters when they first face him, but when the game is over they wonder how it came to pass that he let them down with three or four hits and no runs.”

Harry Krause

Harry Krause

On July 18 his luck ran out, Krause dropped his first game of the season, an 11-inning, 5 to 4 loss to the St. Louis Browns.

He went just 8-7 (with one shutout) the rest of the season, but led the league with a 1.39 ERA.

He appeared in only 55 more games over three seasons, winning 17 and losing 20, before a sore arm ended his major league career at age 23.

He finished the 1912 season in the American Association with the Toledo Mud Hens, then returned to California and pitched for 15 seasons in the Pacific Coast League (with a one-season detour to the western League), where he won 230 games.

Lost Advertisements–Jimmy Austin for Farmers and Merchants Bank

7 Nov

austin

 

A 1924 advertisement for Southern California-based Farmers & Merchants Bank featuring Jimmy Austin:

Jimmy Austin (or James “Pepper” Austin), the wild-cat third-sacker of the St. Louis Browns, is another of Farmers & Merchants famous depositors.

Jimmy Austin is entering into his twenty-first year in baseball; he is assistant manager and coach of the St. Louis Browns, on which team he has played for fourteen years; he is holder of the world’s speed record for circling the bases.

He has long been a consistent savings depositor of the Farmers & Merchants’ and has relied on us to make many of his investments.  Only recently we purchased three lots and a house for him at Laguna Beach and paid Spot Cash for them out of his savings.

Jimmy can retire anytime he wants to, and when he does, he will have more than enough to satisfy the average man’s idea of wealth–And his accumulations have been made by his habit of depositing regularly to his savings account in the Farmers  Merchants Bank

Austin is probably best known for being the third baseman in the famous 1909 Charles Conlon photograph of Ty Cobb sliding.

Conlon's 1909 photograph

Conlon’s 1909 photograph

In 1930 Conlon–then a proofreader for The New York Telegram–told  the story of how he came to capture what the paper called “the greatest baseball action picture ever taken.”

“Cobb was running wild on the bases that year, and the Tigers were fighting for a pennant.  I used to spend a lot of time down near third base chatting with Jimmy Austin who was a good friend of mine.

“Ty had worked his way down to second that day and the batter was trying to bunt.  As the pitcher’s arm went back to throw the ball Cobb sped for third.  Austin backed into the bag for the throw and Cobb hurled himself into the dirt, spikes flying.

“My first thought was that my friend Austin was going to be cut down by the Georgian.  I stood there motionless with my box in my hand.  I saw a blur of arms and legs through a screen of flying dirt It was a bright day and I could see Cobb’s lips grimly parted and the sun glinting off his clenched teeth.

“Austin never got his hands on the catcher’s throw.  He was knocked over.  He wasn’t hurt, however, and I was relieved because we were pretty good friends.

“Then I began to wonder if by any chance I had snapped the play.  I couldn’t remember, but I decided to change plates anyway.  It was lucky that I did, because when I printed up my stuff that night, there was the whole thing, as plain as day.”

 

Bad Bill Eagan

6 Oct

William “Bad Bill” Eagan was just 35-years-old when he died from tuberculosis in 1905, but many people probably didn’t believe it when the news was first reported.  The hard-living Eagan’s demise had been predicted and reported several times.  In 1901, the year after his professional career ended, The Fort Wayne Sentinel said:

“’Bad Bill’ Eagan who died two or three times last year, is running a poker room in Detroit.  Eagan dies on the average of three times a year and is about due for the first of this year’s series.  Eagan captained and played first base for Youngstown before his second demise last season.”

Bad Bill

Bad Bill

In 1899 Connie Mack told The Philadelphia North American:

“Eagan would be one of the best second basemen in the business if he would keep in condition.”

Eagan quickly wore out his welcome during all three of his brief stints in the big leagues.  The first, with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association in 1891, ended, according to The Syracuse Standard after an incident with team owner Chris von der Ahe:

“(Eagan) was a jolly fellow and not afraid of discipline.  The Browns got on a train at St. Louis to come East…von der Ahe’s nasal organ was rather large and red for its age and ‘Bad Bill’ determined to have some sport.

“Walking up to his employer, he caught the nose between his fingers, and said: ‘Say, Chris, how much did it cost to color that?’

“The owner of the cerise nose was furious with rage.  He released Eagan at once.  The train was ninety miles east of St. Louis, and at von der Ahe’s order the conductor put the nose twirler off the train.”

Two years later Eagan joined ‘Cap’ Anson’s Chicago Colts.  Hugh Fullerton  told the story of how he wore out his welcome there after just six games:

“Anson was a quick thinker on the ball field, but once he released the best second baseman that ever wore a suit for thinking a little quicker than anybody else on the nine.

“The second baseman in question was “Bad Bill’ Eagan. Everybody who remembers ‘Bad Bill’ will admit his supremacy on the second bag.  When the play we celebrate came up there was a base runner on second.  Chicago was one run to the good, and it was in the last half of the ninth inning.

(Bill) Dahlen was playing third base for Chicago.  The man hit a sharp liner down to second.  ‘Bad Bill’ started for it and at the same instant the man started for third base.

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

“The liner was a clipper and the ball struck ‘Bad Bill’s’ hands and bounded out.  It struck the ground ten feet away, with ‘Bill’ right after it.  Once he got his hands on it and without stopping to look where he was throwing.  ‘Bill’ let the ball fly to third base.

“Most ball players after fumbling the ball would have tossed it to the pitcher or thrown it home if, after looking around, they saw that the base runner had started to try to score.

“In this case the base runner, after touching third, went on for twenty feet and then stopped for an instant to see what had become of the ball.  He saw it coming straight as a die for third base, and went back there like a flash.  But the ball beat him by ten feet.  Unfortunately for the game, and also for “Bad Bill’ Dahlen had taken it for granted that Eagan would throw the ball to the home plate, and was not looking for it to be thrown to him.  Consequently the ball went by him, going within four inches of his nose, and striking the grand stand far behind.

“The result was that both base runners got safely home before Dahlen recovered himself and the ball, and the game was lost to Chicago.

“Anson was furious and immediately after the game gave ‘Bad Bill’ his release for making that throw.  As a matter of fact, it was the best possible play under the circumstances, and Dahlen, rather than “Bad Bill’ was to blame for it not coming out as planned.  If ‘Dal’ had thought as quickly as ‘Bill’ the game might have been settled right then and there.”

Eagan received one more trial with a major league team in 1898.  He started the season on the bench for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but was given the opportunity to start when regular second baseman Dick Padden left the team over a dispute with Manager Bill Watkins in May.

Eagan hit .328, but committed 10 errors, in 19 games at Pittsburgh.  He was sold to Louisville Colonels on June 5. The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“He is a clever fielder, a fair batsman, extremely aggressive and absolutely fearless (and will) certainly strengthen the team in one of its weakest spots.”

But Eagan never appeared in a game for Colonels.  The following day The Courier-Journal said the deal was off, and Manager Fred Clarke would only say, via telegram:

“Called deal for Eagan off for good reasons.”

The Colonels passed on Eagan despite being a team badly in need of a regular second baseman—Clarke tried nine different men at there during the season, and his primary second baseman, Heine Smith hit .190 and committed 16 errors in 26 games.

Eagan finished the 1898 season with the Eastern League’s Syracuse Stars, where he had played from 1894 to 1897.  He finished the year of 1898 in jail in his native Camden New Jersey.

That story  Wednesday

Bill Setley

1 Oct

William Warren “Wild Bill” Setley was a career minor league player and umpire, and one of the most colorful figures in 19th and early 20th Century baseball.

He was born in New Jersey in 1871—Setley often claimed he was born in 1859; his grave marker and several sources still list this date, but there is a New Jersey birth certificate that confirms the 1871 date.

Bill Setley 1895

Bill Setley 1895

Setley spent the early part of his playing career in the Pennsylvania State League (PSL).  The Shenandoah Evening Herald said in 1893:

“(Setley) kept the home management on the anxious bench for many weeks last summer by his daring and acrobatic plays on the diamond and his eccentric whims between games.”

As a pitcher, Setley was credited with introducing the hidden potato play (made famous nearly a century later when Williamsport Bills Catcher Dave Bresnahan pulled a similar stunt), and he was known for turning routine plays in the outfield into spectacular circus catches.

William A. Phelon said Setley was “crazier than Rube Waddell ever thought of being,” and described an incident “when the pennant hung on the final game,”  with the winning runs on base in the ninth inning:

“Out came a fly to Setley.  Instead of catching it squarely in both hands he deliberately turned his back, reached out behind and made a dazzling circus catch—almost an impossibility.”

Years later, another Pennsylvania paper, The Mount Carmel Item described him as:

“(O)ne of the most erratic players in his day and while here a dozen years ago he was in his prime, but for a pack of cigarettes or a drink of whiskey he was liable to throw a game.”

George McQuillan who played in several leagues Setley worked as an umpire said:

“He is one of the real wonders of the game, and it’s too bad the big league fans have never had the chance to see him in action.”

There were many versions of the most often told story about Setley, and  Clarence “Pants” Rowland told the version that most often appeared in print:

Pants Rowland

Pants Rowland

“’I was managing Dubuque in the Three-I League at the time,’ says Rowland.  ‘The game was being handled by Wild Bill Setley, who was quite the character in those days.

“’I was coaching at third base and we got a runner to first during the early innings.  The next batter made a single and our runner started on the dead run from first, rounded second and bore down on third.  Right at his heels was Bill Setley.

“The ball was quickly recovered and beat the runner to third by a couple of steps.  Setley waved him out, and I had nothing to say.  But you should have heard me yell when, on turning, he also called my other man out at second, although he was standing on the base.  The third sacker had whipped the ball down to the second sacker, trying to complete a double play on our man who was trying for the base.

“’Where do you get that way? I demanded.  You had your back turned on the play how could you call him out?’

“’Setley grinned, came over to me, and showed me a small mirror he had concealed in his hand.  ‘I had my eye on the play all the time,’ he said, ‘and you know he was out.’  I was stopped all right, had nothing further to say.’”

Setley, on a few occasions, told a different version of the story.  This one placed the event in Pennsylvania and substituted Jack Tighe for Rowland.

In this rendition, Setley claimed that on the way to the ballpark he received “an advertising mirror” as a present for his daughter.  During the game, Tighe scored from second base on an infield hit, but Setley said:

“(I) knew he couldn’t have reached there if he had gone within 50 feet of the third bag.  The crowd kept yelling ‘Throw the ball to third,’ and when the first baseman did so I called Tighe out.  ‘What’s that?  Out! What do you mean?’ He yelled, chasing out on the diamond like a wild man.  ‘You are out for cutting third.’  ‘Well, if I did you didn’t see me’…’Be reasonable, Jack’ I replied, pulling out the mirror and holding it up in the palm of my hand before my face.  ‘When I was running over to first I had this glass up this way watching you.’  That wilted Tighe and he walked back to the bench as meek as a lamb.”

The Texas League was one of the many minor leagues Setley worked as an umpire.  On September 5, 1910, a triple-header (the first two games were five innings each) was scheduled between the Houston Buffaloes and the Galveston Sand Crabs on the season’s final day, with Setley working as the umpire in all three games.  After the teams split the first two games, The Houston Post said:

“The last game of the Texas League race progressed nicely here until the second inning when (with Galveston at bat) (Gus) Dundon singled to left and (Joe) Kipp had walked.  Then (Houston pitcher  Roy) Mitchell and umpire Setley, while (Bert) James was at the bat, had some words.  Suddenly Mitchell turned on the umpire and knocked him down.  Setley arose and ran towards short position, when Mitchell threw the ball at him, striking him in the back of the head rendering him unconscious.  Immediately the crowd surged into the field.”

The Associated Press added a few details, including that Mitchell “ran up and cuffed (Setley) several times,” after hitting him with the ball, and:

“(S)everal thousand fans had swarmed into the field, all of them apparently in sympathy with Mitchell.

“Setley remained motionless on the ground and the rumor spread like wild-fire over the field that his neck was broken.  Six men picked him up, shouldered him and carried him to the club house, where a physician examined him only to discover that his pulse was perfectly normal and that he was uninjured.  It suddenly dawned on the physician that someone was playing possum.

“’Come out of it Setley,’ said the physician, ‘no one is going to hurt you.’

“Setley ‘came back’ with a grin and said nothing but his feelings had been hurt.”

During the “riot” on the field, the Galveston club left the ballpark in a wagon “and returned to town.”  The game was awarded to Houston as a forfeit.

Mitchell was arrested but quickly released on bond.  Five days later he made his big league debut for the St. Louis Browns, beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 2.

Roy Mitchell

Roy Mitchell

Somehow the Texas League and the National Commission failed to take any action against Mitchell for more than a month.  The Sporting News said:

“It was a matter of surprise that Mitchell was allowed to come direct to St. Louis and continue play, as if nothing had happened.”

He was fined $50, and while it was announced he was also suspended indefinitely, he was allowed to begin the 1911 season with the Browns.

Setley was let go by the Texas League in November.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram said:

“(He) will always remember his short sojourn in this league as an umpire, as it probably was one of the most strenuous periods of his existence.  His first appearance was in Fort Worth, where he narrowly avoided a serious conflict with a spectator, and he precipitated wrangles at nearly every point he officiated, with the climax coming in the memorable last day’s game at Houston.”

More Setley stories later this month.

“It is Feared that the Cares of his Office are making an old man out of Tim”

18 Aug

Timothy Carroll “Tim” Hurst had an eventful season in 1906.

He had been an umpire since 1891—with the exception of one awful season managing the St. Louis Browns to a 39-111 last place finish in 1898.  In 1904 Hurst retired from the National League, but months later joined the umpire staff of the Central League, and took a job in the American League in 1905.

Tim Hurst

Tim Hurst

The Kansas City Journal described the 5’ 5” umpire who was also a boxing referee::

“Hurst is a pudgy little fellow, below medium height, with sandy hair, twinkling blue eyes and a ruddy complexion.”

He was often called “pugnacious” for his on field, and off, altercations, and once told a reporter for The New York Herald how he dealt with argumentative catchers:

“Never put a catcher out of the game.  If the man back of the bat is sassy and objects to your calling of balls and strikes, keep close behind him while doing your work and kick him every time he reaches out a catch a ball.  After about the third kick he’ll shut up.”

The incident that earned him the most attention in 1906 happened during a May 7 game in New York between the Highlanders and the Washington Nationals.   The New York Times said during the fifth inning:

(Frank) LaPorte was declared out at first base on a close decision.  Manager (Clark) Griffith rushed over to the base line, and, throwing his cap in the air, protested against the decision.  He wildly gesticulated, and Hurst ordered him away.  Griffith, instead of following Hurst’s instructions, stepped up to the latter, protesting all the time.  In his excitement he stepped upon Hurst’s foot.”

Hurst “drew back” to punch Griffith but was held back by players from both teams.

“Hurst then took hold of the lapel of Griffith’s coat and started to lead the player-manager to the bench.  The latter angrily resented this action and pushed Hurst’s hand away.  Lave Cross and the Washingtons tried to pacify Griffith, and succeeded in getting him to the players’ bench.”

Hurst followed Griffith to the New York bench and again attempted to punch the manager, while Griffith “rushed at the umpire.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

According to The Associated Press Griffith claimed “’Hurst didn’t hit me.’ Then pointing to his swollen mouth he added, ‘I had this swollen lip before the game.’”

Hurst and Griffith were both suspended for five games.

The following year Henry Pierrepoint Edwards of The Cleveland Plain Dealer said Hurst had given him an explanation to “clear up the mystery” of why he reacted so violently:

“Now, it isn’t customary for Tim to wear baseball shoes on the diamond.  Usually Tim appears for the fray clad in the same suit he would wear at a pink tea.  His real uniform is just a cap.

“On the afternoon in question Tim purchased a new pair of patent leather shoes.  The shoes glistened in the sun like a diamond and gave Tim great pleasure.  Griffith forgot all about the shoes and in his rage over losing a close decision spiked and spoiled the new kicks.  Great was Tim’s rage.  Even greater was the clash.  That’s all.”

Two months after the incident with Griffith, Hurst made what might have been the worst call of his career.

On July 7 in Washington, he was working the game between the Nationals and the Detroit Tigers.  The score was tied 3 to 3 in the seventh inning, the Tigers had the bases loaded with two out and Sam “Wahoo” Crawford at the plate, facing Nationals pitcher Frank KitsonThe Washington Post said:

“’Wahoo’ lifted one a thousand miles directly over the pan.  Kitson came tearing in,  (Catcher Howard) Wakefield hesitated.  Manager (Jake) Stahl stood still at first base.  The pellet whirled in the air and finally dropped just inside the line and bounded back to the stands.  (Charley) O’Leary and (John) Eubank romped home.  Crawford went to second, carrying the funniest two-base hit on record.  Kitson and Wakefield stood admiring each other until Hurst again yelled ‘Fair ball!’ when the boy catcher went after the bulb.”

Sam Crawford

Sam Crawford

While the Nationals argued the call, and Hurst refused to reverse his decision, The Post said “The spectators were forced to listen to the dillydallying for fully fifteen minutes, then many of them got up and left the belligerents wrangling over the decision.”

Kitson threw a wild pitch to the next batter, Matty McIntyre scoring Herman “Germany” Schaefer and Crawford.  The Tigers went on to win 9 to 3.  Jake Stahl filed a protest with American league President Ban Johnson.

The Washington Evening Star said:

“The only excuse that Umpire Hurst can have is that the play was an unusual one.  Lave Cross admitting that he never saw its like in his experience on the diamond.  Hurst was palpably rattled, and the Tigers when taking their places on the field chaffed the locals with the remark that ‘Tim certainly handed us one that time.’”

The Washington Times said it was “one of the most remarkable plays ever seen on a diamond,“ and printed for their readers rule number’s 44 and 45 from the 1906 “Reach Guide” Reach describing “A Fair Hit,” and “A Foul Hit.”

The Washington Times used "The Reach Guide" to illustrate how Hurst blew the call.

The Washington Times used “The Reach Guide” to illustrate how Hurst blew the call.

The Times said:

“(T)here seemed no possible way of calling it fair, but Hurst was obdurate, and the only explanation he would give was that the ball ‘was hit too high.”  What the heighth of the hit had to do with the fact that it eventually bounded foul is still another mystery.”

Hurst’s story evolved over the next several days.  The Post said his original explanation regarding the ball’s height was “to the effect that the ball was it so high it ‘settled’ inside, constituting the hit a fair one. “  This was quickly replaced by Hurst’s claim that the ball had touched Wakefield, the Washington catcher, before bounding into foul territory.

The Times’ baseball reporter Thomas Stevens Rice said of Hurst’s new story:

“This explanation is all right if it presents the facts in the case.  In the press box there was not a single man who thought the ball was touched by Wakefield or anybody else.”

The Post conceded that the protest would be rejected, saying “It is almost certain that Ban Johnson will sustain his scrappy umpire, no matter what interpretation he puts on the rules,” but the paper did not let up on Hurst.

The following week when Sam Crawford brought his average up to .300, The Post said:

“Hurst last week decided that Crawford’s high rap which hit inside the base line and bounded back to the stands was fair…am would have faced the pitcher 271 times and got away with 81 hits which would have made his average .299, as it was Sam got and extra hit which brought the total to .303.  He owes Tim a hat.”

Hurst was still young, just forty-one in 1906, but The Sporting Life said something had changed during that year, and by the end of the season that the umpire lacked the “Aggressiveness and enthusiasm” he had previously exhibited:

“It is feared that the cares of his office are making an old man out of Tim, who once was noted for having the finest brand of keen-cutting, kill-at-a-thousand-yards sarcasm of any umpire in captivity.  Sit Timothy is very tame, and the players, even the bush leaguers who have just broken in, can tell him what they think of him and his calling.”

Hurst’s old “aggressiveness” came out in 1909.  He was suspended in May for a fight with Norman “Kid” Elberfeld of the Highlanders, then on August 3 during a game between the Athletics and White Sox.  The Brooklyn Eagle said:

“At Philadelphia Tim Hurst came in for considerable trouble.  Hurst called Eddie Collins out at second and the Columbia youngster put up a kick.

“Whether it was with malice aforethought or quite an accident, it is a fact that the umpire distributed a mouthful of moistened union-made tobacco in the direction of the youthful Eddie, who immediately called Tim’s attention to the board of health ordinance which prohibited expectorating in public places.”

After the game Hurst had to be escorted from the field by Philadelphia police.  Ban Johnson suspended Hurst, beginning two weeks of rumor and speculation about the umpire’s fate.  Finally, on August 18 it was announced that Hurst had been let go by the American League.

Hurst, in poor health since 1912, died in 1915.  Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner said of his passing at age 49:

“The saddest part of it is that ‘Timothy’ did not die in the blue uniform, and that during the last few years of his life he was practically blacklisted in baseball for refusing to answer or deny charges made against him for his actions during a clash with Eddie Collins…President Johnson declared that if Hurst even had replied to his telegrams of inquiry he would have kept him—but Tim, knowing he had done wrong, refused, and went out of the game.”

“Because Players are apt to be Foolish”

25 Jul

In 1887 John Montgomery Ward shared with The New York Sun his wisdom about what it takes for a ballplayer to get in shape.

“Gymnasium apparatus and gymnastic exercise are going out of favor among ball players for several reasons, and very few of them now attempt to keep in condition through the winter.  When you hear a player going into a gymnasium that usually means he goes in there, tries some feat and lames himself…It is not a good thing for a player to fool with the apparatus.  He does not want to develop big bunches of muscle.  What he needs is agility, suppleness, quickness of eye, hand and foot.  If he goes into a gymnasium he exercises muscles that he does not use in the field, and he either develops them at the expense of his useful muscles, so he puts too much strain upon them, thinking himself as strong in one part as another, and breaks a cord or otherwise injures himself.”

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

He said the gym contained “too many temptations in the apparatus for trials of strength…Because players are apt to be foolish about the use of apparatus managers now discourage gymnasium use as a rule.”

Ward said he, and others were injured in this way:

(Larry) Twitchell of the Detroits hurt his shoulder and could not pitch well afterward.  The parallel bars broke some small sinew in my shoulder and spoiled me for pitching, and I can feel the pain now when I raise my arm in a certain way. “

Larry Twitchell

Larry Twitchell was primarily an outfielder after 1887, appearing in just 23 games as a pitcher .

Ward then laid out his vision for how he would prepare a team for the season:

 “If I were training a nine, I would call the men together about two weeks before the opening of the season, and put them at work in a hand-ball court, watching them very closely.  Hand-ball is the best form of exercise they could have, excepting base ball, of course.  When you come right down to the point, no exercise is as good for a base ball player as base ball itself, but in this climate it is not practicable to put a nine at work on the diamond much before the opening of the regular season.  Hand ball comes next to the real thing, as it requires the same agility and quickness of eye, and it is much better than the gymnasium, because it is a game in itself and is full of amusement and excitement.  When the players get interested in a game of hand ball they forget that they are working, and before they know it they are perspiring, and their blood is circulating finely through all their muscles.  The throwing in this game is easy, and there is no danger of a player’s straining his arm or shoulder, as he might if he tried to make a long throw in the field after a long rest.   In catching the ball on the bound and returning it to the wall, activity is necessary, and the work is so quick that it keeps a player on a jump all through the game.  The constant striking of the ball with the palm of the hand accustoms the hand to the impact, and if it does not harden the palm it tends to deaden the nerves on the surface.

“In the handball court the pitcher and catcher and pitcher can pass the ball when not playing in the game, and so get the special practice that the battery needs.  Batting exercise should be kept up by the whole nine also.  The director of this training ought to understand the men thoroughly and adapt the exercise to their individual peculiarities.  The stout man needs to be worked hard and the thin man restrained.  A nervous man is inclined to go in too enthusiastically and do more than is good for him, while the stout, phlegmatic man is averse to exertion, and will not do enough unless he is urged.”

Ward said the parallel bars ruined him as a pitcher

Ward said the parallel bars ruined him as a pitcher

Ward said it was necessary to make players understand that each one should be treated differently when getting in condition for the season:

 “This makes the director’s position anything but pleasant.  The heavy men think that they are doing more than their share, and attribute the difference in work to partiality.  All expect to be treated alike, but that cannot be done, and it is difficult to make some players understand why the work should be varied.

“I would have the men begin to practice throwing about the 1st of March, insisting upon starting with light, easy work, and getting into it gradually.  They ought also to walk some and take short jogs out of doors.  A man may be in good gymnasium condition and still be unfit for hard outdoor work.  Indoor condition is different from outdoor condition.  Let a man work all winter in a gymnasium and then go outside and take a violent exercise, and he will surely stiffen up at first.  He must accustom himself to the open air and difference in temperature before trying to do too much outside.  Hand ball playing will put him in outdoor condition without laming him.  If he does not attend to this matter, but attempts to go right out of the gymnasium and play base ball, he will feel the effects very unpleasantly.  Last year the New York nine played a game the very next day after being called together, having had no preliminary outdoor training to harden the muscles and the next day the men were sore and lame all over.  It took them several weeks to get into condition.  They had to train in the field, and the result was the spring practice was greatly interfered with, and they did not begin the championship series in as good condition as they would have if they had received the proper amount of preliminary training.  A man just out of a gymnasium, with lots of spare flesh, feels strong and thinks he can do anything.  Before the public he will attempt to do more than his condition warrants.  He will try to throw a ball in from the field to home plate, and strain his shoulder or lame his arm so that he can’t throw worth a cent for the next week or two.  Or he will make a good hit and try to get in a home run, the result being lame legs or a strained knee that makes him almost useless for several games.  An injury to a good player at the first of the season may be thousands of dollars damage to the club, but some men do not seem to appreciate that fact.  When the St. Louis Browns were trained by Comiskey they came into the field in splendid condition, and took such a lead in the first part of the season that no club could catch up with them.  The Chicago Club was trained well last year, and won the championship.  This year the Chicago men are having five weeks of outdoor work at Arkansas Hot Springs under (Cap) Anson’s direction, and they will show up in fine form and be able to play well right from the start.

“Many ball players show up for the first game about 25 pounds overweight, and they have to work that off before they can handle themselves well.  It is not advisable to begin in what a trainer calls condition, because one soon feels tired; but neither is it well to have a great deal of extra flesh.  The exact condition to be recommended depends upon the temperament of the player, and must be decided by common-sense rules.  The subject of proper training has been too much neglected by base ball men, but it is beginning to receive attention, and eventually a system will be adopted and its observance enforced by discipline in the clubs.  Some players are sensible enough to see the importance of rational training and will take care of themselves and study up the best methods; but there are many foolish fellows who never think of anything in that line, don’t understand themselves well enough to work properly, and need to be directed and compelled to follow instructions.  The calling together of most of the clubs several weeks earlier this year than heretofore indicates that the managers are waking up to the importance of having their men fit for work at the start.”

He provided a glimpse of the type of manager he would be three years later when he le Brooklyn’s Ward’s Wonders to a second place finish in the Players League:

”Discipline ought to be more strict during the base ball season, and men should not be allowed to knock about and abuse their stomachs as many of them do.  While traveling about the country and getting frequent changes of food and water, it is difficult enough to keep the stomach right with the greatest care.  A nine has been disabled more than once by one man’s recklessness in eating.  A base ball player never ought to be seen in a barroom during the season.  He may go in to get a glass of beer, but he meets friends who insist upon treating, gets four or five drinks that do him no good and that he doesn’t want, and somebody goes about reporting that he was drunk.

“A thin player may get some benefit from a bottle of ale with his meal after the game, but he should not drink before the game; and the stout man should not drink at all, because he does not need anything of the kind.  Base ball players ought to keep regular hour also, go to bed early and get plenty of sleep, and be up by breakfast time.  This staying up until 2 in the morning and then sleeping until noon is all foolishness, and it ought to be prohibited.”

Ward’s views on training had a larger purpose, they were in keeping with his role as the leader of baseball’s first labor movement; in order for players to achieve the status the Brotherhood sought Ward knew they needed to take every aspect of the game seriously, including preparation:

“The sum and substance of the whole thing is that a base ball player must recognize the fact that base ball is a business, not simply a sport.  It is no longer just a summer snap, but a business in which capital is invested.  A base ball player is not a sporting man.  He is hired to do certain work, and do it as well as he possibly can.  The amount of his salary depends entirely on the way he does his work, and it is for his own interest to keep himself in the best condition and study how to get the best results.  If he does not know how to train himself, he should submit to the direction of somebody who understands the business.  Players are beginning to see this, but they need to see it more clearly yet.  They have been through the gymnasium experience and learned that performing feats of strength and turning on the rings is not good for them, and many of them have given up winter training on that account, but they have yet to learn that there is a proper system of exercising and training that is indispensable.  Those who do appreciate the importance of the matter are glad to see the growing interest and discussion, but the success of clubs that exercise systematically will o more than all the talking toward bringing about a general recognition of the benefits or training and the adoption of a perfect system of discipline.”

“I am thoroughly Disgusted with the Business”

12 May

Robert Vavasour “Bob” Ferguson shares claim, with Brooklyn Atlantics teammate Jack Chapman, to the nickname “Death to Flying Things,” although it will likely never be resolved which had the name attached to him first.

Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson

What is clear is that Ferguson was an important figure in 19th Century baseball –a player, manager, umpire and executive, and the game’s first switch hitter.

Ferguson was, given the reputation’s of 19th Century  umpires, uniquely popular.

The St. Louis Republican said he was “about the most brilliant of any…He never allowed his word to be questioned and was the most successful umpire in that regard ever in the profession”

The Louisville Post said “Ferguson plays no favorite from the time he calls play.  He sees all men alike and tries to do justice to them.”

The Sporting Life said he was “The only umpire who can satisfy New York audiences.”

In May of 1886 Ferguson resigned from the American Association’s umpire staff to manage the New York Metropolitans, until May of 1887, when he was let go by New York and returned to the association staff.  The Philadelphia Times said his services were so sought after that he was offered “$1200 for the remainder of the season.  This is much in excess of the regular umpire’s salary, but (the Cleveland Blues, Brooklyn Grays and St. Louis Browns) have agreed to stand the additional expense if Ferguson will accept the position.”

Even when criticizing Ferguson for possessing “a whole barrel full of that commodity known as mulishnessThe Cincinnati Enquirer said, “There is no disputing his honesty.”

Intractability was the one major criticism of his work, but Ferguson thought it an asset.  Shortly after returning as an umpire in 1887 The Washington Evening Star said during a game between New York and Philadelphia, a runner starting from second base, noticing Ferguson’s back turned after a passed ball cut third base and scored easily.  Ferguson was alleged to have said:

“I felt morally certain that he did not go to third base, as he scored almost as soon as the base runner who was on third at the time.  But before I could do anything in the matter the crowd began to hoot and I declined to change my decision.  Let an umpire be overcome just once by the players or the crowd and he never will be acknowledged afterward.”

But, despite the respect he sought and received, on and off the field, in 1888 Ferguson told  a reporter for The New York Mail and Express—which said Ferguson was noted for his “bluntness and firmness” as a player– how he really felt about being an umpire:

 “I did not choose it; that is to say, I did not seek it very earnestly.  I had been active on the ball field for so many years that I knew it would be only a question of a short time when my efficiency as a player would be impaired to the extent of my being forced to retire, and the position of umpire being possible for me to obtain and in fact offered to me, I accepted it that I might surely be able to continue upon the field, where I have spent most, and in a general way the happiest years of my life.

“How do I like it?  I do not like it at all.  An umpire, not withstanding newspaper talk regarding his being master of the field, is practically a slave to the whims of players.  He does not, as is generally supposed, go upon a field, and upon the slightest provocation fine a player to any amount simply because that man does not act in accordance with his ideas.  He is not there for that purpose.  He is simply the representative of the officers of the association in which he happens to be employed.

“I give all clubs, whether weak or strong, an equal chance.  The position of an umpire is one that no self respecting man can hold long without wondering whatever possessed him to accept it, and wishing to be free from it.

“But everyone has to earn a livelihood, and I am endeavoring to earn mine, but I will say I am thoroughly disgusted with the business and will welcome the day when I can say: ‘Robert, you are free; your slavery days are over; you can now enjoy the fruits of your labor.’  Don’t misquote me now and say that I am disgusted with the national game, for it would be utterly untrue.  I am fond of baseball, as my many years on the diamond will attest; but to be a player, which position I loved, is one thing; to be an umpire is another.”

Ferguson remained in the American Association through 1889, then joined the Players League as an umpire in 1890, and returned to the American Association for the 1891 season, his last; The Sporting Life said “the Association soured on him” because “his expense bill” was much larger than any other umpire.”

Ferguson tried to get a position with the National League in 1892, but according to The Chicago Tribune he “does not seem to be much sought after.”

Ferguson retired to Brooklyn where he died in 1894 at the age of 49.

Oliver Perry Caylor said in The New York Herald said he was “an umpire of recognized fairness and merit…His honesty was always above suspicion, and scandal never breathed a word against his upright life professionally.”

Rube and Ossee

10 Mar

Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics were expected to repeat as American League champions in 1906.  The 1905 team won 92 games, finishing two games ahead of the Chicago White Sox, and lost to the New York Giants in the World Series.

The 1906 Athletics were in first place as late as August 11, but faded to fourth place, losing 33 of their last 52 games and finishing 12 games behind the champion White Sox.

Much of the blame for the poor finish was directed at Rube Waddell.

Rube Waddell

Rube Waddell

Waddell, 27-10 in ’05, dropped to 15-17 after fracturing his thumb in May of ’06.   The Philadelphia Inquirer said he was driving a rented carriage, “At Twenty-second Street and Ridge Avenue he became involved is a collision with a delivery wagon…he turned his horse quick to avoid the wagon, and when he found that the wagon was sure to hit the carriage he jumped and landed on his thumb.”  He sat for two weeks and never found his form from the previous season.

Waddell’s recovery was slowed, it was suspected, because of his off-field habits.  The general opinion of the fans and press was summed up by The Wilkes-Barre Times which said:

“Waddell has refused to appreciate that the modern ballplayer positively must keep in condition and ‘deliver the goods.’  The famous Mike Kelly could spend a $100 bill the night before playing a championship game and not report the next day.  It was regarded in those days as a joke.  That day has gone by.”

Waddell’s personal catcher, Ossee Schrecongost—Schreck—was also blamed for the collapse.  Schreck was sent home by Mack for the remainder of the season on September 22.  During a series in St. Louis he failed to return to the team hotel after a night out with “some German friends.”  Schreck said:

“Mack told me to pack up and go home.  That’s all there is to it.  We did not have any argument.

“Mack wants to try out a lot of juveniles this trip.  I do not think he is sore at me, and do not think I stand suspended.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer disagreed:

“For the good of the cause, Ossie Schreckengost [sic] was sent home by Manager Mack tonight suspended for the rest of the season.

“Schreck has not taken care of himself this year (as) an athlete should, and to his shortcomings more than anything else Manager Mack attributes the slump of the team in mid-season.  To Schreck St. Louis is the most attractive town on the circuit.  Yesterday he succumbed to its blandishments.”

Ossee Schrecongost

Ossee Schrecongost

Either as a result of their drinking, the fact they were said to have “tanked” the Athletics season, or both, The Washington Post suggested that “Waddell and Schreck should be dubbed the tank battery.”

The battery mates and road roommates were sent their contracts for 1907.  Waddell was threatened with a pay cut if he didn’t stay in shape.  He quickly signed.

Mack is quoted by many sources over the years saying Schreck refused to sign his contract until Waddell agreed to no longer eat crackers in the double beds they shared on the road.

It is generally considered an apocryphal story invented by Mack years later—and often even said to have happened before the 1904 or ’05 seasons rather than 1907.

But, the story was not the invention of Mack.  There was actually a letter purported to be written by Schreck “from his home in Cleveland” (it is not known who actually wrote the letter), and reprinted in several newspapers between the 1906 and ’07 seasons:

“Dear Connie:  This is not a touch for any advance, or an increase in salary, but something much more serious, and as it won’t be long before the Athletics start south for spring practice, I am going to ask you to put Waddell under another charge this year.

“While I did not mind Rube bringing mocking birds and a reptile or two into our sleeping apartments down south, I do object to his habit of eating crackers in bed.  This Rube does nightly.  Not a single night last spring did Waddell retire without his south paw containing a dozen crackers, many of them resembling animals.

“By the time Rube, or Eddie, as he wishes to be called in southland, had got outside of these crackers, I was in anything but a sleepy mood, due in a measure to his crunching of the crackers.  It did not seem to interfere with Eddie.  He would turn over and go to sleep at once when through.

“Had it stopped her, all would have been lovely.  It didn’t however, and the natural result was that the bed was full of crumbs.  This had been going on for years, and frequently have I welcomed a night on the road with an upper berth, so as to escape Waddell and hid crumbs.

“This complaint may seem trivial to you, after your varied experiences with Rube, but I can assure you that the crumbs that came from those crackers were anything but ‘crumbs of comfort’ for your humble servant.  In closing, I would like to suggest that if you can put a clause in Waddell’s contract that he is not to eat crackers in bed during the season of 1907.  I am sure Waddell and I will continue to be real good friends as of yore.  Yours truly, Ossee Schreck

“P.S.—I wish all of the boys, and of course this takes in you, a happy new year.  Am doing light training.  O.S.”

Whether or not the “cracker clause” was inserted in Waddell’s contract, the Rube/Ossee battery was together for all but four of Waddell’s 33 starts in 1907, but the relationship between “the real good friend’s of yore” began to deteriorate that season;  likely because Schreck had cut back his drinking considerably, while Waddell continued to be Waddell.

Despite a 19-13 for the second place Athletics in 1907 Waddell had become a distraction and more trouble than he was worth.   The Inquirer said he was sold to the St. Louis Browns after “Ruben made himself objectionable to his club mates, and for the good of the club’s future Manager Mack concluded that it would be the part of wisdom to let him out.”  Waddell was 33-29 in parts of three seasons in St. Louis.

Schreck remained in Philadelphia until September of 1908 when he was sold to the Chicago White Sox, his big league career was over at the end of that season, after eight games with Chicago.

The two old teammates died just three months apart in 1914, Waddell was 37, and Schreck was 39.  The Inquirer said:

“’Thuh batt’ries for today: for Philadelphia, Waddell and Schreck!’  It has lo these many days been but a memory, and now there is only memory left of the famous diamond combination.  They flashed in dazzling brilliancy across the baseball horizon and disappeared as quickly as they came.  And both died old young.”

“Evans, who, at the Least, is Incompetent”

2 Dec

William George “Billy” Evans was nicknamed “The Boy Umpire” when he was hired by the American League at the age of 22.  After 21 seasons  he became a front office executive, working for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers; he was also president of the Southern Association, authored two baseball books and in 1973, 17 years after his death, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

But during his first season as an umpire, 1906, he was not held in high esteem in Chicago.

On September 10 the White Sox were in second place, a game behind the New York Highlanders.  The Sox trailed the Tigers 2 to 1 in the 9th inning.  Chicago shortstop George Davis laid down a bunt and was called out at first by Evans.  Every Chicago paper said Evans beat the throw by “at least a step.”

The call precipitated a near riot.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“Instantly a shower of bottles from the first base bleachers drove the umpire, coacher, and players away from the vicinity of the base.”

After the next two batters were retired:

“Evans walked off the field amid another volley of bottle from the third base stand.”

The Tribune and The Chicago Inter Ocean said Evans and fellow umpire Tommy Connolly were mobbed by fans as they attempted to leave the ballpark with a police escort.  Both papers said “one or two blows” from fans connected with the umpire during his retreat.

The Inter Ocean said, “Evans has been the most heartily reviled arbiter that ever worked in any league.”

The Tribune said two weeks earlier Evans cost the Sox a game in Philadelphia.  After Chicago scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning to take a 5 to 4 lead, Evans “let the Athletics take advantage of his inexperience,” and stopped the game on account of rain with two men out in the bottom of the inning.  The Inter Ocean said, “(Sox Manager Fielder) Jones and (second baseman Frank) Isbell nearly came to blows with the umpire and members of the Athletic team.”

After a half hour, the game was called and the score reverted back to the end of the 5th inning, giving Philadelphia a 4 to 3 victory.

The next day, September 11, the Sox played the St. Louis Browns at South Side Park.  Evans worked the game along with Jack Sheridan.  The newspapers said Sox owner Charles Comiskey had discontinued the sale of “bottled goods” at the park that day.

The Browns won 7 to 3, and the Chicago press put much of the blame for the loss on the rookie umpire.

The Tribune said:

President (Ban) Johnson’s persistence in sending Evans, who, at the least, is incompetent, is giving baseball a black eye in Chicago.  Half the crowd believes the charges that Evans is working under instructions from Johnson to beat Chicago.  These charges undoubtedly are founded on mere prejudice, yet, had Evans been under instructions and trying to beat Chicago, he could not have done better than he did yesterday.”

The Inter Ocean said the Browns “were aided and abetted by Umpire Evans, the boy wonder…Why Ban Johnson insists upon sending the joke to officiate at important games is more than any sane man can see.”

But the Evans’ most ardent critic was William A. Phelon, sports editor of The Chicago Journal:

“Umpire Evans is the worst that ever yet came down this or any other pike in the history of the modern universe…And Ban says he is the best in the game.  We are not selfish and we are willing to let some other city endure him.  We can get over the shock of his removal.  If he doesn’t move he may have a statue down on the lake front, a statue 200 feet high made of bottles.  Give us liberty, give us death, give us any old thing, but, by the snakes of old Ireland, give us an umpire!”

Phelon also said Evans “seems to be a gentlemanly individual, whose place in life is evidently a long ways from the profession of umpiring.”

1906 White Sox

Despite the blame heaped on the young umpire in the press, the White Sox went 17-7 the rest of the season and won the pennant by three games.  They went on to beat the Chicago Cubs 4 games to 2 in the World Series.

Things got better for Evans as well.  He worked his first World Series in 1909—the youngest umpire to do so– and participated in five more from 1912 to 1923.  He was the third umpire to be elected to the Hall of Fame; Connolly and Bill Klem were the first two.