Tag Archives: Saint Louis Browns

“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.

“One of the Two Greatest Sluggers”

28 Jan

On July 19, 1920, Babe Ruth hit his 30th home run of the season off Dickie Kerr of the Chicago White Sox, breaking the Major League record he had set the previous season.  Perry Werden, working as an umpire in the South Dakota League was largely forgotten.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

The Minneapolis Tribune, as a point of local pride, reminded readers that Ruth had not eclipsed the record set in their town:

“Beyond all doubt the mark made yesterday is a major league record of all time but the Babe has yet to equal the mark of 45 made by Perry Werden of the Minneapolis Western League club in 1895.”

Some reporters, like Al Spink of The Sporting News, dismissed Werden because “the park at Minneapolis, which was an unusually small inclosure (sic), with the right and left field fences close in.”  Regardless, Werden was back in the public eye; his forgotten record was revived as fans followed Ruth’s record season.  The Associated Press said:

“(Werden) admits that Babe Ruth has a harder swing than he had when he made his mark. ‘There is no doubt that Babe has it on all of them—modern and ancient’ says Werden”

When Ruth hit numbers 45 and 46, one in each game of a double-header at Fenway Park, The Associated Press said:

“(Ruth) broke all known world’s records for circuit drives in a single season.”

Werden, in his role as “the former holder of the home run record for organized baseball” was often asked about Ruth over the next decade.  Werden called Ruth “One of the two greatest sluggers that I have seen in fifty years.”

Perry Werden, 1930

Perry Werden, 1930

The only player Werden considered Ruth’s equal?   Ed Delahanty.

Werden told The North American Newspaper Alliance, in a nationally syndicated story:

“Ed Delahanty would have equaled or bettered the home run record of Babe Ruth if the lively ball had been in use…If Delahanty had any weakness no pitcher ever found out what it was.  He hit left-handers as easy and effectively as he did right-handers, and it made no difference to him where they threw the ball—high, low, inside, outside, curve fast ball or slow ball—they all looked alike to Big Ed.”

Werden said while playing first base for the Saint Louis Browns he saw just how hard Delahanty could hit:

“The Phillies had a runner on first base, and when Delahanty came up to bat we played in close for him, thinking he would bunt.  That was a mistake we never made again when Delahanty batted.  Instead of bunting he hit a ground ball so hard that it tore a shoe off George Pinkney, our third baseman, in addition to fracturing his right ankle.”

As further proof Werden said “Even with the lively ball…it was thirty-six years before Delahanty’s record of hitting four home runs in a single game was equaled by Lou Gehrig.”  Werden didn’t mention that Bobby Lowe had accomplished the same feat two years before Delahanty.

Ed Delahanty

Ed Delahanty

While Werden will never join Delahanty and Ruth in the Hall of Fame, he is remembered as one of the greatest minor league players of the 19th Century.  He died in Minneapolis in 1934.

“King of the Natural Hitters”

25 Jan

Percival Wheritt “Perry” “Moose” Werden began his baseball career as a pitcher for the semi-professional team of his employer; the Ira Perry Pie Company in Saint Louis.  He was discovered by the St. Louis Browns who offered him a contract but ultimately signed with the Saint Louis Maroons in the Union Association.

(An oft-repeated story that Werden’s discovery involved him leaving a pie wagon unattended to join a game, resulting in the wagon being destroyed is almost certainly apocryphal, although it has been repeated as fact with little or no support by several writers)

In 1884 the 22-year-old was 12-1 with a 1.97 for the Maroons who at 94-19 won the Union Association pennant by 21 games; despite the strong start, Werden would never pitch in the Major Leagues again.

The Maroons joined the National League the following season and Werden ended up with the Memphis Reds in the Southern League.  He was primarily a catcher a first baseman, and his career as a pitcher pretty much ended; he appeared on the mound in only three games that season and had only 14 more minor league appearances over the next 10 years because of arm trouble.

Perry Werden, 1908

Perry Werden, 1908

From 1886-88, Werden played with five minor league teams and played three games in the National League with Washington in 1888.  In 1889, Werden joined the Toledo Black Pirates in the International League, where he became a great hitter.

Werden hit .394 for Toledo; in 424 at-bats, he had 167 hits, which was the hit record for the franchise for nearly 100 years, finally broken by Greg “Boomer” Wells in 1982 (Wells had 182 hits in 541 at-bats).

Toledo became a Major League franchise the following season, joining the American Association as the Maumees, Werden was the their starting first baseman, hit .295 and led the team in hits, runs, triples, and RBIs.  The Maumees finished 68-64 in their only season.

Werden was sold by Toledo to the Baltimore Orioles in 1891 and had another solid season, leading the team in hits, triples and RBI’s.  The following season he was signed by the Saint Louis Browns to replace Charles Comiskey at first base; Comiskey had jumped the Browns to join the Cincinnati Reds.

Werden hit .256 and .290 in two seasons with the Browns.  In 1894, he returned to the minor leagues with the Minneapolis Minnies in the Western League.  That’s where he became a legend.

In 1894, Werden exploded.  He hit .417 with 43 home runs.  In 1895, he improved to .428 with 45 home runs.

The Western League was no doubt a hitter’s league; eight players with at least 100 at-bats hit .400 or better in 1894 and 11 did so in 1895.  And the Minnies home field, Athletic Park, where Werden hit most of his home runs, was by all estimates a hitter’s paradise with a short (some sources say 250 feet) fence.

Regardless, 45 home runs would remain a professional baseball record until 1920. The Duluth News-Tribune said several years later that Werden hit seven home runs in a double-header in 1895; under the headline “Perry Werden was King of the Natural Hitters:”

“It was one of the greatest batting feats ever seen on a baseball lot anywhere.”

Werden had one last season in the Major Leagues.  At 35-years-old in 1897, he hit .301 for the Louisville Colonels, then returned to the minor leagues where he continued to hit well; .330 for his minor league career.

Werden became an umpire in the American Association in 1907, and became a baseball pioneer in 1908 when he joined the Indianapolis Indians in the same league; he was one of the first full-time coaches in professional baseball.  The Associated Press said:

“Perry Werden will go to Indianapolis to act as assistant manager, coach and advisor in general of the Indianapolis baseball club this year.”

In October The Indianapolis News declared Werden a success in the new role:

“Werden was one of the biggest factors in bringing Indianapolis her first pennant since 1902.  Without his services it’s highly probable the flag would have flown elsewhere”

The Indianapolis Star predicted that Werden’s “novel position,” would become the norm with the Indians, and throughout baseball.

Werden eventually returned to umpiring, working in the western, Dakota, South Dakota and Northern leagues.

His 43 home run season became news again in 1920 as Babe Ruth was closing in on Werden’s professional record.  Werden said there was one player in his era who was Ruth’s equal as a hitter.  Who was it?

Read about it on Monday.

“Father of Sunday Ball”

22 Jan

After becoming president of the Waco Tigers in the Texas League, Henry Fabian allowed himself to be arrested in order to challenge a law that was costing Texas League owners money: The blue law that didn’t allow them to play games on Sunday.

The state statute forbade “Sunday amusements” that charged admission.  Texas League teams had lost money in each previous incarnation of the league and the inability to schedule games on Sunday was a contributing factor.

Whether challenging the law was part of Fabian’s plan from the beginning is unknown, but by June his Tigers had played three Sunday home games, and three times Fabian was arrested for violating the statute, posting $60 bond on each occasion.

After being found guilty at the local level Fabian challenged the statute in Texas’ Court of Criminal appeals, arguing that the law was passed before baseball became a professional sport and did not apply to the game.  The court ruled in Fabian’s favor, and while local ordinances still prevented Sunday games in Dallas, Sunday baseball became the norm in the Texas League. In his obituary, 35 years later, The Dallas Morning News’ headline called Fabian “Father of Sunday Ball.”

Fabian sold the Waco club to local businessmen in 1906 and took a job with a sporting goods company, but it was his interest in ballpark design and grounds keeping that would become his vocation.

Fabian participated in the layout and design of several local ballparks in Texas from 1888-1910, and was credited with creating the first “ Turtle-back diamond” at Oak Cliff Park, the Dallas Hams’ home field in 1888.  The pitched design and elevated pitcher’s mound allowed for quick drainage.

By 1910 Fabian had designed diamonds in Dallas, Waco, Galveston, New Orleans and Atlanta, when he was hired as head groundskeeper for the Saint Louis Browns.  He stayed with the Browns for three seasons until his old friend John McGraw hired him to be the groundskeeper for the New York Giants

By 1915 The Sporting Life said:

“Visiting ballplayers declare that the diamond Henry Fabian has built up at the Polo Grounds is the best in the country.”

Fabian was considered the premier groundskeeper in baseball for the next 25 years and in 1939 he was put in charge of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) project to prepare Doubleday Field in Cooperstown for baseball’s centennial celebration.

Doubleday Field renovation, 1939

Doubleday Field renovation, 1939

Fabian died the following year on February 25, six years to the day after the death of his friend John McGraw.

Henry Fabian

21 Jan

Like John Bradley and George Kittle, Henry Fabian was a member of the 1888 Dallas Hams, champions of the Texas League and the Texas Southern League.  Unlike those two, when someone fired a shot at him he missed.

Fabian was born in New Orleans, in 1864 or 1866, depending on the source.  He began his career in 1886, catching and playing first base for both of his hometown teams in the four-team Gulf League: the Robert E. Lee’s and the team that became the New Orleans Pelicans.

Fabian had his fingers broken by a foul tip before the beginning of the season.  A 1913 article by former Major Leaguer turned sportswriter Sam Crane told the story:

“It was such a serious injury that there was no possibility of his playing again that season and rather than release him his manager (Thomas Brennan) asked him to become groundskeeper at the same salary he was getting as a player.”

That experience would stay with him.

By November of 1887 he had recovered enough to play in games against the Chicago White Stockings and Saint Louis Browns when their post-season barnstorming tour stopped in New Orleans.

In 1888 Fabian came to Texas as a member of the Galveston Giants, but was with Dallas by June. While statistics are spotty for his career, and non-existent for 1888, The Dallas Morning News said of him:

“Though not a brilliant player, Henry has always been a hardworking courageous one.”

Fabian continued playing until 1903, spending his entire career in Texas and Louisiana with the exception of 1891 when he played for the Cedar Rapids Canaries in the Illinois-Iowa League where he played with John McGraw, who became one of his closest friends.

Fabian was the subject of two strange stories.  In a July 1892 a headline in The Dallas Morning News said:

“Henry Fabian Shot At.  A Case in Which a Base Ball Man Dodged a Bullet.”

The story said a local carpenter named Parker had fired a shot at Fabian.  Fabian told a reporter for the paper that “an article appeared in The Kansas City Sun about which he wanted an explanation from Parker.”  The article said “Mr. Fabian’s description of the article The News is not privileged to report at this stage of the proceedings.”

There was never another reference in any Dallas paper to the incident or about what the Kansas City story might have been.

Henry Fabian, circa 1930

Henry Fabian, circa 1930

In 1904 an Associated Press article appeared in several newspapers under the headline “Joy Restores Her Sight:”

“Sight has been miraculously restored to the stone-blind eyes of an aged mother by the voice of her son who returned unheralded after an absence of 18 years.  The woman is Mrs. Sophie Fabian of New Orleans and the son is Henry.”

The rest of the story did not completely live up to the headline or lede; Mrs. Fabian was told her sight might come back and the story conceded “the recovery was not complete,” but nonetheless, the paper’s treated it as some kind of miracle

Fabian returned to baseball in 1905 as part owner and president of the Waco Tigers in the Texas League, and while there he was the catalyst for changing a Texas law that helped make Texas League baseball profitable.

That, and Fabian’s other claims to fame, tomorrow.

“Hanlon Springs a Surprise on the Baseball Public”

14 Jan

Albert Joseph “Smiling Al” Maul’s best days seemed well behind him by 1898.  The 32-year-old Maul had posted a 16-12 record for the Pittsburgh Burghers in the Players League in 1890, but after returning to the National League the following season he had gone 39-44 through 1897.

Baltimore Orioles manager Ned Hanlon signed Maul after he was released by the Washington Senators in 1897.  The results were not good; in two games Maul gave up 9 hits and walked 8, posting a 7.04 ERA.  Baltimore released him at the end of the season and there were no takers for Maul at the beginning of 1898.

Ned Hanlon

Ned Hanlon

By June of 1898 The Baltimore Morning Herald said:

“For some time (Hanlon) has been hinting to his friends that he had something up his sleeve in the way of twirling talent that would surprise the natives, but when he let fall Al Maul’s name he was met with a chorus of merry ha-has.”

But by June Hanlon’s “surprise” was no longer met with laughter.

On June 5, The Sunday Herald headline said:

“Hanlon springs a surprise on the baseball world.”

Maul had shut out the Saint Louis Browns on three hits in his first start for Baltimore.

Al Maul

Al Maul

The Herald cautioned that “it’s too early to say that Maul is all right,” but all season he successfully filled the gap in Baltimore’s rotation caused by Joe Corbett’s holdout.

The New York World said Maul was:

“The most remarkable case on record of a restored glass arm.”

Maul’s comeback season became a sensation.  John Clarkson, who had not appeared in a game since 1894, told The Bay City (MI) Tribune he was serious about making his own comeback:

“I might be a second Al Maul, who can tell?”

Clarkson’s comeback never materialized, but Maul’s success continued all summer.

The Sporting Life credited Hanlon for his pitcher’s success:

“Al Maul’s experience this season is only another confirmation of the claim that Ned Hanlon can take any old thing and get good results from, it for a year or so.”

Maul finished the season with a 20-7 record and a 2.10 ERA, and Hanlon had high hopes for his pitcher the next season.  Maul, along with “Wee Willie” Keeler, Hughie Jennings and Joe Kelley moved to the Brooklyn Superbas as part of the stock swap between the Baltimore and Brooklyn franchises that led to Hanlon’s move to Brooklyn.

But the pitcher who won 20 games two years after his career was “over” was out of surprises.  After four games with Brooklyn in 1898, Hanlon released Maul.  Brief stints with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Giants failed to rekindle the magic and Maul’s career came to an end after his release by the Giants in September of 1901.

Maul went on to coach baseball at Lehigh University and scouted for several years for the Philadelphia Athletics.  He died in 1958 at age 92.

Dero Austin

10 Jan

 

dero

Dero Austin Jr. was one of the few Negro League “players” who was born too late; he was added to the Indianapolis Clowns in 1964 to try to recreate the fame of one of his predecessors, Spec Bebop, who had top billing with the team well into the 1950s.

Spec Bebop, circa 1952

Spec Bebop, circa 1952

Austin quickly joined  James “Nature Boy” Williams as one of the most popular members of the barnstorming team, but the Clowns were well past their heyday when they filled ballparks across the country.  Occasionally they still drew well, in Austin’s first season, 1964, 15,797 fans saw the Clowns in Chicago’s Comiskey Park on July 10; across town 13,556 fans watched the Cubs play the San Francisco Giants.

Austin would usually bat first in each game, replicating Eddie Gaedel’s appearance for Bill Veeck’s Saint Louis Browns in 1951–occasionally Satchel Paige would pitch to Austin.  While he appeared in publicity photo’s playing the field, he never appeared in the field during a game.

Satchel Paige pitching, Dero Austin at the plate.  Comiskey Park 1966

Satchel Paige pitching, Dero Austin at the plate. Comiskey Park 1966

Austin never became as popular as Bebop, and the Clowns continued playing to smaller crowds in smaller towns until they disbanded in the 1980s.

dero

Austin stayed with the Clowns well into the 70s and by 1974 was billed as the team’s manager.  The 31-inch tall Grandfield, Oklahoma native died in July of 1987 at age 39.

A Thousand Words

6 Dec

Satchel Paige demonstrates four of his favorite pitches to The Baltimore Afro-American, 1948:

The sidearm curve (outshoot):  “A wrist-twist causes counter-clockwise spin which makes the ball bend away from a right-handed batter.”

Sidearm Curve--outshoot

Sidearm Curve–outshoot

The overhand curve (drop): “Is gripped and thrown with a twist as to let the ball leave the hand with a snap between thumb and forefinger.  Overspin thus makes ball take a sudden dip.”

Overhand curve--drop

Overhand curve–drop

The Screwball (inshoot):  “Ball slides off fingers with a rapid clockwise spin, making it twist away from a left-handed hitter.”

Screwball--inshoot

Screwball–inshoot

The knuckleball:  “takes odd twists and turns even the pitcher can’t predict.”

Knuckle ball

Knuckle ball

“May every page you turn be a Satchel Paige.” Greg Proops, The Smartest Man in the World Podcast.

satchelbraves

Jack Ogden

28 Sep

John Mahlon Ogden had limited success in three stints in Major League Baseball, but for an eight year period he was one of the greatest minor league pitchers in history.

Born in 1897, Ogden played baseball at Swarthmore College (where his brother, Major League pitcher Warren “Curly” Ogden also played), and went directly to John McGraw’s New York Giants.  The 20 year old appeared in five games for the Giants before being shipped to the Newark Bears in the International League where he went 5-5 with a 1.48 ERA.  Ogden spent 1919 with the Rochester Hustlers posting a 10-13 record with a 2.37 ERA.

His career took off the next season with the Baltimore Orioles.  The 22 year old Ogden led the International League champions with a 27-9 record—future Hall of Famer Lefty Grove was 12-2 for the O’s that year.  Egan followed that up with an incredible 31-8 record with a 2.29 ERA in 1921.  Beginning on May 10 Ogden won 18 straight decisions, finally losing 3-2 to the Jersey City Skeeters on July 22.  Ogden then won his next five starts.  Baltimore won their third of seven straight IL championships (Grove was 25-10 with a 2.56 ERA).

Over the next six seasons Ogden went 133-63, including a 28-win season in 1925, the last championship in Baltimore’s domination of the International League.

Jack Ogden

Ogden made it back to the Major Leagues with the Saint Louis Browns in 1928 and ’29 where he was a combined 19-24 with an ERA above 4. Ogden was acquired by Cincinnati for the 1930 season, but due to an illness he announced his retirement and took a high school coaching job.

Ogden attempted a comeback in 1931, going a combined 6-10 for the Reds in ’31 and ’32, followed by two more minor league stints with Rochester (after being traded by the Reds to Cardinals) and Baltimore.  He retired for good in 1934 and accepted the position of Vice President and General Manager of the Orioles and became assistant to Philadelphia Phillies President Gerald Nugent in 1939.

In 1941 Ogden bought controlling interest of the Elmira Pioneers in the Eastern League.  His son, John Jr., also a star pitcher and basketball player at Swarthmore, helped Ogden operate the team until he was drafted in 1943.   PFC John Mahlon Ogden Jr. was killed in France on August 8, 1944. Ogden sold the Elmira franchise shortly after his son’s death.

Ogden continued in baseball serving as a scout for a number of teams and managed high school and college teams.  He passed away in 1977 in Philadelphia.

Ogden is a member of the International League Hall of Fame.

Murdered by an Actor

3 Aug

In 1905 Arthur Brown was a promising first baseman from Wilkes-Barre PA.  He had been discovered by Walter Burnham who managed east coast minor league teams for more than 20 years.  After spending the ’05 season with his hometown team in the New York State League.

He played for Burnham with Newark in the Eastern League the following season, and despite a .235 average he was purchased by the Detroit Tigers and then sold to Montreal.  After a .239 season with Montreal in the Eastern League and a spring training Trial with the St. Louis Browns, Brown played for Milwaukee in the American Association in 1908, hitting .192.  In 1909 he played for Trenton in the Tri State League and moved on to Albany in the New York State League in 1910.

On June 15 of 1911 Brown was in his second season with Albany, hitting .187.  He was living in Albany with an actress named Mildred Barre; the problem was she was still married to an actor from New Orleans named John V. McStea.  McStea entered the house on Pearl Street  in Albany and after being hit by Brown pulled a revolver and shot the 1st baseman four times.  Brown died that night.

McStea was convicted the following year, his wife testified for the prosecution.