Tag Archives: San Francisco Haverlys

Ben Hill

27 Jun

Benjamin L. Hill (some sources incorrectly list his middle initial as “N”), came to Oakland in 1890; Hill was signed by Colonel Tom Robinson to play center field for the Oakland Colonels in the California League.

bhill

Ben Hill c. 1895

The Oakland Tribune said, “Hill is making a reputation as a base runner,” and he moved up in the batting order from seventh, early in the season, to second, and was batting leadoff by June. Then suddenly, he was gone.

According to Sporting Life:

“Ben was a good centre fielder, but incurred the displeasure of manager Robinson and was released.”

Hill finished the season with the San Francisco Haverlys.

He returned to semi-pro ball the following year accepting an offer to play for the Suisun Aetnas on the weekends in Suisun City, California, as Sporting Life said, he was, “given a comfortable business ‘sit’ (running a tavern) on the condition of playing with the team.”

Hill played with the Aetnas, a member of the Northern California based Valley League, for two seasons. When Suisun played a series in Sacramento, The Record-Union said:

“Ben Hill, an old Sacramento favorite, is captain and center fielder of the visitors. He is playing better ball now than he did with the Oaklands, which is saying a great deal, as he put up a fine game with the Colonels.”

While he appeared successful on the field, Hill was doing even better in the bar business and bought his own tavern. According to Sporting Life:

“He became popular and the saloon made money. Ben saw his value, borrowed some money and opened a bar and card rooms on his own account. He soon had the patronage of the whole town and was clearing from $400 to $500 per month.”

In 1892, Hill married 17-year-old Agnes Nelson.

But by 1894, the paper said, “(Hill) could not stand prosperity. He made periodical trips to the city; where his profits disappeared, no one knows how. He lost his business and is willing to play ball again.”

Hill and his wife had a two-year-old son when he lost the bar and there were no offers to return to baseball. He moved his family to Oakland in March of 1895 and took a job as a railroad brakeman. In November, he left his family in Oakland to seek work in Portland, Oregon.

Hill returned to Oakland in January of 1896, and on the evening of January 11, met with his wife on the street, they walked to the corner of Twelfth and Kirkham, where Hill pulled a revolver and shot her three times.  She died at the scene.

agnes

Agnes Hill

According to The San Francisco Call, Hill walked to the nearby Piedmont Cable Company power house, handed the gun to an employee and waited for the police to arrive.

Two days after the killing, a reporter for The Oakland Tribune spoke with Hill:

“He is now at the city jail, about the most cool and unconcerned prisoner there. He does not repent his crime. He talks as dispassionately of killing his wife as he would any ordinary everyday occurrence.”

Meyer Cohen, a long-time Northern California “baseball enthusiast,” and one-time baseball writer for The Oakland Times, told The Tribune that Hill had been born in Sparta, Wisconsin in 1860 and:

“He attended college and studied for the ministry, but instead became a ballplayer.”

Cohen claimed Hill began his professional career in 1893 and said he played in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Minneapolis, Macon, Georgia, Omaha and Kearney, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon, although there is little or no evidence of his time in any of those cities.

Cohen said that Charlie Ganzel had recommended Hill to Oakland:

“(He) fully sustained all that was said of him. He became a great favorite and as he was a good player, he made a host of friends.”

Cohen said under Hill’s leadership the Suisun Aetnas were “one of the best amateur clubs in the state,” and that Billy Hulan, who had a brief major league career but spent nearly two decades as a minor league player and manager, played for Hill before started his professional career in 1892.

At trial, Hill’s attorney claimed temporary insanity. Hill’s wife had admitted she was pregnant as the result of an affair and struck him, and according to his defense attorney:

“These acts…might not in themselves justify killing in a sane man, but were sufficient to render a man who loved his wife as Hill did to become insane.”

The jury disagreed.

Hill was found guilty and sentenced to hang within 10 days of his conviction in March of 1896. He received a temporary stay of execution while his case was appealed.

The San Francisco Chronicle said Hill’s brother and sister in law began an appeal fund and solicited “The ball players of America,” to contribute. The paper said Charlie Ganzel “is treasurer of the fund which promises to be a good sized one.”

The fund must have done fairly well, Hill’s legal team managed to get several stays of execution while his case worked his way up to the Supreme Court, he also had his case presented to the governor twice in an effort to be granted executive clemency.

According to The Call, while his appeals proceeded:

“Ever since Hill was convicted of the murder…and brought to San Quentin under sentence of death he has devoted his entire time to reading and studying the bible. In fact, so ardent have been his religious devotions that the murderer was believed to be a fanatic.”

benhill

Ben Hill c. 1898

Hill began preaching to his fellow death row inmates, including Theodore Durrant, the “Demon of the Belfry,” who killed two women in the church he was the superintendent of the Sunday school—the 1895 murders were called “San Francisco’s crime of the century.” Durrant had also received several stays while awaiting his appeal.

The Call said:

“Durrant is an interested listener and one of Hill’s best scholars.”

The Supreme Court denied his appeal in February, and on April 6, 1898 Hill stood on the scaffold at San Quentin.

The Oakland Tribune went into exacting detail of the execution, noting that Hill spoke his last words—admitting his guilt—at 10:32 AM, and was dead a minute later.

The Tribune declared:

“It was the most successful execution ever held in San Quentin and Hill proved to be the gamest man who ever mounted a prison scaffold.”

Like describing a ball game, the state’s executioner Amos Lunt told the paper:

“He was the gamest man I ever saw on the scaffold, and he is the sixteenth man I have worked on. Durrant (his appeals had run out and he had been hung three months earlier) was not in it with him. He was cool and spoke longer and with less trembling than Durrant did.”

Hill’s brother and sister in law adopted his son.

Eighteen months, and five more executions, after Hill was put to death, Amos Lunt, the state’s executioner went insane. The Call said:

amoslunt.JPG

Amos Lunt

“His diseased imagination has conjured up the specters of those he has executed, the gibbering, mocking ghosts of twenty-one blood-stained wretches…’They are after me,’ whispered the demented hangman. ‘There are several under the bed now.”

Lunt was committed to Napa State Hospital where he died two years later.

“The Game was not Exactly ‘On the Square’”

21 Mar

After the 1886 season, Jim Hart brought a team composed of members of his Louisville Colonels and other American Association players west.  The team played their way out towards California, winning twenty games against minor league, semi-pro and “picked nines.”

Jim Hart

Jim Hart

They finally lost their first game of the tour in San Francisco on December 26 to the Haverlys of the California League.  Dave Foutz, who had won 41 games for the champion St. Louis Browns pitched for Hart’s club.  Foutz allowed three runs on four hits in the first inning then shut out San Francisco on one hit the rest of the way, but Pete Meegan of the Haverlys held the American Association players to just two runs.

Pete Meegan

Pete Meegan

The San Francisco Morning Call said that Foutz who was “rather superstitious” and tried to “have a lemon in his possession whenever he steps on the diamond,” attributed the loss to the fact that the he had purchased a lemon “but was careless and did not put it in the pocket of his uniform.”

After the loss, Hart’s team defeated every California League team, including a Foutz one-hitter against the San Francisco Pioneers.

Dave Foutz

Dave Foutz

On January 23, with some of his players injured, Hart added three local players to his roster for a game with a “picked nine’ of local players in Alameda.  The game was tied 4 to 4 after seven innings, but Foutz gave up two in the seventh and four in the eighth and lost 10 to 4. The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“A large crowd was in attendance at the Alameda Baseball Grounds yesterday to witness the game between the Louisvilles and a picked nine of California players… the impression of many of the spectators was that the game was not exactly ‘on the square’…The cause of suspicion was as to the fairness of the game was caused by the appearance among the spectators of men well known at baseball games offering large odds against the Louisvilles.  At about the seventh inning these men were offering odds of twenty to one against a team that has hitherto been almost invincible.”

The Morning Call headline said simply:

“Hippodrome!”

There was no doubt, said the paper, that the game had been “pre-arranged” and “made up for the picked nine to win.”

In St. Louis there was more concern that Foutz had “broken down,” having given up fourteen hits rather than speculation that he might have thrown a game.  The Globe-Democrat said:

“Regarding the reported break down of Foutz in California… (Manager Charles) Comiskey received a letter from Foutz in which he denied that he had broken down, and said he was as good as ever.”

No one reported whether the pitcher had carried a lemon into the contest.

The evidence of a fix consisted of the activity of the gamblers, Foutz’ performance in the seventh nd eight innings, and an alleged conversation between Louisville’s second baseman Joseph “Reddy” Mack and Ed Morris the pitcher for the “picked nine.” Discussing how the result of the lightly attended game would improve attendance at the next game Louisville was scheduled to play in Alameda two days later.

reddymack

Reddy Mack

Jim Hart was indignant and wrote letters to West Coast papers denying that anyone on his team could have been involved:

“I wish to say that I have made the fullest and most searching investigation and can find no foundation for the charges.  Not one of my men wagered a dime.”

Hart blamed the loss on the “weakened condition” of his team and noted that three local players filled in with his squad for the game.  The players he “brought out here all enjoy national reputations, and they could not afford to hazard their good names for the small amount of gain there would be for them.”

In another letter, written to The Sporting Life, Hart attacked the credibility of the unnamed writer of the article in The Morning Call:

“(I)t was not much of a surprise to in the issue of a sensational morning journal last Monday the flaming headline ‘Hippodrome!’  The journal referred to, I understand, instructs its reporters and correspondents in the following language—‘Make your articles sensational even at the expense of the truth,’ and the young man who wrote the article under the above referred-to head line was evidently closely following instructions…What the young man who wrote the article don’t [sic] know about baseball would make a very large book.”

Hart went on to detail his additional complaints with “the young man” from The Morning Call, but as with his letters to West Coast newspapers, he never addressed the allegations regarding the abrupt changes in the odds offered on the game, and instead of asserting that “Not one of my men wagered a dime,” as he said in the earlier letters, the letter in The Sporting Life said:

“I have investigated the whole matter religiously, and if any of the boys were implicated in any way, they are too smart for me to find out.”

The California League conducted the only official” investigation into the allegations; that inquiry was limited to determining if any of their players were involved in any wrongdoing and according to The Chronicle, simply determined that no California League players “had anything to do with it or were cognizant of it,” and made no statement regarding whether there was evidence of a fixed game.

The Chronicle evidently didn’t think the case was closed and said:

“If Foutz, Mack or (Hubert) Hub Collins expect to come out here again, they must arise and explain to the entire satisfaction” of the league president.

The Louisville team wrapped up the tour in early February; Hart resigned his position and relinquished his interest in the team in order to take over the operation of the Milwaukee Cream Citys in the Northwestern League.  Mack and Collins returned to Louisville, Foutz headed to St. Louis and another 19th Century allegation of dishonest play disappeared into the ether.

“Show yourself a man, Borchers, and Leave Boozing to the Weak Fools”

10 Feb

After defeating the Boston Beaneaters and “Old Hoss” Radbourn in his major league debut, George Borchers returned to the mound five days later in Chicago and beat the Philadelphia Quakers and William “Kid” Gleason 7 to 4.

With two wins in two starts the 19-year-old Borchers was, according to The New York Evening World, one of the most sought after players in the National League:

“There are several league clubs who would like to get hold of Borchers, the latest Chicago wonder, the only thing in the way of his acquisition is the $10,000 (the White Stockings were asking).”

Chicago probably should have sold Borchers while there was interest.  He injured his arm sometime in June, missed most of July, and according to White Stockings Manager “Cap” Anson “lacks the heart to stand heavy punishment.”

George Borchers

George Borchers

After his fast start, Borchers was just 4-4 in 10 starts when Chicago released him and Chicago’s other 19-year-old “phenom” Willard “Grasshopper” Mains (1-1 in 2 games) on September 6.

The Chicago Tribune said Borchers was on his way to Cincinnati to play for the Red Stockings, “he has plenty on speed and good curves, and it will not be surprising if he makes a success in the American Association.”

After the Cincinnati deal failed to materialize, Borchers accepted $100 in advance money to join the Stockton franchise in the California League.  After receiving the money he never showed up in Stockton.

No less a figure than the “Father of Baseball,” Henry Chadwick held out hope that Borchers would eventually be a successful pitcher:

“There is a chance that a first-class pitcher, who played in the Chicago team last season, is going to reform the bad habits which led to his release by Captain Anson in August (sic) last. I refer to Borchers.   (John Montgomery) Ward told me that Borchers was a very promising pitcher, and had he kept himself straight be would undoubtedly have made his mark. I learn that be is going to try and recover his lost ground, and if be shows the possession of the moral courage to reform, and the intelligence to keep temperate, he will yet find his way to fame and fortune. Show yourself a man, Borchers, and leave boozing to the weak fools of the fraternity who indulge in it at the cost of a fair name and of pecuniary independence.”

Borchers didn’t appear ready to “reform.”  Between the 1888 and ’89 season, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, he signed a contract to play for the Canton Nadjys in the Tri-State League, receiving $100 in advance money and also signed a contract with that Kansas City Cowboys in the American Association, receiving a $300 advance.

In February of ’89 Borchers was awarded to Canton.  Kansas City offered to purchase his contract.  Canton Manager William Harrington said in The Sporting Life that “Borchers will play in Canton or not at all.”

Borchers left for California.

Upon arriving in Sacramento Borchers was arrested as a result of the Stockton contract.  The Los Angeles Herald said:

“George Borchers, the well-known baseball player, was arrested this afternoon on a warrant from Stockton, charging him with having received money by false pretenses.”

Borchers pleaded guilty and paid a fine in March.  In April he attempted to sign with the Sacramento Altas.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Sacramento being in need of a pitcher, induced Borchers to agree to play there and asked the Stockton Club to allow him to do so.  This President Campbell (of Stockton) refused and the league directors have sustained the action.”

The California League ruled Borchers ineligible for the season.

With too much time on his hands, Borchers couldn’t stay out of trouble.  The Associated Press reported on June 27:

“Shortly after 11 o’clock tonight a barn belonging to Mrs. Borchers, mother of George Borchers, the well-known baseball pitcher, was destroyed by fire, causing a loss of nearly $1000.  When the Fire Department arrived on the scene George Borchers tried to prevent the firemen from fighting the flames.  He was drunk and very boisterous.  Finally Chief Engineer O’Meara ordered his arrest.  When two officers took him in custody he fought desperately, and had to be handcuffed and placed in a wagon before he could be got to prison.”

The story said Borchers, who “has been loafing about town (Sacramento) for several months, drinking heavily” had made threats that he’d burn down the barn because his mother would not give him any more money.  Mrs. Borchers had “recently expended a large sum of money to get him out of trouble at Stockton.”

Whether his mother paid his way out of this or not is unknown, but the charges against Borchers went away, and he spent the remainder of the 1889 baseball season pitching for a semi-pro team in Merced, California.

He returned to the California League on March 23, 1890 when he pitched for Stockton in the season opener against the Haverlys at San Francisco’s Haight Street Grounds.  Borchers and Stockton lost 11 to 5.

His time in the league would be short.

In Early May he began complaining of a sore arm; The San Francisco Call said that “Borchers is known to have received an offer from the New York Brotherhood (Players League) Club and the Stockton directors think he’s playing for his release.”

On May 11 Borchers, according to The Sacramento Bee arrived at the ballpark in Stockton, on horseback and “extremely drunk.”  Catcher/Manager Mike DePangher sent Borchers home.  Borchers instead went on a bender that ended the following evening in a Stockton restaurant where he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

The Call said:

“If he took this means to sever his connection with the Stockton Club and join the Brotherhood, he not only brought disgrace in more sense than one upon himself, but has probably ruined his chance of an Eastern engagement.”

Borchers was fined $10 in court, the Stockton club fined him $100 and suspended him for the remainder of the season and sold his contract to Portland in the Pacific Northwest League–but not before the Sacramento Senators attempted to use him in a game.  The Call said Stockton protested:

“(Sacramento) Manager (George) Ziegler thought it best not to play him.  When George was informed that he was not to play he good-naturedly said:  ‘All right, old man,’ and then added, ‘One suspension, one release, all in two weeks.’”

George Ziegler

George Ziegler

On June 1 he won his first start for Portland, beating Spokane 7 to 6.  The Oregonian said “Borchers pitched a splendid game for the Portlands.”

Borchers split the remainder of the season between Portland and Spokane, compiling a 14-14 record with a 1.44 ERA.  When the Pacific Northwest League season ended Borchers returned home to play in the California League again; The Sacramento Record-Union printed a letter from his manager at Spokane, William “Kid” Peeples:

“Borchers has been pitching ball out of sight, and has not tasted a drop of liquor while up north.  He says he is going to stay straight, and finish the season with the Sacramentos.  He will have all the California boys guessing, as he did here.”

The San Francisco Call said Borchers was “a dismal disappointment” after he lost his first two starts for the second place Senators—both losses were against the league-leading San Francisco Haverlys.  San Francisco Manager Mike Finn filed a protest with the league, claiming Borchers should be declared ineligible because he was still on the reserve list of the Spokane club.

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Haverlys

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Haverlys

In his third start Borchers allowed Stockton to score three runs in the first inning on five walks and a wild pitch, but settled down and won 7 to 6. He beat Stockton again three days later, 15 to 10. The Record-Union criticized all four of his performances and said he had reverted to “his old ways.”

The 21-year-old finished the 1890 season with a 2-2 record for the second place Senators; San Francisco won the championship.  At the end of the season the California League upheld Finn’s protest over Borchers and fined Sacramento $500.

The rest of the George Borchers story on Wednesday.

“California Wonder”

30 Apr

Two West Coast ballplayers dubbed “California Wonder” by the press made their Major League debuts less than a week apart in 1887.  One went on to be one of the best leadoff hitters of his era; the other remains almost completely unknown.

George Van Haltren was a 21-year-old left-handed pitcher, outfielder and first baseman who had played two seasons with the Oakland franchise in the California and California State Leagues.

James McMullin, birth date unknown, had pitched for Mike Finn’s San Francisco Pioneers in 1886.

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Pioneers

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Pioneers

Van Haltren’s rights were acquired by the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, but because of his mother’s illness he said he would instead play for the San Francisco Haverlys.  The Chicago White Stockings traded for Van Haltren in April, but he still refused.  The Sporting Life said “the California Wonder will not come east,” quoted him saying:

“No, I will not play with Chicago this season; but if my left arm holds out and my parents are blessed with good health I will be open to Eastern engagements next season.”

The White Stockings threatened to have him blacklisted for not reporting but Van Haltren dug his heels in; only changing his mind after his mother passed away in May.

The Chicago Inter Ocean announced that he had arrived in town on June 25 and would be making his debut for the White Stockings on the two days later:

“(Van Haltren) at one time retired the Pioneer Club of San Francisco with a hit, and struck out seventeen men.  If he can continue this record here the Chicagos will come out of the race this season with another set of figures to put on the big flag at the park.”

Van Haltren’s debut was not good.  He walked 16 Boston Beaneaters and lost 17 to 11.  He finished the season 11-7, and would spend one more season as a full-time pitcher; going 13-13 in 1888 (he was 15-10, splitting time between the mound and outfield with the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders in the Players league in 1890).  Van Haltren would distinguish himself as one of the game’s best leadoff men, hitting better than .300 every year from 1889-1901, except for 1892 when he hit .293.

Van Haltren ended his career in 1903 with 2544 hits.

George Van Haltren

George Van Haltren

McMullin’s debut was no better than Van Haltren’s.

He began the 1887 season with the Pioneers, but was acquired in June by the new York Mutuals of the American Association.

When McMullin joined the club The Sporting Life said:

“The Mets have got their new California pitcher and like him well in practice.  He has plenty of speed.”

McMullin made his debut on July 2 against the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  The New York Times said of his performance, under the headline, “A ‘Wonder’ Exploded.  The Mets’ California Pitcher A Failure:”

“The debut of McMullen, the ‘California Wonder,’ was made (in Cincinnati) today in the presence of nearly 7,000 people, who went into hysterics from laughing at the awful exhibition given by the Wonder and his support.  He was utterly unable to get the ball over the plate and was miserably supported in the field.  After the third inning he retired to right field and there made a couple of errors.”

He gave up eight runs, made four errors and had two wild pitches in a 21-7 drubbing.

The box score from McMullin's debut.

The box score from McMullin’s debut.

McMullin only made two more appearances for the Metropolitans, and while he was credited with wins in both games his performance was no better; in his eight-day, three-game career he pitched 21 innings, gave up  25 runs (18 earned),  25 hits, walked 19, and struck out 2.  He made a total of five errors, and had one hit in 12 at bats.  The Mets released him on July 10.

And with that McMullin disappeared—there is no record of him having pitched anywhere after he left New York, there’s no record of whether he  threw and batted left-handed or right-handed, no pictures survive, and no record of when or where he died.  Another enigmatic figure of professional baseball’s early years.