Tag Archives: Seattle Siwashes

Coast League Stories

5 Dec

Abe Kemp began working at newspapers in San Francisco in 1907, when he was 14 years old, and spent the next 62 years primarily at The San Francisco Examiner where he covered his two passions, baseball and horse racing.

kemp

Abe Kemp

Over the years he collected a number of stories of baseball on the West Coast.

Catcher Tubby Spencer hit just .127 in 21 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1913. Contemporaneous reports said Spencer wore out his welcome with manager Del Howard in Portland. Years later, Kemp said the decision to let Spencer go was made during a team stopover in Sonoma County, and not by Howard. Kemp said he saw:

“Spencer staggering down the highway at Boyes Hot Springs one morning and President/Owner Cal Ewing yelling at him, ‘Hey, ‘Tub,’ where are you going?’

“’I’m going for a little air,’ yelled back Tub.

“’Then keep going,’ shouted Ewing, ‘because you will need it. You’re through.’”

tubbyspencer

Tubby Spencer

Harry “Slim” Nelson was a mediocre left-handed pitcher and weak hitter who played a half a dozen years on the West Coast. Kemp told of witnessing him “hit a home run through the screen at Recreation Park” in San Francisco when Nelson was playing for the Oakland Oaks.

“(He) became so excited when he reached second base that he swallowed his cud of chewing tobacco. Later on the bench, Slim was asked how the home run felt and he replied ‘it would have felt a whole lot better if I could have cut it up into singles to last me the season.”

Kemp said when George Van Haltren made the switch from Oaks player to Pacific Coast League umpire in 1909 he told Kemp and umpire Jack McCarthy “umpiring would be easy…because he had so many friends,” throughout the league. Kemp said McCarty responded:

“You mean you had so many friends. You haven’t any now.”

McCarthy appears to have been correct. Van Haltren was criticized throughout his short time as a Coast League umpire, and became a West Coast scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates the following two seasons. Van Haltren made one more attempt as an umpire, joining the Northwestern League staff in 1912; he was no more successful, lasting only one season after incurring the season-long wrath of Seattle Siwashes owner Dan Dugdale who demanded Van Haltren not be retained for the 1913 season.

George Van Haltren

Another player who had similar training habits to Tubby Spencer, according to Kemp, was Charles “Truck Eagan. Kemp said he was with Vernon Tigers manager Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray one day when Eagan played for the Tigers near the end of his career in 1909:

“Eagan, suffering from the effects of a bad night (told) manager Hap Hogan he was suffering from an attack of ptomaine poisoning.

‘”What did you eat’ the artful and suspicious Hogan asked.

“Eagan scratched his head a minute, then said guiltily, ‘It must have been the (bar) pretzels and herring, Hap.”

“Either they think that Everybody is Gullible, or else they are Weak Mentally themselves”

19 Nov

Until a broken ankle in 1902 slowed him, George Van Haltren was one of baseball’s best leadoff hitters; a .316 hitter with 2544 hits during his 17 seasons.   After a disappointing 1903–.257 in  84 games—his major league career was over, and he went home to the West Coast where he spent six seasons in the Pacific Coast League (PCL).

George Van Haltren

George Van Haltren

A member of the Seattle Siwashes during his first year in the PCL, Van Haltren was asked by The Oakland Tribune—the paper called him “an ultra-scientific batsman,” to share his expertise:

“Every ball player occasionally meets other players who call themselves ‘place hitters.’  The assertions of the majority of these players are such that either they think that everybody is gullible, or else they are weak mentally themselves.  They tell you they ‘can put the ball where they please,’ and that ‘it is easy when you know how.’

“Never take any stock in such twaddle.  These place-hitters would be just the men to have around when the ‘fans’ are calling on the home team to ‘hit ‘em where the fielders ain’t!’  But when it comes to delivering the goods, I have noticed, they are generally short.

“As a matter of fact, the batter often tries to hit to a certain field, and sometimes he is successful, but no man can give a guarantee when he goes up that the ball he hits will take any special direction.  If place-hitting could be carried out to the fine point that some players say they have it, they would be able to hit safely every time they came up.

“To the young player I would say: Don’t get in the habit of planting your feet on the ground and not moving them until you have swung at the ball.  Get a stride and advance a little toward the ball as you hit.  Do not step too far and accustom your eyes and hands to the change such a step makes.  Learn to hit squarely every ball that passes over any part of the plate between the knee and shoulder, and devote the most practice to what you are weakest on.

“Learn to think and act quickly and to keep your head at all times.  In a contest do not always do the same thing under the same circumstances.  Give your opponents a surprise whenever you possibly can.”

By the time he arrived on the West Coast, Van Haltren was no longer able to give his opponents “a surprise” as often as he could before the ankle injury; he hit .270 for Seattle in 1904, he played five seasons with the Oakland Oaks, hitting .255 before retiring in 1909.

Van Haltren died in 1945 without ever drawing serious Hall of Fame consideration.  A good argument for his enshrinement can be found here.

Franz Hosp

19 May

Franz Philip Hosp Jr. was born in Cincinnati in 1884 (some records, including cemetery documents and his grave say 1883).  His father was a well-known landscape architect and horticulturist who moved the family to Riverside, California in 1888.

The elder Hosp was responsible for many projects in the Southwest and Southern California; he is probably most famous for his landscaping of Victoria Avenue in Riverside, which remains a tourist attraction and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and for planting the gardens at the El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon National Park.

The family also ran a successful nursery in Oceanside, California  and Hosp worked with his father while playing baseball in the San Diego area.

Franz Hosp

Franz Hosp, 1909

In December 1906 he pitched for the San Diego Pickwicks (sponsored by San Diego’s Pickwick Theater) of the California Winter League.  Hosp quickly caught the eye of West Coast professional teams; according to The Los Angeles Times he had a streak of thirty-one scoreless innings that winter and “fanned as many as eighteen men in a single game.”

The Los Angeles Herald said two teams, The Butte Miners and the Seattle Siwashes of the Northwestern League, had already “tried hard to secure his services,” when he pitched against the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in a February exhibition game in San Diego.

The Associated Press said the game

 “(W)as the first time in which he allowed as many as seven hits, and after doing, he took a brace and fanned out an equal number of Los Angeles’ best artists, with the result being that the Angels’ manager (Henry ”Hen”  Berry) lost no time in annexing Hosp to his own aggregation.”

Hosp said he chose to play with Los Angeles so he could continue working at the family business in Oceanside.

The pitcher was a popular member of the Angels.  The Los Angeles Herald said:

“Pitcher Franz Hosp is not only one of the best twirlers in the coast league, but he is also one of the most genial boys who ever donned a baseball uniform.  Hosp has forgotten more baseball, young as he is, than many of the swell headed players who roar at decisions have ever learned.”

The Times said of Hosp, who also played second base and shortstop:

“His work in the field and at the bat is equal to his performance in the box making him one of the best all-around men in the business.”

Hosp was 12-7 with a 2.73 ERA for the PCL champion Angels in 1907; he also played 13 games in the infield, hitting just .105.

franzhosppix

Franz Hosp

The following season Hosp (22-14 2.02), William “Dolly” Gray (26-11, 2.12), and Walter “Judge” Nagle (24-10, 1.94) led the Angels to another league championship.  On July 26 he had the most embarrassing moment of his career during a game with the San Francisco Seals.  The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Hosp of the Angels established a unique and startling record yesterday afternoon, one that bids to stand a long time in baseball circles.  Not only did he literally pitch the game away, but in one inning—the fourth—he walked six men and hit two more, forcing in five runs across the plate without a hit by the Seals.  Not a ball was hit out of the diamond.”

(Just more than a year later, August 28, 1909, Hosp’s former teammate Dolly Gray, now a 30-year-old rookie with the Washington Senators, set the major league record by walking eight Chicago White Sox batters in one inning).

Hosp was 16-14 in August of 1909 when he was signed by the Cincinnati Reds for 1910.  Within a week he hurt his arm and did not pitch again for the remainder of the season.

By the spring of 1910 there were conflicting reports about the condition of Hosp’s arm.

The Times reported that according to Angels pitcher Andy Briswalter:

“Franz Hosp, whose clever pitching resulted in his purchase by the Cincinnati Reds, may never play ball again.”

The Herald said Hosp:

“(D)enied with considerable indignation the story purporting to be an interview with Andy Briswalter.  According to this story, Hosp’s arm was said to be in such condition that he might never play ball again.  While Hosp was overworked last season, when his sensational work with the Seraphs resulted in his being purchased by the Cincinnati Reds, he stated that he never felt better and that the rest of the past winter overcame any inconvenience or ill effects.  Hosp says he hasn’t seen Briswalter in six months.”

Hosp joined the Reds in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and was first tried in the outfield.  The Cincinnati Enquirer said after his debut:

(Ward) Miller and (George “Dode”) Paskert will have a dangerous rival for the right field job in the person of Franz Hosp, the recruit from the coast, who was signed as a pitcher but will try out as a fielder…He is a right-hand hitter, a good-sized, well-built fellow, and meets the ball square on the nose.  He came to bat five times; made a double and two clean singles…He showed a lot of speed on the bases and appears to be a kid who will bear watching.”

When finally given a chance to pitch, against the Boston Red Sox on March 25, after two scoreless innings, he gave up four singles and doubles to Harry Lord and Tris Speaker, in the third, resulting in three runs and was lifted for a pinch hitter the following inning.

Hosp was also tried in the infield where he “has made a fine impression.”  But it wasn’t enough to stick with the Reds.

The Herald reported in early May:

“Franz Hosp, one of the best pitchers who ever worked in the Coast League and who was released to Los Angeles by Cincinnati almost ten days ago because his pitching arm is kafluey for a time is warming up with the Angels every day and Hen Berry thinks he will get back into pitching form again soon.  He is a crack infielder too, and a heavy sticker, so it is dollars to cents that he will not be idle long.”

Hosp made his mound debut for the Angels on May 20; he pitched a complete game, losing 5 to 3.  The Herald said:

“Hosp showed excellent form for a pitcher who has been out of the game as long as he, and with a weak and sore arm, and he should be able get back to his best form with a little patience and careful slab work until his arm is ripe again.”

The paper was wrong, the extent of Hosp’s activity as a pitcher after that game was four innings in three games over the next year and a half.

Hosp was released by the Angels on June 15, along with Briswalter, who The Times claimed four months earlier had said  Hosp’s arm was shot; Briswalter had not recovered from a hip injury sustained during the 1909 season, he developed Tuberculosis of the injured bone and died in 1912.

Andy Briswalter

Andy Briswalter

 

Hosp continued to play for a decade.

Within weeks he was signed to play shortstop for the Vernon Tigers.   He hit just .240 for the Tigers, but The (Portland) Oregonian called him “a nifty fielder.”

Hosp became the team’s regular shortstop, through their move to Venice, California.  He hit .261 in 1911, and 1912, .255 in 1913, and then slipped to .208 in 1914.  He was released before the 1915 season and played for the Wichita Witches in the Western League.  He returned briefly to the PCL at the end of 1915, but was released by the Oakland Oaks prior to the 1916 season.  He returned to the PCL in 1918, playing for four teams over the next three seasons, ending his career after 56 games with the Salt Lake City Gulls in 1920.

Hosp returned to Southern California where he played and managed for semi-pro and industrial league teams and lived in Los Angeles.

On June 30, 1928 he was killed in a car accident on Coast Highway (US 101) 16 miles north of Oceanside.

Veteran’s Day–Leonard A. Wattelet

11 Nov

Leonard A. Wattelet‘s professional career lasted just two games as a 19-year-old with the Seattle Siwashes in the Pacific Coast League in 1906.  He continued playing in amateur and semi-professional leagues in Texas and California, until 1911 when he gave up playing for management, and purchased an interest in the Victoria Bees in the newly formed Northwestern League.

The Sporting Life called him “the youngest magnate in baseball,” and during his first two seasons with the organization he served as secretary, business manager and treasurer of the team and became president after the 1912 season.

Wattelet and his partner sold the team at the beginning of the 1914 season, and he remained a club executive through the end of the 1915 season.

In August of 1917 he was commissioned a captain in the Officer’s Reserve Corps and sent to Camp Lewis, Washington where he was placed in charge of the camp’s baseball program.

Leonard A. Wattelet, second from left with other sports directors at Camp Lewis 1917

Leonard A. Wattelet, second from left with other sports directors at Camp Lewis 1917

Many current and former big leaguers played at Camp Lewis under his leadership including; Ralph “Hap” Myers, Jim “Death Valley” Scott, John “Red” Oldham, John “Duster” Mails, Lou Guisto, Charlie Mullen, Harry Kingman,  Charles “King” Schmutz, and dozens of West Coast professionals.

In 1918 Wattelet went to France with the 364th Infantry Regiment, 91st Division, U.S. Army.  On October 31, 1918 he was killed in action and was buried at Flanders Field American Cemetery in Belgium.

Word of his death did not reach the states until December 7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Disappearing Oakland Infielder”

7 Aug

James Ernest “Jimmy” Frick began his career with the Iola Gasbags in the Missouri Valley League in 1904, hitting .331 in 106 games.  While Frick began the 1905 season with the Oklahoma City Mets in the Western Association, a “C” level league, press reports said he could have played at a higher level and The Sporting Life said St. Louis Cardinals, Hall of Famer pitcher Charles “Kid” Nichols “cannot understand why Jimmy Frick of Oklahoma City persists in hiding out it the bushes when he can make good in fast company.”

Frick was hitting above .300 in July when he was sold to the Seattle Siwashes in the Pacific Coast League; he hit .252 in 18 games until August 18 when The Associated Press said Frick “disappeared mysteriously.”

Four days later The Seattle Star said Frick who “was very popular” with local fans had jumped the Siwashes and rejoined Oklahoma City having been promised “$1000 and a chance to manage the team next year.”

Whether the reported deal was actually promised to Frick is unknown.  While he returned to Oklahoma City he never joined the Mets and finished the season with the Wichita Jobbers.

At the end of the 1905 season multiple teams laid claim to him.  The Associated Press said:

“The case of J. Frick who was claimed by Indianapolis, Wichita, Seattle and Oklahoma City was referred to Secretary (John) Farrell (of the National Association).”

In February of 1906 Frick was awarded to Wichita then immediately traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern League.  He spent the next five and a half years in the Eastern League with Toronto, the Baltimore Orioles and the Newark Indians.

On July 16, 1910, while with Baltimore, Frick was hit in the head with a pitch.  In August The Sporting Life said he had not yet returned to the lineup:

 “(Frick) is in a bad way in this city, as the result of being hit on the head by a pitched ball during the last home series of the Birds. Although the accident happened at least three weeks ago, Frick’s head is still in bad condition, his face is swollen and dizziness seizes him on the slightest provocation. It is doubtful if Frick will play again this season.”

He did return at the tail end of the season, but only appeared in a few games.  In 1911 he was sold to Newark, and after hitting just .200 in 28 games he was sold to the Troy Trojans in the New York State League.

Jimmy Frick

Jimmy Frick

Before the 1912 season, Harry Wolverton, third baseman and manager of the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League, was named manager of the New York Highlanders in the American League.  Oakland hired Bayard “Bud” Sharpe to manage the team; one of his first moves was to purchase Frick from Troy to fill the void Wolverton left at third.

By March 7 The Associated Press said Sharpe was “somewhat exercised about infielder Frick.”  The new third baseman had arrived in Oakland by train several days earlier, but had not arrived at the Oaks training camp in Livermore, California and had not been heard from him.  Sharpe showed up the following day, but it was reported he had spent several days in an Oakland hospital—it was not reported why he was hospitalized.

Frick began the season as the Oaks starting third baseman, but after hurting his foot in April, August “Gus” Hetling filled in and Frick never returned to the regular lineup.

On September 17, with Oakland in a battle for the pennant with the Vernon Tigers, the team was in Los Angeles when Frick, according to The Associated Press left his room at the Hotel Rosslyn and “dropped from sight.”

The Los Angeles Examiner said the Oakland team and the Los Angeles Police Department had looked for Frick for more than a week and found no sign of the infielder.  The Associated Press said “all of Frick’s haunts have been searched,” and that the disappearance “may hurt Oakland in their fight for the pennant, as he is considered the best utility infielder on the team.”

Herb McFarlin, Secretary of the Oaks, said:

“Frick has always been a steady player, not inclined to drink or run around.  He always has been absolutely dependable.”

On October 4 The Associated Press said “the disappearing Oakland infielder” had been found by his wife:

“He had been ill in a Los Angeles Hospital, assuming an alias so that he would not be bothered.”

As with his spring disappearance there was no mention as to why Frick was in the hospital.

On October 5 he was with the Oaks in Portland for a game with the Beavers, he did not play, but was “out on the coaching line rooting for his team.”

Frick was with the team on October 27 when they took both games of a double-header in Los Angeles; Vernon won both games of a doubleheader from Portland, and Oakland took the pennant with a winning percentage of .591 to Vernon’s .587.

Frick saw little action in the final weeks of the season, his replacement Hetling hit .297 and was awarded a Chalmers Automobile as the league’s most valuable player.

Gus Hetling, Frick's replacement at third

Gus Hetling, Frick’s replacement at third

Frick and his wife went to Portland at the end of the season, and in late November planned to leave for Oklahoma City where they owned a farm.  On November 20 Mrs. Frick went to pick up tickets for the trip, when she returned home, she found Jimmy Frick dead.  He committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid. (Baseball Reference incorrectly lists his date of death as November 18),

The Portland Oregonian said Frick had been “ill and despondent,” and said he was suffering from “brain fever.”  (Brain fever is an antiquated and vague term used for inflammation of the brain).

None of the stories about Frick’s suicide and “brain fever” mentioned the severe injury he had received when he was hit in the head in 1910, so  it’s impossible to determine whether it contributed to the erratic behavior that year, hospital stays, or death of the disappearing Oakland infielder.”

Ernest Nichols

6 Jun

Ernest Nichols seemed destined for stardom.  He was the subject of a bidding war before he ever pitched in a professional game.  The San Francisco Chronicle said that his hometown San Francisco Seals wanted to sign him, but had a lot of competition:

Parke Wilson wanted him for the Pacific Coast League in Seattle (the Siwashes), Matt Stanley recommended him to (Dan) Dugdale for the opposition team in Seattle (the Chinooks of the Pacific National League), and Spokane came along with a contract calling for a large figure and took Nichols away from the other bidders.”

Ernest Nichols

Ernest Nichols

The 21-year-old, six-foot, 190 pound right-hander was in high demand after pitching for the amateur Reliance Athletic Club team of Oakland in Northern California’s Mid-Winter League, and an independent team in Vancouver in 1902.  The Chronicle said:

“Speed and control were Nichols’ strong suit, and he had the remarkable record of thirty-five strikeouts in two consecutive games (with Vancouver).”

Upon joining the Spokane Indians Nichols immediately lived up to the hype.  By mid July he had started 24 games, winning 20.  During a one week stretch in June he beat the Tacoma Tigers four times.  The Chronicle said Nichols, who supported his mother and sisters had his salary “raised voluntarily by the Indians.”

On July 20 Nichols and two teammates went swimming at the pool in Natatorium Park, park of the amusement park that also included the Indians’ ballpark.   After swimming, the three began to watch a ballgame between two local teams.  The Spokane Spokesman-Review said:

“(Nichols) complained of cramps.  The three started to walk to catch a car.  When a car arrived he was lifted aboard and speeded to Dr. Kimball’s office.  The doctor saw that he was dead.”

He died of septic endocarditis.  Two days later The Spokesman-Review said:

“The last sad rites were rendered to the remains of pitcher Ernest Nichols yesterday afternoon by his friends and associates who knew him intimately and by a great mass of the public who knew him only through his baseball fame. “

Nichols’ body was returned to San Francisco and plans were quickly made to play a benefit game in his honor in Spokane.  The game between the Indians and the Butte Miners raised $1025.

In October of 1903 The Chronicle said:

“In all the league averages no box man is found with a record approaching that of the late Ernest Nichols, the San Francisco boy who won 20 out of a possible 24 games before death called him.”

“Mique” Fisher and the PCL

6 May

Michael Angelo “Mique” Fisher is one of the forgotten pioneers of the Pacific Coast League (PCL).  Fisher had no given middle name, but adopted the name Angelo “after the famed painter he admired.”

Born in New York City in 1862, Fisher’s family relocated to Sacramento, California shortly after the end of the Civil War.  Fisher was a semi-pro outfielder with teams in San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento, and in 1884-85 played for the San Francisco Haverlys in the California League.  Sometime later in the decade he joined the Sacramento police force.

Fisher’s only connection with baseball from 1885 until he was nearly 40-tears-old was as a fan and as a friend of a young catcher named Charlie Graham who had played at Santa Clara University and in the California League.

In 1902 Detective Captain Fisher made a career change.

The Sacramento Gilt Edges in the California League were owned by a local businessman named Arthur Beebe.  Beebe, according to The Sporting Life “incurred the displeasure of his associates in the league owing to his continual kicking against the umpires appointed by President (James T.) Moran.”

At a league meeting in February the franchise was taken away from Beebe and awarded to Fisher.  The San Francisco Call said Beebe blamed the move on San Francisco owner Henry Harris, who he said “is backing Mike Fisher.”

Michael Angelo “Mique” Fisher, circa 1905

Michael Angelo “Mique” Fisher, circa 1905

There’s no contemporary reference to why Harris preferred Fisher to Beebe, but within a year Harris would spearhead the effort to expand the California League to the Pacific Northwest—forming the PCL, and might simply have wished to pack the league with allies for the planned expansion.

The new Sacramento owner’s first move was to sign Charlie Graham, who played for Harris in San Francisco in 1901; Graham was named captain.  The Gilt Edges got off to a horrible start, but according to The Sporting Life “managed to replace the weak ones with men that worried other clubs at all stages, and finally crawled up into the .400 class.”

In December of 1902 The Seattle Times reported that Harris’ scheme was official:

“The California League will be known next year as the Pacific Coast League.  It will expand and take in Seattle and Portland.”

The Los Angeles Angels won the first PCL championship, but it was another Los Angeles team that caused the most excitement for Fisher and Sacramento in 1903.

In March three of Fisher’s players, Win Cutter, Charles Doyle and George Hildebrand jumped to the Los Angeles team, in the newly formed Pacific National League—they were said to have been recruited by former teammate Elmer Stricklett.  Hildebrand agreed to return, but Fisher took action as the other two prepared to board a train for L.A.  The San Francisco Call said:

“There was a sensational scene at the railway depot this afternoon, when Michael Fisher, manager of the Sacramento baseball nine, appeared with a police officer armed with warrants and caused Cutter and Doyle, two of the start players, to be placed under arrest on charges of obtaining money under false pretenses.”

The players were held in jail until they agreed to return to Fisher’s club, and the charges were dropped.

After the 1903 season Fisher relocated the franchise to Tacoma, Washington; the move brought better geographical balance to the league, and gave the PCL a foothold in a city that had just been vacated by the rival Pacific National League.

Charlie Graham remained team captain and the pitching staff was improved with the addition of Jim St. Vrain and Orval Overall.  Fisher’s Tacoma Tigers took the pennant, winning both halves of the split season schedule.

Charlie Graham

Charlie Graham

it was Graham, not Fisher, who was generally given credit for the success of the team.  As The Portland Oregonian later said:

“Mique Fisher in the strict sense of the term never was a great manager.  In a general way he knew baseball, but as a master of the fine points of the game as it should be played he was not up to the big thing…It was Graham who taught the players how to play the game.”

The paper did concede that Fisher was a good players’ manager:

“His players liked him and worked hard for him and that always helped a whole lot.”

Other tended to dismiss Fisher, The Spokane Daily Chronicle called him:

“The man who has acted as the original blast furnace for the hot air factory.”

Fisher not only had his baseball acumen questioned, but the move to Tacoma turned out to be disastrous from a business standpoint. The Oregonian said the Tigers won in 1904 despite “little enthusiasm,” from the city of Tacoma.  Fisher also began to run afoul of his investors, according to The Daily Chronicle:

“It is no secret  the stockholders have been losing money and blame for that is laid on the manager.”

The 1905 Tigers started strong, winning the first half—again playing to small, indifferent crowds, then fell apart in the second half, finishing last.  The Tigers were badly beaten five games to one in a postseason series by the Los Angeles Angels.

In September of 1905, Fisher announced that a six-game series with the Oakland Oaks would be played in Spokane, Washington, giving rise to rumors that the team would relocate there the following season.  The rumor also stirred up a conflict with the Northwestern League, who laid claim to Spokane and took their case to the National Commission.

Fisher initially denied that the team had designs on Spokane, but in October he this telegram to The Spokane Chronicle:

“To Sporting Editor…Spokane has been awarded to the Coast League by the National Commission.”

The San Francisco Bulletin said the league needed to abandon Tacoma and:

“It certainly seems that the admission of Spokane is the only logical course for the league to pursue.”

Logic did not win out.  By November Fisher had negotiated a deal to move the team to Fresno, California, a town with roughly one-third the population of Spokane—the PCL made it official in January of 1906 that the Tacoma Tigers would become the Fresno Raisin Eaters.

Fisher had owned a half interest in the team in Tacoma, he gave up his ownership stake in Fresno and signed a three-year contract with the club.

It turned out to be another bad decision.

Fisher, for the first time, managed a team without Charlie Graham by his side.  The catcher started the season with the Boston Americans (his only big league season), but left the team in May to return to San Francisco a month after the 1906 earthquake—various sources attributed his departure to being homesick, wanting to be near family, or to attend to his wife who was ill; in any case he never returned east and signed with the Sacramento Cordovas in the California League in August.

Fresno was a last place team from wire-to-wire, finishing with a winning percentage well below .400.

The new ownership fired Fisher, who eventually sued the team to recover $500 he said he was promised if terminated before his three-year contract expired.  He never collected the $500 and told reporters:

I was gypped out of the franchise.”

Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray was named to succeed Fisher as manager, but Fresno was dropped from the PCL after the Seattle Siwashes withdrew from the league, in order to maintain an even number of teams.

Fisher’s managerial career was over, but his baseball career was not; more on that tomorrow.

Blame it on the Uniform

3 Jan

Justin Titus “Pug” Bennett could hit.  After playing baseball at tiny Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, in 1895 and ’96, there’s no record of him again until 1899 when, at 25-years-old, he played with the Indiana-Illinois League franchise that began the season in Kokomo, Indiana and finished in Mattoon, Illinois.

Pug Bennett circa 1904

Pug Bennett circa 1904

Back-to-back .300 seasons with the Nashville Volunteers in the Southern Association and the Seattle Siwashes in the Pacific Coast League earned the 32-year-old his first shot in the Major leagues.  The Bennett hit .248 for two seasons with the Saint Louis Cardinals and returned to the minor leagues with Seattle, now in the Northwestern League.

Bennett returned to his old ways for two seasons, hitting .305 and a league leading .314 in 1908 and 1909.

1910 was not going well for Bennett, the perennial .300 hitter was hovering around .240 all season.

The Spokane-Spokesman Review provided an explanation late in the season:

“(Bennett) claims the white uniform worn by the umpires is the principal stumbling block in the way of batting averages this year.  Bennett says the light suits shade the white ball and make any pitcher with a crossfire or a sharp break much more effective.”

Bennett might have had a point.  There was not a single hitter in the Northwestern League with more than 50 at bats who hit .300;  Lou Nordyke led the league with a .290 average.

The following year the umpires’ uniforms were changed.  Ten players hit over .300 and Art Bues led the league with a .352 average.  The 37-year-old Bennett, with the Vancouver Beavers, rebounded with a .300 season.

Pug Bennet, t-206 card with Vancouver

Pug Bennet, t-206 card with Vancouver

Bennett continued playing in the Northwestern League until 1917.  He lived in Washington until his death in 1935.