Tag Archives: Shreveport Giants

“Here, you Bone-Headed Mutt, come here”

19 Aug

A small item in the 1913 edition of “Spalding’s Baseball Guide” reporting the death of long-time minor league player and manager Ed Ashenbach—misspelled Aschenbach by the guide—said he “coined the term bonehead.”

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach

Wilbert Robinson told Billy Murphy of The St. Louis Star, the story of how Ashenbach, who The Sporting Life once called “The king of the minors,” came upon the term.

Robinson said it happened in 1902 when Ashenbach managed the Shreveport Giants in the Southern Association and involved an outfielder “by the name of McGowan,” whom he called “Mack.”  There was no “McGowan” with Shreveport, but Monte McFarland and Frank McGuire both played games in the outfield while Ashenbach was in Shreveport:

“One of the opposing players knocked a high fly in Mack’s direction.  Somehow he lost his nerve and was unable to judge it correctly.  He made three or four circles and finally gave it up entirely, just as the ball came down on his head and bounded to the far corner of the field, two runners scoring.

Wilbert robinson

Wilbert Robinson

“’Ash’ was wild.  The game was lost.

“Picking up a catcher’s mask and rushing out to the bewildered fielder he yelled: ‘Here, you bone-headed mutt, come here.’  When he came up with the player he began it again.  ‘Here you bonehead,’ he yelled. ‘Take this mask and put it on or they’ll knock your brains out with the next fly they put over.’”

Before his death in 1912, Ashenbach wrote a book called “Humor Among the Minors,” and reprinted a very similar version of Robinson’s story that was told by Bozeman Bulger in The New York World in 1910.  While Ashenbach vouched for the veracity of the story, he said it wasn’t the first time he used the term, and had actually coined the term earlier–although he got the year wrong.:

“In 1899 [sic, 1897] I played center field for the Springfield. Ohio, club (the Governors in the Interstate League).  On the team were Josh Reilly, third baseman, now retired and deputy coroner of San Francisco (It has been a matter of speculation where Reilly played in 1897–Baseball Reference lists the player with Columbus as Joseph Reilly, The Sporting Life referred to  the player with Columbus as “Josh Reilly”) and a catcher to whom we gave the nickname of Zeekoe, and who was continually doing just the opposite of what he was instructed to do.

Josh Reilly

Josh Reilly

“He had a serious weakness, in that it was utterly impossible for him to catch a high foul fly.  He would dance under the ball until he got dizzy.  Reilly often advised that we build a wooden shed over him so that his head would not be shattered by one of those high fouls.

“One day the expected happened.  The ball went high up into the air, with Zeekoe, as usual, doing his sky-dance, under it.  It finally landed, not in his mitt, but right on top of his head, bouncing fully thirty feet off his bean into the bleachers.  The blow would have felled and ox.  Down went poor Zeekoe, but only for an instant–to pick up his mask, which had been knocked off in the encounter.  That evening in the dining room

“That evening in the dining room, Reilly and I passed Zeekoe, who was enjoying his evening meal with the utmost complacency.  In passing him, I playfully pressed both of my hands on his head to feel for the bump which a blow of that size should have raised.  The lump was conspicuous by its absence.

“‘Are you hurt?’ I inquired of him.  ‘Not a bit,’ he said with pride.  Turing to Reilly, I remarked, ‘No wonder, Josh, that he isn’t hurt.  His head is made of bone.’  I believe this was the very first use of the term.  Ever since that night I have applied the expression ‘bonehead’ to any player guilty of unusual stupidity, and it has gained wide circulation.”

 

“Demoralizing a Successful Organization For the Sake of a Few Unimportant, Mediocre Ball Players”

19 Sep

When Charlie Babb jumped from the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association to the Memphis Egyptians in the Southern Association in June of 1902, he was not alone.

Pitcher Jim St. Vrain, recently released by the Chicago Orphans and under contract with the Tacoma Tigers in the Pacific Northwest League, signed with Memphis rather than going to Tacoma.

Another American Association player, Second baseman Bill Evans of the Columbus Senators, also jumped to Memphis.  The Cincinnati Enquirer said he jumped being suspended by the Senators for being “too drunk” to take the field on June 18.

Memphis manager Charlie Frank’s three new players would be a source of controversy in the Southern Association for the remainder of the season and a continuation of an ongoing feud over the league’s salary limit which The Sporting Life said: “a majority of the clubs are known to have violated.”

Charlie Frank

Charlie Frank

Southern Association President John Bailey Nicklin, acting on orders from Patrick T. Powers, president of National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL), ordered Frank not to play any of the three.  Frank not only defied the order but according to The Atlanta Constitution, gave Nicklin a “lecture in abuse,” and threatened to “break the league.”

Throughout July, the situation became increasingly absurd.

On July 11 Nicklin ordered umpire Ed Cline (the same Ed Cline who may, or may not, have initially approached Babb about jumping) to not allow St. Vrain to pitch against the Nashville Volunteers, managed by Frank’s biggest ally in the league, Isaac Newton “Ike” FisherThe Atlanta Constitution said Cline became mysteriously “sick and could not work,” although he “was upon the grounds while the game was being played.”  St. Vrain and the Egyptians beat the Volunteers 8 to 5 with “Red” Ehret and Nashville’s Bill Dammann acting as umpires.

After the game Frank was suspended for 10 games and threatened with being blacklisted if he played St. Vrain again.  Later that week Frank received a temporary injunction allowing him to continue using St. Vrain. And while Babb and Evans had been suspended by the league and were not covered by the ruling, Frank continued to put both in the lineup.  Frank also continued to manage the team despite his own suspension.

On July 25 Frank was again ordered by Nicklin not to play Babb and Evans.  This time, he complied, for one day.  The two players sat out an 8 to 4 victory over Atlanta (St. Vrain pitched for Memphis).  Both were again in the lineup the following day, and on July 27 Frank filed a suit against the league and Nicklin seeking $10,000 in damages.  He also sought and received an injunction “restraining President Nicklin from interfering with the playing of Babb and Evans.”

The Constitution began calling the team the “Memphis Injunctionists.”

The Sporting Life said Frank was:

“Demoralizing a successful organization for the sake of a few unimportant, mediocre ball players.”

Nicklin, the league, and the NAPBL blinked first.

Two days after the suit was filed an agreement was reached.  Babb and Evans would remain with Memphis and were reinstated from suspension; the fourth place Egyptians agreed to forfeit every game in which Babb and Evans participated in while under suspension—dropping the team to fifth place.

The controversy appeared to be over.  It wasn’t.

On August 4 the Egyptians arrived at Athletic Park in New Orleans to play the second place Pelicans.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune said:

“Under orders of (Pelicans) manager Abner Powell a big policeman today refused admission to St, Vrain, Evans and Babb, of the Memphis club, when they tried to enter.”

The game was canceled

The following day:

“Manager Frank again took his team to out to the park, but admission was refused to St. Vrain, Evans and Babb.”

The umpire, picked by the Pelicans, “declared the game forfeited to New Orleans,” and Powell shared with the press a telegram from the Little Rock Travelers which read:

“Congratulations upon your firm methods.  We will stand with you.”

Despite the earlier agreement, the NAPBL announced that Frank and St. Vrain were still under suspension.

Jim St. Vrain

Jim St. Vrain

On August 9 the Shreveport Giants refused to allow St. Vrain into the ballpark for a double-header.  Memphis took the field for each game with only eight players and no pitcher.  They forfeited both games to the Giants.

Memphis was due to travel to Little Rock for a three-game series from the 11th through the 13th.  The Travelers announced that they “would not play with St. Vrain and Frank in the game.  Babb and Evans will be allowed to play (but) under protest.”

On August 12 Nicklin resigned at a meeting of league owners in Chattanooga (Memphis and Nashville refused to attend).  He said he was “almost helpless to enforce the rules of the league,” because of Frank’s numerous injunctions.  He was replaced by vice president William Kavanaugh.  A motion was passed to suspend Frank and St. Vrain indefinitely, but Babb and Evans were officially reinstated.  Again.

In response, Frank filed another $10,000 lawsuit naming every team in the league except Nashville.

On August 27 in Nashville, St. Vrain started for Memphis.  President Kavanaugh fined Nashville $1000 and “suspended that club for the balance of the season,” he threatened “drastic measures’ towards Memphis as well, but for the several injunctions that kept him from acting.  Two days later the suspension was lifted.

On August 30 a Little Rock judge enjoined Frank from “playing or attempting to play St. Vrain in any state.”

The Atlanta Constitution headline summed up the opinion of most Southern baseball fans on September 22:

To The Relief of All the Season is Now Over

As an appropriate end, Memphis beat Atlanta on the final day of the season behind the pitching of the still suspended Jim St. Vrain.

The no longer suspended Nashville Volunteers won the pennant.

The Indianapolis Indians, the team Charlie Babb jumped, won the American Association pennant.

Charlie Babb

Charlie Babb

The Indianapolis papers had predicted that Babb’s career would be doomed when he jumped.  In 1903, he was purchased by the New York Giants.  He played in the National League with the Giants and Brooklyn Superbas through the 1905 season.  In 1906, he became a minor league player/manager; with the Memphis Egyptians.  He stayed with Memphis until 1910 and managed to become embroiled in one more controversy.

Jim St. Vrain was only 19-years-old during that 1902 season.  He finished 12-4 with Memphis.  He went to the West Coast in 1903.  His career was over after the 1905 season.

Bill Evans played in the Southern Association until 1906; he eventually became a member of three different teams who refused to play against him in 1902: New Orleans, Shreveport, and Little Rock.

Charlie Frank did just fine in the end.  More on that next week.

“He was Not Crazy as Reported”

18 Jul

Ervin Thomas “Erve” “Dutch” Beck hit the first home run in the American League; on April 25, 1901, the second day of the season, as a member of the Cleveland Blues; Beck homered off White Sox pitcher John Skopec at Chicago’s South Side Park.

It was a highlight in a short, promising career, like many at the turn of the 20th Century, destroyed by alcoholism.

Beck was considered the best young player in Toledo, Ohio when he joined the Adrian Reformers in the Michigan State League as a 16-year-old in 1895, then for the next five seasons, he was the star of his hometown Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.  For the two seasons in Toledo for which complete records survive, Beck hit .298 in 1898 with 11 home runs and, a league-leading .360 with 15 home runs in 1900.

Erve Beck

Erve Beck

Earning the Nickname “Home run Dutch” in the Toledo papers, Beck was credited with 67  during his five seasons with the Mud Hens;  he would remain the team’s all-time career home run leader until 2007 when Mike Hessman (currently with the Louisville Bats in the International League) hit his 68th as a Mud Hen.

Beck also had a brief trial with the Brooklyn Superbas in the National League in 1899, hitting .167 in eight September games.

It’s unclear exactly when Beck’s problems with alcohol began, but according to fellow Ohioan Ed Ashenbach (alternately spelled Ashenback by several contemporary sources), a minor league contemporary who wrote a book in 1911 called “Humor among the Minors”,  it was well-known during Beck’s career that he was “addicted to strong drink,” and as a result suffered from “hallucinations.”

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach (Ashenback)

Before the 1901 season, Beck, whose rights were held by the Cincinnati Reds, jumped to the Cleveland Blues in the newly formed American League; the twenty-two-year-old hit .289 and accounted for six of Cleveland’s twelve home runs.

Beck jumped back to the Reds before the 1902 season and received rave reviews early in the season.  The Cincinnati Tribune seemed to like him more at second base than veteran Heine Peitz:

“Erve Beck looks more like a second baseman than anyone who has filled the position since (Bid) McPhee went into retirement (in 1899).  He covers the ground, seems to know where to play and is capable of swinging the bat with some effect.”

His teammate, pitcher Frank “Noodles” Hahn claimed Beck hit the ball “harder than (Napoleon) Lajoie.”

Beck hit better than .300 playing second base in May but went to the bench when Peitz, who was filling in behind the plate for an injured Bill Bergen returned to second.

In June first baseman Jake Beckley missed a week with an injury and Beck filled in there; The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Ren Mulford said:

“(Beck) played the bag in splendid style…In handling ground balls Beck is as good as Beckley, and he is a better thrower… Beck gave another display of his versatility by plugging up a hole in right field.  He made one catch that was a lollapalooza…Most players would have lost heart when benched as Beck was, but he remained as chipper as a skunk during his term of inactivity, and gladly accepted the opportunity to get back into the swim. Beck is a phlegmatic soul, who takes life, as he finds it without a growl.”

In spite of a .305 batting average in 48 games and the great press he received, Beck was released by the Reds in July.  Whether the release was simply because he was the odd man out with Peitz, Beckley and right fielder Sam Crawford healthy or as a result of drinking is unknown.

Beck was signed almost immediately by the Detroit Tigers where he took over at first base after Frank “Pop” Dillon was sent to the Baltimore Orioles.  He hit .296 in 41 games but was again released at the end of the season.

Beck would never return to the big leagues.

In 1903 he .331 for the Shreveport Giants in the Southern Association, he jumped Shreveport the following season and played for the Portland Browns in the Pacific Coast League.   He returned to the Southern Association with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1905.  After starting the 1906 season in New Orleans, he was released in July and signed by the Nashville Volunteers; his combined average with both Southern Association teams was .211.

Beck’s drinking was, according to Ashenback and contemporary newspaper accounts, common knowledge by the time he wore out his welcome in Nashville in August and was sold to the Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic League.

That stop would last for only one game.

The 27-year-old, four years removed from the American League, played first base for the Tourists on August 6.  Augusta second baseman Ed McKernan said, “It was evident when he reported there was something amiss with him,” and claimed Beck chased “an imaginary flock of geese away from first base” during the game.

The following day, according to The Augusta Chronicle, Beck “created a sensation in the clubhouse…causing all but two of the players to leave the house.”  As a result, Augusta released him.

The following day The Chronicle said:

“(Beck) ran amuck this morning and created great excitement on the street.

“While in a room on the third floor of the Chelsea hotel the big infielder suddenly began to see things and sprang from the third story window to the ground below.  Only two intervening telephone wires and a rose bush saved his life.

“He then darted down an alley and hid himself in a store.  He was finally captured and came quietly back to his room with a policeman and (Tourists outfielder Frank) Norcum.”

The Sporting Life assured their readers that Beck “was not crazy, as reported, but only suffering from the effects of a (drunken) spree.”

McKernan said “During his convalescence…Beck would smilingly avow his determination to abstain from strong drink.”

There were varying reports regarding the extent of his injuries, and it’s unknown whether he was physically able to play after the fall, but Beck would never play professionally again.

He returned to Toledo where he operated a tavern and appears to have been unable “to abstain from strong drink;” he died in 1916 of Articular Rheumatism complicated by Hepatic Cirrhosis.