Tag Archives: Silver Flint

“Never a Backstop ever Lived could touch Frank Flint.”

6 Apr

George Gore spent 14 seasons in the major leagues, hitting .301—most notably, he led the National League with a .360 average in 1880 as a member of the Chicago White Stockings.

George Gore

George Gore

After his retirement, Gore was a regular attendee of baseball’s winter meetings.  In 1910, he spoke to a reporter from The Washington Evening Star at the 1910 gathering at New York’s Hotel Breslin.  The paper called him “one of the finest fielders, heaviest hitters, and finest ballplayers,” of his era.

Gore, however, didn’t want to talk about his abilities, but instead was making the case for one of his former teammates, Silver Flint:

Silver Flint

Silver Flint

“Frank Flint of our team was the greatest catcher who ever lived.  He knew more than any other man with the mask.  He had the greatest head of any man in the business.  Nobody before or since could touch Flint.

“Every pitcher he ever handled he made a star.  Look at Fred Goldsmith and Larry Corcoran.”

Fred Goldsmith

Fred Goldsmith

Gore noted that neither pitcher “ever showed much” before or after playing with Flint; although he did leave out that both were still teammates of Flint when they began their steep declines in 1884 and 1885.

“Once Frank took them in hand, they all developed into stars.  He could make cracks out of every pitcher who ever towed the slab.  Show me the backstop today who can take any pitcher and make a marvel out of him.”

Larry Corcoran

Larry Corcoran

Of Flint’s role in both pitchers’ success, Gore said:

“Goldsmith was able to pitch for us for several years after his arm was like a plate of ice cream because he had Flint behind the bat.  Corcoran, you know, was a slightly built man (5’ 3” 125-130 pounds) and as cranky as the dickens.

“The White Stockings were out in California at the time that (William) Hulbert was president of the club.  Corcoran had been heard about by our team, but his sour disposition had queered him with a number of them.  Hulbert was a trifle loath to take him.  However, he talked with ‘Silver’.”  ‘Get him,’ said Frank, ‘and I’ll do the rest.’  So Hulbert took Larry.’”

Gore, who likely exaggerated concerns about the highly prized 20-year-old Corcoran, said of Hulbert’s first meeting with the pitcher:

“The boss called Corcoran to him ‘Look here’ said the president, pointing to Flint:  ‘That fellow is your boss.  You do everything that he asks you, and don’t you disobey, or I’ll fire you right off the reel.’

“Corcoran started.  He obeyed implicitly, and everything went along finely.  Larry was soon one of the best twirlers in the league.  One day, though, he got one of his cranky fits on.  He wouldn’t obey the signals and crossed ‘Silver’ several times.”

Gore said Flint went out to speak to his ‘cranky’ pitcher:

“’Larry,’ he said quietly, but his eyes were snapping, ‘you either do what I say or you  go straight into the clubhouse—I don’t care a d— which you do. Now get busy.’”

Gore said Corcoran complied:

“After the game, Hulbert was sitting in the grandstand.  Corcoran came out of the clubhouse dressed, and the boss was waiting for him.  He called the pitcher to him.  ‘Look here Lawrence,’ sa id the old man, ‘didn’t I tell you that Frank was your boss?  Now if you let another yip out of you like you did today you’ll be fired so quick that your head will swim.’”

Gore said Corcoran again complied, and from that point on Flint had him “trained to the minute.”  Corcoran was 175-85 with a 2.26 ERA from 1880 until the White Stockings released him in 1885—his arm dead.  Despite the numbers, Gore called Corcoran “only a fair twirler” but for Flint.

Goldsmith, a claimant to the invention of the curveball, had a similar fate. He was 98 and 52 with a 2.57 ERA from 1880 through 1883 with Chicago; in 1884, he began to struggle and was 9-11 with a 4.26 ERA when the White Stockings sold him to the Baltimore Orioles in August.  His career was over at the end of that season.

Corcoran’s big league career was over at age 27, Goldsmith was 28.

Whether Flint deserved as much credit as Gore gave him for their brief, incredible success, is open to debate, but in 1910, the former outfielder was certain in his praise for his former teammate, who had died in 1892:

“Yes, there was never a backstop ever lived  could touch Frank Flint.”

Tug Arundel

16 Nov

Twenty-one years before catcher Gabby Street caught a baseball dropped. From the Washington Monument, another catcher attempted it with less success.

When news of Street’s feat was reported in 1908, Oliver Romeo Johnson, who had been a sportswriter for The Indianapolis News in 1887, recalled the circumstances:

“On one of our eastern trips we followed the Chicagos in Washington, and while there the catching of a ball dropped from the monument was much talked of, because one of the Chicago players was said to have done it a few days before.  My impression is that it was (Cap) Anson himself, although it might have been Silver Flint.

“One of our team, John Thomas ‘Tug’ Arundel, a catcher, said it was ‘dead easy’ to catch a ball dropped from the monument, and a bet was made on it.  A crowd of us went out to see the attempt.  Arundel wore catcher’s gloves—which were not so thick as they now are—on both hands and put layers of cotton under them. He tried eight or ten times to catch the ball…but failed every time, and after he had battered up his hands so he could not play for some days he gave it up.”

Tug Arundel

Tug Arundel

Several days after Johnson’s recollection appeared in The News, Horace Fogel, who had been Arundel’s manager with the Hoosiers and dropped the balls from the monument, weighed in.  Fogel, then sports editor of The Philadelphia Telegraph, disputed the claim that Anson or Flint had caught a ball and said of his catcher’s attempt:

“Arundel, if I remember alright, only succeeded in getting his hands on one ball and it almost tore them off at the wrists. Tug explained afterward that he had not figured on ‘A ball weighing a ton coming from that distance.’ The other balls, a dozen or more, I tossed out to him, Arundel missed, some by fifty feet, he misjudged them that badly.”

Horace Fogel

Horace Fogel

Bad judgment was a staple of Arundel’s career which was marred by arrests for drinking and fighting.    He appeared in just 76 major league games over four seasons from 1882 to 1888 and played for at least 16 different professional clubs during his 10 seasons in professional ball, often quickly wearing out his welcome.

The Memphis Appeal said he was:

“(T)he handsomest player in the profession, who would sooner fight than eat.”

The Washington Critic summed up the opinion many had of Arundel when he was acquired by the Nationals in 1888:

“’Tug’ Arundel has been secured by the Washington management, as last week’s reports indicated he would be.  He is not popular here.  However, it is to be hoped that Manager (Ted) Sullivan can keep him muzzled.”

After his release, when it was rumored he might join the Detroit wolverines, The Detroit Free Press told readers:

“Detroit wouldn’t have Tug Arundel under any circumstances.”

After every incident, Arundel pledged to change his ways.

After an 1887 drunken melee in Indianapolis, which resulted in the arrests of Arundel along with teammates Jerry Denny and John (Patsy) Cahill, he told The Indianapolis News he took “a total abstinence pledge for six months.”

In the spring of 1889, he was arrested in his hometown, Auburn, New York twice. First for assaulting a police officer and then for a bar fight with another former major leaguer, and Auburn native, Mike MansellThe Auburn Bulletin said Arundel “Got the worst of it.” A month after the fight, The Sporting Life said Arundel “writes he is in fine shape and looking for an engagement.”

In 1890, the 28-year-old Arundel was nearing the end of the line.  He signed with the Saginaw-Bay City (Michigan) club in the International Association and told The Detroit Free Press that he was serious about sobriety this time:

“I lost splendid situations and almost ruined my reputation through liquor, but, sir, I realize the baneful effects of over-indulgence in intoxicating liquors and I have resolved never to touch another drop.  I have kept aloof from it for the past three months and am now in as good condition as I ever was in my life.”

It is unclear whether, or for how long, Arundel kept his last public pledge.  He appeared to have played fairly well behind the plate for Saginaw-Bay City.  Although he hit just .152, The Free Press, which three years earlier assured readers that Arundel was not wanted on the city’s National League club, was pleased when he signed with the Detroit Wolverines of the Northwestern League:

“(Arundel) has faced the greatest pitchers on the field and held them all.  Arundel is a good trainer for young ones, and did good work while with the Hyphens in 1890.”

Whether because of drinking or injuries (The Free Press and The Detroit News said he suffered from “Split fingers” several times throughout the season) Arundel was finished after the 1891 season, at age 29.

Arundel returned to Auburn and was eventually committed to the Willard State Hospital for the Chronic Insane in New York where he died in 1912.

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

“This kind of Argument is the Veriest kind of Twaddle”

1 Dec

After just one season in the National League—a 24-36 record and a fifth place finish in 1878–the Indianapolis Blues disbanded.  Four members of the Blues joined the Chicago White Stockings—Silver Flint, Joe Quest, Ned Williamson, and Orator Shafer.

The 1879 White Stockings

The 1879 White Stockings

The White Stockings had been a disappointment in 1878, finishing in fourth place with a 30-30 record under Manager Bob Ferguson.  President A.G. Spalding, who had named Ferguson as his successor when he retired from the field, announced that first baseman “Cap” Anson would replace Ferguson for 1879.

The changes gave the Chicago press high hopes for 1879.

But, The Cincinnati Enquirer did not agree.  The paper said while the Chicago club was “greatly strengthened where it was very weak,” they would still finish no better than fourth place unless they were “properly managed.”  Boston Red Stockings Manager “Harry Wright could take this team and run it up to second place at least.”

In January The Enquirer implied that in addition to questionable management, Chicago’s new players were going to be a detriment:

“A prominent baseball official of Boston, in a private letter written recently, sententiously remarks: ‘Look out for the Indianapolis element in the Chicago Club next year.’  There’s a text for everybody’s thoughts.”

The Chicago Tribune quickly fired back with an article under the headline:

“Harmony” vs. Energy

 “There has been a great deal said at one time and another concerning ‘harmony’ in nines, and those who had the most to say on the subject contended that it was an essential point to be carefully looked after in the formation of any club which hoped for success on the diamond field.  Now The Tribune does not wish to set itself up in opposition to the judgment of men who have made baseball and the management of those who play it a study and a business venture, but it does say that many of them have harped so long upon this matter of ‘harmony’ that it has become a kind of second nature, whereby their judgment has been sadly warped.  Of late a paragraph, started in Cincinnati, has been going the rounds, in which the general public is solemnly warned to ‘look out for the Indianapolis element in the Chicago Club’ during 1879.

“Now the President and Manager of the Chicago Club are probably about as astute and far-seeing as any in the business and in view of this fact and reflection on their judgment or sagacity is in bad taste, and the parties who make ill-advised criticisms on the course of any club in hiring men, are very apt to undergo the unpleasant experience of persons not brought up in New Zealand who indulge in the pastime of throwing boomerangs; their weapons may come back and inflict considerable damage on those who threw them.  Whether or not the White stocking nine of next season will be a ‘harmonious’ one, it is doubtful if anybody knows, and still more doubtful if anybody cares.

“At the risk of being howled at by several papers, the baseball columns which are presided over by young men whose practical ignorance of the game is exceeded only by their ability to construct tables which not even themselves can understand when printed.”

One of the “Young men” referred to was The Enquirer’s sports Editor Oliver Perry “O.P.” Caylor.

One of O.P. Caylor's tables "which not even themselves can understand when printed.”

One of O.P. Caylor’s tables “which not even themselves can understand when printed.”

The Tribune will say that the question of whether or not the Chicago nine of next season ‘harmonizes’ will probably make very little difference with its play.  Some of the men who enjoy the reputation of being first-class kickers and disorganizers are nevertheless very handy individuals to have around when a base hit or good field play in wanted.  Without intending either to arouse the wrath or flatter the vanity of the very amiable and stalwart young man, Anson, it may be said that his reputation as an experienced and prolonged kicker is one that any man might be proud of; but, in spite of those who preach that harmony is everything, he is acknowledged to be one of the best and most useful ball-players in the country.  (Cal) McVey, of the Cincinnatis, can also make quite a conspicuous kick, even when not specially called upon to do so; still he is a good ball-player.

Lip Pike is a disorganizer of the first water, but last season, when he used to hoist a ball out among the freight cars on the lake shore, people who were presumed to know a good player yelled themselves hoarse in his praise.  The list could be extended indefinitely, but such action is not necessary.  Those who organize nines on the basis of ‘harmony’ alone will never grow rich at the baseball business.  It is not possible to get together nine men who could travel around the country eating, sleeping, and playing ball together that would never get out of tune.  Nine angels could not do it, much less nine mortals, subject to the little idiosyncrasies that human nature is afflicted with. “

The Tribune likely assumed the “prominent baseball official of Boston,” was Manager Harry Wright, and next turned its attention to him, his brother, and his championship teams.

“Harry Wright has always been the prophet whom the ‘harmony’ men delighted to honor, and the success of the Cincinnati and Boston Clubs under his management has been laid entirely to the dove-like dispositions of the men engaged by him.  This kind of argument is the veriest kind of twaddle, and the history of the Boston Club proves the truth of this assertion.  George Wright and Tommy Beals went many a day without the interchange of a friendly word, and George and (Charlie) Gould did the same thing.  For one whole season Ross Barnes and Gould never exchanged a word, and glared at each other like opposing game chickens, but the Boston’s won the pennant that year (1872—National Association) all the same harmony or no harmony.

“Other instances of like character could be adduced were there any necessity therefore, but these, from the fountain head of ‘harmony,’ will suffice.  If a club wins the championship it will be because its men play ball, not because they are ‘goody-goody’ boys.  Your man who gets hot at something during a game, and then relieves his feelings by making a two or three base hit, is much more valuable than one who, although possessed of a Sunday-school temperament at all times, manifests a decided aversion to reaching first base., when the occupancy of that particular bag of sawdust would be of some value to the men who pay him high wages for playing ball.”

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Caylor would not let the insult to him and to Harry and George Wright, go unchallenged:

The Chicago Tribune published some strange statements against the argument that in harmony there was always strength.  To prove that harmony was not always necessary to create strength in a baseball club, the writer made bold to say among other things that Tommy Beales [sic] when a member of the Boston Club, went many a day without the interchange of a friendly word with George Wright, and that the same feeling existed between George and Gould.  The writer knew from the first these statements were fiction, but in order to crush the fallacious argument our reporter left it to George Wright himself for an answer.  The letter is before us from which we quote, though we half suspect George would demur to its publication out of modesty if he knew it. “

Wright wrote to Caylor:

“(The Tribune) said Tommy Beales [sic] and I went many a day without the interchange of a friendly word, and that Gould and I did the same thing.  While they were with the Boston nine they were about my best friends.  Most of the time Beales [sic] boarded at my house, while Charley and I roomed together on trips.  I think the reporter was wrong in his argument against ‘Harmony’ as it was the great cause of the Boston Club’s success.  The credit for this mostly belonged to Captain Harry Wright.”

George Wright

George Wright

Although it appears Wright spelled the name of his good friend Tommy Beals incorrectly, he got the spelling right 12 months later when he named his son—tennis Hall of Fame member –Beals Wright after his former teammate.

The Tribune allowed Wright, and Caylor, the last word, and dropped the dialogue regarding “harmony.”

Despite Caylor’s prediction, the White Stockings, under Manager Cap Anson, led the National League from opening Day through August 15.  Anson became ill during July, and as his performance slipped, so did the team’s fortunes.

Suffering from what The Tribune called “an acute affection of the liver…that had sadly impaired his strength and capacity for play,” Anson left the club on August 26 with a 41-21 record, in second place, just a game and a half back.

With Silver Flint serving as manager, and without Anson’s bat—he led the team with a .317 average—the White Stockings were 5-12 in the last 17 games, and a fourth place finish.

Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings finished second; his team, winners of the previous two National League championships lost some of the “harmony” that made them winners when his brother George Wright and Jim O’Rourke signed with the Providence Grays.  George Wright, in his only season as a manager, led the Grays to the 1879 National League championship.

“The result is interesting. Incidentally, also, repulsive.”

14 Apr

While writing for The New York Herald in 1895 Oliver Perry “OP” Caylor had the hands of several members of the New York Giants photographed.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said, “The result is interesting.  Incidentally, also, repulsive.”

Caylor said:

“It is hard to say who has had the most marvelously disfigured hand among the catchers since the game became professional, but the award lies between the late (Frank) “Silver” Flint and Tony Suck.”

Flint had died three years earlier, and Suck (born Zuck) had died earlier that year.

Of the Giants, Caylor said backup catcher William “Pop” Schriver “takes first prize in a display of distorted joints   His right hand, as it is seen in the photographic view, has lost much of its resemblance to the natural member.”

Schriver

Schriver

Caylor said starting catcher Charles “Duke” Farrell and the team’s other catcher, Parke Wilson, had hands that were in good shape in comparison to Schriver:

“Farrell, for a man who has done so much catching and has faced so many swift and wild pitchers, possesses remarkably well preserved and shapely fingers.”

Farrell

Farrell

Wilson

Wilson

Caylor said third baseman George Davis “has what’s known as a ‘daisy.’ The first joint of the little finger on his right hand is crooked like the elbow of a stove pipe.”  Captain and first baseman Jack Doyle “has several angles and curves on his hands.”

Davis

Davis

Doyle

Doyle

Rightfielder Mike Tiernan ‘has escaped very luckily,” and among pitchers Amos Rusie, William “Dad” Clarke and Jouett Meekin “disfigured fingers are scarce.”

Tiernan

Tiernan

Rusie

Rusie

Clarke

Clarke

Meekin

Meekin

Caylor said:

“Baseball players as a rule, are not proud of their unshapely hands.  Yet a close examination of the hands of the men of New York City under 40 years of age will disclose the fact that more than half of them have one or two ‘baseball joints’ apiece to remind them of the time when a foul tip went wrong or a high fly took a sudden shoot out of its natural course…The non-professional invariably is proud of this reminder of the day or days when he played.

Alternate Uniforms, Circa 1879

14 Feb

On the eve of the 1879 season The Chicago Times endorsed an innovation about to be introduced by the Chicago White Stockings:

“The management of the Chicago Club has very wisely decided that the skinny white uniform with tips of blue, in which it has dressed its men from time immemorial, is not the best of its kind; that good taste dictates higher colors for the field, something that will bring out, instead of dwarfing the muscular development of its wearer.  The result of the consultations over the matter has been the adoption of something which has merit of novelty about it, at least, and, at the first blush, there seems to be no reason why it should not produce a pretty effect on the field.”

The Times noted that three years earlier, the White Stockings had worn individually colored caps in order to make it either for fans to identify the players.  The move “for some unknown reason was discarded” at the end of the 1876 season.

“The present change is in the same line, except that it goes further and applies the principle to the entire uniform.  The customary white flannel will be used for the body of the dress.  In this respect they will all be alike; but each man will be furnished with an individual color to finish it with, including cap, neck-tie, belt and a band some three inches wide around the thickest part of the calf.  The colors have been selected, and Spalding Bros. are now at work upon the uniforms.”

The 1879 Chicago roster by color:

Silver Flint:  Blue

Terry Larkin: Brown

“Cap” Anson: Grey

Joe Quest: Black and yellow

John Peters: Green

Frank Hankinson: Scarlet

Abner Dalrymple: White

George “Orator” Shafer: Red and black

George Gore: Blue and white

Bill Harbridge: Red and white

Frank Hankinson--wore scarlet in 1879

Frank Hankinson–wore scarlet in 1879

The move was taunted in at least one National League city–The Syracuse Courier derisively referred to the team as the “Chicago Rainbows.”

The Times said “Cap” Anson was in favor of the new uniforms and “says there’s luck in it.”

The paper agreed with Anson’s assessment:

“The individual caps won in 1876.  Since then they have been discarded, and Chicago hasn’t been able to win anything.”

Anson’s “luck” didn’t hold in 1879.  The White Stockings were in first place from Opening Day until August 1, then Anson became ill in July and eventually left the team which went 5-12  the rest of the season under Silver Flint, and finished in fourth place.

The uniforms disappeared and Anson returned for the 1880 season. When the team took the field for the opener The Chicago Tribune said:

“The Chicagos appeared for the first time in their regular League uniform for this year, with all-white stockings that are a marked improvement over the many-colored rings of last year.”

The 1880 White Stockings

The 1880 White Stockings “with all-white stockings”

Joe Gunson’s Mitt

6 Nov

The photo above was taken in 1939.  Former Major League catcher Joe Gunson was donating the mitt he created in May of 1888 to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Gunson caught for the Kansas City Blues in the Western League and made the mitt after a foul tip split his finger.  He told the Associated Press:

“We had a doubleheader scheduled the next day and Charlie Reynolds, who shared the catching with me, had sustained a similar injury…I got the idea to fashion some kind of glove to protect my hand.”

According to the United Press:

“(Gunson) improvised the mitt from a piece of leather, the belt from a Norfolk jacket, a bit of wire, sheepskin padding, and a buckskin covering.”

When Gunson died three years later the Associated Press and United Press called him the originator of the catcher’s mitt.

Over the years, other newspaper articles credited Albert John “Doc” Bushong with developing the catcher’s mitt.  In 1915, The New York Times said:

“(Bushong) wore the largest glove he could find, an added pads until it looked like a pillow…Out of bushings idea grew the idea of the mitt.”

Bushong’s glove was also mentioned in The Brooklyn Eagle in October of 1887, seven months before Gunson said he made his.

Bushong died in 1908, Gunson lived until 1942—longevity gave him a decided advantage in the number of times he was given credit for the mitt in newspaper articles during the first half of the 20th Century.

Currently, baseball historians remain split over which catcher should get the credit.

The Gunson Mitt

The debate may never be resolved. The most likely answer is that catchers in the 19th Century, who like Gunson, according to The Sporting Life, “has hands which for knots and gnarls rival the famous battered-up paws of Silver Flint,” might well have independently and nearly simultaneously developed equipment to protect their livelihood.