Tag Archives: Silver King

“There will be Cliques”

30 Jun

William Ingraham “W.I.” Harris was one of the most important baseball writers of the 19th Century, but like Charles Emmett Van Loan three decades later, he died young and is mostly forgotten today.

He was sports editor for The New York Press, which was billed as “The aggressive Republican newspaper of New York,” and The New York Star.  The Sporting Life said of Harris:

“He feels strongly in any given direction and talks earnestly. One cannot be long in his presence without being convinced of his unswerving honesty and sincerity.”

He was, along with Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Times-Star, an outspoken critic of the Players League, and said he agreed with Mulford’s assessment that the appearance of the Brotherhood, and the resulting “baseball war” was “a campaign for the preservation of baseball law on one side and its destruction on the other.”

William Ingraham Harris

William Ingraham Harris

Harris was also considered the best prognosticators among contemporary baseball writers, and before the 1890 season began he said:

 “For the past two years I have had the satisfaction of naming the champions of both major associations before a championship game had been played…and last season (in the National league), with the exception of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I located the exact position at the finish.”

He said he would not attempt to handicap the results of the three leagues in 1890:

“The writer who ventures to make predictions as to the results of the championship fight in any one of the many leagues at this stage of affairs takes an enormous risk on masticating a pretty tough crow later on.”

But, said Harris, he was “willing to take my chances on giving one tip,” before the beginning of the season.  The “tip” went against the conventional wisdom, in fact, it went against what the entire baseball world considered a certainty; the fate of the club The Chicago Tribune called “The greatest team ever organized.

“(I) shall not undertake to pick any winners this year until the season has been well started.  I propose, however, to nominate one team that will not win a pennant, and that is the Chicago Brotherhood team.  In making this assertion I am bucking against general sentiment, or rather general belief.  The consensus of opinion is the other way.  There is no doubt that on paper the Chicago Brotherhood team is in many respects one of the greatest aggregations of baseball stars ever got together, but there are some potent reasons against its success.“

Harris was critical of the team’s catchers and pitchers:

(Conrad “Dell”) Darling never was a first class catcher and never will be.  (Charles “Duke”) Farrell is a strong hitter, and at times a most brilliant catcher, but he is not a steady or remarkably heady catcher.  Boyle is a good one, but he isn’t in it with such good men as (William “Buck”) Ewing, (Jack) Clements, (Charlie) Bennett, (Charlie) Ganzel, (George “Doggie’) Miller, (Connie) Mack, (Michael “King”) Kelly, (John “Jocko”) Milligan, (Paul) Cook and (Cornelius “Con”) Daily.  On catchers the team is all right on quantity, but short in quality.

“As to pitchers, (Mark) Baldwin, in 1887 and 1889, was a star In 1888 he was not to be depended on.  Baldwin doesn’t take care of himself as he should in the winter time.  As a pitcher he ranks among those who may be great at any time, but who keep you guessing on the dates.

(Charles “Silver”) King, in condition, is a ‘tip topper.’  He was a failure in the League once before, and in the world’s Series against New York didn’t astonish people to any extent.”

He dismissed the other two pitchers, Frank Dwyer and Charlie Bartson as a “medium man” and “unknown quantity,” and said “Unless strengthened in the battery department, and probably not then, this team will not land first.”

He conceded that “The outfield and infield are well-nigh perfect.”  But, there was a bigger problem than the weak pitching and catching; Harris predicted tension between second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who had raised $20,000 for the creation of the Players League, recruited most of his Chicago White Stockings teammates to jump to the Brotherhood, and was one of the club’s directors, and team captain and first baseman Charles Comiskey:

“(T)he Comiskey-Pfeffer or the Pfeffer-Comiskey combination.  By the way, which is it?  The answer to this will have quite a bearing on the general result…There will be cliques.  Germany and Ireland will be at war in less than a month.  The public may not know, but the lack of harmony will be there and will have its effect.  Comiskey is a great baseball captain.  At least he was in the American Association.  His methods are well-known.  He was supreme at St. Louis.  Everything went.  The men had no respect for (owner Chris) von der Ahe.  They feared Comiskey.  At Chicago Comiskey will find some men who have just escaped from the rule of a greater captain than himself, perhaps a harder task master.  They have reveled all winter over the prospect of freedom from that restraint, proper and effective though it was.  They are stockholders—yes magnates—now.  Will they swallow Comiskey’s manners on the field and in the dressing room?  As Charlie Reed sings, ‘Well, I guess not.’ (Reed was a famous minstrel performer in the 1880s and 18890s)

“Comiskey must change his methods.  He will have to gag himself; he will have to, figuratively, kiss the baseball blarney stone; he will have to be cheerful, under protest; and, above all, if harmony be his objective point he will have to please Director Pfeffer.  He may not try to do these things; he probably won’t.  Comiskey will have his way.  He always has had it.  He can only rule by practically despotic methods.”

Fred Pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

Harris correctly concluded that Brooklyn, New York, and probably Boston (the eventual champions) would finish ahead of Chicago.  At season’s end, The Chicago Times summed up how prescient Harris had been about the fourth place team in the Players League:

“The outside world cannot fully realize the bitter disappointment felt here over the poor showing made by Comiskey’s team during the season just closed.  Surely it was strongest aggregation of players ever collected in one club, but its lack of success was mainly from two causes—lack of discipline and the miserable condition of certain members of the club.

“There has been absolutely no discipline in the team, and some of the men paid as much attention to Comiskey’s orders as they would to a call from some church congregation.  An order to sacrifice was met with a smile of scorn, and the ball was hammered down to an infielder, who made an easy double play.”

Harris died the following summer on July 7, at age 33, of tuberculosis.  The Boston Globe, the first paper he worked for, said:

“Being of a most observing nature, a ready thinker and as it were, a lightening calculator, he managed to foretell many of the leading baseball events of the year weeks ahead…Mr. Harris was without exaggeration, one of the brightest of his class, a ready and graceful writer and a hard worker.”

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

“The Sudden Reappearance of ‘Silver’ King”

27 Jun

Oliver Perry “O.P.” Caylor wrote in June of 1896 in The New York Herald:

“One of the baseball surprises of the season is the apparently successful reappearance of ‘Silver’ King upon the National League diamond.  Without any warning the Washington club sent him in against the Pittsburgh team, and he not only won his game, but held the latter down to six hits, Of course all this caused a great deal of gossip wherever baseball is a subject of interest.”

When Charles Frederick “Silver” King (born Koenig), took the mound for the Washington Senators and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8 to 1 in the second game of a May 30 doubleheader, it was his first appearance in professional baseball in nearly three years.

King had been one of baseball’s best pitchers of the 1880s, with a 142-70 record from 1887-1890 while playing for Charlie Comiskey, first with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association and then following Comiskey to the  Chicago Pirates in the Players League.

Comiskey (8) and pitcher Silver King (14) with the 1888 St. Louis Browns, King would follow Comiskey to the Chicago Pirates in the Players League in 1890

Comiskey, seated center(8) and Silver King standing second from right (14) with the 1888 St. Louis Browns, King would follow Comiskey to the Chicago Pirates in the Players League in 1890

Caylor said that during Flint’s heyday:

“His most successful delivery was what is known as ‘the cross fire,’ first used effectively, I believe, by (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourne and at present the prominent stock in trade of (Wilfred “Kid”) Carsey of the Philadelphias (Phillies).  It consists of standing on the extreme end of the pitcher’s plate, stepping away still farther from the direct line towards the batsman and sending the ball across the home base at an angle, which, although small, is very bothersome to the man with the bat.”

Silver King

Silver King

Caylor said King was “put out of the business” in 1893 when “the pitcher’s box was set back five feet,” (to the current 60’ 6”).  While King’s record slipped during the last two seasons the distance was 55 feet to a combined 36-53 while pitching for the Pirates and New York Giants, he had respectable ERAs of 3.11 and 3.29.  After the rule change King went 8-10 with a 6.08 ERA pitching for the Giants and Comiskey’s Cincinnati Reds in 1893, and then disappeared.

Caylor thought there was “a great deal of significance to King’s return to the diamond,” and predicted a trend:

“It means managers, having exhausted the new crop and finding nothing before them worth a trial, are forced to look behind and try to rekindle some of the half burned out embers. Washington not only took up King, but they gave (Les) German a trial after the New York club let him go.  (Cap) Anson (Chicago Colts) went back to (Fred) Pfeffer after finding (Algernon “Algie”) McBride, (Josh) Reilly and (George) Flynn wanting and was even forced to put himself into his nine to fill out the weak spots.”

Caylor said it was “astonishing  to look over the list of new material which was brought into the National League last spring and notice how small a part of it has been able to keep ‘in the swim.’  Every day one hears that some younger player has been released or that another has been loaned or farmed to a minor league club.”

Caylor’s prediction of success for the “trend,” and the players named was a mixed bag.  Anson, who had never really gone away, hit .331 in 108 games, for the Colts, but Pfeffer hit just .244 in 94 games. German fared the worst, he was 2-20 in 1896 and 3-5 the following season before being released in August.

King managed to post a 16-16 record for the Senators in 1896 and ’97 but never found his early career form.  After the 1897 season, he returned to St. Louis where he died in 1938.

Caylor would become ill the following season, and died in October of 1897.

“The Greatest Team Ever Organized”

24 Apr

Hopes were high for The Players League, and for Chicago’s franchise, the Pirates, in the newly formed baseball brotherhood.

Rumors had been reported for more than two months, but finally on January 18 The Chicago Daily News said that Charlie Comiskey “came to town yesterday morning, and at 4 o’clock signed…for three years,” to serve as captain and manager; the contract was said to be worth “$5,000 per annum.”

President Charles A. Weidenfelder had built a strong ballclub, with major assists from Fred Pfeffer, Chicago White Stockings second baseman, who encouraged most of that team to jump to the new league, and Frank Brunell, a former Chicago newspaper man who was secretary of the new league, and traveled to St. Louis to encourage Comiskey to jump to the brotherhood.

There was an embarrassing moment in March when Chicago newspapers reported that the carpenters union was complaining that non-union labor was being used to build the team’s ballpark at Thirty-Eighth Street and Wentworth Avenue.    The secretary of the union was quoted in The Chicago Tribune saying  Brunell had “promised to make it right.  But he didn’t.”

Despite the  irony of a league borne out of the game’s first labor movement betraying organized labor (there were similar difficulties in Boston and Philadelphia), enthusiasm for the new league was high; in Chicago the expectations were higher.  A week before the season opened The Chicago Tribune said:

“The elements which go to make up a great team are united in the Chicago Brotherhood Club, which, on paper, is the greatest team ever organized.”

Comiskey’s club opened the season on April 19 in Pittsburgh.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“It was a great day for the Players League…There were 9,000 people by the turnstiles’ count to see the fun…It was by all odds the biggest crowd that had ever turned out to witness an opening game of ball in Pittsburgh.”

The pregame festivities included a parade through the streets of Pittsburgh featuring both teams, league officials and a Grand Army of the Republic brass band.

“(Pittsburgh) Manager (Ned) Hanlon was presented with an immense floral horseshoe, Comiskey with a big floral ball on a stand of floral bats, Pfeffer with a basket of roses…(Chicago’s Arlie) Latham ‘stood on his head, with a smile well-bred, and bowed three times’ to the ladies.  (He had) the legend ‘We are the people’ in great black letters on (his) broad back.”

After the fanfare, “Pfeffer and the boys played a particularly brilliant game,” as Chicago defeated Pittsburgh 10-2.

Box Score--Chicago Pirates/Pittsburgh Burghers, Opening Day, 1890.

Box Score–Chicago Pirates/Pittsburgh Burghers, Opening Day, 1890.

Opening Day was the high point for Chicago. The league as a whole struggled financially and attendance dropped sharply after the initial excitement wore off.  Only eight games into the season, barely 500 people attended Chicago’s game in Cleveland on May 1.

Comiskey’s “greatest team ever organized,” was never able to keep pace with the league champion Boston Reds and finished fourth in the eight team league, 10 games back.

The Chicago Times lamented the team’s poor showing and blamed it on a “lack of discipline,” (the article appeared in slightly different form in several newspapers):

“The outside world cannot fully realize the bitter disappointment felt here over the poor showing made by Comiskey’s team during the season just closed.  Surely it was strongest aggregation of players ever collected in one club, but its lack of success was mainly from two causes—lack of discipline and the miserable condition of certain members of the club.

“There has been absolutely no discipline in the team, and some of the men paid as much attention to Comiskey’s orders as they would to a call from some church congregation.  An order to sacrifice was met with a smile of scorn, and the ball was hammered down to an infielder, who made an easy double play.”

The Times said “(Tip) O’Neill, Latham, Pfeffer, (Jimmy) Ryan and others utterly ignored Comiskey’s mandates, and in consequence there was continual disorder.”

The paper’s primary target was shortstop Ned Williamson.  The criticisms might have been unjustified: the former White Stockings favorite had struggled with the knee injury he sustained on the 1888-89 world tour, and might have already been ill as his health would decline rapidly, and he’d be dead by 1894; the victim of tuberculosis:

“Williamson played a game of which an amateur should have been ashamed, and was thirty pounds overweight throughout the season.”

The paper promised “there will be numerous, changes in the club, provided the players League is still in existence,” in 1891.

It was not to be.  By November league secretary Brunell told The Chicago Herald:

“The jig is up.  We are beaten and the Brotherhood is no more.”

Brunell attempted to put a positive spin on the news, telling the paper it was mistaken to infer the “Brotherhood has weakened.”  Rather “we began to see that the interest in baseball was on the wane, and in order to prevent it from dying out entirely…we finally concluded that a consolidation of forces (with the National League and American Association) would be better for all concerned.”

The Herald wasn’t buying Brunell’s statement:

Brunell’s talk has finally let in the light on a subject previously enveloped in darkness.  It appears now that the Players League folks actually courted a knockout, and bankrupted themselves from pure patriotic motives.  The ex-secretary is a funny little man.”

Brunell would go on to found The Daily Racing Form in 1894.

Comiskey returned to the St. Louis Browns in the American Association.  Tip O’Neill, who also jumped the Browns to join the Players League, returned to St, Louis with his manager.

Comiskey (8) was joined in Chicago by three members of his American Association championship teams in St. Louis.  Arlie Latham (7), Tip O'Neill (11), and pitcher Silver King (14) who posted a 30-22 record.

Comiskey (8) was joined in Chicago by three members of his American Association championship teams in St. Louis. Arlie Latham (7), Tip O’Neill (11), and pitcher Silver King (14) who posted a 30-22 record.

Fred Pfeffer stayed in Chicago, spending one more turbulent season with Cap Anson, before being traded to the Louisville Colonels.

Arlie Latham, “The Freshest Man on Earth” went to the Cincinnati Reds in the National League.

Ned Williamson never played again.

Elton Chamberlain

17 Dec

Elton Chamberlain (for the last thirty years always referred to by the nickname “Icebox,” but that name was not in common use for him contemporaneously) was primarily known for two things:  A righthander, he pitched ambidextrously in at least one game, and on May 30, 1894 he gave up four home runs and a single to Bobby “Link” Lowe—17 total bases, a record which stood for 60 years.

He was also embroiled in one of the early controversies over gambling while playing for the Cincinnati Reds in 1893 when he was accused by his manager, Charles Comiskey, of throwing the first game of a July 4 doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Pitcher Elton Chamberlain of the Cincinnatis (sic) is accused of throwing the game to the Philadelphias (sic) yesterday morning.  He is charged with being in league with Joe Brill, a local gambler.”

The story said Comiskey, notified of the allegation:

“(D)ecided to investigate (and) after a consultation with a club official, put Chamberlain in for three innings to watch him. Chamberlain’s pitching was very bad and be was taken out of the game in the third inning.”

Chamberlain’s teammates Jim Canavan and Silver King quickly came to his defense.  King said he thought he would be the starting pitcher, not Chamberlain, until just before the game started; therefore Brill and Chamberlain could not have conspired.

Chamberlain said of the story:

“It was cruel and cowardly to try to ruin a man like that.”

The Sporting Life ripped The Enquirer and Comiskey:

“This is not the first time The Enquirer has accused ball players of dishonesty, and once it got into and lost a libel suit with Tony Mullane for accusing him of crookedness. Comiskey in his time has also made similar charges and Insinuations against guiltless players.”

The New York Herald said “The whole affair was so silly,” and seemed to have Comiskey in mind with this statement:

“The club official who suspends a player on the charge of dishonesty should be made to prove his charges or himself be forever barred from further connection with any club.”

The Herald also recommended that steps be taken to officially clear Chamberlain and punish those who accused him:

“The National Board should at once take up pitcher Chamberlain’s case and investigate it beyond the limit of doubt and when they reach the facts, whatever the facts; someone should be made to suffer.”

Cincinnati’s management, Comiskey included, quickly repudiated the charges that appeared in The Enquirer, although from all indications they were directly responsible for the charges being reported in the first place.

Elton Chamberlain

Elton Chamberlain

The headlines of July faded by August; there was no official investigation and no one was “made to suffer.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

Chamberlain finished the season with a 16-12 record and his 3.73 ERA led the Reds’ pitching staff.  The following year was his last full season in the Major Leagues.

In 1895 he played for the Warren (PA) franchise in the Iron and Oil League.  The team won the pennant behind the pitching of Chamberlain and another former Major Leaguer, Tom Vickery.

They also had a 21-year-old shortstop named Honus Wagner.

No statistics survive for that season, but forty years later Wagner, writing for The Pittsburgh Press, said Chamberlain “Seldom lost a ballgame for us,” and that Chamberlain and Vickery “gave out plenty of their knowledge to us youngsters.”

Chamberlain bounced around minor and semi-pro leagues after one last Major League trial with the Cleveland Spiders in 1896.  In 1898 he accepted, then rejected, an offer to serve as a National League umpire.  After turning down the umpire job Chamberlain, a Buffalo native, said he would become a professional boxer and challenged a local middleweight named Jack Baty to a fight that would include a $500 side bet.  Baty’s fight record indicates the bout did not take place.

Chamberlain attempted to resume his baseball career with the Buffalo Bisons in the Western League in 1899—by July he was released and The Sporting Life reported that Chamberlain, a rabid horse player “is once more following the races.”

Chamberlain Died in Baltimore in 1929.

Chamberlain and Comiskey as teammates with the St. Louis Browns.  Chamberlain is 5, Comiskey 8.

Chamberlain and Comiskey were also teammates with the St. Louis Browns. Chamberlain is 5, Comiskey 8.