Tag Archives: South Atlantic League

“A Good Plumber’s Helper but an Inferior Umpire”

21 Apr

Edward F. Ballinger of The Pittsburgh Post described Bill Byron thusly:

“(He) is looked upon among the players as the man who rendered more peculiar decisions than any other official in diamond history.”

Honus Wagner singled out Byron for rendering “the worst decision I ever saw.”

Wagner included the incident in his 1924 series of articles about his career for The North American Newspaper Alliance. He said he was stealing third in a game against the Giants:

“The catcher threw the ball into my feet making it impossible for Devlin—I think it was Devlin— [Note: It was Milt Stock] to pick it up. We both got in a tangle as I slid through a cloud of dust. The ball was bound under my arm where nobody could find it.”

Byron

While the Giants looked for the ball, Wagner headed towards the plate:

“About ten feet from home the ball dropped on the baseline. Now here’s where McGraw got in his fine work. He rushed up to umpire Byron, who had run down to third base to make the decision and told him I carried the ball to the bench in my hand.

“’If you don’t believe it, go to the bench and make them give it to you,’ he urged Byron.

“About this time McGraw’s attention was called to the ball lying on the base path.”

McGraw then told Byron, “That proves it. See! Wagner just rolled it out.”

Wagner said a confused Byron called him out for, “Carrying the ball to the bench with your hand.”

Wagner’s recollection was a bit faulty, in addition to forgetting who was playing third base. The incident happened on July 17, 1914, during the sixth inning of what would turn out to be a 21-inning 3 to 1 victory for the Giants. The game was, to that point, baseball’s longest game and both pitchers, Babe Adams and Rube Marquard pitched complete games.

As for the play, Wagner was not attempting to steal; he was advancing to third from first on a hit by Jim Viox and the throw came from center fielder Bob Bescher.

Contemporaneous accounts in The Pittsburgh Press, The Dispatch, and The Post all said that when the ball fell from Wagner’s uniform, it was immediately picked up by Marquard who threw to third trying to retire Viox who was called safe, rather than Wagner’s version where McGraw called Byron’s attention to the ball.

McGraw, said The Press, came out on the field at that point, “and told Byron Wagner was out.” The umpire agreed and also sent Viox back to second The Post said:

“The Pirates gathered around the umpire and raised a hubbub. (Fred) Clarke read the riot act and was motioned off the lot by umpire Byron.”

Pittsburgh protested the game, but Byron’s ruling was upheld.

Fred Mitchell, manager of the Cubs, was also not a Byron fan, and told Billy Evans in 1920:

“He hasn’t improved much since the summer (1917) he gave a decision that cost me $100 and the game. We were playing in St. Louis and big Mule (Milt) Watson was on the rubber. Art Wilson was at the plate. Watson, as he started to pitch, stubbed his toe and in trying to hold back on the ball threw it wildly and hit Wilson in the back of the neck. Byron would not let him take his base, saying it was a slow ball. I protested and consequently was chased and later fined $100.”

Mitchell’s details of the September 3 game were all correct, except for the outcome of the game. The Cubs beat the Cardinals and Watson 6 to 5. Mitchell had also, “had a mix-up” with Byron the previous day, according to The Chicago Tribune, when the umpire had initially called Tom Long of St. Louis out on a play at the plate, “then called him safe, although (catcher Rowdy) Elliott held the ball.”

Cardinals owner John C. Jones held the same opinion Mitchell did off Byron.  Earlier that same season, Byron made another questionable call on another play involving Tom Long. The Cardinals outfielder hit a ball off Eppa Rixey that appeared to be fair for a double. Byron, despite “the fact that a gap in the whitewash marked the spot,” where the ball hit called it foul.

Long was called out on strikes on the next pitch The Cardinals lost 3 to 2 to the Phillies.

So incensed was Jones at the umpire, whom The St. Louis Star called, “a good plumber’s helper but an inferior umpire,” that he wrote an open letter to fans that appeared in St. Louis papers. He told fans who were present, “The good of the game demands,” that they wire league president John Tener about “Byron’s judgment.”

Jones’ message resulted in bottles and other items being thrown at Byron the following day. Two fans were injured. Cardinal President Branch Rickey disavowed Jones’ comments:

“I strongly advised against it. In fact, both (manager) Miller Huggins and myself wired President Tener that the message did not officially express the club’s sentiments.”

Despite his comment that he did not support the club owners’ position, Rickey was more critical of the umpire in his telegram to Tener than Jones had been in his message to the fans:

“(His) attitude and manners generally were extremely antagonistic to the crowd…If Byron will keep his face to the filed and not parade about in front of the stands, he will have no trouble.”

The previous season, Byron “wrote” an article for The Pittsburgh Press. He said he became an umpire in 1896 only because he couldn’t find enough work in his “first love, steamfitting.” Over two decades he worked his way from the Michigan State League to the National League.

Before steamfitting and umpiring, Byron had briefly played minor league ball:

“As for myself, I am frank to admit that I was the worst ball player that ever broke into the Texas League. I managed to hold my job with the Dallas club for a while, but the race was too fast. It nearly ruined a good steamfitter. Afterward I played semi-professional ball occasionally in Michigan but gave up the game—and what was baseball’s loss was the plumbing trade’s game.”

After four seasons in the Michigan State League, he worked his way up to South Atlantic League, then the Virgina League, followed by International League and finally the Eastern League before his big-league career began.

He became well known—and versions of the story were told for the next two decades—for a call he made on August 31, 1909. In an Eastern League pitchers duel between the second place Newark Indians, with manager Joe McGinnity on the mound and Big Jeff Pfeffer pitching for the fourth place Toronto Maple Leafs.

The game was scoreless in the sixth inning with Newark batting:

The Detroit News said:

“Two were out and the batter (Joe Crisp) raised a high foul within the easy reach of both the Toronto catcher and third baseman.”

Toronto Third baseman Jimmy Frick and catcher Fred Mitchell both stopped when Newark “coacher” Benny Meyer yelled “I’ll take it.”

“The catcher backed away and the ball fell on the Dominion of Canada. Great glee broke out among the Newark contingent, who seemed apparently to conclude that the strategy of the coacher had won the batsman another chance to connect. But they reckoned without Mr. Byron.

“’Batter out!’ yelled the ump.”

McGinnity and “his entire team” came out on the field.:

Byron told the Newark manager:

“’He’s out on interference.’

“This set McGinnity fairly crazy and he frothed at the mouth, ‘But there wasn’t a man within 10 feet of Mitchell when he backed away,’ he screamed.

‘”He’s out on vocal interference; get into the field and finish the game.’ And Byron pulled his watch.”

Pfeffer and McGinnity both went the distance in a 13-inning game won by Toronto 1 to 0. McGinnity filed a protest with the league, but Byron’s decision was upheld.

Byron said the “secret of umpiring” was that “The umpire must keep his head and let the other man lose his.”

The umpire retired before the 1920 season saying he could make more money at his first love.  Evans said of his seven seasons in the National League:

“Like the rest of the umpires, he had his faults. No umpire is infallible, so Bill made mistakes like the rest of us, but they were always honest mistakes.”

He said Byron “always looked trouble in the eye,” and “no gamer fellow” ever wore a mask.

Despite his contentious relationship with McGraw, Evans told a story about a game in New York.  The previous day while making a ruling on a play involving fan interference, “the umpires were criticized” by reporters for their long deliberation. The following day:

“At an amusement park near the Polo Grounds, it was customary for an aviator to do a series of stunts. Usually the aviator paid the Polo Grounds a visit before landing. On this occasion, he flew unusually low over the grounds, so that it was easily possible to see him greet the big crowd with a wave of the hand. Evidently Bill Byron had given some thought of the criticism of the day previous unjustly heaped on the arbitrators for what was called a needless delay.

“Calling time and turning toward the New York bench, he addressed manager McGraw of the Giants thusly.

“If the ball hits the airplane, John, while it is flying over fair territory, it is good for two bases. If it lands in some part of the machine and stays there while flying over fait territory, the runners shall stop at the base last touched when such thing occurs. If the ball lands in some part of the machine while the machine is outside playing territory, it will be good for a home run. Play.”

Evans said McGraw “was shaking with laughter.

The press box was as well:

“Byron’s retort courteous to their slam had not gone over their heads.”

L. C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of Byron’s retirement:

“It will always be a moot question whether Lord Byron was greater as a singer or an umpire. But whether singing or umpiring the fans agree that he displayed all the earmarks of a good plumber.”

More Byron, Friday.

“I just Escaped Being a Second Rube Waddell or a Bugs Raymond”

7 Dec

In a 1912 interview with the Continental News Service, Joe Jackson said he nearly derailed his career during his two brief stints with Philadelphia in 1908 and 1909:

Jackson recounted failing to appear for a game:

“I know that I was wrong, but I don’t suppose that excuses my conduct any. There are few people who know what this same Mack stood from me before he turned me loose”

Joe Jackson

Jackson said Mack tried to change him, “with tears in his eyes, but I wouldn’t listen.”

“(O)ne afternoon I was scheduled to play center field for Philadelphia , and on my way to the grounds I took a notion that I’d like to see a show and hopped off the car without a word to anyone and spent the afternoon watching a burlesque show.

“I just escaped being a second Rube Waddell or a Bugs Raymond. Mack did everything possible to make me see the folly of my ways, but he finally lost patience and but me on the blacklist, where I would have remained for the rest of my life if he hadn’t been the kind man he is.”

Failing to change Jackson’s ways, in the spring of 1910, Mack:

“(T)old me to pick out the club I’d prefer to go with and he’s see what could be done.’

“A few days later he came to me and said: ‘I’m sorry, Jackson, that you refuse to settle down and take ball playing seriously, because you have the makings of a crackerjack player in you.”

Jackson was sent to New Orleans:

“It wasn’t until I was well on my way South that I began to realize what an opportunity I had lost. Mack was not the first manager whose friendship I had sacrificed by my foolish actions, but it was he who brought me to my senses. I made up my mind long before I reached New Orleans that I’d cut out my kiddish way and then try to get Mack to give me another chance.”

He said of his time in New Orleans, where he hit .354 in 136 games:

“Having made up my mind to attend to my knitting, I played every game and never missed a morning’s practice.”

Jackson was traded to the Naps and hit .387 in 20 games with Cleveland.

As another example of his behavior before his New Orleans epiphany, he told a story about a run in with umpire Fred Westervelt when both were in the South Atlantic League in 1909.

Jackson, 1909

Jackson said he and teammate Ed Lauzon, “who was the official troublemaker,” on the Savannah Indians:

“Along about the second inning…left the field and took seats in the grandstand with the spectators. Manager (Ernest) Howard sent Harry King [sic, Kane] to get us, and we persuaded him to gather around the festive board. When Howard, who was a player as well as a manager, saw the three of us lined up eating peanuts he also joined the gathering.”

Westervelt gave the four players two minutes to return to the field, when they refused, Jackson was fined $50, King was fined $35 and Lauzon and Howard received suspensions.

“I don’t tell you this because I think now it was funny, but merely to show you how much interest I took in baseball when I got my name on Manager Mack’s list of what, I believe, he calls his ‘daffy players,.’ No one regrets these incidents more than myself, and you can bet it’s me for the straight and narrow hereafter as long as I am in the game.”

Oyster Joe Martina

26 May

Joseph John “Oyster Joe” Martina made a name for himself in New Orleans before he threw his first professional pitch. Martina’s father Anthony was at one time the city’s largest oyster dealer, a business he passed on to his sons.

Martina was playing semi-pro ball for the Sam Bonarts—a team sponsored by the owner of a local clothing store, and for a club called the Beavers  when he decided in addition to pitching, he had a talent for distance throwing.

He won $25 in a contest at Pelican Park in July of 1909, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said Martina “threw the sphere from home plate over the back fence.”

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Martina, circa 1909

The throw was said to be 394 feet; just 11 feet short of what was considered the world record—there was some dispute in contemporaneous accounts about who actually held the record, some credited it to Larry Twitchell, said to have accomplished the feat in 1888 and others to Same Crane, whose was made in 1884.

Martina made his next attempt on July 31.

The New Orleans Picayune said:

“Joe Martina met with success this afternoon in his effort to break the world’s record for throwing a baseball, his best throw being 416 feet and 2 inches.”

The paper said he “threw a standard league baseball, which was inspected by several representatives of the southern division of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).”

The event was of interest to local gamblers and when Martina made the record-setting throw it created a stir:

“Disputes also arose over Martina being allowed five throws. Those placing wagers against his breaking the record claimed that only three throws should be allowed. It was on the fifth throw that Martina made the record.”

There was also initially some doubt that the record would be accepted by the AAU because of the five throws. The Times-Democrat said:

“Usually only three throws are allowed. But as there are no definite rules governing contests of that kind, Martina’s record will likely stand. Whether it was his fifth of fiftieth it was a great heave and one which should go as a record.”

The Picayune said there might be another problem with the record:

“One regret remains, that the throw was not measured with a steel tape. It was measured with a linen tape, and may not be accepted by the AAU officials, although the throw was so much over the record the is no question of it being farther than Crane’s”

The record, and Marina’s performance in New Orleans’ semi-pro league earned him a tryout the following spring with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association—pitching three innings in the first game of Atlanta’s exhibition series with the Philadelphia Athletics. Marina gave up one run and struck out three.

The Atlanta Georgian and News said:

“Martina is nothing if not confident.

“After his try-out against Philadelphia he said: ‘Why, it’s just as easy to pitch against those big leaguers as it is against the New Orleans semi-pros. I don’t see anything very hard. I think I can make good in the Southern league all right I certainly had the steam against the Athletics. How many his did they make, anyhow’”

The Crackers did not agree, and sold the 20-year-old to the Savannah Indians in the Sally League

Martina bounced from Georgia, to Louisiana, to Mississippi and then Texas over the next four years.

In the spring of 1914, entering his third season with the Beaumont Oilers in the Texas League, Martina faced the New York Giants.  The Giants beat him 5 to 2, but The New York Sun said:

“The Giants had practice hitting speed the other day. Joe Martina, who prescribed the medicine for the National League champions, had it in caloric quantities…I yearned for a chance in the majors, felt I had more stuff than many pitchers sent up from the South but the big opportunity always passed me by.”

Red Murray of the Giants, barely avoided getting hit in the head with a Martina fastball, and told the paper:

“’That fellow’s got as much speed as I ever saw.’ Said John after the game, and the other Giants corroborated him. He’s as fast as (Chief) Bender.”

The Sun took notice of more than the pitcher’s speed:

“This Martina is something of a character. In the course of the game the umpire announced that Mathewson would pitch today. ‘Mathewson?’ queried Martina, who appears to be n iconoclast. ‘What busher’s that?’

“’Say,’ exclaimed the skeptical Martina to Chief Meyers when the latter made a base hit after several fruitless tries in that direction, ‘you’re lucky to get a hit off of me,’ and then, by the way of an afterthought: ‘All the hits you ever get are lucky.’

“Evidently, Mr. Martina is no hero worshiper.”

When he struck out Fred Snodgrass, he asked, “How do you like that, busher?”

Throughout his 20s, Martina was considered an “iron man,” pitching from 261 to 330 innings every year from 1910 through 1915; he also, according to The Picayune regularly pitched Sunday games in New Orleans throughout each off season.
In 1916, he injured his arm—or as The Arkansas Democrat said, his “arm cracked after hard usage.”

Speed Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald compared Martina to White Sox ace Ed Walsh, “The spitball king of other days now is a bench-warmer.”

Johnson said Chattanooga Lookouts manager Kid Elberfeld was the culprit:

“Performing under orders from (Elberfeld) Martina pitched seven games in the first sixteen games of the season. From May 1 to May 13 he officiated in five engagements, toiling with a sore arm.”

Elberfeld claimed that Martina injured his arm throwing too many spitballs, Johnson said, “it behooves young pitchers bent on winning fame as iron men to work only in their turn.”

Despite the reported injury, and a release from Chattanooga, Martina pitched 278 innings in 1916 with three teams.

Martina went back to the Texas League for four more seasons—including a 28-win season for Beaumont in 1919.

In 1921 he came back to the Southern Association, with his hometown Pelicans. From 1921-1923 he won 56 games, including a 22-6 mark in 1922. He told The Times-Picayune:

“It’s the old story, “You don’t learn how to pitch until your arm is gone.”

His three-year run with the Pelicans finally earned him a major league contract in 1924.  Umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“Speaking of miracle workers, supermen, and rookie phenoms of baseball, don’t overlook pitcher Joe Martina of the Washington Nationals.

“At the age of 34, when most big leaguers are wondering how much longer they will be able to stand the pace, Joe Martina is making his debut.”

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Martina, 1924

Martina told Evans:

“I had as much stuff fifteen years ago as I have today, and with-it youth, but somehow the major leagues scouts would annually pass me up.”

He was 6-8 for the World Series Champion Senators, he pitched one perfect inning in game three of the World Series. In the off season, Washington Manager Bucky Harris told The Washington Post that Martina “will win at least 15 games this year and may reach the 20 mark.”

He was due to join the Senators in Tampa, Florida on February 19, 1925, but failed to show up. The Post said Martina wired President Clark Griffith and asked to report later because he was having a new home built. Griffith refused and he was “notified by telegraph” that he was suspended. The Washington Evening Star said he would be fined and forced “to labor at a smaller salary,” for the season.  The paper suggested that the pay cut would not impact him greatly because:

“The Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, with the resulting big crowds in attendance and the consequent increase in the oyster business conducted by Martina probably mean that the pitcher can suffer these financial setbacks and still be ahead of the game.”

He arrived in Tampa on March 1; The Star said Griffith withdrew the fine because Martina claimed he had received a letter from the Washington owner that he could report late:

“Griff admitted that in the stress of arranging for the annual pilgrimage South of his club he might have forgotten the original letter to Joe.”

On April 9, Martina, along with left-handers–Jim Brillheart and Jim McNamara—were released by Griffith. The Star said

 “(Martini’s) work this spring indicated he has passed the peak of his form which is not quite good enough for fast company.”

He returned to New Orleans for four more seasons—winning 77 games and leading the Pelicans to Southern Association championships in 1926 and 1927. The 39-year-old went back to the Texas League for one more season in 1929; after a disappointing 10-13 campaign for the Dallas Steers, Martina purchased—or bartered for—his release. The Times-Picayune said:

“Martina has been given his unconditional release at the price of two barrels of oysters. This was the price demanded by Fred McJunkin, president of the Dallas club.”

He played two more seasons in the Cotton States League and took a crack at managing with the Baton Rouge Standards in 1931—he was released mid-season at age 41.

With both the Pelicans and the Knoxville Smokies hopelessly out of the 1931 Southern Association pennant race, Knoxville signed Martina to pitch against New Orleans on the final day of the season. He started the first game of a double header, gave up six runs over eight innings and lost his final game as a professional.

Zipp Newman, sports editor of The Birmingham News and official scorer for the Birmingham Barons for 44 years said Martina’s strong arm was with him to the very end::

“After pitching a full game for Knoxville against New Orleans Sunday, Joe went to the outfield and made the longest throw-in. Joe threw the ball right up to the grandstand. There wasn’t a youngster on the field who could come close to him. Joe Martina arms are few and far between in baseball.”

Martina, who died of a heart attack in 1962, said in an interview with Newman in 1941:

“I am convinced I had more human endurance than any man who ever lived. In all my life I was never tired, even when it was 110 out there on the mound. The answer is simple: I was a good boy. I behaved myself and every at 8 o’clock I was in bed…When my arm was live the ball would sail slightly upward, and nobody could hit me. When it was dead, although the pitch was just as fast, the ball went straight, like on a string, and I was a goner.”

“Will tin can Bugs Raymond”

20 May

 

Grantland Rice, in his column in The New York Herald Tribune in 1950, said a discussion among colleagues identified Ed Walsh as best spitball pitcher during “the good old days when saliva slants were baffling bewildered batsmen.”

Rice had another candidate for the honor which took him back to his early days as a sportswriter in Atlanta:

“There was another spitball master who wasn’t far behind. (John) McGraw always said he had the finest pitching motion in baseball.  His name was Bugs Raymond. Bugs first collected fame around 1903 at Shreveport, Louisiana. That year he bet somebody $25 that he could eat a whole turkey, drink two bottles of scotch and win a double header. He did.”

 

bugs1910

Rice told a story about Raymond in Atlanta:

“He arrived at high noon and he was due to work against the Boston Americans, World’s Champions. This was the team that had beaten Pittsburgh the fall before.”

That morning, Rice said he was “for some odd reason” in a bar:

“(A) trampish-looking character came in. He hadn’t shaved and he wore no tie. He was bull-throated and practically bare of arm.

‘”How about a drink?’ he asked me.

“I had to buy him two drinks. He also wanted a third.

“’You must be Bugs Raymond.’ I said. ‘And you are booked to pitch against Boston today.’

“’What of it?’ he asked. ‘How do we get to the park?’

‘”We walk,’ I said. Being down to my last nickel after Raymond’s two drinks.”

Rice said on the walk to the ballpark, “Bugs spent most of his time throwing rocks at pigeons, mockingbirds, and telegraph poles. He must have thrown a hundred stones.”

Rice said when they arrived, “Ab Powell told Bugs to warm up.”

Raymond informed his manager he was already warmed up.

“Here were the world champions facing one from the last outpost of the bush at that time. The sequel should be that Bugs Raymond had his ears shot away in the first inning. The answer is that he shut out Boston’s champions with two hits, both scratch singles, and struck out 12 men. He had a spitter working that day I’ve never seen equaled.”

Rice quoted McGraw who said:

“There but for alcohol could have been the greatest pitcher of all time. He could have worked five games a week.”

Rice’s recollection of the game was off—it took place in 1906, not 1905—and Abner Powell was no longer manager of the Atlanta Crackers—Billy Smith was the manager.

Raymond did only allow two hits. He took a no hitter into the eighth inning when Moose Grimshaw reached on an infield single. The Atlanta Constitution said, “the decision at first base allowing a hit was very close.”

With two out and Grimshaw at first, the next two batters reached on errors by second baseman Mike Jacobs—Jacobs, of the Charleston Sea Gulls in the Sally League was filling in for Dutch Jordan. Raymond then gave up the second hit of the game, another infield single, scoring Grimshaw. Raymond walked the next batter, forcing in a run before retiring the side. He struck out seven, not 12.

Raymond beat Cy Young and Boston 4 to 2.

The implication by Rice that the game would have been their first meeting would also be impossible. Raymond had joined the Crackers in July of 1905 and was returning for the 1906 season; Rice had been with The Atlanta Journal and covered the team since 1902

Just more than a month after Raymond’s victory over Boston, The Constitution, said, under the headline:

Will Tin Can Bugs Raymond

“Bugs Raymond, pitcher will never again don an Atlanta uniform while Billy Smith has anything to do with it.”

Three days earlier, Raymond had been pulled after the sixth inning, having allowed three runs and six hits in a 4 to 1 loss to the Birmingham Barons. Smith alleged that Raymond had thrown the game. The Atlanta newspapers were vague about the details, Robert Moran, sports editor of The Constitution, in an article supporting Smith disciplining his players said:

“(Smith) can suspend a man for failure to put ginger into his work, for being lazy, for playing suspicious ball, for not being in condition, for throwing games.”

But one paragraph later, Moran implied that Raymond’s expulsion was because he “failed to get into condition.”

The New Orleans Picayune said, “Billy Smith…suspended Bugs Raymond for conduct that was bad.”

But, while the paper said “There have been more rumors that Bug threw that game” in Birmingham, The Picayune believed that the charge:

“(P)erhaps does the Bug and injustice, for it is hardly likely that he did this. His sins seem to be more of omission, than commission.

Raymond was careless, reckless, but not dishonest, the paper concluded:

“He likes to stand around with the boys and dispense hot air and listed to the admiring fans tell each other what a big man the Bug is. That he looks upon the cup that cheers, but deliberates, and does not think of tomorrow. Bug was spoiled, just like a child, by the attention shown him, and he fell, not morally but physically, and Billy Smith suspended him. That is all there is to the Bug story.”

Raymond’s contract was sold to the Savannah Indians in the Sally League. When Raymond left town on June 1, The Atlanta Journal said:

“Bugs Raymond bid farewell to Atlanta for quite awhile he boarded the train for Macon.”

Raymond won 18 games and led Savannah to the pennant.

Submarine Gheen

10 May

Born August 13, 1899, Thomas Whistler Gheen made a name for himself pitching for the amateur team in his hometown of Lincolnton, North Carolina in 1919 and 1920. The Charlotte Observer said Gheen was:

“(B)elieved by many to be the best pitching prospect in the Carolinas.”

He was called “Submarine” Gheen, for what The Charlotte News called his “Far-famed underhand delivery.”

 

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Tom Gheen, 1919

 

Late in the 1920 season, Gheen was signed by the Charleston Palmettos of the South Atlantic League.  Gheen appeared in six games and posted a 2-4 record with a 2.06 ERA for the last-place (54-71) Palmettos.

He began the 1921 season in Lincolnton but was signed by the Charlotte Hornets after he pitched a perfect game against the Loray Mills team in Gastonia, North Carolina.  He struck out 21 batters.  The Charlotte Observer said:

“Not a Loray man reached first.  Persons who saw the game say it was the most remarkable bit of hurling ever seen in Gaston County.”

In June, The Observer said he was:

“(F)ast developing into one of the best twirlers on the staff.”

Despite his promise, Gheen seemed to be troubled.  When he was playing amateur ball for Lincolnton, The Observer noted after he had been used as a pinch hitter:

“Most of Gheen’s hitting is done in the clubhouse.”

The High Point Enterprise said of Gheen:

“The blond-haired boxman never had a serious thought in his life and is dizzy as a southpaw off the field.”

With a 5-9 record and 3.22 ERA in late July, Gheen jumped the team.  According to The Durham Morning Herald:

“His excuse was that the fans razzed him to excess.  He declared that the razzing so affected his pitching it was impossible to win.”

The Charlotte Observer suggested he jumped for another reason:

“(He) quit the club following rumors circulated by gamblers that he had ‘thrown’ a ball game.”

The Morning Herald called him a “Wonderful pitcher,” and said he was “almost unbeatable when his underhanded ball in breaking properly.”

Charlotte catcher Pat Carroll came to Gheen’s defense, telling The Observer that the other catchers on the club did not encourage the pitcher to use his submarine delivery often enough:

“They can’t hit that ball to save their lives.  I ordered it every time Gheen got in the hole and it was pitiful to see the batter try to connect.  It didn’t help them a bit to know what was coming.  They couldn’t hit the ball; that’s all there was to it.”

The Hornets, according to The Charlotte News granted the “recalcitrant hurler” his wish and sold the “erratic heaver” to the Winston-Salem Twins of the Piedmont League.

 

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Gheen (5 top right) with the Winston-Salem Twins, 1921

 

Gheen was 11-3 in 15 games for the 62-58 Twins, and big things were expected of him in 1922.

He rose to the occasion on Opening Day, April 26.

The Observer buried the lede:

“Submarine Gheen made himself famous in the opening game of the Piedmont League season…his opponents being the Greensboro Patriots, who were defeated 5 to 0.

“Only 27 men faced the Twin moundsman who did not yield a hit nor issue a free pass.”

It was his only victory for Winston-Salem.  Less than a month after his perfect game Gheen was suspended indefinitely by manager Charles Clancy for “insubordination.”

Gheen was reinstated 10 days later but was sold to the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League less than a week later. He was 1-5 for the Twins.

Gheen was plagued by wildness in Texas, posting a 6-11 record with a 4.06 ERA.

He was traded to Galveston Sandcrabs at the end of the Texas League season but was sold the following spring to the Rocky Mount Tar Heels in the Virginia League.  The 1923 season appears to have been controversy free for Gheen; he was 13-11 with a 3.43 ERA.

Back in the Piedmont League in 1924, Gheen was on his way to a 14-10 season for the High Point Pointers, when, on September 12, he made headlines off the field after he killed a man.

Gheen was riding in a car with friends near New Bern, North Carolina when they came upon a man lying in the road.  The High Point Enterprise said, the car, driven by Gheen’s friend:

“(S)werved to avoid hitting a negro lying prone across the road.  The driver of the car…backed up to see what was the trouble.

“As the car was being backed up one of the party yelled, ‘look out, he’s got a gun.’  Gheen, riding in the front seat, reached in the side pocket of the car and secured a revolver.  As the Negro came running alongside the car, revolver in hand, Gheen yelled, ‘Throw up your hands.’ This the Negro refused to do and Gheen fired three shots penetrating the upper part of the Negro’s body.  He died almost instantly.”

Gheen and his friends were cleared of any wrongdoing the following day.

The paper did not identify the dead man and said:

“He was said to have been a desperate character and to have had a police record.”

Gheen played two more seasons of professional baseball; he was 9-8 for the Columbia Comers in the South Atlantic League in 1925.

He joined the Jacksonville Tars of the Southeastern League in 1926—he won eight of his first 10 decisions with the club but was also arrested for the alleged assault of a woman when playing the Albany (GA) Nuts.  He appears to have avoided prosecution gheen1919but went 3-6 the rest of the season and his career as a professional ballplayer was over at age 28.

The following year, while back in his hometown of Lincolnton, “Submarine” Gheen, was killed when the Ford Touring car he was driving turned over on July 3.  The man who was considered the “best pitching prospect in the Carolinas” six years earlier died at the age of 29 on July 4, 1927.

“Here was the King of all the Tramps I’d ever seen”

7 Oct

In 1947, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald-Tribune told a story about how he came to know one of the most colorful pitchers of the first decade of the 20th Century:

“Baseball, above all other games, has known more than its share in the way of masterpieces of eccentricity.  Many of these I happen to know.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice went on to list some of his favorites—Rube Waddell, Crazy Schmit, Dizzy Dean—“Also, Flint Rhem, Babe Herman, Bobo Newsom, Germany Schaefer, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Arlie Latham—nits, wits, and half-wits—but all great ballplayers.”  But, said Rice, “one of the leaders in this colorful field” had been all but forgotten:

“His name was (Arthur) Bugs Raymond, the pitcher John McGraw always insisted had the finest pitching motion he ever saw, including Walter Johnson.”

[…]

“I remember Bugs because I happened to have a small part in his pitching career.  I was working in Atlanta (for The Journal) when I happened to read a story that came out of Shreveport (Louisiana), about a young pitcher named Raymond who had made and won the following bet:

“That he could eat a whole turkey, drink two bottles of scotch—and win a doubleheader.  He did it.  I didn’t believe it at the time, but I believed it later.  I recommended to either (Atlanta Crackers owner) Abner Powell or (manager) Billy Smith (44 years is a long time) that Raymond looked like a good buy.  Good copy is always scarce.  Raymond sounded like good copy.”

Bugs Raymond

Bugs Raymond

Rice’s story about the bet is likely apocryphal, there is no mention of it in contemporary newspapers in Shreveport, or in Jackson, Mississippi where Raymond played in the Cotton States League before coming to Atlanta–he also names the wrong manager–Smith came to Atlanta the following season.  While Raymond probably didn’t make the bet Rice claimed, he did, on at least one occasion win both ends of a doubleheader, and he was wildly popular in Mississippi.  After he was sold to Atlanta in July of 1905, The Jackson News said:

“The regret over Raymond’s departure was not one-sided.  The big fellow was all broken up over the transaction.”

The paper said that although Raymond would make $200 a month in Atlanta and have a chance to return to the major leagues, leaving Jackson was difficult for him:

“During his engagement with the Jackson team he has made a host of friends and was undoubtedly the most popular player who ever donned a home uniform.  The plain fact is Raymond almost owned the town.  Nothing was too good for him and he always made a hatful of money on the big games, a shower of silver and greenbacks being the inevitable result of a victory in a doubleheader.”

Rice’s story about Raymond also took another real event and embellished it–either by design or through the fog of forty years.

After finishing the 1905 season with a 10-6 record for the Crackers, Raymond was picked by new Manager Billy Smith to start for Atlanta in an exhibition against the Boston Americans on March 26, 1906.

In Rice’s colorful version, he gave the incorrect date for the exhibition and wrongly claimed that he met Raymond face-to-face for the first time on the morning of the game:

“By some odd chance, before starting a mile-and-a-half walk to the ballpark, I happened to be taking a drink at some wayside bar in preparation for the trip.  A heavy hand fell on my shoulder and, as I looked around, there was an unkempt-looking fellow, around 200 pounds who wore no necktie and hadn’t shaved in at least two days.  Here was the king of all the tramps I’d ever seen.

“’How about buying me a drink, fellow?’ was his opening remark.  I bought him a drink.  Then I had to buy him another drink.

“’How do we get out to this ballpark?’ he asked.

“’We walk,’ I said, ‘if you are going with me.’ Then a sudden morbid thought hit me.  ‘Isn’t your name Raymond?’ I asked.

“’Yes,” he said ‘Bugs Raymond.’

“I figured then what my recommendation to the Atlanta team was worth.  Something less than two cents.

“’Do you happen to know,’ I suggested, ‘that you are pitching today against the Boston Americans?’

“’I never heard of ‘em,’ Bugs said.  ‘Where’s Boston?’

“On the walk to the ballpark that afternoon Bugs spent most of the trek throwing rocks at pigeons, telegraph poles and any target in sight.  People I had known in Atlanta gave me an odd look after taking a brief glance at my unshaven, rough and rowdy looking companion.”

Once at the ballpark, Rice said:

“Raymond started the game by insulting Jimmy Collins…and every star of the Boston team.  He would walk from the pitcher’s box up towards the plate and let them know, in forcible and smoking language, what he thought they were.”

In Rice’s version, the cocky, seemingly drunk Raymond shuts Boston out 3-0 on three hits.  He got those details wrong as well, and Raymond’s performance was just as incredible without the embellishments.

Bugs Raymond

Bugs Raymond

The Atlanta Constitution said on the day after the game:

“No better than bush leaguers looked the Boston Americans…yesterday afternoon at Piedmont Park, when ‘Bugs’ Raymond came near to scoring a no-hit game against the bean-eating crew, who escaped a shut-out through two errors made by (Morris “Mike”) Jacobs in the eighth inning.

“Score—Atlanta 4, Boston 2.

“’Bugs’ was there with the goods.  Boston hitter after hitter stepped up to the plate, pounded the pan, looked fierce for awhile, and then went the easy out route.

“’Bugs’ was in his glory.  It was in the eighth inning before a single hit or run was scored off his delivery

Both Boston hits were ground balls Atlanta shortstop Frank “Whitey” Morse beaten out by  Collins and Myron ”Moose” Grimshaw:

“As inning after inning went by, the Boston sporting writers along with the team began to think of the possibility of defeat, and, about the seventh inning, when it looked strangely like a shutout game, they pulled out their books of excuses and began to look for the proper one to use in Tuesday morning’s newspapers.

“The one finally agreed upon at a conference of all four writers read like this:

“’The eyes of the Boston players were dimmed by the flying moisture from the spit-ball delivery of one ‘Bugs’ Raymond, who let himself out at full steam, while our pitchers were waiting for the opening of the coming season.  It does a major league club good to be beaten every now and then, anyway.”

The Box Score

                 The Box Score

Given Raymond’s alcoholism, there might be some truth Rice’s embellishments although there is no evidence for most of his version.

The performance against Boston was quickly forgotten as Raymond just as quickly wore out his welcome with Manager Billy Smith.  On May 6 he was suspended indefinitely because, as The Constitution put it “(Raymond) looks with delight in wine when it is red.”  On May 31, Atlanta sold Raymond to the Savannah Indians in the South Atlantic leagues. An 18-8 mark there, followed by a 35-11 season with the Charleston Sea Gulls in the same league in 1907, earned Raymond his return to the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals.

By 1912, the pitcher, about whom Rice claimed John McGraw said “Even half sober Raymond would have been one of the greatest,” was dead.

“The Next Babe Ruth”

18 Mar

After he hit 11 home runs in 1918, and for the next two decades, stories about the discovery of “The Next Babe Ruth” became commonplace in newspapers across the country.

One of the first was Joe Doyle, “The Babe Ruth of Great Lakes,” signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in November of 1918.  Doyle was the star of the team representing Camp Dewey at Great Lakes Navel Training Station where, The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said he made a name for himself, hitting “a dozen home runs and nine triples…(and) flogging a home run over the Camp Dewey Drill Hall, a smash that might be compared to a lift over the left fences of any major league park.”

Doyle began his professional career the following spring with the Houston Buffaloes in the Texas League and played his entire career in Texas.  “The Babe Ruth of Great Lakes” hit just eight home runs over five minor league seasons.

Ben Paschal had the distinction of being declared “The Next Babe Ruth” twice.  When the Boston Red Sox purchased Paschal from the South Atlantic League’s Charlotte Hornets in July of 1920, Manager Ed Barrow told The Boston Herald he had acquired “A second Babe Ruth.”

Paschal joined the Red Sox after Charlotte’s season ended in September.  He had 10 hit in 28 at-bats, but no extra base hits, and was returned to Charlotte after the season.

After four more excellent seasons in the South Atlantic League and Southern Association (he hit .335 with 68 home runs from 1921-1924) he was  purchased by the New York Yankees for $20,000 in August of 1924.

Ben Paschal

Ben Paschal

Paschal was again dubbed the “Second Babe Ruth” by newspapers.  His second stint as the second Ruth was longer and more successful than his first.  From 1924-1929 he hit .309 in with 24 home runs in 750 at-bats as an outfielder playing behind Ruth and Bob Meusel (Meusel was himself dubbed “Another Babe Ruth” by Manager Miller Huggins when he joined the Yankees in 1920).  On Opening Day in 1927 the Second Babe Ruth pinch-hit for Ruth (who was 0-3 and struck out twice) in the sixth inning; Paschal singled, and the Yankees went on to an 8 to 3 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.

Then there was Dorothy Hodgens.  In 1921, Hodgens was a 20-year-old student at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  Hodgens briefly became a celebrity and was called the “feminine Babe Ruth” by many newspapers after The Associated Press (AP) reported that while growing up in Philadelphia Napoleon Lajoie said she was “the only girl he ever knew who could play ball.”

After her picture appeared in papers across the country, Hodgens, who played several sports at the school, was interviewed by The Harrisburg Evening News as she was “ready to enter a basketball game:”

“Yes, I’m terribly fond of baseball, and I’ve been playing it ever since I’ve been a bit of a youngster.”

She said Lajoie was a neighbor in Philadelphia when she was a child:

“Lajoie used to come out and pitch ball with the boys and girls in the neighborhood.  He told me I was the only girl he ever knew who could pitch and gave me a box of league balls that I have treasured ever since.”

Dorothy Hodgens "The Feminine Babe Ruth."

Dorothy Hodgens “The Feminine Babe Ruth.”

While she said her real ambition was to become an actress, Hodgens said, “I never expect to give up baseball entirely though, and I certainly think that every girl should learn to play the game.”

The “Feminine Babe Ruth” disappeared from the public eye shortly afterward.

And finally, there was “Another Babe Ruth” who had a brief moment in the limelight in the fall of 1920.  This one was a three-and-a-half pound white Leghorn Chicken who was named “Babe Ruth,” and had just established a new record.

"Babe Ruth"

“Babe Ruth”

The AP said:

“(T)he home run king has a rival…She bats 326 eggs, and this beats the record of 314 (for a single year).  By experienced poultrymen, her record of 326 perfect eggs is considered the most remarkable in the history of the poultry industry.”

There was no report of how she performed the following season.

Brief Bios–Ferris and Angier

24 Oct

Doc Ferris

Ernest H. “Doc” Ferris won 20 games twice over eight seasons in the low manors between 1913 and 1923, and posted a respectable 109-86 record.  The otherwise forgotten right-hander also pitched one of the most efficient games in baseball history.

Ferris was born on September 7, 1887 in Blue Ash, Ohio; the youngest of 13 children.  There is little information about his early life on his father Solomon’s farm, with the exception of a few brief mentions in Cincinnati newspapers of his being active in the Hamilton County Ohio Farmer’s Alliance.

The first reference to him related to baseball was when the 25-year-old signed a contract with the Durham Bulls of the North Carolina State League in 1913.  After two sub .500 seasons –10-12 in 1913, 9-16 with the Asheville Tourists—he had his best season in 1915, when he won 27 games (he lost 12) for Asheville.

Ernest "Doc" Ferris

Ernest “Doc” Ferris

In 1916 he was signed by the Columbia Comers of the South Atlantic League.  The Highlight of Ferris’ 18-15 season was during a 3 to 1 victory over the Albany Babies on July 18.  The Columbia State said:

“Doc Ferris probably made a new record for the league by going through the game with only 73 pitched balls, 14 of which were balls and 59 strikes…the Columbus pitcher did not issue a pass…Ferris set up a record that will probably stand for many moons.  To go through nine innings pitching only 73 balls is a remarkable feat.  The smiling hurler was seldom in the hole, going to three balls on only one batter.”

The game was completed in 78 minutes.

The Box Score

The Box Score

(Charles “Red” Barrett of the Boston Braves set the major league record for fewest pitches in a game, when he shut out the Cincinnati Reds 2-0 in Crosley Field on August 10, 1944–he threw just 58 pitches–Barrett’s game was also three minutes shorter than Ferris’ effort.)

After pitching for and managing the Asheville Tourists and Hagerstown Terriers in 1917 and 1918, Ferris quit baseball for two years, and according to The Durham Morning Herald accepted “a responsible position with a manufacturing concern.”

In 1921 he returned to the diamond, pitching three seasons for the Greensboro Patriots in the Piedmont League—after going 20-9 in his first season, he slipped to 6-9 and 4-5, before retiring for good after the 1923 season.

After baseball Ferris operated a company that manufactured and installed canvas awnings.  When he started the business he told The Greensboro Daly News:

“During the eight years I sweated in the blazing sun, I often thought of the advantage it would be to have and awning overhead, so when I finally decided to quit the diamond I naturally gravitated into selling the things that looked so attractive to me while I was pitching.”

Doc Ferris

Doc Ferris

Ferris died in Greensboro on November 11, 1964.

Shorty Angier

Malbourne Addison “Shorty” Angier was a teammate of Doc Ferris with the Durham Bulls in 1913.   Angier was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1892, but grew up in Durham. His grandfather, and namesake, was a prominent Durham merchant.

Angier made a name for him himself as a teen in the Piedmont League—before 1920 various quasi-professional/industrial league incarnations of the Piedmont operated; he played for Durham Hosiery in 1911 and 1912.

When he was signed by the Durham Bulls in 1913, The Charlotte Evening Chronicle said he “hit around .400 in the Piedmont League last year,” and had turned down offers from two other North Carolina State League teams, the Charlotte Hornets and Greensboro Patriots.  The expectations were high:

“Those that have seen Angier play predict that he will make good in the league and that the next few years will see him in the big company.”

The Charlotte Observer described his physical appearance:

“(S)tocky torso, the hefty underpinning, and abbreviated neck.”

Whatever ability he had with the bat in the Piedmont League left him as a professional.  Angier hit just .199 during his first season at Durham in 1913.  After a hot start the following season—he was hitting nearly .400 in July—he finished with a .268 average.  In 1915 he hit .175.

Although a weak hitter, he  was one of the best athletes in the North Carolina League—during the league’s “Field Day” activities in 1914 The Charlotte News said he “easily won” the distance throwing competition and his 15 and 1/5 second time circling the bases was the league’s best.

He split the 1916 season between the South Atlantic League Columbia Comers (where he was again teammates with Doc Ferris) and Jacksonville Tarpons; he hit a combined .175 for the year.

The following spring The Durham Morning Herald reported that Angier was in a local hospital in critical condition after “the young man swallowed poison.”

The Greensboro Daily News said Angier drank from a bottle that he was not aware contained “poisonous medicine,” but the paper said “attempted suicide was discounted,” by his friends.

Whether the poisoning was a contributing factor or not, Angier did not play in 1917, and went to work at a tobacco store he co-owned in Durham.

After volunteering for military service in the fall of 1917—he was a second Lieutenant in the cavalry, stationed in Columbia, South Carolina—he returned to his business in Durham.

Each season from 1919 through 1921, North Carolina newspapers reported that Angier would be joining the Durham Bulls; although he does not appear in any surviving team records, Angier played in a handful of games for the team in September of 1921.

He never played again after his brief return to the diamond in 1921.  Angier owned several tobacco and grocery businesses in and around Durham and later relocated to Green Cove Springs, Florida where he died in 1937.

Advertisement for Angier's cigar store

Advertisement for Angier’s cigar store

Polchow and Starnagle

13 Aug

At the close of the 1902 Three-I League season two unlikely candidates for the big leagues were signed by Cleveland Bronchos Manager Bill Armour.

Pitcher Louis William “Polly” Polchow and catcher George Henry Starnagle (born Steurnagel) did not put up impressive numbers.   Neither the Reach or Spalding Guides included Polchow’s won-loss record, but both said the 22-year-old’s winning percentage was just .414 in 32 games for the Evansville River Rats.  Starnagle hit just .180 with 13 passed balls and eight errors in 93 games for the Terre Haute Hottentots.

Louis Polchow

Louis Polchow

The two joined the fifth place Bronchos in St. Louis on September 13.  The following day both made their major league debuts in the second game of a doubleheader against the second place Browns.

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Captain (Napoleon) Lajoie decided to try his new Three-Eye League battery, which reported to him yesterday.  Starnagle, the former Terre Haute catcher, was as steady as a veteran, but Polchow wobbled at the drop of the hat, and before he steadied himself the damage was done.

“Five runs in the first two innings gave the Browns a good lead, and it was well they made hay while the sun shone, for Polchow handed them six ciphers for dessert.”

Starnagle made an error in the seventh when he overthrew Lajoie on an attempted steal of second by Bobby Wallace—Wallace advanced to third on the error, but Polchow retired the side without a run.

George Starnagle

George Starnagle

In Cleveland’s half of the seventh Starnagle and Polchow had the opportunity to get them back in the game.  With two runs in, and a runner on first and one out Starnagle came to the plate.  The Republic said:

 “Starnagle tried to put on a Three-Eye League slugging scene.  He dislocated two ribs going after (Bill) Reidy’s slow ones and finally fanned.  Polchow forced (Jack) McCarthy.”

Starnagle was lifted in the ninth for a pinch hitter.  Cleveland lost 5-3.  Polchow gave up nine hits and walked four, striking out two, and was 0 for 4 at the plate.  Starnagle was 0 for 3, with one error behind the plate.  Neither would ever appear in another big league game.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Starnagle was 28-years-old, and had only played two seasons of pro ball before his game with Cleveland—he was semi-pro player with teams in Danville and Sterling, Illinois for nearly a decade before he joined Terre Haute in 1901.  He was considered a solid defensive catcher, but during 10 minor league seasons he only hit better than .230 three times.  When he played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals in 1909 The Montreal Gazette said:

“Starnagle has been drafted every year by big league clubs, all of whom have been pretty well supplied with seasoned catchers; hence his failure to be kept.”

Polchow was just 22 when he pitched his only big league game.  Plagued by wildness, he spent three mediocre seasons with teams in the Southern Association and South Atlantic League (he was 36-45 for the Montgomery Senators, Macon Highlanders and Augusta Tourists), then pitched five seasons in the New York State League.

In 1906 he helped lead the Scranton Miners to the New York State League championship (the team’s leading hitter was Archibald “Moonlight” Graham), although The Scranton Republican said his first start with the team was nearly his last.  Polchow lost 12 to 2 to the Utica Pent-Ups, walking 10 and giving up 10 hits.  After the game Polchow accused catcher “Wilkie Clark of throwing the game.  A fight followed and Clark and Polchow never worked together after that.   Andy Roth was Polchow’s battery partner during the remainder of the season.”

Starnagle retired after the 1910 season.  He returned to Danville, Illinois where he died in 1946; he was 72.

Polchow played through the 1911 season, and then became ill.  He died of Bright’s Disease at 32-years-old in August of 1912

In addition to Polchow and Starnagle, the Bronchos signed two other Three-I League players in September of 1902—both had somewhat more success.

Rock Island Islanders catcher George “Peaches” Graham made his debut the same day as Polchow and Starnagle, during the first game of the doubleheader; he struck out as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a 3 to 1 loss. He spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues, and hit .265.  Decatur Commodores pitcher Augustus “Gus” Dorner made his debut three days later beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 6.  He pitched for parts of six big league seasons, compiling a 35-69 record.

 

Stewart Strader

11 Aug

Stewart W. Strader was the son of a prominent business leader in two of Kentucky’s signature businesses.  His father, Colonel Robert Stuart Strader operated a distillery and was a prominent breeder of Standardbred Trotters.  In 1875, the elder Strader moved the family from Boone County, Kentucky to Lexington where he was involved in the founding and management of The Red Mile—the world’s second oldest harness racing track.

Advertisement for R.S. Strader and Son Distillery. The "Son" was Stewart's older brother Wilson.

Advertisement for R.S. Strader and Son Distillery. The “Son” was Stewart’s older brother Wilson.

Stewart Strader was born in Lexington in 1882, one of seven sons.  By the age of 20 he had become an important figure in baseball circles in and around Lexington, as owner, manager and one of the best players on Lexington’s local semi-pro team.

Before the 1903 season The Lexington Leader said Strader was attempting to get his team accepted into the Central League and “Lexington’s application for a franchise is looked upon quite favorably,” but days later The Lexington Herald said Strader “decided most of the cities composing the Central League were too far to enable his club to play them with profit.”  He instead entered his team in Cincinnati’s Sunday League and played against other independent teams during the week.

Stewart Strader 1903

Stewart Strader 1903

His reputation quickly spread, and while there were rumors in the press that he would be signed by the Cincinnati Reds, they did not materialize, but he did receive a letter from William Henry “Bill” Watkins, president and manager of the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association.  Watkins wrote:

“I thought I would write you and see if you had any idea of going into the professional end of the game next season.  If you will consider a trial with us, I would like to hear from you.”

Strader accepted the offer, but by the time he reported to Indianapolis in late March, Watkins had left Indianapolis to manage the Minneapolis Millers.  In his first game with the Hoosiers, an exhibition against Purdue University, Strader played right field and was 3 for 3 with a triple.  The Indianapolis News said, “Strader is a hitter of merit and with a little more work should develop into a strong fielder.”

Two days before the beginning of the regular season Indianapolis purchased left fielder Ed “Pinky” Swander from the St. Louis Browns, and right fielder George Hogriever, who had refused to sign after hitting .330 the previous season, agreed to terms with the Hoosiers.   Strader was released to the Greenville Cotton Pickers in the Cotton States League.  His hometown paper, The Herald, said he “had been holding down right field with due credit,” but Indianapolis Manager Bill Phillips felt “he was too young for the fast company.”

Strader 1904

Strader 1904

After hitting .309 for Greenville in 81 at bats, he was sold to the Macon Highlanders in the South Atlantic League where he hit just .200 in 130 at bats.

Strader spent the next five years making brief stops with seven different minor league teams, buying and selling the independent Lexington club at least twice, and tending a saloon he opened in 1905.

 

Stewart Srader

Stewart Srader

In 1908, Lexington became part of the newly formed Blue Grass League.  It was the city’s first team in organized ball in more than a decade, and Strader may, or may not, have been involved in an attempt to wrest control of the team from owner and manager Thomas Sheets.

Strader opened the season in the Virginia State League, where he appeared in 10 games for the Richmond Colts and Danville Red Sox.  In late May, he returned to Kentucky and signed a contract with Sheets’ Lexington Colts.  On May 31 he played center field for the Colts and was 0 for 3.  The following day he was released.

The Herald speculated that another player, Warren Fieber (who had purchased the independent Lexington team from Strader two years earlier and later sold it back to him) would also be released:

“Sheets admitted that an effort had been made to undermine him in the last two days, but would make no further statement.”

Fieber, who was hitting .320 on June 1, remained with the team, but his batting average plummeted to .222 by the season’s end.  Strader stayed in the Bluegrass League and signed with the Shelbyville Grays; he had the best season of his pro career, hitting .324.

Strader played his final season of pro ball the next year with the Frankfort Statesmen.  In June The Herald said:

 “Lexington fans have noted with considerable satisfaction that Stewart Strader a Lexington boy now with Frankfort is leading the Blue Grass League in batting.”

Strader was hitting .410 as late as June 23, but slumped badly in the second half of the season and finished with a .264 average.  At the end of the 1909 season Strader and Patrick Downing, a former minor league player, were appointed deputies by the Fayette County Sheriff.  The Leader said the two deputies they replaced “apparently would not play ball.”

Strader signed with the Davenport Prodigals in the Three-I League in the spring of 1910 but was released before the season began.

During the last several years of career, and the first decade after he left the diamond, the Strader family was regularly mentioned in the local press for things other than baseball.

Two brothers died tragically, one, according to The Leader, by his own hand after shooting a woman in Lexington’s “Tenderloin District.” The other was murdered during a dispute while hunting.

Strader began operating taverns and restaurants in Lexington in 1905, and the family spent the better part of a decade bringing various lawsuits against each other involving the failure of the distillery after their father’s death and other business disputes.  During one dispute Strader’s older brother W.P. had him arrested claiming Stewart Strader “would do bodily harm or injury to him.”

Despite the family drama, Strader remained a successful businessman and prominent member of Lexington society.  He owned the Berlin Café—which he originally purchased with one of his brothers in 1905–until 1940 and for seven years in the 1920s operated Third Avenue Motor Company in Louisville, which sold the Anderson Six—produced by the Anderson Motor Car Company in South Carolina.

Strader died in Lexington on August 9, 1948.