Tag Archives: Southern Association

“The Story of Slattery is the Story of a Jinx”

22 Aug

Joe Slattery believed he was jinxed by an entire city.

Joseph Patrick Slattery was born on March 15 in 1888 or 1889—his WWI and WWII draft registrations give the 1889 date, early census data and his death certificate say 1888—in St. Louis.

He played with semi-pro teams in Mount Vernon and Kewanee, Illinois before playing his first professional game with the Dallas Giants in the Texas League in 1908.  Described by The St. Louis Globe as an excellent fielding first basemen with a weak bat, he lived up to that label during his first two seasons as a pro—hitting .125 and .199 with Dallas, the Brockton Tigers in the New England League.

In 1910, he joined the Rock Island Islanders in the Three-I League and began to hit.  He was hitting .300 in June when The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:

Joe Slattery, Rock Island, 1910

Joe Slattery, Rock Island, 1910

“(Slattery) may obtain a trial with the Browns.  Early this week, owner (Robert) Hedges dispatched Harry Howell, one of his scouts, to look over Slattery.  It is said that Howell made a favorable report.

“Hedges is not the only club owner who has been tipped off about Slattery.  The Pittsburgh Club has had a scout looking over Slattery while it is understood that the Brooklyn Club has made an offer for his release.”

Slattery immediately went into a slump and finished the season with a .216 average.  With Rock Island again in 1911, Slattery hit .280 and was sold to the Syracuse Stars in The New York State League (NYSL).  Slattery played for three teams in the NYSL from 1912 to 1915, hitting in the .290s.

Then he had his best season as a professional—one that has been incorrectly credited to another player with the same last name.

Slattery was sold to the Montreal Royals in the International League in 1916.  He hit .298 and led the league’s first basemen with a .991 fielding percentage, but most sources incorrectly credit those statistics to John Thomas “Jack” Slattery—who  actually played his last professional game in 1911.

Near the end of the 1916 season, The Washington Herald reported in October that Slattery’s contract was purchased by the Senators, but later the same day Clark Griffith told The Washington Times that the report was untrue.

Slattery hit .252 in 1917 for Montreal.  Before the 1918 season, he was sold to the Memphis Chickasaws the Southern Association and went to the city that “jinxed” him.

The (Memphis) Commercial-Appeal reported before the season opened that the Chickasaws would “have their new first sacker longer than expected.”  It had been expected that Slattery would be drafted before the season began, but the paper said his draft board in St. Louis now said he wouldn’t be entering the military until later in the summer.

All involved later wished the delay never happened.

Slattery with Memphis, 1918

Slattery with Memphis, 1918

as the season progressed, The Memphis News-Scimitar said:

“Slattery is the greatest fielding first baser in the Southern today and he made stops and throws that would have done credit to Hal Chase…But Joe can’t get started hitting.”

Slattery appeared in 59 games for Memphis.  He hit .197 in 208 at bats and quickly became the most unpopular man in town

As he struggled, the paper said he was “the target for all verbal bricks the lower end of the stands could hurl.”  His “hitting fell off almost to nothing,” but the paper said it was “due for the most part to the panning the bugs handed him.”

Slattery thought he was jinxed and the newspaper agreed:

“The story of Slattery is the story of a jinx that has been camping on the big fellow’s trail…one of the niftiest first basemen in the game; Slattery from the outset has been handicapped by his inability to hit the ball.”

Slattery blamed the city:

“It’s a fact that I am absolutely jinxed in Memphis, I can hit the ball anywhere else in the world but Memphis, it seems.”

After being drafted, Slattery played first base for the Tenth Training Battalion at Camp Pike in Arkansas.  He returned to Memphis in the spring of 1919 and immediately stopped hitting again during exhibition games.

He told The New-Scimitar:

“When I was in camp at Camp Pike I hit for an average well in the .300 class, and I was hitting against good pitching, too.  But in Memphis, I’m helpless with the stick.  I guess I am too anxious to hit…Last season the jinx was astride my neck all year…I couldn’t hit at all like I used to…the jinx came back and got with me, and I have not been able to hit at all.”

Sold to the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League, he hit.263.  In July, Slattery was playing well in Tulsa, and The News-Scimitar reminded fans that his “jinx” was their fault.  The paper said from July 13 through July 17 Slattery was 8 for 23:

“Which goes to show that in the proper environment when he is not being ridden by the bugs as he was here, Slattery is a good hitter.”

He finished his professional career in 1920 where he started it in 1908, with Dallas in the Texas League.

Never to return to Memphis, he headed west.

He played semi-pro ball for the next decade, primarily with Brigham City Peaches in Utah.

Slattery with the Brigham City Peaches, 1922

Slattery with the Brigham City Peaches, 1922

The once “jinxed” Slattery settled in Idaho where he died on June 14, 1970.

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

19 Aug

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

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach

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

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

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

Wilbert robinson

Wilbert Robinson

“’Ash’ was wild.  The game was lost.

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

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

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

Josh Reilly

Josh Reilly

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

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

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

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

 

Lost Advertisements–Southern League Opener, Memphis, 1919

29 Jul

memphis1919

An advertisement for the Memphis Chickasaws 1919 home opener against the Little Rock Travelers at Memphis’ Russwood Park:

“Some Faces You’ll See at the Opening Ball Game

“‘Fan.’ A hard loser but a game fan–you’ll like him too

“And when ‘Cy’ (Memphis manager, outfielder and pitcher Eros Bolivar “Cy” Barger) pounds the pill for a homer with a couple of Chick sluggers on the bases, there is going to be some faces from Little Rock that are going to show the shock…

“‘Fan.’ With the winning smile, that makes you happy.

“If ‘Cy’ hits a home run.

“In the first game of the season–if he wallops that old pill over the right field fence–you’ll see this happy grin on a thousand faces…The artist couldn’t draw a face that would show the consternation, the gloom, the lost-heartedness depicted. on the face of the Little Rock fans who are rash enough to follow the Travelers to Memphis, should old Cy smash that pill over the fence and into the bleachers.

“But Cy’s Chickasaws have to beat somebody in the opening game at home and it might as well be Little Rock.

“‘Fan.’ Whose grandma dies about this time every year.

“‘Fanette.’  Who says she is going to see every game.

“No!  Memphis isn’t full of sport ‘Pikers.’ We’re going to break the attendance record and win the cup to show the Southern League how much we appreciate their electing the greatest true-blooded sportsman in the South for its president.  And because he hails from Memphis we’re not going to let him feel sorry for it.  We know the man and know we’ll get the good, clean game we’ve wanted in our national sport for the last ten years if we’ll support him as loyally as he’ll support us.”

The new league president referenced in the ad was John Donelson Martin, a Memphis attorney, who later became a federal judge.

The mention of the need for a “good, clean game” refers to the lingering concerns in Memphis about the integrity of the league which began when the Memphis Egyptians collapsed in the last three weeks of the 1907 season, giving the pennant to the Atlanta Crackers, after holding a wire-to-wire lead.

As for the opener, the Chickasaws lost to Little Rock 4-2.  Things never got better for the team, which finished fifth with a 66-79 record.

Cy Barger

Cy Barger

Cy Barger didn’t hit a home run on Opening Day, he didn’t hit a home run all season.  In 1758 at bats during a 16-year professional career (seven in the major leagues) Barger hit a total of four.

“If I ever get this Football Junk out of my Head”

23 May

George Henry Capron had a brief and relatively undistinguished professional baseball career.  He said football was what held him back.

Capron first made a name for himself at the University of Minnesota in 1906.  He excelled at football, track and field and baseball, The Minneapolis Tribune called him “a ten-second track man, a weight thrower, and a splendid ballplayer.”

The Golden Gophers football team was 2-2-1 that season; Capron, the starting halfback and drop kicker scored 44 of the team’s 55 points.  He accounted for all 12 of his team’s points (three four-point field goals) in a loss to Amos Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago team.  The Tribune said Capron “Figured in two-thirds of the offensive plays” for Minnesota.

Capron

George Capron

The Chicago Daily News said of Capron:

“(He) is an athlete of exceptional muscular development, although not above the normal size (the 5’ 10” 185 lbs).  he can punt from 50 to 60 yards with little effort with either foot.  The ball after leaving his toe acquires a most peculiar spiral motion, which makes it exceedingly hard to hold…In the work of scoring fielding goals, which appears to be Capron’s specialty, he is unquestionably a star.”

Capron kicking

Capron kicking

Early in 1908, there were rumors that Capron would leave Minnesota at the end of the baseball season and transfer to an Eastern school.  The New York Times said West Point football coach Bob Forbes was attempting to get Capron to accept an appointment, The New York Sun said he was headed to Dartmouth.

Capron chose instead to stay at Minnesota and was unanimously elected captain of the football team on September 14—although later the university would claim he wasn’t elected, but simply called local newspapers claiming an election had been held.  Two days after the “election,’ a scandal caused him to quit the team.

A story in The Chicago Tribune charged that Capron had played professional baseball for the Meridian Ribboners in the Cotton States League during the summer under the name “George Robb,” other reports said he played under the name “George Rapp.”  (The Sporting Life identified him as “Rapp” and “Robb” at various times in 1908).

The story also claimed that he met with “Captain Adrian C. Anson.  The later inquired of Capron’s ability as a ballplayer among local college men.”  Capron, the paper said, wanted to join the semi-pro Anson’s Colts.

Anson told paper:

“I didn’t sign Capron because he didn’t put on a suit and come out…I don’t remember that he said he played professional ball before.  I don’t care, anyhow.  There is no such thing any longer as a strictly amateur college team…They want their real names withheld.  I don’t care, I tell them.  (As long as) they can hit the ball on the snoot and can field decently.”

Sunday's "idol" "Cap" Anson

Sunday’s “idol” “Cap” Anson

Capron denied the charges.   He claimed he had never played professionally and “had never in his life” met Anson.  His denials were quickly dismissed, as his identity was something of an open secret in the South—his election as Minnesota’s captain was reported by several papers, including The Atlanta Constitution, The Atlanta Journal, and The (Nashville) Tennessean –each mentioned his election and that “he played (with Meridian) under the name of Robb,” and that his contract had been purchased by the Mobile Seagulls in the Southern Association.

Faced with overwhelming evidence, he admitted he had played professionally, but continued to deny that he had met with Anson.  It was also reported that Capron had been drafted by the New York Giants, The Minneapolis Tribune said:

(John) McGraw drafted Capron on the recommendations of one of the New York club scouts…but if McGraw was informed as to the real identity of the brilliant young diamond performer he has carefully kept the facts under his bonnet.”

He left school for good in September, and The Sporting Life reported he was “captaining a professional football team in Minneapolis” that fall.   He also admitted, in a letter to the National Commission that he had played professionally under the assumed names “Kipp” and “Katt” for the Mattoon Giants in the Eastern Illinois League in 1907 and in the Northern League with the Crookston Crooks 1905.

In the spring of 1909, The New York World said:

“Capron, the former diamond star of the University of Minnesota, has notified the management of the New York Nationals and of the Mobile Southern League team that he will not join either of them, but has decided to play outlaw ball.”

Capron signed with the Seattle Turks of the Northwest League and immediately went on a tear.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said he was hitting a league-leading .324 in his first 19 games.

He also found time to elope with the former Ednah Race, a Minneapolis resident.

At the end of the season, with his average down to .275, Capron told a reporter for The Post Intelligencer:

“’If I ever get this football junk out of my head, I’ll make good in baseball yet.’”

The problem he said, was taking out his frustration:

“’When I got mad when playing football I could charge the line or make a fierce tackle and let off steam,’ continued the greatest kicker Minnesota ever had, ‘but when I get mad playing baseball it is back to the bench for me with a fine plastered on me like as not.’

“’It doesn’t do a man a bit of good to get mad while playing baseball…that rough stuff does not go.”

The paper agreed:

“So many times during the season just closed, Capron was no good to himself or the team because he could not see anything but red and he wanted to fight someone or something.

“Capron had a world of natural ability.  He is far above the ordinary as a fielder and he is a dangerous man at the bat.”

Capron

Capron

Capron was sold to the Vancouver Beavers the following season, but was limited to 35 games as the result of a knee injury.  He hit just .207.

The following spring, the 25-year-old said he was finished.  He told The (Portland) Oregonian:

“No more baseball for me.  I am going to retire.”

The paper said “His teammates sniffed” and were sure he would return, but noted that “he is being sought by several clubs of the Northwest league this year and was tendered contracts by Seattle, Vancouver, and Tacoma, but has returned them unsigned.”  He said his new wife had encouraged the decision.

Capron left baseball and football for real estate.  He sat out the 1911 season.

In January of 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Barney Dreyfuss, president of the Pittsburgh Pirates sent a personal letter and contract to Capron:

“The contract is a ‘blank’ paper with the salary figure to be filled in by the recipient.

“Apparently, Dreyfuss was prompted in this move by some strong boosting out on the Pacific Coast, for in his letter he told George that information had reached him that a first-class ballplayer was going to waste.”

But despite the blank contract, Capron told The Oregonian:

“I guess (Dreyfuss) knows I can murder (right-handed pitching).  My wife says no, however, so it’s me for the bleachers.”

Capron also told the paper he expected his brother Ralph—a former Minnesota Quarterback– to make the major leagues soon—Ralph played one game that season with the Pirates and two the following year with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Following in his brother’s footsteps, Ralph abruptly quit baseball at age 25, before the 1915 season.  George told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review, his brother “expects soon to marry the daughter of a wealthy Minneapolis merchant, who is strongly opposed to a professional athlete for a son-in-law.”  Opposition from his father-in-law doesn’t appear to have stopped Ralph from dabbling in professional football.

Capron moved from the Pacific Northwest to Long Beach, and later Fresno, California, and found real estate to be more lucrative than either baseball or football.  In 1964, he was worth more than $30 million dollars, when, after 55 years of marriage, Ednah was awarded a $16 million dollar divorce settlement which The Associated Press said was “the largest ever.”

He died on October 26, 1972.

Lost Advertisements–Ed Sweeney for Sweet Caporal

15 Jan

sweeneyad

A 1914 advertisement for Sweet Caporal Cigarettes featuring New York Yankee catcher Ed “Jeff” Sweeney:

“In every line-up of the cigarette league champions, you’ll find good old steady sweet Caporal playing first.”

Three years later, while playing for the Toledo Iron Men in the American Association, Sweeney told a reporter about his former teammate Russell Ford, and the development of the Emery Ball.

Sweeney and Ford were teammates with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association in 1907:

“One day while Sweeney was catching Ford in a warm up stunt before a game Russ made a wild peg and the ball bounded into a concrete pillar.

“‘I didn’t know anything about it,’ explains Sweeney, “but after that, I noticed the ball breaking in a peculiar way.  I remarked about it to Ford, but he didn’t appear interested.  I never saw (Ford throw it) again that season.

“‘I was purchased that summer by the Yankees (he joined the team in 1908).  Owner (Frank) Farrell came to me one day and asked who was the best pitcher in the Southern Association.  I told him Ford.  And Russ was drafted.'”

After an unsuccessful one-game trial with Yankees in 1909, Ford spent the remainder of the 1909 season with the Jersey City Skeeters in the Eastern League.  When Sweeney and Ford were reunited the next spring with the Yankees, Ford told the catcher he “‘(H)ad a ball no catcher in the world could receive.  I laughed at him but he persisted.'”

Sweeney said Ford “‘took me into his confidence'” and explained his new pitch, Ford told Sweeney that day in Atlanta he noticed the effect the damage caused by the ball hitting the concrete post had on his ability to make it curve, and he continued experimenting:

“‘Russ showed me a little leather ring that he slipped over a finger of his left hand…All he had to do was to scratch the ball with the emery, that was pasted to the leather…The bigger the scratch the greater the freak jumps the ball would take…He would fake a spitter, and nobody ever got wise.  When he pitched he always requested that I catch him.’

“‘When Russ threw the ball with runners on or in pinches, no batter in the world could hit it.  Once in while somebody did, but it was by accident…I’ve seen batter after batter miss the ball a foot.'”

 

 

“Hard Luck” Harry Welchonce

23 Nov

In January of 1913, as Harry Monroe Welchonce was preparing for his fourth attempt to stick with a major league club, The Washington Herald said:

“Welchonce is one of the most unfortunate young men that ever tried to get a steady job in the majors.”

He did not make his professional debut until he was 25-years-old.  He worked as a telegraph operator for the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad while playing amateur ball in Pennsylvania until 1909 when he signed to play with the Steubenville Stubs in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.

Harry Welchonce

Harry Welchonce

A .321 hitter over seven minor league seasons, Welchonce was purchased by three major league teams—The Phillies, Dodgers, and Senators—and went to spring training at least five times with big league teams, but earned just one 26-game trial with Phillies in 1911. He hit just .212 and made two errors in 17 games.

After failing to make the Senators in 1912, he hit a Southern Association leading .333 for the Nashville Volunteers, earning himself another spring trial with Washington.  The Washington Times said of him:

“(Welchonce) is said to have the abilities of a major leaguer without the inside adornment. In other words, he is easily disheartened. This is said to have caused his failure with the Phillies three years ago.”

While under the headline “Welchonce is Hard Luck Guy,” The Herald attempted to explain his big league failures:

“Welchonce is one of the most unfortunate young men that ever tried to get a steady job in the majors. He has always batted for more than .300 in the minor leagues, and he has the natural speed and ability to make good in the majors.

“Welchonce is a telegraph operator, and his hard luck really dates from several summers ago.  He was seated at his key at Indiana, PA, one afternoon, when a thunderstorm came up. A bolt of lightning shattered a tree outside his office and he was a long time recovering from the shock…He joined the Phillies (in 1910), and his dashy work made a big hit in the training camp at Southern Pines (North Carolina)

“The team had been there only about a week when lightning struck the hotel and a ball of fire ran down into a room in which Johnny Bates, Welchonce, (Lou) Schettler, and (Jim) Moroney were sleeping. The players were all badly scared, and the shock was such that Welchonce did not get over it.”

A contemporary account of the incident in The Philadelphia Inquirer said all four players were badly shaken and that “Welchonce was the first to recover his speech.”  The Associated Press said all four players “were covered with plaster and debris from the ceiling,” and that Schettler “could not talk for two hours.”

Adding to Welchonce’s woes in 1910 was an injured shoulder, or as The Philadelphia North American put it: “(He) still plays with a wrenched shoulder and it affects the fleet youngster’s batting. He can only get a very ladylike swing at the sphere.”

The Phillies sent Welchonce to the South Bend Bronchos in the Central League.  He hit .315, leading South Bend to the pennant.

The Times picked up the story:

“(In 1911) he took the training trip to Birmingham, Alabama (with the Phillies).Again it looked as if Harry would give (John) Titus a hard battle for right field honors.  Then came more hard luck. One of Earl Moore’s cross-fire slants struck Welchonce in the head, and Harry went to a hospital in Birmingham for several days. “

The contemporary account in The Inquirer said that he did not lose consciousness, but “was sick to his stomach,” and quoted a doctor saying he suffered from “nervous shock.”  When he was released from the hospital three days later, the paper said, “He looks weak and colorless.”

He failed to make the Senators again in 1913 and was released to the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association again and led the league with a .338.

Welchonce returned to Atlanta in 1914, and so did his “hard luck.”

He was hospitalized at the end of the April with pneumonia and was out for much of May.  By late June, The Atlanta Constitution said he was “Back in Stride,” and he was again hitting above .300.  But his season came to end in August when he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis.  The Atlanta Journal said he “Went to Ashville, North Carolina for the mountain air,” and treatment.

Atlanta held a benefit game and various other fundraisers and presented Welchonce with a check for $883.10.

Welchonce recovered, but not enough to rejoin the Crackers the following season.  He returned to his job with the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad and managed the company’s baseball team.

He returned to pro ball in 1915, accepting an offer from the  to be player-manager of the Texas League club.

welchoncedallas

Welchonce, 1915

He played fairly well, hitting .297, but the Giants were a last place club and Welchonce became ill again in August and retired from professional baseball.

He again returned to the railroad and management of the company baseball team until 1920, when poor health necessitated a move to the West.  He settled first in Denver where he was employed as an accountant, and later Arcadia, California where “Hard Luck” Harry lived to age 93.  He died in 1977.

“The Duke of Minneapolis”

20 Nov

Martin F. Duck was born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1867.  He played under the name Martin Duke.   As he was becoming a well-known pitcher The Kansas City Times told a story which purported to explain why he changed his name:

 “The real name of the (Minneapolis) Millers’ best pitcher is not Duke, but Duck…Martin was pitching in a game up in Michigan and in the ninth his club led the opposing team by one run. (With two runners on base) a man up in the grandstand began imitating the quack of a duck…as the ‘quack, quack, quack continued his face became lobster-colored.  He shouted to his taunter that he would fix him after the game, but the fiend…went on with his ‘quack, quack, quack’”

At this point, Duck allegedly threw the ball into the stands at his tormentor, allowing both runs to score, “After that he dropped the name Duck entirely.”

By the time that story appeared Martin Duke seemed headed for a productive career.  He went 14-12 with the Zanesville Kickapoos in the Ohio State League in 1887.  In 1888, he again pitched for Zanesville, now in the Tri-State League and for The Toledo Maumees in the same league—no  records survive for that season.

The five-foot, five-inch Duke made a name for himself the following year.  While pitching for the Millers in the Western Association, he posted a 24-16 record and struck out 347 batters in 355 innings, earning the nickname “Duke of Minneapolis.”

In February of 1890, The Chicago Inter Ocean said Chicago’s Players League team was after the pitcher:  “Captain Comiskey of the Chicago Brotherhood has been on Duke’s trail for weeks, with the result that although Duke has not yet signed a contract we will play with the Chicago Brotherhood club this season.”

If Comiskey was, in fact, on Duke’s trail he never got his man.  Duke returned to Minneapolis, and while statistics for 1890 no longer survive, but the press routinely called him the Millers’ best pitcher.

In 1891, he slipped to 10-11, and in May he was suspended for being, as The Sporting Life said, “Out of condition” (a euphemism for his problem drinking), but earned an August trial with the Washington Statesmen in the American Association.  The Saint Paul Globe said of his departure:

“Martin Duke–the one, the only, the statuesque Duke–has bidden good-bye to the ozone of Minnesota and beer of Minneapolis…Last night he boarded the train, moved his hand in adieu, cocked his hat to one side, closed an eye, uttered a certain familiar expression peculiar to Dukes and disappeared forever.”

Martin Duke

Duke failed his Major league trial.  In four games, he posted a 0-3 record and walked 19 batters in 23 innings.

Despite his poor debut, he received another opportunity, this one with the Chicago Colts in 1892. When he was signed in January, The Chicago Tribune said:

“Duke’s last season, owing to lax discipline, was not a success, but this season he promises to regain his old form, as he is bound by an ironclad contract to abstain from intoxicating drinks.  By his contract half his salary reverts to the club if he breaks the pledge.  This should keep him straight.”

He received a big buildup in The Chicago Daily News:

“(He) is one of Captain Anson’s new colts, and he not only puts the ball over the home plate with almost the speed of a cannon shot, but he also seems to have a head studded with eyes, for stealing second base when he is in the box is always most hazardous business.  His pitching arm is so strong and shapely and so well equipped with powerful muscles that it would win admiration from a blacksmith.”

Despite the accolades he was released before the beginning of the season, The Tribune said:

“Martin Duke is also down for release. He has shown up poorly so far, and the club cannot use five pitchers anyhow.”

He signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association and seemed to regain his old form posting a 13-3 record.  It was his last successful season.

After getting off to a 2-5 start in 1893 Duke was released by New Orleans, and initially there were no takers for his services.  The Milwaukee Journal said why:

“Martin was always a good pitcher, but his mouth and his temper were too great a load for any team to carry any length of time.”

Duke bounced around the minor leagues after that with short stints for teams in the Eastern League, Southern Association and Western League until 1895, when he returned again to Minneapolis.  But after 13 games with the Millers, he injured his arm and was released in June.  According to The St. Paul Globe, he injured the arm again in August; rupturing a tendon while pitching for a semi-pro team in Rosemount, Minnesota.

In 1897, The Sporting Life reported that Duke, employed in a Minneapolis tavern, was “Trying to get in shape” in order to return to the diamond that season, but he never played professional ball again.

Duke died from pneumonia on December 31, 1898, in Minneapolis.  The Sporting Life said:

“He possessed great ability as a pitcher, but never lasted long with any club, as he was a hard man to control, and was given to dissipation, which ultimately led to enforced retirement from the profession and untimely death.”

Duke was 31 years-old.

A shorter version of this post appeared in October 2012

Moose Baxter’s Play

4 Nov

Jimmy Ryan played 18 seasons in the major leagues from 1885 through 1903, and appeared in more than 2000 big league games and nearly 500 in the minor leagues.  But he said the greatest play he ever witnessed took place in 1908—his final year in organized ball–when he was player-manager of the Montgomery Senators in the Southern Association.

He claimed the play was made by John “Moose” Baxter, who he released later in the season for allegedly placing bets against his own team.

1908 Montgomery Senators.  Ryan is sitting center of middle row, Baxter is standing second from right.

1908 Montgomery Senators. Ryan is sitting center of middle row, Baxter is standing second from right.

Ryan told the story to Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald.  He said it happened during a game against the Atlanta Crackers:

“(T)he bases were full and no one was out…I think it was (Louis “Lou”) Castro at bat, and he hit the first ball pitched, a line drive about twenty feet inside of first base.  I was playing right field and I sprinted forward, fully expecting to catch the ball on the line and throw home.  But I never got a chance.

“Moose took a running jump at the ball; he hadn’t a chance to catch it.  Instead he flew up into the air, and striking at the ball with his mitt, hit it and knocked it forty feet as straight as if he had thrown it, and right into the hands of the second baseman (Clay Perry)…Baxter, when he hit the ball (with his glove) turned half over and fell heavily, but without waiting to get up started and rolled back toward first.

“(Perry) tossed the ball up there, and with one hand stretched out to touch the base, Baxter stuck up the other, caught the ball and completed the double play.  The runner on third, seeing what was coming off, started home at top speed, and Baxter, sitting near first base, threw from that position to the plate and caught the runner.”

Moose Baxter

    Moose Baxter

Despite executing “the greatest play” Ryan said he ever saw, Baxter quickly became more trouble than he was worth.  In May, he was suspended for a week.  The Montgomery News said, after he had “engaged in a tussle” with an umpire named O’Brien.  “Baxter threw the umpire to the ground and pummeled his face.”

Baxter was released on May 17.  Ryan said only that it was “for the good of the team.”  Later in the week, The News said:

“The reasons assigned by the management are that Baxter has incurred displeasure of the spectators and has bred dissention among the players.

“Reasons given on the street are that Baxter has been betting against his own team in one of the recent games.”

Whether Baxter ever placed a bet against his team is unknown, but no action was ever taken by the league and he signed with the New Orleans Pelicans within a week.

Baxter was never far from trouble during his career.  While playing, and operating an illegal business in Canada in 1910, Baxter ran afoul of the law and was escorted to the border.

“Probably the ‘Boniest’ Bonehead Play Ever”

22 Jun

While some of the details changed in subsequent tellings, this story stayed substantially the same from when it was first presented in a column by sports writer William A. in 1913, until the final published version in 1957 in The New Orleans Times-Picayune.  One version called it, “Probably the ‘boniest’ bonehead play ever”

The story was told by and told about lefty Evan “Rube” Evans.  Born on April 28, 1890, in Sebring, Ohio, Evans was a career minor league pitcher who, when the story first appeared, seemed to be headed to the big leagues. 

Rube Evans

Rube Evans

The tall–he was reported by various sources as anywhere from 6′ 2″ to 6′ 4″–began his professional career with the Dallas Giants in the Texas League in 1910; he was 15-12 for the pennant winners, but The Dallas Morning News said he didn’t “take baseball seriously” until the following year, when he was 18-16 for the Giants:

“Before that, it seemed, the big, husky flinger looked at playing baseball something in the light of a joke.  Last season, though he came back into the game with a different viewpoint. He seemed to realize that ball playing was a man-sized business.”

After his 1911 performance, Evans’ contract was purchased by the New York Giants, and he joined the team for spring training in Marlin, Texas in 1912.  The Morning News said if he maintained his new found focus “and works as hard as he knows how to work he ought to stick.”

Evans quickly impressed the Giants with a pitch “takes a most freakish break,” according to The Washington Times:

“Rube Evans, the Giants left-handed recruit pitcher from Dallas, surprised bot Manager (John) McGraw and Coach Robby (Wilbert Robinson) by showing them a curve that is entirely new to the big league…The ball is delivered in exactly the same manner as the spitball, but he does not moisten it.”

The paper did not elaborate on how Evans’ “dry spitter” was different from versions reported on during previous seasons–including the one thrown by Christy Mathewson of the Giants–but according to The New York World, “McGraw says he will try and teach it to Rube Marquard.”

Despite his “dry spitter,” Evans failed to make the team and was returned to Dallas where he posted a 22-12 record for the Giants.

In 1913, he joined the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association but appeared to be headed to the Cleveland Naps before he threw a pitch in the regular season for the Pelicans.  In March, Evans shut down the Detroit Tigers 3 to 1 on five hits and followed that up with a four-hitter (and 3 to 1 victory) against the Naps.

The Cleveland Press said, “(Naps Manager Joe) Birmingham plans to cut down his squad considerably.  It is said recruits (Hugh) Peddy, (Pete) Shields and (Ward) McDowell will be left here in trade for one good pitcher, probably Southpaw Rube Evans.”

With Evans apparently on the verge of joining the Naps, the story of his “bonehead” play was told by Phelon, then repeated widely:

“(Evans) has one curious habit—a trait which has aroused much wonder on the part of every manager under whom the southpaw has been toiling.  When given an order by his manager or captain, Mr. Evans always stops, cocks his ears, and demands a repetition of the directions.  Naturally he is first taken for a simp, or bonehead, but when further acquaintance with him shows that he is a gentleman of intelligence and high mentality, the field leaders are muchly puzzled.

“’I always want my orders repeated,’ quoth Mr. Evans, ‘so that I will never again make such an error.”

(The 1913 version of the story, which quotes Evans,  places the incident in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, some later versions say it happened in 1913 with the Pelicans, still others say it was in Portland, Oregon; however, the original publication predates Evans’ time on the West Coast which did not begin until May of 1914).

Evans said he had pitched into the ninth inning when the opposing team put a runner on third with one out, when his manager told him if the other team attempted a squeeze play to “bean him.”  Evans said:

“’I knew no more what a squeeze play was than the man in the moon, but my orders rang in my ears as I started winding up.  Just as a swung up my arm, the fellow on third tore for the plate…I took careful aim at the oncoming runner, and pickled him with a fine shot to the back of the cranium.  Three seconds later the crowd was coming towards me with roars of fury, and I got over the back fence just in time.

“’Well how was I to know that I should have hit the batter and not the runner?  Ever since I have insisted on duplicate orders, so that I would know just what to do.’”

His acquisition by Cleveland never materialized and he had a disappointing 12-15 record in 1913, in a season split between New Orleans and the Birmingham Barons.

It is also in question whether Phelon’s characterization of Evans as a “gentleman of intelligence and high mentality,” was entirely accurate given his inability to stick with clubs who were impressed with physical abilities.  After his second chance to pitch in the majors didn’t materialize, the remainder his of career was marked by long stretches of mediocrity, charges of bad behavior and comparisons to another left-handed “Rube.”

In August of 1913, he was suspended for the remainder of the season by the Birmingham Barons for, according to The Birmingham Post-Herald, “Failure to keep in condition.”  The Sporting Life’s Chandler Richter called him “Erratic,” The Oakland Tribune said he was”Eccentric,” a wire service retelling of the “beanball” story from 1915 said he “earned a nationwide reputation as a ‘squirrel,” another called him “the real eccentric,” when compared to Rube Waddell.

The other left-handed Rube

The other left-handed Rube

His two-year tenure with the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) began when he wore out his welcome in New Orleans in May of 1914 and was sold to the Beavers.  It was particularly rocky.  The Spokane Daily Chronicle said Evans and Beavers manager Walter “Judge” McCredie “got along like a pair of strange bulldogs.” He was suspended at least once, again for the euphemistic “failure to be in proper condition,” and gave up a game-winning home run to Jack Ness of the Oakland Oaks when he accidently threw a pitch over the plate while attempting to intentionally walk Ness.  At the close of the 1915 season, Portland let him go for what The Portland Oregonian called “His inability to take care of himself.” Of his 9-22 record the paper said:

“Rube ran into gobs of adversity.”

After leaving Portland, Evans played parts of three seasons for the Salt Lake City Bees in the PCL–in 1917 he was 21-9, but when McCredie was named manager of the Bees in 1918, Evans time with the team was nearly over.  Before the season, The Oregonian said, “Evans did not take kindly to the idea of having to take orders” from his former manager and was threatening to jump the club.  He finally did jump in June after appearing in 14 games and posting a 3-8 record.

Evans went to Portland and finished the 1918 season in the semi-pro Shipyards League, The Oregon Daily Journal said upon his arrival:

“Rube Evans was through at Salt Lake and McCredie was probably saved the trouble of wearying his hand by writing out Rube’s release, when Rube left.”

In 1919, he played for the Rupert franchise in the semi-pro Southern Idaho League; while successful, his reliance on the emery ball for his success didn’t make him friends.  The Twin Falls Times said:

“When Rube Evans lugged the emery ball into the S.I.L. he failed to do anything beneficial to the league.  Rube will win a few more games for the Rupert club, but he has lowered the standard of sport in the league.”

Evans had one more season in professional baseball, posting a 10-7 record with the Regina Senators in the Western Canada League in 1920.  In an August 15 doubleheader against the Edmonton Eskimos Evans was ejected for arguing with the umpire while facing the second batter of the first game; he came back to lead the Senators to 5 to 3 victory in the second game, giving up two runs in 7 2/3 innings, and hitting a three-run home run in the sixth.

Rube Evans

Rube Evans

After the 1920 season, he returned to Ohio and spent the next decade playing semi-pro baseball there and in Western Pennsylvania.  His last headlines came in 1924 when he pitched six innings for the Sharon (PA) Elks team in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees.  The Elks lost 10-8, Babe Ruth went 2-4 with a double for the Yankees.

Evans’ playing days ended in Akron, Ohio.  He pitched for and managed the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company team, and stayed on with the company as a rubber worker.  He died on January 30, 1950.

A clue to some of Evans’  erratic behavior is contained in his death certificate.  The pitcher spent the last three and a half years of his life in Ohio’s Cambridge State Hospital; his cause of death was listed as “General Paresis,’ brought on by syphilis.

A shorter version of this post appeared on June 3, 2013

“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.