Tag Archives: Southern Association

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.”

martina

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.”

martina24

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.”

“I can Pitch Ball when I’m Geezed”

21 May

Bugs Raymond decided to become a wrestler.  After his disastrous 1910 season—4-9, 2.81 ERA and John McGraw hiring a former police officer to chaperon the wayward pitcher—Raymond decided to try the ring.  The Chicago Daily News said during his debut—and finale-at Chicago’s Alhambra Theater:

“(H)is shoulders were twice pinned to the mat by Joe Kennedy, a local semi-professional. Kennedy won the first fall with little difficulty. Bugs came back strong and took the second but was unable to stand the pace and was forced to yield the third.”

 

bugs19102

Bugs

Three days after the December 17 bout, Raymond told the paper he was done”

“It’s a harder game than I figured on. As soon as you slip out of one hold, they don’t give you time to think, but clamp another on you right off the reel. The strain is something awful. Me for baseball. The worst thing they can do there is chase you to the bench when you aren’t right.”

More importantly for the Giants and McGraw, in January the team announced that Raymond would be going to Dwight, Illinois, to, according to The St. Louis Times:

“Submit to the rejuvenating influence of the Keeley cure.”

The paper doubted the success and concluded:

“The consensus of opinion hereabout is that Arthur is not worth the trouble.”

The St. Louis Star said, “we will bet…Raymond’s seat on the water cart is vacant.”

The Chicago Evening Post reported on Raymond’s final day in Chicago and his trip to Dwight—80 miles from Chicago—accompanied by “Sinister” Dick Kinsella—Giants scout, McGraw’s right-hand-man, and former minor league executive:

“Before starting the course, it is customary to give the ‘patient’ all he desires of his favorite beverage. Kinsella called for his man on the West Side and together they made the rounds of Bugs’ usual resorts. A farewell drink was taken at each place.”

dickkinsella

“Sinister Dick” Kinsella

On the train, after lunch, “There were four empties on the table when the stopping place was reached.”

When Kinsella and Raymond arrived at the Keeley Institute–the “institute” was the flagship of Keeley’s alcohol treatment practice which had more than 200 branches throughout the United States and Europe—he initially refused an injection:

“’Don’t put that in my left arm, there’s a sore there that I got in the wrestling match,’ said Bugs when the attendant started to insert the needle.

‘”No, you can’t put it in my right arm either, for that’s my pitching arm.’”

Raymond eventually relented and The Post claimed he passed his first test at the institute, turning down a shot of bourbon after receiving the injection.

When Kinsella left Raymond, he was said to be “sitting in his room smoking a pipe and planning a new curve to use.”

bugs19104

Bugs

Two weeks after he checked in, The New York Herald said Giants Secretary William M. Gray had received a letter from Raymond:

“He notified the club that he would be ready to join the training squad in Marlin Springs when called on by Manager McGraw and would be in first class condition ‘for the first time since I have been a professional ballplayer.’”

Raymond was said to be sober for two weeks and a letter from the institute that accompanied Raymond’s said he was “a model patient,’ and:

“He complies with all the rules of the institution and is getting along as well as could be expected.”

After Raymond had spent six weeks in Dwight, The New York Tribune said, “the eccentric twirler of the Giants has been discharged from the institution completely cured,” and would be leaving St. Louis for training camp in Marlin Texas on February 18,

Raymond spoke to The St. Louis Post Dispatch before leaving for Texas.  The paper said:

“Arthur Raymond, who no longer desires to be known as Bugs, may slip from the water wagon he so arduously climbed upon during the six weeks at Dwight Institute.”

Raymond said he had “good reason” for wondering if he could pitch sober:

“’In all my days as a baseball player I always pitched my best when I had a comfortable ‘edge’ on,’ said Raymond naively. ‘Now I am on the water wagon and will probably stick, but wouldn’t it be funny I failed to make good while behaving?’

“’If I find I can’t make a success on the mound as a prohibitionist, I’m going to tumble, because I know that I can pitch ball when I’m geezed. I will be a pretty rich man at the end of the season, though if I keep riding high and dry.”

Raymond told the paper he met with McGraw in Chicago in mid-February and signed a contract that “calls for a boost of $1700 over what I drew last year.” Raymond said his salary for 1911 would be “almost $6000.”

Raymond said he spent three days in St. Louis before leaving for the South and hadn’t “touched a drop,”

Things went well in Texas and The New York Herald said:

“The Mighty Insect is working his head off to make a showing in the practice and exhibition games…He figures that a good showing   in the ante-season contests ought to put him in right with the fans back home and now he is really on the penitents’ bench he wants all hands to think well of him.”

He also dropped 17 pounds, after arriving in Texas weighing 210.

McGraw said:

“Raymond is the best right-hand pitcher in the big leagues when he’s sober and decent.”

As was well, until March 31.

The Washington Times reported that Raymond fell off the wagon when the Giants got to Atlanta:

“After pitching a few innings Wednesday against his old club, Raymond proceeded to celebrate, and that evening did not appear at the hotel until very late.”

The paper said Raymond also “was willing to mix things up” with Washington scout Mike Kehoe who was staying at the same hotel, Kehoe “seized a bat standing in the corner and made a rush for Raymond,” in order to back him down.

The New York Herald claimed Raymond was not drunk. After the Giants arrived in Norfolk, Virginia and he pitched three hitless innings against a local club, the paper said:

“Raymond was not in condition to pitch at Atlanta. It is true, but it was not drink. He contracted a bad case of malaria there and was confined to his room.”

Multiple papers retracted the story that Bugs had been drunk, John Wray, sports editor at The St. Louis Post Dispatch said the pitcher was “getting all worst of his past reputation.”

The Atlanta Georgian and News did not retract:

“Raymond skidded off the water wagon and into the pickle vat the night after he pitched against Atlanta. He showed up his old-time teammates so strong that he just had to celebrate some.”

Raymond won three games to begin the regular season, but by mid-June was 6 and 3 and seemed to have lost McGraw’s confidence.  On June 16 he was sent in to relieve Louis Drucke in St. Louis with the bases loaded and no one out in the first inning.  Four runs scored before Raymond retired the Cardinals.

Raymond allowed four more runs in the fifth and was removed after the sixth; he walked six and hit Steve Evans twice with pitches.  McGraw promptly fined him $200 and suspended him:

The St. Louis Times said:

“A too intimate communion with lemonade, seltzer, fer-mil-lac, and other popular beverages, is said to have been the undoing of Raymond for the ‘steenth time.”

Raymond signed with a semi-pro team in Winsted Connecticut, where he lasted just one game. The Associated Press said:

“Raymond arrived last night and after amusing a street crowd for several hours, during which he was threatened with arrest, he kept a majority of the guests at a local hotel awake all night. Bugs refused an invitation to drive the village water wagon and was finally put to bed by friends, being resuscitated a couple hours before the contest was called.”

Winsted lost 6 to 4 and Raymond was let go.

He then began pitching for various semi-pro clubs on the East Coast, including a July 1 game in New Brunswick, New Jersey where Raymond pitched for a the all-woman Female Stars.  The New Brunswick Daily Home News said:

“No score was kept, and no one could tell who won. In fact, no one cared…The sun proved too much Bugs and he was glad when the agony was over. He tried to be funny and succeeded only partially.”

The National Commission said Raymond’s participation in these games as a suspended player was “contrary to the letter and spirit of the National Agreement,” and that he would be subject to penalty before ever becoming eligible to play organized baseball again.

Throughout late July and early August, various reports had Raymond heading to either Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, or Mobile I the Southern Association.

The Atlanta Constitution said:

“That Bugs would prove a drawing card with any Southern league team goes without saying.”

Instead, he returned to Chicago and signed first with Harry Forbes’ Athletics—he was hit hard and beaten 7 to 1 by the Indiana Harbor semi-pro club and was let go.  Next, Raymond signed with the Gunthers in the Chicago City League. Raymond showed flashes of his talent; in his first league game with the teams he beat Smokey Joe Williams and the Chicago Giants 2 to 0, and in late September he beat Frank Wickware and the Chicago American Giants 3 to 2.

In October, The New York Herald noted that while the Giants would be playing in the World Series in week, Raymond, “instead of participating” and earning “about $3000,” had given up eight runs in the first inning to the West Ends.

In less than a year, Raymond would be dead at age 30.

“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.

“The most Superstitious man I ever saw”

18 May

Bill Phyle pitched and played infield in parts of four seasons in the National League with St. Louis, Chicago and New York and in minor leagues across the country from 1895 through 1909. In 1907, he told The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune about “The most superstitious man I ever saw.”

phyle

Phyle

The man was Tom Parrot, Phyle’s teammate in St. Paul, San Francisco, whom he also played against for several seasons in the Southern Association:

Phyle said “Tacks Parrott…is the limit,” and:

“He is a crank on batting and can tell you his batting average any time in the season, or for that matter, any time in the game. He carries a little piece of chalk in his shirt pocket and after each time at the bat he figures out his average on the bench.”

parrott

A 1902 caricature of Parrott 

Phyle said when they played together the second time in 1902:

“I roomed with Parrott in Frisco part of one season. I had taken a slump in my batting, and Parrott’s batting eye had also gone on vacation. He came to me one morning and, with much mystery in his voice, imparted the information that I was a ‘Jonah.’ That night after supper when I went up to my room, I found my trunk and all my clothes out in the hall. The landlady had to give me a new room. Parrott positively refused to room with me anymore, because he said it affected his batting eye.”

 

Phyle said Parrot was obsessed with improving his chances at the plate:

“If a man on a team got a new bat and was hitting well with it the next day, ‘Tacks’ would show up with the same kind of bat. He had a special trunk made to carry his bats and he always had it full. I have seen him go so far as use the same brand of tooth powder that another player used who was hitting well.”

He even imitated food choices, Phyle said, when Parrott was playing in the American Association, Mike Kelley, who played for the St, Paul Saints for several seasons, hit for the cycle one day, “Tacks” approached Kelley after the game and asked what he had for dinner the night before, Kelly said ham and eggs.

“(Parrott) turned up about supper time with a big ham under his arm and two baskets of eggs.  He wouldn’t eat anything for a week but hams and eggs.”

One day in San Francisco, Phyle said:

“The first two times up he got two safe ones. About the time he went to bat the third time the official scorer came down and sat on the bench with the players. ‘Tacks’ struck out. When he saw the scorer there he chased him off the field., declaring him responsible for his striking out.”

“He is Thoroughly Incompetent and Could do no Better”

12 May

After the Cincinnati Reds traded for Piggy Ward in June of 1893, Alonzo Flanner of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of his first visit to play the Browns with his new club:

“Ward, one of Comiskey’s latest acquisitions, is a great baseball player. He got his base every time he came to bat yesterday. He steals bases with a gavotte step and coaches like a cow with a cough but can’t field a little bit.”

Flanner had more to say later the same month:

“Ward, the young man with the waddle and voice like a catarrhal cow, who essayed to play right field for Cincinnati. He shows the happiest faculty for muffing, fumbling, and wild throwing of any young man masquerading in a League uniform and drawing salary.”

The observations appear to be accurate; in 42 games with the Reds, Ward hit .280, stole 27 bases, and made 13 errors in just 75 chances in the outfield. The Reds released him in August.

piggyward

Frank Gray “Piggy” Ward

The Cincinnati Enquirer said of Ward’s two-month tenure with the club:

“His opening was a dream. For weeks after he started in with the Reds, he was the talk of the town. He stood on the topmost pinnacle in the esteem of the local enthusiasts. Then came the awful exhibition of yellow fielding in the Fourth of July games.”

Ward played right field in the first game and left field in the second against Philadelphia on July 4. He was charged with two errors in the first game and one in second, and the paper said, “His miserable work in the field,” accounted for “no less than six” of Philadelphia’s 15 runs in their 15-14 victory in the first game, but allowed:

“Ward should not be blamed too harshly, because he is thoroughly incompetent and could do no better.”

After the Fourth of July debacle, The Enquirer said:

“No one could be found to fill his place as well, and again Ward had a chance to show himself. So well did he take advantage of this opportunity that it is safe to say of all the players that have been released by the Cincinnati Club none of them ever left behind such a feeling of universal regret as this same Ward.”

ward4thofjuly

The Cincinnati Enquirer after the July 4 double header

The Enquirer was so appalled by Ward’s performance that the paper referenced it at length a year later on Independence Day:

“The Exhibition of how not to play the game of ball given by Piggy that day will never be forgotten by those unfortunate enough to witness it. Such fielding was nauseating.”

The Cincinnati Commercial Gazette said, “There is nothing that that so disgusts a Cincinnati base ball crowd as poor fielding.”

Ward had arrived in Cincinnati with a reputation. He appeared in a major league game at age 16—playing third base for the Philadelphia Quakers on June 12, 1883; he was 0 for 5 and reached on an error. The Philadelphia Times description of Ward’s debut is ironic given later assessments of his skills:

“(Ward) fielded well but was weak at the bat and a very slow runner.”

After that single game, he bounced all over the US and Canada—and made two more brief stops in the big leagues between 1887 and 1891—after his first game in the outfield for the Quakers in his second trial with the club in 1889, The Philadelphia Enquirer said, “he proved conclusively he cannot play the outfield.”

He was also, by all accounts, a bit eccentric:

While playing with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Toronto Mail said he, “tried one of his supposed funny fakes.”

Ward handed a potato to pitcher Bill Pfann who was supposed to throw the potato over first baseman Ed Swartwood’s head.  Pfann was apparently slow on the uptake and threw the potato to Swartwood “and (Toronto Canucks Tom) McLaughlin was therefore not caught by the trick.”

Ward made at least one other documented attempt at the hidden ball trick—this time without a potato—during his brief stop with the Baltimore Orioles in June of 1893 in a game with Louisville. The Baltimore Sun described the play:

“Ward walked to the pitcher’s plate as if to advise (Kirtley) Baker on some point of the game. Then he walked back to first base. Baker resumed his position on the plate as if to pitch, but (Fred) Pfeffer had seen Ward take the ball and did not remove his foot from first base.”

Pfeffer pointed out the situation to umpire Michael McLaughlin and Baker was charged with a balk.

Pfeffer told the paper:

“I did intend at first , for the fun of the thing, to let Ward touch me with the ball by stepping off the base and then calling the umpire’s attention to the balk, but it occurred to me that the umpire might not have seen the play and would therefore decide against me. You have to be careful on such points.”

Ward’s was also considered by many to be a clubhouse cancer throughout his career. He started the 1893 season with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association. After Ward left the Pelicans, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said team president Charles Genslinger called Ward “a dissenter of the worst type and kept the local club in constant internal turmoil until his departure.”

Among Genslinger’s charges were that Ward had been the “sole cause” of an early season uprising that caused several of the team’s best players—including Count Campau, Pat Luby, and Mark Polhemus– to attempt to secure their releases, and that manager Abner “Powell ordered Ward to stop smoking in uniform, and as he persisted in the disobedience to orders he was compelled to impose a heavy fine.”

More of Ward’s story tomorrow.

Lost Advertisements: Lil Stoner for Mail Pouch

21 Jun

stoner

A 1928 advertisement for Mail Pouch Tobacco featuring Detroit Tigers pitcher Ulysses Simpson Grant “Lil” Stoner:

“Mail Pouch can be chewed all day long without causing a sign of heartburn.”

The following season–Stoner’s final with the Tigers–The Detroit Free Press determined that the pitcher was “jinx” for certain teammates:

“It shall be the fate of those who room with Lil Stoner to trek back over the trail of the minors.”

The paper said “nothing can save,” the players fated to have roomed with Stoner during his time with Detroit:

“King ‘Jinx’ speaks and his word is law. To be a ‘roomie’ of Stoner voluntarily is the next thing to suicide.”

The Free Press said the most recent victim of the  “jinx” was Al “Red” Wingo, who was sold to the San Francisco Seals after rooming with Stoner in 1928:

“Before ‘Red’ were (Johnny) Bassler, (Josh) Billings, (Jess) Doyle, (Clyde) Barfoot, (Les) Burke, and Rufus Clark.”

Bassler was released and joined the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) after rooming with Stoner in 1927. Billings was sent to Reading Keytones in the American Association while rooming with Stoner in 1927. Stoner and Doyle were also roommates in 1927 when the latter was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League, Barfoot suffered the same fate in 1926–he was released by the Tigers while rooming with Stoner and joined the Mission Bells in the PCL; Stoner’s final roommate in 1926 was Burke, who was released after the season and went to Toronto.  Clark roomed with Stoner in 1924 before being released to the Birmingham Barons in the Southern Association.

The paper suggested:

“Were Babe Ruth a roommate of Stoner he would contrive some way to break his neck. The jinx is more certain than death and taxes, and the only way to stop it is to shoot Stoner or lose him in the desert.”

The solution, according to The Free Press was to room Stoner with coach George McBride for the 1929 season because “George is going to remain.”

It was Stoner who finally succumbed to the “jinx” in 1929, after posting a 3-3 record and 5.29 ERA and finished the season with the Fort Worth Panthers in the Texas League

“Durbin’s Career in Baseball was Meteoric”

21 Jan

Blaine “Kid” Durbin was a sure thing. So said Frank Chance on the eve of the 1907 season.

As a 19-year-old, Durbin posted a 32-8 record for the Joplin Miners in the Western Association the previous year. Chance told The Chicago Daily-News:

“Blaine Durbin is going to be a sensational pitcher before long. When he stacks up against a club like Boston, with four or five left-handed hitters, he is going to make a great showing. What I like best about him is his nerve. Nothing can freeze him.”

durbin.jpg

Durbin

Chance said he was not concerned that Durbin was just five foot eight, nor was Henry “Farmer” Vaughan, manager of the Southern Association Birmingham Barons.

Chance said after Durbin pitched in a game that spring in Alabama, Vaughan approached him to see if “there was any chance of his getting” the rookie pitcher, and Chance mentioned Durbin’s size. Vaughn replied:

“He’s as big as Clark Griffith (Griffith is listed at 5’ 6”), and Griffith used to strike me out quite often. If Griffith was big enough, so is Durbin.”

Chance said:

“I told Vaughan I had no idea of letting him go.

“’Let me ask just one favor of you then,’ answered Vaughan: ‘don’t leave him in this league. If I can’t have him, I don’t want to have to play against him.’”

Chance said “scarcely a day passes that I don’t get a query” about Durbin and Chance said half the National League wanted him:

“I guess Durbin has a permanent berth with the Cubs.”

Durbin pitched in just five games for the Cubs (0-1 5.40), and only remained with the team for the entire season because when the Cubs tried to send him to Omaha in June, according to The Chicago Tribune, “The Boston Nationals stepped in” and would have taken Durbin.

He remained with the team all season and appeared in six games as an outfielder and pinch hitter.

Durbin did not get into in a game during Chicago’s World Series victory over the Detroit Tigers, but his hometown paper, The Fort Scott (Kansas) Republican, said he took home $2300.10 in postseason money and used it to buy a farm.

Still a hero in the Missouri town where he won 32 games in 1906, The Joplin Globe called him “the best baseball pitcher that ever wore a Joplin uniform,” when Durbin visited friends there and “proudly displayed the world’s championship emblem…in the form of a watch charm and represents a bear’s head holding a baseball.” Durbin told the paper the Cubs had big plans for him in 1908:

“Manager Chance assured me that I would be one of the regular twirlers next season.”

The 1908 campaign got off to a bad start for Durbin even before the team’s opener in Cincinnati on April 14. Charles Dryden, the baseball writer at The Chicago Tribune, who had his own nickname for Durbin, said:

“Danny Dreamer Durbin lost out at the distribution of new uniforms, which took place at the fashionable hour of high noon. There were but twenty togas for twenty-one demon athletes. When the Peerless Leader sounded the boot and saddle call, Danny was in his apartment perusing the latest messenger boy thriller in the Tip Top Weekly and Donohue copped the new clothes.”

The “Donohue” referred to by Dryden was pitcher Joe Donohue, who had spent 1907 with the Spaldings in the Chicago City League; he was with the club at the beginning of the season but never appeared in a game for the Cubs or any other professional team.

Presumably, when Donohue was cut loose, Durbin was rewarded with a uniform—when he made his first appearance at West Side Grounds on April 22, after the team’s season opening road trip Dryden wrote in The Tribune:

“Danny Dreamer Durbin looked like a five-cent plate of ice cream in his new white suit.”

The “Danny Dreamer” nickname was placed on Durbin by Dryden in 1907, when the entire Cubs team attended a play featuring actress Lillian Russell “an ardent baseball fan,” after the World Series victory. According to The Sporting News:

“Durbin was a member of the party and occupied a prominent place in the front row of the box, all togged out in his dress suit and patent leathers.

“In appearance of Miss Russell’s hospitality, the Cubs chipped in and bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers for the popular actress. The bouquet was to have been presented her across the footlights.

“But Durbin stole a march on the Cubs. He copped the flowers and disappeared from the box. Shortly afterwards the bouquet was presented through he wings. Durbin did the presentation…(Dryden) wrote the story of Durbin’s little steal and told how he had done the ‘Danny Dreamer’ stunt.”

The closest Durbin came to pitching again for the Cubs was on June 2, with the club trailing the Pirates 7 to 1 in the bottom of the fifth, The Tribune said Chance had Durbin ready to enter the game, but:

“(W)hile little Danny Dreamer was warming up the Cubs got mad and pounded Vic Willis into a shoestring, scoring four runs.”

Mordecai Brown instead took the mound in the sixth and promptly allowed two runs. The Cubs lost 12 to 6.

Durbin remained with the team for the entire season, appearing in 14 games as an outfielder and pinch hitter, hitting .250 (7 for 28), and for a brief period in July it looked like he might get more playing time. The Daily News said:

“(Durbin’s) work in center field since the Cubs returned to their home park stamps this little southpaw as a man possessing the qualifications for developing into a grand outfielder.”

The paper also noted his “speed going down to first,” and claimed, “It is doubtful whether there is a faster man getting down to first in the big leagues than Blaine Durbin.”

Durbin all but disappeared from box scores after July but picked up another world championship check despite again not making an appearance in the series—however, it was not quite the windfall of 1907; The Tribune said Durbin was forced to split a $1500 share three ways (the shares were $1400 but the Cubs added $100 to make the three-way split) with pitcher Rube Kroh who appeared in two games during the regular season, and team trainer A. Bert Semmens.

Durbin refused to sign his contract the following season and vented his frustration to The Fort Scott Republican; the paper took the hometown heroes’ side:

“The older pitchers of the team have done all possible to hold him out of the game, knowing that he would soon take their place if worked regularly (he also) ranked as the fastest base runner on the team.”

The paper also noted Durbin’s anger at being allotted a one third share of World Series money and said he would renew a request he made during the 1908 season that he be “sold, released, or traded to some team where he would be used.”

The Republican said:

“While he appreciates fully the honor of being a member of the champion baseball team of the world, he would prefer to belong to a lesser team and receive just treatment.”

The day after word of Durbin’s grievances appeared in Chicago papers, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds.

Being sent to a “lesser team” did not help. Durbin appeared in just six games as a pinch hitter with the Reds, he was 1 for 5 with a walk, and was traded to the Pirates in May. He was 0 for 1 as a pinch hitter with the Pirates before drawing his release.

Durbin never made it back to the major leagues. He finished the 1909 season with the Scranton Miners in the New York State League, hitting just .219 and playing the outfield.

The Pirates sold his contract to the Western League Omaha Rourkes after the season, but he refused to report and spent 1910 playing semi-pro ball in Miami, Oklahoma, where he also operated a cigar store and billiard parlor. The Kansas City Star wrote about him as a cautionary tale:

“So Blaine Durbin, once the pride of all Kansas, has been relegated to the village nine again, from which he sprang. Durbin’s career in baseball was meteoric; full of some pleasant spots and a lot of disagreeable episodes.”

The Star said:

“Durbin went to Chicago with the path to success made for him. He had everything, the speed, the nerve the curves and the added asset of a good batting eye. The minute Durbin got to Chicago he began to unmake this roseate future. He didn’t like advice; he didn’t along with the old heads; he was about as unpopular as the man who strikes out with three on. Chance held on to him for two years, hoping the youngster would come out of it; he didn’t. Then he breathed a sigh of relief when Cincinnati suggested a trade. Durbin did not last long with the Reds.”

Durbin returned to pro ball in 1911, accepting a contract with Omaha, and pitched professionally for the first time since 1907—splitting the season between Omaha and the Topeka Jayhawks; he posted a combined 15-18 record.

He was sold to the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League at the end of the 1911 season. He was 4-5 with a 2.61 ERA when Oakland released him in August. The Oakland Tribune questioned whether Durbin “might have made good if he had been given the opportunity to work often. He lived a clean life and didn’t find time to break up the furniture in the Seventh Street cafes.”

Durbin spent the rest of 1912 pitching for an independent team in Oroville, California.

His professional career was over at age 25.

He parlayed his tenure as part of a world’s champion into being a drawing card over the next 12 years, bouncing back and forth between amateur and semi-pro teams in Kansas, Missouri, and California.

 

 

Durbin settled in St. Louis and in July of 1941 was declared insane and sent to the Missouri State Hospital at Farmington. After he was released, he worked in a restaurant and lived in Kirkwood, Missouri. He died on September 11, 1943, one day after his 57th birthday.

“Baumgardner Ought to be one of the Greatest Pitchers in Baseball”

30 Jul

Two things were certain after George Baumgardner’s major league debut—a 4 to 1 victory over the Big Ed Walsh and the Chicago White Sox—he had talent, and he was a bit odd.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“He had a lot of speed.  The best thing he had was splendid control.  He seemed able to cut the ball across any portion of the plate except the middle, and he seldom gave the Sox a chance to belt a good one, yet he was getting them over for strikes.”

The Chicago Daily News said Baumgardner was told it was a big deal that he had beaten Walsh:

“’Who is this fellow Walsh?’ he asked.  He was told that Big Ed is considered by many the greatest pitcher in the game.  ‘If he’s so good why don’t some National League clubs draft him?’  Inquired Baumgardner innocently.  He has since been told that the American League, in which he promises to earn fame, is a major organization just like the National.”

baumg

Baumgardner, 1912

He was 37-47 with a 3.12 ERA in his first three seasons for Browns teams that lost 101, 90, and 88 games.

However, he was sent home by the Browns after appearing in just seven games in 1915—he was 0-2 with a 4.43 ERA.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, the pitcher “has hit the lonesome trail of the West Virginia pines…and has been advised to go home and get in shape.”

After the 1915 season, American League umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column that, “Baumgardner…ought to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball, but he is not, and thereby hangs a rather interesting tale.”

Evans said:

“Baumgardner has wonderful speed and a beautiful curve.  He is fleet of foot and a corking good fielder.  There are in the major leagues today any number of pitchers rated as stars who do not possess one-half the natural ability.”

Evans said in addition to his slow start, the Browns gave up on the pitcher so easily because of the financial stress the Federal League had caused American and National League clubs:

“Baumgardner’s salary was surely $4,000 or better, because George Stovall tried to sign him for the (Kansas City) Feds.  Stovall, having managed the Browns (Stovall jumped to Kansas City before the 1914 season) was familiar with Baumgardner’s ability. There are few players who would let such a salary slip away from the without making some effort to retain it.”

Evans claimed that after they sent him home, the Browns never heard from their pitcher, and “his whereabouts during the summer was unknown,’ to the team.

“The only news ever received from the eccentric pitcher came through a St. Louis traveling man, who made the small towns in the south.  He bumped into Baumgardner in a West Virginia hamlet pitching for one of the village clubs.  He watched him perform, said he never looked better; so good in fact he could have gotten a long without his outfield.”

Evans said the man asked the pitcher if he had been in touch with the Browns:

“’I am waiting to hear from them,’ was Baumgardner’s reply.  ‘I guess if they really thought they could use me they would have me rounded up.  I ain’t much on letter writing; they don’t need to expect any word from me.”

Evans said:

“It hardly seems possible that in times of war, when big salaries were almost possible fir the mere asking, a fellow would let it get away from him (but) nothing worries the big fellow, it is easy come, easy go with him.”

Baumgardner’s 1916 season was even more unusual than 1915.  He again reported to the Browns out of shape, and struggled.

In June, the Browns attempted to sell him to the Memphis Chickasaws in the Southern Association.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“George Baumgardner of Barboursville, WV, the heart of the Blue Ridge belt, is all puffed up like a pouter pigeon because he has signed a new contract with the Browns.  All of which proves how easy it is to get Baumgardner all puffed up.

“This contract, which Baumgardner considers and asset, according to his own statement, calls for $75 a month.”

The paper said Baumgardner would have earned $200 a month with the Chickasaws, but told manager Fielder Jones:

“Who’ll ever see me pitch in Memphis?”

Baumgardner lasted just one more month in St. Louis.  He appeared in four games for the Browns and posted a 7.88 ERA before being released on July 20.

The Sporting News said the Browns attempted send Baumgardner to the Little Rock Travelers, where he would have earned $250 a month and he again said he wasn’t interested:

“But even that ($75 a month) was too much, thought Fielder Jones, so one day last week he handed Baumgardner another release, his second or third in three months, and told him positively to get away and stay away.”

Baumgardner said his right arm had “gone back on him,” and that he was going to “go back to the mountains and practice with my left arm.”

After several days he joined the Travelers.

He only lasted a month in Little Rock.  Baumgardner was 2-1 in five appearances on August 21 when The Arkansas Democrat said he was heading back to West Virginia:

“(He) says he is going home this week and stay there until next season—maybe.  Or he may come back and help the Travelers in the last few days.”

Baumgardner promised the paper he would return and “not lose more than four games” in 1917.

baumgardner

Baumgardner, 1917

The Arkansas Gazette summed up his 1917 season:

“Every time “Bummie” goes out he gets a beating.”

And he didn’t keep his word.  He lost five games in 1917, winning three, before being released by Little Rock on June 7.

After winning 37 games in his first three major league seasons, Baumgardner’s professional career was over six weeks before his 25th birthday.

“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.”