Tag Archives: Spider Baum

“Some People Think I’m Eccentric, and Maybe I am”

10 Jul

In March of 1920, Hal Chase provided a short, sometimes self-serving, eulogy for his major league career to a United Press reporter “while attending a dinner at the Ritz Carlton” in New York:

“I wanted to quit big league baseball before it quit me, I realize that I would lose out in two or three years, and I’d rather quit while I’m top of my baseball career than wait for the career to leave me flat. That is the principal reason why I am not with the Giants on their training trip.”

Chase told the reporter he was heading West:

“I want work that is more regular. I’d like to work my eight hours daily and be free after that. It must be work in which I can advance. I can’t get any higher in baseball. My old parents live in San Jose and I haven’t seen them in four years. They want to see me and I’m going out.”

princehal.jpg

Hal Chase

Chase believed he had a future in Hollywood:

“If the film business offers me an opportunity for money-making, I’ll go into it.”

The report suggested to Chase that he might have the same impact as another recent arrival to films:

“Look how well Will Rogers, cowboy, has done.

“’That’s right,’ said Chase. ‘Say, I’d like to join hands with Rogers and put on a film comedy based on Ban Johnson. It would be a scream. I’ll bet.”

As for his baseball career coming to an end, Chase said:

“Some people think I’m eccentric, and maybe I am. However, I have no sore spots. McGraw is a fine fellow and my friend. I understand he is to put (George “High Pockets”) Kelly in my place at first base. Kelly in a regular baseball player and should make good.”

Within days of giving that interview, The New York Daily News reported that Chase was working with a theatrical agent named Thaddee Letendre–who represented several actors, including French silent film star Max Linder–and had signed a contract for Chase’s “exclusive appearance in films.”

The paper said:

“In a short while Hal probably will be the screen idol of the small boy, Letendre intends to fit Chase into the role of Frank Merriwell, whose episodes have been chronicled in novels by Burt L. Standish (pen name for author Gilbert Patton). The role of Merriwell probably will fit Chase like a glove, inasmuch as he is a versatile athlete.”

The irony of Chase playing a character Patten said he created to embody “truth, faith, justice, the triumph of right, mother, home (and) friendship,” was not mentioned in the article.

Whether it was an unsubstantiated rumor, or whether the deal fell through is unknown. But by the time Chase reached California on April 13, there was no talk of a movie contract and The Los Angeles Examiner said Chase “would like to play ball in the Pacific Coast League (PCL).”

The Seattle Star reported the next day that the Seattle Rainiers “puts in bid for services” of Chase. Team president William Klepper telegraphed the Giants offering to but Chase’s contract.

That never materialized either—The Examiner said, “apparently a hitch in the proposed deal developed;” the “hitch” was likely when revelations made by Lee Magee went public just as Chase was traveling West, that they had conspired to throw games in 1918.

The Seattle option gone; Chase joined the San Jose Bears in the Mission League He made his Mission League debut on May 2—Chase was 1 for 4 with a double and drove in both San Jose runs in a 10 to 2 loss to Monterey.

In mid-May, with San Jose 1 and 4, despite having “Prince Hal” in the lineup, Mission League officials met and attempted to ban Chase; A.J. O’Connor, director of the San Jose club told The San Jose in June, The San Jose Evening News:

“The effort is going to be made to bar Chase, but it’s not going to get anywhere. We simply will not stand for it. We are going to keep Chase for we know the fans want him.”

O’Connor told the paper the team would withdraw from the league if Chase was ruled ineligible.

On May 24, The Evening News reported:

“The (Mission League) board voted (May 23) in favor of allowing Hal Chase to continue his playing with the local club, which brought joy to the hearts of the fans all over the circuit.”

Chase celebrated the decision by hitting an RBI double—his third hit of the game–in the tenth inning to give San Jose a 4 to 3 victory over Watsonville.

As Chase was settling into his role as Mission League drawing card, he was again making headlines in the East; Lee Magee’s case against the Chicago Cubs went to trial and Chase’s alleged role in fixing games was a key feature.

leemagee.jpg

Lee Magee

Chase told The San Jose Mercury-Herald:

“There is absolutely no truth in this statement made by Magee. I was exonerated of all charges by the national commission after it made a full investigation. I do not know what Magee did at the time of the game he mentions, but I do know that I did not place any bets and the statement is untrue from start to finish.”

Days after Magee lost his suit against the Cubs, The Mercury Herald reported “the greatest stir in baseball circles;” Chase had purchased a one-third interest in the San Jose club:

“This announcement will no doubt please the local fans as it shows what an active interest Hal has taken in baseball here and that he is out to do his share in giving San Jose real baseball and a winning team.”

Both San Jose papers reported a rumor that Chase had been in contact with former Giants teammate Heinie Zimmerman to join the San Jose team–Zimmerman never came West,

Chase made several trips to Southern California in search of players and to watch PCL games—primarily a pitcher—for San Jose. Failing to secure one, Chase took the mound for the club. On July 24, he pitched a complete game shutout against King City; he pitched again a week later, losing 4 to 1 to Watsonville.

Never far from trouble, two days after he pitched against Watsonville, Chase was in the news again. William H. McCarthy, President of the PCL barred him from all league parks after a sworn statement from Charles “Spider” Baum of the Salt Lake City Bees that Chase had approached him at the Hotel Lankersham in Los Angeles with an offer to throw a game; Baum told Chase he would likely not pitch in the series.

In response, Mission League President James J. Nealon, who had backed San Jose in its earlier effort to keep Chase, issued a statement:

“The Mission League has stood for all that is clean and wholesome and doesn’t intend to have its name smeared by such an incident as Baum relates of Chase.

“The directors of the league unite with me in declaring that Chase is barred. Whatever interest he may have in the San Jose ball club must be forfeited.”

halchase

Chase, 1920

The San Jose papers which had been among his biggest cheerleaders, were split on the quick action of the Mission League. The Evening News said:

“There is no room on the San Jose club for Hal Chase. He is finished. If the club attempts to play Chase the baseball fans should absent themselves from the game. Chase wired yesterday (from the Clark Hotel in Los Angeles) that the latest charges against him were ridiculous. If these charges had been made by some player whose reputation for honesty, decency, and truthfulness was less known than Spider Baum’s we might withhold judgment for a minute.”

The Mercury-Herald countered:

“The latest accusation—that Chase actually approached a pitcher with the view of inducing him to ‘throw’ the game—is the most serious of any yet revealed, and if true should at once and forever eliminate him from the baseball field. But it should be proved, not hinted at; it should be made so clear that none shall say hereafter that the player was ‘railroaded’ out of the game, or that jealous managers anxious to get him on their teams fought over him and finally decided to put him out of the way…Otherwise the ‘fans’ will continue to idolize the player and regard him as a martyr rather than as a ‘short sport,’ which we trust he is not.”

On August 8, Chase was in uniform and on the bench when San Jose took the field against Hollister. In the third inning, San Jose was down 5 to 0, with two runners on base, when Chase was brought in in relief. Umpire Al Erle forfeited the game Hollister. The remainder of the contest was played as an exhibition game; Chase pitched the rest of the way in the 14-9 loss.

Three days later, the league directors voted 10-2 to uphold Chase’s banishment from the Mission League. Four days later, Chase was on the field—along with Harl Maggert who had been banned by the PCL—with the Madera team in the Northern San Joaquin Valley League and led Madera to an 11-0 victory over Chowchilla. The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Chase thrilled spectators with two headlong slides to second.”

Chase and Maggert were banned from playing in the Northern San Joaquin Valley League two days later by league president J. C. Lesher who also announced that the game they participated in would be thrown out.

Chase spent the remainder of the 1920s playing semi-ball in California, Arizona, Texas, and anywhere that would have him.

“Their Joy was Unrestricted”

10 Jun

After Charles “Cy” Swain lost his leg in an accident after the 1914 season, he attempted to stay active in baseball by forming a team called the Independents with another former player, Tommy Sheehan.

Cy Swain

Cy Swain

Swain managed the team which was comprised of minor and major leaguers who spent the off-season on the West Coast.

In the early spring of 1916, the team played their most unusual game.  The San Francisco Chronicle described the scene:

“For the first time in the history of the State Prison across the bay in Marin County, the convict baseballers were yesterday permitted to play against an outside team…The attendance? Good!  Something like 2300 men and women prisoners, even including the fellows from solitary confinement, took their seats to watch the game, and their joy was unrestricted.”

Swain’s Independents were playing the Midgets, the baseball team at San Quentin.

The paper said Swain received “an ovation that lasted for five minutes,” and that the prisoners cheered loudly for Ping Bodie, Spider Baum, and Biff Schaller.

Ping Bodie

Ping Bodie

“They know a good play or a bad one, just as you do from your comfy seat at Recreation Park, and they did their rooting accordingly.”

Because of prison rules, the game recap was slightly different than usual:

“Names are barred when it comes to San Quentin inmates, but it is worthy of note that No. 27784 came through with a home run, while third sacker 26130 pulled a fielding stunt that would land him with the Coasters if he were a free agent.

“Warden (James A.) Johnson, however, has his players fully signed, and he is protected with a reserve clause that is far more binding than the foundation of organized baseball. “

Jack McCarthy, a former American League and Pacific Coast League umpire, worked the game with “No. 23547,” and “to their credit be it said, the double system worked perfectly.”

The game was a slugfest, won the Independents 15 to 10—Bodie, Schaller and Ed Hallanan had three hits each.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Swain’s independents returned to the prison again the following year, beating the Mascots 9 to 6.  After the success of those games, baseball against outside teams became a regular feature at San Quentin.

Cy Swain

8 Jun

Charles R. “Moose” “Cy” Swain was for a short time, one of the best-known players on the West Coast and his brief time as the West’s home run king is all but forgotten.

Born in Palo Alto, California, Swain made his professional debut with San Jose franchise in the California State League in 1904.  Years later, Mike Steffani, San Jose manager, told The San Jose Evening News that his “discovery” of Swain was an accident.

Steffani was in need of a shortstop, and Swain’s brother Ira, who played at Stanford University,  was recommended to him by pitcher Win Cutter.  Cy, who accompanied his brother to San Jose, played first while Steffani worked out Ira at short.  Steffani said he told Cutter:

“I think young Cy is the best player.  I like the way he handles the ground balls.  He acts like (Charles) Truck Eagan to me.”

Cy Swain was signed.  Ira was sent home.

Charles "Cy" Swain

Charles “Cy” Swain

Swain was called “a hard hitter,” who struck out often.  He also apparently enjoyed a drink.  After hitting a disappointing .239 for the Spokane Indians in The Northwestern League in 1907, Swain was traded to the Butte Miners.

In announcing the news, The Spokane Press said, “Charley isn’t exactly a temperance man.”   The paper said that when the Spokane owner sent him a contract with a temperance clause, Swain wired back, “Send me two of those; I may break one.”

Swain, who also struggled with weight issues, went from Butte to the Tacoma Tigers, then the Vancouver Beavers.

In July of 1910, he was leading the league with a .298 batting average when the Washington Senators offered $1800 for his contract.  The Vancouver Daily World said the offer was turned down.  The club’s owner/manager/shortstop Bob Brown told the paper:

“That pennant looks awfully good to me, and until I have it clinched I intend to hold the team intact.  There have been numerous other clubs after Charlie’s services, but they will all have to wait until the season is over.”

Swain slumped badly the rest of the year and finished with a .250 average (and a league-leading 11 home runs). The Beavers finished second, six and a half games behind the Spokane Indians.

Despite Swain’s sluggish finish and questions about his weight—The Seattle Star said he was “carrying 220 pounds”– Washington purchased his contract at the end of the season.  Just before he reported to the team in Atlanta in February of 1911, The Washington Herald said:

“There is a reason why this man Swain should not be overlooked when the time comes for the final selection of the Nationals.  It was Cliff Blankenship who was sent scouting for Walter Johnson five years ago and who signed him…and Blankenship is sponsor for Swain.”

Cliff Blankenship

Cliff Blankenship

Swain responded to a letter from William Peet, The Herald’s baseball writer, about his weight:

“I note what you say about certain of my friends on the Western papers claiming I have taken on so much weight that I am handicapped thereby.  Just write them a personal letter and bet them all you’ve got that I haven’t taken on more than five pounds since I quit playing last fall…I will join the Washington club in shape and try my best to make good.”

Early reports from Atlanta in the Washington papers, The Post, The Times, and The Herald sounded promising:

“For a big fellow Swain is a wonder when it comes to covering ground in the outfield.”

“Though a six-footer, weighing 200 pounds, he runs like a sprinter.”

“He hits hard…his most distinguishing trait (is) a willingness to work and an inexhaustible fund of good humor.”

Swain was hitting .273 in spring games when he became sick (either a cold or the flu, depending on the source) and did not appear in a game, or practice with the team for a week.

Swain in Atlanta with the Senators

Swain in Atlanta with the Senators

On April 6 The Herald said:

“Swain and Manager Jim (McAleer) had a long talk this morning in the clubhouse and when the Vancouver husky emerged his face was wreathed in smiles.

“’It’s all right, boys,’ he said.  ‘I will probably go back to the Pacific Coast.  Had a nice chat with the boss and told him that if he decided he couldn’t use me to ship me (West) and he promised to do so.”

Swain was returned to Vancouver, where he hit. 309 and helped lead the Beavers to the Northwestern League pennant.  After hitting .286 for the last place Sacramento Sacts in the Pacific Coast league in 1912, Swain was sold to the Victoria Bees in Northwestern League in May of 1913, setting the stage for his record-breaking season.

On August 1, The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Swain) is electrifying the natives in the Northwestern League.  Playing for Victoria, up to last Sunday, Cy had connected with 17 home runs and was hitting .329.”

He hit 17 more by September 18.  Swain’s 34 home runs broke the previous West Coast high—Ping Bodie hit 30 for the San Francisco Seals in 1910 (Art Bues had the previous league record with 27 in 1910)—and his .329 average was a career high.

He benefitted from the small dimensions of the league’s parks; The (Portland) Oregonian said fourteen of his 34 home runs cleared Victoria’s 270 foot center field fence and 11 more came at Seattle where the left and right field fences were just 237 feet from home plate.

After another solid season in the Northwestern League in 1914–.310 with 12 homeruns—Swain was traded to the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association for Fred “Newt” Hunter on November 24.

While most of the newspapers in Northwestern League cities shared the view of The Spokane Chronicle, that “The exchange will effect a promotion for Swain as he will play in a class AA league, which has been his ambition.”  The Seattle Star, however, despite the numbers he put up, raised some doubts about Swain:

“It is not likely that Seattle will be disappointed in the trade…Swain did not deliver last season like the fans had hoped and expected.  He was the joke of the league in the pinches.”

Swain

Swain

Just three days after the trade, Swain was working his off-season job for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company in San Francisco, when he fell from the back of a company truck which ran over his right leg.  On December 4, the leg was amputated.

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“He was counting on making good with Minneapolis with the view of someday stepping into the big league, the dream of every ballplayer.  What Swain will do now with one limb lost has not been decided, for the unfortunate player is overwhelmed with grief at the sudden termination of his diamond career.”

Benefit games were held in San Francisco and Tacoma, drawing 4000 and 7000 fans; the games raised more than $4000 for Swain.

He used the money to open a cigar store in San Francisco with another former player, Tommy Sheehan.  The two also organized a team, managed by Swain, called the Independents.  The team was comprised of West Coast professionals—including Ping Bodie, Spider Baum, and Biff Schaller–and played during the winter and early spring.  One of their games in the spring of 1916 was the first game ever played by an outside team on the grounds of San Quentin Prison.  Swain’s team won 15 to 10.

In November of 1916, Swain and Sheehan organized team made up of major leaguers and West Coast players to travel to Hawaii for a series of games.  The team played local and military teams, as well as the All-Chinese team which included Vernon Ayau, the first Chinese player to have appeared in a professional game.

Ayau, played against Swain's team in Hawaii

Ayau, played against Swain’s team in Hawaii

News of the games in Hawaii was sketchy; based on various reports the team played between eight and 12 games on the trip; all sources agree the only game they lost was against a US Army Infantry team.

Swain continued to manage the Independents in 1917 and ’18.  He and Sheehan also sold the cigar store and opened the Maryland Bowling Alleys in Oakland with Cliff Blankenship, the former catcher who recommended Swain to the Washington Senators in 1910.

Early in the fall of 1918, Swain’s brother, Ira, who accompanied to the tryout in San Jose in 1904, contracted the Spanish Flu and died on October 21.  On November 5, The Oakland Tribune said:

“Charlie Swain, one of the most popular ball players in the history of the game in the West, died here last night, a victim of Spanish Influenza.  Two weeks ago today Charlie’s brother Ira fell victim to the malady.”

Swain was 36-years-old.  The Tribune said:

“Good-bye, Charlie, we’re going to miss that happy smile.”