Tag Archives: Spike Shannon

“I was Weak as a cat. Then I Began to Feel Old-time Form”

18 Apr

When Rube Waddell signed with his final team, the Virginia (MN) Ore Diggers of the Northern League, a reporter from The Duluth News-Tribune tracked him down at the team’s hotel in Duluth:

“’I am just as good as when Connie Mack found me.’

“Thus spoke George Edward Waddell, better known as Rube in the world of peanut eaters, pop drinkers and umpire roasters, as he sat in a big leather arm chair in the Hotel Lenox lobby.  The reporter had trouble spotting the former star slab-man of the Athletics, who is now a full-fledged member of Spike Shannon’s Virginia Ore Diggers.  A glance at the hotel register disclosed the name ‘G. E. Waddell.’ Then a careful survey of the rainy-day loungers discovered a big, lanky individual, the center of an admiring group, unrolling tales of the diamond between puffs of a perfectly good cigarette.

“When he learned the newspaper’s mission, the Rube waved the others away gently to one side, enclosed our mitt in his big and famous left lunch hook, and began a rapid-fire discourse.

with a jitney in the pot.  Say, I have had two attacks of pneumonia and blood poison all within three months!’  And the big fellow fished out another pill and lighted it from the stump of the late departed one.”

rubesigningorediggers

Cartoon of Waddell that appeared with the original story

Waddell’s first game with Virginia was rained out:

“’Gee, I am sorry it rained and spoiled the game, but I was in hopes it would clear up so I could try my new fishing tackle.  I hear this is a great country for fishing, and believe me; I am going to find out how the steams around here will produce.  But I guess I will try my skill at pool this afternoon.  I can beat them all at pool.  I am going down to the bowling alley before I leave this town and show up a few of the local cracks, too.

Waddell told the paper he was surprised to have been sent to the Northern League by the Minneapolis Millers’ Joe and Mike Cantillon in the spring:

“’I was weak as a cat.  Then I began to feel old-time form and I said:’

“’Mike, I’m ready to join the club.’

“’Why, you belong to the Northern League,’ he told me, ‘Now what do you think of that?’ ‘Had the contract all signed up and didn’t say anything to me.  It made me pretty sore.  Everyone got the impression that I was going back.  There is nothing to it.  My arm is in good shape and I can pitch just as good a game as any of the big fellows today.  Why, I had offers from every Federal League club in the country.”

rube

Rube Waddell

Waddell said he was excited about the future of the Northern League:

“There is a great opportunity for the Northern League.  The clubs are playing good baseball.  Well, I am contented, and I am going to like it fine. I have known Spike Shannon for years.  Well, I am off now to play pool.’”

The paper predicted:

“Waddell will be a big drawing card in the Northern League.  That is certain—if he stays here.”

Waddell only stayed another five weeks, he pitched his last professional game on June 28; he was dead the following April.

“Rube was a Jester, Baseball’s First and Only”

16 Apr

In 1914, Roy J. Dunlap was a reporter for The St. Paul Pioneer Press.  He had come to the paper the previous year from The Duluth News-Tribune where he covered baseball and served as official scorer for the Duluth White Sox in the Northern League.

Shortly after Rude Waddell’s death on April 1, 1914, Dunlap told readers about the final game Waddell appeared in as a pro July 3, 1913 (In his original version, Dunlap said the game was played on June 28, but The Virginia Enterprise and other papers confirm the game was played on the 28th).  Waddell was pitching the Virginia (MN) Ore Diggers against the White Sox.

“Waddell made millions of dollars—for the club owners.  His big, jolly nature never permitted him to turn his jesting to his own pecuniary benefit.  For Rube was a jester, baseball’s first and only.  Beside him Germany Schaefer and Nick Altrock are only superclowns.”

rube

Rube

Dunlap said of Waddell’s final game:

“Those 2,000 or more fans who sat on the bleachers or in the grand stand and doubled up with laughter at the jester’s antics probably never will forget that eventful day.  Perhaps Rube knew it would be his last fling.  The more one thinks of his work in the twelve grueling innings the more he is impressed that Rube felt the intuition of an invisible fate.  Rube ever has been fate’s plaything. Fate molded him into a jester, and has criss-crossed his eventful life since.

“Rube admitted it.  He never could explain why he went fishing the day he was scheduled to pitch while fans called for him and irate managers scoured his old haunts, gnashing their teeth; he never could explain why he went to a fire in the midst of an exciting game or why he rescued drowning men from the bottom of a lake.

“Rube’s last year in baseball was filled with misfortune.  He was stricken with a fever in the training camp at Minneapolis American Association team at Hickman (Kentucky, where Waddle came down with pneumonia after helping to the save the city from a devastating flood) and was not in shape to pitch at the opening of the season.”

Waddell began the 1913 season with the “Little Millers,” the Minneapolis club in the Northern League, and as Dunlap put it:

“The old listless, wandering spirit nature seemed to grip him and he became careless.”

rube

Rube Waddell

Waddell was released by Minneapolis, then:

Spike Shannon…manager for the Virginia team, which was in last place, put in a bid for Rube.  Probably Shannon figured him from a gate standpoint.  His team was a poor attraction because of its cellar position almost from the start.  If that were his motive he made a shrewd move.  Rube Waddell was a drawing card and this power he held until the last.

“Waddell joined the Virginians at Duluth one rainy day early in June.  He was still suffering from a ‘game’ leg, although it was on the mend, and he was able to be in a game once in awhile.”

Then, said Dunlap, Waddell disappeared:

“Shannon knew where he was, but beyond an evasive answer he would shed no light on Rube’s whereabouts.

“The team traveled about the circuit and the fans called for Rube, but Rube was not there.  Then one day, press dispatches carried a thrilling story, and the secret was no more.”

Dunlap here claimed while Waddell was away from the team “camping” he saved two men from drowning—the story likely a conflation of the oft told story of Rube saving a woman from drowning, and his role in recovering the body of a drown man in Tower, Minnesota on July 9, 1913, The Associated Press said Waddell recovered the body, “after several good swimmers had failed.”

At some point in late June, Waddell rejoined the team, pitched and played outfield, and was scheduled to pitch June 28:

“Waddell was advertised to pitch the first game.  The curious fans filled the grand stands and bleachers.  When the big fellow stepped out to warm up he was cheered to an echo.  But underneath it all there was a note of sadness.  None could help recalling his career.  They saw, in their imagination, Rube Waddell standing in the pitcher’s box at Shibe Park, Philadelphia.  They saw him in the height of glory striking out man after man, and heard again the plaudits of the fans.  Then in reality they saw him in a minor league, one of the newest and greenest in organized baseball and Waddell was pitching for the tail enders.

“Waddell had the art of jesting down to a fine point.  He never displayed it to a better advantage than that day.  He knew when to pull the funny stuff and when to tighten.  He did his best to win that game because he knew the crowd expected it.  But he was pitching against a youngster (Harry “Pecky” Rhoades) who was hitting his best stride, and it was youth against ill health and stiffened joints.  Duluth won the game 2 to 1.  Rube fanned 12, but his team did not give him the slugging support.  His opponent struck out 17 Virginians.”

peckyrhoades

Pecky Rhoades

Dunlap continued his story, telling the story of how Rube began the game:

“Rube walked to the plate, keeping step to the hand clapping of the crowd.  He surveyed carefully the pitcher’s box, gave his outfield a careful glance, turned, bowed to the crowd, motioned to the batter to get closer to the plate and put over the first pitched ball-a strike.  The catcher returned the ball, but Rube’s back was turned.  He was looking at something out in centerfield.  The fans shouted but he never looked around.  Suddenly he made a quick step, his face still turned away, put his hand behind his back and caught the ball.

“He retired the batter in short order on strikes.  Rube smiled.”

Both The Duluth News-Tribune and The Virginia Enterprise reported the same score and strike out totals the day after the game, The News-Tribune called the game “One of the great pitching duels seen here.”

Said Dunlap of Waddell’s death:

“Before the end he sent out a little message.  He said in it a few words, but it was a sermon.  Had this commandment been followed by the author the name of Rube Waddell might have been with that of Mathewson today, and fans would be speculating on when he would be too old to pitch.

“This is the sermon-message:

“Tell the boys to cut out the booze and cigarettes.”

“This Fellow has about as much Judgment of Balls and Strikes as a Six-year-old Kid”

10 Sep

Umpire baiting was an art form for managers like John McGraw.  In 1906 Tim Murnane wrote in The Boston Globe about the way McGraw, and his players, intimidated a first-year umpire named John Conway during a game between the New York Giants and Boston Beaneaters.

On May 1 the Giants had defeated the Beaneaters 7 to 5, and according to Murnane:

“I was very much interested with the tactics of the Giants in a game here, when they found the clever Irvin Young in the box, and knew it would take extra work to defeat the local team.

“Umpire Conway was behind the bat in this game, and the New York boys went after the young umpire from the first ball pitched until the last man went out.  Conway was consistently giving Young the small end of the decisions on balls and strikes, and yet the New York men tried to make it appear that he was giving them a terrible roast.  The Giants worked like sailors, never letting up;  in fact, their good work with the stick and on the bases was commendable in every way, and what they were saying to the umpire could only be heard in the front seats, and perhaps that was a good thing for the game.”

Tim Murnane

Tim Murnane

Murnane said the actions of the Giants were reminiscent of those of McGraw and other members of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1890s, but “this time it was umpire and not their fellow players,” who were the target:

“As each man passed the umpire they would make some remark, until finally (Dan) McGann, (Roger) Bresnahan and McGraw were put out of the grounds by Conway.  Note the four names, all of Celtic origin, every man out for a salary, the umpire doing his best to please, and doing it certainly in a fair way to the visitors, and yet the trio must be doing something for effect, perhaps to give the umpire something to think of when he went to New York, or perhaps to affect his work in the next game.  There was an object in the uncalled-for nagging.  The result was that Pitcher Young was actually affected, and put up a weak all-round game as the contest went along, the Giants finally winning out as a result of his poor work.”

The Giants doubled-down on their harassment of Conway after the game was over.  Murnane said Fred Knowles, the Giants Secretary,

“(I)nformed me that the New York players complained of Conway’s breath, saying that he had been drinking and was under the influence of liquor during the game.  What are the honest facts?  A friend of mine at the same hotel with Conway and Bob Emslie (the other umpire) told me that he was with the umpires the night before, as well as that morning, and heard them refuse to take a drink of any kind.  I was speaking to Conway just before the game, and took pains to note if he had been drinking, and I can say positively that he had not.”

Murnane’s comments are curious, given that he said Knowles informed him of the accusation after the game, yet he claims he “took pains” to confirm whether Conway was drinking before the game began.

“Now, doesn’t it seem unfair to pass around cold-blooded lies about an umpire doing his duty, to a management who naturally listens to stories of this kind, and then tries to make it easy for players?  I could forgive every act of the New York men, as they are out for blood, and are fine ballplayers, but I must pass up players who will try to harm a good, honest fellow, for Conway is a good umpire and had the nerve to pick the big fellows out, and no two men in the business need the call-downs that McGann and Bresnahan do.”

Murnane’s Boston colleague, Jacob Charles Morse of The Herald, called the Giants actions “reprehensible,” but said the umpire was partially to blame:

“Had Conway started in at the very first a lot of trouble might have been obviated, but it was not until he had allowed the New Yorks to kick at strikes and decisions, to leave their places, something strictly forbidden by the rules, and to bellow like bulls.  Bresnahan could be heard all over the field telling the umpire to ‘get out.’  Early in the game a bunch gathered around the umpire without the least expostulation, and went back to their places when the seemingly felt like it.”

Despite McGraw, McGann and Bresnahan receiving three-game suspensions for their actions, Morse said “The penalty imposed for the actions of the individuals was ridiculously light; not at all commensurate with the gravity of the offense.”

Things did not get any easier for Conway.

He had another run-in with the Giants at the end of June which resulted in another McGraw ejection.

He was also assaulted by two different St. Louis Cardinals; William “Spike” Shannon in June, and Mike Grady in August.  The August incident, during a game in Boston, required police to escort Conway from the field and resulted in a three game suspension for Grady.

Mike Grady had two altercations with Conway

Mike Grady had two altercations with Conway

After a second incident with Grady; this time in Pittsburgh on September 4, The Pittsburgh Press took the side of the Cardinals catcher, and harshly criticised Conway:

 “Umpire Conway officiated the game at Exposition Park yesterday afternoon.  To be more exact, a man named Conway attempted to imitate a real umpire, but the attempt was a failure…this fellow has about as much judgment of balls and strikes as a six-year-old kid, and he makes some of the weirdest mistakes ever seen.  To make matters worse, Conway thinks he is funny and laughs at his poor decisions…The Press never condones umpire baiting, but Conway called one strike on Grady that was not within two feet of the plate, and it is little wonder indeed that Michael was exasperated.

“It is to be hoped that Conway’s career as an umpire in the National League will end with the present season.  There are a score more competent men umpiring in the minor leagues today.  Conway is not fit for the position he occupies.  He takes trouble with him wherever he goes, owing to his inefficiency.”

National League President Harry Pulliam apparently agreed; Conway was not retained for the 1907 season.

He joined the Eastern League in 1907, but trouble continued to follow him.  In June he was assaulted by Toronto Maple Leafs second baseman Tim Flood—which resulted in Flood serving 10 days in jail.

Tim Flood

Tim Flood

 

Less than a week later, after the Jersey City Skeeters scored a run in the ninth inning to beat the Newark Sailors 2 to 1, Conway was attacked by fans in Newark’s Wiedenmayer Park.  The New York Times said:

 “A mob waited after the game until Umpire Conway left the dressing room on the grounds for the train, and when he appeared in the street the mob hooted, hissed and threw mud at him.”

He was escorted to the train station by “a squad of policemen.”

Just weeks into the 1908 season Conway decided he had enough, and resigned.  The Sporting Life said he “quit umpiring to go into business.”

Conway never worked a professional game again, although he worked several Ivy League games before giving it up all together in 1910.  He died in Massachusetts in 1932–the same year McGraw, too ill to continue baiting umpires, resigned as manager of the Giants.