Tag Archives: Springfield Ponies

“The Man who Lives in the Santa Claus House””

23 Dec

Walter Sydney Woods earned his nickname “Sunday School Pitcher” because he never played a game on Sunday throughout his 20-year professional career.

Woods also played lacrosse, football, basketball and tennis and was considered one of the best athletes in New Hampshire when he chose to enter professional baseball with Portland in the New England League in 1895.

In 1897, he won 17 games for the Springfield Ponies in the Eastern League and was drafted by the Chicago Orphans.

When Woods arrived in Chicago, it was assumed he’d give up his pledge not to play on Sunday, but he quickly made it clear that he would quit first.  The Sporting Life said:

“Walter Woods, Chicago’s model man, will not play Sunday ball either at home or on the road.  The conscientious youngster who neither smokes, drinks nor swears, also has scruples against participating in games on the Sabbath. He will thus be a standing reproach to all the other members of the Chicago Club”

Woods pitched and played infield and outfield for Chicago, going 9-13 and hitting only .175.  He was traded to the Louisville Colonels the following season and posted an identical pitching record, although The Sporting Life said in July:

“Walter Woods is an unlucky pitcher.  Though pitching finely he has won but two games out of his last eight.”

Woods went to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900 but was released in April.  He spent the next 14 season playing for a variety of teams in the Eastern and New York State Leagues, exclusively as a position player after 1902.

Walter Woods, 1899 Louisville Colonels

Walter Woods, 1899 Louisville Colonels

Woods also coached baseball at the University of New Hampshire from 1897-99 and at Dartmouth from 1912-1915 and played semi-pro football during the winter.  After baseball, he went to work for the US Postal Service.

But to a generation of kids in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, none of that mattered.  At Christmas every year, he was known as “Jolly Wally Woods-the man who lives in the Santa Claus house.”

For about 15 years until his death, kids would line up in front of Woods’ house one day about a week before Christmas and wait for him to appear in an attic window dressed as Santa Claus.  Woods would lower baskets of candy and toys down to the children with a rope, and then on Christmas morning, he was back in the suit with presents for all the neighborhood kids.

Wally Woods

Wally Woods

The “Sunday School Pitcher” died in Portsmouth in 1951.

Jimmy Rogers

16 Sep

In January of 1897 owner Barney Dreyfuss and the directors of the Louisville, Colonels met to determine the future of the club.  The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“The most important meeting in the history of the Louisville Base-ball club was held last night at the Louisville Hotel.  It was marked by more liberality than had been shown by the club during all the years since it became a member of the big league.”

No one was surprised that Dreyfuss’ protégé, team secretary Harry Clay Pulliam was named team president, nor was it surprising that Charles Dehler was retained as vice president.

But no one had predicted the Colonel’s choice to replace Bill McGunnigle as manager.

McGunnigle had succeeded John McCloskey, and the two combined for a 38-93 record and a twelfth place finish.

James F. “Jimmy” Rogers would be a first-time manager; three months short of his 25th birthday and only 110 games into his major league career.  The Courier-Journal knew so little about the new manager that the paper got his age and place of birth wrong, and also reported incorrectly that he had minor league managerial experience.

While he had only played 72 games with Louisville in 1896 and only 60 at first base, The Courier-Journal called Rogers “the best first baseman the Colonels ever had.”  Even so, the paper acknowledged that “as a manager he is yet to be tried.”

Just why was he the right man to manage the team?

“One of the chief reasons Rogers was selected was that he is sober.”

Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy Rogers

Despite being “the best first baseman the Colonels ever had,” Rogers opened the season as the team’s starting second baseman; thirty-five-year-old minor league home run king Perry Werden, acquired from the Minneapolis Millers of the Western League played first base for Louisville.

The team won five of their first seven games, and then went 12-22 through June 16 when Rogers was fired as manager and released; he was hitting .144 and made 16 errors in forty games at second base.

Rogers was replaced as manager by Fred Clarke; the future Hall of Famer was two weeks shy of his 24th birthday.

The Cincinnati Post said the outgoing manager was not only to blame for the team’s poor performance but also for center fielder Ollie Pickering’s slump; Pickering hit .303 after joining Louisville in August of 1896 but was hitting .243 on the day Rogers was let go:

“The claim is made that Jimmy Rogers is responsible for the decline of Pickering.  The Virginian created a sensation last fall, but “Manager Jimmy” tacked the title “Rube” to Pick, and it broke his heart.”

Ollie "Rube" Pickering

Ollie “Rube” Pickering

Pickering was released in July, signed with the Cleveland Spiders, and apparently recovered from his broken heart, hitting .352 in 46 games for Cleveland.

Rogers would never play another major league game.  He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates the day after Louisville released him, but became ill with the flu and never played for them.  A month later he joined the Springfield Ponies in the Eastern League and finished the season with them.  Rogers played for East Coast minor league teams until in August of 1899 when he became ill while playing with the Norwich Witches in the Connecticut League.

In January of 1900, Rogers died at age 27.  Two different explanations for his death appear in various newspapers; both may be wrong.  The Courier-Journal and several other newspapers said his death was the result of the lingering effects of “being struck on the head by a pitched ball several years ago while playing in the National League.”

The New Haven (CT) Register repeated the story about Rogers being hit by a pitch, and said that while that injury contributed to his death, he had died of Bright’s disease—a kidney ailment now referred to as nephritis.

Rogers’ Connecticut death certificate listed the cause of death as a bacterial inflammation of the brain.