Tag Archives: St. Louis Browns

“Damndest Hitter I Ever saw, a Born Natural”

10 Sep

After Satchel Paige arrived three hours late for a 1953 interview with Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier, and talked about his family and his expectations for the upcoming season,  Smith asked Paige who were the toughest batters he faced in the American League:

Wendell Smith

“I can’t name ‘em all, but I can tell you some of ‘em. Among the modern players there’s Mickey Mantle, Dale Mitchell, Phil Rizzuto, Larry Doby, and Minnie Minoso.

DiMaggio was tough, too, before he retired. He was sure some hitter. But of all the hitters I ever faced, I think Josh Gibson, who is dead now, was the toughest. You could fool him and before the ball got to te plate, he could get that bat around and hit the ball out of the park. Damndest hitter I ever saw, a born natural.”

Paige wanted to talk to Smith about his own hitting prowess:

“Satchel considers himself a hitter, too. He rates himself right along with the Gibson’s and DiMaggio’s, Doby’s, and Mitchell’s.

“’Only difference,’ he said. ‘I’m not a long ball hitter. Me and Rizzuto hit liners.’”

Paige

Smith asked:

“If a pitcher were smart, what could he throw to a ‘dangerous’ hitter like Satch in a tight ballgame with the winning run on second base?

“’Well, if he was smart,’ Satchel said, thoughtfully ‘he’d curve me. He’s throw all the curves he could think of. That’s my weakness, curves. But he better make ‘em bad. Off the plate. If he throws them in there, over the plate, I’ll jump on ‘em. I jump on curves over the plate. Bing…I hit ‘em on a line over second base, me and Rizzuto.”

Smith pointed out to Paige that:

“(He) hit a ‘mighty’ .205 last season [sic, .128]

”’Shucks,’ he said, “I know a lot of regulars who didn’t hit that good.’”

 Paige was 3-9 with a 3.53 ERA and 11 saves in 57 appearances for the last place, 54-100 St. Louis Browns.  He hit .069.

“I Don’t Know how Long I’m Gonna Last”

8 Sep

Wendell Smith, of The Pittsburgh Courier said:

“Leroy (Satchel) Paige, the pitcher, is one of the few individuals living in this world today who isn’t conscious of the fact that a long time ago someone invented that unique devise popularly known as a clock.”

Paige

The occasion was an interview shortly before spring training in 1953; Paige arrived three hours late:

“Seems as though he had missed the plane in Kansas City, directed the taxi driver to the wrong section of town after his arrival, and then, after reaching his destination, decided it was time to eat.

‘Man’s gotta eat, you know,’ the skinny Methuselah of baseball said as he came through the door. ‘Can’t think on an empty stomach.”

Paige said:

“I don’t know how long I’m gonna last, but as along as I’m around, I’ll enjoy it. I don’t know if I’ll last ten more years, five years, or fail to last out the coming season. But however long it is I’ll enjoy it.”

Paige told Smith he was going to Hot Springs, Arkansas before joining the St. Louis Browns for spring training:

“Although you’d never notice it, I’m fat now. I weigh 207 pounds. When I’m in shape, I weigh about 177.”

He also said he would be healthier in 1953 than he was during his previous major league seasons:



“See, when I came up in 1948, I had stomach trouble. But it’s almost gone now. Course I still have gas and burp a lot, but I feel better. I might win as many as 18 games this year. Bet Bill Veeck would like that.”

Satchel Paige, 1953

Paige had to produce:

“’Ain’t no use kiddin’ myself,’ he said seriously, ‘I gotta make good now. I got me a wife and four children, three girls and a boy.”

Paige’s wife Lahoma had recently given birth to his son Robert:

“’She just had that boy two months ago,’ he said proudly, ‘and you should see him.’

“Does he want his newly born son to be a baseball player? ‘Sure,’ Satchel said, emphatically, ‘course I want him to be a ballplayer. But that seldom happens. When you want your sone to be something, he turned out to be something else,’

“’Know what my son will probably be?’ Because I like fishin’ and huntin’ so much, he’ll probably be a game warden.’ He laughed heartily.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #43

28 May

A Record, 1906

Hall of Fame umpire Tom Connolly claimed to have been part of a record-setting achievement; in 1907 The Washington Star told the story of a game the previous season:

“It is seldom that a game in either of the big leagues is played through with only two balls.”

connoly

Connolly

Connolly said it happened in St. Louis, the Browns were playing the Philadelphia Athletics:

“The first ball put into play by umpire Connolly lasted seven innings, and the game might have been finished with that ball had it not been for a funny accident…a foul tip hit the wire netting that protects the patrons of the grand stand and stuck there.  All efforts to dislodge it were in vain.”

The paper said it was “rather remarkable” given that the grandstand was “only a short distance back of the home plate,” at Sportsman’s Park:

“Tommy Connolly says he believes that two balls for a big league game is pretty nearly a record. How happy the magnates would be if all games could be run through so cheaply.”

Browning’s Honesty, 1887

In 1887, The Louisville Courier Journal said of Pete Browning:

“(He) may have his shortcomings as a ballplayer, but no one has ever questioned his honesty. He never resorts to trickery and always admits the truth when he is declared either safe or out in a close play. Umpires know this. Whenever Pete claims that he has not been touched by the baseman in a close play if can safely be put down that Pete is right.”

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Browning

Browning “seldom makes a kick, but justice is generally on his side when he does.” The Gladiator “won’t tell lies about any play that comes up, no matter whether it be to his advantage or against it.”

“Coacher” Decorum, 1887

The Detroit Free Press did not approve of “coachers,” the paper complained in 1887:

“There is no use having base ball rules if they are not enforced. A coacher has no right to say a word to anyone except a base runner. Imploring the batter to ‘hit her out for three bags,’ is out of order.”

“Piggy Ward, and Rightly Nicknamed is he”

15 May

After his off-season heroics, pulling an Altoona, Pennsylvania man from a fire, Piggy Ward, having been released by the Washington Senators, joined the Scranton Coal Heavers in the Eastern League for the 1895 season; The Scranton Times called him, “a very good man and will be heard from on the lines.”

He quickly became popular with his new club. The Scranton Tribune said:

“(He is) clearly a favorite with the unwashed bleacher—or, with the grandstand, for that matter…He is large bodied, somewhat round shouldered and looks awkward in repose. In action he is one of the quickest on the team and plays and steals bases with a vim and action that is refreshing.”

He hit .357—45 players with at least 200 at bats hit better than .300 that season in the Eastern League—The Sporting News said his manager found a way to get the most out of Ward:

“(Billy) Barnie gave him instructions to be in bed at least two nights a week. A little sleep and less booze and Ward is all right.”

 

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Ward caricature, 1902

His “coaching” did not seem to change, and on several occasions, according to the Scranton newspapers, he was ordered off the field “for offensive coaching.” And he was unpopular in the other league cities.

After Ward was thrown out of a game with the Rochester Browns in the third inning, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said:

“’Piggy’ Ward, and rightly nicknamed is he.”

He was even less liked in Buffalo; The Courier said: “Ward is one of the most offensive coachers extant, and he would gain friends by bottling some of his exuberant flow of nonsense.” While The Enquirer was even less charitable:

“(H)is calliope-like voice is about as musical as a dynamite blast in a stone quarry. He evidently imagines he is pretty all right as a ‘kidder,’ but what he doesn’t know about being funny would fill several large volumes. Altogether as a joker, ‘Piggy’ is a rank, dismal, decided failure.”

The Tribune noted that the second baseman was a bit eccentric in other ways as well:

“Ward has a nondescript practice uniform which is a cross between the scant apparel of a Feeje [sic] islander and the hay-making garb of a farmer. It consists of a white negligee coat cut like a robe de chambre and reaching to the knees, a pair of loose trousers of the same color which reach to the shoe tops, a white cap and a sleeveless undershirt that is open to the waist.”

In 1896, Ward was again in Scranton, and he had vowed in the off season to be in the best shape of his life. In a letter to The Tribune he said he spent the winter “handling a pair of spirited mules,” and expected to report to Scranton weighing 185 pounds, down from his 217 the previous season. The paper said he appeared to have lost 20 pounds from the previous season upon his arrival.

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Piggy Ward

Also, in 1896, his one-man “coacher” show became a two-man show when Arlie Latham, released by the St. Louis Browns in mid May, joined the Coal Heavers. The Springfield (MA) News was one of the rare league newspapers that thought it was good thing:

“With two such comedians…the Scranton team ought to prove a great drawing card on the circuit, The Springfield crowd are anxious for Scranton series here.”

Neither made it through the season, Latham was released July 17, Ward, one month later.  When Ward signed with the Toronto Canadians, The Wilkes Barre Record said:

“Ward is a great batter and base runner. There we quit.”

The Wilkes Barre News said:

“(Ward) is just where he belongs on that gang of Toronto hoodlums.”

Al Buckenberger’s Canadians were considered to be the dirtiest team in the league, The Springfield Union said with the addition of Ward:

“The opponent that gets around first base now without being tripped is lucky to get past Piggy Ward in safety and is sure to be blocked or tripped at third by Jud Smith.”

After the 1896 season, some of the papers in the Eastern League cities suggested rules changes to eliminate Ward’s type of “coaching.” The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said:

“The majority of ‘fans’ take as much delight in lively, witty coaching, such as has made Arlie Latham and Billy Clymer famous…There need not be anything offensive in aggressive work by men on the lines…but all players are not like Clymer (and Latham) and that big beast s like ‘Pig’ Ward make themselves obnoxious by their actions and language when in the coacher’s box.”

The Syracuse Herald suggested adopting a rule “ousting ‘Pig’ Ward and others of his ilk from the game entirely.”

Whether it was an attempt to improve his image or a function of playing on a smaller stage—with his hometown Lancaster Maroons in the Atlantic League and the Mansfield Haymakers in the Interstate League—Ward seemed to stay fairly quiet and avoid controversy among the press in the league cities from 1897 through 1899.

The 5’ 9” Ward seems to have played in his later years at between 220 and 230 pounds from various reports. Frank Rinn, who managed Ward for the three seasons in Lancaster talked to The Hartford Courant about him:

“Although he is heavy and sluggish Piggy has more ginger than a dozen ordinary players. Rinn was telling the other day how hard it was to get Ward to train…He was sent out to coach once and he pulled a cushion out from under his shirt and had a good seat on the ground.”

Ward bounced from no less than eight teams between 1900 and 1905, including playing for John McCloskey again—in 1902 in Pacific Northwest League with the Butte Miners—Ward stayed with the McCloskey for the entire season this time—winning a championship and receiving a gold watch and chain at season’s end for being voted by fans as the team’s most popular player in a promotion for a local jeweler. He also led the league with a .332 batting average; only seven players in the six-team Pacific Northwest circuit hit .300 or better that season.

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Ward and Butte Miners teammate Thomas Kelly in 1903.

The Cincinnati Times Star, still not recovered from his tenure with the Reds nearly a decade earlier said of Ward winning the watch:

“The booby prize was the best Ward could have captured in a similar contest during his stay in this city.”

In 1903, Ward reverted to some of his old ways.  With an already signed contract to return to Butte and a $100 advance in his pocket, he signed a contract and collected a $100 advance from the Portland Browns in the upstart Pacific Coast League. He ended up back in Butte, and when McCloskey left the club to manage the San Francisco Pirates, he told the Butte newspapers that Ward, who was already the team captain, was his choice to succeed him as manager; the club instead named shortstop Billy Kane manager.

When rumors swirled in 1905 that the cash-strapped Pacific National League might cut player salaries, The Spokane Chronicle said Ward tried to form a player’s union chartered by the American Labor Union which was formed in 1898 as the Western Labor Union to create a federation of mine workers. The rumored pay cuts never came, nor did the union.

Ward was reported to have died in January of 1906; the news made all the Philadelphia dallies and several other East Coast papers, and over the next month spread West.  The papers had confused Piggy—Frank G. Ward—with Frank P. Ward, a former amateur player who had died in Newark, N.J.

Ward was seriously injured that same winter when working as an electrician; he was shocked and fell from a pole.

The news of his death—despite being corrected in the papers—and the accident, were enough to make many believe Ward had died. When he traveled to Chicago in August of 1911 for former teammate Charles Comiskey’s birthday, The Chicago Daily News said Comiskey was shocked to see Ward, “whom he thought was dead.”

The not-dead Ward did not play professionally in 1906—the Frank Ward who appeared with the Glens Falls-Saratoga Springs team in the Hudson River League—listed among Ward’s career statistics on Baseball Reference—is a different Frank Wad.

He was hired in 1907 as an umpire in the Northwestern League. The Butte News celebrated the move:

“’Piggy’ promises to be as popular an umpire as he was a player…He is firm, has a good voice, and is known to all the of the Northwest, and President (William Henry) Lucas made a 10-strike when he appointed him  on the league staff.”

He lasted just two games. The Spokane Press said he:

“(B)roke down completely last night. This morning he was almost a nervous wreck. A collection was taken up among the ballplayers and he was sent back to his home in Scranton, Pennsylvania”

The paper said Ward’s wife had suggested he take the position because it might “build him up,” after the electrocution, but the stress was “too much for him.”

Four months after Ward’s reunion with Comiskey, The Pittsburgh Gazette Times said he was “near death,” a pitiable wreck,” suffering from “brain disease,” in an Altoona hospital.

Ten months later, on October 23, 1912, 45-year-old Piggy Ward died. The Altoona Tribune called him “one of the most famous diamond stars in the land,” and said:

“He possessed several expensive pins, a beautiful watch, and other jewelry presented to him by admirers when he was thrilling fandom with his feats.”

“If the Other Fellow got cut you were Glad”

24 Apr

The Detroit News recorded an off season “fanning bee” between Browns manager Jimmy McAleer and Tigers manager Hughie Jennings in 1907:

“’Those were the days when we really hated each other, said Jimmy. ‘Weren’t they Hughie? There was no sitting on the home bench when you went into a town, and there was no handshaking. If the other fellow got cut you were glad, and if you got cut you vowed vengeance. They kind of thought more about winning and less about pay then, didn’t they? Seems that way anyway.’”

mcaleer

Jimmy McAleer

McAleer then moved on to Jennings’ days with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1890s:

“I can remember you fellows to this day coming into the park. And what the crowd used to call you, Chesty? Why, there never lived a crowd more swelled on themselves; you and (John) McGraw and (Willie) Keeler and that bunch. We would give our eye teeth to give you a beating and take the enthusiasm out of you.”

Back to how the game had changed, McAleer talked about Jesse Burkett’s reaction when he joined the Browns after 12 seasons in the National League:

“He sat on the bench beside me. Suddenly he began growling and kicking the dirt.

‘”What in the thunder’s the matter with you?’ I asked

“’Look at ‘um, look at ‘um, he kept saying, ‘handshaking league. Handshaking, look at ‘um.

“He was wild with rage because some of the boys were shaking hands with the visitors.”

Jennings never said a word.

Borrowed Uniforms

20 Apr

Ernest Lanigan, writing in The Cleveland Leader in 1918 said:

“One way a team could be assured a victory in every stop on a trip, would be to lose its uniforms.”

Lanigan said it happened twice in the last four seasons:

“Last season, on their way East, the Saint Louis Cardinals lost their baggage and had to meet the Superbas in clothing for which Charles Hercules Ebbets had paid. The result was a 9 to 2 victory for Jack (manager Jack) Hendrick’s team.”

The Brooklyn Citizen described the June 1, 1918 game:

“The schedule called for a game between the Saint Louis Cardinals and the Robins. But if the fans were just going by the uniforms the players wore, then it was a combat between the HOME and the TRAVELING uniforms of the Brooklyn Baseball Club, for the Cardinals were arrayed in the traveling unies of the Robins.”

Fourteen trunks belonging to the Cardinals failed to make it from Pittsburgh with the team.  The paper said the Cardinals did have to purchase shoes for the team from a local store:

“(Hendricks) had to order 15 pairs of new ones, which will set the club back $210.”

In a borrowed uniform and in new shoes, Red Ames allowed 10 hits, but just two runs, and the Cardinals chased Rube Marquard in the fifth inning—scoring six runs off the Brooklyn starter.

redames

Red Ames

Lanigan said the previous time a team played in their opponents’ uniforms was 1915:

“The Saint Louis Browns reached Detroit minus uniforms and attired in Tiger togs they defeated the Junglemen, 1 to 0.”

Edward A. Batchelor of The Detroit Free Press said of the June 20th game:

“You see it was this way. The St. Louis club’s baggage went astray somewhere between Boston and Detroit and when the Browns arrived, they possessed nothing in the way of baseball equipment except the usual number of arms and legs. Some of them had heads, though this is not considered a requisite in big league ball anymore. They didn’t even have a manager, as Branch Rickey refused to come along. He won’t even look at Sunday ball.

“With true hospitality the Tigers took pity on the forlorn crew and outfitted them completely in the Detroit Road uniforms. They also loaned them gloves and shoes and otherwise contributed to their comfort and convenience.”

Dressed in Detroit uniforms, Batchelor said the Browns “forgot they are tail-enders and imagined they were really the Jungaleers.”

Carl Weilman pitched a four-hit shutout for the seventh place Browns.

weilman

Carl Weilman

Lanigan said one had to go back to 1912 to find a team losing in borrowed uniforms:

“A game which a visiting team did not win when it was compelled to play in the home club’s regalia because of the non-arrival of its baggage took place at the hilltop, in New York on August 12 [sic, August 13]. The Tigers and their baggage parted company in Syracuse and Jennings’ men played in the Yanks’ road uniforms, being beaten 3 to 2.”

Batchelor said in The Free Press:

“A most peculiar combination of circumstances thwarted the well laid plans of Hughie Jennings and kept the fiery siren dumb on the bench in civilian clothes. Detroit’s baggage was misplaced somewhere in Syracuse where an exhibition game was played yesterday. Only the artful hospitality of manager (Harry) Wolverton saved the Jungaleers from forfeit. Wolverton lent the visitors his road uniforms. But had no shoes of guaranteed fit.

“Consequently, the entire invading squad had to go out and purchase new kicks. Winning ballgames in unbroken brogans is no nice business.”

wolverton

Harry Wolverton

Batchelor said the bats loaned to the Tigers were “so full of holes that Jennings’ heavy artillery were able to collect a measly bundle of three hits”

The Tigers scored two runs in the first inning of New York starter Ray Fisher, who was ejected along with Wolverton for arguing a call at first base.  Jack Warhop pitched 8 ½ innings in relief, giving up just two hits in the 3 to 2 victory.

Salaries, 1885

23 Mar

Before the 1885 season, The Pittsburgh Dispatch asserted:

“It was confidently claimed at the close of last season’s play that salaries would not go higher, and if any changes were made they would rather be in the other direction, but recent contracts do not justify that assertion”

The paper then told readers who would be the best paid players in baseball:

“The highest salaried ballplayer in the profession for 1885 will be James O’Rourke, late of the Buffalo team. After receiving flattering offers from the Cleveland, Boston, Detroit, Providence, St. Louis, and Athletic clubs he finally signed in New York for $6500.”

o'r

Jim O’Rourke

The Spalding Guide placed his salary at $4500.

The paper said Tony Mullane had signed with the Browns for $3500 with a $500 advance from owner Chris von der Ahe; Mullane would also “sign” with Cincinnati which drew him a suspension for the entire 1885 season:

“(Mullane) went before a notary and entered into an agreement with the St. Louis club…The Cincinnati managers offered him $5000 for this season’s work with $2000 advance money, and the great flopper flopped.”

Other salaries reported by The Dispatch differed with the Spalding Guide:

“(John Montgomery) Ward of the New York League team gets $3400 next year ($3000), and Buck Ewing $3000 ($3100).”

jmward

John Montgomery Ward

The paper claimed that Old Hoss Radbourn, who was reported to have made $4000 for the 1885 season, “had an offer of $6000 for his services,” but did not say who had made the offer,

Louisville’s Guy Hecker, Cincinnati’s Pop Snyder, Buffalo’s Pud Galvin, Pittsburgh’s Ed Morris; Barney Gilligan of Providence, and John Morrill and Jack Burdock of Boston were are to receive $2500 according to The Dispatch.

Cap Anson was to receive $3000 in Chicago; Frank Mountain, acquired by Pittsburgh with the rest of his Columbus Buckeye teammates after that club folded, was said to have been signed for $3300 for the 1885 season.

Sam Barkley of St. Louis, Joe Gerhardt of New York, Charlie Bastian of Philadelphia, and Jim Manning and Mert Hackett of Boston “and several more players will receive $2000, while the number receiving $1500 and upward are entirely too numerous to mention.”

sambarkley2

Sam Barkley

The Dispatch concluded:

“From the above figures it would seem that, instead of decreasing, the salaries of good players are going higher and higher each season.”

“The most Aggravating Pitcher”

13 Jan

Louis Lee Arms, writing for The St. Louis Star in 1913, like many of his contemporaries, presaged the pitch clock when reporting on the ace of the Philadelphia Athletics pitching staff:

“The next time Eddie Plank pitches at American League Park many fans who desire to get home approximately during the same month that they started for the ball yard, so that their friends may not think they have been upon a European tour or some other long vacation, will forego the pleasure of watching even such  a brilliant baseball scientist as Plank in action.”

Arms called Plank “the most aggravating pitcher” in the league.

plank.jpg

“He draws himself within himself after the fashion of a mud turtle once he finds himself in a pinch and there is nothing but the shell.”

Arms said in his last start against St. Louis, Plank “consumed from thirty to sixty seconds” between each pitch:

“Plank’s reasoning is obvious. He figures that wit a man in the batting box anxious to hit, the longer he hesitates in throwing the ball the more perturbed and overwrought becomes the batsman, with the result that he cannot hit normally, highly psychological as anyone can see.”

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Plank

Arms described Plank’s routine after a pitch:

“Receive the ball from the catcher.

Then drop it.

Rub dust on it.

Expectorate upon the glove.

Rub the ball vigorously upon the glove.

Turn and talk in an animated way to Eddie Collins.

Step upon the pitching slab facing the catcher.

Nod dissent to several signals.

Expectorate again upon the glove.

Nod an assent to the signal of the catcher.

Back off the pitching slab.

Pluck several blades of glass.

Walk up to it again.

Turn and gaze about the ball field to see that the outfield is properly placed.

Wave one outfielder into position

Make a sarcastic remark to the umpire.

Make ready to pitch.

Consume five seconds in looking steadfastly at the ground.

Pitch.”

Arms concluded:

“Exaggeration Not a bit of it. This is exactly what Plank did on several occasions Monday in the first and second innings when he was in a pinch.”

Plank slowly won 18 games and one more in the World Series for the World Champion Athletics.

When he died 13 years later, Umpire Billy Evans said of Plank’s routine:

“No pitcher in the history of the game ever kept the batter or umpire as much on edge.”

Happy Labor Day—the Oberbeck Case

2 Sep

Henry Oberbeck is barely a footnote in baseball history—he appeared in 66 American Association and Union Association games in 1883 and 1884, hitting just .176—but he scored a rare, early victory for the rights of players.

Henry Oberbeck

Henry Oberbeck

 

In 1883, after appearing in just two games with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, Oberbeck was released and signed with the Peoria Reds in the Northwestern League.

No records survive for Oberbeck’s time in Peoria, but the outfielder caught the eye of St. Louis Browns owner Chris von der Ahe, and the St. Louis native jumped his contract with Peoria to sign with the Browns on May 24.

Chris von der Ahe

Chris von der Ahe

Oberbeck’s short tenure with St. Louis was unimpressive.  He played four games and was hitless in 14 at-bats.  The Browns released him on June 23.

He found himself out of a job in the American Association and was unable to return to Peoria because he had been blackballed by the Northwestern League.

Oberbeck filed a lawsuit in St. Louis claiming the Browns owed him the entire amount of his contract –$785.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the “case is regarded as a test,” and is “being fought very earnestly.”

The March 1884 trial included testimony from  Overbeck’s teammates, catcher/outfielder Tom Dolan and pitcher George “Jumbo” McGinnis.  Dolan, a .204 lifetime hitter whose .214 average lowest among the Browns 1883 regulars testified that Oberbeck was a poor hitter who “hit wind nearly every time.”  McGinnis also said Overbeck deserved to be released.

Despite the testimony of his teammates, the jury found in favor of Oberbeck and ordered the Browns to pay him $431.12—although most newspapers incorrectly reported the amount paid as $738.

The press assumed the decision would have a lasting impact.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“The case is one of interest to base ball players, inasmuch as it proves that the contracts are binding upon the part of the club as well as the player.”

Oberbeck was signed by the Baltimore Monuments of the Union Association for 1884, and played a total of 60 games for Baltimore and the Kansas City Cowboys that season—he hit .186 as an outfielder/first baseman and was 0-5 in six appearances as a pitcher.

The Browns appealed the case and lost, but by the time the appellate court upheld the original decision in Henry Oberbeck v. Sportsman’s Park and Club Association in April of 1885, Oberbeck’s victory for the rights of baseball players was already largely forgotten.

In 1885, The Post-Dispatch said Oberbeck had been reinstated by the Northwestern League, although there is no record of his ever having returned to the league.   The Youngstown Vindicator said he had signed with that city’s team in the Interstate league for 1885 season.

No statistics survive for Oberbeck after 1884, and his groundbreaking role in baseball’s labor movement is all but forgotten.

He returned to St. Louis after his career and worked for the post office until his death from cancer in 1921.

“The only Great Game in the Country”

7 Aug

Smiling Mickey Welch spent his post-baseball years operating various businesses in Holyoke, Massachusetts, but visited Boston and New York often—until he eventually moved back to New York.

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Welch

In 1908, Welch, “one of the most famous pitchers of half a generation ago,” talked to Tim Murnane, the baseball writer for The Boston Globe, on a trip to visit his former teammate Tim Keefe in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

“’It certainly seems to me,’ said Welch a few days ago, ‘That the players of today have nothing over the stars of the past. I’m not at all prejudiced and I believe that I am at least fairly competent to judge, as I have kept right up with the many changes that have been made since I left the business.”

Murnane said of Welch:

“Mickey finished his career in the baseball world 15 years ago [sic, 16], but he still retains his deep interest in the great national game, and each season always plans to come to Boston or to go to New York to watch the work of the present-day players and compare them with those of his time, when by his superb work in the pitcher’s box he assisted in winning a couple of pennants and world championships for Gotham.”

Welch, who had just sold his salon in Holyoke, “to engage in the milk business with his oldest son, Frank,” asked Murnane:

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Welch, with wife Mary and seven of the couple’s nine children

“Where, for instance, is there today any greater baseball player than Buck Ewing was? Ah, he was the greatest of ‘em all—indeed the grandest that the game has ever known. Universally acknowledged by all followers of the sport as the king of catchers, he also shone in other departments, for he was a hard natural hitter, could run bases with the top-notchers and could play any of the infield or outfield positions as well as any of the regulars holding down those berths.”

Welch said he and Ewing—who died in October of 1906–were “the warmest of friends for years and that friendship dated from the days when as a member of the Troy team, I first became acquainted with him while he was with the Rochester club (in 1880).”

Welch said from the day Ewing joined Troy later that season and after they went to New York together when the Trojans disbanded after the 1882 season:

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Ewing

“Buck and I were chums and for all that time used to room together.”

Murnane said that Welch, who “always made it a point to take the very best care of himself,” was in “as splendid condition,” as he was when he pitched:

“One of his favorite hobbies is walking, and on every pleasant day in the fall and winter he and Jack Doyle, also a famous old-time ball tosser, may be seen setting from the Welch home to take a jaunt to Mt. Tom, which is between Holyoke and the neighboring town of Northampton.”

Some nights Murnane said the two went out in the evening and “they sit for hours and talk over the good old days when they were players of mark in the fastest company.”

After all of those talks with Doyle about their days in baseball, he maintained:

“I’m throwing no bouquets at myself but have there ever been any better pitchers than Tim Keefe, John Clarkson and Charlie Radbourn? I say ‘no’ emphatically. Then look at the rest. Dan Brouthers has never been excelled as a batsman and I don’t believe he ever will be. He could land a ball farther and with less apparent effort than any ballplayer that ever swung a bat. I faced him many a time and I could never discover that he had any weakness.

“(Cap) Anson was also a fine hitter, as were Deacon White, Hardy Richardson, Jim O’Rourke, Mike Tiernan, (Ed) Delahanty, and George Gore, to say nothing of a dozen more whom I might mention. Jerry Denny has never been excelled as a third baseman, and Johnny Ward is the headiest man that has ever played shortstop. ‘Dickie’ Johnston, pride of Boston for years, and Curt Welch of the old St. Louis Browns and (Jimmy) McAleer of the Clevelands were easily the most brilliant outfielders of the past.”

Welch also believed “the best club in the history of the game,’ were the 1888 and 1889 Giants—Welch was 26-19 1.93 in ’88 and 27-12 3.02 in 1889 for those New York teams.

“Buck Ewing was the captain, and a magnificent one he was too. Buck used to catch nearly all of the games.”

Welch said of the team:

“We won the pennant rather easily in the National League in ’88, and fully as easily beat out the St. Louis Browns for the world’s flag. But the next season of ’89, we had to go some right up to the very last notch to pull away from the Bostons in the National League, the championship not being decided until the final day of the season when we won in Indianapolis while the Bostons lost in Pittsburgh. Then we met the Brooklyns, champions of the American Association. In a series of nine games, we won five”

Welch got two details wrong; while 1889 was the first pennant decided on the season’s final day and Boston did lose to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, the Giants beat the Cleveland Spiders that day; also, in the series the Giants won six of the nine games with Brooklyn.

Welch vowed to Murnane, “I shall never lose my interest,” in “the only great game in the country.”