Tag Archives: St. Louis Browns

One Minute Talk: Lee Fohl

26 Oct

Cleveland Indians manager Lee Fohl, who played just five big league games, was against star players becoming managers:

“Most star players recently appointed manager have no knowledge of how to handle men, in fact, are poorly equipped for their task.  Many a minor league manager who has toiled for years unnoticed in bush circuits could show them cards and spades and beat them at their own game.

Lee Fohl

Lee Fohl

“There is a natural aptitude for managing just as there is for playing.  If I were an owner I would sooner entrust my club to the care of a man who has had experience in handling men, whether in the minors or otherwise, than to any high-priced otherwise inexperienced star player on the circuit.”

Fohl managed the Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Boston Red Sox for 11 seasons; his teams were 713-792.

One Minute Talk: Tubby Spencer

22 Sep

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Edward “Tubby” Spencer, Detroit Tigers catcher:

“Most ballplayers can tell you to a fraction just what their batting average is any time you ask them.  I can’t, though.  In fact, I don’t know what my average was in any year that I was in the majors.

“When I was with St. Louis and Boston I never bothered about my hitting.  I tried to drive in runs when I got a chance, of course, but I wasn’t figuring on a base hit or my average.

“Now that I’ve got some sense it’s different.  I want those blows as much as anyone.  I’m going to try to get them.  No more fooling for Tubby.  I only wish I had started sooner.”

Tubby Spencer

Tubby Spencer

Spencer, in his first six major league seasons, from 1905-1909, and 1911 With the St. Louis Browns,  Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, hit just .214.

In 1916, when there was “No more fooling for Tubby,” he hit .370 in 54 at-bats for the Tigers.  Spencer apparently reverted to his old form after that, hitting .240 and .219 in  his final two major league seasons.

A Cricketer on Baseball

6 Jun

Spencer Thomas Oldham was born in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, England—what the “The American Cricketer” called “that famous nursery of cricketers.”  By 1883 he had been playing professionally in the United States for a decade, and The Associated Press called him “One of the best-known cricket players in the country.”

cricket

Cricket Match, 1800s

That year, The Baltimore Sun, which said of Oldham, “(H)is accent is strong, his views are decided and he comes from a village where seventy-two professional bowlers may be found, ” asked him for his opinion of baseball.  He had just seen his first game in August when the St. Louis Browns played the Orioles.

“It was a sight, such throwing and catching and fielding, I never saw the like before.  The tall fellow on the first base of the St. Louis (Charles Comiskey) could catch anything.  We can’t work together that way in cricket.  The ball is too big, hard and heavy.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

And, he was asked, if he noticed the curveball thrown by Baltimore pitcher Bob Emslie:

“’Aye, did I?’ was the reply. ‘I was sitting just in line with the pitcher and catcher.  That fellow Emslie was a terror.  I saw the balls break in the air without touching the ground.  They just curved around and fooled the batters that funny.’”

Bob Emslie

Bob Emslie

So impressed was Oldham, he claimed he saw a pitch “start straight, shoot down and then up again.”   And he was unsure how anyone was able to hit “with the broomstick handles they use.”

But asked to compare the two games, Oldham refused.

“It’s different altogether.”

Oldham said most people didn’t understand the scientific nature of his sport:

“The feature of cricket is batting.  Fielding, of course, is necessary, but a good batter is of more use than a good fielder.  A bowler’s object is to get your wicket down.  You try to keep him from doing it.  The balls you see coming on your wicket you block by bringing your bat down to the ground. The balls that you know are off your wicket you must hit for all you are worth…The power of attack is smaller than the power of defense, and therefore runs are plentiful.  Now in baseball, it seems just the other way.  A man who makes two runs is doing good business.  Errors are therefore more costly and good hits more praiseworthy.”

He also implied that Americans were too impatient to appreciate cricket:

“It takes all day to play a game of cricket.  Two hours and a half suffice for a game of baseball.”

Oldham thought some professional baseball players might be able to play cricket, but it wouldn’t be easy to make the transition:

“Well, the fielding is the same, but when he goes to the bat he must unlearn all his baseball tactics and learn how to cut, drive, stop, hit to leg or off to side…I wish some of those (baseball) players would devote the time and study they give to baseball to cricket.”

While never conceding that baseball was superior, or even equal to his game, Oldham concluded:

“Baseball—well, baseball is a splendid game.  I’d like to see some more of it.  I would learn some points from it.”

Buttons Briggs

3 Jun

Chicago Tribune sportswriter Hugh Fullerton claimed pitcher Herbert “Buttons” Briggs became a member of Cap Anson’s Chicago Colts as a 20-year-old in 1896 because as a 19-year-old he struck Anson out three times when the Colts visited Little Rock in April of 1895.

Buttons Briggs

Buttons Briggs

Like many of Fullerton’s stories, there was probably some embellishment; the box score from the game in question shows that Briggs only struck out two batters and was hit fairly hard—but he did make some kind of an impression and was signed by Anson.

Fullerton said Briggs was cocky when he joined the club and seemed to back it up in his first game, a 3 to 1 victory over the St. Louis Browns.  But, said Fullerton, Briggs learned some humility that day, courtesy of a veteran umpire:

“Briggs stood high in Anson’s estimation and Anson wanted to pitch him (in the season’s second series)…Briggs was fast, he had a speedy outcurve and a fast high one—but he was wild and some of the others didn’t want him to pitch.  But Briggs pitched.  He was chock-full of self confidence and freshness in those days, and all leagues looked alike to him.

“He wound up into a knot, whirled and shot the first ball across the heart of the plate, waist high, and so fast the catcher didn’t even see it.

“Before the ball fairly splashed into (Malachi) Kittridge’s mitt, Briggs with his arm still extended yelled ‘How’s that?’

“(Jack Sheridan) who was umpiring looked the youngster over from head to foot and then remarked calmly ‘Under the circumstances that is a ball. Had you not asked me it would have been a strike.’”

Jack Sheridan

Jack Sheridan

Fullerton claimed that incident brought Briggs down to earth, and he never “kicked” to umpires as a result.

Briggs struggled for three years with the Colts—he was 17-28 with a 4.85 ERA before being sent to the Western League in July of 1898.  After five minor league seasons he returned to Chicago and was 19-11 with a 2.05 ERA as a 2.05 ERA.  He was 8-8 with a 2.14 ERA in 1905 and was traded to the Brooklyn Superbas in the deal that brought Jimmy Sheckard to the Cubs.

Perhaps not completely broken of his early cockiness, Briggs refused to play for Brooklyn and jumped to an outlaw team in Ohio.  He never played in the major leagues again.

“One of the Most Mysterious Cases in Baseball”

16 May

Before the 1925 season, Billy Evans, the American League umpire and syndicated columnist, said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Allan Sothoron was:

“One of the most mysterious cases in baseball.”

sothoron

Evans said the 32-year-old who had spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues:

“Here was a pitcher who was recognized as one of the richest prizes ever found.  He had a fast ball, a spitter, a curve, a change of pace; control—well, just everything that a great pitcher requires.

“And Sothoron lived as a pitching star, but not for long.  A weakness was discovered.  Show the opposing side a weak spot and it plays through it.

“Sothoron, with an iron arm are rare intelligence, could not control his throw once he fielded the ball.”

During five seasons in the American League from 1917-1921, Sothoron made 50 errors in just 356 total chances.

“On bunts or easy taps hit straight to him he lost his bearings.  With one swish of his arm, he threw—threw in any direction which usually was yards away from his fielder.

“To first, second, third base or the plate, Sothoron aimed and fired.

“And eventually, he threw himself out of the American League.”

Evans said Indians manager Tris Speaker “thought he could correct the fault’ when he acquired Sothoron in June of 1921, and for a time he thought he had–Speaker told The Cleveland News when he acquired the pitcher that the problem was Sothoron “throwing flat-footed.”

Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker

He won 12 and lost four, with a 3.24 ERA for Cleveland—although he did commit four errors in just 36 total chances.  But in 1922, Speaker “gave up the job” after Sothoron appeared in just six games—he was 1-3 with a 6.39 ERA and made one error on six chances.

Evans said after he was released by Boston:

“Sothoron, disgusted with himself, retired from baseball.”

He returned to baseball in 1923, with the Louisville Colonels in the American Association.  Despite a 6-9 5.92 season with the Colonels, Evans said:

“The scene changes.  Branch Rickey, as manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1914, discovered Sothoron.  And he refused to believe that such an evil could not be corrected.  He took a chance and purchased Sothoron for his St. Louis Cardinals in 1924.”

Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey

And the pitcher responded:

“The story is not closed.  Sothoron was one of the few pitchers with a perfect fielding average in the National league last season.”

He was 10-16 with a 3.57 ERA, but handled 37 total chances without an error, which included “making 35 perfect throws in aiding in the retirement of batters or runners.”

Evans attributed Sothoron’s fielding to:

“Branch Rickey’s system of training… (Rickey) saw that Sothoron…simply scooped in the ball and made his throw.  He did not steady himself.

“For days and weeks, Sothoron was put through such a course—fielding a ball, pausing, steadying himself, then following through with the throw.”

Evans suggested that “after 10 years of drifting” Sothoron had “finally found himself.”

It did not last.

He pitched for the Cardinals for two more seasons, he was 13-13 with a 4.09 ERA, and he committed five errors in just 31 chances.   He finished his career with an .871 fielding percentage.

Cicotte’s Knuckleball

8 Feb

With the Chicago White Sox holding onto a slim lead in the American league race, John Brinsley Sheridan of The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said they were in first place because of the pitch he called “(T)he hobo of balldom, it’s course, even when under control, being entirely beyond the influence of the pitcher, so far as the break at the plate is concerned…It is a hobo!”

The “hobo” was the knuckleball of White Sox pitcher Ed Cicotte—never mind Toad Ramsey’s claim to the pitch, Sheridan said it was all Cicotte’s:

 

Ed Cicotte

Ed Cicotte

“It is a freak delivery; this knuckleball, Cicotte invented it, and is its greatest exponent.  Many other pitchers have tried it, some with more or less success.  Earl Hamilton did wonderful work with it in 1912.  Then he lost control of it.  Many others tried it. They use it now and then to this day, but Cicotte is the only pitcher who admits that the knuckleball is responsible for a greater part of his success.”

Cicotte talked to Sheridan about the pitch after he threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns earlier that season:

“I use it very frequently during a game, I vary pace on it, and very frequently I do not ask it to break at all.  I throw it with some rotation.  When I know a batter is going to hit—when I know and he knows that I must lay a strike over the plate—I pitch the ‘knuckle ball’ with as little rotation as possible, so that it may break as well as possible.  The different paces deceive the batter, and the break simply makes it impossible to hit safely save by the greatest fluke.

“The spitball has but one pace—fast.  The ‘fadeaway’ had but one pace—medium slow.  I can pitch the knuckleball at any pace from medium fast to dead slow.

Cicotte's grip

Cicotte’s grip

“I began using this ball when I was a kid.  It was always impossible to hit, but I found it very hard to obtain control of it. It was not until I joined Boston in 1908 that I began to get control of the ‘knuckle ball.’  Even then it evaded me for months at a time.  When I got it going right I was hard to beat.  Even now I often lose control of it.”

Cicotte, who would end 1917 with a league-leading 28 wins and 1.53 ERA, claimed his weight was a factor in his control of the pitch:

“I joined Chicago in 1912 and began to do better with the difficult delivery.  I had trouble, however, with my general control.  I had been a slim kid, but I was growing fat.  I weighed 135 when I had my first engagement with the Sault Ste. Marie team, way back in 1903.  I weighed 190 pounds in 1912.  Since that time I have tried to keep it down to 170 pounds, but I find it hard to do so.

“This year I made a special effort to reduce my weight.  I am down to 170 pounds, lighter than I have been in 10 seasons; I find that my control is better than it has ever been.  To this I attribute my early success this season.  You see, when I am fat I can’t get my arm to follow through with my pitch.  My upper arm hits my right breast and won’t go any farther.  Thus, I have been pitching with a short, jerky motion, which is not good for control.”

After an injury-plagued season and 12-19 record in 1918, Cicotte was 50-17 during the regular season in 1919-‘20 before his banishment.   Just two months before his final professional game he shut down Babe Ruth (0-3 with a walk) in front of an overflow crowd of 45,000 in Comiskey Park on August 1.  The crowd said Sy Sanborn of The Chicago Tribune “Left Comiskey Park disappointed because Babe Ruth did not get a home run.”

One of Cicotte’s last great moments with his famous pitch was captured by a Chicago photographer; Ruth looking back at the ball in the catcher Ray Schalk’s mitt, after striking out in the second inning of that game.

Cicotte strikes out Ruth

Cicotte strikes out Ruth

“A Knocking Umpire had Attempted to keep Speaker back”

11 Sep

Jesse Doak Roberts was a prominent figure in Texas baseball.  He was the two-time president of the Texas League (1904-’06 and 1920-’29), and had an ownership stake and managed clubs in the Texas and North Texas Leagues.

Jesse Doak Roberts

Jesse Doak Roberts, circa 1929

In 1911, the then owner of the Houston Buffaloes gave The Houston Chronicle his version of how Tris Speaker ended up in Boston:

“I want to tell you the story of the force that endeavored to act against the rise of Speaker—a force that did not succeed, but which cost me $700 in purchase money, and it was a knocking umpire.

“When Speaker was going at his best in his last year in this league (1906), I had made arrangements with Charlie Comiskey to purchase Tris for $1500…the deal was almost closed.”

Roberts said he was approached “by a (Texas) League umpire,” during a late-season game in Austin who, he claimed, demanded “a commission” for recommending Speaker:

“I told him that I had never asked an umpire to sell one of my players and would not—that I would prefer that they would not recommend any of them…I must have angered him, for he knocked the greatest Lone Star player to Comiskey (later) I got a draft from the Old Roman: ‘We can’t use Speaker.’

(George) Huff, then scouting for Boston, was in town.  He came around to see me and asked what I would take for Speaker.  I told him $1500.  He said that was too much for a class C player—that he would give me $500.”

Roberts said he then tried to sell Speaker to the St. Louis Browns (the biography “Tris Speaker: The Rough and Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend” said Roberts had attempted to sell Speaker to St. Louis earlier that season)

“I refused to accept (Huff’s) offer and wired (Jimmy) McAleer at St. Louis.  I told him I would sell him Speaker under a positive guarantee that he would make good.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

                                 Tris Speaker 

Roberts said McAleer never responded and he “finally made an agreement to sell the boy for $800 cash,’ to Boston.

“A knocking umpire had attempted to keep Speaker back and had kept us from getting the difference between Comiskey’s price if $1500 and Boston’s of $800. And the White Sox lost a great player.”

Roberts never named the umpire who he said cost him $700.

“That Short but Trite remark shaped my Career.”

24 Aug

In 1906, William George “Billy” Evans became the youngest umpire in major league history.  “The Boy Umpire” was just 22-years-old.

A decade later, in a syndicated newspaper article, he told the story of how he, by chance, he began his career as an umpire.  Somewhat altered versions of the story were told over the years, including a version in his obituary; however, this was his earliest, direct telling of the story:

Billy Evans

                                         Billy Evans

“It was one day in 1903 that I journeyed out to the ballpark to cover the game for the paper (The Youngstown Vindicator).  There was a delay when the time arrived to start to the contest.”

Evans said the umpire had become ill and while “a number of ex-players” were at the ballpark, the opposing managers could not agree.

“Finally, my name was suggested and proved acceptable to both managers.  I was informed of their decision but declined with thanks.

“The crowd was impatient.  It became noised about that I was the only man acceptable to both managers, and that since I refused to work the game would probably be called off.”

Evans was determined not to work the game, but said a voice from the stands changed his mind.

“Just when it seemed that I was to escape the ordeal a fan in the bleachers with a decidedly loud voice yelled: ‘What’s the matter—have you lost your nerve?’

“That short but trite remark shaped my career.”

Evans said one of the managers told him he’d earn $15 for the game—later versions said Youngstown Ohio Works Manager Marty Hogan told him what he’s be paid:

“Fifteen dollars for a couple of hours’ work—almost as much as I was getting for carrying the title of sporting editor for an entire week!  It made umpiring appeal to me.  Attired in the very best clothes I had, I took the field for my debut.”

Evans said that first game—a 1-0 victory in thirteen innings for the visiting team from Homestead, Pennsylvania—had “but few close decisions, and I got along famously.”

The regular umpire was still sick the following day.

“I gathered in $15 more.  My bankroll was so large that for the first time in my life I felt that a pocketbook was a necessity instead of a luxury.”

The following day, Evans accepted a permanent position “(A)lthough there were many times when I seriously doubted my wisdom in accepting the position.”

Three years later, Evans made his big league debut in New York.

“When I stepped on the field it seemed that wherever I looked I could see grinning faces.  I imagined that all of them were laughing at me when as a matter of fact I suppose there was scarcely a single person on the field who noticed me.”

Evans, who was harshly criticized early in his career, also wrote about his most dangerous incident on the field.

“I have dodged a million pop bottles…I have had them pass just above my head, between my legs, and, in fact, graze almost every part of my anatomy; but never have I been hit by a missile really intended for me.  I did stop a bottle that was intended for somebody else, and that stop almost resulted in the Great Umpire declaring me out.

“I was working a game at St. Louis, between the Detroit and the St. Louis clubs in the fall of 1907.”

The Tigers were locked in a three-team race  with the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox—entering the series in second place, the Tigers fell to third after losing a doubleheader on September 14.

On September 15 the teams met for another doubleheader.  An overflow crowd filled an area of left field in front of a “swinging gate about six feet long out in the left field fence, about ten feet above the ground…used to facilitate the delivery of bottled goods into the park.”

With the game tied in the fifth inning, St. Louis pitcher Harry Howell was batting:

“(Howell) hit a ball into left field.  As I followed its course I was surprised to see the opening in the fence.  A few minutes before I had occasion to glance in that direction, and had observed nothing wrong.  I afterward learned that the gate had been opened only a few seconds before Howell hit the ball.

“It was my bad luck to have the ball pass squarely through the opening.  When Howell made the hit I had run toward third base in order to be able to follow the ball more closely.  When it passed through the opening I was about fifteen feet back of third base.  Howell paused at second base, and I motioned for him to continue home.”

[…]

“I was at once surrounded by a group of Tigers players all talking at the same time.  There is no fairer man in baseball that Hughey Jennings, the famous leader of the Detroit team, and I told that gentleman that the easiest way to settle the argument was to get rid of the players, and the two of us would thresh it out, which he proceeded to do.”

As Evans and Jennings wrapped up the argument, Evans suddenly slumped to the ground unconscious.

“The next thing I remember was when I came to in the hospital, and inquired what happened.”

What happened was a 17-year-old Browns fan named Hugo Dusenberg threw a pop bottle which struck Evans at the base of his skull.  As Evans lay unconscious on the field, fans attacked Dusenberg.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:

“(Dusenberg) was saved from lynching by the quick action of the players who formed themselves into a guard and held back with bats a mob that swarmed.”

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Fifty policemen fought their way through the mob, rescued the assailant and with the greatest difficulty conducted him out of the grounds.”

Initial reports said Evans’ injury was serious—The Associated Press said his chance of recovery was “slim,” The Washington Post said he was “Probably fatally hurt.”  By the following day, it was reported that Evans would recover, but would likely miss the remainder of the season. Despite the grave predictions, Evans returned to work on October 5, the second to last day of the regular season; he worked the bases, with Jack Sheridan behind the plate, in a game between the Tigers and Brows in St. Louis.

Dusenberg, an American citizen who worked as a clerk at the German consulate in St. Louis, was charged with assault with the intent to kill Evans.  The Republic said in the days following the incident that “Sentiment is for the prosecution to the limit.”

Two months later Dusenberg was released after paying a $100 fine.

“If you say that Man was not out, you are a Liar”

24 Jun

At the height of Billy Sunday’s popularity as America’s most influential evangelist, his “gentlemanliness,” and ability, on the baseball field became more legend than fact.

Billy Sunday, evangelist

Billy Sunday, evangelist

John Brinsley Sheridan of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch attempted to dispel some of the legends in 1917:

“Sunday tells young men now ‘to play the game’ uprightly.  This is how Sunday played it in 1885:

“The Browns and Chicago were playing for the world’s championship before 10,000 persons, who paid from 25 to 75 cents to see the game…The Browns kicked on the decisions of Umpire (David F. “Dave”) Sullivan and refused to play unless he retired from the game.  They could not do that sort of thing on the lots nowadays.  When Sullivan retired, (Cap) Anson and (Charles) Comiskey, the leaders of the teams, agreed that William Medart, a pulley manufacturer of St. Louis, should umpire.  Medart was a spectator at the games.  He put on a mask and a protector and proceeded to umpire. “

William Medart

William Medart

In the ninth inning of game four, with Chicago trailing 3 to 2, White Stockings pitcher Jim McCormick reached first on an error by Comiskey.  A contemporary account in The Chicago Tribune said:

“(McCormick) was standing with one foot on the bag when Comiskey made a motion to throw the ball.  He never moved, but by force of habit Comiskey touched him and laughed.  The umpire, who was not appealed to at all, electrified the spectators and players by calling McCormick out.”

Sheridan said, “This is how a baseball reporter of the day (from The Post-Dispatch) described what happened next:

“Sunday, fists clenched, eyes blazing, ran at Medart and cried, ‘Robber, robber.  That man is not out.’  Medart advanced to meet Sunday with firm step and beetling brow and aid, ‘If you say that man was not out you are a liar.’  ‘Who says that I am liar?’ Cried Sunday. ‘I do,’ said Medart, assuming a posture of defense.  ‘I’ll make you pay for that,’ cried Sunday, advancing on Medart.  ‘You can collect now,’ replied Medart, boldly.”

McCormick also attempted to attack Medart, but Mike “King” Kelly “(S)topped McCormick and then forced Sunday to sit down.”

But the future evangelist could not be calmed down:

“Sunday’s eyes were blazing and his teeth were set.  When he sat down he continued to abuse Medart, who said, “Shut up your mouth, there Sunday, or I’ll put you off the field.’ Sunday shut up his mouth, but continued to glare at Medart.”

Medart, before his death in 1913, described the scene to Sheridan:

“Billy was a cocky guy in those days and was not disposed to back down for any man.  Rather fancied himself.  I was somewhat of an athlete, gymnast and boxer.  I fancied myself, too.  I am sure that Sunday and I would have collided had it not been for Mike Kelly.

“Sunday was livid with rage.  I was mad myself.  I did not seek the job of umpiring.  I only took it to ensure the progress of the game.  I was there as a mere spectator.  Probably I was the only responsible man in the stand that was known to the managers of both teams, and, therefore, acceptable to them.  I did the best I could, but I have no doubt my work was bad.  I had not umpired ten games in my life.  I was just an amateur with a taste for ball games(Medart had umpired National League games in 1876-77 and worked at least one more St. Louis game in 1887).”

Sheridan said the man responsible for keeping Sunday and Medart from coming to blows, was also the first, and a somewhat unlikely, supporter when Sunday was “saved.”.

“Most of the baseball players of the day were men who lived lightly.  Among the gayest and lightest of the lot was Mike Kelly, the famous $10,000 beauty, by many said to have been the greatest of all baseball players.  Kelly had been reared in the Roman Catholic faith, but the “king” of the ballplayers was not overburdened with religion.  Ballplayers all speak well of Kelly.  He is their idol.  He was wild and wooly, he lived life and died at 35 [sic, 36], but he was sweet to all men.  Most of the ballplayers of Sunday’s day were wont to ridicule him for his conversion at first.  All but Kelly, the wildest of the wild.”

Mike "King" Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly

According to Sunday:

“Kelly was the first man to meet me after the news of the conversion became public.  He shook me by the hand and said, ‘Bill, I am not much on religion myself, but I am strong for a man who honestly believes.

“After that, the boys all were for me.  Whatever Kelly said was law with them.”

As for Sunday’s ability as a player, Sheridan said:

“Many people say Sunday is a great evangelist.  He was not a great baseball player.  One of his many biographers says that Sunday always tried to hit the baseball where it would hurt his opponents most and help his friends most.  The fact of the matter is that Sunday was lucky to hit the ball at all…(I)t is certain that, not at any time, was Sunday’s bat feared by opposing pitchers or players.

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

“Nor was the evangelist-to-be a great fielder or runner.  He was very fast on his feet.  That helped him a lot (and) in fact was his best asset as a ballplayer…He could outrun such men as Curt Welch and Dickey Johnston 3 yards to 2 yards, but Welch and Johnston could outfield Sunday, for they got quicker starts on batted balls than Sunday.  When it came to baserunning much slower men could beat Sunday because they knew when to run and how to get a good start on the pitcher.  Sunday never learned these little niceties of baseball.  As a matter of fact, hey are not really learned.  They are like Sunday’s gift for preaching, something given a man, his genius.”

“There were Absurd Errors, Collisions, Accidents, Spectacular Batting”

2 Mar

William Henry “Josh” Reilly had a memorable big league debut for the Chicago Colts in 1896.

Josh Reilly

Josh Reilly

Reilly filled in at shortstop for Bill Dahlen in a May 2 game against the St. Louis Browns.  The Chicago Tribune said Dahlen was “(E)ngaged at home in holding a hot water bag against a turbulent tooth.”

While the toothache story was reported in the Chicago papers, The Sporting Life was not sold on the reason for the hard-drinking Dahlen’s absence:

“Dahlen laid off—was sick, or—well, you know Dahlen.”

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

The Chicago Inter Ocean called the game “Worse than cough medicine,” and said:

“Of all the untabulated, unscheduled, unexpected, terrible, heartrending, frayed-out exhibitions of something or another that must be classed under the head of baseball, yesterday’s game with St. Louis was the worst.”

The Tribune said:

 “There were absurd errors, collisions, accidents, spectacular batting.”

Reilly was responsible for three of those “absurd errors,” and some of the “spectacular batting,” going 2 for 6 in his debut; he was also responsible for what The Tribune called “The electrifying feature of the game.”

The Inter Ocean described what happened:

(Monte) Cross got to first because (Chicago first baseman) George Decker thought his arm was as long as the legs of a man who has to stand on a ladder to comb his hair.  His arm was short by about six feet.  Then (Tom) Parrott made a single to center… (Duff) Cooley knocked a hot liner, and everybody started to sprint.  Reilly was playing at short, and stuck his finger nail into a loose stitch just as the ball shot past him.  He slammed it to (Harry) Truby, where Cross should have been, but was not, and Truby in turn, tossed it over to Decker to fondle while Parrott endeavored to correct himself.”

That game was the only highlight in Reilly’s major league career.  He played a total of nine games in Chicago—the other 8 at second base—and made a total of 11 errors.  And, after going 2 for 6 in his debut, he was just 6 for 36 thereafter.   Then, in late May Reilly became ill—accounts varied regarding what the illness was, The Sporting News said it was typhoid fever, The Sporting Life, and The Chicago Daily News said pneumonia.

Reilly returned home to the West Coast.  By September, his debut heroics were long forgotten, The Tribune simply said:

“(Reilly) was a disappointment and he was released.”

Despite his brief and relatively inauspicious big league career, Reilly was a popular minor leaguer for more than a decade.

An often told story about him, alleged to have taken place the year before his short trial in Chicago, illustrates just how superstitious 19th Century players could be.

The earliest telling was in 1897 in The Tribune, and it appeared on several occasions, in several papers, over the next 15 years with various embellishments.  There was no byline on the original story, but it was likely written by Hugh Fullerton–who retold it himself several times.

Reilly spent the 1895 season in Texas, playing with the San Antonio Missionaries and the Fort Worth Panthers in the Texas-Southern League.  Reilly opened the season with the Missionaries, who got off to a horrible start; they won just three of their first 28 games:

“The team was discouraged and sore.  They held a meeting and were on the verge of firing their mascot or committing violence upon his person when Josh Reilly…came to the rescue with a new proposition.  The mascot was put into a full dress coat, with gray baseball trousers and a silk hat, and the bats, some half a score of them, were pulled upon his back.  Then the team formed in line and marched down to the hotel, where “The Divine Healer,” Schlatter was stopping.”

Francis Schlatter was, at that time, walking across the American Southwest gaining fame and followers.  Three years earlier he had come to believe he received a “directive from God” to heal the sick, and became a messianic figure for many during his brief time in the spotlight.

Francis Schlatter

Francis Schlatter, “The Divine Healer”

“The divine was brought forth and made to pronounce a blessing upon the bats…and through all the season those inspired bats continued to give out base hits., and the team went close to the top of the league.”

While Reilly never disputed the story–and seemed to tell it himself on occasion–Fullerton’s ending was pure fiction. San Antonio continued to struggle and blessed or not, the Missionaries’ bats were mostly silent all season–the team never left the cellar and was 21-72 in August when they disbanded.

Josh Reilly, 1930--he died in San Francisco in 1938.

Josh Reilly, 1930–he died in San Francisco in 1938.

In different versions of the story, it was claimed that Reilly still used one or more of the “blessed bats.”  In another, Reilly “Hit .344” with one of the bats “and after he broke that bat he hit .189 for the rest of the season.”

Fullerton had one more Reilly story that he told often–first appearing in 1906 but recycled frequently for two decades–this one about his fielding troubles during his brief stay in Chicago and the impact the ire of fans has on a struggling player:

“(Reilly) was pretty bad as a fielder, and getting no better rapidly.  the jeers, hisses and hoots of the crowd merely made him mad.  He wanted to fight back.  His Irish blood was boiling.  For a time it seemed as if he would win and prove himself a great ball player merely by his nerve in playing at all under such a constant shower of criticism.  But one day Josh got through.  I found him frothing at the mouth out at the club house.  He was done.  He never would play again–unless he got a chance to kill a certain man.  When he grew calm enough.  I discovered the cause of it.

“‘He was a big man sitting in the bleachers’ said Josh.  ‘While they were all yelling at me for booting a hot one, he sat still.  I saw him and  said to myself ‘there’s one friend of mine up there.’  He never said a word until the seventh inning.  Then he stood up, stretched himself, walked down two or three steps and yelled:  ‘Reilly, you’re a disgrace to the Irish!’  If I had him I’d killed him.'”