Tag Archives: St. Louis Browns

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.

mickeywelch

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:

welch.jpg

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:

buck

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.”

 

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #35

1 Jul

Comiskey versus Anson

In 1888, Ren Mulford, writing in the Cincinnati Times-Star compared Charlie Comiskey to Cap Anson:

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

“Charlie Comiskey, who for several years has successfully piloted the St. Louis Browns to victory, possesses many of the characteristics which made Anson famous. He teaches his men to sacrifice everything in order to advance the interests of the club, but unlike Anson he never humiliates his men on the field. When it is necessary to reprimand any of them for an error or misconduct, he does it quietly. He uses good judgment in picking up players but lacks patience in developing the men.”

Latham on Comiskey

Arlie Latham and Charles Comiskey were together with the St. Louis Brown from 1883-1889, and Latham jumped the Browns to join the Players League with Comiskey in 1890, helping to form the Chicago Pirates–“The greatest team ever organized.” But from the beginning the team was beset with discipline issues and struggled.

lathampix

 Latham

Comiskey benched Latham, who was hitting just .229, in July.  The Chicago Tribune said several attempts were made to trade Latham, and when nothing materialized, he requested to be released and he was on July 29.

Latham returned to the National League, joining the Cincinnati Reds, then aired out his grievances with his former boss and friend when he was with the Reds in Boston in August. The Boston Globe’s Time Murnane said Latham was at the United States Hotel talking to members of the Pittsburgh Burghers who were in town playing Boston’s Brotherhood club:

“Some of Pittsburgh’s Players League boys were anxious to know why Latham was released from Chicago.

“’Comiskey did it,’ was his answer. ‘He has been after me for some time, and said I was playing crooked ball. I was laid off in St. Louis last season for the same thing, but this year Commie was cross and ugly all the time.’

“’You see, he has plenty of money and can afford to be stiff. I dropped three short fly balls in the last game I played in Chicago and Comiskey came and told me that he was on to me and would stand it no longer.’

“’I asked for my release and got it that night. My arm was very sore, but the other men would not believe it. I wanted to stay in the Players’ League and sent word to Al Johnson (owner of the Cleveland Infants) saying I was open for engagement.’”

Latham alleged that Comiskey or someone connected with the Chicago club had a role in blackballing him from the league:

“’I heard from (Johnson) once and then he stopped. I suppose the Chicago people interfered.’”

The Chicago Tribune said Latham actually received an offer from Cleveland but joined the Reds when they offered more money.

Murnane said when Latham arrived in Cincinnati, in an attempt to “get some good work out of the ‘Dude,’” that Reds manager Tom Loftus made him captain:

“(Latham) has been known for years as one who could keep the boys all on the smile while he shirked fast grounders.”

But Murnane claimed he had already worn out his welcome with some of the Reds:

“Since Latham’s release by Chicago he has taken pains to run down the Players’ League until the members of that organization have soured on him (two days earlier) he went out of his way to abuse the Brotherhood, and the result is that he is already getting himself disliked by several level-headed members of his own team.”

Latham stayed with the Reds with five seasons, and Comiskey again became his manager from 1892-1894.

Blame it on Hulbert

After winning the inaugural National League pennant in 1876 with a 52-14 record, expectations were high for the Chicago White Stockings in 1877.

hulbert

Hulbert

After a 26-33 fifth place finish, The Chicago Evening Post said the blame rested in one place:

“There are a great many men in America who do not know how to run a ball club, and Mr. (William) Hulbert, President of the Chicago club, appears to be one of the most conspicuous. The public is familiar with the fact that this year’s White Stocking Nine was more of a disgrace to the city than a credit and there was a considerable wonderment as to why a nine that in 1876 swept everything before it, was in 1877, obliged to content itself with the last place in the championship struggle [sic, Chicago finished fifth in the six-team league).

“From all that can be learned, it would seem that part of the season’s ill success should be attributed to the manner in which the men have been treated by Mr. Hulbert. There are complaints that he was continually finding fault, until the men became discouraged and lost heart in their work. Just how true this is The Post does not propose to determine, but simply gives publicity to a letter from Mr. Hulbert to Paul Hines, in which he distinctly charges Hines with not trying to play.”

According to The Chicago Tribune, the letter, sent in July, suggested that Hines was not “playing half as well,” in 1877 as he had the previous season—Hines’ average dropped from .331 to .280.

The Post said the letter showed how little Hulbert knew:

“To those who have attended the games this season this charge will bring a smile, as Hines is notoriously one of the hardest working and most reliable ballplayers in the country.”

The White Stockings finished fourth the following two seasons, but won back-to back pennants in 1880 and ’81, the final two before Hulbert’s death in April of 1882—the White Stockings won their third straight pennant that year.

“Low ebb of Baseball”

24 Jun

Shortly before the American League’s inaugural season in 1901, The Brooklyn Eagle—likely long-time sports editor Abe Yager–asked:

“What has been the cause for the current low ebb of baseball?”

yager

Abe Yager

The paper said some suggested the “squabbling and bickering” among team owners and “the efforts of the National League to keep the game to itself,” as possible reasons.

No, said The Eagle, it was clear who was responsible for the latest concern that baseball would no longer maintain its popularity:

“The players themselves, however, are the principal offenders.”

The paper reasoned that during “the halcyon days of the 80s, when baseball was in its prime” players were spoiled.

“In those days the hired man was a popular idol, the public looking up at him as a little god to be worshipped. He was wined and dined, all his peccadillos were looked upon as the eccentricities of the great, and when he got into trouble with the minions of the law everybody hastened to help him, and the matter was hushed up as much as possible.”

The paper cited examples of how players had been treated in the past:

“Gus Weyhing, ten years ago, threw a sandwich against a valuable ceiling in an East New York brewery, causing damage to the extent of several hundred dollars. The proprietor of the place brought suit against Weyhing, but the case was hushed up and the player was set free.”

weyhing.JPG

Gus Weyhing

Then there was Mike “King” Kelly:

“When Boston paid $10,000 to the Chicago club for his release (in 1887), the world stood aghast that such a price be paid for a ball player, and the Bostonians fell on their knees and worshipped him…the adulation showered upon him stopped only at the presentation of a house and lot and a carriage and pair.”

kingkelly

 “King” Kelly

And in Brooklyn the was the case of Bob Caruthers. When his contract was purchased from the St. Louis Browns before the 1888 season:

“(Caruthers) was the observed of all observers when he arrived here. Brooklynites jostled each other in their efforts to form his acquaintance. He was introduced into many clubs and everything was done to make his stay here pleasant. Bobby had an ungovernable temper when things failed to go his way. This was especially the case when he was playing cards, and he was known frequently to tear up entire decks and throw them about the room. But this was taken as a peculiarity of a great man and nothing was said.”

caruthers

Bob Caruthers

The deal whereby players were put on a pedestal; their bad acts were covered up, and in turn didn’t agitate about how they were treated were this version of “the good old days” when baseball was not in decline. But now:

“Since the ‘brotherhood’ war…The players have gradually but fully fallen from the pedestals and are no longer idols in the in the eyes of the public. Their objections to being bought and sold on the plea that they are slaves, their rowdyism on and off the ballfield, frequent barroom fights and cases of intoxication which are now made much of.”

And the fault was only with the players:

“(T)he squabbling over salaries, their rush to the public print whenever they have real or fancied grievances.”

Complaining about salaries, fighting over the reserve clause, it was reasoned, had “pulled the scales from the eyes of the baseball loving people.”

Not the magnates, the players, were responsible for the inevitable demise of the game, and for baseball being eclipsed by sports that:

“(H)ave not he appearance of being business enterprises. And the players wonder why they play before empty benches.”

Despite the latest prediction that baseball’s best days were in the past, the benches filled up at a higher rate in 1901 than 1900; even with attendance declines in National League cities with new American League competition, league-wide the attendance increased by nearly 100,000. Brooklyn attendance jumped from 183,000 to 198,200.

“Several Thousands of Dollars Were Staked”

19 Jun

After the first game of the 1887 post season series between the American Association champion Browns and the National League champion Detroit Wolverines—won by St. Louis 6 to 1–The St. Louis Post-Dispatch found that the various options to bet on game two and the series “at the local pool rooms” was “exciting, and some of it was quite humorous.

The paper said before game one the “betting was 100 to 65 that Detroit would win the series and now the betting s even.”

The betting odds on game two were “10 to 9 on the Browns,” and said the paper “several thousands of dollars were staked.”

Most interesting, said the paper were the “peculiar bets” offered:

(Ten to win 30) that Bob Caruthers makes most hits in the game today

10—50 that Bill Gleason makes most hits

1-1 that Caruthers, Tip O’Neill, and Arlie Latham make more hits than Sam Thompson, Fred Dunlap, and Hardy Richardson

1—1 that O’Neill makes more hits than Thompson

4—1 that Thompson does not make the most hits

10—5 that Richardson does not make the most hits in game

10—5 that Dunlap does not make the most hits

10—5 that Latham does not

1—1 that Curt Welch, Charles Comiskey, and Latham steal at least one base

The paper also said the odds on that day’s game were “10—9 against Detroit.”

The Wolverines won game two, 5 to 3, and won the series 10 games to 5.

1887game2

The game two box score

As for the “peculiar bets” on game two: Detroit’s Charlie Bennett and Sam Thompson each led with three hits.  Latham, O’Neill, and Carruthers had four hits, Thompson, Dunlap, and Richardson had three.

thompson

Sam Thompson

Thompson had three hits to O’Neill’s one, and while Comiskey and Latham each stole a base, Welch did not.

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #34

6 Jun

Trash Talk, 1887

In June of 1887 the Cincinnati Red Stockings dropped to sixth place in the American Association pennant race; Ren Mulford of The Cincinnati Enquirer assured his readers the team would not remain in the basement. The St. Louis Post Dispatch responded:

“Ren Mulford Jr., of Cincinnati, whoever he is, is quite a chatty baseball writer, and his apologies for the Cincinnati club are a mark of rare ability. Mr. Mulford, whoever he is, thinks the Reds will not be at the sixth place when the season ends, but Mr. Mulford, whoever he is, will probably find out his mistake later on.”

ren-mulford

Ren Mulford

Mulford was correct, the Red Stockings went 61-33 the rest of the way, finishing second—but it was not enough to catch the St. Louis Browns who won the pennant by 14 games.

Burns on Anson, 1898

Tom Burns, in the process of leading the Chicago Orphans to a fourth-place finish in 1898, told Henry Zuber of The Cincinnati Times-Star that Cap Anson was not primarily responsible for the reputation he built as a great manager in the 1880s:

tomburns

Tom Burns

“Anson had a team that could think for itself. It was not necessary for him to direct the play of the team on the field, for the reason that the players were far above the average in baseball intelligence, and worked and studied together without the aid or suggestions of the manager. The late Mike Kelly carried the leading brainery of the team, and it was he, with the aid of the other baseball-intelligent men of the team, that invented and carried out any plans and tricks that proved such an improvement to the game and made the White Stockings the famous team they were.”

Anson’s teams finished first or second nine times from 1880-1891, from 1892 until he left the team in 1898 his teams finished no better than fourth.

Louisville Patriotism, 1898

At the outset of the Spanish-American War in April of 1888, The Cincinnati Post said of Harry Pulliam’s Louisville Colonels:

pulliam

Harry Pulliam

“Patriotism is running amuck among the Colonels. They purchased gaudy red, white, and blue stockings for yesterday’s game, and each player wore a tiny United States flag in his cap band. President Pulliam is thinking of raising a regiment. ‘The governor of Kentucky,’ said the happy executive, ‘is having all sorts of trouble. You know everybody worth mentioning in our state is a colonel, or considers he is of that rank. All wish to enlist, but no one is ready to accept a commission below that of colonel.”

Comiskey on “ungrateful” players, 1894

By 1894, Charles Comiskey, in his last year as a major league player and manager and leading the Reds to a 55-75 tenth place finish, told The Cincinnati Post his opinion of players had changed:

Charles Comiskey

Comiskey

“Ball players are often accused of being and ungrateful lot of men. I used to defend them on this charge, but I must confess that recently I have come to the conclusion that the average player is inclined to throw down his best friend. It’s a broad assertion, but my experience has been a severe one. There are some true men playing the game, but you can quickly pick them out of every team.”

“Ruthian and Splendid”

12 Apr

When Babe Ruth went to spring training with the Boston Braves in 1935, that it was wrong for the Yankees and the American League let him go to the National League was a subject of disagreement among two of baseball’s most famous personalities.

ruth

Babe Ruth

Harry Grayson, the longtime sports editor for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, spoke to both in Florida:

“Rogers Hornsby says Babe Ruth was driven out of the American League by self-protecting business managers.

‘”I tried to save Ruth for the league at the minor league meeting in Louisville,’ explains the outspoken Hornsby.”

Hornsby, then manager of the Saint Louis Browns, said he and the Carle McEvoy, the team’s vice president asked American League President Will Harridge to help arrange for Ruth to come to St. Louis as Hornsby’s “assistant.”

Hornsby felt after a year working under him, Ruth would be ready to manage a team in 1936.

“’We could not pay his salary and asked that the league look after part of it, but nothing came of the proposition.”

Hornsby said after his effort failed, he couldn’t “understand why he didn’t and the Yankee job, and why the Red Sox, Indians, and White Sox passed him up.”

rh

Rogers Hornsby

Hornsby was just getting started:

“Business managers taking care of their own interests sent Ruth the National League, after a score of phenomenal and faithful years of service in the American.”

“The “business managers” he said, would have to take a back seat to Ruth as manager.

“’I suspect that is why Eddie Collins didn’t grab Ruth for the Red Sox, where he would have been the idol he will be with the Braves. Only a man of Tom Yawkey’s millions could have kept pace with Collins’ expenditures, which have failed to put the Red Sox anywhere in particular.’

“’I ask you: Which would have been a better deal—Ruth free gratis, and for nothing, or Joe Cronin for $250,000 [sic, $225,000]”

Hornsby would have probably altered his opinion after Cronin spent the next decade in Boston.

Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack took “an altogether different view,” of the Ruth situation:

mack

Connie Mack

“’Because Ruth was a great instinctive ballplayer it does not necessarily follow that he would be a good manager,’ elucidates Mack.

‘”Ruth was not forced out of the American League. He could have continued with the Yankees or gone to most any other club and played as often as he cared to.’

“’Ruth wasn’t satisfied with that, however. During the World Series he announced he would not sign another players’ contract. He wanted Joe McCarthy’s position as manager of the Yankees. If he came to Philadelphia, for example, he wanted my job. Well, it just happens that I need my job, and I have an idea McCarthy needs his.’”

Yawkey made no apologies for the money he spent to obtain Cronin, but said:

“I wish Ruth all the luck in the world. I hope the Babe has a tremendous season. He has the people of Boston talking baseball, which will react to the advantage of the Red Sox as well as the Braves. Boston needed someone like Ruth to offset the inroads made by (thoroughbred) racing in New England last year.”

Ruth lasted just until the end of May, hitting just .181 and embroiled in an ongoing disagreement with team owner Emil Fuchs over Ruth’s alleged roles as a club vice president and “assistant manager” to Bill McKechnie.

Ruth was presented with a signed ball by his Braves teammates and presented a parting shot at Fuchs that Paul Gallico of The New York Daily News called, “Ruthian and splendid.”

babeball.jpg

Ruth said:

“Judge Fuchs is a double-crosser. His word is no good. He doesn’t keep his promises. I don’t want another damn thing from him—the dirty double-crosser.”

“Probably the Best Known bad man”

10 Apr

In 1908, Malcolm Wallace Bingay, the long-time writer for The Detroit News told of the “nervy ballplayers,” who were tough on the field but afraid of a “personal encounter,” while, ”There are some quiet ball players who play an ordinary game on the field who, when occasion demands, can show gamesmanship tom a degree that would surprise the average follower of the fighting business.”

Bingay named the current toughest man in baseball:

“Big John Anderson, now with Comiskey’s White Sox, as handsome a figure as there is in baseball, could, if he but cared, hold his own with most of the wrestlers in America. Not only this, but the big Swede, although naturally quiet, when thoroughly aroused, can put up a terrific battle. Among ball players he is probably the most respected man in the league when it comes to a personal mix-up. Anderson is a clever boxer, has a wicked punch in either hand and doesn’t seem to know what pain is when angry.

“Anderson is a physical culture crank. He is probably the most ideally built man in baseball. The grace with which he carries himself on the diamond is only brought out more clearly when he is boxing. And John doesn’t stop with the gloves. He is as wicked a rough-and-tumble fighter as one would care to run across.”

johnanderson

John Anderson

George Moriarty—then with the New York Highlanders—was, according to Bingay, “another bad man to bother.” Bingay said in 1907 in Chicago:

“(A) big fellow came from the bleachers. He hit the Yankee on the jaw and sent him staggering against the fence.

“’Moriarty seemed to come back like a piece of rubber,’ says (New York catcher) Ira Thomas, who saw the battle. ‘The fellow was far bigger than he, but Moriarty didn’t seem to care. Before the mob could get to him he had the man from the bleachers helpless.”

moriarty

George Moriarty

Thomas said the New York players were concerned about getting Moriarty out of the ballpark past the large throng of White Sox fans, until the fans realized it was a Chicago native involved in the fight:

“’Going from the grounds there was fear of a riot, and about 200 big men were lined up near the gates as we passed out.’

‘”Is George Moriarty there/’ the leader yelled to me.’

“’He is,’ I said, ‘expecting a fight.’

“’Well, tell him that we’re from the South Side and don’t go back on the boys who come from here. Tell him we’ll fight for him if he needs help.’”

But, said Bingay:

“Probably the best-known bad man, when he wants to ne, in baseball is Bill (Kid) Gleason.”

Gleason was just 5’ 8” and weighed 160 pounds, but Bingay said he was “the biggest little man that ever stood in shoe leather.”

Kid_Gleason

Kid Gleason

Despite his size:

“He has the strength of a giant and is as agile as a wild cat. Bill was the man who kept Kid Elberfeld playing good ball around Detroit. When the Kid wouldn’t behave himself, Bill would take him out back of the clubhouse and give him a thrashing.”

Jimmy Williams, the St. Louis Browns infielder, was, according to Bingay, “as quiet as any of them and yet he is as wicked a man when crossed as there is.”

Tigers pitcher Bill Donovan told Bingay a story about Williams when the two played together on the “all-American” team that barnstormed the West Coast during the off-season.  There was a fan in one town who “was a giant in strength, always in an ugly mood, and always hunting for trouble.”

Donovan said:

“’Now Jimmy wasn’t hunting for trouble, understand. He was minding his own business when this chap got gay. Williams knew of his reputation but never hesitated. He gave the big duffer such a whipping that he begged for mercy. After that anybody in town could chase the bully up an alley. The citizens warmly thanked Jimmy for what he had done.’”

Bingay said the manager of the Tigers, was the opposite of the quiet players on the field who had no problem throwing a few punches:

“No man ever displayed more nerve on the ball field than Hughie Jennings, who for years was a league sensation. Yet, Jennings never had a fight in his life. He’s as peaceful as a Quaker off the field.”

“Who’s the Greatest Ballplayer that Ever Lived?”

13 Mar

In the 19th Century, conversations about baseball in hotel lobbies

The Chicago Daily News shared one such discussion in 1896:

“’Who’s the greatest ballplayer that ever lived?’ Demanded the old ball crank of the gathering at the hotel.  And there were, straightaway, almost as many opinions as there were gentlemen in the party.”

A man in town on business said:

“To my mind, Anson outranks them all.  When you consider the wonderful grip which Anse has retained on the sport for all these twenty-five tears, when you take into consideration his qualifications as a player and as a man, his work as a leader and a general, the great batting he has always done every little point that can be recalled about both uncle and the game, I can’t see where any other player, living or dead, ranks with Anson.”

anson

 Anson

The paper said there were murmurs, then the night clerk weighed in:

“Mike Kelly was his ideal.

“‘Poor old Mike,’ said he, ‘had baseball genius and brilliancy to an extent never paralleled.  He had the mind to originate, the ability to execute.  He was, in the hearts of the masses, what John L. Sullivan was to pugilism.  Remember the tricks he worked, the batting and the base running he did, and the way in which he filled every position—remember only his methods of play, if you will, and then see if any one can compare with poor dead King Kel!’

kingkelly

 Kelly

The “theatrical man” in the group said:

“’Bill Lange is the best that ever came down the road.  Who is there who does not like to see Lange play ball? What other player in the league, taking batting, base running and fielding into account, is as of as much value as Lange? What club would not eagerly give him the best position and the best salary it could command?  Bill Lange is destined to leave a mark in baseball history as deep as that Mike Kelly made, and future generations will speak of him as they do of Kelly now.’”

Then the “Old baseball crank” spoke up:

“’To my mind gentlemen, the greatest player of them all was Charlie Ferguson of Philadelphia.  There was a man who never realized how good he was.  When it came to effective playing, in any position, Ferguson was the man who could step into the gap so well that the regular man would never be even missed.  He could kill the ball, he was fast on the bases, and we all know he could pitch.  And the head that Charlie Ferguson wore was as good a head as ever decorated any player’s shoulders.  I saw hundreds of great players before Ferguson came, I have seen hundreds since he died, but I never to my mind at least, have seen his equal.’”

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Ferguson

The assembled men said the paper, “remembered the time of Ferguson,” with “nods and mutterings of assent,” thinking of Ferguson’s four seasons in Philadelphia—he died just 12 days after his 25th birthday in 1888.

 “Jim Hart, who ought to be a good judge of players, thinks Ferguson the greatest that the world has ever known. A canvass of ball cranks would probably show sentiments about equally divided between Ferguson and Mike Kelly.”

The paper concluded that there were, and would be, “few such popular idols” as Kelly and Ferguson:

“The increased batting has, queer as it may seem, done away with hero worship.  In the old days hits were few and the man who could step up and kill the ball was a popular king.  Nowadays the fact that nearly everybody is apt to hit takes away the individuality and accompanying romance of the great isolated sluggers.”

The paper said Lange was one of the few contemporary players who “comes as near being the subject of hero worship,” as players in previous years and that there were only players who had that impact in their own cities:

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Lange

“(Jesse) Burkett might be worshipped in Cleveland for his grand batting, but is handicapped by morose, unsociable ways.

‘(Jimmy) McAleer’s fielding would make him an idol, but his batting is pitifully light.  Baltimore’s great hero is Hughey Jennings, and the cranks treat him as though he owned the town. Brooklyn has no heroes.  There is nobody on the Boston nine whom the crowd raves over, even Hugh Duffy having lost his grip.”

“Eddie Burke and Charlie (Dusty) Miller have great followings in Cincinnati.  Louisville dotes on (Charlie) Dexter and Fred Clarke.  New York is idolless.  Philadelphia gives ovations to the whole team as a matter of principle but singles out no player.  Pittsburgh is the same way.  There is nobody at St. Louis or Washington whom the crowds adore.”

Kick Kelly’s Night out

20 Feb

After John “Kick” Kelly was fired as manager of the Louisville Colonels in June of 1888, he returned to the National League as an umpire.

When he missed the September 21 game between the New York Giants and Detroit Wolverines, most papers reported he was out sick.  The Detroit Free Press was more specific:

“Mr. Kelly’s white uniform did not make its appearance yesterday when the signal was given and after a painful pause it was concluded to on with the game minus his presence, and John War of the New York team, was selected to umpire…Kelly’s non-appearance is not hard to explain.  The man who has masqueraded as a star umpire has for some time past been attempting the difficult feat of rendering proper decisions on the ball field and at the same time maintain intimate relations with an extensive ‘jag.’ In this effort Mr. Kelly has proven a dire failure, much to the discomfiture of the players compelled to submit to the awful decisions resultant on the aforementioned ‘jag.’”

The paper said Ward acquitted himself well and that Kelly “was not missed to any great extent.”

There was more to the story.

The following day The Free Press said:

“Mr. Kelly was a guest at police headquarters…The cause of Mr. Kelly’s presence at the headquarters was a disagreement between himself and a person whom it would be superfluous to mention by name.”

Their competition, The Detroit Tribune, thought no details of Kelly’s arrest were superfluous:

“Kelly, the League umpire…occupied the “Dead man’s” cell in the Central Police Station about three hours today.  For the past three nights Kelly has been painting the town, and last night his hilarity broke out in a house of bad reputation.  He and a number of local characters started out in the early part of the evening and went to a house on Antoine Street.”

After drinking “several bottles of wine,” Kelly was said to have told his companions:

“I can lick anybody, an I will pound the first person who says a word.”

The party moved to a local brothel, where after more wine, an attempt was made to remove Kelly from the premises:

“He struck one of the inmates, Emma Gordon, on the head and knocked her down and kicked her.  He then struck one of the other inmates, and when the Gordon woman arose, he struck her in the mouth, cutting her lower lip and nocking two of her teeth out. After having asserted his manhood in this way Mr. Kelly was willing to leave and did leave.”

Kelly returned to his room at Detroit’s Hotel Cadillac, where, as he was sleeping, the police “roused him up gently, but forcibly, and led him” to jail.

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Kick Kelly

According to the paper “a large delegation from the ‘sporting fraternity’” of Detroit had Kelly quickly released.

Kelly paid the woman he assaulted $75.  He worked the September 22 game between New York and Detroit.

Despite paying the woman, Kelly told a reporter for The New York World that had done nothing wrong:

“I was so sick on Friday that I could I was unable to leave the hotel.  I was perfectly sober; in fact, I have never abstained from the use of intoxicants so completely as of late.  I committed no assault, as the fact of my almost immediate dismissal proved, nor did I receive any injury of any kind…My arrest was prompted by spite.  I went out the next day and umpired good ball.”

Kelly said he was the victim of “a thirst to grind the umpire,” and a “love for sensationalism.”

The Boston Post said the story from Detroit was nothing new:

“At Washington recently, Umpire Kelly was too intoxicated to discharge his duties properly.”

The paper said that if the Detroit charges “are borne out by facts, he has disgraced himself and the league and should be discharged at once.”

The Detroit Tribune said of Kelly’s denials:

“Umpire Kelly is telling them in the East that he didn’t drink too much and didn’t abuse and beat a woman in Detroit, adding that the Detroit papers had a spite against him and tried to ‘do’ him.  Down in the East they take Kelly’s denial with a grain of salt.”

Kelly was never disciplined further by the authorities in Detroit or by the National League.  He and “Honest John” Gaffney were selected to umpire the post season series between the Giants and the American Association champion St. Louis Browns.

During that series, Kelly was accused of a charge that plagued him as frequently as the one about his drinking; his perceived favoritism of the Giants.  Browns owner Chris von der Ahe went so far as to charge that “Kelly had money on the New Yorks.”

Kelly responded in a letter that was printed in The Boston Globe:

“Chris von der Ahe is hot because the St. Louis men are being slaughtered by the New Yorks.…He lost his nerve and he wants to be revenged on the umpires.”

The Giants won the series six games to four.

Kelly then did what anyone trying dodge charges of a drinking problem would do; he and Mike “King” Kelly decided to open a bar.  The New York World said:

“Umpire John Kelly and $10000 Mike will begin operations in Shang Draper’s (a New York criminal and saloon keeper) old place, corner of thirty-first Street and Sixth Avenue.”

Kelly moved to the American Association the following season.

The business apparently did not operate for long either, the following spring The New York Herald asked:

“With Mike Kelly captain of the Bostons and John Kelly umpire in the American Association, what will become of the New York wine joint—Shang Draper’s old place?”