Tag Archives: St. Louis Browns

Wee Willie Sudhoff

19 Jun

William “Wee Willie” Sudhoff was in the midst of his best season.  The 28-year-old pitcher, who was 28-52 during his first three major league seasons, was on his way to his first 20-win season for the St. Louis Browns in 1903.

Born in St. Louis, Sudhoff was a local favorite.  The St. Louis Republic said about him signing with the Browns (NL) in 1897:

 

sudhoffpix2

Willie Sudhoff with the Ben Winklers, a local St. Louis amateur club circa 1895

 

“Although he had many chances to play with the big Eastern teams, Willy Steadfastly refused their offers and remained loyal to the city of his birth.”

On August 28, the Browns left Cleveland aboard a train carrying the ballclub and the Cleveland Naps— the teams were scheduled to play a doubleheader the following day in St. Louis.  In Napoleon, Ohio, the engineer misread a signal and the train derailed.

The Associated Press said:

“The Cleveland sleeper (car, the first sleeper on the special train that consisted of a baggage car and two sleepers) turned completely over on one side and the boys on the upper said were thrown over on top of those who occupied berths on the opposite side.”

The rear car, carrying the Browns, ended up in a ditch but did not turn over.

In what The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called, “(A) miraculous escape from almost total annihilation,” no players on either club were seriously injured.

Sudhoff was the most seriously injured player; he had a strained wrist and “had his hand cut,” and missed his scheduled start against Cleveland.

Despite the relatively minor injury, teammates and friends said Sudhoff was never the same after the derailment.

After ending 1903 with a 21-15 record and 2.27 ERA for the 65-74 Browns, Sudhof threatened to leave the Browns two weeks before the 1904 season opener.  The Post-Dispatch said he “Bolted from Browns headquarters,” but returned the same day to sign his contract.  The paper said:

“A baseball catastrophe was averted.”

sudhoffpix

Willie Sudhoff, 1903

By June, Sudhoff, struggling on his way to an 8-15 3.76 ERA season, was accused of underperforming to draw his release.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“This is the gossip of the bleachers, where the deep undercurrents of baseball diplomacy are as an open book.

“Sudhoff bears no more resemblance in his pitching this year to the Sudhoff of last year than a Parish League shortstop to Hans Wagner.  To all appearances, the little twirler is in excellent condition but he fails of delivery as to the goods nearly every time he goes into the box.”

The paper said, “Sudhoff indignantly denies that there is any truth to the story.”

The following season The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said the Browns had cut Sudhoff’s salary for 1905.  Team owner Robert Hedges remained hopeful about his pitcher’s future:

“Willie pitched good baseball at times last year, but he had so many misfortunes during the season that it discouraged him a bit.”

Hedges said two members of Sudhoff’s family had died and that he had also taken care of sick relatives.

And Sudhoff appeared to make Hedges look smart when he shut out the Cleveland Naps in his first start of the season.

He attributed his success to his new “Raising Jump Ball.”  He told The Post-Dispatch:

“It is different from the “raise ball” of Charley Nichols and the “jump ball” of Christy Mathewson but combines features of both.  It passes over the plate at a man’s shoulder and jumping rises, changing its course slightly as it passes him.”

The paper said Sudhoff believed his pitch “will revolutionize the theory of curve pitching.”

The pitch did not turn Sudhoff’s luck around; after winning his first two decisions he went 8-20 the rest of the season.

Beginning in July, it was rumored that Sudhoff would be sold to the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association, but Sudhoff managed to stay in St. Louis for the whole season.  In December he was traded to the Washington Senators for pitcher Beany Jacobson.

The Post-Dispatch said after the trade:

“Sudhoff does not like the stories being circulated about the alleged inefficiency of his arm.”

He told the paper:

“Why should I get out of the game so long as the public and the managers will stand for me?  I am still a young fellow…Watch me next year.”

One of the “stories” about Sudhoff’s arm was reported by The Washington Post:

“A St. Louis critic claims that Willie Sudhoff injured his pitching arm by indulging in too much bowling, which developed muscles that he had no use for in his work on the diamond.”

Sudhoff only lasted until July in Washington, in nine appearances he was 0-2 with a 9.15 ERA.

In 1907 and 1908 Sudhoff signed with American Association teams—the Kansas City Blues and Louisville Colonels—but never played in a regular season game for either.

Sudhoff appeared in one more professional game—he gave up four runs in three innings pitching for the Topeka White Sox in the Western Association in July 1908.

He returned to St. Louis where he sold suits and pitched in the city’s semi-pro Trolley league in 1909 and 1910.

Late in 1911, The St. Louis Star reported that Sudhoff was planning a professional comeback:

“He is working hard this winter to get in shape.  He believes he can regain his cunning.”

The comeback never materialized and Sudhoff took a job as an oiler at the St. Louis waterworks Chain of Rocks Plant until July of 1913.  The Post-Dispatch reported that he had been admitted to St. Louis’ City Hospital, diagnosed as “Violently insane.”

The paper said it took two patrolmen to subdue Sudhoff, who was placed in “a dark padded cell to prevent him from injuring himself.”

According to the report:

“Sudhoff continually calls to everyone who comes within sight, saying he was a professional ballplayer and he will give $5 if the stranger gets him out.”

Mrs. Sudhoff told police her husband “acted queerly” for the previous three months, and “Monday evening he put on his old baseball suit and:

“(C)avorted about the yard, talking continuously about playing with the Browns.”

Sudhoff was transferred to the St. Louis City Sanitarium the following week.

There was speculation about whether it was a beaning in 1905 or the train wreck that contributed to Sudhoff’s insanity.

The paper said:

“Physicians believe (the) old injury to his head is responsible for his condition.”

And while the paper said no one present at the train wreck “(D)o not believe he received a blow serious to cause a permanent injury,”  some of Sudhoff’s former teammates, and Browns owner Robert Hedges “(R)ecalled an eccentricity that developed shortly after the wreck.  From that time on in a Pullman car, he went to bed fully dressed.”

A 1908 article in The Detroit Free Press about the train crash said:

“Sudhoff was so frightened that he could not utter a word for ten minutes, and from that time until he quit the league, ‘Wee Willie’ always sat up all night on a train.  He would do anything to get out of railroad traveling.”

Sudhoff never made it out of the city sanitarium; he died there on the morning of May 25, 1917.

He was survived by his wife and his son, Emmet Wallace, named after Sudhoff’s teammates Emmet Heidrick and Bobby Wallace.

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“Inaugural Sample of his Peculiarities”

12 Jun

When Rube Waddell arrived in St. Louis after spring training in French Lick, Indiana in 1908, The Pittsburg Press reported:

“(The) Crazy pitcher gives St. Louis inaugural sample of his peculiarities.”

rube

Rube Waddell

The paper said when Waddell and the rest of the Browns got to town they stayed at St. Louis’ Planter’s House Hotel:

“When it came time to retire, about 10 o’clock, Waddell and (Bill) Dinneen found they had both been assigned to room 608.

“Dineen said he wanted a room to himself because of a boil on his knee.  Then Waddell got on his dignity and stated he wanted a room to himself anyway and must have one.  The clerk demurred and took the position that (Browns) President (Robert) Hedges had ordered the men to double up while at the Planters.

Waddell told Dineen he could have the room by himself, if that was the case, as he intended to move.  He went upstairs, packed his suitcase and went to the Empress Bar on Walnut Street.  Waddell decided he had a grievance and was also certain he was thirsty.

“He satisfied the thirst in an orderly manner, and, then to make himself useful, he ordered the bartender from behind the mahogany and held down the job for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, word had been sent to Hedges and (Manager Jimmy) McAleer, and scouts located Waddell.”

More Superstitions, 1884

2 Jun

Superstitious ballplayers are as old as baseball.

When the Philadelphia Athletics visited Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for an exhibition game 1884, a reporter from The Harrisburg Telegraph talked to “an old base baller” who was attending the game.

The reporter asked:

“’Are base ball players superstitious?’

“’You betcher life,’ said the veteran; ‘why there is Harry Wright (who) always carries a black cat in the bat bag, just for luck.  Al Spalding  of the Chicago carries a buckeye in his pocket for luck, and Bob Ferguson begins to hedge in his bets if he meets a cross-eyed man while on his way to the grounds.’”

harrywright

Harry Wright

The “old base baller” also told the reporter:

Bobby Matthews will never pitch unless he has an old copper cent in his pocket, and Monte Ward, of the New Yorks, carries a mascot around his neck in the shape of a gold coin.  (Jim) Whitney, of Boston, loses heart if he forgets to put his bunch of keys in his pocket before pitching.  Just before the Athletics-St. Louis game last year to decide the championship, (Bill) Gleason, of the St. Louis, got as pale as a sheet when he saw a red-headed boy carry in the bat bag.  He said it was bad luck, and, sure enough, it was.”

gleason

Bill Gleason

Philadelphia won the September 23 game 9-2, giving them a 3 ½ game lead in the American Association race, and held on to win the pennant by 1 game.

And the old player told the paper:

“Big (Dan) Brouthers, of the Buffalos, carries a barlow knife for luck.  Oh, yes, base ball players are superstitious, an’ don’t ye forgit it.”

“Yet, not one of them can Play Ball like Wallace”

3 May

Jack O’Connor needed to vent.  The St. Louis Browns manager had just led his club to one of the worst seasons in major league history—a 47-107 record.

 

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1910 Coca-Cola ad featuring O’Connor

 

Having just piloted a team that batted .218—the leading hitter was 36-year-old Bobby Wallace, who hit .258, and whose best pitcher, Joe Lake, posted an 11-17 record, O’Connor had reached a few conclusions about the game.  He told a reporter for The St. Louis Republic:

“The only thing every free-born American, with a constitution and public schools, thinks he can do is to play ball and manage a ball club.  Yet playing ball and managing ball clubs are two of the most highly specialized professions in the world.”

O’Connor said of the second-guessers:

“Of some 10,000 boys and men who are playing ball one way or another not 50 can play one position well enough to be called first-class ballplayers.

“One million young Americans see (Ty) Cobb play ball every year; yet not one of them can even imitate him.

“All that Walter Johnson, the greatest of pitchers, has is speed.  Now any strong-armed young man has speed.  Yet in 10,000,000 strong-armed young men not one has speed like Johnson has.

“How do you figure it?

“I guess that 10,000,000 young men and at least 100,000 professional ballplayers have seen Wallace perform in the 17 years he has been playing. Yet, not one of them can play ball like Wallace. Not one can even throw like him.”

And, no doubt, with the Browns’ .218 team batting average on his mind, O’Connor said:

“Batting is simple.  How many boys and men have seen Lajoie in the past 15 years—yet why can’t some one of them bat like Larry?

wallace

Bobby Wallace

And with a 47-win season on his mind, O’Connor concluded:

“I have always held that ballplayers are born, not made…so many smart fellows who have good heads and the ball instinct think that they can take good-looking athletes with legs and arms and eyes and make ballplayers of them.  The smart fellows make the mistake of imaging that the object of their solicitude has the head and instinct that they—the instructors—have…Many boys have everything but instinct.  That is the quality that is hardest to find.”

Despite the Browns’ horrible record, it was O’Connor’s role in trying to assist Lajoie, his former teammate, to win the batting title over Cobb on the final day of the season—ordering third baseman Red Corriden to play so far back that Lajoie bunted in five straight at-bats—that led to his firing.

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.”

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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