Tag Archives: St. Louis Browns

“A Catcher is the Most Important man on a Team”

16 Oct

Lou Criger was very confident when he joined the St. Louis Browns in 1909.  He spoke to S. Carlisle Martin, the cartoonist for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who occasionally interviewed notables and published the story with a series of drawings:

“A catcher is the most important man on a team…a poor catcher can spoil the good work of any pitcher and a live, brainy catcher can make an ordinary pitcher look good…Another point:  The catcher has the whole game in front of him.  Besides tipping the pitcher off on the different batters as they come up—signaling for a high or low one, one close in and one away out, the catcher must keep one eye on the runner all the time.  And there’s where many a game is lost, letting the runners go wild.”

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Criger as drawn by Martin

Then, Criger decided to take on Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers:

“Why they tell you that Ty Cobb is a great base runner.  Maybe he is, but I never had any trouble with him.  Why he only got away with me twice in the two years that I have been playing against him>  Most of his good base running I call bone-headed work.  And one of those two times he tried the delayed steal, that is, starting when he thought I was going to return the ball to the pitcher, and then I had him by 20 feet, but the second baseman was away from the bag and waited for him, and Cobb slid away round and stuck his foot on the bag.

“No, I’ve got his ‘goat’ and I’ve got the rest of the Tiger bunch, too.  Cobb tried to block me last summer and I went after him and have been after him ever since.  I used to say to him: ‘Look out, Ty, this fellow is as wild as hawk and he’s liable to crack you on the head.’  And then I’d signal for one right at his head.  Bing!  Down he’d drop and when he’d get up the fight was all out of him, he couldn’t hit a stationary balloon.

“You know you can kid a batter until he won’t know where he’s at.  I pestered (the Tigers) so much that they came around and begged me to let up.  They said we had nothing to gain and they might lose the pennant.

“You see, (Boston) made the Tigers look like 30 cents last fall in Detroit when we beat ‘em three straight ( Detroit went from being in second place, a half game out to third and two and a half back after losing a three-game series to the Red Sox September 21-23, 1908) (Hughey) Jennings wouldn’t even get off the bench.”

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Criger said he had ‘Ty Cobb’s Goat”

Criger was just as cocky concerning the Browns prospects for 1909; he said it was likely his final season and he could go out a winner:

“If we got an even break in the luck and our best players are not injured, they’ll have to go some to beat us out…and I feel that we will hang in on Jennings’ bunch.”

Criger’s handicapping was off.  The Tigers went 98-54 to win the pennant—including beating the Browns18 out of 21 games—Cobb hit .351 against the Browns and stole bases. The Browns finished 61-89 in seventh place.  Criger hit just .170 in 74 games and was traded to the New York Highlanders after the 1909 season.

Lost Advertisements: Rip Collins for Mail Pouch Tobacco

5 Oct

ripmailpouch

A 1930 Mail Pouch Tobacco ad featuring Harry Warren ‘Rip’ Collins of the st. Louis Browns.

“A Chew like Mail Pouch actually has a steadying effect on a man’s nerves.”

Collins’ nerves were good for a 108-82 record over 11 major league seasons and for a career as a Texas Ranger.

In November 1926, “Baseball Magazine” declared his career a bit of a disappointment–but for a reason– Collins was simply “Born a hundred years too late.”

The magazine said:

“Collins came to the big leagues an unbranded maverick, wild as a Brahma steer from his own beloved Texas cattle land. Nature, with a lush prodigally, had endowed him with athletic skill of the highest order.  Six feet one he stood with muscles like tempered steel, 205 pounds of raw, crude strength.  He had blinding speed, more sheer stuff, perhaps, than any pitcher has shown since Walter Johnson came out of the mountains of Idaho to create one of the great pitching records in history.”

The magazine said while:

“He might have been a marvelous hurler.  He has been merely good.”

The reason he never reached his potential:

“Rip has been guided through life, for good or ill, by the untamed spirit of the wilderness.  He chafed under irksome restraint.  He hated big cities, crowds, the luxuries of an old and possibly decadent civilization.  He abominated the petty jealousies and the bickerings and the small politics on a big league ball club.”

Collins said:

“When I have finished the baseball season, I can’t be cooped up any longer.  I take my rattle trap Ford and go down to the wild country of the Rio Grande where you can go days with out seeing anybody.  I’m homesick for the call of the coyote.”

Collins said he was better suited “for the pioneer days” than the baseball diamond.

He said he joined the Texas Rangers because he was turned down by the United States Army when he first attempted to enlist, because of two bad knees–one injured during the a football game with the Haskell Indian School when he was at Texas A &M, and the other he hurt playing basketball. The Ranger accepted him he said, caring only that he could ride a horse and shoot.

Of his time with the Rangers, and how it differed from the army in which he later served:

“In the Regular Army a soldier’ll say to the corporal, ‘shall I shoot?’ The corporal will ask the captain and the captain will wire the War Department for instructions  The Rangers don’t believe in asking unnecessary questions.”

The magazine said Collins’ “people were strongly opposed to the professional game.” And he said they still were not completely accepting:

“Even now, they look at it with a little suspicion, though they always get the papers and look up the box scores.”

Collins, who told “Baseball Magazine” he learned how to pitch “throwing rocks at jack rabbits,” admitted he didn’t have a great commitment to the game:

“Baseball to me, has been only a simple way to make a living.  I like the game, but I’d rather pitch in the Texas League where I could go fishing the next day, than to be a star in the majors.”

In the end, Collins said he was “condemned, at present” to a life staying in “swell hotels” instead the life he desired.

Collins remained “condemned” in the major leagues through the 1931 season–he reappeared in the Texas League for 10 games in 1933.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #25

15 Aug

“Used to Come Upon Field Staggeringly Drunk”

Arthur Irwin was a scout for the New York Highlanders in 1912 when he declared to William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star that, “Players who are hard drinkers in the big leagues are scarce now.”

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Arthur Irwin

Irwin said a combination of “the improvement in morals” of players, and more so the fact that current players were “money mad” were the reason:

“Long ago the hail fellow and the good fellow, who believed that drinking was the jolliest part of life, were numerous in the big leagues, and there were surely some wonderful soaks in the profession.  Stars whose names will shine forever used to come upon the field staggering drunk, and other stars who had sense enough not to exhibit their follies in public would wait till the game was over and then tank up till dawn.”

Irwin told Phelon about King Kelly’s American Association team:

“The club that tried to play ball under King Kel in 1891 at Cincinnati was about the limit.  They made their headquarters at a saloon across the street from the ball park and some of them could be found asleep there at almost all hours when not actually in the game.  Some of the champion Chicago White Stockings and some of the old St. Louis Browns were likewise marvels on the jag, and it has become a baseball legend that the Browns defeated Anson’s men for the world’s championship (in 1886) because (John) Clarkson, Kelly and two or three others were beautifully corned.”

Clarkson won his first two starts of the series, but lost his next two.  Kelly hit just .208 in the series and St. Louis won four games to two.

Jennings’ Six Best

In 1916, Hughie Jennings “wrote” a short piece for the Wheeler syndicate that appeared in several papers across the country, about the six best pitchers he faced:

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Hughie Jennings

Jack Taylor and Nig Cuppy had fair speed and a fine curve ball, with the added advantage of a slow ball, and good control.  The latter, I contend is the most important asset a pitcher can possess.  My six greatest pitchers are:

Amos Rusie

Jack Taylor

Cy Seymour

Denton (Cy) Young

Charles “Kid” Nichols

Nig Cuppy

“Rusie, Nichols and Young had wonderful speed and fast breaking curves.  Cy Seymour also belonged to this case.”

“Batters Might as Well Hang up Their Sticks”

Add Ned Hanlon to the long list of prognosticators who were sure a rule change would be the death of the game—in this case, the decision in 1887 that abolished the rule allowing batters to call for high or low pitches.

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Ned Hanlon

 

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

 “Hanlon of the Detroits says the abolition of the high and low ball was a fatal mistake, and the batters might as well hang up their sticks.  Ned argues that as the pitcher has the space between the knee and the shoulder in which to throw the ball, all he has got to do is vary the height of his delivery with every ball he pitches, and thus completely delude the batter.  He claims that pitchers capable of doing head work will have a picnic, and that Baldwin will be particularly successful.”

 

“An Impenetrable Mystery Surrounds the Whereabouts of Arlie Latham”

13 Aug

Arlie Latham was missing.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch said:

 “An impenetrable mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Arlie Latham, the great third baseman of the Brownstocking Club.”

In two days, the defending American Association champion Browns were scheduled to play a preseason “World’s Championship” series with the National League champion Chicago White Stockings, and Latham was missing.

The paper said there were “wild-eyed” rumors that Latham had arrived in town and was at the home of his mother in law, “Mrs. Garvin, No. 2315 Chestnut Street.”

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Arlie Latham

The Garvin’s next door neighbor even “came downtown…and stated positively that he had seen Latham on (April 3) walking around the yard and removing clothes lines from the back fence or engaged in some equally domestic occupation.”

The paper said there were several stories circulating about Latham:

“(T)hat (Browns) President (Chris) von der Ahe had seen him and knows that he is here…(they) understand each other and have prepared a big surprise for the audience at the opening game…and that all the differences between them as to salary has been amicably settled.”

Or:

“Latham is laid up at his wife’s mother’s house on Chestnut Street and is suffering with malarial fever.”

Or:

“The present abode of Latham (is) a mystery.”

The final story was based on the fact that “numerous letters” were waiting for Latham unclaimed at the Laclede Hotel “where he generally stops when in the city.”

The paper sent a reporter to the Garvin house to interrogate Latham’s mother in law:

“The bell was answered by the lady herself, who when Latham was asked for, replied:

“’Mr. Latham is not here.’

“’When did he leave?’

“’Last fall some time.’”

Mrs. Garvin said she had received a letter the da before from her daughter who she said was in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Mrs. Garvin asked the reporter:

“’What interest do you take in Mr. Latham?’

“Don’t you know the Browns are going to play the Chicagos Thursday?’

“’No, I didn’t know anything about that.’”

The reporter told Mrs. Garvin there were reports Latham had been seen at her home:

“’Well, I can’t see how anybody could say such a thing.’”

The Post-Dispatch then sought an answer from the Browns owner:

“Extensive questioning could bring no definite answer from President von der Ahe regarding the mystery.”

The Browns owner did tell the paper:

“No, you can put that down positively he has not signed with the club, and what’s more I’m not going to come to his terms.’

“’What does he want?’

“’Well, he says he won’t play with us this year unless I pay him $2800, and I’ll never do that.”

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von der Ahe

According to von der Ahe, he offered Latham $2500 for the season:

“’I’ve made him an offer that is sufficiently good for his services, and if he doesn’t want to sign for that, he needn’t.’”

When the Browns opened the series, Latham was still missing.  Eight thousand people turned out for the first game against Chicago and Lou Sylvester played third.  The Browns lost six to three.

But, apparently, the reports that Latham was in town were incorrect.

The Post-Dispatch said von der Ahe received a telegram from Latham during the game saying he would be in St. Louis that evening.

The Chicago Tribune said Latham accepted $2500 for the 1887 season.

Latham arrived in St. Louis on the evening of April 7, and started for the Browns the next day, The Post-Dispatch said:

“Latham shows up in excellent for and guards their third bag.”

He went 0 for 2 with two walks in a seven to four Browns victory.

The White Stockings won the series four games to two.  Latham hit .440 with 11 hits in 25 at bats.  The regular season started the day after the series.

The Browns won another American Association championship in 1887, finishing 14 games ahead of the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

Latham, arguably, had his best season.  He hit .316, and with the loose scoring for stolen bases in 1887 he had 129.

“No Game I Ever Pitched Meant Half as Much to me”

10 Aug

Shortly after his son’s major league debut on the 4th of July, 1928, The Chicago Daily News said:

“This is a story of Ed Walsh Jr., but it is also the story of Ed Walsh.”

The paper said Walsh Jr. “fulfilled an ambition the father had nurtured for 23 years.”

The older Walsh, who had just joined the team as a coach, told the paper:

“As soon as he was able to toddle around he wanted to play ball…He always wanted to be a pitcher too.  I guess most boys do, but if they can’t pitch they‘ll play somewhere else.  Not this boy though.  He wanted to pitch all the time.”

Walsh talked about what he taught his son:

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Jr.

“I’ve drummed three things into him—control, so he can lay the ball in there where he wanted it; studying the hitters, so he could always be ahead of him, and fielding his position, so he could help himself in a lot of plays where he’d be lost if he wasn’t a good fielder.  And I told him, too, never to forget there were seven men out in the field behind him, and not to try to throw every ball past the hitters.”

The younger Walsh was signed by the Sox in June, after pitching at Notre Dame, where his father was also his pitching coach.  Big Ed said:

“I never had to tell him to practice or to hustle.  He loves baseball too much for that He played ball every minute he could and as he grew up he improved until I don’t think there was a better pitcher in any of the colleges as he was at Notre Dame.”

Walsh said his son was 25-3 during his college career and “won twenty-five games and lost six” for a semi-pro team in the Massachusetts/Rhode Island based Blackstone Valley League between the end of Notre Dame’s season and before he joined Chicago.

One feature of Walsh’s first start was that manager Ray Schalk, started the game behind the plate—one of only two games he appeared in and his only start, The Chicago Tribune said;

“(Schalk) made his first start of the year in his old place so that he might boast of having caught two generations of the Walsh family.”

Walsh Jr. lasted just four innings, giving up five runs in fourth after walking three straight batters.

Regarding his son’s first game, Walsh told The Daily News:

“He pitched his first game for the Sox against the Browns…got off to a good start and then got into a jam and had to be taken out.  Maybe he was overanxious and was missing the plate, though Cracker Schalk who caught him, told me afterward that he really had struck out the three men who got bases on balls.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter now, though naturally I would have liked to see him win his first game.”

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Sr.

Schalk resigned as Sox manager the same day.

Ten days after his debut, Walsh won his first game.  His father said:

“Then, last Saturday in Boston, he beat the Red Sox.  Gave them only six hits and the two runs they got came in the first inning before a man was out.  When he settled down he was great and three of the hits they got off him were scratches.”

Walsh said of the experience watching his son’s first victory:

“I can’t tell you how much of a kick I got out of that game.  No game I ever pitched meant half as much to me.  I wasn’t nervous.  I’d seen him pitch against some pretty good hitters and I had confidence in him, but every inning had a thrill for me.  There he was at last, winning a game in the American League.  At that moment I didn’t care if ever won another one—and I’d been waiting for it for twenty-three years.

“He’s got a fast ball, a curve ball and a knuckle ball, and the Boston players told me after the game his fast ball was very deceptive.”

The Daily News predicted great things for the younger Walsh:

“(He is) a magnificent looking young man, slightly more than six feet tall and weighing about 190 pounds, apparently has the stuff, the poise, and the judgment he needs.  If he has a heart as stout as his father’s he’ll be a great pitcher, too.”

Walsh could not match his father’s success.  He pitched parts of four seasons with the White Sox posting an 11-24 record and 5.57 ERA in 79 major league appearances.

Ed Walsh was just 32 years old when he died in 1937 of a heart ailment.

His father was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.

“Baumgardner Ought to be one of the Greatest Pitchers in Baseball”

30 Jul

Two things were certain after George Baumgardner’s major league debut—a 4 to 1 victory over the Big Ed Walsh and the Chicago White Sox—he had talent, and he was a bit odd.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“He had a lot of speed.  The best thing he had was splendid control.  He seemed able to cut the ball across any portion of the plate except the middle, and he seldom gave the Sox a chance to belt a good one, yet he was getting them over for strikes.”

The Chicago Daily News said Baumgardner was told it was a big deal that he had beaten Walsh:

“’Who is this fellow Walsh?’ he asked.  He was told that Big Ed is considered by many the greatest pitcher in the game.  ‘If he’s so good why don’t some National League clubs draft him?’  Inquired Baumgardner innocently.  He has since been told that the American League, in which he promises to earn fame, is a major organization just like the National.”

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Baumgardner, 1912

He was 37-47 with a 3.12 ERA in his first three seasons for Browns teams that lost 101, 90, and 88 games.

However, he was sent home by the Browns after appearing in just seven games in 1915—he was 0-2 with a 4.43 ERA.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, the pitcher “has hit the lonesome trail of the West Virginia pines…and has been advised to go home and get in shape.”

After the 1915 season, American League umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column that, “Baumgardner…ought to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball, but he is not, and thereby hangs a rather interesting tale.”

Evans said:

“Baumgardner has wonderful speed and a beautiful curve.  He is fleet of foot and a corking good fielder.  There are in the major leagues today any number of pitchers rated as stars who do not possess one-half the natural ability.”

Evans said in addition to his slow start, the Browns gave up on the pitcher so easily because of the financial stress the Federal League had caused American and National League clubs:

“Baumgardner’s salary was surely $4,000 or better, because George Stovall tried to sign him for the (Kansas City) Feds.  Stovall, having managed the Browns (Stovall jumped to Kansas City before the 1914 season) was familiar with Baumgardner’s ability. There are few players who would let such a salary slip away from the without making some effort to retain it.”

Evans claimed that after they sent him home, the Browns never heard from their pitcher, and “his whereabouts during the summer was unknown,’ to the team.

“The only news ever received from the eccentric pitcher came through a St. Louis traveling man, who made the small towns in the south.  He bumped into Baumgardner in a West Virginia hamlet pitching for one of the village clubs.  He watched him perform, said he never looked better; so good in fact he could have gotten a long without his outfield.”

Evans said the man asked the pitcher if he had been in touch with the Browns:

“’I am waiting to hear from them,’ was Baumgardner’s reply.  ‘I guess if they really thought they could use me they would have me rounded up.  I ain’t much on letter writing; they don’t need to expect any word from me.”

Evans said:

“It hardly seems possible that in times of war, when big salaries were almost possible fir the mere asking, a fellow would let it get away from him (but) nothing worries the big fellow, it is easy come, easy go with him.”

Baumgardner’s 1916 season was even more unusual than 1915.  He again reported to the Browns out of shape, and struggled.

In June, the Browns attempted to sell him to the Memphis Chickasaws in the Southern Association.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“George Baumgardner of Barboursville, WV, the heart of the Blue Ridge belt, is all puffed up like a pouter pigeon because he has signed a new contract with the Browns.  All of which proves how easy it is to get Baumgardner all puffed up.

“This contract, which Baumgardner considers and asset, according to his own statement, calls for $75 a month.”

The paper said Baumgardner would have earned $200 a month with the Chickasaws, but told manager Fielder Jones:

“Who’ll ever see me pitch in Memphis?”

Baumgardner lasted just one more month in St. Louis.  He appeared in four games for the Browns and posted a 7.88 ERA before being released on July 20.

The Sporting News said the Browns attempted send Baumgardner to the Little Rock Travelers, where he would have earned $250 a month and he again said he wasn’t interested:

“But even that ($75 a month) was too much, thought Fielder Jones, so one day last week he handed Baumgardner another release, his second or third in three months, and told him positively to get away and stay away.”

Baumgardner said his right arm had “gone back on him,” and that he was going to “go back to the mountains and practice with my left arm.”

After several days he joined the Travelers.

He only lasted a month in Little Rock.  Baumgardner was 2-1 in five appearances on August 21 when The Arkansas Democrat said he was heading back to West Virginia:

“(He) says he is going home this week and stay there until next season—maybe.  Or he may come back and help the Travelers in the last few days.”

Baumgardner promised the paper he would return and “not lose more than four games” in 1917.

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Baumgardner, 1917

The Arkansas Gazette summed up his 1917 season:

“Every time “Bummie” goes out he gets a beating.”

And he didn’t keep his word.  He lost five games in 1917, winning three, before being released by Little Rock on June 7.

After winning 37 games in his first three major league seasons, Baumgardner’s professional career was over six weeks before his 25th birthday.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things: Ty Cobb Edition

25 Jul

“I didn’t make any bets but we won the Game”

After Swede Risberg and Chick Gandil alleged in late 1926 that the Detroit Tigers had thrown four games to the Chicago White Sox late in the 1917 season—a story that was contradicted by more than two dozen former Tigers and White Sox players—Ty Cobb told Bert Walker of The Detroit Times that the St. Louis Browns likely threw the final three games of the season against the Tigers in 1923.

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Cobb

Walker said before the first game of the series on October 1, Browns players approached Cobb and said:

“’You are going to win today’s game.  We will not try to take it.  Those damned —–, meaning the Indians, have insulted us all season and we hope you beat them out.’”

Cobb told Walker:

“’I was in uniform at the time, and went to the office of (Tigers President Frank) Navin and told him the whole thing.  There was still more than an hour in which to get down bets on a sure thing.  I do not know if any bets were made or not.  I didn’t make any bets but we won the game.’”

The Tigers swept the season-ending series three game series with the Browns while the Indians split a four-game series with the Chicago White Sox, resulting in Detroit finishing a half game ahead of Cleveland.

“The Percentage of Those Whom I Have Spiked”

Cobb talked to The Dayton Herald in 1915 about why baseball was not a profession for everyone:

“It is hard to succeed in baseball, not because the game is hard in itself, but because of the rebuffs that a player receives from all sides…Several years ago when I broke into the big show, I was a target for all the remarks sport writers could not fire at anyone else.

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“It was simply because when I slid into a base and would put all the force I possessed into my slide, they said I was a rowdy and that I was trying my best to spike the other fellow.

“Well, if the records were kept, it would be shown that the percentage of those whom I have spiked would be no higher than that of any other major leaguer in the game.”

“Sure, I’ll hit, Watch me”

In 1925, Frank G. Menke of The New York Daily News marveled that Cobb was, at age 38, still one of the game’s best hitters—he was hitting above .400 when the article appeared in June and ended up fourth in the American League with a .378 average:

“No man can think of Ty Cobb without gasping over his bewildering ability as a ballplayer.

“There never was a player like him—none remotely approached.  And so long as the game endures there shall not be another like him because Cobb is superlative, peerless, and alone.”

Cobb hit 12 home runs that season, tying his highest career output.  Menke told the story behind Cobb’s biggest power outburst of the season:

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Ty Cobb

“Out in St. Louis (on May 5) some rabid fans proceeded to ‘bait’ Cobb.  They jeered him, called him a ‘has-been’—and dared him to do some hitting.  Scoffing and sneers take the fight and the heart out of some men; they serve merely as spurs to greater endeavor within others.  And Cobb is the latter type.

“’Want me to hit, hey’ sneered back Cobb at the hooting throng.  ‘Sure, I’ll hit.  Watch me.’

“And within two playing days Cobb banged out five home runs.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #23

4 Jun

Evers Shuts Down Donlin

Mike Donlin’s final comeback ended with a final stop with the New York Giants as a coach and pinch hitter.

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Mike Donlin

Frank Menke of Hearst’s International News Service said Donlin tried to get under Johnny Evers’ skin in the last series the Giants played with the Braves:

“Evers, the peppery captain of the Boston Braves, walked up to the plate…watched three strikes whizz by and was declared out.

“’Oh, I say, Johnny,’ chirped up Donlin.  ‘What was you waiting for?’

“Quick as a flash Johnny shot back:

“’I wasn’t waiting for the first and fifteenth of the month so as to get rent money, anyway.’

“The retort hurt Mike who was holding down the job as pinch hitter and coach for the Giants not because of his ability in either department, but through the friendship of Manager (John) McGraw.”

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Johnny Evers,

Donlin appeared in just 35 games for the Giants, all as a pinch hitter, he hit just .161.

Comiskey Can’t Understand Padden

By 1906, Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune said of the importance of “a man whose brain is as agile as his body…Never was this fact so impressed upon me as a few years ago when I was sitting with (Charles) Comiskey.”

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Charles Comiskey

Fullerton and Comiskey were watching the White Sox play the St. Louis Browns:

“Commy was talking, half to himself, about Dick Padden, who was about as quick a thinker as ever played the game.

“’I can’t understand it,’ soliloquized the Old Roman.  ‘He can’t hit. He can’t run. He isn’t good on ground balls.  He’s not any too sure of thrown balls, and his arm is bad.’ He stopped a moment and then added: ‘But he’s a hell of a good ballplayer.’”

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Dick Padden

Jones Shuts Down Altrock

Nick Altrock won 20 games for the 1906 White Sox, after an arm injury and his general disinterest in staying in shape, Altrock slipped to 7-13 the following season.

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Nick Altrock

Late in 1907, The Washington Evening Star said:

“Altrock is the champion mimic and imitator of the American League…Nick delights to give his various imitations, and much amusement do his companions find in these diversions of Altrock.

“The other day at Chicago, and just a few minutes before the game between the New Yorks and the Windy City aggregation began, the big pitcher was delighting the members of his own team, as well as several of the New York bunch, with his clever imitations of notable people, when he suddenly turned to Fielder Jones, the captain and manager of the Chicagos, and asked:

‘”What shall be my last imitation for the evening, Fielder?’

“’Why,’ replied Jones, with that sober look of his, ‘as I am going to pitch you this evening, Nick, suppose when you get in the box you give us an imitation of a winning pitcher.”

Frank Isbell and Big Betsy

16 May

Frank Isbell of the Chicago White Sox started hitting in 1905—having never hit better than .257, and after batting just .210 the previous season, Isbell posted a .296 average in 351 at bats in ’05.

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Frank Isbell

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune suggested it was due to his bat, “Big Betsy.”  Fullerton said:

“The early history of the bat is unknown, but it was believed Issy discovered Betsy in a lot of bats purchased by the club.  He fell in love with her and was always ready when hits were needed.”

In 1906, Isbell led the Hitless Wonders’ regulars with a .279 average, and hit .308 in the World Series versus the Chicago Cubs, including four doubles in his first four at bats in game 5.

Publishers Press News Service said:

“Big Isbell was a tower of strength with the stick.  Four crashing doubles the lanky Swede tore off and besides scoring three runs himself, he drove in three more.”

Isbell added three more hits in game 6, and according to The Chicago Record-Herald, Isbell told Sox owner Charles Comiskey he was going to retire Betsy:

“That grand old bat has seen its last hard work on the ball field.  It’s going to pass the rest of its days in peace.  That stick helped skin the Cubs…Oh, it’s a great bat, but you’ll never see it on a ball field again.  That’s the souvenir I prize above all the rest.”

Isbell changed his mind during the off season.

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Isbell

Charles Dryden of The Tribune told the story of Big Betsy’s debut in 1907:

“By far the most important arrival of (opening) day was Big Betsy, which traveled by registered letter from Wichita, Kansas.  She is too priceless to be risked any other way.  Big Betsy is the bat from which the talented Mr. Isbell fired four two-baggers in the fifth game of the World’s Series.  News that Betsy had reported sent some high grade chills chasing up and down the spine of the (St. Louis) Browns.”

Isbell, Dryden said, had brought the bat to Mexico City where the Sox trained in 1907, and when he later took a train from New Orleans home to Wichita, “Izzy took a top berth and let Betsy have the lower.”  Isbell then shipped the bat to St. Louis for the opener because, “He had two grips, one in either hand, and there was no secure place for Betsy.  He would not trust the porter.”

Dryden said the bat arrived the Southern Hotel in St. Louis at 11 o’clock on the morning of the game:

“Oozy Ed Walsh helped Izzy receive the stick and together they fondled it with loving hands.  It was Oozy Ed who trained Big Betsy, using her to hit fungoes with in practice.

“The same tarred tape is sticking to the handle, and across the butt end of the weapon Izzy had carved lifelike portraits of the love doubles he smote on that fearful West Side day.”

Four days later with Isbell slightly hobbled by a leg injury, tragedy struck Big Betsy in Detroit.  Dryden said in The Tribune:

“Izzy is in a bad way mentally and physically.  Big Betsy, the fat bat that brought fame and dollars, is no more.  Her shattered fragments wound about with crepe and forget me nots now are in the baggage coach ahead, bound for Wichita, Kansas.  The remains will be framed and hung up in Izzy’s boudoir for future generations to rubber.  It was G. (Sox Shortstop, George) Davis who put Big Betsy in the morgue.  He borrowed her yesterday when Izzy was not looking and busted Betsy wide open hitting into a double play.”

Without Big Betsy and hampered by a season-ending hand injury in August, Isbell hit just .243 in 1907, he hit .247 in 1908 after holding out until June, and .224 in 1909.  Isbell requested, and was granted, his release by Comiskey before the 1910 season in order to accept an offer to become player-manager of his hometown Wichita Jobbers in the Western League.

“Sweeney Emptied his Revolver”

6 Apr

Charlie Sweeney was attempting to resurrect his career in 1886.  The previous season he was 11-21 for the St. Louis Maroons and had alienated most of his teammates when after a fight with outfielder Emmett Seery during a post-season exhibition tour.

Things didn’t start much better in 1886.  Sweeney was beaten up in May by five “thugs,” as he walked home from Union Grounds in St. Louis—some have speculated that Seery was behind the attack.

SweeneyCharlie

Charlie Sweeney

Regardless of who was responsible, the beating led to Sweeney petitioning for, and being granted, permission to carry a gun in St. Louis.

Sweeney was 5-6 with a 4.16 ERA on June 27, when, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he and catcher Tom Dolan attended the St. Louis Browns game, and took part in:

“(A) little difficulty at Sportsman’s Park…in which these two players took an active and disturbing part, for which the Maroons managers thought called for prompt and severe action.”

tomdolan

Tom Dolan

The details are scarce; wire reports simply referenced “ungentlemanly conduct” on the part of the Maroons players, but in any case both were released for their behavior.

Within days of being released and within weeks of being granted permission to carry a gun, it was obvious an armed Sweeney was not a good idea.

In July, The Sporting News reported on an incident following his release:

“The hands of the big clock on the wall pointed to the hour of two, and the bartender thought it was time his congregation should disperse and meander homeward.

“He locked the side door and stood near the front entrance, inviting all the boys that were there to take a walk.

“Charley Sweeney was among the number, and he rather objected to leaving the place at that early hour.

“Some of the boys took hold of him and jerked him out of the door.  He had no sooner reached the sidewalk than the door was slammed upon him.  Sweeney was furious.

“He drew the revolver which he has carried about him lately and made an attack on the front door.

“In a moment pistol shot seemed to be coming from every direction.  The bullets, however, all came from Charley’s favorite weapon.

“The few favored ones who had been left behind on the inside were paralyzed with fear.  Some of them climbed over the counter and hid under the pop bottles and kegs of beer.

“Others jumped behind posts, and held their positions with a tenacity that was simply wonderful t behold.  Others made their escape, through the windows in the rear, for the doors were all locked, while a few scrambled under the table and did their best to get out of harm’s way.

“Sweeney emptied his revolver and then reloaded and emptied it again.  The fourteen shots attracted the attention of the police, who soon surrounded the building and called upon Sweeney to cease firing.

“He in the coolest manner possible, put his revolver in his pocket, laughed and walked away.”

The article went on to say that once granted a gun permit from the city after the beating:

“Ever since that he has gone around carrying a small arsenal in his rear pocket, and on several occasions has seen fit to flourish his weapon and threaten to let daylight out of those who happened to be in his way.”

Sweeney’s major league ended the following season, at age 24.

In 1894, he was convicted of manslaughter after shooting a man in a bar in San Francisco.

He was dead before his 39th birthday.