Tag Archives: St. Louis Cardinals

“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.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #17

10 Feb

Honus Wagner on Integration, 1939

As part of a series of articles on the long overdue need to integrate major league baseball, Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier interviewed many of baseball’s biggest names.  One of the most vocal proponents was Honus Wagner.

Wagner

Wagner

The then 65-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates coach told Smith:

“Most of the great Negro players I played against have passed on, but I remember many of them well.

Rube Foster was one of the greatest pitchers of all time.  He was the smartest pitcher I have ever seen in all my years of baseball.

“Another great player was John Henry Lloyd.  They called him ‘The Black Wagner’ and I was always anxious to see him play.

“Well, one day I had an opportunity to go see him play.  After I saw him I felt honored that they should name such a great ballplayer after me, honored.”

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

Wagner said the “Homestead Grays had some of the best ballplayers I have ever seen.”

John Henry lloyd

John Henry lloyd

Although he misidentified one of them as “lefty,” Wagner also said of William Oscar Owens, a pitcher and outfielder for the Grays and several other clubs:

“He was a great pitcher and one of the best hitters I have ever seen.”

More recently, Wagner said Oscar CharlestonJasper “Jap” Washington, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson “could have made the grade easily had they been accepted.”

Wagner concluded:

“Yes, down through the years, I have seen any number of Negro players who should have been in big league baseball.”

 

Uniform Criticism, 1923

The Decatur (IL) Herald found the state of baseball uniforms worthy of an editorial in March of 1923:

“Pictures of baseball players in training reveal that the season of 1923 has brought no marked change in the style of uniform.  It is quite as baggy and unbecoming as ever.

“Baseball players refer to their costumes as ‘monkey suits,’ a term that is supposed to establish some sort of connection with the cut of the affairs worn by the little animals that pick up the organ grinder’s pennies.  However, that may be, no sensible man imagines that his uniform accentuates his good looks.  It is purely a utility costume and smartness has no place in it.”

ruthandgehrig

Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in their “baggy and unbecoming” 1923 uniforms

 

The paper was most concerned about the uniform’s tendency to make players look foolish and appear to be out of shape:

“A collarless blouse with an awkward length sleeve bags at the belt in a way to emphasize abdominal prominence instead of athletic trimness about the loins.  Loose knickerbockers gathered at the knee resemble the khaki uniforms of the Spanish-American War period in their voluminousness and wrinkles…A cap fitting close about the head and bringing ears into striking relief is the climatic feature of this make-up.

“Underneath this covering of dirty gray or brown there are doubtless lithe limbs and well developed muscles, but the spectator doesn’t see them.  The baseball costume doubtless serves its purpose, it fails lamentably to make the wearer look like an athlete.”

No Women Allowed, 1912

Coming out of the 1912 winter meetings in Chicago, The New York Globe said:

“Nothing doing for suffragettes in the American League!  Not even if they march to the meeting.  They may be making great progress in their cause, but there will not be any Mrs. Brittons in the Ban Johnson organization.”

“Mrs. Britton” was Helene Hathaway Britton, who became owner of the St. Louis Cardinals after the death of her uncle Stanley Robison.

Helene Hathaway Britton with children Marie and Frank

Helene Hathaway Britton with children Marie and Frank

 “A decision was reached that no woman can own a club or even attend an American League meeting.  According to the owners it was a good decision, as they did not want to get into the same mess of trouble which the National League has encountered since one of its clubs fell into the hands of a woman.  Which shows the American League is constantly being benefitted by the experience of the National.”

The “trouble” referred to tension between Britton and Manager Roger Bresnahan, who she had given a five-year contract before the 1912 season.  The two feuded after the team struggled and Britton rejected numerous overtures from Bresnahan to buy the team.  She eventually fired the manager and a very public battle ensued.  Sinister “Dick” Kinsella, who along with Bill Armour comprised the Cardinals’ scouting staff, resigned claiming Bresnahan was “Not treated right.” Armour remained with the club and a settlement was finally reached when Bresnahan was named manager of the Chicago Cubs.

bresnahanandtoy

Bresnahan moved on to the Cubs

One American League owner told The Globe:

“I think it will benefit our league to keep the women out of baseball.  It is almost impossible to do so, but we must keep them out of baseball.  A woman owning a ballclub is about the limit, and the American League made a great move when they decided to bar female magnates.  Votes for the women may be alright, and we do not blame them for battling for them, but it would be a terrible thing to have them in baseball as owners.  It would mean the ruining of the game.”

Grace Comiskey, who became owner of the Chicago White Sox after the death of her husband John Louis Comiskey in 1939–she was forced to go to court to get control of the club from The First National Bank of Chicago; as trustees of the estate, the bank wanted to sell the team because there was no specific instruction in the will that his widow should take control.

She became the American League’s first woman owner.

The game appears not to have been “ruined” during her tenure.

“Everyone Knows the Human Insect”

13 Jan

Arthur “Bugs” Raymond, obtained by New York Giants at the end of 1908 in the trade that sent Roger Bresnahan to St. Louis, was a great talent but long considered second only to Rube Waddell as baseball’s most eccentric pitcher.

Manager John McGraw was convinced he could succeed with Raymond where other managers had failed.  James Hopper, college football coach, turned novelist and journalist, wrote about Raymond’s first spring with the Giants in “Everybody’s Magazine:”

“’Bugs’ Raymond belongs to the old type of professional baseball player. He is a big child, thoughtless, improvident, a wonder of efficiency at his craft, but totally irresponsible outside of it.  He has been pitching for several years on ‘tail-ender’ clubs—indifferently, in spite of natural gifts, because always out of condition… (McGraw) thinks he can ‘handle’ him.  And he is doing so, thus wise;

“He does not let him have any money. ‘Bugs’ is married and his wife is an invalid.  The contract between (The Giants) and ‘Bugs’ provides that the latter’s salary each month shall go in toto to Mrs. Raymond…Result, a perpetually penniless ‘Bugs’ living an enforced simple life.”

Bugs Raymond

Bugs Raymond

As a result, Hopper said Raymond had behaved and “gradually regained the lithe lines of an athlete,” during the spring in Marlin Texas.

And, six weeks into the 1909 season, it appeared McGraw’s strategy was working.  Raymond won five of his first seven decisions for a team that was 17-17 at the end of May.

Most of what was written about Raymond that season was superficial; many of the stories apocryphal, nearly all of them portrayed him as a simple-minded clown.  One exception was a profile written in May by Sid Mercer of The New York Globe—it remains one of the only articles about Raymond that doesn’t reduce him to a caricature:

“It isn’t necessary to introduce Mr. Arthur Raymond.  Everybody knows the Human Insect.  He’s the easiest fellow to get acquainted with that you ever met.  Just at present, he is the leading pitcher of the Giants, although that is not much of an honor, considering the position of the team.  However, the Chicago citizen is delivering the goods in large packages…Raymond is one of the great pitchers of the country, yet he does not take baseball seriously.

Bugs

Bugs

“He never has got over being a boy, although he is close to 30-years old.  He gets lots of amusement out of the ordinary things of life and of course, his escapades are usually exaggerated.  But do not take the eccentric twirler for a simple fellow.  Raymond has no use for money except to spend it, but he is nevertheless fairly well educated, and when his mind turns to serious thoughts he is quite a different person than the fans imagine he is.

“’I may be crazy,’ he once remarked.  ‘but I ain’t as crazy as Rube Waddell, and I’m no fool.’

“While it cannot be said on good authority that Raymond is a total abstainer, yet he seldom pitches a bad game.  Whatever his faults or weaknesses he earns the salary that is paid to him. His rollicking disposition long ago developed in him a distaste for the accumulation of wealth, so the most of his salary goes to Mrs. Raymond and three children ([sic] Raymond had just one child) in Chicago, while Bugs gets along on a little and has just as good a time as if he handled it all.

“Raymond was originally a pressman on a Chicago newspaper and he has already visited the press rooms of most of the New York papers.  There is nothing of uppish about him and the pressmen are all strong for him…With the bleacherites Raymond is a big favorite.  He is one player who likes to talk baseball to the fans, and his disposition is one that makes friends.  The big fellow is big hearted and generous and there isn’t a mean streak in him.”

Raymond did not finish the 1909 season with the Giants.  He was 18-12 with a 2.47 ERA in mid-September when he left the club, or was asked to leave, or left by mutual agreement, depending on the source.

He was said to be tending bar in New York in late September—but that story is questionable as most contemporary accounts say he was with the Giants when they arrived in Pittsburgh on September 27 and returned to his home in Chicago on September 29.  He told The Chicago Daily News:

“I was fined again and again and suspended until I couldn’t stand it any longer.  My salary for the year was $4500 but McGraw fined me $1700 on one pretext or another, so I’ve got only $2800 for my work this year.

“I was unjustly suspended a short time ago, and this was the last straw.  McGraw didn’t seem inclined to give me a chance to work, and so I quit the team and came home to Chicago.  I may pitch a few games here for some local teams.”

McGraw tried and failed two more times with Raymond—he was 10-15 in 1910 and ’11 with the Giants.  He was dead 15 months after his final game with New York.

“I am going to Drown this Insect of a Manager”

11 Jan

Louis Wilber “Louie” Heilbroner was one of the most unlikely managers in history; no one knew that better than he did.

heilbroner

Louie Heilbroner

In August of 1900, the St. Louis Cardinals—with five future Hall of Famers on the roster—were 42-50 and in seventh place when Manager Oliver “Patsy” Tebeau resigned.  He told The St. Louis Republic:

“My reason?  Simply that I could not make the team play the ball it seemed capable of playing.  I tried every trick I knew and found myself unable to get proper results.”

The Cardinals spent more time fighting—one another, umpires, other teams—than winning.

A cartoon in The Philadelphia North American about the fighting reputation of the 1900 Cardinals

A cartoon in The Philadelphia North American about the fighting reputation of the 1900 Cardinals

It appeared to be a foregone conclusion that Captain John McGraw would be the new manager.  McGraw had other ideas.

He told The Republic he had “refused the position.”  But the paper noted:

“Yet, he admits that, at Mr. (Frank DeHass) Robison’s request, he assumed full duties of the office laid down by Mr. Tebeau…according to his own admission then, McGraw is manager of the St. Louis team.”

While McGraw accepted Tebeau’s duties, the title of manager went to Heilbroner, the 4’ 9” business manager of the club.  The Republic called him a “straw man,” and “scapegoat.”

“(Heilbroner is) all dressed up for use in case (McGraw) fails to make the team win…McGraw is evidently a bit leery of his job of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s leg…Though the team is strong enough to win, it is badly disorganized and full of cliques.”

The paper said Heilbroner “makes no pretensions of baseball knowledge.  He does not know a base hit from a foul flag.”

With Heilbroner as “manager,” the team limped to a 23-25-2 finish.

Later, while he was serving as president of the Central League, Heilbroner told Billy Murphy of The St. Louis Star about the moment he claimed he realized he wanted nothing to do with managing a big league club—it involved the then 22-year-old “Turkey Mike” Donlin.

Mike Donlin

Mike Donlin

“(Donlin) was known as a bad actor.  So much so that his frequent clashes with umpires caused Mike to adorn the bench most of the time.”

Murphy said McGraw had gone to Heilbroner and asked him to help stop Donlin from fighting with umpires.  Heilbroner said:

“I’ll stop him.  I’ll fine him the next time he is put out by an umpire.”

Heilbroner said the next time Donlin was ejected, he told him:

“’That will cost you $100, Donlin.’

“With that (Donlin) reached over and. Grabbing Heilbroner with one hand lifted him off the ground.

“’Take the cover off the water bucket, Mac,’ he said to McGraw.  ‘I am going to drown this insect of a manager.’

“’And I think he would have done it, said Heilbroner, ‘if I had not remitted the fine and resigned my job as manager.”

Heilbroner made his greatest contribution to the game in 1908 when he founded the Heilbroner Baseball Bureau, and the following year when he began publishing the Baseball Blue Book.

“Here was the King of all the Tramps I’d ever seen”

7 Oct

In 1947, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald-Tribune told a story about how he came to know one of the most colorful pitchers of the first decade of the 20th Century:

“Baseball, above all other games, has known more than its share in the way of masterpieces of eccentricity.  Many of these I happen to know.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice went on to list some of his favorites—Rube Waddell, Crazy Schmit, Dizzy Dean—“Also, Flint Rhem, Babe Herman, Bobo Newsom, Germany Schaefer, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Arlie Latham—nits, wits, and half-wits—but all great ballplayers.”  But, said Rice, “one of the leaders in this colorful field” had been all but forgotten:

“His name was (Arthur) Bugs Raymond, the pitcher John McGraw always insisted had the finest pitching motion he ever saw, including Walter Johnson.”

[…]

“I remember Bugs because I happened to have a small part in his pitching career.  I was working in Atlanta (for The Journal) when I happened to read a story that came out of Shreveport (Louisiana), about a young pitcher named Raymond who had made and won the following bet:

“That he could eat a whole turkey, drink two bottles of scotch—and win a doubleheader.  He did it.  I didn’t believe it at the time, but I believed it later.  I recommended to either (Atlanta Crackers owner) Abner Powell or (manager) Billy Smith (44 years is a long time) that Raymond looked like a good buy.  Good copy is always scarce.  Raymond sounded like good copy.”

Bugs Raymond

Bugs Raymond

Rice’s story about the bet is likely apocryphal, there is no mention of it in contemporary newspapers in Shreveport, or in Jackson, Mississippi where Raymond played in the Cotton States League before coming to Atlanta–he also names the wrong manager–Smith came to Atlanta the following season.  While Raymond probably didn’t make the bet Rice claimed, he did, on at least one occasion win both ends of a doubleheader, and he was wildly popular in Mississippi.  After he was sold to Atlanta in July of 1905, The Jackson News said:

“The regret over Raymond’s departure was not one-sided.  The big fellow was all broken up over the transaction.”

The paper said that although Raymond would make $200 a month in Atlanta and have a chance to return to the major leagues, leaving Jackson was difficult for him:

“During his engagement with the Jackson team he has made a host of friends and was undoubtedly the most popular player who ever donned a home uniform.  The plain fact is Raymond almost owned the town.  Nothing was too good for him and he always made a hatful of money on the big games, a shower of silver and greenbacks being the inevitable result of a victory in a doubleheader.”

Rice’s story about Raymond also took another real event and embellished it–either by design or through the fog of forty years.

After finishing the 1905 season with a 10-6 record for the Crackers, Raymond was picked by new Manager Billy Smith to start for Atlanta in an exhibition against the Boston Americans on March 26, 1906.

In Rice’s colorful version, he gave the incorrect date for the exhibition and wrongly claimed that he met Raymond face-to-face for the first time on the morning of the game:

“By some odd chance, before starting a mile-and-a-half walk to the ballpark, I happened to be taking a drink at some wayside bar in preparation for the trip.  A heavy hand fell on my shoulder and, as I looked around, there was an unkempt-looking fellow, around 200 pounds who wore no necktie and hadn’t shaved in at least two days.  Here was the king of all the tramps I’d ever seen.

“’How about buying me a drink, fellow?’ was his opening remark.  I bought him a drink.  Then I had to buy him another drink.

“’How do we get out to this ballpark?’ he asked.

“’We walk,’ I said, ‘if you are going with me.’ Then a sudden morbid thought hit me.  ‘Isn’t your name Raymond?’ I asked.

“’Yes,” he said ‘Bugs Raymond.’

“I figured then what my recommendation to the Atlanta team was worth.  Something less than two cents.

“’Do you happen to know,’ I suggested, ‘that you are pitching today against the Boston Americans?’

“’I never heard of ‘em,’ Bugs said.  ‘Where’s Boston?’

“On the walk to the ballpark that afternoon Bugs spent most of the trek throwing rocks at pigeons, telegraph poles and any target in sight.  People I had known in Atlanta gave me an odd look after taking a brief glance at my unshaven, rough and rowdy looking companion.”

Once at the ballpark, Rice said:

“Raymond started the game by insulting Jimmy Collins…and every star of the Boston team.  He would walk from the pitcher’s box up towards the plate and let them know, in forcible and smoking language, what he thought they were.”

In Rice’s version, the cocky, seemingly drunk Raymond shuts Boston out 3-0 on three hits.  He got those details wrong as well, and Raymond’s performance was just as incredible without the embellishments.

Bugs Raymond

Bugs Raymond

The Atlanta Constitution said on the day after the game:

“No better than bush leaguers looked the Boston Americans…yesterday afternoon at Piedmont Park, when ‘Bugs’ Raymond came near to scoring a no-hit game against the bean-eating crew, who escaped a shut-out through two errors made by (Morris “Mike”) Jacobs in the eighth inning.

“Score—Atlanta 4, Boston 2.

“’Bugs’ was there with the goods.  Boston hitter after hitter stepped up to the plate, pounded the pan, looked fierce for awhile, and then went the easy out route.

“’Bugs’ was in his glory.  It was in the eighth inning before a single hit or run was scored off his delivery

Both Boston hits were ground balls Atlanta shortstop Frank “Whitey” Morse beaten out by  Collins and Myron ”Moose” Grimshaw:

“As inning after inning went by, the Boston sporting writers along with the team began to think of the possibility of defeat, and, about the seventh inning, when it looked strangely like a shutout game, they pulled out their books of excuses and began to look for the proper one to use in Tuesday morning’s newspapers.

“The one finally agreed upon at a conference of all four writers read like this:

“’The eyes of the Boston players were dimmed by the flying moisture from the spit-ball delivery of one ‘Bugs’ Raymond, who let himself out at full steam, while our pitchers were waiting for the opening of the coming season.  It does a major league club good to be beaten every now and then, anyway.”

The Box Score

                 The Box Score

Given Raymond’s alcoholism, there might be some truth Rice’s embellishments although there is no evidence for most of his version.

The performance against Boston was quickly forgotten as Raymond just as quickly wore out his welcome with Manager Billy Smith.  On May 6 he was suspended indefinitely because, as The Constitution put it “(Raymond) looks with delight in wine when it is red.”  On May 31, Atlanta sold Raymond to the Savannah Indians in the South Atlantic leagues. An 18-8 mark there, followed by a 35-11 season with the Charleston Sea Gulls in the same league in 1907, earned Raymond his return to the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals.

By 1912, the pitcher, about whom Rice claimed John McGraw said “Even half sober Raymond would have been one of the greatest,” was dead.

“It ain’t been Overestimated None.”

26 Aug

Adair Bushyhead “Paddy” Mayes was a legend in Oklahoma when it was still a territory; the half Irish, half Muskogee (Creek) Indian—although often misidentified as Cherokee in news reports, likely because he attended school at the Cherokee Male Seminary in Tahlequah — began his professional career with the Muskogee Redskins in the Oklahoma-Kansas League in 1908, but by then he was already considered one of the area’s best players.

Mays, standing second from left, with the Cherokee Mens Seminary baseball team, 1903

Mays, standing second from left, with the Cherokee Male Seminary baseball team, 1903

He stayed with Muskogee the following season when the club joined the Western Association as the Navigators.  Despite hitting just .261, his legend grew.

The Muskogee Times-Democrat said he was “One of the best outfielders the association ever boasted.”

His manager George Dalrymple said:

“He is the fastest fielder and the best hitter in the Western Association.  He is a youngster that in a few years should be in the big leagues.”

In 1910, he joined the Shreveport Pirates in the Texas League.  His first game was painful.  The Dallas Morning News said after he was hit by a pitch “full in the back” he stole second base and “was struck in the head with the ball as it was thrown from the plate to second.  The later jolt seemed to daze him.”

But Mayes recovered quickly, scored, and according to the paper “Played a first-class game.”

He hit .260 in Shreveport, but his speed and fielding ability attracted the interest of Philadelphia Phillies, who purchased his contract.

Mayes quickly made an impression during spring training in Birmingham, Alabama in 1911.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“That Paddy Mayes, the Indian outfielder, will prove a greater find than Zack Wheat is the opinion of Southern ballplayers.”

[…]

“Mayes, the half-breed outer garden candidate is fast as a bullet on his feet, a good fielder and has a wonderful whip.  If he can prove that he can hit good pitching he will probably stick.”

Mayes caricature from The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mayes caricature from The         Philadelphia Inquirer

The paper also called him “A greyhound on the base paths,” and reported that he made several “fine running” catches during spring games.

Despite the buildup, Mayes didn’t make the club and was sent to the Galveston Sand Crabs in the Texas League, but he refused to sign.  In June, with Phillies outfielder John Titus injured, he was sold back to Philadelphia for $500.

Mayes had the distinction of having his major league debut become the subject of a story told for by humorist Will Rogers.

Rogers said he was present at Mayes’ first game with the Phillies in St. Louis on June 11–this is from an early retelling, as with all such stories some of the details changed in future retellings.

“I had known Paddy in the Texas League and what was my surprise one day in St. Louis when I went out to the Cardinals’ park…to see Paddy come up to bat in a Philly uniform.  I hadn’t heard that he had reached the big show.”

willrogers

                          Will Rogers

Mayes was 0-3 and was struck out twice by pitcher Bill Steele.

“I met him at the hotel after the game, but didn’t let on that I had seen him play at the ballpark in the afternoon.  We talked about rope handling and the cattle business generally, and then I asked what he was doing in St. Louis.

“This was Paddy’s answer.

“’They brought me up here to show me the speed of the big league, and believe me, it ain’t been overestimated none.”

Mayes’ never caught up to the “speed of the big league.”  In eight plate appearances over five games, he was 0-5 with a walk, hit by pitch and sacrifice.  He also scored a run.  Mayes’ final appearance with the Phillies was just six days after his first.

Rogers repeated the story of his debut for more than two decades.

Griff’s Invention

5 Aug

Bob “Buster” Bescher arrived in Cincinnati a right-handed hitter.  In 1909, he led the National League with 54 stolen bases but hit just .240.

Bescher

Bescher

Bescher’s manager, Clark Griffith would compare him to Ty Cobb in an interview with Harry Salsinger of The Detroit News:

“If Bescher could hit he would probably set a pace for base-stealing that would never be equaled…Bescher gets away like Cobb, and his success lies mostly in getting away.  He is running in his first few steps.  He has a great pair of limbs and is in stride at the jump.  He is lightning fast.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Bescher is a big, strong fellow, naturally left-handed, who was, unfortunately, coached to bat right-handed when he was a kid.”

Griffith set out to change that before the 1910 season.  In January, The Enquirer said:

“A device for batting practice was shipped to Bob Bescher at his home in London (Ohio) by Manager Griffith yesterday.  The arrangement was constructed according to Griff’s order, and it was designed to give Buster practice in batting left-handed before he goes South with the club six weeks or so hence.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

The paper described Griffith’s invention:

“The device consists of a ball of regulation size, but fitted with an extra cover, to which stout rubber cords are attached, one on each side.  One of the cords is to be fastened to the floor and the other to the ceiling, allowing the ball to swing loosely at about the height of the batter’s waist.  When the ball is struck with a bat, the flexible cord allows it to swing several yards and it returns with great force, coming back at about the speed of a pitched ball.  Then it is time for Buster to get busy with the club and soak it out again.”

A diagram of Griffith's invention.

A diagram of Griffith’s invention.

The Enquirer said Griffith hoped Bescher would add “30 or 40 points” to his average batting left-handed.

“He is the best base runner in the National League…Griff has sent him instructions to hit only left-handed with the new machine, and he hopes that Bob will be a regular Ty Cobb when he reports in March.”

Bescher batted almost exclusively left-handed during spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas and became a switch-hitter that season, and seems to have benefitted from Griffith’s invention—but never became a “regular Ty Cobb.”

He improved his average to .250 in 1910 and again led the league with 70 stolen bases.  The next two seasons he hit .275 and a career-high .281, leading the league with 81 and 67 steals.

Bescher

Bescher

In 1913, Bescher slowed, hitting just .258 and stealing 38 bases.  He bounced from the New York Giants to the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians over the next five seasons, never hitting better than .270 or stealing more than 39 bases.  He played minor league ball through the 1925 season.

“If Baseball is really the National Game let the Club Owners go out and prove it”

4 May

Haywood Broun, columnist for The New York World-Telegram, shook up the annual Baseball Writers Association dinner in February of 1933.  The Pittsburgh Courier said Broun “struck out boldly in advocacy of admitting Negroes to the charmed circle of big leagues.”

Heywood Campbell Broun

Heywood Broun

Broun said (and later wrote in The World-Telegram):

“I can see no reason why Negroes should not come into the National and American Leagues.

“Why in the name of fair play and gate receipts should professional baseball be so exclusive?”

[…]

“The introduction of a few star Negro ball players would do a great deal to revivify interest in the big leagues.  It would attract a number of colored rooters. And it would be a fair and square thing.  If baseball is really the national game let the club owners go out and prove it.”

Jimmy Powers of The New York Daily News said he polled the dinner guests after Broun’s remarks:

“I made an informal tour around the tables asking club owners and players their reactions to Broun’s little talk.  I was amazed at the sentiment in favor of the idea.”

Powers claimed that Yankees owner Jacob Rupert, St. Louis Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey, and Babe Ruth were all in support of Broun’s statement.   John McGraw the dinner’s guest of honor—he had resigned as manager of the New Giants the previous summer due to his failing health—was, according to Powers, “The only prominent man present vetoing” the idea.

John McGraw

John McGraw vetoed the idea

 

Salem Tutt Whitney, a prominent star of the black vaudeville circuit, commented on McGraw in the pages of The Chicago Defender:

“John McGraw and his Giants have been the idols of the Colored baseball fans.  Whenever and wherever there had been talk about the color line in major league baseball, the Colored fans were a unit that declared that if John McGraw could have his way there would be no color line.  ‘Didn’t he play (Charlie) Grant at second base on the Giants!’  ‘Look how long he employed a Colored trainer (Ed Mackall)!’”

[…]

 “It is my opinion that if the Colored baseball fans of Harlem are not convinced that Mr. McGraw has nothing more to do with the Giants, there will be a lack of personal color in bleachers and stands at the Giants’ stadium this summer.”

Salem Tutt Whitney

Salem Tutt Whitney

Not content to simply report on Broun’s pitch for integration, Powers made his own:

“I would like to make a case for the colored baseball player.  In football, Duke Slater, Fritz Pollard and Paul Robeson and stars of similar complexion played with and against the cream of Nordic colleges.  Eddie Tolan, Ralph Metcalfe and Phil Edwards have conducted themselves in a gentlemanly—not to mention championship—fashion.  Boxing has known Joe Gans, Sam Langford, Joe Walcott and Tiger Flowers.  There are only three popular sports in which the dark-skinned athletes are snubbed—tennis, golf and baseball.”

The New York Age approved:

“Here’s hoping all the other big white sportswriters have the courage of Jimmy Powers.”

Chester Washington, a sports writer at The Pittsburgh Courier announced that the paper was launching “A symposium of opinion, coming from outstanding figures in baseball circles,” designed to demonstrate a broad coalition of support for integration.

The Courier reported “The first of these statements,” in response to Washington’s outreach the following week—and it was a rather incredible one from John Heydler, president of the National League, who said:

“Beyond the fundamental requirement that a major league player must have unique ability and good character and habits, I do not recall one instance where baseball has allowed either race, creed or color enter into the selection of its players.”

Gerald Nugent “aggressive young owner of the Phillies,” was next to respond to The Courier:

“Nugent calls attention to the fact that no ‘color line’ is drawn on the dollars which are spent by colored and white fans for admissions in the various big-league parks…He further declares that the average colored semi-pro league player is better than his white brother in the same category.”

Support continued to come.  Chicago White Sox President J. Louis Comiskey:

“You can bet your last dime that I’ll never refuse to hire a great athlete simply because he isn’t the same color of some other player on my team if the alleged bar is lifted.”

While Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis did not respond to The Courier, his right-hand man, Leslie O’Connor said “(T)here isn’t any rule which keeps colored players out.”  But, like Heydler, he made the incredible claim that “the subject of Negro ball players had never been brought up,” among the Major League Advisory Council.

Based on the initial responses, William Goldwyn Nunn, The Courier’s managing editor, expressed great, if premature, optimism:

“And the color will be black!

“As sure as the Ides of March are approaching, there’s going to be some added color in the Major Leagues.  AND, THAT COLOR WILL BE BLACK!”

Meanwhile Jimmy Powers quoted Lou Gehrig and Herb Pennock of the Yankees and Frankie Frisch of the Cardinals in The Daily News, all said they were “open-minded,” about the possibility integration.

pennock

Pennock “Open-minded”

 

Two more prominent sportswriters came out in support:  Dan Parker of The New York Daily Mirror, and Gordon Mackay, who had been sports editor of three Philadelphia papers—The Enquirer, The Press and The Public Ledger.

And then, as abruptly as it began, the movement died.

Despite the brief groundswell of support, by the time the major league season opened Alvin J. Moses, another writer for The Courier admonished the papers readers:

“Aren’t you somewhat ashamed of yourselves that you haven’t seen fit to spare the time to flood (the paper) with letters that cry out against these NEGROPHOBES who for more than half a century have kept Negro ballplayers out of league competition?

“The cry of ‘Play Ball, Play Ball, Play Ball?’ is heard today in hundreds of parks the county over, and baseball statisticians have figured to show more than 40,000,000 fans walk past the turnstiles.  But what does that cry mean to you, and you, and you? Well, I’ll tell you—absolutely nothing.”

 

 

Lost Advertisements–“Spark plug of Huggins’ Machine”

17 Apr

cozydolanA 1915 Coca-Cola ad featuring Albert “Cozy” Dolan of the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Like chooses like–no wonder the ‘spark plug of (Manager Miller) Huggins‘ machine’  likes this live wire beverage.”

Dolan, a 32-year-old utility infielder and outfielder who had never appeared in more than 100 games in a season before 1914, was an unlikely spokesman, given that most Coca-Cola ads of the period featured the game’s biggest stars.

He stole 42 bases for the Cardinals in 1914, but he hit just .240. In 1915, he hit .280 and stole 17 bases in 111 games.

While hardly great numbers, Dolan’s time in St. Louis was a huge success when compared with his disastrous 35-game tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Dolan was traded to the Pirates by the Philadelphia Phillies for third baseman Bobby Byrne and pitcher Howie Camnitz in August of 1913 and became the team’s starting third baseman but hit .203, had a fielding percentage of .937 and became the target of angry fans.

Cozy Dolan

Cozy Dolan

Richard Guy of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described his time with the Pirates:

“He looked bad and he was object of revile by those who criticize, and he failed.”

Joe Kelly of The Pittsburgh Chronicle said:

“No player ever was ridden harder by players and fans than was the former International League speed boy when he performed at Forbes Field.  Perhaps few who held down a berth regularly ever deserved more criticism, for his performances were on the awful order.  But it’s a hard job to make good when hoots and howls follow every poor play, and the few successful ones are greeted with ironical applause.  Dolan got off wrong at Forbes Field and he seemed to be sensitive, too sensitive, to the crowd’s attitude.  There comes to mind a scene last summer when the Pirates were leaving their club house.  They came out in twos and threes, laughing and joking, but among the first was Dolan, all alone.  His face was strained and drawn and worried.  He had failed that day, and he knew it…The fans poured their criticism on his head, and he sat tight and took it without a whimper.  There is something in a guy like that, or the major league managers wouldn’t keep him sticking around.”

Dolan stopped “sticking around” after 1915.  Huggins released his “spark plug” at the end of the season.  He returned to the minor leagues, playing three seasons in the American Association, then became a coach for the New York Giants in 1922.

In 1924, received a lifetime ban from Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for his role in an attempt to fix a game.

 

“The Next Babe Ruth”

18 Mar

After he hit 11 home runs in 1918, and for the next two decades, stories about the discovery of “The Next Babe Ruth” became commonplace in newspapers across the country.

One of the first was Joe Doyle, “The Babe Ruth of Great Lakes,” signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in November of 1918.  Doyle was the star of the team representing Camp Dewey at Great Lakes Navel Training Station where, The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said he made a name for himself, hitting “a dozen home runs and nine triples…(and) flogging a home run over the Camp Dewey Drill Hall, a smash that might be compared to a lift over the left fences of any major league park.”

Doyle began his professional career the following spring with the Houston Buffaloes in the Texas League and played his entire career in Texas.  “The Babe Ruth of Great Lakes” hit just eight home runs over five minor league seasons.

Ben Paschal had the distinction of being declared “The Next Babe Ruth” twice.  When the Boston Red Sox purchased Paschal from the South Atlantic League’s Charlotte Hornets in July of 1920, Manager Ed Barrow told The Boston Herald he had acquired “A second Babe Ruth.”

Paschal joined the Red Sox after Charlotte’s season ended in September.  He had 10 hit in 28 at-bats, but no extra base hits, and was returned to Charlotte after the season.

After four more excellent seasons in the South Atlantic League and Southern Association (he hit .335 with 68 home runs from 1921-1924) he was  purchased by the New York Yankees for $20,000 in August of 1924.

Ben Paschal

Ben Paschal

Paschal was again dubbed the “Second Babe Ruth” by newspapers.  His second stint as the second Ruth was longer and more successful than his first.  From 1924-1929 he hit .309 in with 24 home runs in 750 at-bats as an outfielder playing behind Ruth and Bob Meusel (Meusel was himself dubbed “Another Babe Ruth” by Manager Miller Huggins when he joined the Yankees in 1920).  On Opening Day in 1927 the Second Babe Ruth pinch-hit for Ruth (who was 0-3 and struck out twice) in the sixth inning; Paschal singled, and the Yankees went on to an 8 to 3 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.

Then there was Dorothy Hodgens.  In 1921, Hodgens was a 20-year-old student at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  Hodgens briefly became a celebrity and was called the “feminine Babe Ruth” by many newspapers after The Associated Press (AP) reported that while growing up in Philadelphia Napoleon Lajoie said she was “the only girl he ever knew who could play ball.”

After her picture appeared in papers across the country, Hodgens, who played several sports at the school, was interviewed by The Harrisburg Evening News as she was “ready to enter a basketball game:”

“Yes, I’m terribly fond of baseball, and I’ve been playing it ever since I’ve been a bit of a youngster.”

She said Lajoie was a neighbor in Philadelphia when she was a child:

“Lajoie used to come out and pitch ball with the boys and girls in the neighborhood.  He told me I was the only girl he ever knew who could pitch and gave me a box of league balls that I have treasured ever since.”

Dorothy Hodgens "The Feminine Babe Ruth."

Dorothy Hodgens “The Feminine Babe Ruth.”

While she said her real ambition was to become an actress, Hodgens said, “I never expect to give up baseball entirely though, and I certainly think that every girl should learn to play the game.”

The “Feminine Babe Ruth” disappeared from the public eye shortly afterward.

And finally, there was “Another Babe Ruth” who had a brief moment in the limelight in the fall of 1920.  This one was a three-and-a-half pound white Leghorn Chicken who was named “Babe Ruth,” and had just established a new record.

"Babe Ruth"

“Babe Ruth”

The AP said:

“(T)he home run king has a rival…She bats 326 eggs, and this beats the record of 314 (for a single year).  By experienced poultrymen, her record of 326 perfect eggs is considered the most remarkable in the history of the poultry industry.”

There was no report of how she performed the following season.