Tag Archives: St. Louis Perfectos

The Decline of Baseball, 1899

8 Jan

Late in the 1899 season, The Chicago Tribune editorialized on the state of the game.  The paper was convinced that baseball’s best days were behind it:

“Once upon a time this city put on mourning when its ball club lost a game and when the club returned from a victorious tour it had a Dewey welcome.  Men left stores and offices to go to the ball field.  They knew the players on the home team and exulted in their powers.  There is no more of that.  There is no longer any civic pride in the local team.  Business men no longer attend the games.  In this city and in other cities baseball has ceased to be a high-class sport.  It has become a low-grade pastime.  It is patronized by the class of people who are interested in bicycle races, long-distance pedestrian contests, gamblers, horse races and poolrooms.  Baseball, once the sport of men and women of taste, is now the diversion of hoodlums.”

As for why the game was no longer of interest to “men and women of taste,” The Tribune said:

“There is no room for doubt as to what has pulled it down from its former high state.  Commercialism in part has done it.  The players have become chattels.  Teams are bought and sold and are transferred from city to city as if they were livestock.  The men who are playing in Chicago this year may be playing in Cleveland or New York the next.  That cuts up all sense of local pride in a club…There have been teams which really belonged to Chicago.  Of late years, there have simply been organizations of hirelings whose owners instructed them to hail from here.

“Professional baseball is in the hands of a few men whose sole object is to make all they can out of a sport they have ruined.  There is no competition among them.  That championship, in the winning of which cities took so much pride once, has become a farce.”

The actions of Frank DeHass and Martin Stanford “Stanley” Robison was a particular source of the paper’s ire. The Robison brothers, owners of the Cleveland Spiders, purchased the bankrupt St. Louis Browns and transferred Cleveland’s best players, including Cy Young, Nig Cuppy, and Jesse Burkett to the St. Louis club, now called the Perfectos.  What was left of the Spiders finished with a 20-134 record.

 “Sometimes one man owns two clubs and makes draft on one to help out the other. If it becomes evident that Cleveland must be at the tail of the procession, its best men are shifted over to the St. Louis organization, both being under one ownership.  Requisitions are made on Baltimore for the benefit of Brooklyn and on New York for that of Boston.  No city can have any feeling of city proprietorship in a club under such circumstances.”

The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos

The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos

The behavior of fans was of equal concern:

“Rowdyism has come in along with commercialism and has finished what interest was left in the game. Quiet, decent people can no longer go to baseball games because of the vulgarity and ruffianism displayed there.”

The Tribune felt current players were of lower moral character than those of the previous generation:

The morals of the players have deteriorated.  They used to try to behave like sportsmen.  They act now like foul-tongued bullies.  When a question comes up for the umpire to settle, the players surround him and blackguard and threaten him.  He is fortunate if he escapes without bruises.  Fair decisions cannot be expected from a man in danger of being mobbed.  Occasionally the contending players come to blows and the spectators, who went to see a game of ball, have to witness a game of slugging, garnished with profanity.”

How low had the game gone?

“Baseball has fallen so low that gamblers do not think it is worth paying any attention to.  They have not dropped it because they fancy it is not ‘on the square,’ but because it has become an uninteresting, second-class sport.  It does not interest them now any more than a race between professional bicyclists does.  Baseball has become a recreation of the people whom commercialism, vulgarity, and Rowdyism do not displease.”

The Tribune continued their crusade against the “uninteresting” sport a month later, with an “account of the more disgraceful of the many rows witnessed by spectators of baseball games.”

“Age is a Hard Master”

21 Sep

“Turkey Mike” Donlin spent his later years trying to earn a living as an actor; his limited success on the stage and screen forced him to accept several baseball jobs as well.  In 1922, he was hired as a scout by the Boston Red Sox—it was his most active season in the game since his final game with the New York Giants in 1914.

Mike Donlin

                Mike Donlin

Like most players of his era, he had a general disdain for the current state of the game.  He shared his disgust with a reporter from The Associated Press (AP) when he arrived in San Francisco after a trip through Texas:

“In the Texas League I found a majority of the players ill with a strange disease consisting of absolute refusal to run out flies or ground balls that look like easy outs. That kind of baseball is beyond me.

“I saw Texas League players getting as high as $700 a month loafing on balls hit to the infield and running to the bench on high flies.  They couldn’t do it and get away with it in my time.

“When I was starting $300 a month was a big salary and believe me, we earned all we got.  We ran out all our hits in those days and, not only that, we had to fight every inch of the way, not alone with spirit, but with our fists.”

The money seemed to bother him as much as the lack of hustle.

While in San Francisco he met Willie Kamm, who the Seals had agreed to sell for the then record amount of $100,000 (and three players) to the Chicago White Sox.  Donlin, who said the St. Louis Perfectos purchased him from Santa Cruz in the California League for $500 in 1899.

According to The AP when they were introduced Donlin said:

“I wanted to meet you, young fellow, because you’re the highest priced minor leaguer ever sold, and I’m the cheapest.”

Always short of money and never  one to refuse a paycheck, and perhaps encouraged by what he considered to be the lesser quality of current players, Donlin accepted an offer to join the Rock Island Islanders of the Mississippi Valley League for two games while he was scouting in the Midwest during August.

According to The Rock Island Argus, Donlin “one of the most picturesque characters the national pastime has ever produced,” was signed to a one-day contract to “keep within the league rules.”  There is no record of what the Islanders paid Donlin for the one-day stunt.

He played in both games as the Islanders dropped a doubleheader to the Ottumwa Cardinals.  The Argus said of his performance:

“Even Mike Donlin, once peerless performer for the New York Giants, fizzled as a mascot.  Mike donned an Islander uniform as per announcement and was seen in right field in both games.  Age is a hard master.”

Donlin “handled two chances cleanly” in the first game, but was 0 for 4 at the plate with two strikeouts, a foul out to third and a fly out which “sent the centerfielder to the scoreboard to haul (it) in.”

He fared slightly better in the second, going 1 for 3 with two ground outs and a single on a “Texas Leaguer into right field territory.”  No balls were hit to him in the second game.

donlin1

      The Box Scores

donlin2

 

He was no more successful as a scout than he was as a player that week in Rock Island.

Two days before he played with the team, Donlin watched the Islanders’ Carl Stimson pitch a 23-inning complete game against Ottumwa.  Stimson lost the game 4 to 2—he committed two errors in the 23rd inning—but allowed only 10 hits and struck out 18.

The 27-year-old Stimson was a sub .500 pitcher (10-15) who had come to Rock Island in a trade with the Waterloo Hawks just a month earlier, but Donlin was impressed with the performance and Stimson’s 6’ 5” frame—Stimson also might have benefitted from a minor illness his wife suffered that month, The Argus said he left the team for several days to attend to her and Donlin was not able to stay long enough to watch him pitch a second time.

The 23-inning game box score

       The 23-inning game box score

Despite only seeing him once, The Argus said Donlin was “convinced that Carl is worthy of a trial in the big show,” and recommended that the Red Sox purchase his contract.

Stimson joined the Red Sox the following spring, but was slowed by an ear infection and finally joined the club in June.  Donlin’s discovery appeared in just two games over one month in the big leagues, giving up 12 hits, five walks, and 10 earned runs over four innings before being released.

Donlin continued making appearances on the stage, had small acting roles in dozens of movies, occasionally worked as a scout, and struggled to make a living.  In 1927, he began to suffer from a heart ailment and remained broke and in poor health and until his death in 1933.

Burns “Put the Punishment on Phyle”

20 Nov

After holding out over a temperance clause the Chicago Orphans added to his contract, Bill Phyle finally signed in late March of 1899.  He reported to spring training in New Mexico anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds overweight (depending on the source) and struggled all season to regain the form he showed the previous season.

On April 17 he was beaten 8-0 by the Louisville Colonels in first start.

On April 25 he lost 3-2 to the St. Louis Perfectos.  The Chicago Tribune said “Phyle gave away the game by distributing bases on balls in just the spots where timely hits followed and transformed the favors into tallies that gave the victory.”

William Phelon, The Chicago Daily News baseball writer, disagreed.  He said Phyle’s “work was of sterling quality.”

Regardless, Chicago Manager Tom Burns didn’t give Phyle another opportunity to pitch for more than a month.

Phelon said it was a mistake for Burns to not use Phyle.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said after the team lost seven of nine games in May “it is passing strange that young Phyle is not given a chance.  On last year’s form Phyle is as good as, if not better than (Jack) Taylor.  The paper called Phyle’s performance in the St. Louis game “gilt-edged” and blamed the loss on “comrades that gave the victory to the enemy.”

Finally, on May 28 Phyle pitched again.   He lost 4 to 3 to the Washington Senators; he gave up three runs on five straight hits with two outs in the ninth.

He lost again on June 1, 7-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Phelon’s opinion of the pitcher was unchanged, and said the losses were simply bad luck:

“Phyle has now lost four straight games.  It is Phyle’s luck to be stuck in whenever the other pitchers have won about three straight, and the team is just about unavoidably due to lose.”

On June 5 Phyle did his best pitching of the season–a victory he is not credited with in the record books.

With the Orphans trailing the Baltimore Orioles 3 to 2 in the third inning, pitcher Clark Griffith was ejected for arguing a called ball.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“It was a queer game.  Phyle pitched after Griffith had been benched…holding the Orioles helpless.”

Chicago won 9 to 4.  And while the Chicago newspapers credited the victory to Phyle, the record books do not.

Box score for June 5 game.  Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Box score for June 5 game. Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Phyle became ill later the same week, (some sources said it was recurring malaria), a week later he fell off a bicycle and missed two more weeks.  When he returned to the team on June 22, the Boston Beaneaters beat him 5 to 1.

He was credited with his first “official” win on July 1—a game The Inter Ocean called “a comedy of errors,” and a “depressing exhibition.”   He beat the New York Giants 10 to 9, allowing 10 hits and giving up seven runs in the first two innings.  Each team committed seven errors.

Box score of Bill Phyle's only "official" victory of 1899.

Box score of Bill Phyle’s only “official” victory of 1899.

Chicago went into a slump that would last for the rest of the season; after Phyle’s July 1 win the team was 38-24, in third place, and went 37-49 the rest of the way finishing eighth.

Phyle lost again on July 9 and July 24, and rumors began to circulate that he would be released or traded back to Charlie Comiskey’s St. Paul Saints.

On August 6 Phyle lost 10 to 9 to the Cleveland Spiders.  One week later while the team was on the road, The Inter Ocean reported that he “was sent home by manager Burns.”

The Tribune called Phyle “the scapegoat” and said he and three unnamed teammates  “celebrated after beating a horse race at Washington and Manager Burns, to call a halt, put the punishment on Phyle.

Phelon wrote in The Daily News:

“When the club started for Philadelphia he was told to go home ‘You are through young man, go back to Chicago,’ said Burns, and Phyle went back.  He went back in a rage too, and says he will tell (team president) Jim Hart a lot of things. He says that he has been held up to public derision as a drunkard, all season, and that Burns plays favorites, allowing his friends to jag up as much as they wish and turning all the trouble on others.”

Phelon remained supportive of the pitcher in The Daily News, but in The Sporting Life he reported that Phyle, a former boxer, had deserted the team in early August to go to “St. Louis to see a prize fight, and was not on hand when sorely needed.”

While the relationship between Hart and Burns was strained, and Burns would be replaced at season’s end, Phyle’s complaints went nowhere with the team president and he was suspended without pay.

Ten days after Phyle was suspended Phelon reported that the Baltimore Orioles had offered to trade for or buy Phyle,” (John) McGraw has taken quite a fancy to the young pitcher.”  Hart refused to make a deal.

Phyle never pitched for Chicago again, he is credited with a 1-8 record and 4.20 ERA.

The last Bill Phyle chapter—tomorrow.

Anger Management

27 Dec

Thomas Timothy “Tim” Flood just couldn’t control himself.

Flood was a solid infielder and somewhat erratic hitter.  As a 17-year-old he hit .364 with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association in 1894 but hit .266 in his minor league career and .233 as a Major Leaguer.

He had a late season 10-game trial with his hometown St. Louis Perfectos in the National League in 1899.  He was given his next shot in the National league in 1902 when he was signed by Ned Hanlon’s Brooklyn Superbas to fill the void left at second when veteran Tom Daly jumped his contract to join the Chicago White Sox.

Flood was an upgrade in the field, and while a weaker hitter than Daly, he quickly became a favorite of Hanlon who named him Brooklyn’s captain for the 1903 season.

Tim Flood

Tim Flood

1903 was not a good season for the new captain; he continued to struggle at the plate and dealt with a knee injury that limited him to 84 games.  He was also suspended for two games in July for a physical altercation in Cincinnati with umpire James “Bug” Holiday.  Holiday, a former Major Leaguer had a stormy half season as a National league umpire and resigned several days after tangling with Flood.

Flood was released by Brooklyn in March of 1904 and joined the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League.

He was a very popular player in Los Angeles and captained the Angeles in 1904 and part of 1905 until he assaulted Ira “Slats” Davis, another former Major Leaguer turned umpire during a game in June of 1905. Eugene Bart, president of the league suspended flood indefinitely.

Newspapers reported that Flood said he would “never fight another arbitrator whether he is in the right or wrong.”

In 1906, he signed with the Altoona Mountaineers in the “outlaw” Tri-State League, where he appears to have kept his pledge and had an incident-free season.

In 1907, he joined  the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern League and managed to play 29 games before he was in trouble again.  Flood assaulted an umpire named John Conway during a game in Toronto; the attack included a kick to the umpire’s chest.

Flood was arrested.

He was charged with assault and ordered to appear in front of a magistrate. Friends told Flood the hearing would be a formality and that he should plead guilty and receive a small fine.

No one told Magistrate George Taylor Denison who said, “This sort of thing must be discouraged,” and sentenced Flood to “Fifteen days in jail with hard labor.” At the same time Patrick Powers, president of the Eastern League, banished Flood from the league.

Toronto fans were outraged and immediately began circulating petitions which “included the names of several clergymen” and were presented by team officials to Minister of Justice Allen Bristol Aylesworth in hopes of getting Flood pardoned.

Opinions of the punishment varied.  Several newspapers carried the following poem which lamented Flood’s fate for “Sassing” an umpire:

“’Holy Moses!’  In Toronto

There is news to make you pale

Sass the umpire if you want to—

That is, want to go to jail!

There is woe among the batters,

As around the field they scud;

And their pride is torn to tatters

By the fate of poor Tim Flood

Fifteen days in jail for Timmy

Soon the parks will close so tight

That you couldn’t with a jimmy

Let in one small streak of light.”

Others, including two former players, said Flood got what he deserved and implied that his behavior was not limited to the three well-publicized incidents.

Charles “Count” Campau, a former Major Leaguer and umpire, who had been a teammate of Flood’s in New Orleans said:

“I am sorry to see anyone go to jail, but, for the good of baseball. I am glad to see Tim Flood out of it for good. Rowdies of the Flood type are a disgrace to any sport or business, and especially baseball. He was always mixed up in just this way and was chased out of California, where b« was playing, for the same kind of tricks. Umpire baiting was always his long suit, and, from what I can understand, his attack on Umpire Owens [sic] was a most cowardly one: Flood is a good ballplayer, but his hasty temper, his meanness has put him out of the game forever, and incidentally Into Jail.”

Charles "Count" Campau

Charles “Count” Campau

Tim Murnane, Major Leaguer turned baseball writer said:

“Tim Flood has a new record, and will now be in a position to go back to his trade and give up the game he was unfitted for.  The courts all over the country should follow the example of the Canadian judge, who sent a ballplayer to lock-up for assaulting an umpire.  It wouldn’t take many decisions of this kind to drive the bad men out of the sport.  Imagine a player taking a running jump at a man and hitting him in the breast with his spiked shoes!”

Tim Murnane

Tim Murnane

After serving 10 days, Minister of Justice Aylesworth ordered Flood released.  The player, in various reports, claimed he lost between 10 and 16 pounds during his incarceration, citing the poor quality of the food.

President Powers rejected pleas from the Toronto management to reinstate Flood and permanently banned him from the Eastern League; however, contrary to Campau’s and Murnane’s wishes, Flood was out of baseball for less than a month.

Flood was signed before the end of July by the Saint Paul Saints in the American Association and vowed, as he had before, that he was a changed man.

It appears 10 days in jail might have made a difference.  Flood was named manager of the Saints in 1908 and continued to play and manage in the minor leagues for five more seasons, apparently without incident.

In 1914, The Sporting Life reported, with no irony, that Flood was hired as an umpire in the Northern League.

Flood died in St’ Louis in 1929.

The Human Rain Delay

7 Nov

 “Baseball stars may come and they may go, but the name of Nig Cuppy will live forever.  There will be greater pitchers than Cuppy—but no slower ones.”—The Pittsburgh Press, 1910.

George Joseph “Nig” Cuppy (born Koppe) lived in the shadow of teammate Cy Young—Cuppy won 150 games for the Cleveland Spiders and St. Louis Perfectos from 1892-1899, Young won 231.

While Cuppy was successful, he was best known for being the slowest working pitcher of his era.

How Slow?  “Painfully slow,” according to The Toledo News-Bee; other contemporary accounts mention crowds counting in unison as they timed Cuppy between each pitch.  It was not unusual for a Cuppy pitched game to last more than two hours during an era when shorter games were the rule.

George “Nig” Cuppy

Almost all mentions of Cuppy attribute his success to his slow work.  Jake Morse’s Baseball Magazine described the effect he had on batters:

“(Cuppy) stood holding the ball, and holding it, and holding it some more. The maddened batsmen fumed and fretted and smote the plate with their sticks; the umpires barked and threatened; the fans counted and counted, often up to 56 or 59—and then Cuppy let go of the ball. By this time the batter, if at all nervous or excitable, was so sore that he slammed wildly at the pitch, and seldom hit it.”

While Cuppy remained a very good pitcher throughout the 1890s, he never quite matched his rookie numbers (28-13, 2.51 in 1892), and suffered from the 1893 elimination of the pitcher’s box.

Cuppy’s numbers dropped off dramatically after 1896, and his career came to an end with his release from the Boston Americans in August of 1901.  He rejected several minor league offers and returned home Elkhart, Indiana.

Cuppy and his former catcher and fellow Elkhart native, Lou Criger opened a pool hall called The Lucky Horseshoe.  Cuppy operated that business and a cigar store until his death in 1922.