Tag Archives: Ted Sullivan

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things–Quote Edition

12 Oct

When you spend hours pouring over microfilm and web based newspaper archives you find something every day that is interesting but not enough for a standalone post—these are random quotes and observations that follow no theme or thread, I just think they should not be lost to the mists of time.

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News in 1909 if there would ever be a successful ambidextrous pitcher in the major leagues:

“Elton Chamberlain, who was with Cleveland in the early 90s, essayed to perform this feat occasionally, but about all he had with his left arm was a small amount of speed and a straight ball. The way pitchers have to work nowadays a man who can use one rm and use it effectively is quite a man as pitching goes.”

chamb

Elton Chamberlain

In 1909, Time Murnane noted in The Boston Globe that Billy Sunday, as an evangelist was earning more than 10 times what the “highest-paid men” in baseball were making. Of Sunday’s ability he said:

“No doubt Mr. Sunday is a very good evangelist, much better it is hoped than he ever was as a ballplayer. Mr. Sunday was a fast runner. That marked his limit as a baseball star. He could not hit or field or throw well enough to make it worthwhile talking about.”

billysunday2

Billy Sunday, evangelist

In 1946, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune asked Connie Mack during a discussion of Bob Feller which pitcher he felt had the “greatest combination of speed and curves,” of all time:

“He hesitated less than two seconds. ‘Rube Waddell,’ he said. ‘The Rube was about as fast as Feller, not quite as fast as (Walter) Johnson. But the Rube had one of the deepest, fastest-breaking curves I’ve ever seen. Johnson’s curve ball was unimportant. Feller isn’t as fast as Johnson but he has a far better curve ball.’”

Mack did, however, concede:

“’Feller and Johnson were far more dependable than the Rube who now and then was off fishing or tending bar when I needed him badly.’”

rube

Rube

In 1916, in his nationally syndicated American League umpire Billy Evans asked Napoleon Lajoie about the best pitchers he faced:

“I never faced a wiser twirler than Chief Bender…he made a study of the art. If a batter had a weakness, the Chief soon discovered it, and from that time he made life miserable for that particular batsman. His almost uncanny control made it possible for him to put into execution the knowledge he would gain of the batter’s weakness. I know of a certain big league player, and he was a good one, who would request that he be taken out of the game any time Bender worked…Best of all, he had the heart of an oak and in a pinch always seemed to do his best work.”

chiefbender

Chief Bender

In 1907, the Washington Senators hired Pongo Joe Cantillon to manage the team, Ted Sullivan, “the man who discovered Comiskey,” was never shy about taking credit for an idea, and told The Washington Star:

“As I was instrumental in enticing Cantillon to come to Washington I know the salary that was offered, and I saw the contract. It was nearly twice the salary of a United States Senator, and there is not a bench manager today in the eastern country that is getting one-half the salary of Cantillon. The Washington management has corrected all the errors of the past in getting a baseball pilot who knows all the bends and shallows in the baseball river.”

pongo

Pongo Joe

Despite the money, and Cantillon’s knowledge of the “bends and shallows,” the Senators finished 8th twice and 7th once during Cantillon’s three seasons in Washington, he had a 158-297 record during his only stint as a big league manager.

“It was Hard for me to get Used to Some of the Boneheads”

4 Oct

Most baseball writers and dozens of baseball figures caught the twenty greatest “fever” during 1911 and 1912.

After Frank Baker hit .375 with two home runs and five RBIs, leading the Philadelphia Athletics to their 1911 World Series victory over the New York Giants, Grantland Rice opined in The New York Mail:

baker2

Frank Baker

“The twenty greatest ballplayers, picked exclusively for this column by John McGraw and the Giants—John Franklin Baker.”

The Washington Times said Germany Schaefer was asked to put his twenty greatest list together shortly after the end of his best season in 1911:

“Write ‘em out and send ‘em to me,’ the newspaperman suggested.

“Germany did.  The list read as follows: ‘Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, and Germany Schaefer.’”

Germany Schaefer

Schaefer

The Philadelphia Record asked Connie Mack for his twenty greatest list, Mack refused but told the paper “if his life depended on any game of ball,” he would start Chief Bender:

“Do you know, Bender has never yet failed me in a crisis?  Whenever there is a game that the fortunes of our club hinge on I’ve sent in the Chief and he has delivered every time.”

Billy Hamilton, who made a couple of the lists that circulated during 1911 and 1912, told The Boston Globe he was upset no one had named his former teammate Marty Bergen:

“Why, I can’t see how you can possibly leave him out…He and Buck Ewing were in a class by themselves among the men I have seen behind the bat.  I have never seen anything like that snap throw of Martin’s, with the ball always on the runner.”

Wild Bill Donovan then put Bergen on the list he chose for The Detroit News:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Jim Hughes
  • Christy Mathewson
  • Duke Farrell
  • Marty Bergen
  • Hal Chase
  • Fred Tenney
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jimmy Collins
  • John McGraw
  • Hughie Jennings
  • Herman Long
  • Ty Cobb
  • Bill Lange
  • Ed Delahanty
  • Willie Keeler
  •  Fielder Jones
  • Fred Clarke
  • Bobby Wallace

Donovan told the paper of Ed Walsh:

“If Walsh were worked about once in four days, instead of being asked to go in three times a week as often is the case now, I believe that he would be unbeatable.”

edwalsh

Ed Walsh

In lauding Farrell, his teammate in Brooklyn, Donovan took a swipe at many of the catchers he worked with during his career:

“The big Duke was a wonderfully heady man, and the only catcher who ever lived on whom it was impossible to work the hit and run game.  Any time Duke called for a waste ball, you could bet your next paycheck that the runner was going to go down.  After pitching to man of his intelligence it was hard for me to get used to some of the boneheads that I encountered later.”

One more list—attributed to several papers and sportswriters at the time—appeared first in The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, and chronicled the “Twenty greatest blunders in baseball:”

20blunders

As the craze was dying down, The Chicago Tribune said Ted Sullivan, the man who I credited with discovering Charles Comiskey—and Comiskey’s favorite scout, would put together “a list of the twenty greatest baseball actuaries of all time were he not a bit doubtful about the other nineteen.”

“There is a Heap about Baseball that I do not Know”

4 May

After Ted Sullivan blamed Joe Nealon’s father for his failure to secure the first baseman for the Reds, James C. Nealon was not going to let his accusations stand, and sent a letter in response to Sullivan’s letter to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“The public has always permitted, and will always permit a man who has lost the object he was seeking to compensate himself for the loss is excusing his failure by some worthy and absurd explanation, or by throwing the responsibility of the failure on someone else.”

Nealon said he was forced to respond because Sullivan “falsely placed myself and my son in an unenviable light.”

Nealon said he only cared about his son going to the club with “the best and most congenial associations,” and initially, many people he trusted told him Cincinnati was the best option.

He said Sullivan was the reason he and his son changed their minds.  Nealon said he checked train schedules and determined that Sullivan—who left Cincinnati on October 28—could have arrived in California no later than November 3, yet he did not hear from the Reds representative until after the contract was signed with Pittsburgh on November 6.

Nealon also said while he received a telegram from August Herrmann, Cincinnati Reds owner, with the offer of “a certain sum more than any other club,” he never shared that information with the Pirates Fred Clarke, and that the combination of being insulted by the Reds making their offer just about money and Sullivan not arriving in time made up his mind, and as a result:

 “I advised my son to sign a contract with any club he desired.”

After Sullivan arrived in San Francisco, Nealon said:

“He admitted to me that it was all his fault, yet he seeks in your paper to advise the public that it was the fault of my son and myself…I would rather (Joe) fail then to commit a dishonorable act, and I do not want the people of Cincinnati to believe his entry into the major league was associated in any manner with unfairness or unfair dealing.  Mr. Sullivan knows it was not.”

Joe Nealon wrote a letter to The Pittsburgh Post, and said he understood that when he joined the team in Hot Springs. Arkansas:

“There is a heap about baseball that I do not know.  I am eager to learn, however, and will gladly go under instructions.”

joenealon2

Joe Nealon

Even after the beginning of the 1906 season, the stories about what influenced Nealon to sign with the Pirates would not go away.  In May is was reported that it was Jake Beckley, former first baseman for the Reds and Pirates who influenced Nealon to accept Clarke’s offer.  Nealon told The Pittsburgh Press that Beckley had nothing to do with his decision, and continued to blame Sullivan who he said did not “keep faith” with him and his father.

Nealon appeared in every game, hit the Pirates first home run of the 1906 season on May 5, tied Harry Steinfeldt for the league lead in RBI, and led all NL first basemen in total chances and putouts.

At the end of the season it was widely reported that Nealon would not return to the Pirates for the 1907 season.  After the team lost five straight games in September and slipped to third place, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss went on a tear to a wire service reporter—The Philadelphia Inquirer, under the headline “Barney Dreyfuss Lets Himself say Things” said:

“(Dreyfuss said) if his team doesn’t win second place for him he will keep their noses to the grindstone barnstorming for him until their contracts have run out (on October 16)”

Dreyfuss told the reporter:

“One of the things that ails our team is that there are too many capitalists on it.  The boys know that they do not have to play ball for a living, and sometimes that may affect their playing.  There is only one of the old players on the Pittsburgh team who is playing as a means of livelihood—that’s (Tommy) Leach.  The other could give up the game anytime.”

Nealon left the team immediately after the final game in Cincinnati and did not participate in the tour.  The San Francisco Call said he was done:

“Nealon, who became a great favorite in Pittsburgh and all over the league circuit, has had several grievances against Pittsburgh, and it was announced some time ago that the big San Francisco lad had declared himself in no unmeasured terms that he did not have to take the worst of it from anyone connected with the club, nor would he more than one season.”

The Call said Nealon became disenchanted in Pittsburgh when Dreyfuss attempted to trade him and “other Pittsburgh players” to the Brooklyn Superbas for Harry Lumley and Tim Jordan “although Captain Clarke had guaranteed him a full and free tryout for a year.”

Nealon returned to San Francisco to play winter ball, but he failed to make a trip to Stockton for the first game.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Many San Joseans who took the trip to Stockton…were disappointed in not seeing Joe Nealon…the big first baseman, met with an accident Saturday evening.”

While racing to catch the train to Stockton, Nealon tripped and fell into a stone wall.  He broke two bones in his left hand.”

In December, the Pittsburgh papers reported that Nealon had declared himself “Completely healed,” in a letter to Barney Dreyfuss.

By February The Pittsburgh Press was assuring readers:

“Reports from the West have Joe Nealon in the best condition of his career.  Just keep your eyes on this big fellow this season; he is going to be a winner in every sense of the word.”

Despite the high expectations, Nealon was a disappointment to the pirates when he reported to  West Baden, Indiana in March.  The Press said:

“If the fans at home could see big Joe Nealon now they would not know him.  With his sweater on he looks like a three hundred pounder.”

Nealon actually weighed 216 pounds, roughly 20 pounds heavier than he was in 1906.

Additionally, The Pittsburgh Post said Nealon was experiencing stiffness in his left hand.

The Press announced that Nealon had gotten down to his playing weight and that his had had healed just in time for the opening of the season, but a knee injury sliding into second during the Pirates third game sidelined him for nearly two weeks, and according to The Post included a visit to John “Bonesetter” Reese, the Youngstown, Ohio doctor who treated many major leaguers.

Nealon was hitting just .217 in June when The Washington Post noted that two California Thoroughbreds—Nealon and Joe Nealon—both bred by friends of Nealon’s father, and both stakes race winners in 1907, were having decidedly better years than the first baseman.

Nealon steadily improved his batting average but had already fallen out of favor with fans and in the papers.  Rumors persisted that the Pirates were trying to trade for Fred Tenney of the Boston Doves.  By September, The Press said:

 “There is suspicion among the Pittsburgh players that Tenney may be secured as first baseman…to succeed Joe Nealon whose work this season is said to have been below standard.”

When Harry Swacina was purchased by the Pirates from the Peoria Distillers in the Three-I League that same month, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Sporting News said:

 “He is an improvement over Joe Nealon in every department of the game.”

The New York Sun summed up the consensus view:

“Joe Nealon came out of California with the reputation of being a better first baseman than Hal Chase was, but in making a big league reputation Chase simply lost his fellow Californian.”

Swacina hit just .200, but got most of the playing time at first base in September, Nealon finished with a .257 average.

joenealon

Nealon

The Press speculated in November about who would play first base for the Pirates in 1908:

“Most of the fans have eliminated Joe Nealon from the competition all together, for it is an open secret that both President (Barney) Dreyfuss and Manager (Fred) Clarke were displeased with the way the young Californian acted this year, and it is presumed that no further time will be wasted with him, but that he will either be traded or released outright.”

In December, Nealon ended any remaining speculation by announcing his retirement—two weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Post said:

“The big Californian has quit the professional diamond for all time and will become a partner in business with his millionaire father…But for the intercession of Fred Clarke, it is said he would have been asked to retire about mid season, alleged infractions of the club’s rules and his general attitude of indifference being criticized by the local management.”

Nealon went to Hawaii in December with a team of West Coast stars—including Bill Lange and Orval Overall— formed by Mique Fisher and told reporters he would play weekends in San Francisco in 1908.

After returning from Hawaii, Nealon made his retirement official in a letter to Dreyfuss.  The Press said:

Joe writes that he is helping his father  who has a contract to erect a large public building in California…he asks, however, that his name be kept on Pittsburgh’s reserve list and wishes his teammates the best of luck.”

Nealon went to work with his father and appeared in 62 games for the Sacramento Senators in the California State League in 1908—hitting .372; as late as July he was hitting .436.  Nearly every Pacific Coast League time tried to sign him that summer, but The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Nealon) declared positively to the writer yesterday that he would not play ball, except as he is doing now, and Joe said there was not enough money in any of the Coast League treasuries to make him change his mind.”

Despite his protestations, nearly every team on the West Coast sought to sign Nealon.  Charlie Graham, Owner of the Sacramento Sacts made an offer that The San Francisco Call said led Nealon to tell a friend he wasn’t sure he could refuse.  He eventually did refuse, and instead signed to play for the Oakland Commuters in the California State League. The Call said he was the highest paid player on the West Coast.

Nealon captained the Oakland club, and hit .274 in 138 games.  How Nealon differed from his teammates and most players was probably best illustrated during a bench clearing brawl between Oakland and the Stockton Millers in June.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“(E)very man on both teams, with the exception of Joe Nealon, was mixed up…Nealon simply walked about the field and sat on the bench while the trouble was going on, and if anyone should ask right quick what player showed the only good judgment on the field the answer would be Joe Nealon.”

Nealon announced his retirement again, a week after his 25th birthday.

Nealon’s father had just helped elect San Francisco’s new mayor, Patrick Henry McCarthy, The Tribune said Nealon was “slated for a fat political job.”

Nealon was appointed deputy in the San Francisco County Clerk’s office in January.

On March 28, The Tribune said:

“(Nealon) is lying on death’s door in his home in San Francisco, suffering from typhoid fever.  Several physicians have been at the bedside of the ill athlete almost constantly for the past few days, and although they hold out but slight hope for his recovery, they state that his splendid physique may enable him to pull through.”

Nealon died five days later.

 

Joe Nealon

2 May

There was a race to sign Joe Nealon in 1905.  The San Francisco Chronicle said he was “thought to be the equal of Hal Chase,” the fellow first baseman and Californian who made his major league debut that season.

By November, West Coast newspapers had reported that at least four teams were after Nealon—the New York Highlanders, Boston Americans, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates were after Nealon.

nealon

Joe Nealon

There likely would have been even more interest in Nealon if not for his background; as The Chronicle said after Nealon signed with the San Francisco Seals before the 1905 season:

“Parental objection had to be overcome, and this was accomplished through an understanding that the boy would remain in professional baseball not more than two or three seasons.”

Nealon was the son of the James C. Nealon, a wealthy real estate executive, elected official, owner of thoroughbreds, and one of the best known handball players on the West Coast who often played with boxer Jim Corbett.

Nealon attended St. Ignatius College (now the University of San Francisco) and had played in the California State League in 1903 and 1904.

Cincinnati and Boston appeared to be the most aggressive pursuer of Nealon; according to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Everybody who has seen him work says that Nealon will fill the bill.  He is described as a second Bill Lange at the bat, and a new edition of Charley Comiskey on the bag.  Allowing for exaggeration he seems to be the real goods.”

The Reds dispatched Ted Sullivan to San Francisco. The Americans sent Dan Long.  They did not know that Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Fred Clarke was on his way West as well; Clarke arrived first. The Pirates manager won out.  The Pittsburgh Post said:

“It was against these two men that Clarke had to use his ingenuity in securing Nealon.  The player is a freelance and was at liberty to join a team of his own selection.  Being independently wealthy and playing baseball only for the sport he finds in it.  Nealon was not influenced by any financial proposition.”

Reds owner August Herrmann told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I had become very much interested in young Nealon and regret that we did not succeed in getting him, but there is no use mourning over his loss.”

While Herrmann might not have been mourning, others in Cincinnati were and blamed Sullivan.

Jack Ryder of The Enquirer said:

“Why was not Ted Sullivan on the ground earlier?  Ted left Cincinnati a week ago last Saturday (October 29) with instructions to make a bee line for Frisco.  Mr. Herrmann knew that there was keen competition for  the services of Nealon…If Sullivan had reached San Francisco on Tuesday or Wednesday, as he was expected to do he would have got in ahead of Fred Clarke, and the chances would have favored his securing the player.”

Ryder said he had a letter from James C. Nealon written to Herrmann promising “that his son would sign with Cincinnati, ‘other things being equal,’” Ryder noted that the Reds “offered the boy more salary than any other club including Pittsburgh.”

Ryder concluded:

“Fred Clarke, who was on the spot, while Ted Sullivan was not, was able to persuade (Nealon) that the Pirates are a far better aggregation than the Reds.”

Ted Sullivan was not about to blamed, and fired off a letter to The Enquirer:

“There is not a man in the city of Cincinnati that would feel as much hurt as myself to lose a good man for the Cincinnati club.  The two years that I have acted as agent for Mr. Herrmann he has treated me like a king, and has showed a disposition to back my judgment on the skill of a player.”

tedsullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan said in the letter, he had discovered Nealon’s “hidden skill” in August:

“The skill I noticed in Nealon (I wrote Mr. Herrmann at the time) was skill hidden beneath a dross of inexperience and youth.”

While he conceded that some time in the major leagues would “make him a star,” he assured The Enquirer he was not of the caliber of Sullivan’s favorite first baseman:

“The greatest first baseman in the history of the game, Charles Comiskey, was my own selection and making (which I say without egotism), but the California fledgling, without disparaging him, is a pallbearer compared to the magnetism of the matchless Comiskey.”

Sullivan blamed his inability to sign Nealon on Nealon’s father.  He claimed to have offered $3,800 to the first baseman in August, and was told that money was not the critical consideration, but complained that Nealon Sr. had immediately “proclaimed throughout Frisco, with the aid of a flashlight, and had also the newspaper men transmit (the offer) to all of the papers in the East.”

As for arriving is San Francisco after Clarke, Sullivan blamed that on the railroads:

“(I) was blocked between Salt Lake and Sacramento, caused by the immense amount of trains”

But, said Sullivan, none of that mattered.  Nealon’s father had not dealt with the Reds in good faith:

“Mr. Nealon Sr., who claimed he was not out for the money, called Fred out on the porch of the house and showed him, in confidence, the offer from Cincinnati.”

The latest Cincinnati offer was $6500—with a clause that promised $1000 more than any other offer Nealon would receive–Sullivan said.  Clarke matched the $6500, he said, and signed Nealon.

fredclarkepix

Fred Clarke

There was more said Sullivan:

“Now comes the most brazen effrontery of offended dignity that has more hypocritic brass in it than the Colossus of Rhodes.  With this standing offer of Mr. Herrmann’s in his hands for days before I arrived,  I asked Mr. Nealon Sr., why he did not close with Mr. Herrmann on such a grand offer.  ‘Why,’ says he, ‘I consider it an insult for any man to make me such an offer as that, as it would appear that I was playing one club against the other.”  Think of that insult—one man offers another man $1000 more than the highest bidder and he is insulted.”

Sullivan closed his letter by again questioning Nealon’s prospects of making an immediate impact, and said:

“I would rather go down to Millcreek bottoms and pick up some young fellow that wanted to make baseball a profession, than any young man in the United States who thinks that he is condescending to play ball for $7000.”

Sullivan was not the only representative of a club who had expressed interest in Nealon who now questioned the prospects ability.  In response to Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs who said Nealon was “not of National League Caliber,” The Pittsburgh Press responded:

“Sour Grapes?”

The rest of the story on Friday.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #18

7 Mar

Tener on Anson

In 1917, John Tener wrote an article in “Baseball Magazine” about Cap Anson, his former manager with the Chicago White Stockings.

John Tener

John Tener

The former pitcher and outfielder, who went on to serve in the United States Congress and as Governor of Pennsylvania, and who in 1917 was president of the National League said:

“Pop Anson was the Greatest Batter who ever lived.  You may look up his record, compare it with others and draw your own conclusions.  When I say this I am well aware of the claims of Ed Delehanty, Hans Wagner and many other great hitters.  I give them all due credit, but in my opinion, Anson was the greatest of them all.

"Cap" Anson

Anson

“He was, first of all, a free hitter. He loved batting…He had that true eye which enabled him to hit the ball squarely on the nose.  His hits were line drives.  They were solid smashes with the full force of his muscular shoulders behind them.”

[…]

“He was an excellent judge of the precise fraction of a second that he needed to swing that heavy bat of his against the best the pitcher could offer.  He didn’t exactly place his hits, but he contrived to drive the ball behind the base runner about where he wanted to drive it…He was big and strong and heavy.  Some hitters of the present day fatten their averages by their nimbleness in reaching first.  Anson drove the ball solidly into the outfield and took his time in going to first.”

Conte on Mendez

Jose Pepe Conte was a well-known sportswriter in Havana, Cuba. Frank Menke of Heart Newspaper’s International News Service (INS) said of him:

Jose Pepe Conte

Jose Pepe Conte

“Pepe is a fellow who knows heaps and heaps about ancient history, European customs, chemistry, baseball and prize fighting.”

The Pittsburgh Press called him:

“(A) Cuban newspaperman, political personage, and unearther of baseball talent.”

In 1912, the INS distributed an article Conte wrote about the pitcher he thought was the best ever:

“American baseball fans can talk all they want about their (Chief) Benders, (Christy) Mathewsons, (Ed) Walshes and (Mordecai) Browns, but down in our country we have a pitcher that none of the best batters in the country can touch. This is the famous Black Tornado, (Jose) Mendez.  Talk about speed.  Why, when he cuts loose at his hardest clip the ball bounces out of the catcher’s mitt Talk about speed, Mendez has to pitch most of the time without curves because we haven’t a catcher who can hold him.  To make things better, Mendez can bat like (Ty) Cobb.  He has won his own games on various occasions with smashes over the fences for home runs.  He weighs about 154 pounds and is a little fellow.”

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

[…]

“No one has been found who can hold him when he really extends himself.  He has shown his skill in the past when he has faced the best batters of the Cubs and Detroit teams when those teams were champions, and when the Athletics went there last year.  Mendez has more curves than any pitcher in America, and if some inventive genius could produce a whitening process whereby we could get the fellow into the big leagues he could win a pennant for either tail-end team in either league.”

Sullivan on Comiskey

In his book, “The National Game,” Al Spink said Ted Sullivan was “the best judge of a ball player in America, the man of widest vision in the baseball world, who predicted much for the National game years ago, and whose predictions have all come true.”

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan was a player, manager, executive, and in 1921, he wrote a series of articles for The Washington Times called “The Best of my Sport Reminiscences.”  He said of Charles Comiskey, who he was crediting with “discovering” at St. Mary’s College in Kansas:

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

“As a player, Comiskey was easily the best first baseman of his time…His intuition in defining the thoughts of his opponents and making his play accordingly placed him head and shoulders over any man that played that position before or after.

“Comiskey was with John Ward and King Kelly one of the greatest of base runners.  I do not mean dress parade base running, either, merely to show the crowd he could run.  Comiskey’s base running was done at a place in the game when it meant victory for his side.  He was far from being the machine batter that Anson, Roger Connor and some others were; but as a run-getter, which means the combination of hitting, waiting, bunting and running, he outclassed all others.  Jack Doyle, when in his prime with Baltimore and New York, was the nearest approach to Comiskey in brainwork.  There are no others.”

Tug Arundel

16 Nov

Twenty-one years before catcher Gabby Street caught a baseball dropped. From the Washington Monument, another catcher attempted it with less success.

When news of Street’s feat was reported in 1908, Oliver Romeo Johnson, who had been a sportswriter for The Indianapolis News in 1887, recalled the circumstances:

“On one of our eastern trips we followed the Chicagos in Washington, and while there the catching of a ball dropped from the monument was much talked of, because one of the Chicago players was said to have done it a few days before.  My impression is that it was (Cap) Anson himself, although it might have been Silver Flint.

“One of our team, John Thomas ‘Tug’ Arundel, a catcher, said it was ‘dead easy’ to catch a ball dropped from the monument, and a bet was made on it.  A crowd of us went out to see the attempt.  Arundel wore catcher’s gloves—which were not so thick as they now are—on both hands and put layers of cotton under them. He tried eight or ten times to catch the ball…but failed every time, and after he had battered up his hands so he could not play for some days he gave it up.”

Tug Arundel

Tug Arundel

Several days after Johnson’s recollection appeared in The News, Horace Fogel, who had been Arundel’s manager with the Hoosiers and dropped the balls from the monument, weighed in.  Fogel, then sports editor of The Philadelphia Telegraph, disputed the claim that Anson or Flint had caught a ball and said of his catcher’s attempt:

“Arundel, if I remember alright, only succeeded in getting his hands on one ball and it almost tore them off at the wrists. Tug explained afterward that he had not figured on ‘A ball weighing a ton coming from that distance.’ The other balls, a dozen or more, I tossed out to him, Arundel missed, some by fifty feet, he misjudged them that badly.”

Horace Fogel

Horace Fogel

Bad judgment was a staple of Arundel’s career which was marred by arrests for drinking and fighting.    He appeared in just 76 major league games over four seasons from 1882 to 1888 and played for at least 16 different professional clubs during his 10 seasons in professional ball, often quickly wearing out his welcome.

The Memphis Appeal said he was:

“(T)he handsomest player in the profession, who would sooner fight than eat.”

The Washington Critic summed up the opinion many had of Arundel when he was acquired by the Nationals in 1888:

“’Tug’ Arundel has been secured by the Washington management, as last week’s reports indicated he would be.  He is not popular here.  However, it is to be hoped that Manager (Ted) Sullivan can keep him muzzled.”

After his release, when it was rumored he might join the Detroit wolverines, The Detroit Free Press told readers:

“Detroit wouldn’t have Tug Arundel under any circumstances.”

After every incident, Arundel pledged to change his ways.

After an 1887 drunken melee in Indianapolis, which resulted in the arrests of Arundel along with teammates Jerry Denny and John (Patsy) Cahill, he told The Indianapolis News he took “a total abstinence pledge for six months.”

In the spring of 1889, he was arrested in his hometown, Auburn, New York twice. First for assaulting a police officer and then for a bar fight with another former major leaguer, and Auburn native, Mike MansellThe Auburn Bulletin said Arundel “Got the worst of it.” A month after the fight, The Sporting Life said Arundel “writes he is in fine shape and looking for an engagement.”

In 1890, the 28-year-old Arundel was nearing the end of the line.  He signed with the Saginaw-Bay City (Michigan) club in the International Association and told The Detroit Free Press that he was serious about sobriety this time:

“I lost splendid situations and almost ruined my reputation through liquor, but, sir, I realize the baneful effects of over-indulgence in intoxicating liquors and I have resolved never to touch another drop.  I have kept aloof from it for the past three months and am now in as good condition as I ever was in my life.”

It is unclear whether, or for how long, Arundel kept his last public pledge.  He appeared to have played fairly well behind the plate for Saginaw-Bay City.  Although he hit just .152, The Free Press, which three years earlier assured readers that Arundel was not wanted on the city’s National League club, was pleased when he signed with the Detroit Wolverines of the Northwestern League:

“(Arundel) has faced the greatest pitchers on the field and held them all.  Arundel is a good trainer for young ones, and did good work while with the Hyphens in 1890.”

Whether because of drinking or injuries (The Free Press and The Detroit News said he suffered from “Split fingers” several times throughout the season) Arundel was finished after the 1891 season, at age 29.

Arundel returned to Auburn and was eventually committed to the Willard State Hospital for the Chronic Insane in New York where he died in 1912.

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

“I Remember Well the First Day Latham Coached”

11 Jun

Arlie Latham “The Freshest Man on Earth” is generally credited as the first full-time third base coach.  Even before John McGraw hired him to coach third for the New York Giants in 1909, Latham’s antics as a “coacher” were already legendary—in 1907 Ted Sullivan, one of baseball’s pioneers and Latham’s manager with the St. Louis Browns, told The Washington Evening Star about Latham’s first time.

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

“’I remember well the first day Latham coached,’ said Sullivan.  ‘It was in Cincinnati in 1883.  I must confess I never had much use for a ‘fresh’ player, and soon after Latham reported I was not backward in telling him he was too d— fresh, but  I later discovered that he was a wonderful player, and that his freshness was of a most harmless and hilarious nature.  But after I gave him the reprimand I noticed he was a little timid about saying anything, but was still of good cheer.

“One day in Cincinnati Will White had the Browns on his staff with his little stingy rise ball.  My best men were on the bases and there was no one on the line.  I asked the men on the bench, ‘Is there no one here able to coach a little?’ Latham speaks up and says, ‘I will coach if you want me.’”

Never one for understatement, Sullivan said what happened next:

“Well, if Gabriel had entered a graveyard and blown his trumpet, and the tombstones had loosened their grip on the dead, it would not have created more of a sensation.  Latham walked out to the home plate and to the consternation of umpire, players and myself, delivered this talk to pitcher White:

‘My Dear Mr. White, we have been very courteous to you during the game, but as the Browns need a few runs we will have to be rude to you for awhile,’ and then stalking off to third base went through those gyrations that afterward made him famous all over America.  White was dumbstruck at the flow of words that afterward fell from Latham, and he became so rattled that the Browns batted him out of the box and won the game.”

Will White

Will White

No Browns game in Cincinnati that season matches well with Sullivan’s initial account—he continued to tell the story to reporters for more than a decade and sometimes said instead the game was “against Cincinnati—the game that best fits Sullivan’s description was a 9 to 5 Browns win over the Reds on May 16. But, contemporary accounts attribute White’s faltering, which led to the Browns come from behind victory, to a knee injury rather than any “flow of words” from Latham.

“Latham was the original funny man in the coacher’s box, and he stood in a class entirely by himself.  He has had many imitators, but they have never reached the position that Latham occupied, for he was a genius in the work and never used language that would offend the ears of the most prudish.

“Many years ago it used to be Latham’s great aim to get out on the coaching line here in Washington in the games that local pet—Win Mercer—was to do the pitching.  It will be recalled that Mercer was an extremely handsome fellow, and often it fell to his lot to pitch on Ladies’ Day.  Latham took the greatest delight in endeavoring to disconcert Mercer, the large number of ladies being mad enough to pull his hair, while at the same time they were convulsed with laughter at his sayings and antics.  He and Mercer were great chums, and when Latham was secured by the Wagners (J. Earl and George) to travel with the Washingtons (in 1899) for coaching purposes alone the two were inseparable, thus showing that though a thorough minstrel and actor, his chaff never broke into bitter personalities  or severed friendships.

“We have our Hughey Jennings and others of today, but in the history of baseball there has only been one ideal coacher from the line—Arlie Latham.”

Latham with the New York Giants

Latham with the New York Giants

When McGraw hired Latham two years later, Bozeman Bulger, sports writer for The New York Evening World said the Giants’ new third base coach had just as much fun as a minor league umpire as he did when coaching—Bulger was a writer for The Birmingham Age-Herald while Latham was working in the Southern Association:

“I had the fun one time of traveling with Latham while he was an umpire in the Southern (Association).  On one of those days the Birmingham club was playing at Little Rock, and Pat Wright was playing first for Little Rock, and Pat Millerick, of Birmingham was at the bat.  He hit a little grounder toward short, and for a moment it was fumbled.  Pat went lumbering down to first.  Seeing that he couldn’t quite make it on the run, he slid for the bag.  Pat Wright at the same time got the ball a little wide and slid for the bag himself, so as to beat the runner.  The feet of both hit the bag at about the same time.”

Latham made no call on the play.

“’Judgment!’ yelled Millerick, as he threw up his hand.

“Everybody waited for Latham to make a decision.

“’Wait a minute,’ said Arlie, ‘I want to do this thing right.’  He then rushed into the clubhouse and came out with a tape measure.  While the crowd sat in suspense Latham deliberately measured the feet of the two Pats—Millerick and Wright.  It was shown that Wright’s foot was one inch longer, and Millerick was promptly declared ‘Out!’  Nobody had the nerve to question the decision.”

Origin Stories

9 Apr

Timothy Paul “Ted” Sullivan was a player, manager, executive, and the lifelong friend and confidant of Charles Comiskey.

Al Spink, in his 1911 book “The National Game,” said Sullivan was “the best judge of a ball player in America, the man of widest vision in the baseball world, who predicted much for the National game years ago, and whose predictions have all come true.”

Comiskey said of his friend:

“Ted Sullivan’s standing in the profession of baseball cannot be measured by modern standards.   He is in a class all by himself.  He is ever and always ahead of his time, with a knowledge of the game and a versatility that no other baseball man of my acquaintance has ever possessed.”

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan, given his reputation, was a favorite among reporters who sought his opinion about everything related to baseball.

In December of 1904, months before the Mills Commission was organized to determine baseball’s origin, Sullivan was asked by The Cincinnati Enquirer to weigh-in on the subject.  A month earlier Albert Spalding had given a speech at the YMCA training school in Springfield, Massachusetts claiming that baseball “is distinctively an American sport.”  The commission was formed in reaction to Henry Chadwick’s 1903 essay which said baseball was derived from British game rounders—after Spalding’s response, the two agreed to appoint the commission to settle the question.

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

The Enquirer said;

 “Of all the old-timers in harness Ted Sullivan is as good as the best, or a trifle better, when it comes to reviewing the history of diamond doings of the hoary past.  His memory goes back to year one of baseball and his story of the origin of the game makes a good bit of fan literature for the off season.

“’The origin of baseball may be the evolution of townball, barnball, two-old-cat or yet it may be the suggestion of the three named,’ says Ted.  ‘At any rate, the game is the product of American genius and temperament, and not an offshoot of English rounders, as our English cousins would have us believe.  Of the many times I have been in England and the subject of baseball came up, one Englishman would say to the other: ‘Why, that blooming American game of baseball is nothing but our old game of rounders, you know.’ I have nothing but the highest regard for an Englishman’s love of sport—for it is inherent in a Briton from the present King down, and should an Englishman have only his last sixpence, and should the alternative arise whether he should eat or see a field sport—he would undoubtedly decide in favor of the latter.  I must totally disagree, however, with my British cousins that their primitive and plebian game of rounders is the mother of our national game.  Oh, no dear cousins; chase that idea out of your heads.

“’To say rounders is baseball would be the same as claiming that a palace was a hut because it had a door, or a wheelbarrow a carriage because it had a wheel…From the time that the game was regularly played by the knickerbockers of New York until it became a profession, change after change has been made in the rules, to make the game as perfect as possible in its machinery.  The game is about fifty-five years of age, that is to say, before it became national, as it was played in New York and New England up to 1861, but did not reach the limits of our country until 1865 and 1866.  The most important changes in the rules after the structure of the game was put up was first eliminating a put out on the first bound by an outfielder.”

Like Spalding, Sullivan didn’t provide any specific evidence, and instead made a case that baseball must be an American invention because of “the originality of the American in the line of invention,” and by his logic, baseball was just one in a great line of American innovations:

“America to-day is the inventive torch of the world, and has been for the last fifty years.  The first seed of America’s inventive genius took root in Robert Fulton’s brain when he advocated steam as a motive power.  The next in line was Prof. Morse’s advocacy of the use of telegraph wire as a transmitter of sound.  This invention was followed by the sewing machine that relieved the weary housemaid of her burden.  On its heels came Cyrus McCormick with his farming implements that taught the world how to reap their harvest in one-tenth the time and with a fraction of the labor of former days.  The last of the greatest of America’s inventive thinkers is Tom Edison, the Wizard of Electricity, who has electrified ad illuminated the world by his inventions.”

Sullivan said this demonstrated “the originality of the American in the line of invention—whether it be a pastime or a beneficiary to the commercial world.”

There was no doubt Sullivan was influenced by Spalding’s speech.  Both claimed the game was “natural evolution” of earlier American games, and Sullivan refers to baseball as “the product of American genius and temperament; Spalding said baseball was “peculiarly adapted to the temperament and character of the American people.”

A.G. Spalding

Albert Spalding

Spalding’s speech was reprinted in many newspapers as well as the 1905 edition of “Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide.”

When the formation of the Mills Commission was announced in the spring of 1905 The Washington Post said:

“Inquiries are to be made throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and other English-speaking communities, with a view of ascertaining whether baseball is an evolution of the old English game of rounders, or of the classic American game of one-old-cat.”

The Post ridiculed the effort:

“Those ‘youngsters,’ Father Chadwick and A.G. Spalding, are playing extra innings to decide the origin of baseball.  The general public doesn’t seem to care when or how the game originated.”

The seven-member commission was composed of members sympathetic to the American origin version of Spalding and Sullivan.  Commission members Abraham Mills, Morgan Bulkeley, Arthur Gorman, Nick Young, Al Reach, George Wright and John Edward Sullivan accepted the story of a mining engineer from Denver named Abner Graves, and thus was born the Doubleday myth.  Spalding and Sullivan started with a conclusion and Spalding put together a commission that made it so.

The full text of the Graves’ first  letter to the commission as reprinted in The Sporting Life in august of 1905:

“The American game of base ball was invented by Abner Doubleday, of Cooperstown, N. Y., either the spring prior or following the ‘Log Cabin and Hard Cider’ campaign of General William H. Harrison for the presidency.  Doubleday was then a boy pupil of Green’s Select School in Cooperstown, and the same, who as General Doubleday, won honor at the battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War: The pupils of Otsego Academy and of Green’s Select School were then playing the old game of Town Ball in the following manner:

“A tosser stood close to the home goal and tossed the ball straight upward about six feet for the batsman to strike at on its fall, the latter using a four-inch flat-board bat. All others wanting to play were scattered about the Held, far and near, to catch the ball when hit. The lucky catcher took his innings at the bat. When a batsman struck the ball he ran for a goal fifty feet distant and returned.   If the ball was not caught or if he was not plunked by a thrown ball, while running, he retained his innings, as in Old Cat.

“Doubleday then improved Town Ball, to limit the number of players, as many were hurt in collisions. From twenty to fifty boys took part in the game I have described. He also designed the game to be played by definite teams or sides. Doubleday called the game Base Ball, for there were four bases in it.  Three were places where the runner could rest free from being put out, provided he kept his feet on the 1 flat stone base. The pitcher stood in a six-foot ring. There were eleven players on a side. The ball had a rubber center overwound with yarn to a size somewhat larger than the present day sphere and was covered with leather or buckskin. Anyone getting the ball was entitled to throw it at a runner between the bases and put him out by hitting him with it.

“I well remember some of the best players of sixty years ago. They were Abner Doubleday, Elilin Phinney, Nels C. Brewer. John. C. Graves. Joseph Chaffee. John Starkweather, John Doubleday, Tom Bingham and others who played on the Otsego Academy campus; although a favorite place was o the Phinney farm, on the west shore of Otsego Lake.”

Graves’ recollection would place the first game in 1839 when he was five, and “boy pupil” Doubleday was 20.