Tag Archives: Ted Sullivan

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.

 

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