Tag Archives: Terre Haute Hottentots

Del Sayers

12 Oct

The line between professional and amateur athletes was often very blurry before the turn of the 20th Century.  Delbert Bancroft Sayers is a good example.

Born in Ohio in 1876, Sayers first made a name for himself as a pitcher with the Ohio Wesleyan University team in 1895 and ’96 and with semi-pro teams in Galion and Marion, Ohio in 1896–local papers referred to the Marion club as a “professional” team.  In 1897, he  signed with the Youngstown Puddlers of the Interstate League.

                                 Del Sayers

Despite being described by The Youngstown Vindicator as “(A) clever young pitcher with good curves and wonderful speed,” Sayers struggled with Youngstown (no statistics survive but in a May game against Mansfield he walked six batters before being pulled in the third inning).  In June, he was sent to the Guelph Maple Leafs in the Canadian League.  The paper said:

“(He) had difficulty in locating the plate and it is thought a little more practice in a minor league will aid him for Interstate work.  He leaves with the best wishes of all concerned.”

After the 1897 season, Sayers returned to college; this time at Ohio State University.

He played baseball and football at Ohio State and was at times a dominant pitcher.  After a game in 1900 The Marion Star said:

“Sayers, who formerly played with Marion’s professional team, is doing some phenomenal slab work for the O.S.U. team.

“In the Decoration Day (May 28) game against Centre College at Columbus, he shut out his opponents, allowing them but two hits…nineteen of them fanned out at his mysterious shoots and curves.”

Known for his lack of control as a professional, he walked three and hit two batters during that game.

But he was better known as a football player.

Sayers, a tackle, was named captain in 1899, Ohio State’s first undefeated season.  The team went 9-0-1 giving up only five points all season, in a 5-5 tie with Case University.  In a 6-0 victory over Oberlin, Sayers returned a fumble 25 yards for the game’s only score.

                              1899 Ohio State Football team

By the middle of the decade, a college star’s former professional status would have been cause for controversy, but there was hardly a mention of Sayers’ minor league experience during his second college career.

After leaving Ohio State in 1900, Sayers considered offers from several teams in the Interstate League and eventually signed with the Columbus Senators.  He appears to have only pitched one game with Columbus and there are no mentions of his again until 1903 when The Sporting Life reported he had signed with the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League—he appears to have pitched in just two games for Terre Haute, both complete-game loses; 10-2 to the Wheeling Stogies (with Branch Rickey behind the plate) on June 19 and 10 to 1  to the South Bend Greens five days later.  The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“South Bend hit Sayers at will.”

In 1904, he returned to Ohio State to finish school.  After graduating Sayers was employed as chief engineer at the Stonega Coke and Coal Company in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, later returning to Ohio where, according to The Columbus Dispatch, as a civil engineer he “laid out” the town of Upper Arlington which had been founded and developed by his brothers in law.  Sayers died in Columbus’ University Hospital on December 4, 1949.

A shorter version of this post appeared on November 21, 2012.

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Polchow and Starnagle

13 Aug

At the close of the 1902 Three-I League season two unlikely candidates for the big leagues were signed by Cleveland Bronchos Manager Bill Armour.

Pitcher Louis William “Polly” Polchow and catcher George Henry Starnagle (born Steurnagel) did not put up impressive numbers.   Neither the Reach or Spalding Guides included Polchow’s won-loss record, but both said the 22-year-old’s winning percentage was just .414 in 32 games for the Evansville River Rats.  Starnagle hit just .180 with 13 passed balls and eight errors in 93 games for the Terre Haute Hottentots.

Louis Polchow

Louis Polchow

The two joined the fifth place Bronchos in St. Louis on September 13.  The following day both made their major league debuts in the second game of a doubleheader against the second place Browns.

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Captain (Napoleon) Lajoie decided to try his new Three-Eye League battery, which reported to him yesterday.  Starnagle, the former Terre Haute catcher, was as steady as a veteran, but Polchow wobbled at the drop of the hat, and before he steadied himself the damage was done.

“Five runs in the first two innings gave the Browns a good lead, and it was well they made hay while the sun shone, for Polchow handed them six ciphers for dessert.”

Starnagle made an error in the seventh when he overthrew Lajoie on an attempted steal of second by Bobby Wallace—Wallace advanced to third on the error, but Polchow retired the side without a run.

George Starnagle

George Starnagle

In Cleveland’s half of the seventh Starnagle and Polchow had the opportunity to get them back in the game.  With two runs in, and a runner on first and one out Starnagle came to the plate.  The Republic said:

 “Starnagle tried to put on a Three-Eye League slugging scene.  He dislocated two ribs going after (Bill) Reidy’s slow ones and finally fanned.  Polchow forced (Jack) McCarthy.”

Starnagle was lifted in the ninth for a pinch hitter.  Cleveland lost 5-3.  Polchow gave up nine hits and walked four, striking out two, and was 0 for 4 at the plate.  Starnagle was 0 for 3, with one error behind the plate.  Neither would ever appear in another big league game.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Starnagle was 28-years-old, and had only played two seasons of pro ball before his game with Cleveland—he was semi-pro player with teams in Danville and Sterling, Illinois for nearly a decade before he joined Terre Haute in 1901.  He was considered a solid defensive catcher, but during 10 minor league seasons he only hit better than .230 three times.  When he played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals in 1909 The Montreal Gazette said:

“Starnagle has been drafted every year by big league clubs, all of whom have been pretty well supplied with seasoned catchers; hence his failure to be kept.”

Polchow was just 22 when he pitched his only big league game.  Plagued by wildness, he spent three mediocre seasons with teams in the Southern Association and South Atlantic League (he was 36-45 for the Montgomery Senators, Macon Highlanders and Augusta Tourists), then pitched five seasons in the New York State League.

In 1906 he helped lead the Scranton Miners to the New York State League championship (the team’s leading hitter was Archibald “Moonlight” Graham), although The Scranton Republican said his first start with the team was nearly his last.  Polchow lost 12 to 2 to the Utica Pent-Ups, walking 10 and giving up 10 hits.  After the game Polchow accused catcher “Wilkie Clark of throwing the game.  A fight followed and Clark and Polchow never worked together after that.   Andy Roth was Polchow’s battery partner during the remainder of the season.”

Starnagle retired after the 1910 season.  He returned to Danville, Illinois where he died in 1946; he was 72.

Polchow played through the 1911 season, and then became ill.  He died of Bright’s Disease at 32-years-old in August of 1912

In addition to Polchow and Starnagle, the Bronchos signed two other Three-I League players in September of 1902—both had somewhat more success.

Rock Island Islanders catcher George “Peaches” Graham made his debut the same day as Polchow and Starnagle, during the first game of the doubleheader; he struck out as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a 3 to 1 loss. He spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues, and hit .265.  Decatur Commodores pitcher Augustus “Gus” Dorner made his debut three days later beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 6.  He pitched for parts of six big league seasons, compiling a 35-69 record.

 

Defending their own Honor

12 Aug

In 1909 the Atlanta Crackers won their second Southern Association championships in three seasons.  Big things were expected for 1910; the team’s two 20-game-winning pitchers Tom Fisher and Harold Johns were returning.

The team the Southern press called “the hitless wonders,” which hit .222 while winning the championship added two new bats, outfielder Arista DeHaven, .336 with the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League and Charlie Seitz, .326 with the Norfolk Tars in the Virginia League.

But it took very little for near panic to take hold in Atlanta.

Only eight games into the season the Crackers were 3-5, tied for sixth place.  The Birmingham Age-Herald was ready to pronounce the defending champions finished, and said “there was dissention and dissatisfaction in the ranks.”   The article said that manager Adolph Otto “Dutch” Jordan had already lost control of his team.

The 1910 Atlanta Crackers:  Standing, from Left to right: Arista DeHaven, Charlie Seitz, Paul Sentell, Brown Rogers, Hyder Barr, Roy Moran, and Ed Hohnhorst,  Seated from left: Scott Walker, Hank Griffin, Syd Smith, Otto Jordan, Bick Bayless, Erskine Mayer, Harry Matthews, Harold Johns and Tom Fisher.

The 1910 Atlanta Crackers: Standing, from Left to right: Arista DeHaven, Charlie Seitz, Paul Sentell, Brown Rogers, Hyder Barr, Roy Moran, and Ed Hohnhorst, Seated from left: Scott Walker, Hank Griffin, Syd Smith, Dutch Jordan, Dick Bayless, Erskine Mayer, Harry Matthews, Harold Johns and Tom Fisher.

It wasn’t enough for the team to simply deny the charges; in an unprecedented move they went right to the fans to assure them they were trying to win and happy to be members of the Crackers.

On May 1, The Atlanta Constitution ran a letter “gotten up without solicitation by the boys and the autographs of each and every man is attached hereto:”

A Card to the Faithful Fans of Atlanta:

We the undersigned players of the 1910 ballclub, appreciating to the full the kind of loyal support always accorded us by the good citizens of Atlanta, desire hereby to register an emphatic protest against a statement recently made in a Birmingham paper to the effect that there was dissention among us, and that this dissention, so it was alleged, was the cause of our defeats on the last road trip.

Without stopping to discuss the real reasons which gave us more defeats than victories, we wish to state that it gives us much satisfaction to put our friends on notice that there is not one word of truth in this malicious slander, and further, that we know of no reason why there should be any dissention in our club…It should be further interesting to state, as we do, that the very best of feeling prevails among us all, and there is not one of us who is not doing his very utmost to land another pennant for Atlanta.  We simply ask our friends to continue to put their faith in us, and in return, we desire to give them the assurance that, whether we win another pennant, or not, we are firmly determined to play the best and sincerest ball of our careers—at least so far as honest and persevering effort can aid in bringing about so happy a result.  We confidently hope to amply show both friend and foe, long before the summer of 1910 has passed into baseball history, just how basely we have been misrepresented by this idle and empty charge.

The signatures of the 1910 atlanta Crackers that appeared with their open letter to the fans.

The signatures of the 1910 Atlanta Crackers that appeared with their open letter to the fans.

After the slow start, and their pledge to “play the best and sincerest ball” of their careers,  Atlanta played well the remainder of the season, finishing with a 75-63 record, but the New Orleans Pelicans, behind “Shoeless Joe’ Jackson’s league leading .354 average, and the pitching of 41-year-old Ted Breitenstein (19-9, 1.53 ERA), and 31-year-old Otto Hess (25-9), went wire-to-wire, winning the pennant with a record of 87-53.

Atlanta would not win another pennant until 1913.

Browning and Delahanty

25 Jun

John Anthony “Honest Jack” Boyle played in the American Association, Players League and National League from 1886 to 1898.

Boyle’s career was on the decline by the end of the 1898 season (he had only appeared in six games with the Philadelphia Phillies that year), but was effectively ended in November when he was the victim of a mysterious knife attack in his hometown of Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune said Boyle was “attacked from behind by an unknown man, who, before the player could defend himself, plunged a knife into his shoulder.”

A piece of the knife broke off in Boyle’s shoulder and he didn’t play regularly again until 1905 when he appeared in 101 games for the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association ; he was a player-manager for the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League the following season.

Jack Boyle

Jack Boyle

By 1910 Boyle, who was operating a saloon in Cincinnati, told William A. Phelon of The Chicago Tribune that the two best hitters he ever saw were Pete Browning and Ed Delahanty, and provided a window into the minds of two of the biggest stars of the 19th Century:

“(T)here never were two men more radically different in their ideas of and their opinions of the game than these two great sluggers.  They looked at the game from totally different angles, and they regarded their occupation with widely varying views.

“Pete Browning was an artist.  To him baseball was an art or a profession and batting an absorbing passion.

“Delahanty was a workman.  Baseball to him was labor or a trade, and batting simply part of the daily toil.

“When Browning left the field the game wasn’t over.  He continued to talk batting, theorize on batting, figure out new ideas on batting, and I think, dreamed of batting all night long.

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

“When Delahanty left the ballpark the game was all through for the day, exactly as if he was a laborer going home to supper.  He ceased to think baseball.

Ed Delahanty

Ed Delahanty

“If Browning failed to make a hit at the time of need, he would have tears in his eyes and would bitterly bewail his misfortune.  If Delahanty fell down in the pinch, he shrugged his shoulders, hoofed back to the bench and began to talk racing or the weather.

“When an outfielder galloped to the fence and pulled down one of Browning’s mighty drives, Pete would regard it as a personal insult, and glower at the outfielder like a baffled tiger.  When a fielder robbed Del of a home run, Ed would grunt ‘Good catch, boy, didn’t think you’d get it’ and forget it forever.

“If you had told Pete Browning that the business was losing money, and that you would have to cut his salary next season, he would have accepted the money rather than lose the chance to play the game.  If you handed that talk to Delahanty, he would have sneered scornfully and remarked that you’d have to come up with 500 more beans before he’d even look at a contract.

“Neither Pete nor Del cared much where their teams finished on the season.  Pete thought only of hits and the glory of making them.  Del thought of a comfortable winter life on the money he had made in the summertime.”

Boyle said the only thing the two really had in common was an inability to bunt:

“Del wouldn’t simply try.  Pete, with much groaning and protestation, would be coaxed to make the attempt, but his attempts were fizzles.”

Boyle, or Phelon, omitted the other thing the two had in common: serious drinking problems that hurt them on and off the field and contributed to their early deaths.

Boyle died in Cincinnati in 1913.

The Two Cent Release

23 Jan

A small item in The Sporting Life in June of 1906 said John “Jock” Somerlott had been released by Jack Hardy, manager of the Fort Wayne franchise in the Interstate Association.

Four years later, when Somerlott was purchased by the Washington Senators the The Associated Press told the story of his release:

“Salary day at Fort Wayne was an event.  It rolled around regularly, but there was seldom money enough in the treasury to pay the players… (Hardy) didn’t like Somerlott, and Somerlott didn’t just exactly hanker after his manager, and the friction grew as money became scarce.”

Jock Somerlott

Jock Somerlott

Jack Hardy

Jack Hardy

Somerlott said he was tired of not getting paid and playing in front of sparse crowds so he approached Hardy one morning in June with an offer:

“Tell you what I’ll do Jack, I’ll give you every cent I’ve got for my release.”

After Hardy accepted the offer:

“(Somerlott) searched his clothing and allowed the manager to do the same, and the total output was two pennies.  He handed the cash to Hardy and got his release.”

Somerlott signed with the Winnipeg Maroons in the Northern-Copper Country League for the remainder of 1906.  After two years in the Southern Michigan League, he went to the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League.  After hitting .282 and .292 in 1909 and 1910, the Washington Senators purchased his contract in August.

Somerlott’s Major League career was brief; he appeared in 29 games for the Senators in 1910 and 1911 hitting .204. He returned to the minor leagues for five seasons after his release from Washington, finishing his career with the Pittsfield Electrics in the Eastern Association in 1914.

Somerlott returned home to Indiana and for many years managed the Angola team in the semi-pro Indiana-Ohio League; among his players was Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer.

Somerlott is a member of the Fort Wayne Baseball and the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Halls of Fame.  He died in Butler, Indiana in 1965.