Tag Archives: Three-I League

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.

 

Stewart Strader

11 Aug

Stewart W. Strader was the son of a prominent business leader in two of Kentucky’s signature businesses.  His father, Colonel Robert Stuart Strader operated a distillery and was a prominent breeder of Standardbred Trotters.  In 1875, the elder Strader moved the family from Boone County, Kentucky to Lexington where he was involved in the founding and management of The Red Mile—the world’s second oldest harness racing track.

Advertisement for R.S. Strader and Son Distillery. The "Son" was Stewart's older brother Wilson.

Advertisement for R.S. Strader and Son Distillery. The “Son” was Stewart’s older brother Wilson.

Stewart Strader was born in Lexington in 1882, one of seven sons.  By the age of 20 he had become an important figure in baseball circles in and around Lexington, as owner, manager and one of the best players on Lexington’s local semi-pro team.

Before the 1903 season The Lexington Leader said Strader was attempting to get his team accepted into the Central League and “Lexington’s application for a franchise is looked upon quite favorably,” but days later The Lexington Herald said Strader “decided most of the cities composing the Central League were too far to enable his club to play them with profit.”  He instead entered his team in Cincinnati’s Sunday League and played against other independent teams during the week.

Stewart Strader 1903

Stewart Strader 1903

His reputation quickly spread, and while there were rumors in the press that he would be signed by the Cincinnati Reds, they did not materialize, but he did receive a letter from William Henry “Bill” Watkins, president and manager of the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association.  Watkins wrote:

“I thought I would write you and see if you had any idea of going into the professional end of the game next season.  If you will consider a trial with us, I would like to hear from you.”

Strader accepted the offer, but by the time he reported to Indianapolis in late March, Watkins had left Indianapolis to manage the Minneapolis Millers.  In his first game with the Hoosiers, an exhibition against Purdue University, Strader played right field and was 3 for 3 with a triple.  The Indianapolis News said, “Strader is a hitter of merit and with a little more work should develop into a strong fielder.”

Two days before the beginning of the regular season Indianapolis purchased left fielder Ed “Pinky” Swander from the St. Louis Browns, and right fielder George Hogriever, who had refused to sign after hitting .330 the previous season, agreed to terms with the Hoosiers.   Strader was released to the Greenville Cotton Pickers in the Cotton States League.  His hometown paper, The Herald, said he “had been holding down right field with due credit,” but Indianapolis Manager Bill Phillips felt “he was too young for the fast company.”

Strader 1904

Strader 1904

After hitting .309 for Greenville in 81 at bats, he was sold to the Macon Highlanders in the South Atlantic League where he hit just .200 in 130 at bats.

Strader spent the next five years making brief stops with seven different minor league teams, buying and selling the independent Lexington club at least twice, and tending a saloon he opened in 1905.

 

Stewart Srader

Stewart Srader

In 1908, Lexington became part of the newly formed Blue Grass League.  It was the city’s first team in organized ball in more than a decade, and Strader may, or may not, have been involved in an attempt to wrest control of the team from owner and manager Thomas Sheets.

Strader opened the season in the Virginia State League, where he appeared in 10 games for the Richmond Colts and Danville Red Sox.  In late May, he returned to Kentucky and signed a contract with Sheets’ Lexington Colts.  On May 31 he played center field for the Colts and was 0 for 3.  The following day he was released.

The Herald speculated that another player, Warren Fieber (who had purchased the independent Lexington team from Strader two years earlier and later sold it back to him) would also be released:

“Sheets admitted that an effort had been made to undermine him in the last two days, but would make no further statement.”

Fieber, who was hitting .320 on June 1, remained with the team, but his batting average plummeted to .222 by the season’s end.  Strader stayed in the Bluegrass League and signed with the Shelbyville Grays; he had the best season of his pro career, hitting .324.

Strader played his final season of pro ball the next year with the Frankfort Statesmen.  In June The Herald said:

 “Lexington fans have noted with considerable satisfaction that Stewart Strader a Lexington boy now with Frankfort is leading the Blue Grass League in batting.”

Strader was hitting .410 as late as June 23, but slumped badly in the second half of the season and finished with a .264 average.  At the end of the 1909 season Strader and Patrick Downing, a former minor league player, were appointed deputies by the Fayette County Sheriff.  The Leader said the two deputies they replaced “apparently would not play ball.”

Strader signed with the Davenport Prodigals in the Three-I League in the spring of 1910 but was released before the season began.

During the last several years of career, and the first decade after he left the diamond, the Strader family was regularly mentioned in the local press for things other than baseball.

Two brothers died tragically, one, according to The Leader, by his own hand after shooting a woman in Lexington’s “Tenderloin District.” The other was murdered during a dispute while hunting.

Strader began operating taverns and restaurants in Lexington in 1905, and the family spent the better part of a decade bringing various lawsuits against each other involving the failure of the distillery after their father’s death and other business disputes.  During one dispute Strader’s older brother W.P. had him arrested claiming Stewart Strader “would do bodily harm or injury to him.”

Despite the family drama, Strader remained a successful businessman and prominent member of Lexington society.  He owned the Berlin Café—which he originally purchased with one of his brothers in 1905–until 1940 and for seven years in the 1920s operated Third Avenue Motor Company in Louisville, which sold the Anderson Six—produced by the Anderson Motor Car Company in South Carolina.

Strader died in Lexington on August 9, 1948.

“This Wealth of Mr. Gertenrich has cost the Game an A-1 Player”

7 Jul

Sportswriter William A. Phelon said Louis Wilhelm “Lou” Gertenrich “is not a ball player because he has to be, but because he wants to be.”

The son of a successful candy maker, Gertenrich was rumored to be one of Chicago’s wealthiest young men.  He was also an excellent ballplayer and sprinter, but spent a great deal of time focused on business rather than sports.  Phelon said:

“Gertenrich hasn’t played ball, even when he desired to play the game, because his business interests would not allow him the leisure time.  In other words, Mr. Gertenrich, being a man of income and financial substance, cannot dally with the ball and bat as he would like, and this wealth of Mr. Gertenrich has cost the game an A-1 player.”

Lou Gertenrich

Lou Gertenrich

He began to be noticed as a ballplayer in 1891 as a 16-year-old pitcher with a team called the American Boys (later called the Mystics), the following year he joined the Clybourn Juniors.

At 19, in 1894 he joined Chicago’s City League, first with the Brands and then the Garden Cities, pitching and playing shortstop and outfield.  As local clubs found they could do better as independents than as members of a league the City League went from an eight, to six to finally a four-team league before disbanding at the close of the 1895 season.

Gertenrich remained a popular figure in semi-professional circles in Chicago, playing primarily for the Maroons and the Auburn Parks.

In 1898 The Sporting Life said Hank O’Day thought Gertenrich “is a sure comer.”

On September 15, 1901 the last place Milwaukee Brewers were in Chicago for a doubleheader, the final two home games for the first place White Sox.  Brewers Outfielder/Manager Hugh Duffy, and another outfielder, Irv Waldron, were injured.  As a result, The Chicago Daily News said:

“Manager Duffy gave Louis Gertenrich, a city league star, a trial.”

Starting the first game in right field, Gertenrich singled in his first big league at bat and scored a run on a home run hit by another player making his debut; Leftfielder Davy Jones.  Gertenrich was 1 for 2 before being removed in the fifth inning of a 5 to 4 loss.

In the second game he pinch hit for pitcher Ned Garvin and grounded out in the bottom of the ninth of a 9 to 4 loss to Chicago.

Gertenrich returned to the Auburn Parks with a .333 major league batting average.

He got a big league call again in 1903.  On July 21 the first place Pittsburgh Pirates were in Chicago to playing the Cubs.  Pirates Manager Fred Clarke, who was injured, had allowed outfielder Jimmy Sebring three days off to return to Williamsport, Pennsylvania for his wedding.

Gertenrich was brought in to play right field; he went 0 for 3 with a sacrifice bunt and handled two fly balls.  He returned to the Auburn Parks’ lineup the following day.

He spent most of the next decade playing in the re-formed Chicago City League—spending time with the Logan Squares, Gunthers, the Roger Parks, the West Ends, the Riverviews and Anson’s Colts.  He also coached baseball  at the Morgan Park Academy on Chicago’s South Side.

The Daily News said:

“Gertenrich is recognized as one of the heaviest hitters in local semi-pro ranks, and there is no batter more feared by the pitchers than this speedy fielder.”

1906 advertisement for the Rogers Parks, when Gertenrich played for and managed the team

1906 advertisement for the Rogers Parks, when Gertenrich played for and managed the team

William A. Phelon wrote for The Chicago Journal when Gertenrich left Chicago briefly in 1905, at age 30,  to join the Springfield Babes in the Central League and the Decatur Commodores in the Three-I League.  Phelon told a story about Gertenrich’s stay in Springfield:

“Mr. Gertenrich was able to arrange his affairs for a lay-off of three months (in order to play for Springfield, and) the rich man negotiated with (Manager Jack) Hendricks for a position…The very next afternoon beheld Mr. Gertenrich, free from business care and happy as a proverbial lark, capering in the Springfield pasture and slamming that old ball like seven Cobbs and a Lajoie thrown in for luck.

“On his first day out he got three singles.  Next day he amassed two triples and a double.  The third day he whacked a home run and a single.  On his fourth day he drew three passes and connected for a triple.  On the morning of the fifth day Mr. Hendricks summoned him to headquarters.

“’Mr. Gertenrich,’ said Mr. Hendricks, pausing to wipe away a tear ‘you are a great batsman and a good fellow.  You are setting this league afire.  You are the wonder of the Twentieth Century.  But you are breaking the hearts of my younger players.  They cannot bat like you.  They are losing their ambition.  A few more games with you among them and they will pine away and die…Moreover Mr. Gertenrich, you have money.  You do not need this job.  The boys whom you are shoving into obscurity have little families and need the coin.  I hate to say it Mr. Gertenrich,’—and the manager again wiped away a tear—‘but you and I must part.  Here is your release.  Goodbye, Mr. Gertenrich, and good luck be with you.  Please go away, for I weep every time I look at you.”

Gertenrich also appeared in several games for Decatur after his release from the Springfield Babes, against Springfield’s other team, the Senators, and the Peoria Distillers.

For the next four seasons, Gertenrich remained one of Chicago’s best local athletes.  At 33-years-old in 1908 he was still a good enough runner to win the City League Field Day title of fastest player; The Daily News said he rounded the bases in 14 and 1/5 seconds.

The Chicago Eagle called him:

“(O)ne of the best known and most popular players in Chicago.”

In 1909 he hit .318 (5th in the league) and The Sporting Life said the Brooklyn Superbas were trying to sign Gertenrich and made an offer “which he has taken under consideration.”  The deal was never completed.

Gertenrich hit .350 in 1910 (3rd in the league), playing for Rogers Park.

In 1912 he returned to professional baseball as a member of the Chicago Green Sox in the United States League.  William C. “Billy” Niesen, a long-time City League operator had initially been one of the organizers of another proposed outlaw organizations, the Colombian League, but when then venture failed, and after one of the proposed New York team dropped out of the United States League in late March Niesen was awarded a Chicago franchise; Niesen was a good fit for the fledgling league because already had a ballpark on the North Side of Chicago at the corner of Clark Street and Leland Avenue–called Gunther Park, also referred to frequently in the Chicago press as Niesen’s Park.

The Sporting Life said “Base ball men are still betting that the new league doesn’t open the season,” but Niesen had high hopes.  He hired Burt Keeley, a long-time City League figure who had pitched in 30 games for the Washington Senators in 1908 and 1909.

He also signed Gertenrich, who had played for Niesen’s Gunthers in the City League the year before, and according to The Chicago Examiner had hit a home run off of Bill Lindsay of the Chicago American Giants that was “the longest hit ever seen at Niesen’s Park.”

gunther

Gunther Park, where The Examiner said Gertenrich was responsible for “the longest hit ever seen at Niesen’s Park.”

An ambitious 126-game schedule was announced, but the upstart league was under-capitalized and low attendance doomed it to failure.  The league folded after just more than a month of play.  The Green Sox were 10-12.  Gertenrich returned to the candy business and semi-pro ball.

On March 8 of 1913 the Federal League rose out of the ashes of the United States League and was incorporated in Indianapolis.  Keeley was named manager, and many of the same players, including Gertenrich, who played for the Green Sox signed with the new club.

The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Gertenrich will be the mainstay of the outfield and is a heavy hitter.  He has made final arrangements for joining the club by procuring a competent manager for his candy business.  He will devote his time to the interests of the club.”

The team won their opener on May 6 against the St. Louis Terriers, and got off to a 7-1 start.  Chicago led the league until the middle of June when they were overtaken by Indianapolis.  They faded quickly after that; at the same time the team’s front office was in chaos, the team’s president was removed  and a new set of directors were elected in July.

On August 16 The Chicago Tribune said the team, hopelessly out of the pennant race, ten games behind Indianapolis, released Gertenrich “on the ground of cutting down expenses.”

Individual records are scare, but the 38-year-old Gertenrich was called “one of the classiest outfielders” in the league by The Associated Press.  In March of 1914 The Daily News said Gertenrich “was batting .413” at the time of his release, but had not received an offer from one the Federal League teams for 1914.

While Gertenrich relinquished some of the responsibilities of his company during 1912 and 1913 he had time to receive two United States patents for inventions for his candy company, including one described as a “corn confection” called the “Ball Tosser.”

Gertenrich was finished with professional baseball after his release in 1913, but continued playing semi-pro ball for several teams in and near Chicago, and formed a team called the Gertenrich Stars which played in Chicago through 1917.

He was a regular sponsor and attendee of alumni events for semi-pro and professional ballplayers in Chicago and played on the German Club of Chicago’s baseball team until his death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1933.

As a candy maker he had one more connection with professional baseball.  An advertisement for his company appears on the back of a baseball card set.  The 120 card set–the more common version advertises American Caramel on the back (E121)—was issued in 1922.  The Gertenrich variations are extremely rare.

The Gertenrich back variation of an E-121

The Gertenrich back variation of an E-121 card

Brief Bios

7 Apr

Finley Yardley

Identified as “Findley” on Baseball Reference, Finley A. Yardley was born in Ben Arnold, Texas on March 21, 1895.

“Fin” Yardley was a good hitter, but his intelligence was questioned more than once during his career.

After a spring trial with the St. Louis Browns in 1917, he was released to the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association for 57 games, but according to The Arkansas Gazette, “Forgetting is what chased him out” and he was sent to the Spokane Indians in the Northwestern League.

Yardley hit well in Spokane (.339 in 115 at bats), but despite his success The Gazette noted that:

“His think tank still slips now and then.  Recently he hit a drive good for three bases but forgot to touch first.”

Fin Yardley was no rocket scientist—his son John Finley Yardley was.

John Yardley was an aeronautical engineer whose team from McDonnell Aircraft Corporation designed the Friendship 7 capsule in which John Glenn orbited the Earth in 1962—Glenn called him “one of the real pioneers of the space program.”  Yardley was also involved with the Gemini, Skylab and Space Shuttle Programs.

After his playing career, Finley Yardley settled in St. Louis where he worked as a sales manager at a car dealership.  He died in Tucson, Arizona on March 1, 1963.

Charles Gurtz

Charles Joseph Gurtz was born in DePauw, Indiana in 1890.  He served in the United States Army, where he was a member of the 22nd Infantry and played for the unit’s baseball team in the El Paso, Texas city league.  He then played in a number of leagues throughout the Southwest not recognized by the National Agreement, including stops with teams in the “copper circuit;” loosely connected teams and leagues in mining towns in New Mexico and Arizona

Gurtz was let out of his contract in Silver City, New Mexico in order to join the Bloomington Bloomers in the Three-I League in 1914.  He hit .333, finishing second to Howard Wakefield for the league batting title.

Shortly after the 1914 season ended, Gurtz broke his leg during a semi-pro game in Odell, Illinois and returned home to Indiana.

In February of 1915, The Associated Press reported that he was “suffering from mental trouble, due to excessive religious zeal (and) has been declared insane. “  He was committed to Indiana’s state hospital at Madison, where “Physician’s say that he should respond to treatment and become normal again if his mind can be kept off religion.”

A month later Gurtz was released from the state hospital, The Associated Press said the hospital’s “superintendent expressed the opinion that Gurtz would be able to play ball.”

Gurtz played, but not well.

He hit just .193 for Bloomington in 1915.  The following year he was released by Bloomington just before the season began, but was signed by the Oklahoma City Senators in the Western Association in May.  He split the 1916 season between the Senators and the Muskogee Mets in the same league, hitting just .210.  (Baseball Reference identifies the player with Oklahoma City and Muskogee in 1916 as “William Gurtz,” but contemporary references in The Oklahoma City Times confirm that it was Charles Gurtz)

Gurtz returned to his native Indiana after the 1916 season and died on November 9, 1989, three weeks short of his 100th birthday.

Jimmy Duchalsky

James Louis “Jimmy” “the Duke” Duchalsky was discovered in Hawaii between the 1922 and ’23 seasons when Herb Hunter’s touring big leaguers visited the island during their barnstorming trip which also included stops in Japan, Korea, China and the Philippines.

The International News Service, which called the 5’ 9” 150 lb. Duchalsky the “hardest hitting pitcher in Hawaiian baseball circles,” said he caught the eye of New York Yankee pitcher “Bullet” Joe Bush.  Bush “was so impressed with the youngster’s work in a game he pitched against the big leaguers that he recommended him highly to Duffy Lewis manager of the Salt Lake City Bees in the Pacific Coast League).”

Joe Bush, front, second from right

Joe Bush, front, second from right  photographed during the tour.

Bush said the only thing he lacked was “a change of pace and that can be developed under the instruction of a good coach and manager.”

Duchalsky was 24-years-old (the Bees claimed he was just 21), but not as polished as Bush thought and struggled through 15 appearances, most in relief, for Salt Lake.  He posted a 1-3 record and 7.59 ERA in 51 innings—he did have 8 hits in 20 at bats, with one home run.   In May, he and teammate Tony Lazzeri were sent to the Peoria Tractors in the Three-I League; Duchalsky was 13-8 in 28 appearances.

The following season Duchalsky rejoined the Bees but pitched just one-third of an inning, allowing two runs and two hits in an 18-17 loss to the Oakland Oaks on April 10.  He was released later that week and returned to the Three-I League, this time as a member of the Decatur Commodores; he was 11-9 with a 4.13 ERA for the last-place (58-78) Commodores.

Jimmy Duchalsky 1923

Jimmy Duchalsky 1923

At the end of October he returned to Honolulu to play winter ball.

On December 7, 1924 Duchalsky was involved in an altercation with a cab driver. The Decatur Review said:

“Jim Duchalsky, known to all Three Eye League baseball fans as “The Duke,” has pitched his last game of ball… (he was) shot to death in his native city last evening after a street argument…It will be hard to convince Decatur baseball fans who have come in contact with Jim that he was the aggressor in any brawl that might have taken place for he was the most quiet player both on and off the field to ever appear here… Despite his quiet manners and the fact that he was not a mixer, many fans in both Decatur and Peoria will mourn his loss.  Duchalsky was admired by fans in every city where he played for his sportsmanlike conduct on the ball field and in all his games pitched at Staley Field was never seen disputing an umpire’s decision, even on balls and strikes.  He pitched his game and left the arguments out of his assortment.”

The Associated Press said, “The encounter was believed to have started in jealousy over a woman.”  The cab driver, John Emmeluth, claimed self-defense, but several witnesses said he approached and shot the pitcher with no warning.  He was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison.  Duchalsky was buried in Honolulu.

Irwin Howe

3 Feb

irwinhowebb

 

Irwin M. Howe founded Howe News Service in Chicago in 1910, published an annual record book and served as the primary statistician for several minor leagues, including the Western and the Three-I leagues.

After the 1911 season American League Secretary Robert McRoy, who was responsible for compiling statistics, left the league office to become an executive with the Boston Red Sox.  President Ban Johnson named Howe the league’s statistician; he served in that capacity until his death in 1934.

Irwin Howe

Irwin Howe

Howe leveraged his position with the American League.  He became the official statistician of several more leagues, including the American Association and the Federal League, wrote a nationally syndicated column called “Pennant Winning Plays,” became editor of the annual “Wilson Baseball Record and Rule Book,” and published an instructional pamphlet for kids.

The ad from 1914 pictured above is for Howe’s 48-page “Pitching Course,” which he called “A correspondence school for baseball.” The pamphlets sold for one dollar, but were also offered by many small newspapers across the country for free to children who signed up subscribers (the pictured ad is from The Commoner, the Lincoln, Nebraska newspaper published by William Jennings Bryan).

Boys Learn Scientific Baseball Free

Ed Walsh of the Chicago White Sox will teach you the detail of his Spit Ball

Joe Wood of the Boston World Champions (1912) will teach you his great secret of breaking over his world famous Smoke Ball

Walter Johnson of the Washingtonians will teach you how to acquire and maintain speed

“Nap” Rucker of the Brooklyns will teach you the mastery of his famous knuckler

Christy Mathewson of the N.Y. Giants will explain fully his Fadeawy Ball

These lessons are so plain, practical and so profusely illustrated, that by following the instructions given, you can not only develop pitching ability…You will also learn to Increase Your Batting Average and more effectively Hit Any Pitcher.  Every lesson edited by Irwin M. Howe, the official statistician of the American League, the new Federal League and there organizations and an Eminent Authority on Baseball.

The pamphlet also included a lesson from Guy Harris “Doc” White of the Chicago White Sox “which deals in part with proper methods of training and living.”

Howe claimed his one dollar pamphlet was “Well worth $100 to any man or boy whether or not he ever expects to become a big ball player.”

Howe's pamphlet

Howe’s pamphlet

Perhaps Howe’s most famous contribution to baseball was certifying Ty Cobb as a .400 hitter in 1922.

On a rainy day in New York (years later in his book “Baseball as I Have Known It,” Fred Lieb said the game took place in August—contemporary newspaper accounts say it was May 15), Cobb beat out a ground ball hit to Yankee shortstop Everett Scott.  John Kieran of The New York Tribune (he was later a columnist with The New York Times) was the official scorer.  He charged Scott with an error.

Fred Lieb of The New York Telegram, who was compiling The Associated Press (AP) box score for the game, credited Cobb with a hit.  Lieb said “Considering the soggy field and Cobb’s speed, I gave it a hit.”

Fred Lieb

Fred Lieb

Howe’s habit was to rely upon The AP box score that appeared in the Chicago newspapers while awaiting the arrival of the “official” box score by mail.

When compiling the final averages at the end of the season Howe chose to accept Lieb’s scoring of the game rather than Kieran’s, and released a statement with the season’s final statistics:

 “I noted that the averages reached from my official scoring sheets had Cobb hitting .3995 (actually .3992).  With the unofficial averages giving him .401, I felt how can we deprive this great player of a third .400 average over a fractional point.”

Ban Johnson approved Howe’s decision.  Lieb, as president of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s (BBWAA) New York chapter was put in the uncomfortable position of attempting to repudiate his own scoring judgment.  He argued that the Kieran’s “official” score should be accepted, and said in a statement:

“Obviously, when there was a difference of opinion between the two scorers, the official and not the unofficial decision, should have been accepted.  There would be no further need for members of the Baseball Writers Association serving as official scorers if they were regulated to a secondary position.”

In a letter to Lieb, Ban Johnson said the “official” box score “was plainly in error in one other particular” besides the Cobb “hit” and “I requested a report of the official score of the game of May 15.  Mr. Howe had previously made a careful investigation of all facts surrounding the scoring.”  Johnson also chided Lieb asking “Are we to believe that you reversed your judgment at this late date?”

The 1923 “Wilson Record and Rule Book”–edited by Howe–contained an asterisk next to Cobb’s .401 average and noted that it was “not recognized” by the BBWAA—Howe was secretary of the association’s Chicago chapter.

The asterisk eventually disappeared, and Ty Cobb, thanks to Howe’s decision,  remains a .400 hitter for the 1922 season.

“The Idol of the Haight Street Grounds”

11 Jun

Reuben “Rube” Levy was one of the first Jewish professional players, and one of the biggest stars in the early days of West Coast baseball.

Born in 1862 to Prussian-Polish immigrants, Levy worked as a shoe cutter and began his professional career as a teenager, playing left field for the San Francisco Californias in the New California League in 1881.

A good fielder, but not particularly fast, The San Francisco Morning Call once described him chasing a ball: “Reuben Levy, following the ball as it sped gleefully along, looked like a cow chasing a coyote across a pasture.”

Reuben "Rube" Levy, 1888

Reuben “Rube” Levy, 1888

Levy quickly became a fan favorite.

The Morning Call, and The San Francisco Chronicle called him “the hero of the kindergarten” during the years he played at Haight Street Grounds; the title referred to the section of the grandstand adjacent to left field occupied mostly by young fans.  The Sporting Life said “there never was a more popular player in San Francisco,” and called him “The idol of the Haight Street Grounds.”

Years later, The South of Market Journal recalled that the “kindergarten” fans “applauded the genial Rube for any kind of play.”  The paper said one reason why Levy was the most popular West Coast player with children was because in the days when baseballs were a valuable commodity he would:

“Get hold of a ball that he would bide and save till the game was over, when the kids would swarm down the field and gather around their idol. He would take a ball from his pocket; toss it high in the air with hundreds of healthy youngsters, among them future greats, in a big drive to capture it. Believe us, many a spunky kid emerged from this huddle with something other than a smile, yes, more like a blue forget- me-not under the eye in the struggle for the possession of the prize. Then away Rube, the idol of the Kindergarten would gallop lo the clubhouse joyful in the thought that his juvenile admirers were
made happy for the day.”

In 1890 The Sporting Life said Levy had won a contest for the most popular player in the California League, beating out popular Oakland Colonels infielder, and fellow San Francisco native, Jim McDonald:

 “(A)t the eleventh hour the friends of Rube Levy executed a grand coup by unloading three thousand votes into the ballot box, thereby flooring McDonald and other favorites ‘out of sight.’  Sixth Street and the Kindergarten by a straight stroke had outwitted Mac’s friends and landed their boy first under the wire, and distanced all others. Well, Levy deserves it, as he is a quiet, unobtrusive gentleman and first-class ball player, and Jim would rather have been beaten in the race by his old neighbor than by any other player.”

San Francisco's Haight Street Grounds

San Francisco’s Haight Street Grounds

Levy was said to have a good arm, and while with the San Francisco Metropolitans in 1892 manager Henry Harris decided to use the left-hander on the mound in an early season game.  The Chronicle said:

“The Los Angeles (Seraphs) team has a majority of left-handed batters in its make-up, and they generally hit the ball on the seam for bases. Harris is a firm believer in the theory that a southpaw is particularly effective against this class of hitters.”

The experiment failed.  The Chronicle said Levy “with the speed of a (Amos) Rusie, but without control…entered the box against (Bob) Glenalvin‘s men (and) gave them the game in the first few Innings.”

Harris used Levy three more times on the mound, but the results were no better.  He ended up 0-2, giving up 12 hits, three walks and 14 runs (although only 2 earned) in six innings.

Levy pitched at least one more game each during the 1893 and ’94 season.  The Chronicle said of his 1894 effort pitching for the San Francisco Hot Peanuts against the Californias of San Francisco:

“Rube Levy was elected to do the twirling yesterday and in consequence of the arrangement the San Francisco team was defeated.  Throughout the afternoon Reuben’s opponents at the bat straightened out his curves for long-distance jolts, and stole bases on him unawares.  Levy’s work in the box was so ineffective that the crowd was continually provoked to offering him words of cheer and comfort.”

Levy pitched a complete game, losing 18-10, the Californias had 17 hits, stole seven bases, and the Peanuts committed 11 errors behind him.

Levy was generally described as a clutch hitter, but almost no statistics survive.   Baseball Reference lists his 1892 and ‘93 averages at .237 and .283.

Levy, unlike other pioneering Jewish players seems to have been spared  of anti-Semitism and Insensitivity, perhaps owing to San Francisco’s large Jewish population (second only to New York during his career).

While the San Francisco based Breeder and Sportsman referee to his “little Hebraic curve,” in an article about one of his pitching appearances, nothing seems to have risen to the level of what Zeke Ferrias faced when pitching in the Three-I and other Midwest leagues during the first decade of the 20th Century.   It was not unusual for newspapers, like The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald to attribute a victory to Ferrias’  “Jew luck,” and conversely, when he began to fade as a pitcher to mention that “his Jew luck had quit him.”

The first part of Rube Levy’s career came to a close when he retired after the 1896 season; the second part tomorrow.

1912 Wausau Lumberjacks

11 Dec

Before embarking on his career as a boxing promoter, Mique Malloy was a minor league manager and player.

Around midnight on September of 1912 Malloy and his Wausau Lumberjacks boarded the Southbound Chicago & Ashland Limited of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad.

When the train was 50 miles from Green Bay a sudden rainstorm washed out a section of track causing the train to derail; according to The Milwaukee Sentinel:

“(The train) while running, at 30 miles an hour, on time at 2:25 AM, ran into a washout caused by a local cloudburst…the engine, mail, baggage and smoker (cars) tipped over.”

Six members of the train’s crew and one passenger were killed; dozens more were injured.

Southbound Chicago & Ashland Limited, September 2, 1912

Southbound Chicago & Ashland Limited, September 2, 1912

Wausau shortstop/outfielder JamesJimmy” Davey (misidentified as Glen or Glenn in nearly all contemporary accounts of the crash), was badly injured, and according to The Milwaukee Journal his arm needed to be amputated—the report turned out to be premature, Davey’s arm was saved,  but his career was over.  Davey who also had also played professional basketball with his hometown Troy (NY) Trojans in the Hudson River League returned home.

The other Wausau player who was seriously injured was pitcher William “Wild Bill” Kirwan, a native of Baltimore.  He had won 19 games the previous season with the Danville Speakers in the Three-I League.  Kirwan suffered a fractured skull and was transported to Chicago for treatment.  After recovering he attempted a comeback in 1913 with the Oshkosh Indians, but retired after a 2-6 start.

"Wild Bill" Kirwan, Oshkosh 1913

“Wild Bill” Kirwan, Oshkosh 1913

Mique Malloy suffered a variety of minor injuries in the wreck, but was able to return to Wausau as a player/manager in 1913, until a fractured ankle in June ended his career.

In 1913 the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad settled with the three players, Newspaper reports said Kirwan received $1000, Davie $600 and Malloy $586.

“The Man who Ate Himself out of the American League”

20 Nov

Frank Frederick Schneiberg was born in Milwaukee in 1882 (Baseball Reference lists his year of birth as 1880, but all available documents say 1882).

He began playing baseball for amateur teams in the Milwaukee city league, and after playing for the Pabst Brewery team in 1903 signed with the Springfield Hustlers in the Three-I League.  No records survive, but according to The Milwaukee Journal Schneiberg “won 19 out of 21 starts.”  He played with the Freeport Pretzels in the Wisconsin State League in 1905 and according to the Journal “won 12 straight.”

Frank Schneiberg

He won 22 games the following season with the La Crosse Pinks, which earned him a shot with the Detroit Tigers.

It didn’t go well.

Schneiberg was released to the Milwaukee Brewers before the beginning of the season.

The Associated Press said:

“He has the earmarks of a great pitcher…speed, curves, control and a pretty good collection of baseball brains…but Schneiberg was lazy…He wasn’t eager to pitch.”

The story quoted Tigers manager Hugh Jennings:

“He knows how (to pitch) but he won’t exert himself, I don’t want anybody who will not hustle.”

The Toledo News-Bee blamed his release on something else:

“He is known all over the country as the man who ate himself out of the American League.”

It is unknown whether either or both versions of his time with the Tigers is accurate, in either case, Detroit did try to claim that Schneiberg was still their property later that season when he was pitching well for the Brewers.  The claim was denied and he remained in Milwaukee.

Schneiberg pitched for the Brewers for three seasons compiling a 40-48 record.

While a fan favorite in Milwaukee, Schneiberg appears not to have been popular in at least one other American Association city.  The Toledo News-Bee accused him of being a head hunter in 1908:

“Schneiberg has the reputation of threatening to ‘bean’ batters.”

The following season The News-Bee claimed the Brewers were trying to trade the pitcher and said the team was:

“(V)ery anxious to trade the German, who does not work with any spirit, but the player is not highly regarded around the circuit.”

Regardless of the opinion in Toledo, The Brooklyn Superbas thought highly enough of Schneiberg to draft him from the Brewers at the end of the 1909 season.

He appeared in his only Major League game. On June 8, 1910, with Brooklyn trailing the Cincinnati Reds 4-0, Schneiberg relieved Nap Rucker in the top of seventh inning.  He walked four, gave up five hits and allowed 7 runs (Baseball Reference shows Schneiberg giving up eight runs, with seven earned—the box score from the game shows 7 total).

Schneiberg was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh.  Within days, he was traded to the Des Moines Boosters in the Western League.

He retired after the 1910 season, but in February of 1913 signed with the Memphis Chickasaws of the Southern Association.  He appeared in two games and was released, and in June signed with the Springfield Watchmakers in the Three-I League.  It’s unclear whether he appeared in any games with Springfield.

Frank Schneiberg 1932

Schneiberg retired to Milwaukee after the 1913 season, he became an asbestos worker and an official in the Asbestos Workers Union.  He passed away in Milwaukee in 1948.

The League That Billy Sunday Helped Shut Down

12 Nov

The Eastern Illinois League began with great promise in the spring of 1907 to fill the void created by the collapse of the first incarnation of the Kitty League.  Joe “Wagon Tongue” Adams, an Illinois native who appeared in one game for the 1902 St. Louis Cardinals, was said to be the guiding force behind  the league, he was also manager on the Pana Coal Miners.  Adams had helped create the Central Illinois League two years earlier with teams from many of the same cities—unlike the 1905 effort, the Eastern Illinois League was granted membership in the National Association.

The six-team league had franchises in Centralia, Charleston, Mattoon, Pana, Shelbyville and Taylorville, and elected Charles Welvert, a Pana businessman  league president.  Midway through the 1907 season the Centralia team relocated to nearby Paris, Illinois, and replaced Welvert as league president by Louis A. Godey Shoaff (often incorrectly spelled “Schoaff”), editor and publisher of The Paris Gazette.

The teams in Charleston, Mattoon, Pana and Paris were supported, as The Associated Press said, “In great part from saloon interests.”

The league made news in August, when during a heated series between the Mattoon Giants and the Pana Coal Miners, The Sporting Life reported that Mattoon second baseman Fred Wilson during a dispute with  Pana manager Adams:

“Wilson put Adams down with a straight jab on the jaw. The manager came up, but another blow in the same place fractured his chewing apparatus.”

The Mattoon Giants won the 1907 championship, led by the pitching of future Major Leaguer Grover Lowdermilk, who posted a 33-10 record with a 0.93 ERA.  Although records for the league are nearly nonexistent, contemporary newspaper accounts mention other past and future Major Leaguers who appeared in the league including Harry Patton, Joe Yeager (after his release from the St. Louis Browns in 1908), Cecil Coombs, and Hosea Siner.

The league appeared to be in good shape heading into 1908, adding teams in Danville, Illinois and Vincennes, Indiana.  But as it prepared for the beginning of its second season other forces were ensuring it would be its last.

William Ashley “Billy” Sunday, the former outfielder for the Chicago White Stockings, Pittsburgh Alleghenys and Philadelphia Phillies, turned evangelist and temperance supporter was spending the early months of 1908 holding a five-week long  revival in Decatur, Illinois and advocating for citizens throughout Illinois to vote their towns dry during local option elections in April.

Sunday’s revival was a huge success, according to The Associated Press “there were 5,843 conversions;” and the service “on ‘booze’ was attended by 8,000 enthusiastic local optionists.”

When the polls closed on April 7, six of the league’s eight towns were voted dry.  The Associated Press said:

“With the saloons out of business, subscriptions of new stock (in the teams) will be cancelled in many instances.”

The league was in trouble.  It got worse worse when Sunday moved his revival to Charleston in April and began a new crusade against playing games on Sunday.

The 1908 season was chaotic.  New investors were scarce.  Some Sunday games were played, but attendance was down.  In July the Danville Speakers relocated to Staunton and the Pana Coal Miners moved to Linton, Indiana (incorrectly listed on Baseball Reference as Linton, Illinois).  Early in August the Mattoon Giants were on the verge of collapse.  The league finally disbanded on August 20, 1908, the Speakers were declared 1908 champions.

Professional baseball never returned to Charleston, Pana, Linton, Staunton, and Shelbyville.  Taylorville had a team in the Illinois-Missouri League in 1911.  Vincennes was part of the reformed Kitty League in 1910-11 and 1913.  Beginning in 1910 Danville was in and out of the Three-I League for the next forty years.  Mattoon did not have a professional team again until 1947, Paris until 1950.

Assumed Names II

9 Oct

Players using assumed names were common enough during professional baseball’s first four decades that some players still exist in the record books as separate individuals.

John Berkel is one such case.  He has four separate listing on Baseball Reference.

The “official” record for John H. Berkel begins in 1910 with the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association and ends in 1914 with the Fort Forth Panthers of the Texas League.

That was the second half of his career.

Under the name John Bierkotte he started playing pro ball with the Mattoon-Charleston Canaries in the Kitty League when he was 20 years old.

A slick fielding, weak hitting shortstop and third baseman, Berkel, as John Bierkotte, played with the Jacksonville Jays and Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League from 1907-1910 (further complicating the trail of Berkel-Bierkotte is that Baseball reference lists him as “Bierkortte” on the Jays’ 1909 roster with a unique player listing).

John Bierkotte with the Augusta Tourists, 1909

On June 30, 1910 John Bierkotte was acquired by Atlanta from Augusta.

John Bierkotte made his debut with the Crackers on August 1.  On August 2 the Atlanta Constitution said:

“John Berkel.  You fans will have to learn to call our new shortstop by that name, for that is really his name…When he first broke into baseball he was trifle afraid he might not make good and rather than cause the laugh to be thrown on him, he decided to change his name.  This he did, and he chose Bierkotte, a weird name, as the one.”

John Berkel 1910

Berkel received high marks for his fielding but struggled at the plate and hit only .207 for Atlanta.  At the end of the 1910 season he was sold to Albany in the South Atlantic League.  From there he went to the Scranton Miners in the New York Penn League in 1912.  The “official” listing for Berkel only adds 10 games with Fort Worth in 1914.

The rest of his career is under the listing “Berkel.”

Berkel spent 1914 on the West Coast, playing for the Fresno Packers of the California State League.  After those 10 games in Fort Worth he played for the Decatur Commodores in the Three-I League, and then was sold to the Peoria Distillers in the same league.  Berkel was offered a contract by Peoria for 1915, but chose to retire and move to the west coast.

The Berkel trail runs cold until 1926 when he turns up as a 40-year-old infielder for the Spokane Eagles in the semi-pro Idaho-Washington League.

Berkel continued to live in Spokane until his death in 1975.  There is no record of why he chose the name Bierkotte.

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