Tag Archives: Toledo Maumees

“The Duke of Minneapolis”

20 Nov

Martin F. Duck was born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1867.  He played under the name Martin Duke.   As he was becoming a well-known pitcher The Kansas City Times told a story which purported to explain why he changed his name:

 “The real name of the (Minneapolis) Millers’ best pitcher is not Duke, but Duck…Martin was pitching in a game up in Michigan and in the ninth his club led the opposing team by one run. (With two runners on base) a man up in the grandstand began imitating the quack of a duck…as the ‘quack, quack, quack continued his face became lobster-colored.  He shouted to his taunter that he would fix him after the game, but the fiend…went on with his ‘quack, quack, quack’”

At this point, Duck allegedly threw the ball into the stands at his tormentor, allowing both runs to score, “After that he dropped the name Duck entirely.”

By the time that story appeared Martin Duke seemed headed for a productive career.  He went 14-12 with the Zanesville Kickapoos in the Ohio State League in 1887.  In 1888, he again pitched for Zanesville, now in the Tri-State League and for The Toledo Maumees in the same league—no  records survive for that season.

The five-foot, five-inch Duke made a name for himself the following year.  While pitching for the Millers in the Western Association, he posted a 24-16 record and struck out 347 batters in 355 innings, earning the nickname “Duke of Minneapolis.”

In February of 1890, The Chicago Inter Ocean said Chicago’s Players League team was after the pitcher:  “Captain Comiskey of the Chicago Brotherhood has been on Duke’s trail for weeks, with the result that although Duke has not yet signed a contract we will play with the Chicago Brotherhood club this season.”

If Comiskey was, in fact, on Duke’s trail he never got his man.  Duke returned to Minneapolis, and while statistics for 1890 no longer survive, but the press routinely called him the Millers’ best pitcher.

In 1891, he slipped to 10-11, and in May he was suspended for being, as The Sporting Life said, “Out of condition” (a euphemism for his problem drinking), but earned an August trial with the Washington Statesmen in the American Association.  The Saint Paul Globe said of his departure:

“Martin Duke–the one, the only, the statuesque Duke–has bidden good-bye to the ozone of Minnesota and beer of Minneapolis…Last night he boarded the train, moved his hand in adieu, cocked his hat to one side, closed an eye, uttered a certain familiar expression peculiar to Dukes and disappeared forever.”

Martin Duke

Duke failed his Major league trial.  In four games, he posted a 0-3 record and walked 19 batters in 23 innings.

Despite his poor debut, he received another opportunity, this one with the Chicago Colts in 1892. When he was signed in January, The Chicago Tribune said:

“Duke’s last season, owing to lax discipline, was not a success, but this season he promises to regain his old form, as he is bound by an ironclad contract to abstain from intoxicating drinks.  By his contract half his salary reverts to the club if he breaks the pledge.  This should keep him straight.”

He received a big buildup in The Chicago Daily News:

“(He) is one of Captain Anson’s new colts, and he not only puts the ball over the home plate with almost the speed of a cannon shot, but he also seems to have a head studded with eyes, for stealing second base when he is in the box is always most hazardous business.  His pitching arm is so strong and shapely and so well equipped with powerful muscles that it would win admiration from a blacksmith.”

Despite the accolades he was released before the beginning of the season, The Tribune said:

“Martin Duke is also down for release. He has shown up poorly so far, and the club cannot use five pitchers anyhow.”

He signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association and seemed to regain his old form posting a 13-3 record.  It was his last successful season.

After getting off to a 2-5 start in 1893 Duke was released by New Orleans, and initially there were no takers for his services.  The Milwaukee Journal said why:

“Martin was always a good pitcher, but his mouth and his temper were too great a load for any team to carry any length of time.”

Duke bounced around the minor leagues after that with short stints for teams in the Eastern League, Southern Association and Western League until 1895, when he returned again to Minneapolis.  But after 13 games with the Millers, he injured his arm and was released in June.  According to The St. Paul Globe, he injured the arm again in August; rupturing a tendon while pitching for a semi-pro team in Rosemount, Minnesota.

In 1897, The Sporting Life reported that Duke, employed in a Minneapolis tavern, was “Trying to get in shape” in order to return to the diamond that season, but he never played professional ball again.

Duke died from pneumonia on December 31, 1898, in Minneapolis.  The Sporting Life said:

“He possessed great ability as a pitcher, but never lasted long with any club, as he was a hard man to control, and was given to dissipation, which ultimately led to enforced retirement from the profession and untimely death.”

Duke was 31 years-old.

A shorter version of this post appeared in October 2012

“He fell off the Face of the Earth”

28 Aug

Charles Hazen Morton could run.  When he was playing shortstop and managing the Akron Independents in 1881 The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“Morton, shortstop with the Akrons, can run like a deer.  It is probably that no one in the country can beat him for fifty yards.”

Morton’s major league career in the National League and American Association was unspectacular; he hit less than .200 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1882, and the Toledo Blue Stockings and Detroit Wolverines in 1884 and ’85, he also managed Toledo and Detroit–Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday Wilberforce Walker played for Morton with the Blue Stockings  He also managed the 1890 Toledo Maumees; Toledo’s only other season as a major league city.

Morton continued to manage minor league and independent teams through 1899.

After five years away from baseball he was the driving force in organizing several independent teams in Ohio and Pennsylvania into the eight-team Ohio-Pennsylvania League.  He was named president.

For two seasons, the league ran smoothly.  So smoothly that, according to The Akron Beacon Journal he was being aggressively pursued by owners in the Central League to assume the presidency of that league during the summer of 1906.  Morton chose to stay put.

As smoothly as things ran for two seasons, the tide turned badly in 1907.  Attendance was down all season and several franchises were on the verge of bankruptcy, and four teams wanted to leave the league entirely.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer said:

“Four O and P League clubs want a new league; four do not.  Four assert they will retire from baseball rather than be associated with the other four.  The league is deadlocked.  Neither side will give in.”

The Youngstown Vindicator said, “There seems to be no question that President Charles H. Morton will have strong opposition.”  Despite efforts to unseat Morton, he was narrowly reelected president of the league.

Ultimately, four teams did leave to form the Ohio State League.  But Morton told The Sporting Life at the beginning of 1908 that he had managed to bring in four new clubs and was confident for the future of the O and P despite rumors that the league was in financial disarray:

“No, I do not think this is going t0 be a disastrous campaign.  The money stringency may hurt the crowds to a certain extent, yet people in this section of Ohio differ little from their brothers in other parts of the country. The germ of baseball Is not sporadic.”

He predicted that attendance would increase.

It didn’t, and things never got better for Morton.  After the 1908 season, it appeared all but certain he would be removed as president.

In December, two days before the league meeting was to begin in Pittsburgh, Morton abruptly canceled it.  A new meeting was scheduled for January in Cleveland and Morton’s fate seemed to be sealed.

On January 12 he traveled to Cleveland with representatives from the Canton Watchmakers and Akron Champs, likely his last two supporters.  But when the meeting was called to order Morton was nowhere to be found.  Samuel Wright, who had managed the Youngstown Champs the previous season, was elected president.

The Youngstown Vindicator said:

“He fell off the face of the earth so far as anybody knows.”

Charles Hazen Morton

Charles Hazen Morton

Some speculated he had run.

He disappeared with $2500 of the league’s money.  As days dragged into weeks there was no sign of Morton.

The Chicago Tribune said his friends were concerned that he had “done away with himself,” despondent over his pending removal as president.

The Marion Star said, “It is feared he has been thugged.”

The Pittsburgh Press advanced a conspiracy theory.  Under the headline “See Deep Plot in Morton’s Absence.”  The paper claimed  the Canton and Akron clubs realizing that he would be ousted had conspired with the president to have him disappear so, “Wright while really elected is far from president (of the league).”

But there was no conspiracy, Morton had really disappeared and remained missing for more than two months.

On March 16 he resurfaced.  Morton was found “wandering aimlessly” on Wabash Avenue in Chicago, near his brother’s home.  The Akron Beacon Journal said he was diagnosed with “Acute dementia (and) his mind is now a blank.”

The only clues where Morton had been for more than two months, were papers in his pockets which indicated he had been in Mexico and Texas and, The Beacon Journal said, “He mutters incoherently about Corpus Christi.”

He recovered enough to return to Akron by August of 1909.  His brother reimbursed the league $1500 that was not recovered after he was found.

Morton faded into obscurity after his return to Akron.  There was no follow-up to his story.  None of the many questions about his disappearance were ever answered.  And whatever happened in Corpus Christi died with him in 1921.

This is a longer version of a post from 12-14-2012.

“King of the Natural Hitters”

25 Jan

Percival Wheritt “Perry” “Moose” Werden began his baseball career as a pitcher for the semi-professional team of his employer; the Ira Perry Pie Company in Saint Louis.  He was discovered by the St. Louis Browns who offered him a contract but ultimately signed with the Saint Louis Maroons in the Union Association.

(An oft-repeated story that Werden’s discovery involved him leaving a pie wagon unattended to join a game, resulting in the wagon being destroyed is almost certainly apocryphal, although it has been repeated as fact with little or no support by several writers)

In 1884 the 22-year-old was 12-1 with a 1.97 for the Maroons who at 94-19 won the Union Association pennant by 21 games; despite the strong start, Werden would never pitch in the Major Leagues again.

The Maroons joined the National League the following season and Werden ended up with the Memphis Reds in the Southern League.  He was primarily a catcher a first baseman, and his career as a pitcher pretty much ended; he appeared on the mound in only three games that season and had only 14 more minor league appearances over the next 10 years because of arm trouble.

Perry Werden, 1908

Perry Werden, 1908

From 1886-88, Werden played with five minor league teams and played three games in the National League with Washington in 1888.  In 1889, Werden joined the Toledo Black Pirates in the International League, where he became a great hitter.

Werden hit .394 for Toledo; in 424 at-bats, he had 167 hits, which was the hit record for the franchise for nearly 100 years, finally broken by Greg “Boomer” Wells in 1982 (Wells had 182 hits in 541 at-bats).

Toledo became a Major League franchise the following season, joining the American Association as the Maumees, Werden was the their starting first baseman, hit .295 and led the team in hits, runs, triples, and RBIs.  The Maumees finished 68-64 in their only season.

Werden was sold by Toledo to the Baltimore Orioles in 1891 and had another solid season, leading the team in hits, triples and RBI’s.  The following season he was signed by the Saint Louis Browns to replace Charles Comiskey at first base; Comiskey had jumped the Browns to join the Cincinnati Reds.

Werden hit .256 and .290 in two seasons with the Browns.  In 1894, he returned to the minor leagues with the Minneapolis Minnies in the Western League.  That’s where he became a legend.

In 1894, Werden exploded.  He hit .417 with 43 home runs.  In 1895, he improved to .428 with 45 home runs.

The Western League was no doubt a hitter’s league; eight players with at least 100 at-bats hit .400 or better in 1894 and 11 did so in 1895.  And the Minnies home field, Athletic Park, where Werden hit most of his home runs, was by all estimates a hitter’s paradise with a short (some sources say 250 feet) fence.

Regardless, 45 home runs would remain a professional baseball record until 1920. The Duluth News-Tribune said several years later that Werden hit seven home runs in a double-header in 1895; under the headline “Perry Werden was King of the Natural Hitters:”

“It was one of the greatest batting feats ever seen on a baseball lot anywhere.”

Werden had one last season in the Major Leagues.  At 35-years-old in 1897, he hit .301 for the Louisville Colonels, then returned to the minor leagues where he continued to hit well; .330 for his minor league career.

Werden became an umpire in the American Association in 1907, and became a baseball pioneer in 1908 when he joined the Indianapolis Indians in the same league; he was one of the first full-time coaches in professional baseball.  The Associated Press said:

“Perry Werden will go to Indianapolis to act as assistant manager, coach and advisor in general of the Indianapolis baseball club this year.”

In October The Indianapolis News declared Werden a success in the new role:

“Werden was one of the biggest factors in bringing Indianapolis her first pennant since 1902.  Without his services it’s highly probable the flag would have flown elsewhere”

The Indianapolis Star predicted that Werden’s “novel position,” would become the norm with the Indians, and throughout baseball.

Werden eventually returned to umpiring, working in the western, Dakota, South Dakota and Northern leagues.

His 43 home run season became news again in 1920 as Babe Ruth was closing in on Werden’s professional record.  Werden said there was one player in his era who was Ruth’s equal as a hitter.  Who was it?

Read about it on Monday.