Tag Archives: Toledo Mud Hens

“A Gilded Youth”

10 Jul

Byron D. J. McKeown was born to wealth in 1872 or ’73 (census records say he was born in july of 1872, his death records list his birth year as 1873).  His father, John, immigrated to Western Pennsylvania from Ireland and struck it rich in the oil business.  By the time he died in 1891 he owned oil wells throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and more than 40,000 acres of land in Mississippi; depending on the source he was worth from $2-$10 million.

Byron, one of five brothers, inherited a large portion of his father’s fortune, although there was a legal battle over the estate for more than 20 years—John’s Irish relatives said they were his proper heirs because they claimed John and his wife were never married.

In 1896, the wealthy 23-year-old, who had been playing amateur baseball and formerly played at Washington and Jefferson College, decided to become a professional baseball player and bought his own team.  The Warren (PA) Evening Democrat said:

“There are but few men of wealth among baseballists, and in all the world there is but one millionaire player.”

McKeown organized a team in the Interstate League in his hometown called the Washington (PA) Little Senators (Some sources incorrectly place the team in Washington D.C.).  His college teammate, David Curran, was the team captain.

The Sporting Life called McKeown “A gilded youth who follows the game for pastime.”  McKeown said:

“I am just playing for the sport of it; I have nothing else to do.  I have a leaning towards baseball and thought I would cultivate it”

There are no statistics for McKeown, but the few surviving assessments of his ability as a player are positive.  Toledo Mud Hens manager Frank Torreyson said:

“McKeown can hit the ball…sometimes he is liable to drive it out of sight.”

The Washington (PA) Observer said:

“McKeown is making quite a record as a first baseman.”

While he appears to have played well, things didn’t go smoothly for McKeown’s team.

While Washington, Pennsylvania, with a population of just more than 7000 was, by far, the smallest town in the Interstate League, initially, there was excitement for the club.  The Observer said that the Western Pennsylvania Agricultural Association was providing a home field for the team at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

The Sporting Life said McKeown was “Sure to receive strong financial support from Washington enthusiasts.”

He didn’t.

Professional baseball was not a hit in the small Pennsylvania town.  By the end of July The Sporting Life said the team had lost more than $4000 dollars and had recently played a home game that had only brought in $3.50 in total receipts.

By September McKeown had lost more than $8000 and decided to disband the team before the end of the season. The Observer said that at one August game there was not a single paid attendee.

Over the next several months, McKeown attempted to buy another Interstate league franchise, the Saginaw Lumbermen.  He told a reporter from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he had “every one of last season’s players reserved,” and would “put a strong team on the field.”

The bid to buy the Lumbermen fell through and after a brief stint as first baseman for an Elks Club team, McKeown seems to have lost interest in playing professionally or owning a team.

Two years later McKeown joined the 10th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, “The Fighting 10th” and served in the Spanish-American War.  The Pittsburgh Daily Post said:

“Western Pennsylvania is sending one of her millionaires  to the front to fight for Cuban Independence…Mr. McKeown has been in sympathy with Cuba in their fight against their mother country.”

Curran, his college and minor league teammate, joined him.

McKeown also fought in the Philippine Insurrection and played first base with his regiment’s baseball team in Manila (Curran played second).

He returned to his business interests in Pennsylvania, and after his 25-year-old wife Nellie died of peritonitis in March of 1902, he began to drink heavily, and his death on November 24,  1904, was attributed to alcoholism.(Several Pennsylvania newspapers said he died on November 23; his death certificate says November 24).

The man responsible for Washington, Pennsylvania’s only professional baseball team, was buried in the Washington Cemetery.

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on December 26, 2012.

Lost Advertisements–“The World’s Best Pitchers Recommend…”

8 Jul

adreach

A 1910 advertisement for Reach Baseball Goods  “The World’s Best Pitchers Recommend Reach Balls”–from International Book & Stationary Co. in El Paso, Texas.  The ad features “Detroit’s Great Pitcher,” George Mullin, “Another Detroit Expert,” Ed Willett (Misspelled Willetts in the ad), and “Athletics’ Left Hand Star,” Harry Krause.

In 1909, the 20-year-old Krause, who had been 1-1 in four appearances with the Athletics in 1908, became the talk of baseball when he opened the season with 10 straight victories–including six shutouts.  A San Francisco native who played under Hal Chase and was a teammate of Hall of Famer Harry Hooper at St. Mary’s College, Krause was asked by The Oakland Tribune what led to success:

“That’s easy.  A capable manager in Connie Mack, one of the best pitching tutors in the world in Ed Plank, fairly good control on my part and lots of luck.”

The Tribune‘s scouting report on Krause:

“He has a good curve, but many pitchers in the league have a better one.  He has speed, but any number of American League twirlers have more smoke than he.  However, there are very few twirlers, whether right or left-handers, who can equal him in control of the ball.

“He doesn’t appear to have much to the opposing batters when they first face him, but when the game is over they wonder how it came to pass that he let them down with three or four hits and no runs.”

Harry Krause

Harry Krause

On July 18 his luck ran out, Krause dropped his first game of the season, an 11-inning, 5 to 4 loss to the St. Louis Browns.

He went just 8-7 (with one shutout) the rest of the season, but led the league with a 1.39 ERA.

He appeared in only 55 more games over three seasons, winning 17 and losing 20, before a sore arm ended his major league career at age 23.

He finished the 1912 season in the American Association with the Toledo Mud Hens, then returned to California and pitched for 15 seasons in the Pacific Coast League (with a one-season detour to the western League), where he won 230 games.

“He Looked like an Animated Bean Pole”

21 Nov

Hall of Fame Pitcher Addie Joss was discovered, according to his first professional manager, by a man who made a living playing pool with his nose.

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

 

Bob Gilks was Joss’ first manager with the Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.  In 1910 he told the story of the pitcher’s discovery to a reporter for The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader:

“’About ten years ago,’ says Gilks.  ‘I was running the Toledo team in the Interstate League for Charlie Strobel.“

Gilks said he was approached by “Professor Lewis.”  Professor Henry Lewis was the stage name of a man named Herman Cohn, who preformed billiards exhibitions using his fingers, nose and other body parts; Cohn/Lewis also considered himself a good judge of baseball talent:

“(Lewis said) ‘Gilks, I’ve found a pitcher who is a wonder.  He’s playing…in the wilds of Wisconsin, and if you get him and he makes good all I want is $25.  His name is Joss.

“I went after Joss and signed him.  When he showed up at Toledo he looked like an animated bean pole.  He seemed about six and half feet tall and weighed more than 75 pounds, but not much more.

“Joss was a weakling then.  He would go into a game and pitch all kinds of curves and benders for three innings.  Then he’d get tired and I‘d have to take him out.  He complained of pains and I took him to a doctor who decided that Addie had growing pains.

Joss went along this way all year, and next season he showed up sick again.    The doctor gave him some pills and cured him, and Addie grew strong.  He filled out and began to pitch like a whirl wind.”

Wilks’ contention that he was often required to “take him out” is belied by the statistics—Joss had 33 complete games in 34 starts in 1900.

“Joss did so well the next year (25-18) I knew some big league club would grab him, so I told Strobel, and he decided to go to Addie’s home, invite him to spend a few weeks in Toledo and keep him under cover so no one would find him.

“This was just before Easter and Addie didn’t want to leave home until after that day.  He persuaded Strobel to return to Toledo, promising to follow later.  And a couple of days afterward Bill Armour slipped into Juneau (Wisconsin) with Charlie Somers’ bankroll and signed Joss.”

Joss was 17-13 for Cleveland in 1902.

According to The Times-Leader, Gilks and Strobel failed to pay the pool player his $25 despite the tip which led to Joss’ signing.

A Ripley's Believe it or Not Drawing about one of "Professor Lewis'" billiard feats.

A Ripley’s Believe it or Not Drawing about one of “Professor Lewis'” billiard feats.

“The Poet-Pitcher”

17 Sep

Edward Benninghaus Kenna came from a prominent West Virginia Family; his father, John Edward Kenna was a United States Senator.  Another West Virginia Senator, William Edwin Chilton was often referred to as Kenna’s uncle—he was his father’s former law partner and best friend, but they were not related.

Edward B. Kenna, circa 1900

Edward B. Kenna,1900

He was, according to The Kansas City Star:

“(A)n unusually well-educated young man,.  He spent four years at Mount St. Mary’s College and was graduated there in 1898.  His post graduate course of one year was taken at Georgetown University, and the following three years he spent at West Virginia University, studying law.”

Kenna played football and baseball at all three schools—and coached both sports at Richmond College in 1900, the same season he made his professional debut with the Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.

He was also a poet who had two anthologies of his poems published and was later the editor of The Charleston Gazette.  While most current sources say his nickname was “The Pitching Poet,” during his lifetime he was nearly always referred to by the slightly less lyrical “The Poet-Pitcher.”

Despite his education, and pedigree, The Star said:

“Seeing Kenna on the ball field one would not think that he was the possessor of so many distinctions.  He does not attempt to hold himself aloof from his teammates, but on the contrary is one of the most energetic (players) in the pursuit of victory and when not in the pitcher’s box is on the coacher’s line haranguing the opposing players and urging the members of his own team to their best efforts.  Coaching is one of his hobbies and he is particularly successful at this line of work.  He finds special enjoyment in ‘kidding’ the bleacher element…He says that base ball is not an uplifting pursuit either morally or intellectually, but is an enjoyable one.”

He pitched two games in the major leagues—with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902–but said the two most interesting games of his career were back-to-back starts in 1904 while he was a member of the Denver Grizzlies in the Western League.

When Kenna joined the Louisville Colonels in the following season, The Louisville Times told the story of the games—both against the Des Moines Prohibitionists:

“(He) was touched up for nineteen safe hits, and yet his opponents failed to get a runner over the pan.  In one inning he was hit for a triple, a double and three singles, and still his opponents failed to get a man home.

“The first batter up hit for a triple, but was nailed trying to stretch it into a homer.  The next man doubled down the left field line, but was afterward caught off second by the poet.  The next three batters hit safely, and then Kenna got down to work and fanned the next batter with the bases full.

“Two days later Kenna was sent in against the same team.  For eight innings he did great work (allowing no hits) and his teammates made but one error.  He had perfect control and during this period gave only one base on balls.  The Denver team managed to get one runner across the pan, which looked as good as a hundred when the ninth inning was about to close.  The bard fanned the first two batter, but the third reached first on a fluke (a second error).  Then (Bob) Ganley, who is now with Pittsburgh, stepped to the plate and drove out a home run, which won the game.  Only one hit was made off his delivery, and yet Kenna lost the contest by one score.”

He was 16-13 for the Colonels in 1905 when, on September 1, he and seven other members of the team were injured in Kansas City when an electric trolley car crashed into the wagon they were riding  to the ballpark.  Kenna was the most seriously injured, and  reportedly suffered broken bones in his right (pitching) hand, a fractured left arm, a concussion, broken nose and an eye injury.  The Kansas City Star said he was listed in serious condition at a local hospital.  Despite the extent of his injuries—which ended his season– Kenna sent a telegram to family members in Washington D.C., saying simply

“Nothing serious; strained arm.  Don’t worry.  Ed.”

He never fully recovered.  He returned to Louisville in 1906, and struggled, finishing the season 12-21, but he hit .325 in 166 at bats.  Given his new found success as a hitter—his best previously recorded average was .225—Kenna decided he was through as a pitcher:

The Louisville Times said:

“Kenna announces that from now on he will be an outfielder, and he hopes (team President George) Tebeau will play him in right field on the Louisville team next season.  Kenna is simply tired of pitching.”

The Colonels accommodated him, but he struggled at the plate and was released in July after hitting just .143.

Edward Kenna, circa 1910

Edward Kenna, circa 1910

Kenna returned to West Virginia, newspapers, and poetry.  About the time his book “Songs of the Open Air, and Other Poems” was published in early 1912, he left his job at the paper, and went to Florida to attempt to recover from what was described simply as “a heart condition.”  He died in Florida on March 22.

Sporting Life said of the thirty four-year-old’s funeral in Charleston:

“(It) was one of the largest ever seen here.  All races and creeds showed their deep grief for this beloved man.”

Kenna’s younger brother John Edward Kenna Jr. was also a right-handed pitcher; he was 15-6 for the Chattanooga Lookouts in the South Atlantic League in 1909 and 7-7 with the Worcester Busters in the New England League in 1910—also born in Charleston on January 6, 1883, he died there on May 5, 1956.

“I Consider him a Weak, Foolish Talker”

13 Nov

Bill Phyle was a no-show.  He failed to appear before Southern Association President William Kavanaugh at the league’s hearing regarding his charges that the end of the 1903 season was fixed.  After the league suspended him he failed to appear in St. Louis to defend his charges in front of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL).  He claimed he was too ill to attend either meeting.

As a result he was expelled from organized baseball in October of 1903.  His appeal was denied in December.

Phyle had very few supporters by the time his fate was settled by the NAPBL, but he still had at least one—kind of:  Milwaukee Brewers Manager “Pongo” Joe Cantillon, the man who sold Phyle’s contract to the Memphis Egyptians.

Joe Cantillon

Joe Cantillon

Cantillon told William A. Phelon of The Chicago Daily News that his former player wasn’t too bright, but that he also wasn’t wrong:

“I consider him a weak, foolish talker, who opened his head when it did not do him any good.  Just the same, Billy Phyle had cause for the charges which he made, and I got it good and straight that there was work done in the Southern league last season which was on the scandalous pattern.”

Cantillon stopped short of saying the season was fixed—but not very far short:

“Understand I do not say, neither does Phyle charge, that any games were sold, or that either manager or club owners were in on any such deals.   Even though there are thousands who say—apparently with mighty good reason—that the league is crooked, always has been crooked since it started, and always will be crooked—I do not accuse anyone of selling out.”

Cantillon then came pretty close to accusing Atlanta of selling out:

“This is the way the thing was done—and if anybody wants to howl I’ll show the goods and produce the names.  When Memphis was playing Atlanta it was a case of anything to beat out Little Rock.  The Atlanta players, knowing that their only chances had gone glimmering, were anxious to help their friend’s to beat Mike Finn’s gang (Little Rock).  There was no sell out and there were no intentional errors—nothing so gross and coarse as that.  But a couple of the best regulars on the Atlanta team were laid off; a couple of substitutes were put in their places; a raw, unseasoned amateur was sent in to pitch, and then, to make assurances doubly sure, the Atlanta catcher told each Memphis batsman just what to expect as he came to the plate.”

Cantillon also said the Birmingham Barons were “trying to help (Little Rock) along,” and:

“Every player in the league was dead wise to the whole situation, but Billy Phyle was the only man who was foolish enough to open his face, and he got soaked proper.”

Cantillon claimed to “positively know” that Phyle had been sick, and that was the only reason he failed to appear to substantiate his claims in front the league and the NAPBL.  Regardless, he said Phyle would have had a difficult time:

“Even if he had been able to attend, what show would he have had, with every manager determined to clear his own skirts and swat Bill for the squeal he made?”

Cantillon challenged anyone in the Southern Association to refute his allegations.

In February of 1904 Cantillon cancelled a scheduled spring tour of the South and Phelon said in The Daily News that Southern Association teams had refused to play against Brewers.

The following month Clark Griffith, who was in the South with the New York Highlanders, told The Atlanta Constitution that Cantillon was “ a nice fellow,” who “had been misquoted and had not authorized the interview, and in fact knew nothing of it until it appeared in the press.”

Cantillon himself never directly denied his statement, but The Constitution, content to keep the focus of Southern wrath on Phyle was happy to give the Milwaukee manager a pass:

“(Griffith’s claim) puts a new light on the question and it is very probable that he has been judged too harshly in the south…Phyle as a baseball issue is now dead.  Any effort to revive him and bring him forward on the stage either as a hero suffering persecution or a sick man worrying his life out by the blacklist hanging over him, will meet with the opposition of every paper in the south.”

Phyle went to Toledo and spent the spring and summer wiring Southern Association President Kavanaugh asking for reinstatement so his contract could be assigned to the Mud Hens.  After his application was rejected in May, and again in July, Phyle joined the independent Youngstown Ohio Works team.  The team played exhibition games that summer with the Brooklyn Superbas and Pittsburgh Pirates—both National League clubs were fined $100 for playing against the blacklisted Phyle.

(Some sources list Phyle as a member of the 1904 Johnstown Johnnies in the independent Pennsylvania League, but several Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Williamsport Gazette and The Scranton  Republican said in August “Phyle turned down a $225 per month offer from Johnstown.”)

Phyle became part of another scandal in 1905.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

Youngstown joined the newly formed Ohio-Pennsylvania League, and needed to submit a roster to the NAPBL for approval.  Phyle’s name did not appear on the submitted list, but he played third base for the club all season, including an exhibition with the Cincinnati Reds on August 31. Youngstown was fined $500 in mid September and ordered to release Phyle.  Cincinnati was fined $100.

Phyle was finally reinstated in February of 1906, after he submitted a letter to the directors of the Southern Association retracting all of his 1903 allegations.

His contract was assigned to the Nashville Volunteers who sold him to the Kansas City Blues in the American Association.  After hitting .295 in 72 games, Phyle got one last trip to the National League.  He was traded to the St. Louis; he hit just .178 for the Cardinals.  He retired after playing three years in the Eastern League with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1907-1909.

More than twenty years later Joe Cantillon was apparently forgiven in the South.  He managed the Little Rock Travelers to back-to-back eighth place finishes in 1926 and 1927.

The rest of Bill Phyle’s story next week.

Fred Abbott

9 Oct

Fred Abbott (born Harry Frederick Winbigler) spent more than a decade in the minor leagues before the Cleveland Naps purchased his contract from the New Orleans Pelicans prior to the 1903 season.  The 28-year-old rookie appeared in 77 games for the Naps.

Fred Abbott

Fred Abbott

After his first big league season he told The Cleveland Press about his most embarrassing moment with the Naps:

“I was behind the bat in a game at Washington one day last summer when the batter hit a ball straight up over my head.  I should judge it went nine miles high.  As I tore off my mask a bleacherites flashed the sun’s rays in my eyes by aid of a looking-glass.  It nearly blinded me.

“’I can’t see it,’ I shouted, expecting either (Earl) Moore, who was pitching or Hick (“Cheerful” Charlie Hickman), who was at first, to take the ball.  But neither man stirred.  Instead Cheerful took my latitude and Earl my longitude.

“’Go toward first two steps,’ yelled Moore.  I did.

“’Go back about three feet,’ shouted Hick.  I did.

“Now put your hands straight over your head,’ howled both men in chorus when they had got me placed.  I did.

“And although my eyes were shut tight, the ball dropped straight into my hands.”

Abbott played one more season in Cleveland, and played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1905.  The Phillies sold his contract to the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association (AA).

Abbott laid down roots in Toledo.  He played five seasons there and operated a bowling alley and pool hall on Euclid Avenue with his teammate Harry Hinchman; until Hinchman took over as Mud Hens manager.

The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Rather tough on a baseball player when your own business partner releases you and sells your ability to play to a club on the other side of the country? “

Hinchman had succeeded James “Ducky” Holmes as manager late in the 1910 season; Abbott was sold to the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League shortly after the season ended:

“One of Hinchman’s first managerial duties was to sell his partner to the Los Angeles club, Hinchman believing that Fred had been connected to the Toledo club too long and that both he and the club would be benefited by the change.”

Abbott wasn’t thrilled, but took the news in stride:

“Gee, I had been in Toledo so long that I had about made up my mind that I was going to die in the harness there…It’s a good move sending me to Los Angeles, but I will have to put in a longer season there than in the AA, and the pay offered is just the same.  I didn’t like that angle to the case very well, but they have got us ballplayers where they want us and I suppose it is up to Fred to run along and play.”

Fred Abbott with Los Angeles Angels 1911

Fred Abbott with Los Angeles Angels 1911

Los Angeles apparently grew on Abbott; he only spent one season with the Angels before retiring, but remained in L.A. until his death in 1935.

Lost Advertisements–Federal League Notables–Cy Falkenberg

4 Oct

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One in a series of several 1915 advertisements from the Victor Sporting Goods Company featuring Federal League players.  Victor produced the league’s official baseball.

Frederick “Cy” Falkenberg made one of baseball’s great comebacks.  After an injury plagued 1911 season (8-5 in just fifteen games) the Cleveland Naps sold Falkenberg’s contract to the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association.  The 32-year-old pitcher developed a pitch that saved his career; Hal Sheridan of The United Press said Falkenberg had begun “tossing a sand-papered sphere to the batters.”

Once he started throwing the Emery Ball Falkenberg went 25-8 with a 1.95 ERA at Toledo, and after returning to Cleveland the following season he was 23-10 with a 2.22 ERA.  Falkenberg jumped to the Indianapolis Hoosiers in the Federal League in 1914; he was 25-16 with a 2.22 ERA for the pennant-winning Hoosiers.

By the time this ad appeared the Federal League had banned the Emery Ball and Falkenberg had split the 1915 season between the Newark Peppers (the relocated Hoosiers) and the Brooklyn Tip-Tops; he was a combined 12-14 with 2.86 ERA.

Russell Ford, who pitched in the American and Federal Leagues from 1909-1915, is generally credited with developing the Emery Ball, but at least one American League pitcher said Ford didn’t deserve credit for the invention.  Bill Steen told The Pittsburgh Press in 1915 that John “Wee Willie” Sudhoff had shown him how to throw the pitch in 1907:

“He had a strip of emery paper glued on the heel of his glove and rubbed the ball on it.”

Sudhoff had retired after the 1906 season, so it’s unclear where and exactly when he would have shared the pitch with Steen.

Cy Falkenberg

Cy Falkenberg

“He was Not Crazy as Reported”

18 Jul

Ervin Thomas “Erve” “Dutch” Beck hit the first home run in the American League; on April 25, 1901, the second day of the season, as a member of the Cleveland Blues; Beck homered off White Sox pitcher John Skopec at Chicago’s South Side Park.

It was a highlight in a short, promising career, like many at the turn of the 20th Century, destroyed by alcoholism.

Beck was considered the best young player in Toledo, Ohio when he joined the Adrian Reformers in the Michigan State League as a 16-year-old in 1895, then for the next five seasons, he was the star of his hometown Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.  For the two seasons in Toledo for which complete records survive, Beck hit .298 in 1898 with 11 home runs and, a league-leading .360 with 15 home runs in 1900.

Erve Beck

Erve Beck

Earning the Nickname “Home run Dutch” in the Toledo papers, Beck was credited with 67  during his five seasons with the Mud Hens;  he would remain the team’s all-time career home run leader until 2007 when Mike Hessman (currently with the Louisville Bats in the International League) hit his 68th as a Mud Hen.

Beck also had a brief trial with the Brooklyn Superbas in the National League in 1899, hitting .167 in eight September games.

It’s unclear exactly when Beck’s problems with alcohol began, but according to fellow Ohioan Ed Ashenbach (alternately spelled Ashenback by several contemporary sources), a minor league contemporary who wrote a book in 1911 called “Humor among the Minors”,  it was well-known during Beck’s career that he was “addicted to strong drink,” and as a result suffered from “hallucinations.”

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach (Ashenback)

Before the 1901 season, Beck, whose rights were held by the Cincinnati Reds, jumped to the Cleveland Blues in the newly formed American League; the twenty-two-year-old hit .289 and accounted for six of Cleveland’s twelve home runs.

Beck jumped back to the Reds before the 1902 season and received rave reviews early in the season.  The Cincinnati Tribune seemed to like him more at second base than veteran Heine Peitz:

“Erve Beck looks more like a second baseman than anyone who has filled the position since (Bid) McPhee went into retirement (in 1899).  He covers the ground, seems to know where to play and is capable of swinging the bat with some effect.”

His teammate, pitcher Frank “Noodles” Hahn claimed Beck hit the ball “harder than (Napoleon) Lajoie.”

Beck hit better than .300 playing second base in May but went to the bench when Peitz, who was filling in behind the plate for an injured Bill Bergen returned to second.

In June first baseman Jake Beckley missed a week with an injury and Beck filled in there; The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Ren Mulford said:

“(Beck) played the bag in splendid style…In handling ground balls Beck is as good as Beckley, and he is a better thrower… Beck gave another display of his versatility by plugging up a hole in right field.  He made one catch that was a lollapalooza…Most players would have lost heart when benched as Beck was, but he remained as chipper as a skunk during his term of inactivity, and gladly accepted the opportunity to get back into the swim. Beck is a phlegmatic soul, who takes life, as he finds it without a growl.”

In spite of a .305 batting average in 48 games and the great press he received, Beck was released by the Reds in July.  Whether the release was simply because he was the odd man out with Peitz, Beckley and right fielder Sam Crawford healthy or as a result of drinking is unknown.

Beck was signed almost immediately by the Detroit Tigers where he took over at first base after Frank “Pop” Dillon was sent to the Baltimore Orioles.  He hit .296 in 41 games but was again released at the end of the season.

Beck would never return to the big leagues.

In 1903 he .331 for the Shreveport Giants in the Southern Association, he jumped Shreveport the following season and played for the Portland Browns in the Pacific Coast League.   He returned to the Southern Association with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1905.  After starting the 1906 season in New Orleans, he was released in July and signed by the Nashville Volunteers; his combined average with both Southern Association teams was .211.

Beck’s drinking was, according to Ashenback and contemporary newspaper accounts, common knowledge by the time he wore out his welcome in Nashville in August and was sold to the Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic League.

That stop would last for only one game.

The 27-year-old, four years removed from the American League, played first base for the Tourists on August 6.  Augusta second baseman Ed McKernan said, “It was evident when he reported there was something amiss with him,” and claimed Beck chased “an imaginary flock of geese away from first base” during the game.

The following day, according to The Augusta Chronicle, Beck “created a sensation in the clubhouse…causing all but two of the players to leave the house.”  As a result, Augusta released him.

The following day The Chronicle said:

“(Beck) ran amuck this morning and created great excitement on the street.

“While in a room on the third floor of the Chelsea hotel the big infielder suddenly began to see things and sprang from the third story window to the ground below.  Only two intervening telephone wires and a rose bush saved his life.

“He then darted down an alley and hid himself in a store.  He was finally captured and came quietly back to his room with a policeman and (Tourists outfielder Frank) Norcum.”

The Sporting Life assured their readers that Beck “was not crazy, as reported, but only suffering from the effects of a (drunken) spree.”

McKernan said “During his convalescence…Beck would smilingly avow his determination to abstain from strong drink.”

There were varying reports regarding the extent of his injuries, and it’s unknown whether he was physically able to play after the fall, but Beck would never play professionally again.

He returned to Toledo where he operated a tavern and appears to have been unable “to abstain from strong drink;” he died in 1916 of Articular Rheumatism complicated by Hepatic Cirrhosis.

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.

Ernie Diehl

18 Mar

Ernest Guy “Ernie” Diehl’s entire professional career consisted of less than 60 games.

Every year from 1900 to 1911 he was offered contracts by professional teams and despite his time with two National League teams and two minor league teams he never earned a penny as a ballplayer.

By the time the 25-year-old Diehl made his first professional appearance with the Pittsburgh Pirates in May of 1903, he was already a well-known player. Diehl was the star of the perennial powerhouse Avondale team in Cincinnati’s semi-pro Saturday League, which The Sporting Life called “a fast, clean league.”

diehl

Ernie Diehl

Diehl was born in Cincinnati in 1877, the scion of a Cincinnati distillery empire; His father Adam G. Diehl had made a fortune in the whiskey business with his brother-in-law; together they founded The Edgewood Distilling Company.

He attended the University of Cincinnati and established a reputation as one of the area’s best athletes.  Perhaps even better at tennis than baseball, Diehl was a prominent amateur tennis player during the first decade of the 20th Century.

In May of 1903 when the Pirates arrived in Cincinnati for a series, the team was decimated with injuries and Diehl joined the team for one game, playing left field on May 31, he went 1 for three in a 3-2 pirate victory.

Despite being offered a contract with Pittsburgh, Diehl chose to return to the distilling business and the Saturday Baseball League.

In 1904, with several Pirate players hurt, Diehl was again asked to join the team; this time for 12 games.  The Pittsburgh Gazette said Diehl also spent time with the Pirates in Hot Springs, Arkansas that spring.

The Baltimore American ran a story before the Pirates arrived in New York in August:

“New Yorkers who attend the games between the Brooklyn and Pittsburgh teams will be treated to an opportunity of seeing the work in the field of a millionaire ballplayer.”

While he hit just .162 for the Pirates in 1904, that did not diminish Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss’ desire to sign Diehl.

Before the 1905 season Dreyfuss told The Pittsburgh Press:

“The one player I would like to get on the team is beyond my reach… His name is Ernest Diehl…He is one of the best baseball players I ever saw.”

Dreyfuss also called Diehl “One of the best all-around athletes,” he had seen.  The Press said that although Diehl was required to sign a contract for his time with the Pirates in 1903 and ’04:

“Diehl never received a penny of salary from President Dreyfuss.”

Barney Dreyfuss

Barney Dreyfuss

Dreyfuss, and every other owner who offered Diehl a contract was unsuccessful in securing him for the 1905 season; Diehl spent the season playing in the Saturday League and in several tennis tournaments across the country.

He again played tennis and semi-pro ball in 1906, until August when the Boston Beaneaters came to Cincinnati. Shortstop Al Bridwell was injured, and Diehl was signed (again for no salary) to play for Boston in the three-game series.

The Associated Press reported:

“’Ernie’ Diehl, a wealthy young distiller of this city, an enthusiastic athlete, long known as a brilliant baseball player on local amateur teams, distinguished himself in the series just played…He played three games in the Boston ranks…He made five hits in eleven times at bat…Diehl could not afford to enter professional ball if he desired, at the highest salary paid in the organization, on account of his business, but is delighted and satisfied with his experience…Besides his heavy batting, his fielding was strictly up to the professional standard.”

Just as he had in Pittsburgh, Diehl turned down an offer to stay with Boston for the remainder of the 1906 season.

In 1907, Diehl appeared in 21 games for the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association, hitting .405.  The Toledo News-Bee said Diehl was spending “His vacation…helping out the Toledo club.”  The Associated Press said that as in the past, “Diehl is wealthy and refused to accept pay for his services.”

In addition to his business interests, amateur tennis and baseball career, and professional baseball “vacations,” Diehl also served on Cincinnati’s city council from, roughly, 1906-1910.

In 1909 Diehl played in one game of a doubleheader for the Boston Doves on August 12 against the Reds, he was 2 for 4 with a double—it would be his last in the National League

Diehl then joined the eventual American Association champion Louisville Colonels, at the request of his friend and fellow Cincinnatian, manager Heinie Peitz.  (Baseball Reference lists a player as “Diehl,” with no first name on the 1909 Louisville roster, with a .226 average in 20 games).

The Sporting Life said Diehl “figured very prominently in Louisville’s winning the championship of the A.A. will again be in Colonel garb,” in 1910; Diehl did not play for Louisville, or any other professional team again.

In 1911 The Associated Press and Cincinnati newspapers said the 33-year-old Diehl had a deal in place with Reds manager Clark Griffith to join the team at some point during the season; as with Louisville, that deal never materialized either.

Diehl was briefly mentioned as a candidate to replace Griffith as Reds manager in 1912, the job eventually went to Hank O’Day.

Diehl’s career was summed up well in a 1914 Baseball Magazine article by William A.  Phelon:

“For ten years it has been a tacitly accepted fact, around the big leagues and whenever players or managers assembled, that Ernie Diehl was not only of major league quality, but what might be called super-quality—the Wagner-Lajoie-Cobb variety.  He could hit, run, and break up a defense with anybody, and was a versatile artist in five or six positions.  Business held him; there never was a chance for him to spend a full season in the game; year after year, in short vacation frolics, he showed the professionals what he could do—and now, getting on in years, with business still gripping him, he sadly gives it up, and lays aside the bat and glove he never had a fair chance to use.”

Diehl’s Edgewood Distilling Company seems to have been dissolved sometime around 1918, and he eventually settled in Miami where he died in 1958.