Tag Archives: Tom Burns

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #34

6 Jun

Trash Talk, 1887

In June of 1887 the Cincinnati Red Stockings dropped to sixth place in the American Association pennant race; Ren Mulford of The Cincinnati Enquirer assured his readers the team would not remain in the basement. The St. Louis Post Dispatch responded:

“Ren Mulford Jr., of Cincinnati, whoever he is, is quite a chatty baseball writer, and his apologies for the Cincinnati club are a mark of rare ability. Mr. Mulford, whoever he is, thinks the Reds will not be at the sixth place when the season ends, but Mr. Mulford, whoever he is, will probably find out his mistake later on.”

ren-mulford

Ren Mulford

Mulford was correct, the Red Stockings went 61-33 the rest of the way, finishing second—but it was not enough to catch the St. Louis Browns who won the pennant by 14 games.

Burns on Anson, 1898

Tom Burns, in the process of leading the Chicago Orphans to a fourth-place finish in 1898, told Henry Zuber of The Cincinnati Times-Star that Cap Anson was not primarily responsible for the reputation he built as a great manager in the 1880s:

tomburns

Tom Burns

“Anson had a team that could think for itself. It was not necessary for him to direct the play of the team on the field, for the reason that the players were far above the average in baseball intelligence, and worked and studied together without the aid or suggestions of the manager. The late Mike Kelly carried the leading brainery of the team, and it was he, with the aid of the other baseball-intelligent men of the team, that invented and carried out any plans and tricks that proved such an improvement to the game and made the White Stockings the famous team they were.”

Anson’s teams finished first or second nine times from 1880-1891, from 1892 until he left the team in 1898 his teams finished no better than fourth.

Louisville Patriotism, 1898

At the outset of the Spanish-American War in April of 1888, The Cincinnati Post said of Harry Pulliam’s Louisville Colonels:

pulliam

Harry Pulliam

“Patriotism is running amuck among the Colonels. They purchased gaudy red, white, and blue stockings for yesterday’s game, and each player wore a tiny United States flag in his cap band. President Pulliam is thinking of raising a regiment. ‘The governor of Kentucky,’ said the happy executive, ‘is having all sorts of trouble. You know everybody worth mentioning in our state is a colonel, or considers he is of that rank. All wish to enlist, but no one is ready to accept a commission below that of colonel.”

Comiskey on “ungrateful” players, 1894

By 1894, Charles Comiskey, in his last year as a major league player and manager and leading the Reds to a 55-75 tenth place finish, told The Cincinnati Post his opinion of players had changed:

Charles Comiskey

Comiskey

“Ball players are often accused of being and ungrateful lot of men. I used to defend them on this charge, but I must confess that recently I have come to the conclusion that the average player is inclined to throw down his best friend. It’s a broad assertion, but my experience has been a severe one. There are some true men playing the game, but you can quickly pick them out of every team.”

Hulbert’s Dog

11 Jul

During a Red Stockings road trip in May 1881, The Boston Herald said “An incident occurred at Chicago on the occasion of the Bostons’ recent visit, wherein (Jack) Burdock proved a bigger man than (Chicago) President (William) Hulbert.

burdock

Jack Burdock

Days earlier, when the Worcester Ruby Legs played in Chicago, Tom Burns of the White Stockings hit an unusual home run.

The Herald said of Burns’ blast:

“Burns knocked the ball down to left field…It appears that Mr. Hulbert has an office in the left field corner of the Chicago ball ground, and he is also the possessor of a huge dog, which, for some reason, he stations at said office, outside and unchained…(Worcester outfielder Lewis “Buttercup”) Dickerson went for it, but was brought to a sudden standstill by the appearance of the dog before him, with his mouth open and emitting the fiercest  growls.  Dickerson viewed the animal, and not caring to lose an important part of his uniform pants, he concluded it was not best to try for the sphere.  The dog guarded the ball till Burns had made a home run.”

Buttercup Dickerson

Buttercup Dickerson

The Chicago Tribune had described the play a bit differently:

“Burns, swinging his bat at the first ball pitched, sent the ball clear to the clubhouse for a clean home run.  The big black dog owned by the Chicago Club was sleeping on the platform as the ball rolled up to him, and Dickerson pretended to be afraid of the animal, but the latter paid no intention to the fielder, and did not hinder him in the least.”

The Herald said the Red Stockings were told about the incident, and, when they “arrived on the (Chicago) grounds” two days later:

“Burdock went to reconnoitering.  Sure enough, the dog was there doing duty.  Burdock marched up to Mr. Hulbert, in a manner that is perfectly familiar to Bostonians, and demanded that that dog be locked up or taken off the field.  Mr. Hulbert replied in effect that he knew no rule that forbade a dog being on the grounds.  He was informed by the earnest ‘bean-eater,’ as Mr. Hulbert delights to call the Bostons, that unless the dog was removed, Burdock would not commence to play.  Result—Mr. President yielded, the dog was removed, and the game proceeded.”

The Tribune countered that Burdock protest was simply the result of “a ball-tossers superstition” and Hulbert acquiesced to the “red-legged kicker,” despite there being no rule “covering dogs.”

The paper said Hulbert told Burdock:

“(I)f it will make you any happier the dog shall be bounced.”

William Hulbert

William Hulbert

The removal of the dog was not enough to help Boston.  The White Stockings won the game 5 to 4.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #20

25 May

A Twist on the Hidden Ball Trick, 1909

Jack Fournier had a favorite story that The Chicago Daily News said he told so often that “fellow members of the White Sox give the warning ‘Capron story’” every time he retold it.

Fournier

Fournier

Fournier was playing first base for the Portland Cubs in Northwestern League in 1909 while former college football star George Capron was playing for the Seattle Turks.

“A Seattle runner was on first when Capron came to bat.  He rapped a hot grounder down to (Phil) Cooney, who was at short for Portland.  The latter whipped the ball to second, forcing the runner and then the ball was relayed to Fournier.

“Capron had crossed the bag and was making his turn back by the time the throw reached Fournier.

“Jack tossed the ball up and down in his glove as Capron came up.  ‘Can you beat that Capron?’ said Fournier ‘the ump called you out.’

Capron, known for his temper on the field, became enraged and ran towards the umpire who standing near second base.

“Fournier was right on his heels and didn’t catch him until they covered half the distance.  He tagged the amazed Capron with the ball.”

Asked if Capron was angry, Fournier would deadpan, “Well, rather.”

An Umpire’s revenge

In 1907, long-time American League umpire Jack Sheridan told a story that appeared in several newspapers, including The Chicago Evening Post, about how he quieted a “Chronic Kicker,” Fielder Jones of the Chicago White Sox:

Jack Sheridan

Jack Sheridan

During the previous season, Chicago was playing the Detroit Tigers when Jones got on base:

Charley O’Leary, the Tigers shortstop brushed Jones’ leg with the ball as he was sliding into second on a steal.  Sheridan called him out and Jones kicked; said he didn’t feel the ball touch him.  Sheridan told O’Leary to make him feel it the next time.  A few innings later Jones got on and again attempted to steal.  This time, O’Leary jammed the ball onto Jones’ head.”

Fielder Jones

Fielder Jones

Sheridan said after the shaken-up Jones was called out and recovered from the blow:

“(He) walked to the bench without a single protest.”

A Pitcher’s Plea, 1898

After not playing professional ball in 1896 and 1897, Matt Kilroy returned to the major leagues with the Chicago orphans in 1898.

A decade later, Revere Rodgers of The Washington Evening Star said Kilroy, who won 46 games in 1887, “was in the game long after his arm went back on him.”

Matt Kilroy

Matt Kilroy

He also had another talent:

“As a baseball player Matt was real classy, but as a poker player he was king, and the Chicago bunch in those days was the most rabid pasteboard handlers then traveling over the circuit.

“Kilroy was lucky with the cards, his skill was marvelous, and he must have done well judging from a conversation at the time he was handed the customer ten days’ notice (of his release in August 1898) by Manager (Tom) Burns.

‘”Oh, say, Burns,’ cried Matt, when he received the notice, ‘allow me to stay with the club.  You won’t have to give me a cent of salary, and what is more, I will pay all my traveling expenses, and help the club out at the bat or in the pitcher’s box.’”

Burns told Kilroy he could earn “three hundred a month in the Eastern League.”

“I know,’ said Kilroy, ‘But you see I like the poker game the boys play here.”

“One of the Biggest Jokes of Baseball”

16 Mar

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner had decried spring training as an “Annual display of foolishness” in 1914.  Four years later, he was convinced the First World War had been its death knell:

“One of the biggest jokes of baseball will be eliminated to a great degree when the game is resumed, and one of the most fruitful sources of publicity will be cut down to the essentials.  The spring training trip as an institution practically will cease to be.  No longer will team be taken on long, expensive junkets South and West to ‘train’ for the season.”

Fullerton said “The thing has been overdone,” and claimed that players and owners alike were against the practice continuing.

“The expenses will be heavier than ever before and long junkets would cost too much.  But even greater than these, the next generation of professional ballplayers will be workers.  They will work all winter instead of striving to live on the cheers saved up from the preceding season.  They will not have time to spend five or six weeks loitering in the South, and further, they will report to their teams in better condition than they usually have been.”

He conceded that pitcher and catchers might be “sent somewhere” for a couple of weeks, but declared:

“(The) spring barnstorming era is ended.”

While Fullerton remained adamant that spring training was a useless waste of time and money, he did say:

“But what a lot of fun will be missed…In the spring, the teams always have with them the ‘nuts’ and peculiar characters that the scouts have a habit of discovering.  Sometimes I suspect those fellows dig up ‘bugs’ merely for their advertising value or else the minor league managers have a way of selling all their eccentrics to the big leagues.”

He said of traveling with the Chicago Cubs in Mississippi:

“We had one back in the early part of this century who beat almost all records.  He joined the club with two trunks, one partly filled with clothes and the other containing six one gallon bottles of ‘strength medicine’ which his mother had concocted.  It was made of boneset, hops, mullein, tincture of iron, garlic, asafetida, sulphur and rotgut whiskey.”

Fullerton then told the story of when the unnamed (or apocryphal) player arrived at the ballpark the following day:

“That fellow was suspicious.  He reached the practice grounds at Vicksburg, looked around cautiously, scratched a hole in the sand and buried his diamond ring.  Then he filled his pipe, lighted it and started to practice.  Pretty soon (Manager Frank) Chance yelled at him to get back of the bat and warm up the (batting practice pitchers).  He adjusted his mask, stuck the pipe through the wires and went to work.  That finished his major league career.”

Frank Chance

Frank Chance

Fullerton said Chicago’s 1898 training camp with Manager Tom Burns was “Probably the strangest” a team had ever chosen, and the one that convinced him spring training trips weren’t necessary:

Tom Burns

Tom Burns

“Hudson (New Mexico) consists of one of the finest hot springs in the world, a wide-porched, one-story hotel called Casa del Consuelo  and it is five miles from the railroad and twenty-five from Silver City.”

Fullerton said because of the terrain, and the lack of a suitable location to play:

“The team made one effort to play ball and gave up, and yet, after three weeks of horseback riding, hunting, and mountain climbing, and with only tossing the ball as practice, it was the best conditioned team I ever saw open a season.”

While Chicago might have started the season as the “best-conditioned team” Fullerton had ever seen, and won five of their first six games, they finished the season in fourth place, 17 ½ games behind the Boston Beaneaters.

The 1921 map of spring training locations shows how quickly Fullerton was proven wrong:

1921stmap

“A Flat-Footed Player is as Bad is a Flat-Headed one”

27 Jan

As part of his 1910 series of articles called “How I Win,” syndicated journalist Joseph B. Bowles spoke to Bill Dahlen, manager of the Brooklyn Superbas, during Dahlen’s first season as a big league manager.

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen 

“The only theory on which I ever have worked is that every man on a team should work for the common interest, that each man should help out each other one, and that eight men if strong ought to help out the weak one.

“Close attention to every move is essential.  Not only should a player watch every change of position of his opponents…The mind must be alert at every instant during a game.  There is no room in major league baseball for any except fast-thinking and fast-moving players.  I do not mean that a player must be a ten-second man.  I mean he must be on his toes, ready to jump in any given direction without the loss of an instant.”

Dahlen said success was all about footwork:

“A man who handles his feet well, either batting, fielding or base running, is a good player, for footwork is better than ability with the hands.  It is necessary for a player to be shifty on his feet as it is for a boxer.  No one can be shifty unless he is on his toes all the time, and a flat-footed player is as bad is a flat-headed one—and usually the two things go together.

“The batter who is on his toes, balanced and ready for the jump, will hit, for he can shift and swing and still get his weight behind the bat.  The shifty runner on first is ready to move either way—to dive back to first or go on to second.  In the field, he moves with the ball, and is moving when it is hit, so he covers more ground.”

Dahlen had advice for young players:

“(He) should watch every move of the batter, and poise himself for the start just as a sprinter does.  I remember that one of the first things taught me after I joined the Chicago club was starting, and the crowd of great players under (Cap) Anson won many games because they started faster and were readier in seizing an opportunity than their opponents were.  Another thing they taught me was sliding to bases, not only so as to avoid being touched, but also to avoid getting hurt or hurting anyone.  That slide known as the ‘Chicago slide’ was the invention of (King) Kelly and adopted by (Tom) Burns, (Ned) Williamson, (Fred) Pfeffer and the great players of that day. There is more footwork to that slide than in any other department of the game.  It consists of watching the position of the baseman who is receiving a thrown ball and throwing the body in the opposite direction, sliding on the hip with the leg partially bent under and the toe hooking the bag.”

Bill Dahlen

Dahlen

Dahlen’s footwork was not enough to guide four bad Brooklyn teams to a winning season.  During his managerial career (1910-1913) the Superbas were 251-355.

“Women have been the cause of Ruin of more Good Clubs than Anything Else”

17 Oct

In 1907 Hugh Fullerton wrote in The Chicago Herald about the outside influences that he felt did the most damage to a ballclub:

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

“There are dozens of things that happen to keep a team from landing a pennant about which the general public is entirely ignorant and which never can be explained clearly.

“For instance, one of the mysteries of baseball was the breaking up of the famous White Stockings team.

“Hundreds and thousands of people cursed the management of the Chicagos for selling off star players and wrecking the club—and few ever knew why it was.  The management felt worse over it than the fans possibly could feel—but it was inevitable.  A scandal in the club concerning two members and the wife of one of them started the trouble.  Threats to kill each other were made—and the disruption of the club became absolutely necessary.  The sale of (Mike “King”) Kelly (1887) and (John) Clarkson (1888) was the beginning –and after a time all parties to the scandal were let out—and Chicago was given a decade of losing clubs.”

Mike "King" Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly

He claimed the reason for the breakup of the White Stockings was a common one.

“Women have been the cause of ruin of more good clubs than anything else.  They need not necessarily be bad women.  There was one club in the old twelve-club National League which, for two years, was knocked out of all chances of winning merely because the wife of one of the players was an inveterate gossip.  She knew everything that went on in the club and retained it until she had half the players up in arms against each other.

“One of the best manager s in the country today frowns upon all women and his players, under his direction, forbid their wives to mention the subject of baseball to each other.  The result is that there is the best feeling in the club.  Almost every member of the team is married, their wives meet socially at all times—and baseball is tabooed by common consent.

“I know a catcher, one of the toughest, hardiest fellows in the business, who nearly was ruined as a catcher by the women of the club.  He was so strong and tough that you couldn’t have dented him with an ax, but one day he split his hand a little bit.  He thought nothing of it, and was ready to catch the next day when the women got to pitying him and telling him he ought to take good care of it.  When he left the grounds he had tied up the injured place with a rag—and was all right.  By the next morning he was ready to go to the hospital—and he did lay off for two weeks, all because the women made a martyr of him.”

But, according to Fullerton, there was something almost as bad for a baseball team as women:

“Horse racing, however, has ruined almost as many clubs as women have.  Once a team gets interested in horse racing, and so far as winning goes, it might as well disband.

“One of the greatest troubles in the present New York National League team is the devotion of some of the players to the racing game.  (John) McGraw himself has been so successful at it that baseball has become sort of a side issue.  Many of his players have followed his example, and the result is they think more of horse racing than of baseball.

“Racing did more to wreck (Ned) Hanlon’s championship Brooklyn team than any other thing.  The Washington Park grounds are so close to the Brighton and Sheepshead tracks that players could see two or three races before the game.  Eventually baseball was forgotten and the conversation in the clubhouse dwelt only on horse racing.

(Cap) Anson had a crowd of horse race fans for several years, and the result on the work of the team was something frightful.  They talked horse racing even on the field, and had the telegraph operators throwing out messages telling what horses had won.”

And, he said, gambling in general had been detrimental to the Giants during the years Andrew Freedman owned the club (1895-1902):

“There always was a crap game or a poker game in the clubhouse, and the stakes were so high that bitter feeling was endangered.”

While Fullerton, for the most part, avoided naming names, he did single out one former Chicago manager, who had died five years earlier, for presiding over teams that were “ruined” by gambling:

“The Chicago team the second year under Tom Burns (1899) was wrecked by the same sort of deal, the manager setting a bad example in that respect.  Burns also was charged by the Pittsburgh owners with ruining their club, when he was manager (1892), by permitting and encouraging gambling.”

Tom Burns

Tom Burns

Hugh Nicol

25 Aug

In 1884 Hugh “Little Nic” Nicol was one of the most popular members of the St. Louis Browns—so popular, a local boy’s team named themselves after the right fielder, and the Nicol was invited to address the team.

Hugh Nicol

Hugh Nicol

A reporter for The St. Louis Critic was on hand when Nicol imparted his baseball wisdom to the kids:

“I’m no speech maker, but if you like I’ll give you a pointer or two, and you can take ‘em or leave ‘em, just as you like.  First, when you go to the bat don’t sneak up there, but pick up your club determined like, and look at the pitcher as you’d look at a mosquito which you had the dead wood on.  Then when he curls the ball away, up around your left year duck your head, look mad and whisper, ‘Oh, you sucker you know better than to give me a good ball.’  That’s what you call workin’ the pitcher—makin’ him mad as a bull—so mad that he’ll put the ball just where you say he can’t put it, but where you know he’s going to put it, and when he puts it there smash her right in the eye.

“Then when you’ve smashed her, don’t stop and admire the smash, but make for first as though the devil was trying catch hold of your coat tails.  When you reach first don’t stop unless you hear the captain yell: ‘Hole yer first; hole it!’  If he yells ‘hole it,’ obey orders.  Don’t think you know more than him, because if you get to thinkin’ that way your head will begin to swell, and all the ice in St. Louis won’t take down the swellin’ If you only reach first, place your arms akimbo and look at the pitcher as though you had got there by a fluke and was going to hold to her if it was the last act.  If you are a runner, and not one of those tired cusses that crawl when they think they’re flyin’.

“Make for second the moment he pitches the ball; and when you get near the bag, grab hold of it and come up smilin’ at the umpire , as though you meant to say “Oh, I beat the ball about a foot, and he never touched me anyhow.’  If you work it right the umpire will sing out, ‘Hole yer second!’

“But, fellers if you can’t run when you reach first stay there and thank God you got that far.  Don’t try to make second for if you do the catcher will make a bloomin’ gillie out of you.  But make out that you are a dandy on the run, and bob up and down like a bear dancing on a red hot stove.  That kind of business works up the pitcher and he’ll try to catch you nappin’, but instead he’ll fire the ball away over the first baseman’s head.  Then if you can run a little bit you can get all the way ‘round.  But take care that he don’t catch you nappin’.  If he does that the captain will call you a bum base runner and you’ll feel like clubbin’ the life out of yourself.”

Thirty-five years later, Nicol attended an old-timers banquet at the Great Northern Hotel in Chicago and spoke with Al Spink, then occasionally writing for The Chicago Evening Post.  Spink called Nicol “the smallest and most wonderful right fielder in America.”

Nicol, like most of his 19th Century brethren, thought his old teammates were better than current players:

“I can’t see where the game has improved a bit since we played it…and I can’t see where the players of today are any better than our old gang…I don’t see any players cavorting around on the diamond today that are any better than the Browns’ old infield when it was composed of (Charles) Comiskey, (William “Yank”) Robinson, (Arlie) Latham and (Bill) Gleason…Where are there any better players than our old Chicago infield—(Cap) Anson, (Fred) Pfeffer, (Ned) Williamson and (Tom)Burns?”

1885 St. Louis Browns--Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

1885 St. Louis Browns–Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

Nicol also objected to the way the game was played:

“(W)here is there the  enthusiasm and the effort to win that was in evidence in the days when we played?

“Nowadays a player often goes to the bat acting like a man who has lost an immediate member of his family.

“We used to go up smiling and acting as though we were certain of clouting out a homer, although we often fell down on the proposition.

“And then, too, many of your players of today make little attempt to advance themselves in the various departments of play.

“They do not half try to learn all the fine points of the game as we did in the days of old, but simply try to get by.  They are content if they get a couple of hits every afternoon and play an errorless game.  The first thing they do each morning is to get the newspaper and look at the hit and error columns.  If they don’t see themselves credited with a hit perhaps they did make, some sports writer gets a terrible panning.”

Nicol managed in the Three-I League and later  coached baseball and served as athletic director at Purdue University from 1906 until 1914—he resigned both positions in November of 1914 after a dispute with his football coach Andy Smith and Smith’s assistant Pete Vaughn (who was also Purdue’s basketball coach).

Nicol 1904

Nicol 1904

Nicol was often credited by contemporary sports writers with inventing the head-first slide.

He died in Lafayette, Indiana in 1921.

“Baseball is now Played by certain Mathematical rules and Regulations”

16 Jul

The Chicago Tribune’s Hugh Fullerton concluded in 1906 that base running had “in a sense, become a lost art.”

“Baseball is now played by certain mathematical rules and regulations, and there is no more of the brilliant individual feats of the old days.  Everyone who plays now knows just what stage the game is in, what to do in that stage, and if he does not the signals from the batter to show him his duty.  In the old days most of them ran unaided by bunt, ‘squeeze,’ hit and run, or blocking or feinting to bunt to draw the fielders out of position.

“Teams still run, hoping to demoralize the opposition, but not to the extent that they did in the early years of the game.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

According to Fullerton no team ran wilder than the Chicago White Stockings of the 1880s

 “Mike Kelly was perhaps the most daring of all base runners.  He never was extremely fast, and in his later years grew extremely slow—but he stole almost as many bases when slow as ever he did.  Indeed, the best base runners the game has known were men of medium speed in running, and few of the really fast sprinters ever were good base runners.  Kelly ran bases with his head instead of his feet.

“One of the best trick that old team ever pulled off was against Boston in Chicago.  Kelly engineered the deal, although he was on first base, with a runner—(Tom) Burns, I think—on third.  One was out and the worst hitter on the team was up, with one run needed.  Kelly was standing on first, and as the pitcher prepared to deliver the ball Kel went dashing towards second, yelling at the top of his lungs.

“The pitcher took a glance to see if the runner had left third and saw him standing still, and to his astonishment saw Kelly still tearing towards second.  He hesitated, expecting Kel would stop or slow up—then threw, and threw high, while Kel, instead of sliding and reaching second in safety, merely touched the base and tore towards third at top speed, leaving the second baseman holding the ball in astonishment.  The runner at third had moved off ten feet as Kel came tearing towards him yelling commands, and catching the drift of the play, he sprinted for home.  The throw went to the plate ahead of him as he rushed homeward and seeing himself hopelessly out he slowed up a bit, and Kelly, coming on from third, slid around him, escaped the astonished catcher, who was tagging the other runner, and scored, evening up the game.”

Mike "King" Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly

Fullerton also wrote about the “Kelly Slide,” or “Kelly Spread,” the hook slide Kelly made famous, which also went by another name:

“Kelly invented the ‘Chicago Slide,’ which was one of the greatest tricks ever pulled off.  It was a combination slide, twist and dodge.  The runner went straight down the line at top speed and when nearing the base threw himself either inside or outside of the line, doubled the left leg under him—if sliding inside, or the right, if sliding outside—slid on the doubled up leg and the hip, hooked the foot on the other leg around the base, and pivoted on it, stopping on the opposite side of the base.

“Every player of the old Chicago team practiced and perfected that slide and got away with hundreds of stolen bases when really they should have been touched out easily  There are some modern players who make the slide something as it was done then, but Bill Dahlen of New York really is the only one in either big league who executes it regularly and perfectly.”

And, as with most Fullerton reminiscences there were stories about his personal favorite players; which may, or may not have actually happened on a baseball field somewhere, to someone.

Elmer Foster was a great base runner, after his style.  He ran regardless of consequences and perhaps no man that ever played in fast company ever took an extra base on a hit oftener as did Elmer.  He simply refused to stop at his legitimate destination, and kept right on.  When he got caught he always said:  ‘Why, I wasn’t a bit tired.  Why should I have stopped running?’

“On day Foster was turning third, trying to score from second on a short hit, when Billy Kuehne bumped him with his hip, threw him out into the grass, and forced him to stop.  Elmer was wild.  He kept yelling, ‘I’ll be around here again.’  The next time up he made a two base hit and he never stopped at second, but dashed on for third at top speed.  The second baseman, surprised, made a high throw to third and Kuehne stretched to get the ball just as Foster, leaping through the air, landed on his chest with both feet and kicked him half way to the grandstand.  Foster came home running backwards and yelping with delight at Kuehne—and then got sore because he was called out.”

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

“One of the funniest incidents in base stealing I ever saw happened in Chicago one of the yeas that Bill Lange led the league in base running.  It was a close race between Lange and (Billy) Hamilton for the honors and the season was drawing to a close.  The game was close, and Lange led off the eighth inning with a two bagger.  Anson went to bat and laid down a perfect bunt, intending to sacrifice.  He went out in a close finish at first, and looking up, discovered Lange still perched on second.  He was furious, but the condition was mild compared to what he experienced an instant later when Lange stole third—and took the lead fo the base running honors.”

 

“The fans make us the ‘goat’ for Everything”

21 Nov

Chicago Orphans Manager Tom Burns suspended pitcher Bill Phyle without pay in August of 1899, even after Burns was replaced by Tom Loftus, Phyle remained in limbo.

Tom Loftus

Tom Loftus

In January Hugh Fullerton said in The Chicago Tribune that Loftus “probably will give him a chance.”  But in early February The Chicago Inter Ocean said even though Phyle had met with team President James Hart nothing had been resolved.  Phyle told the paper he was offered a contract but was “in no hurry to sign.”

Phyle finally signed at the end of the February, but The Tribune said Chicago would most likely trade him “although Loftus thinks highly of him.”

The team trained in West Baden Springs, Indiana, where according to The Tribune Phyle was “sarcastically called ‘Lucky,’ because of his proverbial hard luck, (he) rarely escapes a day without being hurt.”  He also managed to alienate his new manager.

After several days of poor weather in Indiana, Loftus decided to take the team further south, to Selma, Alabama on March 18.  According to The Tribune Phyle was not on the train:

“Phyle may not be with the team in Selma.  He left Friday (March 16), announcing he was going to see the fights in Chicago.  Manager Loftus hunted up the pitcher before he departed and told him it was a bad plan to start the year in such a manner.  Phyle then said he was ill and was making the journey in order to consult a physician in Chicago.”

Phyle did return from Chicago (where he claimed he had an unspecified operation), and joined the team on the trip south.  Upon his return he continued to suffer a series of illnesses and injuries, which included a bad reaction to a vaccination and a being hit in the knee with a thrown bat, both of which kept him inactive for several days.

Phyle was left in Chicago when the team opened the season in Cincinnati, and his imminent trade or release was speculated upon nearly daily in the Chicago press; he was finally traded to the Kansas City Blues in the American League with Sam Dungan and Bill Everitt for John Ganzel on May 18.  Phyle refused to report to Kansas City and spent the season playing for Chicago City League teams and a semi-pro team in DeKalb County, Illinois.  He was also a regular attendee at Chicago’s boxing venues and was said to own a piece of featherweight contender Eddie Santry.

Phyle returned to the National League in 1901 posting a 7-10 record for the New York Giants.  In 1902 he went to the California League as an infielder and never pitched again.  After his controversial exit from Memphis in 1903—and the aftermath—he continued to play until 1909.

Phyle worked as a boxing referee and as an umpire for more than 20 years in the Canadian, Eastern and Pacific Coast and International  Leagues, and was involved in two final controversies.

Bill Phyle, 1913

Bill Phyle, 1913

In 1920 a grand jury was impaneled in Los Angeles to investigate charges of game fixing in the Pacific Coast League.  Players Harl Maggert, William “Babe” Borton, Bill Rumler and Gene Dale were implicated.  While all criminal charges were eventually dismissed, the four were banned from baseball in 1921.

Phyle was called to testify in front of the grand jury, and said umpires were often blamed when players were crooked:

“The fans make us the ‘goat’ for everything that goes on during the ball game.  How many times we have suffered to suit the whims of a ballplayer who might have been working with the gamblers will never be known.  They just slough us around, call us whatever names they please and yell murder when we happen to fire them out of the game or have them suspended.

“An umpire should have the same authority as a referee has in the prize-ring.  If he believes a ballplayer isn’t giving his best toward the game, he ought to have the privilege of ousting him without taking the manager into confidence.”

In July of 1923 Phyle was working an International League game between the Baltimore Orioles and Rochester Tribe.  Phyle called a Rochester runner safe at first, then immediately reversed his decision.  He was dismissed the following day by league President John Conway Toole.

As a result of the dismissal, four other umpires resigned in sympathy.  Toole, who was attending the game, claimed he had not released him because of the blown call, but because Phyle had failed to work a double hitter he was assigned to earlier in the month.   The decision was upheld, and within three days the four other umpires withdrew their resignation.

Phyle ended his career back in the Pacific Coast League in 1926, and died in Los Angeles in 1953.

Burns “Put the Punishment on Phyle”

20 Nov

After holding out over a temperance clause the Chicago Orphans added to his contract, Bill Phyle finally signed in late March of 1899.  He reported to spring training in New Mexico anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds overweight (depending on the source) and struggled all season to regain the form he showed the previous season.

On April 17 he was beaten 8-0 by the Louisville Colonels in first start.

On April 25 he lost 3-2 to the St. Louis Perfectos.  The Chicago Tribune said “Phyle gave away the game by distributing bases on balls in just the spots where timely hits followed and transformed the favors into tallies that gave the victory.”

William Phelon, The Chicago Daily News baseball writer, disagreed.  He said Phyle’s “work was of sterling quality.”

Regardless, Chicago Manager Tom Burns didn’t give Phyle another opportunity to pitch for more than a month.

Phelon said it was a mistake for Burns to not use Phyle.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said after the team lost seven of nine games in May “it is passing strange that young Phyle is not given a chance.  On last year’s form Phyle is as good as, if not better than (Jack) Taylor.  The paper called Phyle’s performance in the St. Louis game “gilt-edged” and blamed the loss on “comrades that gave the victory to the enemy.”

Finally, on May 28 Phyle pitched again.   He lost 4 to 3 to the Washington Senators; he gave up three runs on five straight hits with two outs in the ninth.

He lost again on June 1, 7-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Phelon’s opinion of the pitcher was unchanged, and said the losses were simply bad luck:

“Phyle has now lost four straight games.  It is Phyle’s luck to be stuck in whenever the other pitchers have won about three straight, and the team is just about unavoidably due to lose.”

On June 5 Phyle did his best pitching of the season–a victory he is not credited with in the record books.

With the Orphans trailing the Baltimore Orioles 3 to 2 in the third inning, pitcher Clark Griffith was ejected for arguing a called ball.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“It was a queer game.  Phyle pitched after Griffith had been benched…holding the Orioles helpless.”

Chicago won 9 to 4.  And while the Chicago newspapers credited the victory to Phyle, the record books do not.

Box score for June 5 game.  Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Box score for June 5 game. Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Phyle became ill later the same week, (some sources said it was recurring malaria), a week later he fell off a bicycle and missed two more weeks.  When he returned to the team on June 22, the Boston Beaneaters beat him 5 to 1.

He was credited with his first “official” win on July 1—a game The Inter Ocean called “a comedy of errors,” and a “depressing exhibition.”   He beat the New York Giants 10 to 9, allowing 10 hits and giving up seven runs in the first two innings.  Each team committed seven errors.

Box score of Bill Phyle's only "official" victory of 1899.

Box score of Bill Phyle’s only “official” victory of 1899.

Chicago went into a slump that would last for the rest of the season; after Phyle’s July 1 win the team was 38-24, in third place, and went 37-49 the rest of the way finishing eighth.

Phyle lost again on July 9 and July 24, and rumors began to circulate that he would be released or traded back to Charlie Comiskey’s St. Paul Saints.

On August 6 Phyle lost 10 to 9 to the Cleveland Spiders.  One week later while the team was on the road, The Inter Ocean reported that he “was sent home by manager Burns.”

The Tribune called Phyle “the scapegoat” and said he and three unnamed teammates  “celebrated after beating a horse race at Washington and Manager Burns, to call a halt, put the punishment on Phyle.

Phelon wrote in The Daily News:

“When the club started for Philadelphia he was told to go home ‘You are through young man, go back to Chicago,’ said Burns, and Phyle went back.  He went back in a rage too, and says he will tell (team president) Jim Hart a lot of things. He says that he has been held up to public derision as a drunkard, all season, and that Burns plays favorites, allowing his friends to jag up as much as they wish and turning all the trouble on others.”

Phelon remained supportive of the pitcher in The Daily News, but in The Sporting Life he reported that Phyle, a former boxer, had deserted the team in early August to go to “St. Louis to see a prize fight, and was not on hand when sorely needed.”

While the relationship between Hart and Burns was strained, and Burns would be replaced at season’s end, Phyle’s complaints went nowhere with the team president and he was suspended without pay.

Ten days after Phyle was suspended Phelon reported that the Baltimore Orioles had offered to trade for or buy Phyle,” (John) McGraw has taken quite a fancy to the young pitcher.”  Hart refused to make a deal.

Phyle never pitched for Chicago again, he is credited with a 1-8 record and 4.20 ERA.

The last Bill Phyle chapter—tomorrow.