Tag Archives: Union Association

“I Believe Beyond Doubt he would be the Greatest Manager of All Time”

20 May

By 1911,  “Honest John” McCloskey was in his 22nd season as a manager; five in the major leagues.  Those five seasons were less than successful.

John

John

He led the Louisville Colonels to a 35-96 record in 1895, and was dismissed the following season after a 2-17 start; In three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1906-1908, he was 52-98, 52-101, and 49-105—he also apparently had a bizarre aversion to blond hair.

In those 22 seasons, he won just two championships–in class “B” Pacific National League, but despite a rather inauspicious record, Hugh Fullerton believed McCloskey one was one of the greatest minds in the game.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Writing in “The American Magazine” that summer, Fullerton said:

“John McCloskey, one of the greatest tacticians in baseball, has worked out the theory of coaching, both from the bench and from the lines to an exact science.  Yet McCloskey has not been successful because the players lack the quickness and the brains to follow his orders.  If he could find men who could think and act quickly enough to obey his signals.  I believe beyond doubt he would be the greatest manager of all time.”

McCloskey’s genius, according to Fullerton, was enough to overcome one thing:

“One great trouble in the McCloskey system is that players are not yet educated to the point where they cease independent thinking and obey orders…After every blunder of a ballplayer, the reason assigned is ‘I thought.’ Besides that, the fewer brains a player has and the less he knows of the science of the game, the more liable he is to scoff at the theorist and ridicule or ignore the wigwag system.”

As an example of McCloskey’s players not living up to their manager’s intelligence and ridiculing his “system”, Fullerton related a story from the previous season when McCloskey led the Milwaukee Brewers to a 76-91 sixth place finish in the American Association.

“(A) Milwaukee batter drove a ball down into the left field corner of the grounds.  The ball was in the shortstop’s hands when the runner reached third base.”

According to Fullerton “the excited coacher” missed McCloskey’s signal to hold the runner:

“(H)e urged (the runner) onward, and he was thrown out 30 feet from the plate.  McCloskey…slid down until the back of his head was resting on the bench and his feet were six feet away on the ground, his body rigid.  A cruel substitute, gazing at his manager, asked: ‘What’s that, Mac, a signal to slide feet first?’”

McCloskey’s Butte Miners finished third in the Union Association in 1911.  He managed 13 more seasons in the minor leagues through 1932.  He won just one more pennant, leading a team to the class “D” Southwestern  League championship in 1924—not only was the team “educated” enough to “cease independent thinking” and win for McCloskey, but they did so playing home games in three different towns;  they played in Newton, Kansas until July, relocated to Blackwell, Oklahoma for a month, then finished the season in Ottawa, Kansas.

 

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things, Bill Joyce Edition

2 May

Scrappy” Bill Joyce’s managerial career ended badly.  In 1898, the player-manager was fired by New York Giants owner Andrew Freedman and replaced by Cap Anson—only to return as manager for the remainder of the season after Anson failed to turn the seventh place club around.  The turmoil took its toll on Joyce; after four straight .300 plus seasons, he hit just .258 in 1898.

Although just 32, and despite numerous reports of his imminent return to the Giants—or several other teams, including the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, and Cleveland Spiders— as a player or manager persisted for the next several years, he never played or managed another major league game.

He returned to his hometown, St. Louis, and opened a bar with Patsy Tebeau, and then later ran his own establishment after the two dissolved their partnership.  And, perhaps because of the way his career ended, and because of his inability to ever again secure an on-field job, he never stopped talking baseball, and became a popular source for sportswriters.

Scrappy Bill Joyce

Scrappy Bill Joyce

The Superstitious Jesse Burkett

Joyce told The Boston Globe in 1905 that “Ball Payers are a superstitious lot,” and that Jesse Burkett was among the most superstitious.

He said Burkett had one day received a tip at the racetrack on a horse that did not come in.

“After the race Jesse made one of his characteristic snaring, sarcastic remarks (to the tipster), who whirled around, and, knowing Jesse’s susceptibility to superstition said: ‘I’ll put the Spanish curse on you for a week.’

“The next day Burkett failed to get a hit and muffed a fly.  The next day he booted a grounder and struck out twice.  That night he sent for (the man).

“The racetrack man came down to the Lindell Hotel (in St. Louis), where Jesse was stopping.”

The man accompanied Burkett, who “was as serious as if he was making his will” to his room:

“(Burkett) unwrapped a package lying on a dresser and taking out a beautiful silk cravat said:

“’George, I’ll give you this ascot–it cost me $2—if you’ take off the Spanish curse.  I can’t make a hit while it is on.’”

The man snapped his fingers and said:

“’It’s off.’

“’Here is the tie,’ said Jess.”

According to Joyce:

“(T)he next day  Jesse made three hits.”

Joyce’s Tavern

In 1910, his tavern was located at 215 North Sixth Street in St. Louis.  But his love of taking baseball nearly cost him the business.

In August of 1910, The St. Louis Republic said:

“’Scrappy’ Bill Joyce, former captain of the New York Giants, and Washington’s old third baseman, forfeited his saloon license today because he kept open until 1 AM, Sunday, July 24, while holding a ‘fanning bee’ with (New York Giants Manager) John McGraw and Sam Crane, a New York sporting writer.”

Joyce testified in front of the city’s excise commission that no drinks were served after midnight, “All he and the two guests did until the policeman arrived was talk baseball.”

Later that month, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, Crane, the former infielder, then writing for The New York Journal, and McGraw, both came back to St. Louis and met personally with the excise commissioner, Henry S. Caufield—who would later serve as governor of Missouri—and said the incident was “primarily their fault,” while both backing up Joyce’s assertion that no drinks were consumed after midnight.  As a result of their efforts, Joyce was allowed to keep his license.

“Told in a Man’s Way by a lot of Men”

While continuing to operate his tavern in St. Louis, Joyce finally got back into professional baseball.

In 1911, he became owner and manager of the Missoula (Montana) franchise in the newly formed Union Association.  But by August The Salt Lake City Tribune said he had been stripped of the franchise “for nonpayment of salaries.”  He later did  some scouting for the Federal League’s St. Louis Terriers.  While assessing current players, Joyce came to the conclusion shared by many of his 19th Century brethren. He told The St. Louis Globe-Democrat:

Bill Joyce, 1911

Bill Joyce, 1911

“Baseball today is not what it should be.  The players do not try to learn the fine points of the game as in the days of old, but simply try to get by.  They content themselves if they get a couple of hits every afternoon and pay an errorless game.  The first thing they do each morning is to get the papers and look at the hit and error columns.”

It was, of course, nothing like it was during his career—when the game was more scientific:

“When I was playing ball there was not a move made on the field that did not cause everyone on the opposing team to mention something about it.  All were trying to figure why it had been done and to watch and see what the result would be.  That move could never be pulled again without everyone on our bench knowing just what was going to happen.

“I feel sure that the same conditions do not prevail today.  The boys go out to the plate, take a slam at the ball, pray that they’ll get a hit and just et it go at that.  They are not fighting as in the days of old.”

And the way they behaved after a loss:

“Who ever heard of a gang of ballplayers, after losing a game, going into the clubhouse and singing at the top of their voices?  That’s what happens every day after the game at the present time.  Immediately after the last man is out the players make a dash for the clubhouse, the ‘quartet’ hits up a song and the whole squad joins in.

“In my days, the players went into the clubhouse after a losing game with murder in their hearts.  They would have thrown any guy out on his neck if they even suspected him of intentions of singing.  In my days the man who was responsible for having lost a game was told in a man’s way by a lot of men what a rotten ballplayer he really was.  Generally, he was told to go back to carrying the hod or to the police force.  It makes me weep to think of the men of the old days who played the game and the boys of today.  It is positively a shame and they are getting big money for it, too.”

Charles Barngrover

27 Oct

Charles Andrew Barngrover pitched in just a handful of minor league games, but his career as an itinerant professional baseball player in the first decade of the 20th Century provides a window into the world of the hundreds of young men who traveled the country earning a living on the fringes of the game.

He was born on January 1, 1883 in Ellinwood, Kansas, and started his career with a team in Great Bend in 1902; the league was comprised of most of the Central Kansas cities that would make up the Kansas State League when it was formed in 1905.

In 1903 he joined a team in Larned, Kansas and was involved in an incident that that made headlines across the state.

The Topeka Daily Capital said Barngrover and his teammates “fought their way from the hotel to the Hutchinson & Southern depot in Kingman last night after a disagreement concerning a 17-inning ballgame.”  When the fleeing ballplayers reached Hutchinson, Barngrover described the chaos to a reporter from The Hutchinson News:

“The Kingman boys have a good club and they managed to put it on us by a score of 3 to 0 in Monday’s game.  We had a series of three games in sight and were to receive $25 a game.  The game yesterday (Tuesday) was a hard one and there was a tie at the end of the ninth inning.  The tie lasted until the seventeenth inning.”

In the seventeenth, the umpire, a Larned player, called a close play at the plate in favor of his team, which gave the visitors a 7 to 6 victory.

“When the decision was made (a $60 side bet) was turned over to us and five of us started for town.  The Kingman club and the citizens generally went after the other Larned) boys (about the call) saying it would have to be changed of the $25 a game would not be forthcoming. “

According to Barngrover the umpire was forced to reverse his decision, and the four remaining Larned players told to take the field.  Kingman quickly scored a run and claimed victory.

“A short time after this the crowd came into town.  The Kingman boys found that we had the side bet money and they came to the hotel and demanded it.  We refused to turn loose and the fight started…There were about forty Kingman boys in the mob and they said they were going to get us.  Baseball bats and everything else in sight were used and we fought all the way from the hotel to the depot and stood them off until the train came in…As we got on the train we heard someone say that there were several broken heads in the crowd…We were lucky to get out alive, as the Kingman people are the worst we ever went up against.”

The following year, Barngrover’s hometown paper, The Ellinwood Leader reported that the pitcher “was lynched at Fort Worth, Texas a short time ago.  It is said that during a ball game he disputed a decision of the umpire and struck him over the head with a bat, killing him.  The crowd was so angered they avenged the murder by hanging him.”

The Hoisington (KN) Dispatch added:

“(Barngrover’s parents) are fairly well to do and highly respected…He pitched several games for Hoisington last spring but was not so popular among the ballplayers here on account of being accused of throwing a game.”

Several weeks later The Leader reported that the rumor was wrong; Barngrover’s parents had received word from him that he was in San Francisco, the paper gave no explanation for how the rumor arose, or whether or not Barngrover was involved in any such incident in Texas.

It’s unclear where Barngrover played after arriving in San Francisco in the spring of 1904, but he turned up two years later in Reno, Nevada.  The Nevada State Journal said the local agent for the Rainier Brewing Company had organized a team which “will defeat any Nevada team,” and signed Barngrover, who the paper said was “reputed to be the best amateur pitcher in California.

The stop in Nevada lasted just three months, and by June he was back in Kansas pitching for a team in his hometown and pitched for them on and off for the remainder of the 1906 season.  In August The Kansas City (KN) Globe said he had joined a barnstorming club called the National Bloomers:

“(He) is wearing bloomers and appearing as ‘Lady Rupert, one of the two World Renowned Lady Pitchers.’”

In 1907 he made his first appearance with a team recognized by the national agreement when he was signed by the Springfield Midgets in the Western AssociationThe Hutchinson News was not thrilled with his prospects:

“Hutchinson fans are wondering whether or not Barngrover can stick at Springfield.  He got off extremely lucky in three of his games but in the other four or five he has been radically wrong.”

Charles Barngrover

Charles Barngrover

After just 10 games, and a 4-6 record, he was released and returned to Kansas to play for a semi-pro team in Kinsley.  Barngrover then went from Kansas to Colorado to New Mexico and back to Kansas the next two years, playing with various semi-pro teams.

And, while he does not appear on any published rosters, Barngrover pitched in two games for the 1909 Western League Champion Des Moines Boosters in September; a 15-8 victory over the Topeka Jayhawks and he pitched the final two innings of an 11 to 4 loss to the Sioux City Packers.

He began the 1910 season, according to The Sporting Life, under the name “Smith” pitching the Quincy Vets of the Central Association to a 13-inning opening day victory over the Burlington Pathfinders—the game was later awarded to Burlington and after just one game, Barngrover was on the road again, to the Minnesota-Wisconsin League, where he was a combined 2-9 in eleven games with the La Crosse Outcats and the Rochester Roosters.

Barngrover, as "Smith" won his only game on the mound for the Quincy Vets

Barngrover, as “Smith” won his only game on the mound for the Quincy Vets

The wandering pitcher spent the next two seasons bouncing back and forth from the semi-pro fields of Kansas to La Crosse for a handful of games in 1911; then to Utah in 1912, where he spent a month with the Ogden Canners of the Union Association, and back to Kansas again.

He spent one more season pitching in Kansas before retiring.

Barngrover went to work for the Fort Worth & Denver Railway; it was as a result of his second career that he received the most media attention.

In the fall of 1921 he was indicted by a United States grand jury for theft of interstate shipments.  Barngrover cooperated with the government and, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram “was the government’s star witness in the prosecution of four men indicted with him.”  In all twenty-three men were indicted for stealing more than $100,000 in goods; the indicted men would hide in rail cars and throw “stolen goods along the tracks as the trains left Fort Worth, which were picked up by other members of the gang in motor cars.”

On March 10, 1922, Barngrover was preparing to testify at the trial of several more co-conspirators. While he had been fired from his job after the indictment, he was at the rail yard talking to former coworkers when he was shot and killed.  Two days after his murder, The Star-Telegram said:

“The body of C.A. Barngrover, ex-railroad man, self-confessed boxcar robber and Government witness, was placed in a modest grave in Greenwood Cemetery Saturday afternoon.

“And while the funeral services were said over his grave, police were endeavoring to solve the mystery surrounding the identity of the assassin who, concealed in a boxcar, shot Barngrover to death…Barngrover had 3 cents in his pockets when killed.”

A railroad employee was indicted for the murder, but there is no record of a conviction in the case.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #11

22 Sep

Floto on Baseball’s Most Powerful Men

Otto Clement Floto was one of the more colorful sportswriters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s.  The Denver Post’s Woody Paige said of the man who was once worked for that paper:

“In the early 1900s Floto was The Denver Post’s sports editor and a drunk, barely literate, loud-mouthed columnist–sounds like a description of that guy in my mirror–who didn’t believe in punctuation marks, wrote about fights he secretly promoted on the side, got into shouting matches with legendary Wild West gunman–turned Denver sportswriter–Bat Masterson.”

Otto Floto

Otto Floto

Floto, in 1910, provided readers of The Post with his unvarnished opinion of baseball’s most powerful figures:

John T. Brush—The smartest man in baseball, but vindictive.

Garry Herrmann—Smart, but no backbone; the last man to him has him.

Ban Johnson—Bluffs a great deal and makes it stick.  Likes to talk.

Charles Comiskey—Shrewd as can be.

Connie Mack—Shrewd and clever; knows the game better than anyone.

Charles Murphy—A hard fighter, but backs up at times.

George Tebeau—More nerve than any other man in baseball, very shrewd.

Barney Dreyfus—Smart, but always following, never leading.

As for John McGraw, Floto allowed that the Giants’ manager was “Pretty wise,” but attributed his success to the fact that he “has lots of money to work worth.”

Too Much Money for Players, 1884

The Cleveland Herald was not happy when pitcher Jim McCormick jumped his contract with the Cleveland Blues in the National League to the Union Association’s Cincinnati franchise.  Although teammates Jack Glasscock and Charles “Fatty” Briody also jumped to Cincinnati, the paper saved most their anger for the first big leaguer to have been born in Scotland.

Jim McCormick

Jim McCormick

The paper noted that McCormick, who was paid $2500 by the Blues, had received a $1,000 bonus to jump:

“(A) total of $3,500 for joining the Cincinnati Unions to play the remainder of the season.  This is equal to $1750 a month, which again divided makes $437.50 a week.  Now McCormick will not play oftener than three times a week which makes his wages $145.83 per day for working days.  The game will average about two hours each, so that he receives for his actual work no less than $72.91 an hour, or over $1.21 a minute for work done.  If he was not playing ball he would probably be tending bar in some saloon at $12 a week.”

McCormick was 21-3 with a 1.54 ERA in 24 games and helped pitch the “Outlaw Reds” to a second place finish in the struggling Union Association.  After the Association collapsed was assigned to the Providence Grays, then was sold to the Chicago White Stockings.  From July of 1885 through the 1886 season McCormick was teamed with his boyhood friend Mike “King” Kelly—the two grew up together in Paterson, New Jersey and were dubbed “the Jersey Battery” by the Chicago press—and posted a 51-15 record during the season and a half in Chicago, including a run of 16 straight wins in ‘86.

He ended his career with a 265-214 record and returned home to run his bar.  In 1912 John McGraw was quoted in The Sporting Life calling McCormick “the greatest pitcher of his day.”

The pitcher who The Herald said would otherwise be a $12 a week bartender also used some of the money he made jumping from Cleveland in 1884 the following year to purchase a tavern in Paterson.

Not Enough Money for Owners, 1885

In 1885 J. Edward “Ned” Allen was president of the defending National League Champions –and winners of baseball’s first World Series—the Providence Grays.  He told The New York Sun that baseball was no longer a profitable proposition:

“The time was when a man who put his money into a club was quite sure of coming out more or less ahead, but that is past.  When the National League had control of all the best players in the country a few years ago, and had no opposition, salaries were low, and a player who received $1,500 for his season’s work did well.  In 1881, when the American Association was organized in opposition to the league, the players’ salaries at once began to go up, as each side tried to outbid the other.  When the two organizations formed what is known as the National Agreement the clubs retained their players at the same salaries.

“Several other associations were then organized in different parts of the country and were admitted under the protection of the National Agreement.   This served to make good ball-players, especially pitchers, scarce, and forced salaries up still higher, until at the present time a first-class pitcher will not look at a manager for less than $3,500 for a season.  (“Old Hoss”) Radbourn of last year’s Providence Club received the largest amount of money that has ever been paid to a ball-player.  His wonderful pitching, which won the championship for the club, cost about $5,000 (Baseball Reference says Radbourn earned between $2,800 and $3,000 in 1884), as did the work of two pitchers and received the pay of two.

The Providence Grays--Champions and unprofitable

The Providence Grays–Champions and unprofitable

“Some of the salaries which base-ball players will get next season are; (Jim) O’Rourke, (Joe) Gerhardt, (Buck) Ewing and (John Montgomery) Ward of the New York Club, $3,000 each.  (Tony) Mullane was to have played for the Cincinnati Club for $4,000 (Mullane was suspended for signing with Cincinnati after first agreeing to a contract with the St. Louis Browns).  (Fred) Dunlap has a contract with the new League club in St. Louis for $3,400.  These are only a few of the higher prices paid, while the number of men who get from $2,000 to $3,000 is large.  At these prices a club with a team costing only from $15,000 to $20,000 is lucky, but it has not much chance of winning a championship.  To this expense must be added the ground rent, the salaries of gate-keepers, and the traveling expenses, which will be as much more.

“As a high-priced club the New York Gothams leads, while the (New York) Metropolitans are nearly as expensive.  The income of these two clubs last year was nearly $130,000, yet the Metropolitans lost money and the New York Club (Gothams) was only a little ahead.  The first year the Metropolitans were in the field(1883) their salary list was light, as were their traveling expenses, and at the end of the season they were $50,000 ahead.”

The Grays disbanded after the 1885 season.

Happy Labor Day—the Oberbeck Case

1 Sep

Henry Oberbeck is barely a footnote in baseball history—he appeared in 66 American Association and Union Association games in 1883 and 1884, hitting just .176—but he scored a rare, early victory for the rights of players.

Henry Oberbeck

Henry Oberbeck

 

In 1883, after appearing in just two games with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, Oberbeck was released and signed with the Peoria Reds in the Northwestern League.

No records survive for Oberbeck’s time in Peoria, but the outfielder caught the eye of St. Louis Browns owner Chris von der Ahe, and the St. Louis native jumped his contract with Peoria to sign with the Browns on May 24.

Chris von der Ahe

Chris von der Ahe

Oberbeck’s short tenure with St. Louis was unimpressive.  He played four games and was hitless in 14 at-bats.  The Browns released him on June 23.

He found himself out of a job in the American Association and was unable to return to Peoria because he had been blackballed by the Northwestern League.

Oberbeck filed a lawsuit in St. Louis claiming the Browns owed him the entire amount of his contract –$785.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the “case is regarded as a test,” and is “being fought very earnestly.”

The March 1884 trial included testimony from  Overbeck’s teammates, catcher/outfielder Tom Dolan and pitcher George “Jumbo” McGinnis.  Dolan, a .204 lifetime hitter whose .214 average lowest among the Browns 1883 regulars testified that Oberbeck was a poor hitter who “hit wind nearly every time.”  McGinnis also said Overbeck deserved to be released.

Despite the testimony of his teammates, the jury found in favor of Oberbeck and ordered the Browns to pay him $431.12—although most newspapers incorrectly reported the amount paid as $738.

The press assumed the decision would have a lasting impact.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“The case is one of interest to base ball players, inasmuch as it proves that the contracts are binding upon the part of the club as well as the player.”

Oberbeck was signed by the Baltimore Monuments of the Union Association for 1884, and played a total of 60 games for Baltimore and the Kansas City Cowboys that season—he hit .186 as an outfielder/first baseman and was 0-5 in six appearances as a pitcher.

The Browns appealed the case and lost, but by the time the appellate court upheld the original decision in Henry Oberbeck v. Sportsman’s Park and Club Association in April of 1885, Oberbeck’s victory for the rights of baseball players was already largely forgotten.

In 1885, The Post-Dispatch said Oberbeck had been reinstated by the Northwestern League, although there is no record of his ever having returned to the league.   The Youngstown Vindicator said he had signed with that city’s team in the Interstate league for 1885 season.

No statistics survive for Oberbeck after 1884, and his groundbreaking role in baseball’s labor movement is all but forgotten.

He returned to St. Louis after his career and worked for the post office until his death from cancer in 1921.

“Sweeney was Drunk, but I didn’t Know it”

22 Aug

In 1884 Frank Bancroft’s Providence Grays won the National League pennant and defeated the American Association’s New York Metropolitans in the World Series—the first post-season exhibition to be called the World Series.  Late in 1896 he told a reporter for The Boston Post his version of the story of the turning point in that season:

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

 

“We were leading the championship race (the Grays were in 2nd place at the time of the game in question).  Both (Charles) Sweeney and (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourne were pitching in grand style.  In those days you couldn’t take a player out of the game and put another one in his place unless he was sick.  I wanted to save my pitchers all I could.  One day we were playing the Bostons (Bancroft was incorrect; the game was against the Philadelphia Quakers on July 22).  I had (Joseph) Cyclone Miller in right field and Sweeney in the box.  I told Joe Start, who was captain of the team that if we got far enough ahead in the game to take Sweeney out of the box and bring in Miller.  I did this to save Sweeney’s arm.  In the sixth inning we had a lead of 7 to 2 (the score was 6 to 2).  I told Start to make the change.  He asked Sweeney to go out in the field.  Sweeney was drunk, but I didn’t know it.  Start’s request made Sweeney mad.  He didn’t take it in the way it was meant.  He walked off the field.  I went after him, but couldn’t get him to come back.

“He called me a vile name.  The president of the club (J. Edward “Ned” Allen) went to him and asked him what he meant, and he called him everything vile on the calendar.  Sweeney was very drunk.  We had to finish the game with eight men, and the Bostons [sic] beat us out (Providence lost 10 to 6).  The directors of the club had a meeting that night, expelled Sweeney and came within an ace of breaking up.  In fact, they did vote to disband.”

Charlie Sweeney

Charlie Sweeney

With Sweeney gone, the team was left without their two top pitchers.  Bancroft had suspended Radbourn earlier in the month, and he was still sitting out at the time—Radbourne was unhappy sharing the pitching duties and was rumored to be heading to the St. Louis Maroons in the Union Association–The Providence Evening Press in describing Sweeney’s July 22 outburst said he had “caught Radbourn’s complaint.”

Picking up the story in The Post, Bancroft said:

“They said there was no use of going on with one pitcher.  I said to President Allen: ‘If you will give me authority to tell Radbourne that you will not reserve him at the end of the season, I can get him to pitch all the rest of the games this year.’  ‘All right,’ said Allen, ‘you have that authority.’  I found old Rad at his boarding house.  I told him about the proposition.  ‘It’s a go,’ said Rad.  ‘I’ll get rid of reservation if I lose my arm.  I’ll pitch all the other championship games this season.”

Radbourn did not pitch “all the other” games that season but did pitch 75—with 73 complete games, 678 2/3 innings.  Bancroft said of his pitcher:

“It was the greatest feat of endurance I ever witnessed.  Rad was in awful shape before it was all over…Why, (his arm) hurt him so bad when he would get up in the morning that he couldn’t get it up high enough to fasten his collar button.  He had to comb his hair with his left hand.  It used to make me shudder to look at him, but he was gritty.  He would go out in the afternoon before the game, and instead of loosening up by easy pitching, as pitchers do nowadays, he would go in the field and throw the ball just as far as he could.  He would throw for ten or fifteen minutes, until he got wound up, and then he would go in to pitch a winning game.”

"Old Hoss" Radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

Bancroft said the pitcher “could split the plate any time he wanted to,” and that during “morning practice, to show what he could do, Radbourn would set a pop bottle on the home plate and knock it down three out of four times.”

The release of Sweeney had an immediate positive effect on the Grays.  On the day of the incident, The Evening Press said: “The pennant is no doubt out of the reach of Providence this year.”

The following day, after Radbourn pitched the team to an 11 to 5 over the New York Gothams, the paper’s outlook brightened:

“The summary expulsion of Sweeney for crookedness seemed to have a salutary effect, on Wednesday, for the purging of the club of such a bad egg resulted in a better class of patrons on the grand stand than for many weeks.  The attendance throughout was better than the management had looked for after the airing of Sweeney’s revolt, about 700 being present. “(There were just 450 in the stands the day before for “Sweeney’s revolt”)

Sweeney had not yet left for St. Louis and the paper took the opportunity to take one final shot at the pitcher:

“Sweeney is still about town, and wherever he goes the women whom he escorted to the ball game on Tuesday are seen with him.  The conduct of this fellow is shameful, and he will regret it when he fully wakes up to its enormity.”

The twenty-one-year-old Sweeney pitched the Maroons to the Union Association championship with a 24-7 record and 1.83 ERA.  Whether his arm couldn’t handle the strain, or as a result of his off-field habits, he would only win 16 more games (losing 30), and was out of the major leagues at age 24.

He returned to his home in California and played for teams in the California, Central California Leagues, after his retirement he worked for a short time as a police officer and later worked in saloons around San Francisco.

By the time Bancroft shared his reminiscences of 1884 with The Post, Sweeney was incarcerated in California, and Radbourne was dying in Illinois.

In July of 1894, Sweeney shot a man named Cornelius McManus during an altercation in a bar.  The San Francisco Chronicle said when he was informed the following day that the victim was dead “he broke down and wept bitterly.”  Sweeney was convicted of manslaughter four months later and sentenced to eight years.

The Chronicle said he was released after serving “a little over three years of his sentence,” after which “his health broke down.”  Sweeney died of Tuberculosis in 1902—most sources say he died on April 4—The Call and The Chronicle both said he died on April 3.

Radbourn pitched 1311 innings in 1883 and ’84, and started and won all three games in the 1884 World Series.  Bancroft said that after the Grays won the championship:

“President Allen kept his word, and gave him his release; but Rad didn’t take it.  The club offered him just twice as much salary for the next year.”

Radbourn pitched seven more seasons and finished his career with a 309-194 record.  After being accidentally shot in a hunting accident, and suffering from a variety of ailments, he died in February of 1897.

Bancroft remained in baseball until January of 1921 when he retired a business manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He died two months later at age 74.

“There is a Constant fear that Someday the Men will Decline to go on the field.”

31 Mar

The St. Louis Maroons were a big league franchise for just three seasons.  After winning the inaugural (and only) Union Association championship in 1884, the team was absorbed into the National League and was a dismal 36-72 in 1885, and 43-79 in 1886.

The club disbanded after the ’86 season and throughout the winter there was speculation about whether the franchise would end up in Kansas City (where local businessmen were looking to replace the Cowboys, who also went broke after the ’86 season) and Indianapolis.

The deal was finalized on March 8 when the franchise and nine players were sold to Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis News announced on the front page:

The Base Ball Deal

It Is Finally Completed

The story said:

“There is general rejoicing about the city over the certainty of having a league baseball club here.”

The team would be called the Hoosiers, and play at the Seventh Street Grounds, a ballpark owned by local businessman John Tomlinson Brush.

John T. Brush

John T. Brush

Brush was the driving financial force behind the deal and had been involved in local baseball in Indianapolis for several years, first having financed and organized a local amateur league in the city in order to promote his business—the When Store, and later the When Clothing Company—he was also an investor in the short-lived 1884 incarnation of the Hoosiers who struggled through one twelfth-place (29-78) season in the American Association.

The Hoosiers first year was unsuccessful and chaotic.

The first manager was George Walter “Watch” Burnham, who had been a National League umpire for 41 games in 1883 and one in 1886.  His role in the effort to acquire the franchise, his selection as manager, and the manner in which he acquired his nickname, gave some pause about the seriousness of the Indianapolis operation.

"Watch" Burnham

“Watch” Burnham

The Chicago Tribune said:

“The promoter of the Indianapolis movement is George W. Burnham, known as “Watch” Burnham.  At Cleveland, in 1883, while acting as a league umpire, he endeavored to establish himself in the public esteem by buying a watch, having ‘Presented to George W. Burnham by his friend and admirers’ inscribed on it, then having it sent out to him on the field during the progress of the game.  It is not surprising that some of the league people are suspicious of the Hoosier effort.”

Brush was not the team’s original president, that duty fell to a local attorney named Louis Newberger who spent his entire two-month tenure in the position complaining that he had no time to run the team; Brush took over as president in late May.

The Hoosiers limped to a 6-22 start—no doubt aided by 22 straight road games from May 5 through May 30.  Burnham resigned once, just five games into the season, but returned a few days later.  By mid May, as the team struggled through their endless road trip, The Chicago Tribune said a mutiny was expected:

“The dissatisfaction on the part of the players with Burnham, the manager, amounts almost to insubordination and there is a constant fear that someday the men will decline to go on the field.”

The Tribune said Burnham had fined “the entire team,” and Captain Jack Glasscock “said he would be black-listed before he would play again under the management of Burnham, but was finally prevailed upon to do so.”

Jack Glasscock

Jack Glasscock

Upon the team’s return to Indianapolis Burnham was replaced with team secretary Fred Thomas.  Thomas, like Burnham, had no professional experience as a player or manager, and his tenure was not much more successful.  The club lost 18 of 29 games with him at the helm.

The team’s third manager also had no previous professional experience.  Horace Fogel was a sportswriter for The Philadelphia Press when he was tapped to be the third manager.  The Indianapolis News said hopefully:

“Mr. Horace Fogel, the new manager, is a good-looking young man, and makes a favorable impression on a stranger.  He is evidently very anxious to make the club a winner.”

The same July day The News opined on Fogel the paper also noted that maintenance of the ballpark had also angered some fans:

“Very unwisely the management had the chairs in the gallery varnished recently and yesterday several ladies had their dresses ruined.”

Things were no better under Fogel.  The Hoosiers went 20-49 under their third manager, and finished their inaugural season in eighth place with a 37-89 record.

The News said:

“Staring out under unfavorable circumstances…with inefficient management throughout the season, and many more defeats than victories, the club nevertheless, was accorded a generous support.”

The 1888 season became a matter of civic pride for the team’s ownership, local businesses and the newspaper.

In January it was announced that the Hoosiers would have a manager with at least some experience.  Harrison “Harry” Spence had played and managed in, among others, the Eastern, Northwestern and New England Leagues.  The News said of the new manager:

“A number of ball players of various clubs, who know Harry Spence…speak very highly of him.  Sam Thompson says he is a thorough gentleman, well liked by the players, and a fine manager.”

The News said the success of the Hoosiers was necessary for the future Indianapolis:

“Business and professional men are all interested in it, for, aside from the pleasure they derive from witnessing the games, they recognize the fact that the club is of great benefit in advertising the enterprise and prosperity of the city.”

The paper organized a campaign called “Boom for Baseball.”  Sixty-eight local businessmen “representing the leading establishments in the city,” donated their advertising space back to the newspaper “for the purpose of setting forth the advantages that will accrue to the city, from the maintenance of a National League Baseball Club here.”

Brush told the paper:

“We want at least five hundred subscribers for season tickets, and with this as a guarantee, we can get the money we want.  If any such player as (Fred) Pfeffer or (Larry) Twitchell can be bought we can and will buy him, and we can get the club in first-class shape for opening the season.”

Season tickets were sold for $25 each, and Brush said “We will have a grandstand that will be a beauty, with all the latest improvements, so that there will not be one uncomfortable seat in it.  Then we will have a space set aside for carriages and a special department for ladies and their escorts.”

88indy4 88indy2

Some of the advertisements from Indianapolis' "Baseball Boom"  campaign

Some of the advertisements from The Indianapolis’ News’ “Baseball Boom” campaign

Most importantly, Brush assured the people of Indianapolis that they “would have a ballclub here that nobody would be ashamed of.”

He was wrong.

While not as bad as 1887, the Hoosiers got off to a 2-11 start, and struggled to a 50-85 seventh place finish, 36 games behind the champion New York Giants.

By 1889 Indianapolis had all but given up.  The team nearly went under before the season started.  In January a headline in The News said:

The Ball Club Gone

With debts of more than $5,000, the paper said Brush would “surrender the franchise” to the league.  Brush was able to raise enough capital to keep the club operating for one more sub .500 season (59-75), and another seventh place finish.  The only highlights for Indianapolis in 1889 was the arrival of 18-year-old Indiana native Amos Rusie, who posted a 12-10 record, and Jack Glasscock who hit .352, for the Hoosiers.

The team was dropped after the 1889 season, but not because of money.  The National League bought out Brush’s Hoosiers and the Washington Nationals.  Brush received a reported $67,000 for the team, he also received stock in the New York Giants as payment for former Hoosier players.  One year earlier when The News reported that Brush was on the verge of losing the team, the paper claimed “the franchise is now worth $15,500 cash.”  While that figure might have been low there was no doubt that Brush did well on the deal.  A year later he was president and majority stock holder of the Cincinnati Reds.

Indianapolis would only be a major league city one more time; in 1914 the Hoosiers were champions of the Federal League, but were relocated the following season, becoming the Newark Peppers.

Frank Harris

3 Mar

Frank Walter Harris spent  just one season in the big leagues–1884 with the Altoona Mountain Citys in the Union Association.  The 25-year-old had played with teams in the Pittsburgh area for nearly a decade before his 24 games in Altoona—playing outfield and first base he hit.263 in 95 at bats.  The team folded after just 25 games with a 6-19 record, which included losing their first 11.

After the club folded Harris became a baseball nomad; over seven seasons he played for at least ten different clubs, mostly in the Midwest; he was primarily a third baseman during his minor league career.

Frank Harris

Frank Harris

After his final professional season with the Rockford Hustlers and Davenport Pilgrims in the Illinois-Iowa League in 1891, he settled in Freeport, Illinois and opened a bar called “The Fashion” on Stephenson Street.   He also continued to play baseball with a local team.

In July of 1892, he married a woman named Mary Jesse Allison from the nearby town of Rock Falls.  The Sterling Gazette said the bride came from “one of the best known and highly respected families” in the area.  Harris, who appears to have been married one time before, was divorced in less than a year, and married again within 16 months.  The Freeport Bulletin said:

“Frank W. Harris is one of the best known men about time.  He is generally doing something or other to attract public attention.  If it isn’t a divorce it’s a marriage, and if he isn’t bossing a game of baseball, he is likely to be incurring the enmity of the committee of one hundred (the Freeport citizen’s committee).  He has the cutest curl to his mustache of any man in the city, and his hair is always combed down over his forehead in a pretty little bang.  His raiment is so dazzling that when he appears in public with a bull dog at his heels on a dismal autumn day the street is brightened up as if the summer sun had suddenly burst forth from behind a cloud.  It would not be safe to hazard how many pairs of trousers he has, but they would supply a good-sized clothing store and are of the most varied color and pattern imaginable.”

His new wife’s father, John Billerbeck was described by the paper as “one of the wealthiest men in Freeport.”

Harris was a well-liked figure in Freeport.  The Decatur Daily Review said he was awarded “a gold-headed cane at a fair as the most popular man” in town in 1894.

All that changed on May 19, 1895.  He was in a horse-drawn carriage with his friend William Stoops—Stoops also worked as a bartender in Harris’ tavern—when they passed a local man named Charles Bengel (sometimes spelled Bengle or Bengal) standing at the corner of Van Buren and Galena Streets.  Harris gave the reins over to Stoops and walked over to Bengel with a pistol in his hand.  The Bulletin said:

“Frank W. Harris, a saloon-keeper, shot Charles Bengel, inflicting fatal wounds.  The two men had trouble over a woman…Harris approached Bengle [sic]and pulled the trigger, but the load failed to discharge, and it was only then that Bengel realized his life was in peril.  Again Harris snapped the trigger with telling effect, the bullet plowing its way through Bengel’s heart.”

Most news accounts said Harris fired a total of three shots.  After the shooting, he got back on the carriage and drove directly to the Stephenson County jail where he surrendered to the sheriff.

Bengel died that evening.  Harris was indicted for his murder.

Within weeks, local newspapers reported that Harris was in poor shape.  The Freeport Democrat said:

“(Harris) may never be called to stand trial…He has failed rapidly…His mind has undoubtedly given way under the strain upon it…it is not improbable that the unfortunate Frank Harris may close his days in an asylum.”

When he was brought to trial on September 30, 1895, Harris entered a plea of insanity.  His three-attorney defense team was paid for by his father in law.

The trial lasted nearly two weeks.

The prosecution’s star witness was Harris’ friend and employee William Stoops.   Stoops claimed Harris was completely sane at the time of the murder, and sent him a letter while awaiting trial promising retaliation if Stoops testified against him.

The defense painted a picture of a disturbed man.  The Freeport Journal said they introduced “testimony to show that Harris has never been quite right, talked foolishly and could not carry on a conversation on any one topic for a minute.”  The defense also claimed that Harris’ family “for several generations back have been insane.”

It appeared to be going well for the defense.

The editor of The Stockton Herald visited Harris in jail and said:

“Harris appears in the best of spirits.  He was neatly dressed and smooth shaven and sported a daintily curved black mustache and appeared to relish a cigar which he was smoking at the time.  Though he must realize that his liberty is gone and his life is in the balance, he shows no sign of the terrible suspense and looked bright and happy…He would not talk for publication.”

Then the tide turned

The Freeport Journal said it happened when the defense decided to put Harris on the stand in order to introduce a threatening letter Bengel had written to him before the shooting.  The Sterling Standard said Harris “remembered everything very distinctly except the killing,” and was coherent throughout his testimony:

“The impression at Freeport is that the defense has made a mistake.”

The jury, made up of twelve local farmers, took only a few hours to find Harris guilty and sentenced him to be hanged.  When the verdict was read Harris fainted.  The Sterling Standard said, “A cot was brought in, he was placed upon it, and several strong deputies carried him to the jail, a startling contrast to the gay and jaunty Frank Harris of six months before.”

On October 30 a motion for a new trial was rejected and the execution was set for November 29.  The Standard said, “(Harris) sobbed like a child and declared that he was innocent.”  He also said “he was led up to the crime” by Stoops.

The date for Harris’ execution was the same as that for another former professional baseball player sentenced to die in Illinois.  Charles N. “Pacer” Smith killed his daughter and sister-in-law and attempted to kill his estranged wife on September 28.  Smith entered a guilty plea on October 7 and was also sentenced to hang.

Pacer Smith

Pacer Smith

 

The rest of the story on Wednesday

Em Gross

5 Feb

Emil Michael “Em” Gross was one of the best hitting (.295) and worst fielding (233 errors) catchers of the 19th Century during five major league seasons between 1879 and 1884.  The Chicago Tribune’s Hugh Fullerton, no stranger to hyperbole, called Gross “perhaps the heaviest hitting catcher that ever donned a glove.”

Em Gross

Em Gross

Gross, a Chicago native, didn’t need baseball in order to earn a living.  In 1884, when he played with his hometown team, the Browns,  in the Union Association (the team relocated to Pittsburgh in August), The Chicago Daily News said he “owns $50,000 worth of real estate in Chicago.”

Gross’ professional career came to an end after the 1884 season, but he played one more year for a Chicago semi-pro team called the Heavyweights.  The Tribune said of the team:

“While they do not count a man who weighs less than 200 pounds, they have some great baseball talent.”

Fullerton is responsible for the story that was most often told about Gross’ career in the years before his death in 1921.

Like many of Fullerton’s stories, the first telling appeared more than a decade after the fact and contained vague details,  little corroboration and was likely apocryphal.

This one made its first appearance in a Fullerton column in 1907.  He said Gross’ biggest weakness “was in catching foul flies.  He tried for everything in sight, ran circles around the ball and sometimes speared it, but he never felt at ease when one of those tall, twisting fouls went up.”

The columnist claimed the story was “vouched for by two old ballplayers who watched it come off:”

“(Gross) was catching in Providence one day when a Philadelphia batter poked up a fly that looked 50 feet high.  There was a wind blowing and the ball began to twist around in circles, with Em doing a merry-go-rounder under it.  Finally, seeing that it was escaping he made a desperate effort to turn quickly and fell flat on his back.  To his amazement he discovered that, for perhaps the first time in his career, he was under the ball which was descending like a shot straight toward his nose.

“Instinctively he threw up his feet and hands to protect his face.  The ball struck the sole of his shoe, bounded up into the air, and, as it fell again, Em reached out and caught it.

“And the next morning the Providence papers had the nerve to say he did it on purpose.”

A cartoon which appeared with the 1914 retelling of the Gross story

A cartoon which appeared with the 1914 retelling of the Gross story

Fullerton continued to retell the story, with minor alterations, after he left The Tribune to join The Chicago Record-Herald, then The Chicago Examiner and The Tribune repeated the story several times over the years, with no byline, as well.

Gross was an important man in Chicago during the years Fullerton’s story circulated.  He owned several properties in the city, including two hotels, and his nephew, Fred A. Busse, was mayor of Chicago from 1907-1911.

Mayor Fred Busse

Mayor Fred Busse

Gross was known to help former baseball players in need; The Examiner called him “a refuge in time of trouble for all the old timers.”  When it was reported in 1907 that Joe Quest, a former National League, and American Association infielder, was “near death” from  tuberculosis in Georgia, he was living on, and managing a plantation owned by Gross—Quest survived and lived until 1924.

Joe Quest

Joe Quest

Gross told a story to Fullerton, then at The Examiner, about his attempt to help another player, William Henry “Bollicky Bill” Taylor during the 1890s.

“Taylor made an entre into Chicago without cash or credit and immediately swarmed upon Em and renewed old friendships. That was in November and along about midnight Em made the discovery that his friend had no money nor any place to sleep.  So he wrote a note to the manager of his hotels saying, ‘Take care of my friend Mr. Taylor, and give him what he needs.’  Em didn’t see ‘Bollicky’ again, but early in March his manager called him in the phone and inquired; ‘Say, how long do you want me to take care of your friend?’

“’What friend ‘inquired Em, who had forgotten all about it.

“Why the fellow you sent here with a note.’

“’Bollicky’ had wintered there and kept out of the path of his host, and when Em got through laughing, he ‘phoned back:

“Keep him as long as he has the nerve to stay.”

Gross never confirmed whether or not he made the catch Fullerton claimed he did.  He died in Eagle River, Wisconsin in 1921.

The First Triple Play in the West

12 Sep

On April 4 of 1880, the California League San Franciscos and Athletics met at the Recreation Grounds (the park was located at 25th and Folsom).

San Francisco's Recreation Grounds

San Francisco’s Recreation Grounds

Two newspapers in town treated the key play of the game very differently.

The San Francisco Bulletin’s coverage of the game was headlined:

Extraordinary Base-Ball Play

The San Francisco Chronicle headline:

An Uninteresting Game with a Score of 4 to 1—Very Poor Playing on the Part of the San Franciscos

In the eighth inning, the San Franciscos’ Al Mast was on second and Andy Piercy was on first.  George “Live Oak” Taylor was at the plate.

Hall of Famer James “Pud” Galvin was pitching for the Athletics; Galvin, in a contract dispute with the  Buffalo Bisons, played several months in California before jumping the Athletics to return to Buffalo in May.

Pud Galvin

Pud Galvin

The second baseman was Jim McDonald, a 19-year-old San Francisco native.

The Bulletin’s first paragraph referred to “The feature of the game” and said:

“(Taylor) struck a powerful ‘liner’ to second base, which was neatly captured by McDonald, and placing his foot on second forced Mast out, and then threw the ball to first in time to cut Piercy off.  The play was vociferously applauded.  There is but one other instance in the history of the national game where this play has been made.”

(The article was referring to Providence Grays center fielder Paul Hines’ disputed unassisted triple play, turned two years earlier versus the Boston Red Caps)

The Chronicle, while mentioning McDonald’s play was less impressed, mentioning the play deep into its much longer recap of the game.  The paper noted that McDonald made three errors earlier, and “in a measure he redeemed himself by an effective pay in the eighth inning,” the paper described the play and noted that McDonald “was deservedly applauded for it.”

Despite the triple play The Chronicle questioned the wisdom of McDonald being in the lineup:

“(McDonald) is a player of some promise, but the policy of putting him in the important position he fills is a questionable one.  In his practice games his playing in brilliant, but in a match contest he appears to lack the necessary confidence, and in baseball vernacular he falls all to pieces.”

Jim McDonald

Jim McDonald

McDonald played primarily on the West Coast, but had a brief career in the East, spending time in all three major leagues in 1884 and 1885.  He played two games for the Washington Nationals in the Union Association, 38 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in the American Association and five with the Buffalo Bisons in the National League.

After his playing career ended in 1894, McDonald was an umpire in the National League and California League, and a West Coast boxing referee; he officiated many fights including Jim Jeffries 1898 victory over Peter Jackson and Abe Attell’s 1903 20 round draw with Eddie Hanlon.

His active career came to an end in 1904 when he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis; he died in 1914 in San Francisco.