Tag Archives: Vancouver Beavers

“If I ever get this Football Junk out of my Head”

23 May

George Henry Capron had a brief and relatively undistinguished professional baseball career.  He said football was what held him back.

Capron first made a name for himself at the University of Minnesota in 1906.  He excelled at football, track and field and baseball, The Minneapolis Tribune called him “a ten-second track man, a weight thrower, and a splendid ballplayer.”

The Golden Gophers football team was 2-2-1 that season; Capron, the starting halfback and drop kicker scored 44 of the team’s 55 points.  He accounted for all 12 of his team’s points (three four-point field goals) in a loss to Amos Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago team.  The Tribune said Capron “Figured in two-thirds of the offensive plays” for Minnesota.

Capron

George Capron

The Chicago Daily News said of Capron:

“(He) is an athlete of exceptional muscular development, although not above the normal size (the 5’ 10” 185 lbs).  he can punt from 50 to 60 yards with little effort with either foot.  The ball after leaving his toe acquires a most peculiar spiral motion, which makes it exceedingly hard to hold…In the work of scoring fielding goals, which appears to be Capron’s specialty, he is unquestionably a star.”

Capron kicking

Capron kicking

Early in 1908, there were rumors that Capron would leave Minnesota at the end of the baseball season and transfer to an Eastern school.  The New York Times said West Point football coach Bob Forbes was attempting to get Capron to accept an appointment, The New York Sun said he was headed to Dartmouth.

Capron chose instead to stay at Minnesota and was unanimously elected captain of the football team on September 14—although later the university would claim he wasn’t elected, but simply called local newspapers claiming an election had been held.  Two days after the “election,’ a scandal caused him to quit the team.

A story in The Chicago Tribune charged that Capron had played professional baseball for the Meridian Ribboners in the Cotton States League during the summer under the name “George Robb,” other reports said he played under the name “George Rapp.”  (The Sporting Life identified him as “Rapp” and “Robb” at various times in 1908).

The story also claimed that he met with “Captain Adrian C. Anson.  The later inquired of Capron’s ability as a ballplayer among local college men.”  Capron, the paper said, wanted to join the semi-pro Anson’s Colts.

Anson told paper:

“I didn’t sign Capron because he didn’t put on a suit and come out…I don’t remember that he said he played professional ball before.  I don’t care, anyhow.  There is no such thing any longer as a strictly amateur college team…They want their real names withheld.  I don’t care, I tell them.  (As long as) they can hit the ball on the snoot and can field decently.”

Sunday's "idol" "Cap" Anson

Sunday’s “idol” “Cap” Anson

Capron denied the charges.   He claimed he had never played professionally and “had never in his life” met Anson.  His denials were quickly dismissed, as his identity was something of an open secret in the South—his election as Minnesota’s captain was reported by several papers, including The Atlanta Constitution, The Atlanta Journal, and The (Nashville) Tennessean –each mentioned his election and that “he played (with Meridian) under the name of Robb,” and that his contract had been purchased by the Mobile Seagulls in the Southern Association.

Faced with overwhelming evidence, he admitted he had played professionally, but continued to deny that he had met with Anson.  It was also reported that Capron had been drafted by the New York Giants, The Minneapolis Tribune said:

(John) McGraw drafted Capron on the recommendations of one of the New York club scouts…but if McGraw was informed as to the real identity of the brilliant young diamond performer he has carefully kept the facts under his bonnet.”

He left school for good in September, and The Sporting Life reported he was “captaining a professional football team in Minneapolis” that fall.   He also admitted, in a letter to the National Commission that he had played professionally under the assumed names “Kipp” and “Katt” for the Mattoon Giants in the Eastern Illinois League in 1907 and in the Northern League with the Crookston Crooks 1905.

In the spring of 1909, The New York World said:

“Capron, the former diamond star of the University of Minnesota, has notified the management of the New York Nationals and of the Mobile Southern League team that he will not join either of them, but has decided to play outlaw ball.”

Capron signed with the Seattle Turks of the Northwest League and immediately went on a tear.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said he was hitting a league-leading .324 in his first 19 games.

He also found time to elope with the former Ednah Race, a Minneapolis resident.

At the end of the season, with his average down to .275, Capron told a reporter for The Post Intelligencer:

“’If I ever get this football junk out of my head, I’ll make good in baseball yet.’”

The problem he said, was taking out his frustration:

“’When I got mad when playing football I could charge the line or make a fierce tackle and let off steam,’ continued the greatest kicker Minnesota ever had, ‘but when I get mad playing baseball it is back to the bench for me with a fine plastered on me like as not.’

“’It doesn’t do a man a bit of good to get mad while playing baseball…that rough stuff does not go.”

The paper agreed:

“So many times during the season just closed, Capron was no good to himself or the team because he could not see anything but red and he wanted to fight someone or something.

“Capron had a world of natural ability.  He is far above the ordinary as a fielder and he is a dangerous man at the bat.”

Capron

Capron

Capron was sold to the Vancouver Beavers the following season, but was limited to 35 games as the result of a knee injury.  He hit just .207.

The following spring, the 25-year-old said he was finished.  He told The (Portland) Oregonian:

“No more baseball for me.  I am going to retire.”

The paper said “His teammates sniffed” and were sure he would return, but noted that “he is being sought by several clubs of the Northwest league this year and was tendered contracts by Seattle, Vancouver, and Tacoma, but has returned them unsigned.”  He said his new wife had encouraged the decision.

Capron left baseball and football for real estate.  He sat out the 1911 season.

In January of 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Barney Dreyfuss, president of the Pittsburgh Pirates sent a personal letter and contract to Capron:

“The contract is a ‘blank’ paper with the salary figure to be filled in by the recipient.

“Apparently, Dreyfuss was prompted in this move by some strong boosting out on the Pacific Coast, for in his letter he told George that information had reached him that a first-class ballplayer was going to waste.”

But despite the blank contract, Capron told The Oregonian:

“I guess (Dreyfuss) knows I can murder (right-handed pitching).  My wife says no, however, so it’s me for the bleachers.”

Capron also told the paper he expected his brother Ralph—a former Minnesota Quarterback– to make the major leagues soon—Ralph played one game that season with the Pirates and two the following year with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Following in his brother’s footsteps, Ralph abruptly quit baseball at age 25, before the 1915 season.  George told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review, his brother “expects soon to marry the daughter of a wealthy Minneapolis merchant, who is strongly opposed to a professional athlete for a son-in-law.”  Opposition from his father-in-law doesn’t appear to have stopped Ralph from dabbling in professional football.

Capron moved from the Pacific Northwest to Long Beach, and later Fresno, California, and found real estate to be more lucrative than either baseball or football.  In 1964, he was worth more than $30 million dollars, when, after 55 years of marriage, Ednah was awarded a $16 million dollar divorce settlement which The Associated Press said was “the largest ever.”

He died on October 26, 1972.

Cy Swain

8 Jun

Charles R. “Moose” “Cy” Swain was for a short time, one of the best-known players on the West Coast and his brief time as the West’s home run king is all but forgotten.

Born in Palo Alto, California, Swain made his professional debut with San Jose franchise in the California State League in 1904.  Years later, Mike Steffani, San Jose manager, told The San Jose Evening News that his “discovery” of Swain was an accident.

Steffani was in need of a shortstop, and Swain’s brother Ira, who played at Stanford University,  was recommended to him by pitcher Win Cutter.  Cy, who accompanied his brother to San Jose, played first while Steffani worked out Ira at short.  Steffani said he told Cutter:

“I think young Cy is the best player.  I like the way he handles the ground balls.  He acts like (Charles) Truck Eagan to me.”

Cy Swain was signed.  Ira was sent home.

Charles "Cy" Swain

Charles “Cy” Swain

Swain was called “a hard hitter,” who struck out often.  He also apparently enjoyed a drink.  After hitting a disappointing .239 for the Spokane Indians in The Northwestern League in 1907, Swain was traded to the Butte Miners.

In announcing the news, The Spokane Press said, “Charley isn’t exactly a temperance man.”   The paper said that when the Spokane owner sent him a contract with a temperance clause, Swain wired back, “Send me two of those; I may break one.”

Swain, who also struggled with weight issues, went from Butte to the Tacoma Tigers, then the Vancouver Beavers.

In July of 1910, he was leading the league with a .298 batting average when the Washington Senators offered $1800 for his contract.  The Vancouver Daily World said the offer was turned down.  The club’s owner/manager/shortstop Bob Brown told the paper:

“That pennant looks awfully good to me, and until I have it clinched I intend to hold the team intact.  There have been numerous other clubs after Charlie’s services, but they will all have to wait until the season is over.”

Swain slumped badly the rest of the year and finished with a .250 average (and a league-leading 11 home runs). The Beavers finished second, six and a half games behind the Spokane Indians.

Despite Swain’s sluggish finish and questions about his weight—The Seattle Star said he was “carrying 220 pounds”– Washington purchased his contract at the end of the season.  Just before he reported to the team in Atlanta in February of 1911, The Washington Herald said:

“There is a reason why this man Swain should not be overlooked when the time comes for the final selection of the Nationals.  It was Cliff Blankenship who was sent scouting for Walter Johnson five years ago and who signed him…and Blankenship is sponsor for Swain.”

Cliff Blankenship

Cliff Blankenship

Swain responded to a letter from William Peet, The Herald’s baseball writer, about his weight:

“I note what you say about certain of my friends on the Western papers claiming I have taken on so much weight that I am handicapped thereby.  Just write them a personal letter and bet them all you’ve got that I haven’t taken on more than five pounds since I quit playing last fall…I will join the Washington club in shape and try my best to make good.”

Early reports from Atlanta in the Washington papers, The Post, The Times, and The Herald sounded promising:

“For a big fellow Swain is a wonder when it comes to covering ground in the outfield.”

“Though a six-footer, weighing 200 pounds, he runs like a sprinter.”

“He hits hard…his most distinguishing trait (is) a willingness to work and an inexhaustible fund of good humor.”

Swain was hitting .273 in spring games when he became sick (either a cold or the flu, depending on the source) and did not appear in a game, or practice with the team for a week.

Swain in Atlanta with the Senators

Swain in Atlanta with the Senators

On April 6 The Herald said:

“Swain and Manager Jim (McAleer) had a long talk this morning in the clubhouse and when the Vancouver husky emerged his face was wreathed in smiles.

“’It’s all right, boys,’ he said.  ‘I will probably go back to the Pacific Coast.  Had a nice chat with the boss and told him that if he decided he couldn’t use me to ship me (West) and he promised to do so.”

Swain was returned to Vancouver, where he hit. 309 and helped lead the Beavers to the Northwestern League pennant.  After hitting .286 for the last place Sacramento Sacts in the Pacific Coast league in 1912, Swain was sold to the Victoria Bees in Northwestern League in May of 1913, setting the stage for his record-breaking season.

On August 1, The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Swain) is electrifying the natives in the Northwestern League.  Playing for Victoria, up to last Sunday, Cy had connected with 17 home runs and was hitting .329.”

He hit 17 more by September 18.  Swain’s 34 home runs broke the previous West Coast high—Ping Bodie hit 30 for the San Francisco Seals in 1910 (Art Bues had the previous league record with 27 in 1910)—and his .329 average was a career high.

He benefitted from the small dimensions of the league’s parks; The (Portland) Oregonian said fourteen of his 34 home runs cleared Victoria’s 270 foot center field fence and 11 more came at Seattle where the left and right field fences were just 237 feet from home plate.

After another solid season in the Northwestern League in 1914–.310 with 12 homeruns—Swain was traded to the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association for Fred “Newt” Hunter on November 24.

While most of the newspapers in Northwestern League cities shared the view of The Spokane Chronicle, that “The exchange will effect a promotion for Swain as he will play in a class AA league, which has been his ambition.”  The Seattle Star, however, despite the numbers he put up, raised some doubts about Swain:

“It is not likely that Seattle will be disappointed in the trade…Swain did not deliver last season like the fans had hoped and expected.  He was the joke of the league in the pinches.”

Swain

Swain

Just three days after the trade, Swain was working his off-season job for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company in San Francisco, when he fell from the back of a company truck which ran over his right leg.  On December 4, the leg was amputated.

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“He was counting on making good with Minneapolis with the view of someday stepping into the big league, the dream of every ballplayer.  What Swain will do now with one limb lost has not been decided, for the unfortunate player is overwhelmed with grief at the sudden termination of his diamond career.”

Benefit games were held in San Francisco and Tacoma, drawing 4000 and 7000 fans; the games raised more than $4000 for Swain.

He used the money to open a cigar store in San Francisco with another former player, Tommy Sheehan.  The two also organized a team, managed by Swain, called the Independents.  The team was comprised of West Coast professionals—including Ping Bodie, Spider Baum, and Biff Schaller–and played during the winter and early spring.  One of their games in the spring of 1916 was the first game ever played by an outside team on the grounds of San Quentin Prison.  Swain’s team won 15 to 10.

In November of 1916, Swain and Sheehan organized team made up of major leaguers and West Coast players to travel to Hawaii for a series of games.  The team played local and military teams, as well as the All-Chinese team which included Vernon Ayau, the first Chinese player to have appeared in a professional game.

Ayau, played against Swain's team in Hawaii

Ayau, played against Swain’s team in Hawaii

News of the games in Hawaii was sketchy; based on various reports the team played between eight and 12 games on the trip; all sources agree the only game they lost was against a US Army Infantry team.

Swain continued to manage the Independents in 1917 and ’18.  He and Sheehan also sold the cigar store and opened the Maryland Bowling Alleys in Oakland with Cliff Blankenship, the former catcher who recommended Swain to the Washington Senators in 1910.

Early in the fall of 1918, Swain’s brother, Ira, who accompanied to the tryout in San Jose in 1904, contracted the Spanish Flu and died on October 21.  On November 5, The Oakland Tribune said:

“Charlie Swain, one of the most popular ball players in the history of the game in the West, died here last night, a victim of Spanish Influenza.  Two weeks ago today Charlie’s brother Ira fell victim to the malady.”

Swain was 36-years-old.  The Tribune said:

“Good-bye, Charlie, we’re going to miss that happy smile.”

“Calvo has been the Victim of a Cruel and Merciless Conspiracy”

4 Jun

When he signed 18-year-old Jacinto “Jack” Calvo Gonzalez, Washington Senators manager/owner Clark Griffith was no stranger to Cuban players, having managed Armando Marsáns and Rafael Almeida with the Cincinnati Reds, but Calvo’s signing was the beginning of Griffith’s 40-plus year commitment to signing players from Cuba.  During his tenure the Senators signed more than half of the 63 Cuban players in the major leagues.

Calvo was “discovered” while playing with Almendares in the Cuban National League, where he hit .342 in 19 games.  He made even more of an impression during a series Almendares played against the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, Calvo hit .400 and his older brother Tomas hit .385.

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He also hit .400 during a six-game series with the Philadelphia Athletics, The Associated Press said he didn’t compile those numbers facing minor league pitchers picked up for the series, but “against (Eddie) Plank, (Jack) Coombs, and (Charles “Chief”) Bender.”

When rumors circulated that Washington might have signed Calvo, Bender said:

“I never saw a faster youngster in my life; he can hit too, and looks for the entire world like a class ball player…If Griffith has signed him he will never regret it, for there is no chance for him to be a failure.”

By December of 1912 Griffith had Calvo under contract.  The Pittsburgh Press said:

“The young Cuban sent a letter to Griff, written in Spanish.  ‘They did not teach Spanish where I went to school,’ said The Old Fox, ‘so I can’t translate the missive.  However, as he signed his contract I guess everything is alright.’”

The Boston Red Sox signed Tomas Calvo later in December.

While Tomas never made it in Boston, Jacinto made his debut with the Senators on May 9; he hit only .242, but everyone noticed his arm.  After a June game with the St. Louis Browns, The Associated Press said:

“The youngster astonished the bugs yesterday with his remarkable throwing arm.  At one time he heaved the ball from the right field fence directly to (Germany) Schaefer’s hands at second.”

On August 13 Calvo was sent to the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association and made his first appearance with the team the following day, batting seventh, going 1 for 4.  The Atlanta Constitution said “He’s fast, fields pretty well, throws like a shot and meets the ball squarely.”

Calvo only lasted 10 days in Atlanta.  He was hit on the right arm with a pitch thrown by Charles “Curly” Brown of the Montgomery Rebels.  He was returned to the Senators and did not appear in another game that season.  (Some sources show Calvo with the Long Branch Cubans in the New York New Jersey League—it was most likely his brother Tomas, an infielder, rather than career outfielder Jacinto, who played shortstop for the team in 94 games).

Calvo started the 1914 season with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League.  After only 11 games (he was 4-8 with one double, one triple and a stolen base) he was sent to the Victoria Bees in the Northwestern League.  Later in the season a story came out explaining his abrupt departure from Los Angeles.

Calvo with the Washington Senators

Calvo with the Washington Senators

The Spokane Spokesman-Review said, “Calvo has been the victim of a cruel and merciless conspiracy,” despite the fact that “in the exhibition games last spring against the White Sox Calvo loomed up head and shoulders above the other Angel gardeners, out hitting them by a wide margin and displaying more speed on the bags than the whole Angel team combined.”

The paper claimed that a female reporter:

“(o)n one of the local papers…dragged out of him the fact that his father was a rich sugar planter in Havana, and that he played baseball for fun and not for money…That was the beginning of the end for little Calvo. “

The story said fans began harassing Calvo, and:

“Instead of coming to his rescue, the players on the Angel team ‘rode’ the boy unmercifully.  It was pathetic to see the friendless little Cuban trying to get into the good graces of his teammates.  One day, in the clubhouse the boy sat down on a bench and cried before them all.  His spirit was broken.”

Calvo hit .289 for Victoria in 1914, and spent the spring of 1915 with the Senators before being release before the beginning of the season.  After his release he played with his brother Tomas for the Long Branch Cubans, by then a member of the Independent Negro League; he also played for Havana in the Cuban-American Negro Clubs Series.

Calvo next played for the Vancouver Beavers in the Northwestern League and the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .329 in 1916, and slipping to .263 in 1917. After the 1917 season, the outfielder returned, unsigned, the contract sent to him by Seals owner Charlie Graham.

Calvo had been very popular in San Francisco during his nearly two seasons with the Seals, but was criticised by fans and local press for his holdout, especially because he was holding out on the even more popular Graham.  The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“He sent his terms, and as they were exactly what he asked for before.  (Charlie) Graham is wondering why the Cuban went to the trouble to wire at all.”  The paper criticised Calvo for “asking for more money than he got last year,” while “better players than he have submitted to a salary slash on account of war conditions.”

San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham

San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham

The Chronicle lamented the fact that Seals outfielder Biff Schaller would miss the entire season with an injury, otherwise “Calvo could have stayed in Havana for all that anyone here cares.”

As it turned out, Calvo did stay in Havana.  For all of 1918 and ’19, not returning to the states until 1920.  Tomorrow–Jacinto Calvo’s return.

Blame it on the Uniform

3 Jan

Justin Titus “Pug” Bennett could hit.  After playing baseball at tiny Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, in 1895 and ’96, there’s no record of him again until 1899 when, at 25-years-old, he played with the Indiana-Illinois League franchise that began the season in Kokomo, Indiana and finished in Mattoon, Illinois.

Pug Bennett circa 1904

Pug Bennett circa 1904

Back-to-back .300 seasons with the Nashville Volunteers in the Southern Association and the Seattle Siwashes in the Pacific Coast League earned the 32-year-old his first shot in the Major leagues.  The Bennett hit .248 for two seasons with the Saint Louis Cardinals and returned to the minor leagues with Seattle, now in the Northwestern League.

Bennett returned to his old ways for two seasons, hitting .305 and a league leading .314 in 1908 and 1909.

1910 was not going well for Bennett, the perennial .300 hitter was hovering around .240 all season.

The Spokane-Spokesman Review provided an explanation late in the season:

“(Bennett) claims the white uniform worn by the umpires is the principal stumbling block in the way of batting averages this year.  Bennett says the light suits shade the white ball and make any pitcher with a crossfire or a sharp break much more effective.”

Bennett might have had a point.  There was not a single hitter in the Northwestern League with more than 50 at bats who hit .300;  Lou Nordyke led the league with a .290 average.

The following year the umpires’ uniforms were changed.  Ten players hit over .300 and Art Bues led the league with a .352 average.  The 37-year-old Bennett, with the Vancouver Beavers, rebounded with a .300 season.

Pug Bennet, t-206 card with Vancouver

Pug Bennet, t-206 card with Vancouver

Bennett continued playing in the Northwestern League until 1917.  He lived in Washington until his death in 1935.