Tag Archives: Vernon Tigers

Coast League Stories

5 Dec

Abe Kemp began working at newspapers in San Francisco in 1907, when he was 14 years old, and spent the next 62 years primarily at The San Francisco Examiner where he covered his two passions, baseball and horse racing.

kemp

Abe Kemp

Over the years he collected a number of stories of baseball on the West Coast.

Catcher Tubby Spencer hit just .127 in 21 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1913. Contemporaneous reports said Spencer wore out his welcome with manager Del Howard in Portland. Years later, Kemp said the decision to let Spencer go was made during a team stopover in Sonoma County, and not by Howard. Kemp said he saw:

“Spencer staggering down the highway at Boyes Hot Springs one morning and President/Owner Cal Ewing yelling at him, ‘Hey, ‘Tub,’ where are you going?’

“’I’m going for a little air,’ yelled back Tub.

“’Then keep going,’ shouted Ewing, ‘because you will need it. You’re through.’”

tubbyspencer

Tubby Spencer

Harry “Slim” Nelson was a mediocre left-handed pitcher and weak hitter who played a half a dozen years on the West Coast. Kemp told of witnessing him “hit a home run through the screen at Recreation Park” in San Francisco when Nelson was playing for the Oakland Oaks.

“(He) became so excited when he reached second base that he swallowed his cud of chewing tobacco. Later on the bench, Slim was asked how the home run felt and he replied ‘it would have felt a whole lot better if I could have cut it up into singles to last me the season.”

Kemp said when George Van Haltren made the switch from Oaks player to Pacific Coast League umpire in 1909 he told Kemp and umpire Jack McCarthy “umpiring would be easy…because he had so many friends,” throughout the league. Kemp said McCarty responded:

“You mean you had so many friends. You haven’t any now.”

McCarthy appears to have been correct. Van Haltren was criticized throughout his short time as a Coast League umpire, and became a West Coast scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates the following two seasons. Van Haltren made one more attempt as an umpire, joining the Northwestern League staff in 1912; he was no more successful, lasting only one season after incurring the season-long wrath of Seattle Siwashes owner Dan Dugdale who demanded Van Haltren not be retained for the 1913 season.

George Van Haltren

Another player who had similar training habits to Tubby Spencer, according to Kemp, was Charles “Truck Eagan. Kemp said he was with Vernon Tigers manager Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray one day when Eagan played for the Tigers near the end of his career in 1909:

“Eagan, suffering from the effects of a bad night (told) manager Hap Hogan he was suffering from an attack of ptomaine poisoning.

‘”What did you eat’ the artful and suspicious Hogan asked.

“Eagan scratched his head a minute, then said guiltily, ‘It must have been the (bar) pretzels and herring, Hap.”

Franz Hosp

19 May

Franz Philip Hosp Jr. was born in Cincinnati in 1884 (some records, including cemetery documents and his grave say 1883).  His father was a well-known landscape architect and horticulturist who moved the family to Riverside, California in 1888.

The elder Hosp was responsible for many projects in the Southwest and Southern California; he is probably most famous for his landscaping of Victoria Avenue in Riverside, which remains a tourist attraction and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and for planting the gardens at the El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon National Park.

The family also ran a successful nursery in Oceanside, California  and Hosp worked with his father while playing baseball in the San Diego area.

Franz Hosp

Franz Hosp, 1909

In December 1906 he pitched for the San Diego Pickwicks (sponsored by San Diego’s Pickwick Theater) of the California Winter League.  Hosp quickly caught the eye of West Coast professional teams; according to The Los Angeles Times he had a streak of thirty-one scoreless innings that winter and “fanned as many as eighteen men in a single game.”

The Los Angeles Herald said two teams, The Butte Miners and the Seattle Siwashes of the Northwestern League, had already “tried hard to secure his services,” when he pitched against the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in a February exhibition game in San Diego.

The Associated Press said the game

 “(W)as the first time in which he allowed as many as seven hits, and after doing, he took a brace and fanned out an equal number of Los Angeles’ best artists, with the result being that the Angels’ manager (Henry ”Hen”  Berry) lost no time in annexing Hosp to his own aggregation.”

Hosp said he chose to play with Los Angeles so he could continue working at the family business in Oceanside.

The pitcher was a popular member of the Angels.  The Los Angeles Herald said:

“Pitcher Franz Hosp is not only one of the best twirlers in the coast league, but he is also one of the most genial boys who ever donned a baseball uniform.  Hosp has forgotten more baseball, young as he is, than many of the swell headed players who roar at decisions have ever learned.”

The Times said of Hosp, who also played second base and shortstop:

“His work in the field and at the bat is equal to his performance in the box making him one of the best all-around men in the business.”

Hosp was 12-7 with a 2.73 ERA for the PCL champion Angels in 1907; he also played 13 games in the infield, hitting just .105.

franzhosppix

Franz Hosp

The following season Hosp (22-14 2.02), William “Dolly” Gray (26-11, 2.12), and Walter “Judge” Nagle (24-10, 1.94) led the Angels to another league championship.  On July 26 he had the most embarrassing moment of his career during a game with the San Francisco Seals.  The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Hosp of the Angels established a unique and startling record yesterday afternoon, one that bids to stand a long time in baseball circles.  Not only did he literally pitch the game away, but in one inning—the fourth—he walked six men and hit two more, forcing in five runs across the plate without a hit by the Seals.  Not a ball was hit out of the diamond.”

(Just more than a year later, August 28, 1909, Hosp’s former teammate Dolly Gray, now a 30-year-old rookie with the Washington Senators, set the major league record by walking eight Chicago White Sox batters in one inning).

Hosp was 16-14 in August of 1909 when he was signed by the Cincinnati Reds for 1910.  Within a week he hurt his arm and did not pitch again for the remainder of the season.

By the spring of 1910 there were conflicting reports about the condition of Hosp’s arm.

The Times reported that according to Angels pitcher Andy Briswalter:

“Franz Hosp, whose clever pitching resulted in his purchase by the Cincinnati Reds, may never play ball again.”

The Herald said Hosp:

“(D)enied with considerable indignation the story purporting to be an interview with Andy Briswalter.  According to this story, Hosp’s arm was said to be in such condition that he might never play ball again.  While Hosp was overworked last season, when his sensational work with the Seraphs resulted in his being purchased by the Cincinnati Reds, he stated that he never felt better and that the rest of the past winter overcame any inconvenience or ill effects.  Hosp says he hasn’t seen Briswalter in six months.”

Hosp joined the Reds in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and was first tried in the outfield.  The Cincinnati Enquirer said after his debut:

(Ward) Miller and (George “Dode”) Paskert will have a dangerous rival for the right field job in the person of Franz Hosp, the recruit from the coast, who was signed as a pitcher but will try out as a fielder…He is a right-hand hitter, a good-sized, well-built fellow, and meets the ball square on the nose.  He came to bat five times; made a double and two clean singles…He showed a lot of speed on the bases and appears to be a kid who will bear watching.”

When finally given a chance to pitch, against the Boston Red Sox on March 25, after two scoreless innings, he gave up four singles and doubles to Harry Lord and Tris Speaker, in the third, resulting in three runs and was lifted for a pinch hitter the following inning.

Hosp was also tried in the infield where he “has made a fine impression.”  But it wasn’t enough to stick with the Reds.

The Herald reported in early May:

“Franz Hosp, one of the best pitchers who ever worked in the Coast League and who was released to Los Angeles by Cincinnati almost ten days ago because his pitching arm is kafluey for a time is warming up with the Angels every day and Hen Berry thinks he will get back into pitching form again soon.  He is a crack infielder too, and a heavy sticker, so it is dollars to cents that he will not be idle long.”

Hosp made his mound debut for the Angels on May 20; he pitched a complete game, losing 5 to 3.  The Herald said:

“Hosp showed excellent form for a pitcher who has been out of the game as long as he, and with a weak and sore arm, and he should be able get back to his best form with a little patience and careful slab work until his arm is ripe again.”

The paper was wrong, the extent of Hosp’s activity as a pitcher after that game was four innings in three games over the next year and a half.

Hosp was released by the Angels on June 15, along with Briswalter, who The Times claimed four months earlier had said  Hosp’s arm was shot; Briswalter had not recovered from a hip injury sustained during the 1909 season, he developed Tuberculosis of the injured bone and died in 1912.

Andy Briswalter

Andy Briswalter

 

Hosp continued to play for a decade.

Within weeks he was signed to play shortstop for the Vernon Tigers.   He hit just .240 for the Tigers, but The (Portland) Oregonian called him “a nifty fielder.”

Hosp became the team’s regular shortstop, through their move to Venice, California.  He hit .261 in 1911, and 1912, .255 in 1913, and then slipped to .208 in 1914.  He was released before the 1915 season and played for the Wichita Witches in the Western League.  He returned briefly to the PCL at the end of 1915, but was released by the Oakland Oaks prior to the 1916 season.  He returned to the PCL in 1918, playing for four teams over the next three seasons, ending his career after 56 games with the Salt Lake City Gulls in 1920.

Hosp returned to Southern California where he played and managed for semi-pro and industrial league teams and lived in Los Angeles.

On June 30, 1928 he was killed in a car accident on Coast Highway (US 101) 16 miles north of Oceanside.

Ovie, Oh, Ovie

17 Jan

Arm trouble ended Orval Overall’s career early.  When he left baseball for the first time after the 1910 season he had a 104-66 record, won 20 games twice, and went to the World Series four times with the Chicago Cubs (3-1 in eight appearances).

orvie

Orval Overall

After a visit to John D. “Bonesetter” Reese, a self-trained Youngstown, Ohio-based practitioner of alternative medicine, who while popular among many of the era’s major stars, was condemned by medical professionals.  Despite being “healed,” Overall was unable to come to terms with the Cubs and sat out the 1911 season.

Remaining in his native California, Overall worked at the gold mine he owned with Cubs teammate Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown in Three Rivers and pitched for Stockton team in the “outlaw” California League.  His success in California during the fall of 1911 gave the Chicago press hope he would return to the Cubs in 1912.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Orval Overall’s arm seems to get better every time he pitches a game.  Last week the former Cub whom Manager (Frank) Chance is trying to persuade to return to the West Side team struck out seventeen men twirling against the All-Sacramento team for Cy Moreing’s Stockton outlaws.”

Later in the fall Overall hurt his arm again.  He returned to “Bonesetter” Reese in December and told The Youngstown Vindicator he was finished with organized baseball, and would “Confine himself to his mining business and with occasional independent ball.”

Overall pitched a few games for a semi-pro team in Visalia; thirty minutes from his mine.

Orville Overall

Orville Overall

In February of 1913, he petitioned the National Commission to reinstate him and declare him a free agent because the Cubs “omitted to send him a contract” in 1912.  The commission granted his reinstatement but returned him to the Cubs.

Overall pitched in just 11 games, with a 4-5 record and .3.31 ERA; he was released to the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in early August.

Overall’s return to the West Coast was an event, and Seals fans even attempted to tell the club when the popular pitcher should make his first start.  The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Orval Overall, the famous California pitcher, who built up such a reputation with the Chicago Cubs, will pitch for San Francisco today against Venice (Tigers).  A petition signed by sixty Seal fans was sent to (Manager) Del Howard yesterday, with the request that Overall’s first appearance be billed for Sunday afternoon.”

Howard chose to start Overall the day before the fans requested, nevertheless, the game drew a crowd of nearly 10,000 and The Chronicle said: “they gave him a reception long to be remembered.”

Overall gave up five runs, and was lifted in the ninth inning for a pinch hitter.  The Seals lost 8-5 in 11 innings.  He ended the season 8-9 with a 2.14 ERA.

At the end of the 1913 season, Overall announced his retirement.  San Francisco fans were not convinced and said The Chronicle said he “was being counted upon to be one of the mainstays in the box.” But chose to take a job with Maier Brewing Company “in the South” (Venice, CA—still a separate city from Los Angeles at the time.  The Maier family also owned the PCL’s Venice Tigers).  San Francisco fans were not convinced, and there was speculation for the next four months that Overall would return.

Reporter L. W. Nelson, The San Francisco Call’s resident poet composed a verse to try to coax the pitcher back:

Ovie, Oh, Ovie

Ovie, oh, Ovie, come home to us now,

For the season is soon to begin,

And we need you, yes, badly, to show the folks how

The Seals, when they have you, can win!

Ovie, oh, Ovie, sign up with us quick,

Put your name on the contract from Cal,

For we know you can make all others looks sick,

If you pitch for our Seal crew, old pal!

Ovie, we know it is your fondest dream

To work down in Venice for Maier,

Midst the Milwaukee water, the lager and steam—

We know you would like it down there!

Ovie, oh, Ovie, sign up to play ball,

And don’t try your beer selling skill,

For the job in the brew’ry won’t help us at all,

But your pitching most certainly will!

(“Cal” was Seals owner James Calvin Ewing)

As late as March 1914 Overall hinted that he might return, but the pleas and the poem did not sway him.

He left the beer business after a year to manage his family’s large lemon and orange growing operation near Visalia, which would make him quite wealthy.  He became a banker and dabbled in politics and competitive trap shooting.  He died in 1947.

Overall (center) was president of the California-Nevada Trap Shooters Association (1918)

Overall (center) was president of the California-Nevada Trap Shooters Association (1918)

“The Disappearing Oakland Infielder”

7 Aug

James Ernest “Jimmy” Frick began his career with the Iola Gasbags in the Missouri Valley League in 1904, hitting .331 in 106 games.  While Frick began the 1905 season with the Oklahoma City Mets in the Western Association, a “C” level league, press reports said he could have played at a higher level and The Sporting Life said St. Louis Cardinals, Hall of Famer pitcher Charles “Kid” Nichols “cannot understand why Jimmy Frick of Oklahoma City persists in hiding out it the bushes when he can make good in fast company.”

Frick was hitting above .300 in July when he was sold to the Seattle Siwashes in the Pacific Coast League; he hit .252 in 18 games until August 18 when The Associated Press said Frick “disappeared mysteriously.”

Four days later The Seattle Star said Frick who “was very popular” with local fans had jumped the Siwashes and rejoined Oklahoma City having been promised “$1000 and a chance to manage the team next year.”

Whether the reported deal was actually promised to Frick is unknown.  While he returned to Oklahoma City he never joined the Mets and finished the season with the Wichita Jobbers.

At the end of the 1905 season multiple teams laid claim to him.  The Associated Press said:

“The case of J. Frick who was claimed by Indianapolis, Wichita, Seattle and Oklahoma City was referred to Secretary (John) Farrell (of the National Association).”

In February of 1906 Frick was awarded to Wichita then immediately traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern League.  He spent the next five and a half years in the Eastern League with Toronto, the Baltimore Orioles and the Newark Indians.

On July 16, 1910, while with Baltimore, Frick was hit in the head with a pitch.  In August The Sporting Life said he had not yet returned to the lineup:

 “(Frick) is in a bad way in this city, as the result of being hit on the head by a pitched ball during the last home series of the Birds. Although the accident happened at least three weeks ago, Frick’s head is still in bad condition, his face is swollen and dizziness seizes him on the slightest provocation. It is doubtful if Frick will play again this season.”

He did return at the tail end of the season, but only appeared in a few games.  In 1911 he was sold to Newark, and after hitting just .200 in 28 games he was sold to the Troy Trojans in the New York State League.

Jimmy Frick

Jimmy Frick

Before the 1912 season, Harry Wolverton, third baseman and manager of the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League, was named manager of the New York Highlanders in the American League.  Oakland hired Bayard “Bud” Sharpe to manage the team; one of his first moves was to purchase Frick from Troy to fill the void Wolverton left at third.

By March 7 The Associated Press said Sharpe was “somewhat exercised about infielder Frick.”  The new third baseman had arrived in Oakland by train several days earlier, but had not arrived at the Oaks training camp in Livermore, California and had not been heard from him.  Sharpe showed up the following day, but it was reported he had spent several days in an Oakland hospital—it was not reported why he was hospitalized.

Frick began the season as the Oaks starting third baseman, but after hurting his foot in April, August “Gus” Hetling filled in and Frick never returned to the regular lineup.

On September 17, with Oakland in a battle for the pennant with the Vernon Tigers, the team was in Los Angeles when Frick, according to The Associated Press left his room at the Hotel Rosslyn and “dropped from sight.”

The Los Angeles Examiner said the Oakland team and the Los Angeles Police Department had looked for Frick for more than a week and found no sign of the infielder.  The Associated Press said “all of Frick’s haunts have been searched,” and that the disappearance “may hurt Oakland in their fight for the pennant, as he is considered the best utility infielder on the team.”

Herb McFarlin, Secretary of the Oaks, said:

“Frick has always been a steady player, not inclined to drink or run around.  He always has been absolutely dependable.”

On October 4 The Associated Press said “the disappearing Oakland infielder” had been found by his wife:

“He had been ill in a Los Angeles Hospital, assuming an alias so that he would not be bothered.”

As with his spring disappearance there was no mention as to why Frick was in the hospital.

On October 5 he was with the Oaks in Portland for a game with the Beavers, he did not play, but was “out on the coaching line rooting for his team.”

Frick was with the team on October 27 when they took both games of a double-header in Los Angeles; Vernon won both games of a doubleheader from Portland, and Oakland took the pennant with a winning percentage of .591 to Vernon’s .587.

Frick saw little action in the final weeks of the season, his replacement Hetling hit .297 and was awarded a Chalmers Automobile as the league’s most valuable player.

Gus Hetling, Frick's replacement at third

Gus Hetling, Frick’s replacement at third

Frick and his wife went to Portland at the end of the season, and in late November planned to leave for Oklahoma City where they owned a farm.  On November 20 Mrs. Frick went to pick up tickets for the trip, when she returned home, she found Jimmy Frick dead.  He committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid. (Baseball Reference incorrectly lists his date of death as November 18),

The Portland Oregonian said Frick had been “ill and despondent,” and said he was suffering from “brain fever.”  (Brain fever is an antiquated and vague term used for inflammation of the brain).

None of the stories about Frick’s suicide and “brain fever” mentioned the severe injury he had received when he was hit in the head in 1910, so  it’s impossible to determine whether it contributed to the erratic behavior that year, hospital stays, or death of the disappearing Oakland infielder.”

“Branding us as if we were a Band of Convicts”

1 Aug

When the directors of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) met in Los Angeles in January of 1912, The Los Angeles Examiner said the league would be introducing a new innovation:

“President (Allan) Baum said each player will be given a uniform bearing upon the left arm a number he will wear throughout the season.  On all score cards sold at games every man of each team will be named in consecutive order.”

The plan wasn’t immediately embraced.  The Portland Oregonian said several players on the Portland Beavers were against the idea, pitcher Frederick “Spec” Harkness said:

“Of course, I don’t like this branding us as if we were a band of convicts…Hap Hogan (Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray, manager of the Vernon Tigers) must have been the man who got this freaky legislation past the magnates at Los Angeles for the numbers go nicely with Vernon’s convict suits.”

Frederick "Spec" Harkness

Frederick “Spec” Harkness

The idea was actually the inspiration of Oakland Oaks president Edward Walters.

Major League players and executives also objected to the idea, Tigers president Frank Navin was quoted in The Detroit Times:

“It is a 10-1 bet that the players would rather suffer salary cuts all along the line than be labeled like a bunch of horses.”

Despite early objections, PCL players eventually accepted the inevitable, even Harkness who caused a stir among superstitious teammates when he requested number thirteen.

Roscoe Fawcett, sportswriter of The Portland Oregonian said:

“(Harkness) has put superstition to rout by sending in a request for number 13 under the new Pacific Coast League system of placarding players.”

By March the numbering idea gained some acceptance, and the desire for number 13 had caught on; there was a competition for the number among the Portland Beavers.  The Oregonian said Harkness “now finds his claim disputed by Benny Henderson, Walter Doan and others.”

In the end Harkness (who was born on December 13) received the number.  Given the rampant superstitions of early 20th Century players, most teams simply didn’t issue number 13 to any player.  The only other player in the PCL reported to have worn the number was Oakland pitcher Harry Ables.

Harry Ables

Harry Ables

The PCL’s experiment in uniform numbers was largely unsuccessful.  The Oregonian said the armbands were too small and “cannot be read from 90 feet away.”

By the end of the season, Vernon manager Hogan and Portland manager Walter “Judge” McCredie both of whom enthusiastically supported the numbers, were of the opinion that “the present trial has been a fizzle.”

The biggest criticism of the experiment was the failure of the system to achieve its chief goal, “numbering the men did not help out the sale of scorecards.”

Numbers were eliminated before the 1913 season and the PCL did not use uniform numbers again until the early 1930s.

More “Chief” Johnson

30 Aug

Last week I told you about George “Chief” Johnson’s release from the Chicago White Sox in the spring of 1913, allegedly because of his affiliation with the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) Native-American Tribe.

Cincinnati Reds owner August Garry Herrmann and manager Joe Tinker were apparently more concerned with a good arm than the so-called “Winnebago ban,” and signed Johnson.

George “Chief” Johnson

Through the first month of the season, Johnson was the only effective Reds pitcher, winning three games (including two shutouts) for a team with a record of 5-16.

The New York Times took notice in an article, the racist tone of which was typical of the era:

“Big Chief Johnson of the Winnebagos [sic] is copper-colored and fat. At bat he displays as much activity as the wooden Redmen who hold forth at the doors of countless cigar stands. But on the mound this latest Indian to edge his way into the select circles of major leaguedom can deal out ciphers with as much success as the more illustrious Johnson of Washington.”

Johnson ended the season 14-16, with a 3.00 ERA for a team that finished 25 games under .500.

In 1914, the Federal League came calling.  Otto Knabe, Manager of the Baltimore Terrapins sent a telegram to Johnson asking for his terms.  According to Knabe, Johnson replied with a telegram sent collect saying “Will sign for $10,000 bonus and reasonable salary.” Knabe telegrammed Johnson collect “Asked for your terms, not Walter Johnson’s”

Otto Knabe

Johnson signed the following month with the Federal League Kansas City Packers for a more modest $3000 advance and $5000 salary; the only problem was that Johnson had already signed a contract with the Reds for 1914.

Johnson’s 1914 season was highlighted by a series of injunctions and court rulings that kept him sidelined for much of the season while organized baseball battled the upstart Federal League.  (The saga of the Federal League has been rehashed in numerous books and blogs, no need to reinvent the wheel here—I recommend this book)

Johnson played for Kansas City in 1914 and 1915 posting records of 9-10 and 17-17.  Throughout his tenure in Kansas City Johnson had numerous run-ins with the law over his drinking and was cited for desertion and non-support of his wife. Additionally, his weight ballooned to well over two hundred pounds.

Johnson’s major league career was over after 1915, but he pitched three more seasons in the Pacific Coast League.  Pitching for the Vernon Tigers near the end of the 1916 season Johnson was so out of shape that it was reported in the Los Angeles Times that the Portland Beavers chased him from a game in the third inning by having several hitters in a row lay down bunts that the overweight pitcher was unable to field.

Johnson reportedly returned in better shape in 1917 and was 25-23 pitching for Vernon and the San Francisco Seals.  Johnson returned  in 1918, posting a 2-6 record, and was joined in San Francisco for a short time by his brother John who appeared in one game for the Seals.

After his release by San Francisco Johnson barnstormed with a variety of teams throughout the Midwest and West and sold “snake-oil” in a traveling tent show.  On June 11, 1922, Johnson was in Des Moines, Iowa with his tent show when he was killed in a dispute over money during either a dice or poker game (news accounts varied).  Johnson’s killer, an African-American gambler named Ed Gillespie, was originally charged with first-degree murder, but the charges were reduced to manslaughter based on eye-witness accounts that claimed Johnson was “drunk and belligerent.”  He was buried at the Winnebago Cemetery in Winnebago, Nebraska.

A postscript.

A few days after Johnson’s death a small item appeared in Iowa newspapers; it was about a druggist in Des Moines who had agreed to put a display in his store window to promote Johnson’s tent show. The story said:

“Anyone anxious to own a nice horned rattlesnake may have one by taking the one left in his show window by the late Mr. Johnson.”