Tag Archives: Virginia League

Submarine Gheen

10 May

Born August 13, 1899, Thomas Whistler Gheen made a name for himself pitching for the amateur team in his hometown of Lincolnton, North Carolina in 1919 and 1920. The Charlotte Observer said Gheen was:

“(B)elieved by many to be the best pitching prospect in the Carolinas.”

He was called “Submarine” Gheen, for what The Charlotte News called his “Far-famed underhand delivery.”

 

gheen1919

Tom Gheen, 1919

 

Late in the 1920 season, Gheen was signed by the Charleston Palmettos of the South Atlantic League.  Gheen appeared in six games and posted a 2-4 record with a 2.06 ERA for the last-place (54-71) Palmettos.

He began the 1921 season in Lincolnton but was signed by the Charlotte Hornets after he pitched a perfect game against the Loray Mills team in Gastonia, North Carolina.  He struck out 21 batters.  The Charlotte Observer said:

“Not a Loray man reached first.  Persons who saw the game say it was the most remarkable bit of hurling ever seen in Gaston County.”

In June, The Observer said he was:

“(F)ast developing into one of the best twirlers on the staff.”

Despite his promise, Gheen seemed to be troubled.  When he was playing amateur ball for Lincolnton, The Observer noted after he had been used as a pinch hitter:

“Most of Gheen’s hitting is done in the clubhouse.”

The High Point Enterprise said of Gheen:

“The blond-haired boxman never had a serious thought in his life and is dizzy as a southpaw off the field.”

With a 5-9 record and 3.22 ERA in late July, Gheen jumped the team.  According to The Durham Morning Herald:

“His excuse was that the fans razzed him to excess.  He declared that the razzing so affected his pitching it was impossible to win.”

The Charlotte Observer suggested he jumped for another reason:

“(He) quit the club following rumors circulated by gamblers that he had ‘thrown’ a ball game.”

The Morning Herald called him a “Wonderful pitcher,” and said he was “almost unbeatable when his underhanded ball in breaking properly.”

Charlotte catcher Pat Carroll came to Gheen’s defense, telling The Observer that the other catchers on the club did not encourage the pitcher to use his submarine delivery often enough:

“They can’t hit that ball to save their lives.  I ordered it every time Gheen got in the hole and it was pitiful to see the batter try to connect.  It didn’t help them a bit to know what was coming.  They couldn’t hit the ball; that’s all there was to it.”

The Hornets, according to The Charlotte News granted the “recalcitrant hurler” his wish and sold the “erratic heaver” to the Winston-Salem Twins of the Piedmont League.

 

gheen2

Gheen (5 top right) with the Winston-Salem Twins, 1921

 

Gheen was 11-3 in 15 games for the 62-58 Twins, and big things were expected of him in 1922.

He rose to the occasion on Opening Day, April 26.

The Observer buried the lede:

“Submarine Gheen made himself famous in the opening game of the Piedmont League season…his opponents being the Greensboro Patriots, who were defeated 5 to 0.

“Only 27 men faced the Twin moundsman who did not yield a hit nor issue a free pass.”

It was his only victory for Winston-Salem.  Less than a month after his perfect game Gheen was suspended indefinitely by manager Charles Clancy for “insubordination.”

Gheen was reinstated 10 days later but was sold to the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League less than a week later. He was 1-5 for the Twins.

Gheen was plagued by wildness in Texas, posting a 6-11 record with a 4.06 ERA.

He was traded to Galveston Sandcrabs at the end of the Texas League season but was sold the following spring to the Rocky Mount Tar Heels in the Virginia League.  The 1923 season appears to have been controversy free for Gheen; he was 13-11 with a 3.43 ERA.

Back in the Piedmont League in 1924, Gheen was on his way to a 14-10 season for the High Point Pointers, when, on September 12, he made headlines off the field after he killed a man.

Gheen was riding in a car with friends near New Bern, North Carolina when they came upon a man lying in the road.  The High Point Enterprise said, the car, driven by Gheen’s friend:

“(S)werved to avoid hitting a negro lying prone across the road.  The driver of the car…backed up to see what was the trouble.

“As the car was being backed up one of the party yelled, ‘look out, he’s got a gun.’  Gheen, riding in the front seat, reached in the side pocket of the car and secured a revolver.  As the Negro came running alongside the car, revolver in hand, Gheen yelled, ‘Throw up your hands.’ This the Negro refused to do and Gheen fired three shots penetrating the upper part of the Negro’s body.  He died almost instantly.”

Gheen and his friends were cleared of any wrongdoing the following day.

The paper did not identify the dead man and said:

“He was said to have been a desperate character and to have had a police record.”

Gheen played two more seasons of professional baseball; he was 9-8 for the Columbia Comers in the South Atlantic League in 1925.

He joined the Jacksonville Tars of the Southeastern League in 1926—he won eight of his first 10 decisions with the club but was also arrested for the alleged assault of a woman when playing the Albany (GA) Nuts.  He appears to have avoided prosecution gheen1919but went 3-6 the rest of the season and his career as a professional ballplayer was over at age 28.

The following year, while back in his hometown of Lincolnton, “Submarine” Gheen, was killed when the Ford Touring car he was driving turned over on July 3.  The man who was considered the “best pitching prospect in the Carolinas” six years earlier died at the age of 29 on July 4, 1927.

Tragic Exits 3

23 Mar

Eddie Meade

Edward “Eddie” Meade appeared headed to the big leagues.  After beginning the 1926 season with the Kinston Eagles in the Virginia League, the 24-year-old left-hander was acquired at midseason by the St. Paul Saints of the American Association and posted a 12-7 record with a 3.40 ERA in 22 games.

Meade began the 1927 season with a 6-0 shutout of the Louisville Colonels on April 17.  The same week he recorded his first victory, The Associated Press said he was about to become a member of the defending American League champions:

“The Yankees talked of possible reinforcements in the shape of Eddie Meade, of St. Paul, called the best young pitcher in the American Association.”

Eddie Meade

Eddie Meade

During the same week, Meade became ill; although the nature of the illness was never disclosed.  Eight days later he started a game with the Columbus Senators but was pulled after giving up six runs in the fifth inning of 9 to 8 loss.  Five days later he pitched in relief against Louisville, but The Minneapolis Journal said he lasted less than an inning due to his “impaired physical condition.”

When the Saints left Minnesota for a series in Kansas City on May 16, Meade stayed behind.  The following evening Meade checked into St. Paul’s Boardman Hotel and shot himself to death.

The day after his suicide, The Journal said, “it was learned today that Meade was slated to go to the New York Yankees in the fall.”

St. Paul Manager Nick Allen told The Associated Press:

“He was one of the hardest working youngsters we ever had on the club and the outlook for his future was bright, as he had only two years in baseball.  The only motive he could have had for such action would be mental depression.  He was not married.  The nature of his illness was no cause for alarm, but he apparently believed it otherwise.”

Tommy Coates

Thomas A. “Tommy” Coates was born in Omro, Wisconsin on February 18, 1886 (Baseball Reference lists his middle initial as “O” but birth and death records  list it as “A”).

After starring, along with his older brother Hiram, on Omro High School’s undefeated baseball team in 1901—The Omro Herald called the team “possibly the best in the state”—Coates played industrial league and semi-pro ball in Central and Northern Wisconsin.

After playing in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in 1908, The Oshkosh Northwestern said:

“Coates had lots of confidence in himself, and during the winter months the Omro boy came to the city one day and sought out “Pink” Hawley. Hawley agreed to give him a trial.”

Emerson Pink Hawley, a Wisconsin native who pitched in the major leagues for a decade, was the manager of the Oshkosh Indians in the Wisconsin-Illinois League.

Tommy Coates

Tommy Coates

 “Coates came to this city from his home at Omro (for his tryout).  He donned baseball togs and he ‘made good’ from the start.”

Coates, who The Northwestern said  was “tall (and) built something like the great Ty Cobb,” became the Indians starting left fielder one week into the season and went on to lead  the team with a .299 batting average (he hit .002 better than his 19-year-old teammate Heinie Groh).

In September, The Sporting News reported that with just one season of professional experience, Coates “Looks good to Connie Mack,” and was drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics. He was the only member of the Indians drafted by a big league club in 1909.

At season’s end in September, Coates, with an invitation to train with Mack’s club in the spring, spent most of his time hunting.

On October 11 Coates was in a row-boat with a friend, hunting in a marsh near Omro.  The friend told The Omro Herald:

“Tom saw a mud hen rise up on the right hand side.  He turned about quickly and took hold of his gun which was at his left side and pulled it toward him…I turned about as soon as I heard the shot, and to my horror saw Tom lunge forward.”

Coates accidentally discharged his gun, shooting himself in the left eye.

Twelve days after the Oshkosh Indians received a $300 check from Connie Mack—his draft price—Coates was dead.

The Northwestern said:

“He was quiet and unassuming. After making a sensational play in the field or batting out the hit that won the game…the Oshkosh fans could not induce Coates to doff his hat.  He would return to the bench with face covered with blushes.”

[…]

“His more ardent admirers were confident he would make good in the American League, and one of their first thoughts upon hearing of the unfortunate accident, was the promising career he had before him.”

Jennings “Hurled an Unmentionable Epithet at him”

2 Feb

In April of 1896, the reigning National League Champion Baltimore Orioles traveled to Petersburg, Virginia for a pair of exhibition games with the Petersburg Farmers of the Virginia League.

The Baltimore Sun noted that it had been a tough spring for the Orioles.  Third baseman John McGraw “the brainiest and pluckiest little infielder that ever trod a diamond,” was in an Atlanta hospital suffering from typhoid fever; he would miss most of the season.

Additionally, catcher William “Boileryard” Clarke was sent back to Baltimore with a sprained ankle, pitchers John “Sadie” McMahon and Arlie Pond had injured hands and both would be out for at least a week,  and shortstop Hughie Jennings was also slowed by a hand injury.

Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings

A light rain fell as the hobbled team arrived in Petersburg on the morning of April 6, the day of the first game—which ended in a 7 to 7 tie.  The Baltimore American said:

“Why the team did not trounce the Petersburgs is an open question, but whether it was because of the game on Saturday (in Richmond) or the rain, or the umpire, the Champions walked out of the gates with the humiliation of having made eight errors and feeling the added sting of having just escaped being beaten by a minor league team.”

Third-string catcher Frank Bowerman made two of Baltimore’s errors and had a passed ball.  He would be relegated to umpiring duties in the second game, scheduled for April 8.  On the seventh the Orioles defeated another Virginia League team, the Richmond Bluebirds, 4 to 3.

The American said the morning of April 8 “had been a pleasant one,” with local officials taking the Orioles for a tour of the Petersburg Civil War battlefield.  And, with the rain gone, “The warm sun put life into each club, and a pretty, snappy game was being put up by each side.”  Bowerman and Petersburg player Michael “Doc” Powers alternated as umpires for the game.

Doc Powers

Doc Powers

Petersburg was leading 1 to 0 in the seventh inning when Powers called Orioles third baseman Jim Donnelly out on strikes.  What happened next, and who was responsible, depended on whether you read the accounts in the Baltimore papers or those in Petersburg and the surrounding Virginia towns.

The Sun said:

“Several promising runs had been cut off by similar umpiring and the birds were getting very ‘sore’ at such outrages.  Donnelly objected and (Hugh) Jennings went up to Powers, who was standing behind the pitcher, and said something to him.  Just then (Charles) Sholta, who had also run up, struck Jennings a stinging blow on the side of the head without warning.  The blow drew blood.”

The American said:

“While Hughey was expostulating rather forcibly with Powers, Sholta struck him on the cheek.”

Charles Sholta--drawing from Richmond newspaper

Charles Sholta–drawing from Richmond newspaper

The Baltimore papers agreed that the punch Sholta threw was unprovoked.  Every Virginia newspaper disagreed.

The Petersburg Index-Appeal said, “Jennings resented Sholta’s interference by very foul and abusive language and was promptly struck in the face.”

Papers in Richmond, Roanoke and Norfolk agreed that Jennings provoked Sholta—The Virginia League correspondent for The Sporting Life said Jennings “hurled an unmentionable epithet at him—an epithet which does not go here.”

Everyone generally agreed with what happened next.  Orioles’ first baseman Jack Doyle punched Sholta, knocking him to the ground and Petersburg fans poured on the field and began attacking Doyle and other members of the Baltimore club.

At this point, there was more disagreement.  The Baltimore papers said Doyle was struck in the head from behind, knocked down and kicked by multiple fans.  While “Wee Willie” Keeler was allegedly “choked and beaten,” five other Orioles, Joe Kelley, Wilbert Robinson, Steve Brodie, Bowerman, and Jennings “were more or less beaten.”

The Orioles, according to The American were forced to flee the ballpark.

The Richmond Dispatch called the Baltimore accounts of the incident:

 “(S)o greatly exaggerated and so grotesquely inaccurate as to cause amazement, not to say indignation, here.  Not a man of the Baltimore team was hurt, and the grossly obscene language uttered by one of the Orioles on the park during the game, caused all of the trouble.”

After the Orioles returned to Petersburg’s Appomattox Hotel, another fight broke out between several members of the Orioles—including Brodie and Kelley—and local fans, one of whom was thrown through a glass door.   After the second fight, the Orioles were accompanied by police to the train depot and departed for Norfolk.

Arrest warrants were issued for Doyle, Kelley, and Brodie, but the three “left their team in Norfolk and (went) beyond the jurisdiction of the state courts.”  Only ten Orioles were available for the final exhibition game in Virginia, a 7 to 5 victory over the Norfolk Braves.

Jack Doyle

Jack Doyle

Sholta appeared in Petersburg’s “Mayor’s Court” along with two fans who said to have assaulted members of the Orioles.  All were released with no charges filed as a result of Doyle, Brodie and Kelley failing to appear—they were sought both as suspects and witnesses against the local defendants.

At the hearing, Petersburg’s Mayor Charles Fenton Collier said Sholta “had only acted as any other gentleman would have,” by hitting Jennings, and the mayor said he would have done the same “under similar circumstances.”

The Washington Times said the only thing unusual about the Orioles’ battle in Virginia was that it happened so early in the season:

“The Orioles are starting their rowdy tactics early.  Perhaps the champs think it just as necessary to train for ruffianly conduct as other points.  And to think that ‘college-bred’ Hughey Jennings started the riot.”

McGraw remained out of the lineup for most of the season—he did not return until August 25.  The fighting Orioles hit .328 as team—Jennings hit .401, Keeler .386 and Kelley .364—and went 90-39 cruising to their third straight National League Pennant.

Jack Grim

2 Jun

John J. “Jack” Grim never amounted to much as a player.  Statistics are nearly nonexistent for his playing career, and those that do survive are unimpressive; primarily a catcher, he played for all, or parts of nine seasons from 1894 until 1902.  The Cincinnati native made his mark, now all but forgotten, as a manager and executive.

John J. "Jack" Grim

John J. “Jack” Grim

Often confused with former major league catcher John Helm “Jack” Grim—for example, most sources list John H. Grim as the manager of the 1904 Columbia Skyscrapers in the South Atlantic League, it was John J. Grim who managed that team, and during that season might have made his greatest contribution to the game.

Grim’s first managerial appointment was with the Anaconda Serpents in the Montana State League in 1900.  He guided the team to a second-place finish in the first half, and the club was in first place in the second half race on August 11, when Grim abruptly resigned.  The Anaconda Standard said Grim sent a letter to the team directors in which he charged “there is a feeling in certain quarters, against me.” He said:

“I cannot do myself justice while laboring under these conditions.”

Arthur “Dad” Clarkson, brother of Hall of Famer John Clarkson, replaced Grim; the team finished the second half of the season in second place under Clarkson.  Grim became an umpire in the league for the remainder of the season.

In 1901 Grim went to the West Coast with William H. Lucas, a former minor league pitcher who had been president of the Montana State League, to join Dan Dugdale to reestablish  the Pacific Northwest League; Lucas served as league president and Grim managed the Portland Webfoots to the championship, winning the pennant by 16 games.

The league expanded from four to six teams for 1902, and Grim was hired to manage the Spokane franchise, which had finished in last place (41-67) under three different managers in 1901.  The Sporting News said:

“(Spokane’s) stockholders have given (Grim) full power to act in signing players.”

The Sporting Life said Spokane fans were “feeling confident that (Grim) will this year sustain his reputation for always piloting winners.”  Despite the free reign, and high hopes, Spokane struggled, finishing in last place with a 46-75 record.

The following season, as a result of the West Coast baseball war—the California League expanded to the Pacific Northwest, becoming the Pacific Coast League—the Pacific Northwest League expanded into California and became the Pacific National League.  Grim managed the Portland Green Gages.

On July 1 the Portland franchised was, according to, The Oregon Journal “transferred bag and baggage to Salt Lake City.” In Salt Lake City Grim quickly wore out his welcome.

After it was reported in late July that Grim might be let go, six players, including the team’s star shortstop Charles “She” Donahue, went on strike.  They missed two games, but returned after the team’s president said: “he has no intention of letting Grim out.”  The harmony didn’t last and just weeks later Grim was released and fined $100 for what The Salt Lake Herald called “starting a mutiny within the ranks of the club.”

The trouble in Salt Lake wasn’t over.  Near the end of the season, Donahue’s contract was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals.  The sale was reportedly engineered by Grim after he was let go as manager.

The Herald said:

“What kind of a con game is Jack Grim trying to work on the Salt Lake ball club?  What right had Jack Grim, who was fired…got to sell Donahue to the St. Louis club?  How many more of the Salt Lake’s players is Grim trying to dispose of in the same way?  What did Grim do with the money he received from (Cardinals President Benjamin) Muckenfuss of the St. Louis team?”

Grim told The Cincinnati Enquirer he entered into negotiations with the Cardinals over Donahue on September 14. But The Herald noted:

“At that time Grim’s sole business in Salt Lake was to hang around with the ballplayers and try his best to create discord among them.  He had been fired long before.”

The National Commission ruled the sale/signing legal.  Garry Herrmann, chairman of the commission, said that in the contract he signed with Portland for 1903 “Donahue had a specified agreement that he was not (placed on the reserve list)” despite the fact that the Salt Lake team claimed he had already signed a contract for the following season.  As a result, there was nothing stopping Grim from delivering Donahue to the Cardinals, and the money he received—the amount was never reported—was his.

Grim was again involved in a new league in 1904, when he and fellow Cincinnati native Ed Ashenbach, helped form the first incarnation of the South Atlantic League—Grim managed the Columbia Sky Scrapers and Ashenbach managed the Charleston Sea Gulls in the six-team circuit.  Grim only lasted until mid-July as manager and finished the year as an umpire in the league.

It was that season that that he claimed he made his great contribution to the game.  According to Grim, he was the first person to alert the Detroit Tigers about a 17-year-old outfielder for the Augusta Tourists named Tyrus Raymond Cobb.

While Cobb was not sold to the Tigers until August of 1905, some credence for the claim was provided by Cobb himself in 1910, when an article appearing under his name—likely ghostwritten by Roger Tidden of The New York World—said Grim had tried to purchase his contract when he was struggling at Augusta, shortly after “I left home to show up the league.”

In 1905 Grim was one of the principal organizers of the Virginia-North Carolina League and managed the Greensboro Farmers—Grim lasted less than half a season and by August The Sporting Life said he was scouting for the Cincinnati Reds.

Grim finally found some stability in 1906.  He again helped found a league and owned and managed a club.  Grim’s Lynchburg Shoemakers won the Virginia League pennant in 1906—the team was led by pitcher Walter Moser (24-8), who would make the jump from the C-league Shoemakers to the Philadelphia Phillies in August.   But after a fifth-place finish and 1907, and a slow start the next season, Grim sold the team in July of 1908.

1906 Lynchburg Shoemakers, Virginia League champions. Grim is third from left on the bottom row.

1906 Lynchburg Shoemakers, Virginia League champions. Grim is third from left on the bottom row.

Just after selling the team, Grim’s wife reported him missing.  She told police in Louisville, Kentucky that she hadn’t heard from him for three weeks and thought he might be in Louisville after visiting family in Cincinnati.  Al Orth, the New York Highlanders pitcher, said he saw Grim in New York and told The Associated Press “He did not look like a man who was missing from anywhere.”

Al Orth

Al Orth

 

Grim eventually returned to Virginia and his disappearance was never explained.  Orth, who was from Lynchburg, returned there later that summer purchased an interest in the team and managed the club until early 1909 when he returned to the Highlanders.

For the next four years Grim bounced back and forth from team ownership (he managed, and owned part of two more Virginia League franchises (Portsmouth in 1910 and Newport News in 1912) and real estate speculating on the West Coast and in Virginia.

At the beginning of the 1912 season a small item in The Richmond Times-Dispatch hinted that there was trouble ahead:

“Jack Grim has a combination of troubles.  One is of the financial variety—well the other is nobody’s business.”

The financial troubles came to a head in August.  The Times-Dispatch said:

 “Because Manager J.J. Grim would not pay their salaries, all of the players of the Newport News baseball club except (Frank) ‘Deacon’ Morrissey, struck just before the scheduled double header between Newport News and Petersburg.”

After the game was awarded to Petersburg by forfeit, Grim’s co-owners removed him—outfielder William “Buck” Hooker was named manager for the remainder of the season.

At the end of the 1912 season, Grim found himself in an odd predicament.  The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Though minus a franchise, Jack Grim, formerly of Cincinnati, has a ball team under reservation, for he owns title to the players of the Newport News club…It develops that in the adjustment of the club’s affairs in August, Grim who was manager and part owner, got out without losing title to the players, though he lost the franchise.”

As a result, when the Cleveland Naps drafted third baseman Ray Bates from Newport News after the 1912 season, the draft price went to Grim.

It was the last good thing to happen to him; from there, Grim’s life spun out of control.

In October, he attended the World Series in New York (his wife later said he attempted to kill her during that trip).

In November of 1912 the Virginia League turned down his attempt to secure a franchise for 1913; next his effort to start a new league with teams in Virginia and the Carolinas fell through.

In addition to being unable to secure a franchise and running out of money—an effort to secure the New York-New Jersey League franchise in Kingston, New York also fell through–Grim’s wife had him arrested  during the first week of March 1913, and told a Lynchburg judge he had repeatedly “threatened Mrs. Grim with bodily harm.”  Grim was held in jail, but according to The Times-Dispatch “is doing everything possible to effect a reconciliation with his wife.”

Grim was released on bond after a week, but quickly rearrested, and by March 23 The Times Dispatch said:

“That a commission of lunacy will be summoned early this week to investigate the Sanity of john J. Grim, the well-known minor league baseball magnate , seems now to be a foregone conclusion…Since his incarceration Grim’s condition has grown so bad that there is no doubt in the minds of the jail attaches that he is insane…Grim has not had his clothes off in a week, and he spends his time in his cell singing, shouting, talking and pacing up and down, begging to be liberated.”

The “commission of lunacy” found Grim insane based on the testimony of Grim’s wife and a doctor named Albert Priddy, and ordered him sent to Virginia’s Southwestern State Hospital in Marion.  It was in front of the commission that Mrs. Grim related the story of the “attempt to murder her with a razor in New York City.”

Southwest State Hospital, Marion, Virginia

Southwest State Hospital, Marion, Virginia

Contradictory reports about Grim’s condition came out during the next year.  The Associated Press said in August Grim was “A raving maniac…not far from death.”  A December story in The Cincinnati Enquirer said “he is improving rapidly and probably will be discharged at an early date…Grim expects to return to Cincinnati.”

Almost a year later, he was still in the hospital, and The Enquirer reported that “Grim is improving in health and expects to visit his Cincinnati friends soon.”

That item was the last newspaper reference to Grim; he was never released and died in the state hospital.

The doctor who testified that Grim was insane, Albert Sidney Priddy, was superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded in Madison Heights, Virginia.  The doctor, and that institution became infamous in the case of Buck v. Bell (the case was Buck v. Priddy until Priddy’s death in 1925; Bell was his successor at the State Colony).  The Supreme Court’s decision in the case–upholding the Virginia’s compulsory sterilization law– resulted in the forced sterilization of more than United States citizens in Virginia and states that enacted similar laws.

Defending their own Honor

12 Aug

In 1909 the Atlanta Crackers won their second Southern Association championships in three seasons.  Big things were expected for 1910; the team’s two 20-game-winning pitchers Tom Fisher and Harold Johns were returning.

The team the Southern press called “the hitless wonders,” which hit .222 while winning the championship added two new bats, outfielder Arista DeHaven, .336 with the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League and Charlie Seitz, .326 with the Norfolk Tars in the Virginia League.

But it took very little for near panic to take hold in Atlanta.

Only eight games into the season the Crackers were 3-5, tied for sixth place.  The Birmingham Age-Herald was ready to pronounce the defending champions finished, and said “there was dissention and dissatisfaction in the ranks.”   The article said that manager Adolph Otto “Dutch” Jordan had already lost control of his team.

The 1910 Atlanta Crackers:  Standing, from Left to right: Arista DeHaven, Charlie Seitz, Paul Sentell, Brown Rogers, Hyder Barr, Roy Moran, and Ed Hohnhorst,  Seated from left: Scott Walker, Hank Griffin, Syd Smith, Otto Jordan, Bick Bayless, Erskine Mayer, Harry Matthews, Harold Johns and Tom Fisher.

The 1910 Atlanta Crackers: Standing, from Left to right: Arista DeHaven, Charlie Seitz, Paul Sentell, Brown Rogers, Hyder Barr, Roy Moran, and Ed Hohnhorst, Seated from left: Scott Walker, Hank Griffin, Syd Smith, Dutch Jordan, Dick Bayless, Erskine Mayer, Harry Matthews, Harold Johns and Tom Fisher.

It wasn’t enough for the team to simply deny the charges; in an unprecedented move they went right to the fans to assure them they were trying to win and happy to be members of the Crackers.

On May 1, The Atlanta Constitution ran a letter “gotten up without solicitation by the boys and the autographs of each and every man is attached hereto:”

A Card to the Faithful Fans of Atlanta:

We the undersigned players of the 1910 ballclub, appreciating to the full the kind of loyal support always accorded us by the good citizens of Atlanta, desire hereby to register an emphatic protest against a statement recently made in a Birmingham paper to the effect that there was dissention among us, and that this dissention, so it was alleged, was the cause of our defeats on the last road trip.

Without stopping to discuss the real reasons which gave us more defeats than victories, we wish to state that it gives us much satisfaction to put our friends on notice that there is not one word of truth in this malicious slander, and further, that we know of no reason why there should be any dissention in our club…It should be further interesting to state, as we do, that the very best of feeling prevails among us all, and there is not one of us who is not doing his very utmost to land another pennant for Atlanta.  We simply ask our friends to continue to put their faith in us, and in return, we desire to give them the assurance that, whether we win another pennant, or not, we are firmly determined to play the best and sincerest ball of our careers—at least so far as honest and persevering effort can aid in bringing about so happy a result.  We confidently hope to amply show both friend and foe, long before the summer of 1910 has passed into baseball history, just how basely we have been misrepresented by this idle and empty charge.

The signatures of the 1910 atlanta Crackers that appeared with their open letter to the fans.

The signatures of the 1910 Atlanta Crackers that appeared with their open letter to the fans.

After the slow start, and their pledge to “play the best and sincerest ball” of their careers,  Atlanta played well the remainder of the season, finishing with a 75-63 record, but the New Orleans Pelicans, behind “Shoeless Joe’ Jackson’s league leading .354 average, and the pitching of 41-year-old Ted Breitenstein (19-9, 1.53 ERA), and 31-year-old Otto Hess (25-9), went wire-to-wire, winning the pennant with a record of 87-53.

Atlanta would not win another pennant until 1913.

“Barnie’s Phenom”

10 Apr

The Baltimore Orioles needed pitching in 1889; Billy Barnie’s team had finished in 5th place in the American Association with a 57-80 record, and a 5.69 team ERA.

The Baltimore papers thought he had found a solution in April of 1889, The Sun said:

“Yesterday a big six-footer strolled up to the ball grounds while the Baltimore boys were at play.  He put on a suit and went in to pitch.  The ball-players laughed at first, but soon found that they could not hit the stranger.  He placed the ball in every conceivable position, and his curves and in-and-out shoots were remarkable.  When he picked up the bat he made the ball and the centre-field fence come together.  Mr. J.M. Ritter, a traveling salesman, had seen the young pitcher at play in Virginia and brought him to Baltimore.”

The Baltimore American was also enthusiastic:

“Great things are expected of Goetz, the Greencastle giant.”

His full name was George Burt Goetz, a 24-year-old house painter from Greencastle, Pennsylvania, who had played semi-pro ball in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

His first outing was against Pennsylvania University at Oriole Park; The Sun said Goetz “delighted 1,000 persons yesterday afternoon by his work in the box.” He pitched five shutout innings, giving up just two hits in a 20-1 victory; he also hit four singles, The Sun raved “He gives promise of becoming a great pitcher, batter and runner.”

The Sun said Goetz’ arrival was almost biblical:

“(He) has apparently created almost as much of a sensation among the local ball enthusiasts as David did when he strolled in among the embattled hosts of the Hebrews and offered to take the Philistine champion down a peg or two. ..Let us hope for the honor of the Baltimore Club that Mr. Goetz will prove a Baltimore David, and that the big champions of opposing teams may fall before his lightning delivery and Heaven-inspired curves.”

Within a week Goetz had been brought back to earth when he was pounded in an exhibition game against the National League’s Boston Beaneaters in Baltimore, he gave up 15 hits, 12 runs (6 earned), and committed three errors in a 12-5 loss.

The Sun conceded that “David met Goliath and came out second best this time,” but remained hopeful:

“(T)here’s life in him yet, which the season may develop into full growth.”

As quickly as he had arrived, it was reported that Goetz had returned to Pennsylvania to recover from an unknown illness; The Sporting Life simply said “Barnie’s Phenom Goetz is sick and recuperating in Greencastle.”

Oriole Manager Billy Barnie

Orioles Manager Billy Barnie

Goetz made it back to Baltimore and pitched in a June 6 game “Between two nines composed of Baltimore club players…for the benefit of the Johnstown (flood) sufferers.”  The Sun said “Goetz was too much for them,” allowing only four hits.

That outing appears to have earned him a shot for his professional debut; eleven days later Goetz started the first game of a double-header against the last place Louisville Colonels.  The Sun said:

“With a hard, steady work and a display of intelligence he may become a success.  At times he would fire the ball over the plate with a speed like a rifle shot, but when men were on bases he was nervous.  He was twelve times safely with a total of seventeen bases.”

Goetz gave up six runs (four earned); Baltimore tied the game with a three-run ninth inning, and won it with four in the tenth, earning Goetz the victory, Bert Cunningham pitched the tenth inning for the Orioles.

It would be his only appearance.

On July 4 the Orioles released Goetz. With little fanfare or explanation Barnie’s phenom was through.

Goetz signed with the York franchise in the Middle States League later in 1889.

He dropped out of sight until 1892 when The Sun reported that Goetz was “the sensation of the Wisconsin-Minnesota League,” pitching for Hayward, Wisconsin, and had recently struck out 19 in a game with the West Superior team.  The paper facetiously noted “It was reported Goetz had drowned in the Johnstown flood, but seems to have turned up again.”

Goetz’ catcher in Wisconsin was a Baltimore native named Milton K. Osborn; the two would play again the following season with a team in Little Falls, Minnesota and both joined the Lynchburg Hill Climbers of the Virginia League in 1894.  No statistics survive for any of Goetz’ post-Baltimore stops.

His trail goes cold after 1894.  There are many listings in city directories for George B. Goetz’ throughout the country for the next several decades, and there are reports that he was in California as late as 1912—but nothing else is known about “Barnie’s phenom”

Brother Joe’s Holdout

29 Nov

Joseph Aloysius “Brother Joe” Corbett got his nickname because lived in the shadow of his older sibling—“Gentleman Jim” Corbett, World Heavyweight Champion.

Baseball was Jim’s first love, and he aspired to pro career, but his time in professional baseball was limited to about three dozen games for a variety of minor league teams from 1897-1900 when his boxing fame made him a drawing card.

Jim was very protective of Joe, and contemporaneous newspaper accounts indicate that he served as something of an agent for his younger brother.

Joe, at 19-years-old and with limited experience in college and two California-based minor leagues, was given a trial with the Washington Senators in 1895—said to be a result of Jim’s friendship with Senators manager Gus Schmelz.  Joe went 0-2 for Washington and was released.

After pitching for the Norfolk Braves in the Virginia League and Scranton Miners in the Eastern League in 1896, Corbett earned another trip to the Big Leagues with Ned Hanlon’s great Baltimore Orioles team, the O’s were 90-39, 9.5 games ahead of the second place Cleveland Spiders.

Joe Corbett

Corbett was 3-0, and won two games against Cleveland in the Temple Cup, the National League post season 7-game series between the first and second place teams.

At the close of the Temple Cup series, while Jim was in New York, Hanlon got Joe to sign a $1400 contract in Baltimore for the 1897 season.

The 1897 Orioles finished in second place, but Corbett established himself as a rising star, posting a 24-8 record.  The Orioles sent Joe a contract for $2100.  Joe returned it unsigned and demanded $3000, and according to some reports, $300 in travel expenses.

The Orioles offered to split the difference.  Joe refused.

Ultimately the parties ended up either $100 apart, or with the Orioles relenting (depending on the source).  Joe still refused, and sat out the entire season.

Some sources, like the book “Baseball Hall of Shame 4,” claim Corbett’s holdout was over Hanlon’s failure to keep a promise to buy Joe a suit for winning 20 games.  The articles from that period and the quotes from the principles would make the suit story appear apocryphal and of later vintage.

Jim Corbett blamed the dispute on Hanlon, who he felt took advantage of his brother with the $1400 contract for 1897. “Gentleman Jim” said:

“Hanlon, as you know, is the cheapest magnate in baseball…he knows very well that I would not allow Joe to sign for such a measly salary and he took advantage of my absence. “

Jim said he told his brother to “Quit Hanlon for all time.”

Joe sat out 1898.  Before the 1899 season Joe told reporters:

“I have gone out of the baseball business for good.”

Like his brother, who retired from the ring on numerous occasions, Joe would be back.

More tomorrow.

Gentleman Jim

A Really Complete Chronology, and Quite a Reason to End up on the Disabled List

10 Oct

The Reach Guide, founded by Major Leaguer turned sporting goods magnet Alfred Reach in 1883, along with the Spalding Guide, founded by Major Leaguer turned sporting good magnet Albert Spalding in 1878, were the annual bibles of baseball.

Both publications prided themselves on providing the most complete chronology of the previous season.

An example of just how complete the Reach Guide could be is found in the 1906 edition.

The entry is about a young pitcher named Gus Bonno.

Bonno was born November 27, 1882 (Baseball reference incorrectly lists his birth year as 1881) in Ohio.  Records for his career are spotty.  After playing for a semi-pro team in Urbana Ohio in 1901 and part of ’02, late that season Bonno appeared in two games with the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association.  Bonno returned to semi-pro the following season and played for the Paducah Indians in the Kitty League in 1904.

Bonno pitched for the Newark Sailors in the Eastern League and Norwich Reds in the Connecticut State League in 1905.

The Kentucky New Era referred to the Bonno as: “The handsome black haired, black-eyed debonair Italian twirler.”  In fact, nearly every contemporaneous newspaper article about Bonno referred to his ethnicity, which underscores the domination of players of Irish and German heritage in 19th and early 20th Century baseball.

Back to the Reach Guide.

On page 160, for the date September 23, 1905:

“Pitcher Gus Bonno at Cincinnati broke his ankle jumping from a second story window of a young woman’s home to avoid being shot by a jealous rival suitor.”

1906 Reach Guide

Bonno recovered enough to join the Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic in the spring of 1906, but was sold to the Norfolk Tars of the Virginia League at the beginning of season.  He continued to pitch until 1911 with stops in the Western League and Bluegrass League.

He passed away in Cincinnati in 1964.

Filling in the Blanks—J. Efird

14 Sep

Baseball Reference lists J. Efird, a pitcher in the Virginia League and Southern Association from 1911-1915.

Jasper Jerome “Jap” Efird was born December 30, 1890 in Albemarle, North Carolina.   Efird was a star pitcher for Washington and Lee University; his brother Walter Guy “Watt” Efird was the team’s catcher.

After leaving Washington and Lee Efrid signed with the Roanoke Tigers in the Virginia League.  The righthander won 70 games lost 37 for Roanoke from 1911-1913, including a 28-13 record in ’13.  In 1912 Efird won the final game of the season against the Petersburg Goobers giving Roanoke the league championship.

In February of 1914 the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association purchased Efird’s contract.  Before the season began Efird developed a sore arm and suffered from other ailments that limited to 6 appearances with Atlanta.  On May 24 Efird’s contract was sold back to Roanoke.

Jasper Jerome “Jap” Efird

Efird won 13 games for Roanoke in 1914 and posting an 18-11 record the following season for the Tigers, relocated to Suffolk, Virginia for the 1915 season.  Despite the respectable showing upon returning to the Virginia League, he never fully recovered from the arm problems and his career ended after the ’15 season, with a career 103-61 mark.

Efird returned to Albemarle where he passed away on May 27, 1935.

The Sad Story of Alan Hill

31 Aug

Alan J. Hill seemed destined for the major leagues.

Nicknamed “Mooney,” he had a mediocre first season as a 20-year-old with the Richmond Colts in the Virginia League (Thirty-five year-old teammate Chief Bender went 29-2 with a 1.06 ERA for the Colts that season).  Hill followed that up with three excellent seasons with the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association.

As a reserve outfielder in 1920 he hit .366.  In 1921, playing in the same outfield as Jim Thorpe, Hill hit .318 in 137 games, and hit .296 in 152 games in 1922 for a terrible Mud Hens team that went 65-101.

Hill moved to the Columbus Senators in 1923 and was the starting centerfielder.  A month into the season he was struggling, hitting .204 through 23 games when he suffered a nervous breakdown.

Nothing is known about the cause of his illness or what his prognosis might have been.  Hill was committed to the Woodville State Hospital in Collier Township, Pennsylvania.

On February 25, 1924 Hill wandered away while working on the grounds with other residents.  The next morning his body was found on the train tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  He was 25.

Hill was most likely buried among the nearly 700 graves marked only with numbers on the grounds of the hospital, which was closed in 1992.

Update:  As noted in the comments, a relative of Alan Hill informed me that he is buried at McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.