Tag Archives: Walter Thornton

“His Jealousy Would Break Forth Violently”

28 Dec

“Ball orchards are the favorite breeding places of green-eyed monsters.”

So said Hugh Fullerton in The Chicago Herald in 1907.

Jealousy among players, he said often resulted in “ludicrous situations” on baseball teams.

“One of the funniest instances that ever came to my notice happened when (Cap) Anson was running the Chicago club.”

Hugh Fullerton

He said that spring Anson had brought in enough pitchers to fill “the whole West Side park.”

One of them was Walter Thornton, who Anson sent to the mound one day:

 “The big fellow was one of the best natural hitters…besides pitching fair ball he rammed out four hits.”

The response:

“The other candidates sat on the benches and looked at each other anxiously as Thornton banged the ball around the lot, and every hit he made caused them deeper woe.

“That evening, just as the sun was setting, a delegation of Cub pitchers slipped out to the clubhouse, ravaged Thornton’s locker, took out his bats, secured (groundskeeper) Charlie Kuhn’s saw and proceeded to saw up every bat Thornton owned.”

Then, said Fullerton, there was the case of, “Little Tommy Hess.”

As a 16-year-old, Hess got into one game for the Baltimore Orioles in 1892:

“There were two other catchers on the team (Wilbert Robinson and Joe Gunson) both veterans, and they would have lost an arm before they would have let Tommy have a chance. He sat on the bench week after week, eager and ready to jump in and prove his worth.

“Finally, he thought his day had come. One of the catchers had been laying off with a split hand—and the other was working. A foul tip in the first inning of the game put the catcher out of business. Before (manager Ned) Hanlon could say a word, Hess had on a protector and was starting for the plate, when the man with the split hand grabbed the mask and protector from him and went in. That broke Hess’ heart.”

Hess played pro ball for another 19 years but never again reached the major leagues.

Fullerton said one of his favorite subjects—Bill Lange—was the object of jealousy during his time in Chicago:

“It is a hard thing to prove, but there are cases where a man on first signaled the batter to hit, as he was going to steal, and then the batter deliberately let the ball go and the runner be thrown out at second. This happened on the old Chicago club so many times that Anson was forced to put one player on the bench for ‘double crossing’ Lange to let him be caught stealing.”

Bill Lange

In Fullerton’s last example he failed to mention the player in question, but it was likely John O’Neill, an outfielder with the 1906 World Series Champions:

“There was a certain outfielder on the White Sox team not long ago who was jealous of (outfielder/manager Fielder) Jones. The man should have been a great ballplayer, but because of his disposition more than anything else, he fell short of being great.

“When this man was not hitting well, he quit…he would let Jones race across his field and get flies and never move. But when that fellow began to get base hits and move up in the batting average, his jealousy of his manager would break forth violently. His criticisms of Jones were bitter, and he refused to permit the manager to take one step into his territory to get a fly ball.

“The beauty of Jones’ character was never better shown than during those times.”

Fielder Jones

O’Neill appeared in 94 games for the 1906 Sox, hitting .248.  Jones used him in only one game during the World Series and O’Neill never played in the major leagues again—spending the last four seasons of his career in the American Association.

“People who saw the Sport are still Laughing”

17 Dec

High expectations came with George W. “Big Mike” Mahoney to his hometown Boston Beaneaters in 1897.

A baseball, track and football star at Georgetown University—he played football until the University disbanded the team after his backfield mate George “Shorty” Bahen—a foot shorter than Mahoney– died from injuries sustained during the team’s Thanksgiving Day game against Columbia in 1894.

George "Big Mike" Mahoney

George “Big Mike” Mahoney

In 1895, he gained notice for his pitching after striking out 13 batters in a game with Yale.

The following year, The Philadelphia Times said:

“He has won enviable renown as a pitcher, where his remarkable strength, speed and ability to curve have made him a very formidable player.  He has also played football, where his remarkable physique, weight and strength have stood him in good stead.  One would imagine that his weight—236 pounds—would prevent his running with any remarkable speed, but it is so distributed—he being probably the largest athlete in the college world, measuring six feet five—that it is little of an encumbrance to him.”

In the spring of 1897, it was rumored that Mahoney would not return to Georgetown and instead sign with Boston.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“(I)t is understood that he will play professionally with the Boston league team.  Mahoney is considered a wonderful pitcher, as well as being a fine catcher and first baseman.”

Shortly after signing with the Beaneaters, The Washington Evening Times said Mahoney had been offered the opportunity to take up yet another sport:

“(Mahoney) has a chance to shine pugilistically.  En route to Pittsburgh Sunday the Bostons had Bob Fitzsimmons for a traveling companion.  Fitz was smitten with Mahoney’s size, and offered to take him in charge and coach him into a high-class heavyweight.”

Bob Fitzsimmons-wanted to train Mahoney for the ring.

Bob Fitzsimmons-wanted to train Mahoney for the ring.

Mahoney turned down the offer.

On May 18 Boston was in Chicago; trailing the Colts 9 to 5 in the eighth inning, Mahoney made his big league debut on the mound for the Beaneaters.

The Colts and The Chicago Daily News were not kind to the rookie:

“Mr. Mahoney, the largest man seen in the League for many moons, made his debut in professional ball at the west Side Grounds yesterday.  He now wishes he had tarried at his Georgetown school.  The reception given Mr. Mahoney was one of the warmest ever seen around these districts since the year 1, and the people who saw the sport are still laughing.

“Mr. Mahoney is 6 feet 5 or more, and one of the finest looking men imaginable.  Small girls, who admire big men, could be heard squeaking, ‘Isn’t he cute?’ all of the stand.  He has been loafing around the park during the present series, doing nothing but taking life easy, and the multitude were really getting inquisitive as to who he was and what right he had to live.

“He went into the fray at a rather inauspicious time.  The Colts had just demolished (Ted) Lewis and had biffed fat (Jack) Stivetts in the solar plexus.  When Mr. Mahoney’s giant frame loomed up there was a shout of laughter, then a pause of dread lest the monster should prove strong and speedy in proportion to his fearful size.

“He threw a ball:  (Bill) Dahlen hit it.  He threw another: (Bill) Lange hit it.  He threw one more: (Walter) Thornton hit it.  And the picnic might have gone on had not the long man climbed eleven feet higher and pulled down a bounding ball (Mahoney had jumped high to rob Colts catcher Tim Donahue of a hit up the middle)”

Mahoney faced seven batters, allowed two runs, three hits, walked one and struck out one.

Mahoney

Mahoney

The Daily News ended the ridicule by allowing that Mahoney might, someday, be a good pitcher:

“The fate of Mr. Mahoney is no new experience for a young pitcher.  Many a man who has afterward been a star has been a horrible fizzle on his first appearance, while many a man who has panned out no good on earth has made a glorious debut.  Thornton was a conspicuous success on his initial day, and has been nothing in the way of box work since.  (Clark) Griffith did not do very well the first tie he pitched for (Cap) Anson, and he is the best of all nowadays.  Mr. Mahoney, if given a fair show, may yet become a (Amos) Rusie.”

Mahoney never received “a fair show.”  He never pitched in another major league game.  He caught one game for Boston, and went 1 for 2 with an RBI, but was released in July of 1897.  Mahoney appeared in two games for the St. Louis Browns the following season—he was 1 for 7 and committed one error.  For his four-game big league career he hit .111 and posted an 18.00 ERA.

After one more season playing for several East Coast minor league teams, Mahoney returned to Boston where he became a police officer; he died there in 1940.

Hence his Careless, Indifferent air when he goes to the Plate to Bat.”

18 Nov

In 1911 Reds manager Clark Griffith told The Cincinnati Times-Star that pitchers no longer hit like they did when he played:

“Give me pitchers who can hit the ball instead of fanning out weakly, I wish there were a few more pitchers available like the top notchers of twenty years ago.  In those days a pitcher believed that he was hired to soak the ball as well as curve it, and he always did his best to get a hit.

(Tim) Keefe (career .187), (Mickey) Welch (.224), (Thomas “Toad”) Ramsey (.204), and (James “Pud”) Galvin  (.201) were among the old-time pitchers who could not bat, but they tried all the time, and if one of them got a hit he was as proud as a kid just breaking into the big league.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

The problem, said Griffith, was that “The pitcher seems to think that when he is delivering the goods in the box nothing more is required of him.  Hence his careless, indifferent air when he goes to the plate to bat.”

Griffith said Cap Anson, “wouldn’t hire a pitcher who couldn’t hit,” and said former Chicago pitchers Pat Luby (.235), Ad Gumbert (.274),  Walter Thornton (.312) and  George Van Haltren (.316, but was primarily an outfielder appearing in 93 games as a pitcher over a 17-year career), “were bear cats with the stick.”

Griffith said of his ability with the bat:

“The old guide-book will show that even your humble servant hit over .300 for Anson.”

Griffith hit .319 for Anson in 1895, and .233 for his career.

The 1911 Reds had only one starting pitcher who hit better than .214, (George Suggs. 256).  He was also the only starter with a winning record (15-13) for Griffith’s sixth place Reds.

George Suggs

George Suggs