Tag Archives: Wee Willie Keeler

“Is the Home Run a Menace to Baseball?”

8 Apr

Boyden Sparkes worked on newspapers in Cincinnati, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, and later became a feature writer for “The Saturday Evening Post,” and was the author of several fiction and nonfiction books. In 1922, he asked the question in The New York Tribune, “Is the home run a menace to baseball?”

Sparkes talked to Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbetts about Babe Ruth and the increase in home runs.:

“All of the home runs are to be accounted for by heavier bats. I don’t mean that the bat actually weighs more, but there is more of the body of the wood down where it meets the ball.

“Rule 15 says the bat must be round and no longer than forty-two inches and no thicker than two and three-quarter inches and didn’t concern themselves so much with heft or thickness. Now they are mostly using bludgeons…I’d say 85 percent of the increased number of home runs is due to this.”

Ruth’s Bat

Sparkes then sought out:

“(A) mortal with a perspective on the true merits of the rise in the home-run market…But where is one to find a baseball star who was lost from the firmament a decade ago?

“It is not so difficult when the star is (Willie) Keeler and information is sought in Brooklyn, a few months ago in an invalid’s wheelchair he was trundled off the boat that ferries between Sheepshead Bay and Rockaway Point.”

Keeler, just 50, was only months away from death:

“(H)is friend and physician, Dr. Charles Wuest watches with tender solicitude while the old ballplayer who used to go from home to first like a flash doles out a precious energy ration for a short walk on the beach.”

Asked what the “old boy” thought of Babe Ruth, Keller said:

“He’s got a beautiful swing. Yes, he’s got a beautiful swing. Ruth is better than anyone. I don’t mean that he is a scientific hitter (Billy shook his head here), but he certainly is a wonder with home runs.

“I don’t know whether the ball is anymore ‘live’ or not. I’ve only seen one game—the last championship—since they claim the ball has been changed, and I couldn’t judge by that, but there are several factors that have altered the chances of the pitchers and the batters.”

Keeler

Keeler called those factors “a changing struggle.”

He said:

“Every baseball player who studies the game is really an inventor seeking ways to alter it. It’s like the centuries-old contest between the makers of armor and the makers of projectiles…It’s the same way with bank burglars and bank vaults.”

Keeler said outlawing the spitball was a key factor in aiding hitting:

“The spitball was one I couldn’t figure. I never did approve of it either. It doesn’t look right to see fellow spitting on a ball. It’s unhealthy, too, as far as that goes. Then they got to using all sorts of tuff on the ball, rubbing it with emery paper and putting paraffin on it.”

Noting the many changes in baseball’s rules over the years, Sparkes said, “Other countries do not change the rules of their national sports as Americans do. A bull fighter of today could use the swords of a matador of a century ago.”

This, he said was true of cricket as well and spoke to Harry Rushton, secretary of New York’s Metropolitan District Cricket League, who said:

“What? Revise the rules of cricket! Why, my dear sir it wouldn’t be cricket.”

Rushton said:

“The revision of rules in cricket is usually for clarification. The only change that I can recall which altered the balance of chance between the batsman and the bowler was really due to the American influence, I should say, and England, of course, has never accepted the change.”

Rushton said a “movement among American cricketers” attempted to “increase and ‘over’ from six to ten balls.” A change from six to eight was made in Australia, but “the Briton at home clings to the six ball over.”

After talking to Ebbetts and Keeler, and the cricketer, Sparkes arrived at the conclusion that many have when faced with another radical change to the game:

“Clearly, if baseball is to remain baseball. The men who control it will have to stop tampering with it.”

Ed Barrow’s All-Time All-Stars

26 Mar

“The old-timers. They were better hitters! No question about it.”

Said Ed Barrow after he became president of the New York Yankees in 1939 and Jimmy Powers of The New York Daily News had the 71-year-old pick his all-time team.

Barrow

Powers said of Barrow:

“The beetle-browed executive, one of the few remaining links between the gas-lit, coach-and-four, Wee Willie Keeler era and the moderns, boomed at us across his wide, flat-topped desk in the offices of the New York baseball club.”

Barrow was “a great believer in ‘natural born’ stars,’ telling Powers, “A fellow has it—or he hasn’t it.”

He explained his theory:

“Once in a while a manager will make a few minor corrections in stance, or change something here and there, but if player hasn’t the natural coordination, the God-given physique, the reflexes for rhythm and timing, he’ll never get ‘em. Sometimes one man will get more mileage out of his talents than another because he will work harder. That’s why the old-timers were better hitters. They looked at better pitching, and they practiced and practiced and practiced.”

Barrow said there was one reason in particular for why old-timers were better hitters:

“The tipoff is in the strikeout column. The moderns strikeout oftener—and there’s your answer. The present-day hitter is so homerun crazy that half the time he closes his eyes and swings; four bases or nothing! Usually, it’s nothing.”

Barrow’s told Powers:

“Now, on my All-Star, All-Time team I’d put Cobb, Speaker and Ruth in the outfield. Chase, Lajoie, Wagner, and Jimmy Collins in the infield. Matty, Johnson, Waddell, and McGinnity, pitchers. And Bill Dickey, catcher…I’d put Joe DiMaggio on that team as utility outfielder. I’d put Lou Gehrig as substitute first baseman and pinch hitter. Bill Bradley, Eddie Collins, Swede Risberg, and Buck Weaver would also get contracts on this ‘Dream Team.’ Keeler would be another utility outfielder and Bresnahan would be my second catcher. Ruffing and Gomez would fill out my pitching staff!”

Barrow’s All-Stars

Barrow said he could offer “a million reasons’ for the rationale for each selected player. 

“(R)ecords can be misleading…I won’t quote you records of my All-Timers…A man must be in the dugout or in the stands to weigh the merits of a player and not be influenced by a record book.”

He said in choosing his team, he held “no grudges,” which is why he selected Risberg and Weaver, “Black Sox scandal or not.”

He said he would add Joe Jackson to the team, “if I thought he was smart enough. But Jackson, strange to say, was the only dumb one on that whole team. Up until 1938s Yankees—those Black Sox were the best team in baseball!”

As for some of his picks:

“Chase on first base! Nobody near him. He could throw a ball through a knothole, covered the whole infield like a cat, and remember he used a glove that just covered his fingers and seldom had a palm. The ‘peach baskets’ first basemen use today would have been barred years back, Chase could hit behind the runner, bunt, steal, fake a bunt at third and then bunt over the third baseman’s head. He could do all the tricks.”

Chase

He called Napoleon Lajoie “the most graceful second baseman I have ever seen. He had a rifle arm and was as slick as a panther,” and gave him the edge “by a slight margin” over Eddie Collins.

Honus Wagner, who Barrow signed for the Patterson Silk Weavers in 1896, “is my nomination as the greatest individual ballplayer of all time.”

Of his first impression of Wagner, he said:

“He was pretty terrible when I first ran across him, looked awkward as all get-out. But suddenly he would come through with a perfectly dazzling play that had everybody on our bench swallowing his tobacco cud in astonishment.”

Like Lajoie, Barrow said Jimmy Collins just edged out the second choice—Bill Bradley—because:

“Collins could make perfect throws to first from any position. When an infielder makes an off-balance throw today the crowd gives him a big hand. The old timers did it every play because the old ball was slow dribbling out there. Today the lively ball comes out fast in one or two hops, and this gives the third baseman a chance to make his throw from a ‘straightened up’ stance.…Remember, in the old days the ball was dark, wet with slippery elm juice; often it was smudged with grass stains, hard to follow.”

In the outfield, Barrow said, “I don’t think anyone will give you an argument on Cobb-Speaker-Ruth.”

He called Ty Cobb “the greatest hitter of all time,” with “a lightning-quick brain and plenty of gut.”

Babe Ruth, he said was, in addition to the being the “great slugger of all-time,” changed the game because of “His salary, his magnetic personality, and his publicity.”

Tris Speaker “was superb. A good hitter, a great fielder, a brainy man. He was so confident of his ability ‘to go back’ he practically camped on second base.”

Of the pitching staff, he said Christy Mathewson “could do almost everything with a baseball—practically make it talk.”

Of Walter Johnson he said:

“He had awe-inspiring speed. You’d stand up there watching and suddenly—pfffft—pfffft—pfffft. Three phantom bullets whizzed past. Too fast for your eyes to focus ‘em.”

Rube Waddell was “the best lefthander” he had seen.

Joe McGinnity appeared to be a sentimental choice:

“(He) was a work horse, a competent soul who loved the game so much I believe he’d work for nothing.”

Bill Dickey, he said was not “given the credit” he deserved:

“He’s a hitter. A workmanlike receiver. Handles pitchers marvelously. Has a good arm. Is fast. Is always one jump ahead of the opposition. Dickey does everything well.”

“Show Life”

29 Jan

Willie Keeler got a couple of details wrong, but told a reporter for The New York Daily News in 1912 about the two best pitchers he ever faced:

“I found during the long time that I was in the big leagues that Amos Rusie and Ed Walsh were the hardest pitchers for me to hit. I have gone through some seasons without striking out, but Rusie and Walsh have the distinction of making me fan twice in one game.”

Keeler struck out so infrequently that it may have seemed like he went an entire season without one, but while he only struck out 136 times in 9616 plate appearances–and from 1897 through 1901 struck out just 20 times–he never had a season with none.

Keeler

Keeler said ‘Rusie did the trick when I was with Baltimore in 1904;” it was in 1894.

“Amos could shoot them over. He had more speed on his curve ball than some of the present-day pitchers have on their fast one. When the big fellow, who was with the Giants, and was going right he was a wonder. How he could buzz them over the plate! I know for a fact that when he was going well it was not necessary for him to pitch any curves. That fast one always had a beautiful hop on it, and it was impossible to connect with it.”

Walsh, he said, had the best spit ball:

“I always thought Jack Chesbro had about the best I ever saw until I went against Walsh. Ed’s breaks better than any I have ever faced.

“Some days a spitball pitcher hasn’t the break on his delivery that he has on others. But when Walsh is good, he is a great pitcher. He may not be effective without the spitball, but they tell me that he still has the spitball going as well as ever.”

Five years earlier, “after much persuasion,” Keeler shared his baseball tips with The Washington Post:

Never–

Throw back your foot and step away from the ball.

Bend the back foot or shift its position as the ball approaches.

Lunge at the ball as if trying to make a homerun.

Strike at every ball that is thrown.

Lose your nerve after two strikes

Wait for instructions if you see a chance to win the game

Always—

Chop the ball so it will not pop up in the air

Step into the ball and meet it with your whole weight on your front foot. This puts your whole weight into the blow.

Watch the ball from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand

Hit at the good balls only. Don’t be too anxious. Wait and you can rip out the good one.

Get into your position quickly when your side is out. Show life.

“Danny had been Drinking Steadily”

6 May

In July of 1893, the Brooklyn Grooms announced that veteran second baseman Danny Richardson had been suspended.

Manager Dave Foutz told The Brooklyn Citizen:

“I have laid Richardson off without pay until he can get into condition. While we were in Baltimore Richardson shut himself in his room at the hotel and said he was sick. He never sent any communication to me, however, and as I knew a thing or two, I decided to lay him off.”

dr

Richardson

Team president Charles Byrne was more direct, telling the paper “Danny had been drinking steadily, and had not tried to play ball.”

Byrne said:

“He went astray once before but he promised to reform and said he had been treated well and had no fault to find with the club.”

byrne

Byrne

Byrne said on the road trip the team had just finished, “Richardson constantly violated the club’s rules, and greatly weakened the team through his inability to play ball properly.”

On that trip, which began on June 26, the Grooms won the first five games—putting them in first place—then they dropped 14 of 15 (with a tie); putting them in 5th place, eight and  half games back before returning to Brooklyn.

Richardson defended himself in The Citizen:

“I am a sick man. I have a certificate from a physician which ought to convince Manager Foutz that I am unable to play ball. My stomach has been troubling me and my lungs are weak. I have had a bad cold which has affected my lungs since the season opened. I want to deny that I have been drinking. This layoff is merely to get rid of paying me my money. I have never been charged with drinking before, and I have always borne the reputation of being a reliable player. When a man’s sick he can’t play ball, and that’s all there is to it.”

The Brooklyn Standard Union said Richardson “says he is falsely accused of ‘tippling;’ that the false news has reached his home and his business partner, thereby injuring his reputation,” and that he would not play for Brooklyn again unless Foutz and Byrne “retract what is alleged.”

Richardson, who had lived his entire life in Elmira, New York, and was a partner in a local dry goods firm, Sheehan, Dean & Company which operated stores in New York and Pennsylvania—he remained with the company for the rest of his life—was extremely popular, and the town’s paper’s took up his cause. The Gazette and Free Press made it clear where the locals stood:

“The reports…will not affect his excellent reputation as a good ball player, and an enterprising businessman, in the least. Everybody here knows Dan too well to take any stock in Manager Foutz’ charges.”

New York sportswriters quickly took sides as well. O.P. Caylor, in The New York Herald said up until the suspension, “very few baseball patrons knew” that Richardson drank to excess, “But to those more intimately acquainted with him it was no news that Danny went off on a quiet ‘bat;’ occasionally.”

opcaylor11

 Caylor

He also made it clear he thought the infielder was overrated to begin with:

“Richardson has been known as the ‘King of second baseman.’ He probably should have divided that honor with (Bid) McPhee, and (Fred) Dunlap, (Ross) Barnes and (Fred) Pfeffer in their day were, in an all-around sense, Richardson’s superiors.”

Caylor said the “proof” that Richardson “deserved what he got,” was that “The Brooklyn club has a deserving record for leniency and square dealing with its ballplayers. No club in the country acts more fairly toward with its ballplayers.” Therefore he concluded, suspending him meant there was “no shadow of doubt,” about Richardson’s guilt.

Richardson’s fate highlighted “the greatest of all evils” in baseball, said Caylor:

“Why it is that more than 50 percent of professional baseball players are excessive users of intoxicating liquors is a problem that has not yet been worked out.”

Sam Crane, infielder turned baseball writer, said in The New York Press that Richardson was being treated unfairly. He criticized Foutz and Byrne for spreading rumors about the second baseman before news of the suspension broke. Crane said while he covered Richardson during his years with the Giants:

“(He) was a model player in every way and was often held up as an example for other players to follow. He was a credit to the profession, and not a breath of suspicion ever touched him.”

Crane was concerned by the team’s “spiteful tone,” and felt that Richardson might never play again:

“This may be base ball law, but it is doubtful if it would be held as lawful in any court in this broad land, and it is not likely that any but a baseball magnate would so consider it.”

Byrne doubled down after Richardson’s demand for a retraction. He gave The Brooklyn Eagle a detailed account of the games Richardson missed and why:

“”Mr. Richardson says he’s been sick. Very likely, but there is usually cause for sickness. His sick spells began early in the season. On May 9, in New York Mr. Richardson about the second inning had to leave the game. He said his head was dizzy and he could not see. He failed to report the next day. He played from May 11 to May 27 inclusive. He was unfit to play ball May 29 and failed to report for either of the games of Memorial Day.”

Additionally, Byrne said, Richardson “made his appearance in Brooklyn” late on June 5 and “His appearance was painfully noticeable.” And, Richardson’s “sick spells” always seemed to happen on Mondays and continued throughout June.

Byrne told the paper that he spoke to his player before the road trip:

“Richardson admitted most frankly to me that he had not done right, that he was heartily ashamed of himself, but that he had made up his mind to stop his nonsense and by good work redeem himself.”

Byrne said Richardson behaved badly on road trip, including an incident in the billiard room at the Gibson House Hotel in Cincinnati, where Foutz “as a matter of kindness, went to him and begged him not to make a show of himself in a public place.”

When Richardson failed to arrive at the ballpark in Baltimore on July 18 and 19, Byrne said the team could not “be imposed upon any longer.”

Byrne told The Standard Union:

“There will be no withdrawal or apology of any statements made–we have never made charges—because everything so far published is true. Mr. Richardson—if we desire his services—will play with Brooklyn or not at all. He will not be released; he will not be exchanged for the best ballplayer in the country, not can his services be secured for any money consideration whatever.”

With the situation at an impasse, The Eagle saw one upside:

“The recent trouble in the Brooklyn team which resulted in the suspension of Danny Richardson, was the cause of Brooklyn securing, beyond all odds, the latest youngster in the league. William H. Keeler.”

The Grooms purchased Keeler from the Giants for $800 five days after Richardson’s suspension. Two weeks later, The Eagle said:

“When he joined the team he was a good man, but of course, he lacked the knowledge of the intricate points possessed by the old timers, In a short while, however he mastered all the points, and today is the equal of any of the star players.”

Keeler hit .313 in 20 games, but apparently did not impress Foutz and Byrne as much he impressed The Eagle; he was traded to Baltimore with Dan Brouthers for George Treadway and Billy Shindle before the 1894 season.

Richardson hid out from the controversy in Elizabethtown, New York, and according to The Elizabethtown Post, played at least one game with the town’s club:

“(Richardson) played with the home team and very materially aided in the happy result (a 16 to 14 victory). His brilliant playing was closely watched by a large crowd of spectators and for the space of two hours he was little less than an idol. When he made an excusable muff, owing to collision with a base runner it was the surprise of the season to think him human enough to err.”

drelizabethtown

Richardson’s game in Elizabethtown

Richardson returned to Elmira in October and played games with the local amateur team, the Cornings.

Rumors began circulating in December that Richardson and team would come to some compromise; The New York World made the paper’s position in the dispute clear:

“The Brooklyn Baseball Club, it is said, will extend clemency to Danny Richardson next year and condescendingly allow him to breathe and play ball next year if he so desires.”

On December 14, the team announced that Richardson was free to play in 1884. The team’s treasurer, Ferdinand A. “Gus” Abell told The Standard Union:

“If Foutz wants Richardson to play second base, the latter is at liberty to come to Brooklyn next spring and sign a contract. If Richardson is not wanted, I’d be perfectly willing to trade him off; but I wouldn’t sell his release. New York can have him for (Amos) Rusie or one of their star players, as I think he would attend to business under (John Montgomery) Ward and play good ball.”

foutz

Foutz

Brooklyn appeared to keep the door open for the second baseman to return. Foutz told The Brooklyn Times in January that he wrote Richardson “asking him what his intentions were,” but that he had received no reply.” The New York Herald said that Richardson wrote in letter that he was “afraid that if he should decide to play under Foutz again the cranks would give him a roasting whenever he made an error.”

Several trades were rumored over the next several months. The Herald said four clubs—Louisville, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and New York– wanted him, The Chicago Tribune said Richardson would be traded to St. Louis for Kid Gleason, The Philadelphia Inquirer said the Giants had offered outfielder Mike Tiernan in trade, while The Louisville Times said Richardson would be traded there for Tom Brown.

In February, The Louisville Courier-Journal said Richardson would be sold to the Colonels:

“The exact amount is a secret, but it is not far from $2500.”

But the deal became stalled for a month, with news that either Richardson, despite meeting with manager Billy Barnie and captain Fred Pfeffer in New York , was still hesitant about joining them in Kentucky, or that the Colonels were trying to pay less than originally agreed upon.

When the Brooklyn correspondent for Sporting Life claimed, “Louisville sighs for Richardson, and bothers Brooklyn for him, but when asked a fair price…offer one half the amount.,” The Courier-Journal responded:

“It does seem a little steep to pay $2500 for a player who was suspended for dissipation.”

The deal was finally made on March 15, Louisville paid $2250. The New York Press said that Byrne “thought that was a good amount,” because it was the same Brooklyn paid Washington when they traded Bill Joyce and cash to acquire him.

Barnie told The Courier his team’s prospects for 1894 rested on having acquired Richardson:

“There had been so much talk and Danny is a man of such great value, that I felt we must get him or quit. We couldn’t afford to quit, so we just got him.”

Louisville went 36-94 and finished in 12th place; Richardson moved to shortstop, played in 116 games and hit .256; the keystone combination of Pfeffer and Richardson accounted for 132 errors.

In the season’s final week, after the September 24th game—an 8 to 7 loss to the Giants–his team more than 50 games out of first place, Richardson asked for and received his release. The New York World said:

“Danny Richardson has not been on the Louisville payroll since the first part of this week. He forfeited half a month’s pay to be permitted to leave for his home in Elmira. He is tired of baseball, disheartened with the playing of his club and sick of criticisms that fell upon him when he took chances to make difficult plays and missed the plays. It is likely that he will give up baseball.”

The 31-year-old never played another major league game.

“If the Other Fellow got cut you were Glad”

24 Apr

The Detroit News recorded an off season “fanning bee” between Browns manager Jimmy McAleer and Tigers manager Hughie Jennings in 1907:

“’Those were the days when we really hated each other, said Jimmy. ‘Weren’t they Hughie? There was no sitting on the home bench when you went into a town, and there was no handshaking. If the other fellow got cut you were glad, and if you got cut you vowed vengeance. They kind of thought more about winning and less about pay then, didn’t they? Seems that way anyway.’”

mcaleer

Jimmy McAleer

McAleer then moved on to Jennings’ days with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1890s:

“I can remember you fellows to this day coming into the park. And what the crowd used to call you, Chesty? Why, there never lived a crowd more swelled on themselves; you and (John) McGraw and (Willie) Keeler and that bunch. We would give our eye teeth to give you a beating and take the enthusiasm out of you.”

Back to how the game had changed, McAleer talked about Jesse Burkett’s reaction when he joined the Browns after 12 seasons in the National League:

“He sat on the bench beside me. Suddenly he began growling and kicking the dirt.

‘”What in the thunder’s the matter with you?’ I asked

“’Look at ‘um, look at ‘um, he kept saying, ‘handshaking league. Handshaking, look at ‘um.

“He was wild with rage because some of the boys were shaking hands with the visitors.”

Jennings never said a word.

“She Thinks him the Greatest Pitcher of the day” 

16 Jan

When Cy Young arrived in Boston to serve as pitching coach for the Harvard University baseball team—Wee Willie Keeler was hired as hitting coach—The Boston Globe said:

“Harvard picked out two very modest players for their coaches in Cy Young and Billy Keeler. Both will make good.”

cy

Cy Young

The Boston Post took the opportunity to introduce Boston fans to “Mrs. Cy Young, “of Roba Miller Young, The Post said:

“(She) is a stylish blonde with a charming manner. She is devoted to her popular husband and follows baseball news carefully. Although she does not travel with him while he is ‘on the road,’ she knows the game thoroughly and can keep a score as though she were an official scorekeeper.”

She told the paper:

“Oh, I just love Boston. I fell in love with it last summer when I came here with Mr. Young. It is so much cooler than St. Louis, where we used to live, and there are so many seashore places near.”

Mrs. Young told the paper “Her fads” were hunting and fishing, which she and Cy did together during the off season.

mrscy.jpg

Roba Young

“Of Cy Mrs. Young is very proud. She thinks him the greatest pitcher of the day.”

She said her husband had enjoyed his time on the Harvard campus, and was also asked about Cy’s thoughts on the prospects for the 1902 Boston Americans:

“Mrs. Young stated that she thinks Boston has a crack team for 1902, and ought to be in the running from the start.

“Mrs. Young said: ‘The National League seems to be in a bad way. They thought they had everything their own way, and never dreamed of a successful rival.’

“’I guess the success of the Americans must have astonished them a little. But I think with Mr. Young that there is plenty of room for both the National and the American Leagues.’”

Harvard, with William Clarence Matthews at shortstop, finished 21-3.

Young went 32-11 with a 2.15 ERA for the third place Americans who finished 77-60.

“Those $8 Diamond cuff buttons cost us the Championship”

11 Apr

Clark Griffith never got over losing the pennant to the Boston Americans by 1 ½ games in the American League’s first great pennant race in 1904.

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Over the years, he wasn’t even able to decide which of his New York Highlanders’ three straight losses to Boston in October was the most “hard luck” game, and just who he blamed for letting the season slip away.

In 1914, Griffith told Stanley Milliken of The Washington Post that second baseman Jimmy Williams, who failed to heed his instructions at the plate during the game that gave the pennant to Boston on October 10—Griffith barely mentioned the wild pitch Jack Chesbro threw which allowed Boston to score the winning run.

But two years earlier, he told a different story to Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner –in in this one he put the blame on himself and Chesbro, but not for the October 10 game:

“There never was any hard luck except mine.  Whenever I hear them tell hard luck stories I think to myself that they don’t know what it is.”

[…]

“The race had narrowed down to New York and Boston.  We both came east from our last Western trip with (a half game) separating us.”

Griffith said his club returned to New York believing all five games would be played in New York as scheduled, but discovered that New York owner Frank Farrell “not thinking we would be in the race at all, had in the middle of the season leased the Highlanders park to the Columbia University team for football on Saturday.”

As a result, the two Saturday games were moved to Boston.

“We beat Boston on Friday 3 to 2, and that put us where we only had to break even in the next four games to win.  Chesbro had pitched the Friday game.  I did my planning and decided to pitch Jack Powell the two games in Boston on Saturday, and to leave Chesbro at home to get a good rest over Sunday and to be ready to pitch the two games on Monday if it became necessary, knowing that with two days of good rest he could do it.”

chesbro2

Jack Chesbro

Griffith said his pitcher had other plans:

“When I got down to the depot that night there was Chesbro begging to go with us to Boston.  Some fool friends of his had notified him that they intended to present him with diamond cuff buttons in Boston, and he was wild to go.  I could not refuse him under the circumstances but those $8 diamond cuff buttons cost us the championship.

“(Once in Boston) Chesbro was crazy to pitch, and he warmed up in Boston and declared he felt better than at any time during his life.  I was angry because I wanted him to rest, and refused him.   He almost cried and said he had repeated numerous times during the season and always had won.  I said ‘no’ that we couldn’t take the chance.”

But Griffith said his team pressured him:

“Chesbro got (Wee Willie) Keeler, (Kid) Elberfeld and all the boys to come to me and beg me to let him pitch.  (Jack) Powell came to me and said he would keep warmed up and ready to relieve Chesbro in the first game.  I fell for it, seeing Chesbro had already warmed up and my plan for resting him was spoiled. He was good for (three innings), but before anyone could relieve him in the next Boston made six runs and the game was lost (13-2)…Powell  and Cy Young met in the second game and Boston won 1 to 0.”

And Griffith was quick to blame that loss on his “hard luck” as well:

Griffith's "Hard Luck" Highlanders

Griffith’s “Hard Luck” Highlanders

“The one run was scored on the rankest kind of luck.  A ball thrown (by John Anderson) from the outfield to (third baseman Wid) Conroy got by him…allowing the run to score.  The ball would not have rolled five feet from Conroy, but the crowd had pushed up to within three feet of third base.

This made it necessary for us to win both games on Monday.  And in the first game, in the ninth inning, with two out and two strikes on (Freddy) Parent, Chesbro let his spitball slip for a wild pitch and gave Boston the game.  We won the next 1 to 0 but the pennant was done.

“If there ever was harder luck than that, I don’t want to hear of it.”

“He thought he knew more than his Manager”

14 Oct

New York Highlanders pitcher Jack Chesbro’s wild pitch in the top of the ninth inning in the first game of an October 10, 1904 doubleheader with the Boston Americans allowed the winning run to score in a 3 to 2 game, and ended the first great American League pennant race, Boston winning the championship by 1 ½ games over New York.

Jack Chesbro

Jack Chesbro

But, ten years later, Chesbro’s manager, Clark Griffith, put the blame for losing the game, and the pennant, squarely on another member of the team.

Griffith told Stanley Milliken of The Washington Post:

“Players are often of the opinion that they know more than their manager, and simply on this account New York lost a pennant to Boston in 1904.”

[…]

“It was either Boston or New York, and as fate would have it, the schedule brought us together. I sent in Jack Chesbro, who at the time was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball.  ‘Big’ Bill Dinneen worked for Boston, and when he was right had few superiors.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Griffith said the moment that lost the pennant came when “Dinneen began to weaken,” and allowed two runs—Griffith, in his ten-year-old recollection incorrectly said it was the seventh inning; it was actually the fifth.  Dinneen had just walked “Wee Willie” Keeler and “Kid” Elberfeld, forcing in a second run and loading the bases.  With two out, and 2 to 0 lead, Griffith picked up the story:

“Every man that went to the bat (in the fifth inning) had instructions to wait ‘em out.

(Jimmy) Williams, my second baseman was also sent up with the same orders.  But he thought he knew more than his manager.  He did not even look over the first ball, but banged away at it, thinking perhaps he might clean the bases.  What happened?  Well, he rolled weakly (to Dinneen) and the side was retired.  There is no telling how many men Dinneen would have walked.”

Jimmy Williams

Jimmy Williams

Chesbro’s wild pitch was merely a footnote in Griffith’s story, and he failed to mention Williams’ throwing error in the seventh that allowed two runs to score. The pennant, according to Griffith, was lost because Williams failed to listen to his manager; a widespread problem in baseball according to the manager:

“Not only on this occasion but on many, have I seen a player go directly against the orders of his manager and bad results follow.  Of course, we all have different ideas regarding what is to be done at the critical moment, but brains count in baseball just as much as it does in any other walk of life.

“Give me a bunch of ballplayers with superior brains but not as much actual playing ability as opponents and I will win just as many games as they do.“

Despite Williams’ thinking he “knew more than his manager,”  he remained as Griffith’s second baseman for three more seasons.

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

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.