Tag Archives: Western Association

“Durbin’s Career in Baseball was Meteoric”

21 Jan

Blaine “Kid” Durbin was a sure thing. So said Frank Chance on the eve of the 1907 season.

As a 19-year-old, Durbin posted a 32-8 record for the Joplin Miners in the Western Association the previous year. Chance told The Chicago Daily-News:

“Blaine Durbin is going to be a sensational pitcher before long. When he stacks up against a club like Boston, with four or five left-handed hitters, he is going to make a great showing. What I like best about him is his nerve. Nothing can freeze him.”

durbin.jpg

Durbin

Chance said he was not concerned that Durbin was just five foot eight, nor was Henry “Farmer” Vaughan, manager of the Southern Association Birmingham Barons.

Chance said after Durbin pitched in a game that spring in Alabama, Vaughan approached him to see if “there was any chance of his getting” the rookie pitcher, and Chance mentioned Durbin’s size. Vaughn replied:

“He’s as big as Clark Griffith (Griffith is listed at 5’ 6”), and Griffith used to strike me out quite often. If Griffith was big enough, so is Durbin.”

Chance said:

“I told Vaughan I had no idea of letting him go.

“’Let me ask just one favor of you then,’ answered Vaughan: ‘don’t leave him in this league. If I can’t have him, I don’t want to have to play against him.’”

Chance said “scarcely a day passes that I don’t get a query” about Durbin and Chance said half the National League wanted him:

“I guess Durbin has a permanent berth with the Cubs.”

Durbin pitched in just five games for the Cubs (0-1 5.40), and only remained with the team for the entire season because when the Cubs tried to send him to Omaha in June, according to The Chicago Tribune, “The Boston Nationals stepped in” and would have taken Durbin.

He remained with the team all season and appeared in six games as an outfielder and pinch hitter.

Durbin did not get into in a game during Chicago’s World Series victory over the Detroit Tigers, but his hometown paper, The Fort Scott (Kansas) Republican, said he took home $2300.10 in postseason money and used it to buy a farm.

Still a hero in the Missouri town where he won 32 games in 1906, The Joplin Globe called him “the best baseball pitcher that ever wore a Joplin uniform,” when Durbin visited friends there and “proudly displayed the world’s championship emblem…in the form of a watch charm and represents a bear’s head holding a baseball.” Durbin told the paper the Cubs had big plans for him in 1908:

“Manager Chance assured me that I would be one of the regular twirlers next season.”

The 1908 campaign got off to a bad start for Durbin even before the team’s opener in Cincinnati on April 14. Charles Dryden, the baseball writer at The Chicago Tribune, who had his own nickname for Durbin, said:

“Danny Dreamer Durbin lost out at the distribution of new uniforms, which took place at the fashionable hour of high noon. There were but twenty togas for twenty-one demon athletes. When the Peerless Leader sounded the boot and saddle call, Danny was in his apartment perusing the latest messenger boy thriller in the Tip Top Weekly and Donohue copped the new clothes.”

The “Donohue” referred to by Dryden was pitcher Joe Donohue, who had spent 1907 with the Spaldings in the Chicago City League; he was with the club at the beginning of the season but never appeared in a game for the Cubs or any other professional team.

Presumably, when Donohue was cut loose, Durbin was rewarded with a uniform—when he made his first appearance at West Side Grounds on April 22, after the team’s season opening road trip Dryden wrote in The Tribune:

“Danny Dreamer Durbin looked like a five-cent plate of ice cream in his new white suit.”

The “Danny Dreamer” nickname was placed on Durbin by Dryden in 1907, when the entire Cubs team attended a play featuring actress Lillian Russell “an ardent baseball fan,” after the World Series victory. According to The Sporting News:

“Durbin was a member of the party and occupied a prominent place in the front row of the box, all togged out in his dress suit and patent leathers.

“In appearance of Miss Russell’s hospitality, the Cubs chipped in and bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers for the popular actress. The bouquet was to have been presented her across the footlights.

“But Durbin stole a march on the Cubs. He copped the flowers and disappeared from the box. Shortly afterwards the bouquet was presented through he wings. Durbin did the presentation…(Dryden) wrote the story of Durbin’s little steal and told how he had done the ‘Danny Dreamer’ stunt.”

The closest Durbin came to pitching again for the Cubs was on June 2, with the club trailing the Pirates 7 to 1 in the bottom of the fifth, The Tribune said Chance had Durbin ready to enter the game, but:

“(W)hile little Danny Dreamer was warming up the Cubs got mad and pounded Vic Willis into a shoestring, scoring four runs.”

Mordecai Brown instead took the mound in the sixth and promptly allowed two runs. The Cubs lost 12 to 6.

Durbin remained with the team for the entire season, appearing in 14 games as an outfielder and pinch hitter, hitting .250 (7 for 28), and for a brief period in July it looked like he might get more playing time. The Daily News said:

“(Durbin’s) work in center field since the Cubs returned to their home park stamps this little southpaw as a man possessing the qualifications for developing into a grand outfielder.”

The paper also noted his “speed going down to first,” and claimed, “It is doubtful whether there is a faster man getting down to first in the big leagues than Blaine Durbin.”

Durbin all but disappeared from box scores after July but picked up another world championship check despite again not making an appearance in the series—however, it was not quite the windfall of 1907; The Tribune said Durbin was forced to split a $1500 share three ways (the shares were $1400 but the Cubs added $100 to make the three-way split) with pitcher Rube Kroh who appeared in two games during the regular season, and team trainer A. Bert Semmens.

Durbin refused to sign his contract the following season and vented his frustration to The Fort Scott Republican; the paper took the hometown heroes’ side:

“The older pitchers of the team have done all possible to hold him out of the game, knowing that he would soon take their place if worked regularly (he also) ranked as the fastest base runner on the team.”

The paper also noted Durbin’s anger at being allotted a one third share of World Series money and said he would renew a request he made during the 1908 season that he be “sold, released, or traded to some team where he would be used.”

The Republican said:

“While he appreciates fully the honor of being a member of the champion baseball team of the world, he would prefer to belong to a lesser team and receive just treatment.”

The day after word of Durbin’s grievances appeared in Chicago papers, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds.

Being sent to a “lesser team” did not help. Durbin appeared in just six games as a pinch hitter with the Reds, he was 1 for 5 with a walk, and was traded to the Pirates in May. He was 0 for 1 as a pinch hitter with the Pirates before drawing his release.

Durbin never made it back to the major leagues. He finished the 1909 season with the Scranton Miners in the New York State League, hitting just .219 and playing the outfield.

The Pirates sold his contract to the Western League Omaha Rourkes after the season, but he refused to report and spent 1910 playing semi-pro ball in Miami, Oklahoma, where he also operated a cigar store and billiard parlor. The Kansas City Star wrote about him as a cautionary tale:

“So Blaine Durbin, once the pride of all Kansas, has been relegated to the village nine again, from which he sprang. Durbin’s career in baseball was meteoric; full of some pleasant spots and a lot of disagreeable episodes.”

The Star said:

“Durbin went to Chicago with the path to success made for him. He had everything, the speed, the nerve the curves and the added asset of a good batting eye. The minute Durbin got to Chicago he began to unmake this roseate future. He didn’t like advice; he didn’t along with the old heads; he was about as unpopular as the man who strikes out with three on. Chance held on to him for two years, hoping the youngster would come out of it; he didn’t. Then he breathed a sigh of relief when Cincinnati suggested a trade. Durbin did not last long with the Reds.”

Durbin returned to pro ball in 1911, accepting a contract with Omaha, and pitched professionally for the first time since 1907—splitting the season between Omaha and the Topeka Jayhawks; he posted a combined 15-18 record.

He was sold to the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League at the end of the 1911 season. He was 4-5 with a 2.61 ERA when Oakland released him in August. The Oakland Tribune questioned whether Durbin “might have made good if he had been given the opportunity to work often. He lived a clean life and didn’t find time to break up the furniture in the Seventh Street cafes.”

Durbin spent the rest of 1912 pitching for an independent team in Oroville, California.

His professional career was over at age 25.

He parlayed his tenure as part of a world’s champion into being a drawing card over the next 12 years, bouncing back and forth between amateur and semi-pro teams in Kansas, Missouri, and California.

 

 

Durbin settled in St. Louis and in July of 1941 was declared insane and sent to the Missouri State Hospital at Farmington. After he was released, he worked in a restaurant and lived in Kirkwood, Missouri. He died on September 11, 1943, one day after his 57th birthday.

Wee Willie Sudhoff

19 Jun

William “Wee Willie” Sudhoff was in the midst of his best season.  The 28-year-old pitcher, who was 28-52 during his first three major league seasons, was on his way to his first 20-win season for the St. Louis Browns in 1903.

Born in St. Louis, Sudhoff was a local favorite.  The St. Louis Republic said about him signing with the Browns (NL) in 1897:

 

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Willie Sudhoff with the Ben Winklers, a local St. Louis amateur club circa 1895

 

“Although he had many chances to play with the big Eastern teams, Willy Steadfastly refused their offers and remained loyal to the city of his birth.”

On August 28, the Browns left Cleveland aboard a train carrying the ballclub and the Cleveland Naps— the teams were scheduled to play a doubleheader the following day in St. Louis.  In Napoleon, Ohio, the engineer misread a signal and the train derailed.

The Associated Press said:

“The Cleveland sleeper (car, the first sleeper on the special train that consisted of a baggage car and two sleepers) turned completely over on one side and the boys on the upper said were thrown over on top of those who occupied berths on the opposite side.”

The rear car, carrying the Browns, ended up in a ditch but did not turn over.

In what The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called, “(A) miraculous escape from almost total annihilation,” no players on either club were seriously injured.

Sudhoff was the most seriously injured player; he had a strained wrist and “had his hand cut,” and missed his scheduled start against Cleveland.

Despite the relatively minor injury, teammates and friends said Sudhoff was never the same after the derailment.

After ending 1903 with a 21-15 record and 2.27 ERA for the 65-74 Browns, Sudhof threatened to leave the Browns two weeks before the 1904 season opener.  The Post-Dispatch said he “Bolted from Browns headquarters,” but returned the same day to sign his contract.  The paper said:

“A baseball catastrophe was averted.”

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Willie Sudhoff, 1903

By June, Sudhoff, struggling on his way to an 8-15 3.76 ERA season, was accused of underperforming to draw his release.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“This is the gossip of the bleachers, where the deep undercurrents of baseball diplomacy are as an open book.

“Sudhoff bears no more resemblance in his pitching this year to the Sudhoff of last year than a Parish League shortstop to Hans Wagner.  To all appearances, the little twirler is in excellent condition but he fails of delivery as to the goods nearly every time he goes into the box.”

The paper said, “Sudhoff indignantly denies that there is any truth to the story.”

The following season The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said the Browns had cut Sudhoff’s salary for 1905.  Team owner Robert Hedges remained hopeful about his pitcher’s future:

“Willie pitched good baseball at times last year, but he had so many misfortunes during the season that it discouraged him a bit.”

Hedges said two members of Sudhoff’s family had died and that he had also taken care of sick relatives.

And Sudhoff appeared to make Hedges look smart when he shut out the Cleveland Naps in his first start of the season.

He attributed his success to his new “Raising Jump Ball.”  He told The Post-Dispatch:

“It is different from the “raise ball” of Charley Nichols and the “jump ball” of Christy Mathewson but combines features of both.  It passes over the plate at a man’s shoulder and jumping rises, changing its course slightly as it passes him.”

The paper said Sudhoff believed his pitch “will revolutionize the theory of curve pitching.”

The pitch did not turn Sudhoff’s luck around; after winning his first two decisions he went 8-20 the rest of the season.

Beginning in July, it was rumored that Sudhoff would be sold to the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association, but Sudhoff managed to stay in St. Louis for the whole season.  In December he was traded to the Washington Senators for pitcher Beany Jacobson.

The Post-Dispatch said after the trade:

“Sudhoff does not like the stories being circulated about the alleged inefficiency of his arm.”

He told the paper:

“Why should I get out of the game so long as the public and the managers will stand for me?  I am still a young fellow…Watch me next year.”

One of the “stories” about Sudhoff’s arm was reported by The Washington Post:

“A St. Louis critic claims that Willie Sudhoff injured his pitching arm by indulging in too much bowling, which developed muscles that he had no use for in his work on the diamond.”

Sudhoff only lasted until July in Washington, in nine appearances he was 0-2 with a 9.15 ERA.

In 1907 and 1908 Sudhoff signed with American Association teams—the Kansas City Blues and Louisville Colonels—but never played in a regular season game for either.

Sudhoff appeared in one more professional game—he gave up four runs in three innings pitching for the Topeka White Sox in the Western Association in July 1908.

He returned to St. Louis where he sold suits and pitched in the city’s semi-pro Trolley league in 1909 and 1910.

Late in 1911, The St. Louis Star reported that Sudhoff was planning a professional comeback:

“He is working hard this winter to get in shape.  He believes he can regain his cunning.”

The comeback never materialized and Sudhoff took a job as an oiler at the St. Louis waterworks Chain of Rocks Plant until July of 1913.  The Post-Dispatch reported that he had been admitted to St. Louis’ City Hospital, diagnosed as “Violently insane.”

The paper said it took two patrolmen to subdue Sudhoff, who was placed in “a dark padded cell to prevent him from injuring himself.”

According to the report:

“Sudhoff continually calls to everyone who comes within sight, saying he was a professional ballplayer and he will give $5 if the stranger gets him out.”

Mrs. Sudhoff told police her husband “acted queerly” for the previous three months, and “Monday evening he put on his old baseball suit and:

“(C)avorted about the yard, talking continuously about playing with the Browns.”

Sudhoff was transferred to the St. Louis City Sanitarium the following week.

There was speculation about whether it was a beaning in 1905 or the train wreck that contributed to Sudhoff’s insanity.

The paper said:

“Physicians believe (the) old injury to his head is responsible for his condition.”

And while the paper said no one present at the train wreck “(D)o not believe he received a blow serious to cause a permanent injury,”  some of Sudhoff’s former teammates, and Browns owner Robert Hedges “(R)ecalled an eccentricity that developed shortly after the wreck.  From that time on in a Pullman car, he went to bed fully dressed.”

A 1908 article in The Detroit Free Press about the train crash said:

“Sudhoff was so frightened that he could not utter a word for ten minutes, and from that time until he quit the league, ‘Wee Willie’ always sat up all night on a train.  He would do anything to get out of railroad traveling.”

Sudhoff never made it out of the city sanitarium; he died there on the morning of May 25, 1917.

He was survived by his wife and his son, Emmet Wallace, named after Sudhoff’s teammates Emmet Heidrick and Bobby Wallace.

The Baseball Bandit

28 Jun
Frank Quigg hit .313 and went 1-0 as a left-handed pitcher for the Topeka Capitals in the Western Association in 1893; no statistics exist for the remainder of his career which included stops in the Southern Association and Texas League.

After he was done playing, Quigg became a pioneering figure in Oklahoma, organizing professional ball in the state with the creation of the Southwestern Association in 1901.  Quigg managed the Oklahoma City team in that league until 1903.  He also spent some time as an umpire in the California League.

An article in The Wichita Eagle in 1901 about the Southwestern Association provides interesting insight into the finances of turn of the century minor league baseball:

  “The salary limit of the league is to $450 per month and room and board for the Players…home teams paying the visiting club $25 per scheduled game, rain or shine.”

“The umpires are to receive $2.50 a game plus transportation.”

Later Quigg became an umpire in several leagues.

Bobby Eager, a former Pacific Coast League catcher, claimed he was the instigator in an incident that led to Quigg quitting his job as an umpire. Writing in The San Jose Evening News, Eager said the incident took place in Los Angeles during a game with the Oakland Oaks:

“Quigg was umpiring and he seemed to have an off day. I kept after him about not calling (strikes) and (Bill) Red Devereaux happened to be at the bat when (Quigg) missed one that was squarely over the middle.”

Eager said the pitch should have been the third strike and “hollered” at the umpire:

Bobby Eager

Bobby Eager

“And Devereaux immediately took up the umpire’s part by saying ‘What’s the idea? Are you going to let Eager run the game and do the umpiring too?  Throw him out of the game and take some of his money, he’s trying to make a bum out of you.’”

Devereaux singled on the next pitch, driving in a run. Eger said he “put up a holler” and was ejected and fined $10.

The next day Eager sought to pay Devereaux back:

“I kept telling Quigg that all that Devereaux did was try and bull the umpires and that he boasted downtown that he got him, meaning Quigg, to chase me out and that he knew that he was out on the third strike.  This statement made Quigg pretty sore and about the fifth inning he called bill out on third on a close decision. Red Dog sure told him a few things and the result was he ran Bill out of the game and fined him $10.”

Devereaux

Devereaux

Devereaux attempted to attack Quigg and police were called to escort him from the field and the fine was raised to $25.

Devereaux, now in the stands, began to heckle Quigg to an extent that the game was again halted and the police officer escorted Devereaux to the clubhouse.  According to Eager, and contemporary accounts, Devereaux was just getting started.

“He was on the roof waving a red flannel shirt and running up and down like a monkey; everybody laughed and enjoyed it more than the bad game.  Somebody went over and slipped Bill a pair of false whiskers and about the eighth inning he came back to the bench and sat there, and when the umpire wasn’t looking he went over to third base and was getting ready to play, when Quigg saw him.  Of course Bill wouldn’t be allowed to play, but it was some minutes before the umpire got wise as to who he was.  I never saw such a demonstration in my life, and people just went wild.”

The day after the incident, The Los Angeles Examiner said Devereaux was suspended “for his abuse of Quigg” and:

“Umpire Quigg resigned his position.”

The paper said his decision was the culmination of the events the previous day, and an incident two weeks earlier when San Francisco Seals pitcher Clarence “Cack” Henley threw a baseball at Quigg during an altercation.

The umpire joined the Texas League the following season.

Throughout his career, Quigg had an excellent reputation in baseball circles. His father was a Civil War veteran, and according to The Associated Press, his brother George served under Theodore Roosevelt with the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.  Contemporaneous newspaper accounts described the family as being extremely wealthy—already well off; Quigg’s mother married another wealthy man after the death of her first husband.

All of which made what happened next so unusual.

On December 31, 1909, Quigg and four other men attempted to rob the bank and post office at Harrah, Oklahoma.  Newspaper accounts said the robbery was well planned but that one of Quigg’s associates had discussed it with a friend who reported the plan to postal authorities.

John Reeves “Catch-‘em-alive” Abernathy, who was appointed as Oklahoma’s first US Marshall by his good friend, and Quigg’s brother’s former commanding officer, President Theodore Roosevelt, staked out the post office and attempted to the apprehend the robbers as they entered through a back door. Abernathy didn’t “Catch-‘em alive” that day.

abernathy

Abernathy

As the robbers attempted to escape Abernathy and his men shot three members of the gang. Quigg, who was living under the alias Barney and an associate named Frank Carpenter were killed.  One robber was wounded and captured while two escaped.

In the aftermath of Quigg’s death, it was reported by several newspapers, including The Abilene Daily Reflector, his hometown paper, that the gang had recently pulled off successful post office robberies in Trinidad and Golden, Colorado.

Most newspapers continued to paint Quigg as a good man gone wrong for no apparent reason, other than a vague observation about his mother’s remarriage:

“The match did not please the son.”

But one paper, The Arkansas City (KS) Traveler saw it differently:

“(Quigg) worked this town for several hundred dollars a few years ago, got the money, organized a club, went to Enid (OK) and that was the last ever seen of him by his backers.  He was a booze-fighter by the full meaning of the word and if there was any good in him it never came to the surface so the public could catch a glimpse of it.

Whatever the reason for his descent into a life of crime, it appeared Quigg hadn’t completely given up on baseball at the time of his death.  According to The Fort Wayne Sentinel he “Had an application in (to work as) an umpire in the Central League” for the 1910 season.

I published a  shorter version of this post was published in September of 2012.

“The Duke of Minneapolis”

20 Nov

Martin F. Duck was born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1867.  He played under the name Martin Duke.   As he was becoming a well-known pitcher The Kansas City Times told a story which purported to explain why he changed his name:

 “The real name of the (Minneapolis) Millers’ best pitcher is not Duke, but Duck…Martin was pitching in a game up in Michigan and in the ninth his club led the opposing team by one run. (With two runners on base) a man up in the grandstand began imitating the quack of a duck…as the ‘quack, quack, quack continued his face became lobster-colored.  He shouted to his taunter that he would fix him after the game, but the fiend…went on with his ‘quack, quack, quack’”

At this point, Duck allegedly threw the ball into the stands at his tormentor, allowing both runs to score, “After that he dropped the name Duck entirely.”

By the time that story appeared Martin Duke seemed headed for a productive career.  He went 14-12 with the Zanesville Kickapoos in the Ohio State League in 1887.  In 1888, he again pitched for Zanesville, now in the Tri-State League and for The Toledo Maumees in the same league—no  records survive for that season.

The five-foot, five-inch Duke made a name for himself the following year.  While pitching for the Millers in the Western Association, he posted a 24-16 record and struck out 347 batters in 355 innings, earning the nickname “Duke of Minneapolis.”

In February of 1890, The Chicago Inter Ocean said Chicago’s Players League team was after the pitcher:  “Captain Comiskey of the Chicago Brotherhood has been on Duke’s trail for weeks, with the result that although Duke has not yet signed a contract we will play with the Chicago Brotherhood club this season.”

If Comiskey was, in fact, on Duke’s trail he never got his man.  Duke returned to Minneapolis, and while statistics for 1890 no longer survive, but the press routinely called him the Millers’ best pitcher.

In 1891, he slipped to 10-11, and in May he was suspended for being, as The Sporting Life said, “Out of condition” (a euphemism for his problem drinking), but earned an August trial with the Washington Statesmen in the American Association.  The Saint Paul Globe said of his departure:

“Martin Duke–the one, the only, the statuesque Duke–has bidden good-bye to the ozone of Minnesota and beer of Minneapolis…Last night he boarded the train, moved his hand in adieu, cocked his hat to one side, closed an eye, uttered a certain familiar expression peculiar to Dukes and disappeared forever.”

Martin Duke

Duke failed his Major league trial.  In four games, he posted a 0-3 record and walked 19 batters in 23 innings.

Despite his poor debut, he received another opportunity, this one with the Chicago Colts in 1892. When he was signed in January, The Chicago Tribune said:

“Duke’s last season, owing to lax discipline, was not a success, but this season he promises to regain his old form, as he is bound by an ironclad contract to abstain from intoxicating drinks.  By his contract half his salary reverts to the club if he breaks the pledge.  This should keep him straight.”

He received a big buildup in The Chicago Daily News:

“(He) is one of Captain Anson’s new colts, and he not only puts the ball over the home plate with almost the speed of a cannon shot, but he also seems to have a head studded with eyes, for stealing second base when he is in the box is always most hazardous business.  His pitching arm is so strong and shapely and so well equipped with powerful muscles that it would win admiration from a blacksmith.”

Despite the accolades he was released before the beginning of the season, The Tribune said:

“Martin Duke is also down for release. He has shown up poorly so far, and the club cannot use five pitchers anyhow.”

He signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association and seemed to regain his old form posting a 13-3 record.  It was his last successful season.

After getting off to a 2-5 start in 1893 Duke was released by New Orleans, and initially there were no takers for his services.  The Milwaukee Journal said why:

“Martin was always a good pitcher, but his mouth and his temper were too great a load for any team to carry any length of time.”

Duke bounced around the minor leagues after that with short stints for teams in the Eastern League, Southern Association and Western League until 1895, when he returned again to Minneapolis.  But after 13 games with the Millers, he injured his arm and was released in June.  According to The St. Paul Globe, he injured the arm again in August; rupturing a tendon while pitching for a semi-pro team in Rosemount, Minnesota.

In 1897, The Sporting Life reported that Duke, employed in a Minneapolis tavern, was “Trying to get in shape” in order to return to the diamond that season, but he never played professional ball again.

Duke died from pneumonia on December 31, 1898, in Minneapolis.  The Sporting Life said:

“He possessed great ability as a pitcher, but never lasted long with any club, as he was a hard man to control, and was given to dissipation, which ultimately led to enforced retirement from the profession and untimely death.”

Duke was 31 years-old.

A shorter version of this post appeared in October 2012

“It ain’t been Overestimated None.”

26 Aug

Adair Bushyhead “Paddy” Mayes was a legend in Oklahoma when it was still a territory; the half Irish, half Muskogee (Creek) Indian—although often misidentified as Cherokee in news reports, likely because he attended school at the Cherokee Male Seminary in Tahlequah — began his professional career with the Muskogee Redskins in the Oklahoma-Kansas League in 1908, but by then he was already considered one of the area’s best players.

Mays, standing second from left, with the Cherokee Mens Seminary baseball team, 1903

Mays, standing second from left, with the Cherokee Male Seminary baseball team, 1903

He stayed with Muskogee the following season when the club joined the Western Association as the Navigators.  Despite hitting just .261, his legend grew.

The Muskogee Times-Democrat said he was “One of the best outfielders the association ever boasted.”

His manager George Dalrymple said:

“He is the fastest fielder and the best hitter in the Western Association.  He is a youngster that in a few years should be in the big leagues.”

In 1910, he joined the Shreveport Pirates in the Texas League.  His first game was painful.  The Dallas Morning News said after he was hit by a pitch “full in the back” he stole second base and “was struck in the head with the ball as it was thrown from the plate to second.  The later jolt seemed to daze him.”

But Mayes recovered quickly, scored, and according to the paper “Played a first-class game.”

He hit .260 in Shreveport, but his speed and fielding ability attracted the interest of Philadelphia Phillies, who purchased his contract.

Mayes quickly made an impression during spring training in Birmingham, Alabama in 1911.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“That Paddy Mayes, the Indian outfielder, will prove a greater find than Zack Wheat is the opinion of Southern ballplayers.”

[…]

“Mayes, the half-breed outer garden candidate is fast as a bullet on his feet, a good fielder and has a wonderful whip.  If he can prove that he can hit good pitching he will probably stick.”

Mayes caricature from The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mayes caricature from The         Philadelphia Inquirer

The paper also called him “A greyhound on the base paths,” and reported that he made several “fine running” catches during spring games.

Despite the buildup, Mayes didn’t make the club and was sent to the Galveston Sand Crabs in the Texas League, but he refused to sign.  In June, with Phillies outfielder John Titus injured, he was sold back to Philadelphia for $500.

Mayes had the distinction of having his major league debut become the subject of a story told for by humorist Will Rogers.

Rogers said he was present at Mayes’ first game with the Phillies in St. Louis on June 11–this is from an early retelling, as with all such stories some of the details changed in future retellings.

“I had known Paddy in the Texas League and what was my surprise one day in St. Louis when I went out to the Cardinals’ park…to see Paddy come up to bat in a Philly uniform.  I hadn’t heard that he had reached the big show.”

willrogers

                          Will Rogers

Mayes was 0-3 and was struck out twice by pitcher Bill Steele.

“I met him at the hotel after the game, but didn’t let on that I had seen him play at the ballpark in the afternoon.  We talked about rope handling and the cattle business generally, and then I asked what he was doing in St. Louis.

“This was Paddy’s answer.

“’They brought me up here to show me the speed of the big league, and believe me, it ain’t been overestimated none.”

Mayes’ never caught up to the “speed of the big league.”  In eight plate appearances over five games, he was 0-5 with a walk, hit by pitch and sacrifice.  He also scored a run.  Mayes’ final appearance with the Phillies was just six days after his first.

Rogers repeated the story of his debut for more than two decades.

“You have to be Diplomatic Sir, you have to be Diplomatic”

29 Oct

“Wild Bill” Setley’s adventures did not all take place on US soil.  In 1911 Cincinnati Reds pitcher George McQuillan told William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star a story about Setley’s attempt to organize a barnstorming tour in Cuba two years earlier.

Bill Setley 1895

Bill Setley 

“Setley went over to Cuba early in the winter, and conceived the idea that fortunes were to be made in the island.  He wired to a number of ballplayers, urging them to come over, an telling them Cuba was just full of money.  Quite a number of the boys went over on spec, all paying their own fares, and in the near future they all went broke.  The Cubans wouldn’t come across with any money for salaries, some of the boys, being Southern-born, refused to play when they found the Cuban clubs were mostly (black players), and in two weeks Havana was overrun with hungry ballplayers.    They hunted Setley up and chided him for his statement that the island was full of money.  ‘It is,’ said Setley, ‘and I gave you no misinformation.  But I didn’t say anything about your taking any of that money away with you.  The island is fuller of money than before , for you fellows have spent all you brought with you, thus adding to the total.’

“After starving a few days, the boys all got over their race prejudices and caught on with various clubs.  And, a few days later they had the sublime delight of seeing Setley get his.  He was umpiring a big Sunday game at Havana, with an enormous audience in the stands.  His decisions were either fearfully bad, or else he had got the Spanish terms for ball, strike, safe, and out badly twisted when he tried to learn them.  Suddenly, when he called a man out after he had stamped both feet upon the plate, the audience uprose and came flooding towards Mr. Setley.

“Bill had a gun.  Always toted one.  But here came 5,000 Cubans with long knives and machetes, and Setley didn’t stop to make any gun plays.  Far from such.  Out through the gate he galloped, and straight down the Cuban road.  On and on he went, the mob shaking machetes in full cry behind him, and presently he became a speck upon the far horizon.  He had won.  Nobody could catch him.

“Next day I met him, and asked why he didn’t draw his gun and stand at bay.  ‘My boy,’ said he, ‘our relations with Cuba are strained enough as it is.  What would have been the result had I shot down half a dozen of those fellows?  You have to be diplomatic sir, you have to be diplomatic.”

There was no shortage of Setley stories.  Albert Francis “Red” Nelson, who pitched in the major leagues between 1910 and 1913, and played in a number of the minor leagues Setley worked as an umpire, told a few to The Memphis News-Scimitar in 1911.

Red Nelson

Red Nelson

Nelson said when he was playing in the Three-I league:

“A player named (Jim) Novacek was at bat (with the count 3 and 1).  Ball came along, on the outside, way wide.  ‘Strike,’ said Setley.  Novacek roared and howled, quite naturally.  Next ball was also wide .  ‘Four balls, take your base,,’ quoth Setley.  As Novacek started for first he exclaimed sneeringly, ‘That ball was in exactly the same place as the one you called a strike, just before.’  ‘In that case,’ said Setley, ‘I will do anything to oblige you.  Three strikes—you’re out!”

Nelson claimed that Setley had been involved in an incident he said took place in Rock Island, Illinois that included a few elements of the Cuba story;

“Setley is, in my opinion,  a funnier card among umpires than (Rube) Waddell ever was among eccentric ball tossers…On one occasion he was umpiring in some town—I think it was Rock Island—and a couple of his decisions turned the tide in the favor of the Peoria club.  The Rock Island fans promptly stormed into the field and took after Setley, who fled through the gate and down the street with the mob in mad pursuit.  And as Setley ran he threw up one arm in commanding fashion and shouted: “I hereby forfeit this game to Peoria, 9 to 0, you sons of monkeys.”

Nelson also told yet another version of the “mirror story,” which appeared in print in many different versions over the years.  Nelson’s version located the story “at Peoria,” but unlike most versions, failed to name any of the other participants.

It was not unheard of for Setley to simply create a new rule—in force for one game only—when the mood struck.  In one case, while working a Western Association game between the Muskogee Redskins and the Coffeyville White Sox he instituted a one-game only rule that would make him a hero with today’s advocates for shorter games.  The Muskogee Times-Democrat approved as well:

“Umpire Bill Setley yesterday set in force the rule annulling the privilege of the pitcher to throw to a baseman to warm up between innings, and the practice of throwing the ball around the infield, which takes up so much time.  The rule worked well, as the game, with nineteen runs, was finished in a minute over an hour and a half.”

Charles Barngrover

27 Oct

Charles Andrew Barngrover pitched in just a handful of minor league games, but his career as an itinerant professional baseball player in the first decade of the 20th Century provides a window into the world of the hundreds of young men who traveled the country earning a living on the fringes of the game.

He was born on January 1, 1883 in Ellinwood, Kansas, and started his career with a team in Great Bend in 1902; the league was comprised of most of the Central Kansas cities that would make up the Kansas State League when it was formed in 1905.

In 1903 he joined a team in Larned, Kansas and was involved in an incident that that made headlines across the state.

The Topeka Daily Capital said Barngrover and his teammates “fought their way from the hotel to the Hutchinson & Southern depot in Kingman last night after a disagreement concerning a 17-inning ballgame.”  When the fleeing ballplayers reached Hutchinson, Barngrover described the chaos to a reporter from The Hutchinson News:

“The Kingman boys have a good club and they managed to put it on us by a score of 3 to 0 in Monday’s game.  We had a series of three games in sight and were to receive $25 a game.  The game yesterday (Tuesday) was a hard one and there was a tie at the end of the ninth inning.  The tie lasted until the seventeenth inning.”

In the seventeenth, the umpire, a Larned player, called a close play at the plate in favor of his team, which gave the visitors a 7 to 6 victory.

“When the decision was made (a $60 side bet) was turned over to us and five of us started for town.  The Kingman club and the citizens generally went after the other Larned) boys (about the call) saying it would have to be changed of the $25 a game would not be forthcoming. “

According to Barngrover the umpire was forced to reverse his decision, and the four remaining Larned players told to take the field.  Kingman quickly scored a run and claimed victory.

“A short time after this the crowd came into town.  The Kingman boys found that we had the side bet money and they came to the hotel and demanded it.  We refused to turn loose and the fight started…There were about forty Kingman boys in the mob and they said they were going to get us.  Baseball bats and everything else in sight were used and we fought all the way from the hotel to the depot and stood them off until the train came in…As we got on the train we heard someone say that there were several broken heads in the crowd…We were lucky to get out alive, as the Kingman people are the worst we ever went up against.”

The following year, Barngrover’s hometown paper, The Ellinwood Leader reported that the pitcher “was lynched at Fort Worth, Texas a short time ago.  It is said that during a ball game he disputed a decision of the umpire and struck him over the head with a bat, killing him.  The crowd was so angered they avenged the murder by hanging him.”

The Hoisington (KN) Dispatch added:

“(Barngrover’s parents) are fairly well to do and highly respected…He pitched several games for Hoisington last spring but was not so popular among the ballplayers here on account of being accused of throwing a game.”

Several weeks later The Leader reported that the rumor was wrong; Barngrover’s parents had received word from him that he was in San Francisco, the paper gave no explanation for how the rumor arose, or whether or not Barngrover was involved in any such incident in Texas.

It’s unclear where Barngrover played after arriving in San Francisco in the spring of 1904, but he turned up two years later in Reno, Nevada.  The Nevada State Journal said the local agent for the Rainier Brewing Company had organized a team which “will defeat any Nevada team,” and signed Barngrover, who the paper said was “reputed to be the best amateur pitcher in California.

The stop in Nevada lasted just three months, and by June he was back in Kansas pitching for a team in his hometown and pitched for them on and off for the remainder of the 1906 season.  In August The Kansas City (KN) Globe said he had joined a barnstorming club called the National Bloomers:

“(He) is wearing bloomers and appearing as ‘Lady Rupert, one of the two World Renowned Lady Pitchers.’”

In 1907 he made his first appearance with a team recognized by the national agreement when he was signed by the Springfield Midgets in the Western AssociationThe Hutchinson News was not thrilled with his prospects:

“Hutchinson fans are wondering whether or not Barngrover can stick at Springfield.  He got off extremely lucky in three of his games but in the other four or five he has been radically wrong.”

Charles Barngrover

Charles Barngrover

After just 10 games, and a 4-6 record, he was released and returned to Kansas to play for a semi-pro team in Kinsley.  Barngrover then went from Kansas to Colorado to New Mexico and back to Kansas the next two years, playing with various semi-pro teams.

And, while he does not appear on any published rosters, Barngrover pitched in two games for the 1909 Western League Champion Des Moines Boosters in September; a 15-8 victory over the Topeka Jayhawks and he pitched the final two innings of an 11 to 4 loss to the Sioux City Packers.

He began the 1910 season, according to The Sporting Life, under the name “Smith” pitching the Quincy Vets of the Central Association to a 13-inning opening day victory over the Burlington Pathfinders—the game was later awarded to Burlington and after just one game, Barngrover was on the road again, to the Minnesota-Wisconsin League, where he was a combined 2-9 in eleven games with the La Crosse Outcats and the Rochester Roosters.

Barngrover, as "Smith" won his only game on the mound for the Quincy Vets

Barngrover, as “Smith” won his only game on the mound for the Quincy Vets

The wandering pitcher spent the next two seasons bouncing back and forth from the semi-pro fields of Kansas to La Crosse for a handful of games in 1911; then to Utah in 1912, where he spent a month with the Ogden Canners of the Union Association, and back to Kansas again.

He spent one more season pitching in Kansas before retiring.

Barngrover went to work for the Fort Worth & Denver Railway; it was as a result of his second career that he received the most media attention.

In the fall of 1921 he was indicted by a United States grand jury for theft of interstate shipments.  Barngrover cooperated with the government and, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram “was the government’s star witness in the prosecution of four men indicted with him.”  In all twenty-three men were indicted for stealing more than $100,000 in goods; the indicted men would hide in rail cars and throw “stolen goods along the tracks as the trains left Fort Worth, which were picked up by other members of the gang in motor cars.”

On March 10, 1922, Barngrover was preparing to testify at the trial of several more co-conspirators. While he had been fired from his job after the indictment, he was at the rail yard talking to former coworkers when he was shot and killed.  Two days after his murder, The Star-Telegram said:

“The body of C.A. Barngrover, ex-railroad man, self-confessed boxcar robber and Government witness, was placed in a modest grave in Greenwood Cemetery Saturday afternoon.

“And while the funeral services were said over his grave, police were endeavoring to solve the mystery surrounding the identity of the assassin who, concealed in a boxcar, shot Barngrover to death…Barngrover had 3 cents in his pockets when killed.”

A railroad employee was indicted for the murder, but there is no record of a conviction in the case.

“The Words ‘Baseball Team’ are used Advisedly in this Instance”

22 Oct

Far from considering their local club a source of civic pride, The Springfield Leader was not thrilled about the prospects for the Missouri city’s baseball team, the Midgets on the eve of the 1907 Western Association season:

“Springfield will have a baseball team this spring.  The words ‘baseball team’ are used advisedly in this instance and with somewhat of a reserve.  A ball team is made up of nine men, not all of whom are ballplayers and sometimes not any of them.  Nine men dressed in similar uniforms and scattered in the orthodox fashion over the diamond and in the outer gardens, are generally understood to constitute a baseball team.  The difference between that sort of a team and a team as defined and understood by a genuine fan and follower of the game is almost as wide as the gulf that separates two classes of residents in the next world.

“In the cranium of the thoroughbred lover of the great national game a ball team is made up of ball players.  The mere wearing of a glove and uniform and being stationed somewhere in the playing field is not the only essential to a ball team as far as the fan is concerned.  The real test of a ball team is the ability of the bunch to play ball.  That is what the fans demand and what they expect.  Of course they do not object to the men wearing uniforms and gloves, but those are merely minor affairs, wholly secondary to the skill of the men in putting up a stellar exhibition of the game.  No ball team is a ball team unless the individuals who compose that team can play ball.  That is the doctrine of the fans, tested in the furnace of experience and labeled bottled in bond 100 percent pure.

“With these two propositions laid down and comprehended it is necessary to see which class the Queen City of the Ozarks will be when his honor, the umps, announces the batteries and informs the rivals that it is time to play ball.

“Springfield will have nine men with uniforms and gloves.  That is a settled fact.  They will undoubtedly have the pleasure of seeing a few men on the field who can play ball.  But so far as the ability of the outfield to put up a kind of game that father used to make is concerned—as Hamlet the melancholy Dane of Shakespearean repute once remarked in of  his famous after dinner speeches—‘Aye, there’s the rub.

“Somewhere in the neighborhood of two score men have been signed by Manager (Frank Richmond) Pierce (a Springfield bank executive) to try out with the bunch that is to report now in a few days.  A few, a very small few, are known to have played ball before.”

The paper singled out on player in particular for ridicule; shortstop John Welter hit .201 the previous season, and committed 60 errors in 88 games:

“(T)he big shortstop made a very poor impression last season and it is not likely that he could have signed in a 10-year-old kid corner lot league.”

The Leader was also upset about the sale of the team’s two best players, pitcher Harley “Cy the Third” Young, who won 24 games, and third baseman Gus Hetling, who led the team in most offensive categories, to the Wichita Jobbers:

“Both these players were good, and as the city did not need good players they were sold to make a little money.  As long as the fans don’t care for a good article of ball there is no use in paying the salaries to men who can play. Duds are good enough for any fan to watch and they are considerably cheaper, so what is the use in wasting money.  The fact that Wichita will likely come here and Young will allow the Midgets about one or two hits and Hetling will field without an error and knock the ball out of the lot three or four times, will make no difference.  The fans will still have the pleasure of seeing them play.”

The Leader said Pierce was not entirely to blame, because his stockholders “refused to come across with any coin.”

In response, Pierce told the city’s other newspaper, The Republican; his team would consist of “some of the highest salaried players that have ever signed with Springfield.”

Despite Pierce’s claim, the team fared about as well as The Leader predicted; winning just 46 games, with 92 losses, and Pierce sold his interest in the team in June—his first, and last, tenure as a baseball executive lasting just a few months.

After acquiring Springfield’s two best players—Young and Heitling—Wichita cruised to the league championship with a 98-35 record.

With the addition of Heitling (4) and Young (10) Wichita easily won the 1907 Western Association championship.

With the addition of Heitling (4) and Young (10) Wichita easily won the 1907 Western Association championship.

Young was 29-4 for Wichita; after the 1907 season he was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  His major league career consisted of just 14 games with the Pirates and Boston Doves, posting a career 0-3 record.  He played seven more seasons in the minor leagues, but never won twenty games again.

Heitling hit .275 for the champions and played 10 more seasons, most on the Pacific Coast.

Welter, the shortstop The Leader said didn’t belong “in a 10-year-old kid corner lot league,” hit .222 (there are no surviving fielding totals for the season) and never played professionally again after 1907.

After two more seasons as one of the doormats of the Western Association this incarnation of the Springfield Midgets folded in 1909.

“Dunnie’s” Narrow Escape

28 Jul

Samuel Morrison “Dunnie” Dungan returned home to Southern California in 1889 after graduating from Eastern Michigan University– the Michigan State Normal School– and joined the F.N. Hamilton’s a powerful San Diego-based semi-pro team that included 39-year-old Cal McVey, a member of Harry Wright’s Cincinnati and Boston Red Stockings teams from  1869 through 1875 (with a detour to Baltimore in 1873).

In the spring of 1890 the Oakland Colonels, champions of the California League in 1889 recruited Dungan to catch for them during a series of exhibition games in Los Angeles.  The Oakland squad did not impress Southern California critics.  The San Diego Union said:

“It is drawing it mild to say that it was the rottenest game that been played on the ground.  If it was not a fake, than the Oaklands cannot play ball.  Do they suppose up about San Francisco and Oakland that they can bring down to Southern California a lot of boys and show the Southerners how to play ball?”

Samuel Dungan

Samuel Dungan

The Union said the Hamiltons, as well as two other San Diego teams, the Schiller & Murthas and the Llewellyns “can beat the Oakland team out of sight.”

The paper said only one player stood out:

“Dungan, the San Diego catcher, who caught for the Oaklands both days, was about the only redeeming feature of that club…And he does not pretend to be a professional.”

As a result of his play during the exhibitions, Dungan was signed by the Colonels;  he still caught occasionally but was now primarily an outfielder.  Team owner Colonel Thomas P. Robinson was unable to restrain his enthusiasm when Dungan was signed, telling The Oakland Tribune:

“I believe Dungan is the greatest batter we’ve ever had here—better than (Lou) Hardie or (Vince) Dailey, the latter of whom I rank as the best of the old men.”

Fred Carroll, a California native who played with the Pittsburgh Burghers in the Players League in 1890, called Dungan “the only scientific batter on this coast.”

Statistics are incomplete for the 1890 California League season, but both The Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Dungan was the league’s batting champion.  The Los Angeles Herald said he hit .332.  The Colonels finished third in the four-team league.  The Tribune said it was “probable that Dungan will go East.”

He was first rumored to be heading to be heading to the Washington Statesmen in the American Association but ended up signing with the Western Association’s Milwaukee Brewers.

It was Dungan’s departure from the West Coast in the spring of 1891 that led to the biggest headlines of his career.

The San Francisco Chronicle told the story:

“Sam Dungan, the ballplayer who was with Oakland last season and who led the California League in batting, is being pursued by an irate wife who says she will follow him to the end of the earth if necessary to again clasp him in her arms.  It seems that last year among the many conquests Dungan made in Oakland was Miss Mamie Bodgard.  She became wild over him, and at last was introduced to him.  After the season Dungan came south to his home in Santa Ana, but communication between himself and Miss Bodgard kept up.  She sent him many dainty perfumed notes.  Finally the marriage of the couple was announced and it created no great surprise.

“Now comes the thrilling part of this story.  Two hours after the marriage had taken place (in Los Angeles) Dungan left his bride and journeyed to Santa Ana, where he had an interview with his parents, who are well and favorably known and rank among the leading families.  Sam is a college graduate and was the idol of his parents.  Mrs. Dungan also journeyed to Santa Ana.  She did not go to the home of the Dungan’s, but went to the Richelieu Hotel.  She is a most pronounced brunette, rather petite, and is reported to have a temper.  The couple had parted, and the news of the separation soon became noised around.  Mrs. Dungan consulted a lawyer to have her ‘hubby’ restrained from leaving Santa Ana, but the heavy hitter eluded his young wife and started for Milwaukee, giving his bride the slip at Orange, she being on the same train with him that far.”

The jilted bride told a reporter for The Los Angeles Herald that she was “a grass widow,” but vowed to pursue Dungan to Milwaukee.  Mrs. Dungan’s trip to Milwaukee was unsuccessful.

A year later The Herald reported that a court in Santa Ana had awarded Mrs. Dungan $25 a month  “and she is very elated in consequence.”  She was said to have gone to Milwaukee twice the previous year and had taken to reading “Sammy’s love letters on the street corners,” of Santa Ana:

“Mrs. Dungan is an excellent dresser and is an exceptionally handsome woman.  She doubtless could be induced to kiss and make up, but the parents of her husband stand in the way of a reconciliation.  The Dungan’s are anxious to have Sam get a divorce, but he  can’t very well, and Mrs. Dungan says: ‘Never in a thousand years.'”

A divorce was finally granted in 1893.  Sam Dungan remarried in 1900.

Dungan went on to play parts of five seasons in the major leagues, mostly with the Chicago Colts and had a .301 career batting average.  He was an excellent minor league hitter, putting up several excellent seasons—including averages of .447, .424 and .372 in 1894, ’95, ’97 with the Detroit Creams and Detroit Tigers in the Western League. He also hit a league-leading .337 in 1900 for the Kansas City Blues in the inaugural season of the American League.

Dungan returned home to Santa Ana after retiring at the close of the 1905 season and participated in many old-timers games in Southern California.  The Santa Ana Register reported on his heroics during a 1924 fundraising game for former player Ed Householder who was dying of stomach cancer—Dungan joined Sam Crawford, Gavvy Cravath, Fred Snodgrass and other West Coast baseball legends for the game in Los Angeles:

“Yesterday, Dungan, now a prosperous Santa Ana resident and rancher, proved that years have not dimmed the remarkable eye nor time deprived the power from his arms and shoulders that enabled him, year after year, to outhit the other big league players of his day.

“Dungan rapped out a two-bagger with two men on the cushions in the tenth inning.  This blow broke up the game.  Previously Dungan had smashed out three other bingles.  Thus, Dungan of Santa Ana, the oldest man on the field in point of years, was the heaviest hitter just as he used to be years ago.”

Dungan died in Santa Ana in 1939.

Brief Bios

7 Apr

Finley Yardley

Identified as “Findley” on Baseball Reference, Finley A. Yardley was born in Ben Arnold, Texas on March 21, 1895.

“Fin” Yardley was a good hitter, but his intelligence was questioned more than once during his career.

After a spring trial with the St. Louis Browns in 1917, he was released to the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association for 57 games, but according to The Arkansas Gazette, “Forgetting is what chased him out” and he was sent to the Spokane Indians in the Northwestern League.

Yardley hit well in Spokane (.339 in 115 at bats), but despite his success The Gazette noted that:

“His think tank still slips now and then.  Recently he hit a drive good for three bases but forgot to touch first.”

Fin Yardley was no rocket scientist—his son John Finley Yardley was.

John Yardley was an aeronautical engineer whose team from McDonnell Aircraft Corporation designed the Friendship 7 capsule in which John Glenn orbited the Earth in 1962—Glenn called him “one of the real pioneers of the space program.”  Yardley was also involved with the Gemini, Skylab and Space Shuttle Programs.

After his playing career, Finley Yardley settled in St. Louis where he worked as a sales manager at a car dealership.  He died in Tucson, Arizona on March 1, 1963.

Charles Gurtz

Charles Joseph Gurtz was born in DePauw, Indiana in 1890.  He served in the United States Army, where he was a member of the 22nd Infantry and played for the unit’s baseball team in the El Paso, Texas city league.  He then played in a number of leagues throughout the Southwest not recognized by the National Agreement, including stops with teams in the “copper circuit;” loosely connected teams and leagues in mining towns in New Mexico and Arizona

Gurtz was let out of his contract in Silver City, New Mexico in order to join the Bloomington Bloomers in the Three-I League in 1914.  He hit .333, finishing second to Howard Wakefield for the league batting title.

Shortly after the 1914 season ended, Gurtz broke his leg during a semi-pro game in Odell, Illinois and returned home to Indiana.

In February of 1915, The Associated Press reported that he was “suffering from mental trouble, due to excessive religious zeal (and) has been declared insane. “  He was committed to Indiana’s state hospital at Madison, where “Physician’s say that he should respond to treatment and become normal again if his mind can be kept off religion.”

A month later Gurtz was released from the state hospital, The Associated Press said the hospital’s “superintendent expressed the opinion that Gurtz would be able to play ball.”

Gurtz played, but not well.

He hit just .193 for Bloomington in 1915.  The following year he was released by Bloomington just before the season began, but was signed by the Oklahoma City Senators in the Western Association in May.  He split the 1916 season between the Senators and the Muskogee Mets in the same league, hitting just .210.  (Baseball Reference identifies the player with Oklahoma City and Muskogee in 1916 as “William Gurtz,” but contemporary references in The Oklahoma City Times confirm that it was Charles Gurtz)

Gurtz returned to his native Indiana after the 1916 season and died on November 9, 1989, three weeks short of his 100th birthday.

Jimmy Duchalsky

James Louis “Jimmy” “the Duke” Duchalsky was discovered in Hawaii between the 1922 and ’23 seasons when Herb Hunter’s touring big leaguers visited the island during their barnstorming trip which also included stops in Japan, Korea, China and the Philippines.

The International News Service, which called the 5’ 9” 150 lb. Duchalsky the “hardest hitting pitcher in Hawaiian baseball circles,” said he caught the eye of New York Yankee pitcher “Bullet” Joe Bush.  Bush “was so impressed with the youngster’s work in a game he pitched against the big leaguers that he recommended him highly to Duffy Lewis manager of the Salt Lake City Bees in the Pacific Coast League).”

Joe Bush, front, second from right

Joe Bush, front, second from right  photographed during the tour.

Bush said the only thing he lacked was “a change of pace and that can be developed under the instruction of a good coach and manager.”

Duchalsky was 24-years-old (the Bees claimed he was just 21), but not as polished as Bush thought and struggled through 15 appearances, most in relief, for Salt Lake.  He posted a 1-3 record and 7.59 ERA in 51 innings—he did have 8 hits in 20 at bats, with one home run.   In May, he and teammate Tony Lazzeri were sent to the Peoria Tractors in the Three-I League; Duchalsky was 13-8 in 28 appearances.

The following season Duchalsky rejoined the Bees but pitched just one-third of an inning, allowing two runs and two hits in an 18-17 loss to the Oakland Oaks on April 10.  He was released later that week and returned to the Three-I League, this time as a member of the Decatur Commodores; he was 11-9 with a 4.13 ERA for the last-place (58-78) Commodores.

Jimmy Duchalsky 1923

Jimmy Duchalsky 1923

At the end of October he returned to Honolulu to play winter ball.

On December 7, 1924 Duchalsky was involved in an altercation with a cab driver. The Decatur Review said:

“Jim Duchalsky, known to all Three Eye League baseball fans as “The Duke,” has pitched his last game of ball… (he was) shot to death in his native city last evening after a street argument…It will be hard to convince Decatur baseball fans who have come in contact with Jim that he was the aggressor in any brawl that might have taken place for he was the most quiet player both on and off the field to ever appear here… Despite his quiet manners and the fact that he was not a mixer, many fans in both Decatur and Peoria will mourn his loss.  Duchalsky was admired by fans in every city where he played for his sportsmanlike conduct on the ball field and in all his games pitched at Staley Field was never seen disputing an umpire’s decision, even on balls and strikes.  He pitched his game and left the arguments out of his assortment.”

The Associated Press said, “The encounter was believed to have started in jealousy over a woman.”  The cab driver, John Emmeluth, claimed self-defense, but several witnesses said he approached and shot the pitcher with no warning.  He was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison.  Duchalsky was buried in Honolulu.