Tag Archives: Wilbert Robinson

“Here, you Bone-Headed Mutt, come here”

19 Aug

A small item in the 1913 edition of “Spalding’s Baseball Guide” reporting the death of long-time minor league player and manager Ed Ashenbach—misspelled Aschenbach by the guide—said he “coined the term bonehead.”

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach

Wilbert Robinson told Billy Murphy of The St. Louis Star, the story of how Ashenbach, who The Sporting Life once called “The king of the minors,” came upon the term.

Robinson said it happened in 1902 when Ashenbach managed the Shreveport Giants in the Southern Association and involved an outfielder “by the name of McGowan,” whom he called “Mack.”  There was no “McGowan” with Shreveport, but Monte McFarland and Frank McGuire both played games in the outfield while Ashenbach was in Shreveport:

“One of the opposing players knocked a high fly in Mack’s direction.  Somehow he lost his nerve and was unable to judge it correctly.  He made three or four circles and finally gave it up entirely, just as the ball came down on his head and bounded to the far corner of the field, two runners scoring.

Wilbert robinson

Wilbert Robinson

“’Ash’ was wild.  The game was lost.

“Picking up a catcher’s mask and rushing out to the bewildered fielder he yelled: ‘Here, you bone-headed mutt, come here.’  When he came up with the player he began it again.  ‘Here you bonehead,’ he yelled. ‘Take this mask and put it on or they’ll knock your brains out with the next fly they put over.’”

Before his death in 1912, Ashenbach wrote a book called “Humor Among the Minors,” and reprinted a very similar version of Robinson’s story that was told by Bozeman Bulger in The New York World in 1910.  While Ashenbach vouched for the veracity of the story, he said it wasn’t the first time he used the term, and had actually coined the term earlier–although he got the year wrong.:

“In 1899 [sic, 1897] I played center field for the Springfield. Ohio, club (the Governors in the Interstate League).  On the team were Josh Reilly, third baseman, now retired and deputy coroner of San Francisco (It has been a matter of speculation where Reilly played in 1897–Baseball Reference lists the player with Columbus as Joseph Reilly, The Sporting Life referred to  the player with Columbus as “Josh Reilly”) and a catcher to whom we gave the nickname of Zeekoe, and who was continually doing just the opposite of what he was instructed to do.

Josh Reilly

Josh Reilly

“He had a serious weakness, in that it was utterly impossible for him to catch a high foul fly.  He would dance under the ball until he got dizzy.  Reilly often advised that we build a wooden shed over him so that his head would not be shattered by one of those high fouls.

“One day the expected happened.  The ball went high up into the air, with Zeekoe, as usual, doing his sky-dance, under it.  It finally landed, not in his mitt, but right on top of his head, bouncing fully thirty feet off his bean into the bleachers.  The blow would have felled and ox.  Down went poor Zeekoe, but only for an instant–to pick up his mask, which had been knocked off in the encounter.  That evening in the dining room

“That evening in the dining room, Reilly and I passed Zeekoe, who was enjoying his evening meal with the utmost complacency.  In passing him, I playfully pressed both of my hands on his head to feel for the bump which a blow of that size should have raised.  The lump was conspicuous by its absence.

“‘Are you hurt?’ I inquired of him.  ‘Not a bit,’ he said with pride.  Turing to Reilly, I remarked, ‘No wonder, Josh, that he isn’t hurt.  His head is made of bone.’  I believe this was the very first use of the term.  Ever since that night I have applied the expression ‘bonehead’ to any player guilty of unusual stupidity, and it has gained wide circulation.”

 

On the Road with the Giants, 1912

18 Jan

As the New York Giants were cruising to the National League Pennant in 1912—they won by 10 games and were never in second place after May 20—New York’s catcher John “Chief” Meyers provided fans with a look at life with the Giants.

Chief Meyers

Chief Meyers

The article was written for The Associated Press—most likely by Jim McBeth of The New York American, who acted most often as Meyers’ ghostwriter:

“After the last ball of the game is fielded and the crowd begins to pour out of the park and the players disappear into the clubhouse—what then?

“The fans read in their papers next morning: ‘New York at Pittsburgh’ or ‘New York at Boston,’ or something like that.  And until the bulletin boards begin to put up the score, inning by inning, in the afternoon, they know little of nothing about the men they have been watching and cheering.

“What have ballplayers been doing in the meantime?”

Meyers explained life on the road:

“Well, suppose we’ve just finished a game on the Polo Grounds.  Our schedule calls for a battle with the Pirates in their home park.  Of course, the first thing is to get there, and we get there in easier and better fashion than any other sort of a traveler.

“We have two private Pullman cars of our own, always, and they are our traveling home We assemble at the railroad station—sometimes forty strong—and just pile aboard and make ourselves comfortable.

“In the first place, I might mention the make-up of our party.  We carry twenty-five players, as many as the rules allow; John McGraw, the manager; Wilbert Robinson, coach and assistant manager; the club secretary and his assistant; Dr. Finley the club physician;  Ed Mackall, the club trainer; Dick Hennessy, our kid mascot, and as many as ten or twelve newspaper writers especially towards the end of a close race.”

The 1912 Giants

The 1912 Giants

As for accommodations:

“If he is a regular he takes possession of a seat which indicates that his berth when it is made up will be a ‘lower.’ That’s an absolute rule.  Nothing but the cream for the first string players.

“As soon as the train pulls out the boys go to their favorite amusements—card playing, reading, ‘fanning.’  Don’t think a player finishes a game when he sheds his spangles.  He doesn’t.  Many a game is played all over again as soon as the boys get together.

“There’s a little quartet of us who are pinochle fans—(James ‘Doc’) Crandall, (Art) Fletcher, (David ‘Beals’) Becker and myself—a fine lot of Dutchmen we are.  We’re the ‘tightwads’ of the club because we don’t  risk as much as a nickel on our games.

“There was a time when there was tall gambling by the players on trains while traveling from one town to another.  I’ve seen as much as $6,000 or $7000 on the table in a poker game. But that’s past; the player of today holds on to his money, and, besides, he knows that high betting causes ill feeling between friends and heavy losses get a man’s mind off his playing.  The Giants play a little poker, of course, but it’s only a 25-cent limit game, where a man in hard luck may lose as much as $4 or $5 in a session.

“Occasionally you’ll hear a little singing.  Some of the boys have really good voices.  Others fancy themselves as vocalists, anyhow.  Larry Doyle, for instance…Leon Ames gets up sometimes and gives us his specialty.  He recites Kipling’s poem, ‘On the Road to Mandalay,‘ (with an affected speech impediment). That always gets a laugh.  The younger, smaller players buzz around Big Jeff Tesreau like a flock of mosquitoes attacking an elephant, giving him a good-natured kidding until he sweeps his big arms and chases them. “

Big Jeff Tesreau

Big Jeff Tesreau

Meyers said the Giants were “like one big family—a lively, noisy bunch of pals.”   He said a player occasionally “gets a grouch and sits off by himself,” but:

“I never saw a group of men in any business so genuinely attached to each other…Occasionally some stranger tries to horn into our cars but he quickly finds he isn’t wanted.”

The Giants, he said, drew crowds at the ballpark and at their hotel:

“There’s nothing tight about us when we travel. We’re an attraction and we know it, and that helps box office receipts.  People always want to see this club that’s got Matty and a real Indian, and sometimes  (the previous season) Charley Faust  or a Bugs Raymond as an added attraction. So we don’t keep our light under any bushel.

“We’re always pretty well sized up in our hotel in a strange city.  We can hear people say ‘So they are the Giants eh?’  The native can always spot me because of my Indian appearance, so I’m usually the one they make for.

“’Say, Chief, which is Matty?’ they ask.  ‘Which one is Johnny McGraw?’ ‘Who’s going to pitch today, Chief?’ The other boys give me the laugh because I’m the goat for all questioners.  The fans don’t recognize the other players.”

Meyers said most of the Giants were not great dressers, ‘content with two changes of costume.”  The exceptions were Rube Marquard:  “He travels with a steamer trunk and sometimes has six or eight suits with him,” as well as Josh Devore and Art Wilson.

Meyers said every player shared one fashion statement:

“Everybody…sports a diamond.  That seems to be the badge of big-league class.  As soon as a ballplayer gets out of the ‘bushes’ and into the big show the first thing he does is buy a spark.  Some of the boys have half a dozen. “

Meyers also insisted that drinking was not a problem among the modern players:

“One thing we hear from strangers most frequently is ‘Have a drink, old man let’s drink one for good luck in today’s game.’  That invitation is invariably refused. Few of the boys drink anything at all, and those who do take a glass of beer occasionally do it among themselves always.  The present day player differs greatly from the old timer, who mixed with everyone.

“Pleasant strangers, with sensible questions, we don’t mind, but they are in the minority t the butters-in who simply want to tell their friends they are associates of ballplayers.”

Meyers said he and his teammates were also very popular with deaf fans, many of whom began following the Giants when Luther “Dummy” Taylor (1900-01, 1902-08) pitched for the club:

“(N)ow they’re friends of all of us.  Most of the Giants learned the finger talk from Taylor.”

He said Mathewson, Doyle and Fred Snodgrass were all very conversant in sign language and “are the idols of” many deaf fans.

Fred Snodrass

Fred Snodgrass

Meyers frequented art museums on the road.  As for his teammates: billiards for most, chess or checkers for Mathewson during the day, and the theatre at night, he said, were the “favorite pastimes” of the Giants.

No matter the activity after a road game, he said: “Everybody must be in bed” by 11:30 pm.  “That’s one of McGraw’s rules, and the boys are on their honor to obey it.”

Meyers drew one conclusion from the lifestyle of the modern ballplayer.  He and his brethren were “(A) trifle better off, both physically and morally, than the average young man.”

“Out of the Game”

2 Nov

ripley

A September 1920 cartoon in The New York Globe, “Cleaning Up” by Robert Ripley–later famous for “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” which he began drawing two years earlier–calling on organized baseball to banish  Hal Chase, Heinie Zimmerman, and six members of the Chicago White Sox: Swede Risberg, Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver. Happy Felsh [sic, Felsch] and Lefty Williams–Ripley left out Chick Gandil and Fred McMullin.

Ripley continued to draw baseball cartoons as “Believe it or Not” gained popularity, including the one below from 1921 winter meetings featuring Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Ban Johnson, Kid Gleason, Hooks Wiltse, Charles Ebbets, John McGraw, and Wilbert Robinson.  After The Globe folded in 1923, Ripley moved to The New York Evening News.

ripley2

 

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?”

“Probably the ‘Boniest’ Bonehead Play Ever”

22 Jun

While some of the details changed in subsequent tellings, this story stayed substantially the same from when it was first presented in a column by sports writer William A. in 1913, until the final published version in 1957 in The New Orleans Times-Picayune.  One version called it, “Probably the ‘boniest’ bonehead play ever”

The story was told by and told about lefty Evan “Rube” Evans.  Born on April 28, 1890, in Sebring, Ohio, Evans was a career minor league pitcher who, when the story first appeared, seemed to be headed to the big leagues. 

Rube Evans

Rube Evans

The tall–he was reported by various sources as anywhere from 6′ 2″ to 6′ 4″–began his professional career with the Dallas Giants in the Texas League in 1910; he was 15-12 for the pennant winners, but The Dallas Morning News said he didn’t “take baseball seriously” until the following year, when he was 18-16 for the Giants:

“Before that, it seemed, the big, husky flinger looked at playing baseball something in the light of a joke.  Last season, though he came back into the game with a different viewpoint. He seemed to realize that ball playing was a man-sized business.”

After his 1911 performance, Evans’ contract was purchased by the New York Giants, and he joined the team for spring training in Marlin, Texas in 1912.  The Morning News said if he maintained his new found focus “and works as hard as he knows how to work he ought to stick.”

Evans quickly impressed the Giants with a pitch “takes a most freakish break,” according to The Washington Times:

“Rube Evans, the Giants left-handed recruit pitcher from Dallas, surprised bot Manager (John) McGraw and Coach Robby (Wilbert Robinson) by showing them a curve that is entirely new to the big league…The ball is delivered in exactly the same manner as the spitball, but he does not moisten it.”

The paper did not elaborate on how Evans’ “dry spitter” was different from versions reported on during previous seasons–including the one thrown by Christy Mathewson of the Giants–but according to The New York World, “McGraw says he will try and teach it to Rube Marquard.”

Despite his “dry spitter,” Evans failed to make the team and was returned to Dallas where he posted a 22-12 record for the Giants.

In 1913, he joined the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association but appeared to be headed to the Cleveland Naps before he threw a pitch in the regular season for the Pelicans.  In March, Evans shut down the Detroit Tigers 3 to 1 on five hits and followed that up with a four-hitter (and 3 to 1 victory) against the Naps.

The Cleveland Press said, “(Naps Manager Joe) Birmingham plans to cut down his squad considerably.  It is said recruits (Hugh) Peddy, (Pete) Shields and (Ward) McDowell will be left here in trade for one good pitcher, probably Southpaw Rube Evans.”

With Evans apparently on the verge of joining the Naps, the story of his “bonehead” play was told by Phelon, then repeated widely:

“(Evans) has one curious habit—a trait which has aroused much wonder on the part of every manager under whom the southpaw has been toiling.  When given an order by his manager or captain, Mr. Evans always stops, cocks his ears, and demands a repetition of the directions.  Naturally he is first taken for a simp, or bonehead, but when further acquaintance with him shows that he is a gentleman of intelligence and high mentality, the field leaders are muchly puzzled.

“’I always want my orders repeated,’ quoth Mr. Evans, ‘so that I will never again make such an error.”

(The 1913 version of the story, which quotes Evans,  places the incident in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, some later versions say it happened in 1913 with the Pelicans, still others say it was in Portland, Oregon; however, the original publication predates Evans’ time on the West Coast which did not begin until May of 1914).

Evans said he had pitched into the ninth inning when the opposing team put a runner on third with one out, when his manager told him if the other team attempted a squeeze play to “bean him.”  Evans said:

“’I knew no more what a squeeze play was than the man in the moon, but my orders rang in my ears as I started winding up.  Just as a swung up my arm, the fellow on third tore for the plate…I took careful aim at the oncoming runner, and pickled him with a fine shot to the back of the cranium.  Three seconds later the crowd was coming towards me with roars of fury, and I got over the back fence just in time.

“’Well how was I to know that I should have hit the batter and not the runner?  Ever since I have insisted on duplicate orders, so that I would know just what to do.’”

His acquisition by Cleveland never materialized and he had a disappointing 12-15 record in 1913, in a season split between New Orleans and the Birmingham Barons.

It is also in question whether Phelon’s characterization of Evans as a “gentleman of intelligence and high mentality,” was entirely accurate given his inability to stick with clubs who were impressed with physical abilities.  After his second chance to pitch in the majors didn’t materialize, the remainder his of career was marked by long stretches of mediocrity, charges of bad behavior and comparisons to another left-handed “Rube.”

In August of 1913, he was suspended for the remainder of the season by the Birmingham Barons for, according to The Birmingham Post-Herald, “Failure to keep in condition.”  The Sporting Life’s Chandler Richter called him “Erratic,” The Oakland Tribune said he was”Eccentric,” a wire service retelling of the “beanball” story from 1915 said he “earned a nationwide reputation as a ‘squirrel,” another called him “the real eccentric,” when compared to Rube Waddell.

The other left-handed Rube

The other left-handed Rube

His two-year tenure with the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) began when he wore out his welcome in New Orleans in May of 1914 and was sold to the Beavers.  It was particularly rocky.  The Spokane Daily Chronicle said Evans and Beavers manager Walter “Judge” McCredie “got along like a pair of strange bulldogs.” He was suspended at least once, again for the euphemistic “failure to be in proper condition,” and gave up a game-winning home run to Jack Ness of the Oakland Oaks when he accidently threw a pitch over the plate while attempting to intentionally walk Ness.  At the close of the 1915 season, Portland let him go for what The Portland Oregonian called “His inability to take care of himself.” Of his 9-22 record the paper said:

“Rube ran into gobs of adversity.”

After leaving Portland, Evans played parts of three seasons for the Salt Lake City Bees in the PCL–in 1917 he was 21-9, but when McCredie was named manager of the Bees in 1918, Evans time with the team was nearly over.  Before the season, The Oregonian said, “Evans did not take kindly to the idea of having to take orders” from his former manager and was threatening to jump the club.  He finally did jump in June after appearing in 14 games and posting a 3-8 record.

Evans went to Portland and finished the 1918 season in the semi-pro Shipyards League, The Oregon Daily Journal said upon his arrival:

“Rube Evans was through at Salt Lake and McCredie was probably saved the trouble of wearying his hand by writing out Rube’s release, when Rube left.”

In 1919, he played for the Rupert franchise in the semi-pro Southern Idaho League; while successful, his reliance on the emery ball for his success didn’t make him friends.  The Twin Falls Times said:

“When Rube Evans lugged the emery ball into the S.I.L. he failed to do anything beneficial to the league.  Rube will win a few more games for the Rupert club, but he has lowered the standard of sport in the league.”

Evans had one more season in professional baseball, posting a 10-7 record with the Regina Senators in the Western Canada League in 1920.  In an August 15 doubleheader against the Edmonton Eskimos Evans was ejected for arguing with the umpire while facing the second batter of the first game; he came back to lead the Senators to 5 to 3 victory in the second game, giving up two runs in 7 2/3 innings, and hitting a three-run home run in the sixth.

Rube Evans

Rube Evans

After the 1920 season, he returned to Ohio and spent the next decade playing semi-pro baseball there and in Western Pennsylvania.  His last headlines came in 1924 when he pitched six innings for the Sharon (PA) Elks team in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees.  The Elks lost 10-8, Babe Ruth went 2-4 with a double for the Yankees.

Evans’ playing days ended in Akron, Ohio.  He pitched for and managed the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company team, and stayed on with the company as a rubber worker.  He died on January 30, 1950.

A clue to some of Evans’  erratic behavior is contained in his death certificate.  The pitcher spent the last three and a half years of his life in Ohio’s Cambridge State Hospital; his cause of death was listed as “General Paresis,’ brought on by syphilis.

A shorter version of this post appeared on June 3, 2013

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.

11,297,424

12 Sep

The Chicago Tribune baseball writer Hugh Fullerton was fond of saying:

“Once upon a time there was a baseball bug down in Cincinnati who figured out there were 11,297,424 possible plays in baseball.  This, of course, was counting only straight and combination plays and taking no account of the different kinds of fly hits and grounders, which all are different.  He proved it conclusively and the next day the team made one that wasn’t on the list.

“Every play, every throw, every hit is different.  That is why baseball is the national game, and there are freaks in the game that make even the case hardened regular sit up and yelp with surprise and joy.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Fullerton made a career of telling stories about those plays; some might have even been true.

A few more of them:

“Philadelphia lost a hard luck game to Cleveland in the old twelve club league.  The score was close, Philadelphia had two men on base, and Ed Delehanty was at bat.

“He cracked a long drive across the left field fence—a sure home run.  The ball was going over the fence high in the air, when suddenly it changed its course, dropped straight down, hit the top of the fence and bounded back into the lot.

Ed Delahanty

Ed Delahanty

“The crowd, which had given up in despair, was astonished.  The Cleveland left fielder got the ball and, by a quick throw, cut down the runner at the plate and Delehanty was held at second.  The next men went out and Philadelphia was beaten.

“Investigation after the game proved that the ball had struck a telephone wire reading to a factory just outside the grounds.”

Tom Corcoran had one of the oddest baseball experiences in the history of the National League at the old Eastern Park grounds in Brooklyn years ago, in a game against Boston.  The game was played on the morning of Labor Day, and there had been a hard rain the night before.  In the early part of the game Corcoran, going after a ground ball, felt his foot slip and his ankle turn, and, half falling, he stopped the ball and then fell.  He turned to pick up the ball to throw out his man, and saw no ball—although there was a hole six inches across, into which his foot had plunged.  The runner, reaching first, stopped and saw Corcoran with his arm plunged to the elbow in the ground, and after hesitating a moment, he ran on down to second.

Tom Corcoran

Tom Corcoran

“Corcoran, meantime, had been thinking.  His fingers were clutched around the ball, and yet he waited, pretending to be groping for the ball.  The runner started on, and as he passed, Corcoran dragged the ball out and touched him out.”

“One of the funniest plays I ever witnessed was pulled off on the old Baltimore grounds along in 1896, and it was good-natured, happy Wilbert Robinson who made the blunder that resulted in the defeat of the Orioles when they might have won the game.

Wilbert robinson

Wilbert Robinson

“The struggle was between Chicago and Baltimore and it went into extra innings.  In the eleventh, with a Chicagoan on second Doctor Jimmy McJames made a wild pitch, the ball shooting crooked and bounding around back of the visitors bench with Robby in close pursuit.  The ball rolled back of the water cask and disappeared.  Robby made one frantic grab back of the cask, and then, straightening up, hurled a sponge full of water at McJames, who was covering the plate.  The Doctor grabbed it, and as the water flew all over him he tagged Jimmy Ryan…In spite of the fact that the play beat Baltimore, the crowd yelled with delight over it, and Robby, who had made the sponge throw as a joke when he found he could not get the ball in time, appeared as much pleased as if he had won the game.”

 

Lost Advertisements–“Kid” Gleason for Cat’s Paw Rubber Heels

22 Nov

cat'spawA 1920 advertisement featuring William “Kid” Gleason, manager of the defending American League Champion Chicago White Sox–the ad appeared in July, two months before the first grand jury was convened to investigate the 1919 World Series.

“It would take a long time to tell all the reasons why I like the Cat’s Paw Heels.  But there is this much about them, they give me more comfort than I could get from any other brand.”  William Gleason

Baseball Leaders Prefer Cat’s Paws

Cat’s Paw Rubber Heels are also the favorites of other leading managers and ball players in both leagues–Patrick J. Moran, Walter Johnson, John J. McGraw, Edward G. Barrow, James Burke, Miller Huggins, W.R. Johnston, Wilbert Robinson, Walter J. Maranville and many others who appreciate the comfort and protection which Cat’s Paw Rubber Heels give them.

“Remarkable Baseball Stunt”

15 Jan

In the 1890s, there was a “baseball puzzle” that was said to have confounded Baltimore Orioles catcher Wilbert Robinson for days.  How could a team hit two triples and four singles in an inning and not score a run?

His confusion probably says more about Robinson than the complexity of the puzzle.  The answer was the first two hitters tripled and were out trying to stretch them into home runs.  Three players hit singles to load the bases.  The fourth hitter singles, but the ball strikes a runner ending the inning.

Wilbert robinson

Wilbert Robinson

In 1912, a sportswriter in The Toronto Globe claimed that a similar inning had actually occurred in a minor league game in 1890.

The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times called it a “Remarkable baseball stunt.”

While there’s no proof the story isn’t apocryphal, both papers said it took place on May 30, 1890, in an Indiana League game and the members of the Anderson, Indiana team mentioned in the articles all did play for Anderson in 1890. (Although Baseball Reference doesn’t list statistics or rosters for the 1890 Indiana League, all the named players are confirmed as having played for that team in a variety of contemporaneous sources.)

According to the story Benjamin Ireland led off the inning with a triple.  With Ed Wiswell at the plate, the ball got away from the catcher, Ireland was out trying to score.  Wiswell tripled, but was tagged out trying to stretch the triple.  Rush Shumway followed with the third triple of the inning.

With Shumway on third Gene Derby bunted down the third base line that the third baseman waited to roll foul, “It stayed (fair) and (Derby) pulled up at second.  (Shumway) did not try to score.”

The fifth batter, Charles Faatz, also bunted.  The runners held as Faatz beat out the bunt.  Frank Fear was the next batter and “hit a vicious liner to right, but the ball struck Faatz on the arm.”

Three triples, two singles, no runs.

A remarkable inning.

A Really Bad Idea II

23 Oct

Last week I told you about Chicago Colts President Al Hart’s connection with the proposed rule to change the shape of the diamond.  He wasn’t the only baseball pioneer who considered adopting rule changes which would have completely changed the game.

William Henry “Harry” Wright, called by many “The Father of Baseball,” was among the most respected figures of baseball’s first two decades.  The Philadelphia Record described his importance:

 “Harry Wright has done more than any other man to bring baseball to its present high standing.”

Wright’s story has been told many times and in many places.  This lesser known story focuses on two rules changes he championed.

Harry Wright

After the 1893 season Wright’s contract was not renewed as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies he accepted the position of “Chief of Umpires” of the National League.  The Philadelphia Record reported on a number of rule changes he advocated, including this:

 “Harry Wright thinks that players should not be allowed to question an umpire’s decision during the progress of a game, or to speak to him while the ball is in play, and that he should have the power of taking out of the contest any player (or manager) who breaks the rule.”

While not necessarily a bad idea, if adopted Wright’s idea would have drastically changed the game for several generations of famous umpire baiters.

One other rule change Wright promoted, as reported by The Sporting Life, would certainly have been a bad idea:

 “(A)llowing a base runner to run on a fly ball instead of returning and registering at the base.”

While Wright’s idea never was seriously considered for incorporation into the rule book, it had advocates as late as 1899, four years after his death.

Washington Senators Manager Arthur Irwin endorsed the rule with this colorful description:

 “Uncertainty is the life of the game, and the more uncertain the uncertainty the higher does the interest key itself…for instance (John) McGraw, one of the most daring base runners in the league Is on first base with two men out, and a run needed to win the game (Wilbert) Robinson follows with a fly to center field, and at the stroke of the bat away scuds Mac. His get-away is the cue that brings the spectators to their feet.  ‘Will he score?  Can (Joe) Kelley field that ball home to cut him off at the plate?’ Around the runway fly the twinkling feet of the little Napoleon of the Orioles.   It’s a chase of life and death between Mac and the ball. Kelley swings the sphere on two bounds to Duke Farrell at the plate.  Mac slides into the rubber, and beats the throw by an abbreviated whisker.

“Can you imagine a more intense climax to a game of ball? Why, the game would be full of such play if the idea of running on a fly ball became a rule.  It would increase the base running, produce more plays in the field, and keep the outfielders almost as busy as the inner circle, when the bases were occupied.”

Of course Irwin failed to consider the scenario where the winning run is on third base and scores on a routine fly ball with two outs.

Arthur Irwin