Tag Archives: William A Phelon

“Byron was more to blame than I was”

19 Apr

After National league umpire Tim Hurst died in 1915, his American League counterpart Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“In the passing of Tim Hurst, baseball lost the quaintest character of the diamond. It was believed there would never be another one to approach him., but in Bill Byron baseball has a pocket edition of Timothy Carroll Hurst.

“No more fearless umpire ever held an indicator than Tim Hurst. Bill Byron runs him a close second.”

Evans said before coming to the National League in 1913, Byron was the subject “of many stories of wild minor league riots, in which Bill played the leading role without so much as mussing his hair.”

Fearless was one adjective used about Byron, but there were many others. After the 1911 season, Ed Barrow, president of the Eastern League removed Byron from the league’s staff. The Baltimore Sun said many celebrated the move:

“Byron’s chief fault is his stubbornness, and he, as well, is a bit dictatorial and oversteps his authority on the diamond…For the good of the game–in the face of many prejudices–Barrow has acted wisely in giving him the ‘can.'”

Bill Byron

Known as the “singing Umpire,” Byron’s “little ditties” were so well known that writers like L.C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Willian Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star both wrote columns suggesting new songs for the umpire.

Davis suggested that when the Cubs Heine Zimmerman argued a call:

Heinie, Heinie, I’ve been thinking,

I don’t want none of your slack;

To the clubhouse you’ll go slinking,

If you make another crack.

Johnny Evers complained to Phelon:

“How can a guy tend to his batting when the umpire’s warbling in his ears?”

John McGraw was Byron’s biggest foil and foe, and Byron had a song for the manager of the New York Giants:

“John McGraw is awful sore

Just listen to Napoleon roar

The crowd is also very mad

They think my work is very bad.”

In 1917, in an often told story, after a game in Cincinnati, the Giants manager landed two punches before he was separated from Byron after an ejection.

McGraw

After the incident, McGraw provided a signed statement admitting to punching Byron, but blaming the incident on the umpire:

“Byron said to me: ‘McGraw, you were run out of Baltimore.”

When the umpire repeated the charge, McGraw said he “hit him. I maintain I was given reason.”

When Byron arrived in St. Louis the day after the incident to work a series between the Cardinals and Phillies, he refused to answer when asked by a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer if McGraw had punched him, instead:

“Bill pointed the right hand to the jaw. There was dark clot—which indicated that something landed as early as 20 hours ago.” 

McGraw’s justification for the attack notwithstanding, he was fined $500 and suspended for 16 days.

McGraw responded, claiming to be “discriminated against personally,” by league President John Tener,” and that “Byron was more to blame than I was.”

He said the action taken against him would result in:

“Umpires with Byron’s lack of common intelligence and good sense, will now be so overbearing with players there will be no living with them.”

But the feud had been brewing since the umpire entered the league.

In August of 1914, in a game where the Reds scored five runs in the eighth to beat the Giants 5 to 4, The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The character of McGraw was shown by his getting into an insulting ruction with Umpire Byron…He was so angered at losing out that he pelted the official with vicious expletives and delayed the game for several minutes.”

In 1915, Sam Crane, the former player turned baseball writer for The New York Journal, and a close friend of McGraw, chronicled a clash between the two during a September 25 game between the seventh place Giants and sixth place Cardinals in St. Louis:

Byron was being taunted from the New York bench and decided utility infielder Fred Brainard was the culprit and ejected him:

“Brainard (in a startled voice: ‘Who me/ Why, I didn’t open my mouth, did I boys?’

“Chorus of players: ‘No, he didn’t.’

“A mysterious voice from a far corner of the dugout: ‘’Byron, you can’t hear any better than you can see. You’re rotten.’”

At this point, Byron walked to the Giants bench and gave Brainard one minute to leave.

McGraw responded, “You have pulled another boot Byron,” and accused the umpire of once ordering a player off the bench who was coaching at first base, and asked how he knew it was Brainard:

“Umpire Byron (turning pale): ‘I caught Brainard with his mouth open.’”

The Giants bench laughed at the umpire and McGraw accused him of always “guessing” at his decisions.

At this point Crane said Byron, “five minutes after he had given Brainard one minute,” removed his watch from his pocket and again gave Brainard a minute to leave and told McGraw he would be ejected as well. The manager responded:

“Why should I be put out of the game? I haven’t done anything. Neither has Brainard. You’re all tangled up. Do you know the rules? What time is it by that tin timepiece you have got there?”

Byron repeated the order and threatened to forfeit the game to St. Louis. McGraw said:

“Go ahead and forfeit. You will be in very bad if you do. Every one of my players here say Brainard did not say a word. You will be in a nice fix with Tener, won’t you. You will have a fat chance to umpire the world’s series. Go ahead and forfeit the game.”

Byron then summoned three police officers to remove Brainard, but according to Crane, the police sergeant said,” I will have to take the umpire along, too.”

This elicited more laughter from the Giants bench.

Crane’s story ends with McGraw chastising the umpire while finally telling Brainard to go, and Byron returning to homeplate while singing:

“Oh, I don’t know. The multitude and the players are enraged at me; but I gained my point. Oh, I don’t know; I ain’t so bad.”

And the game “then proceeded, and smoothly throughout.”

Crane claimed the whole ordeal took at least 15 minutes.

The Post-Dispatch didn’t mention police, implied that Byron clearly won the encounter, and said, “five minutes were consumed in this senseless argument.”

The paper scolded the umpire for the “bush league trick” of pulling out his watch, but said:

“In time, however, McGraw relented under the threat of a forfeiture, which means a fine of $1000, and Brainard went his way.”

McGraw might have gotten the better of Byron in their 1917 fight in Cincinnati, but in 1915 the umpire “landed twice” on Boston Braves third baseman Red Smith after the game when Smith renewed an earlier argument over balls and strikes September 16 in Chicago. Smith attempted to get at Byron after being hit but was stopped by the other umpire, Al Orth.

Byron and McGraw continued to butt heads and the umpire’s combative style and singing continued to draw attention.

George Moriarty, the Detroit Tigers infielder, turned American League umpire—who also wrote songs—and often included poems about players in the nationally syndicated column he began writing in 1917, said—in part–of Byron:

“It’s wonderful the way you face the throng of maddened players all season long;

While other umps get busted on the bean you pacify the athletes with a song.

You know that music charms the savage beast, and as they rush to stab you in the vest,

And tell you how they’ll tear you limb from limb, you sing like John McCormack at his best.”

More on Byron Wednesday.

“More Bunk is Written about Baseball”

22 Mar

Myron Townsend, the sports editor of The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune said:

“More bunk is written about baseball than any professional sport.

“In dwelling on the details of ‘Inside’ ball the scribes allow their imaginations to run away with them.”

In 1910, after the publication of Johnny Evers’ and Hugh Fullerton’s book, “Touching Second; The Science of Baseball,” talk of “inside baseball” was all the rage: or “a favorite subject of the space killers,” as Townsend put it:

“Many fans believe that baseball players are mental gymnasts. They swallow whole all they read about the ‘science’ of the game.

“Touching Second,” Evers’ and Fullerton’s collaboration on “Inside Baseball.”

“For this reason, the speculative typewriter tickler never grows weary of pounding out epistles about the marvelous mental attainments of professional players.”

Townsend ridiculed the idea that, “According to the critics baseball is very complex. The moves and counter moves are fairly bewildering. A great chess master is a child when compared to a baseball manager.”

He said the baseball writer of the rival Cincinnati Times-Star had it right:

“No writer perforates the ‘signal’ theory more neatly or thoroughly than “Billy Phelon.”

Phelon had written on the subject:

“A kick of the coacher’s right foot means one movement for the batsman and baserunner; a kick of the left foot means another; pulling grass with the right hand means to do this and jerking it violently with the left hand means to do the other thing. If the manager on the bench shades his eyes with his palm it means a steal, if he hits the water barrel viciously with his left foot it means to sacrifice.

“In short—according to the magazine writers and the brilliant critics of the day—baseball is controlled, all the way through the stages of the active play, by these intricate, complex, recurring, and crisscrossing signs and codes.

“All of which would be extremely instructive were it not for the fact that it isn’t so; and that, in all these stories, the writers either built upon their imagination; or—more likely—were ‘stung’ and ‘joshed’ by the ballplayers to whom they went for information”

Phelon said it was “a plain, hard fact, no ball team ever played the game under a long and complex code of signals.” He called it “an utter impossibility and mental absurdity.”

Instead, Phelon said:

“The generalship of the ballfield is an ever-shifting series of quickly devised schemes, not a fifth part of them figured out or practices before each individual game begins. The signal code of the ball field is limited to eight or ten simple tricks and must ever be so for the reason that the brain of the ballplayer is not that of Euclid, Plato or Archimedes.”

Townsend said, “Mr. Phelon is right,” and told Cincinnati fans to “disabuse their minds of all such rot.”

Reds Manager Clark Griffith, said Townsend:

“Does not have to tell (Bob) Bescher when to steal bases. Instinct tells the speed boy what to do when he reaches first. A certain amount of teamwork between batter and baserunner may be necessary, but as a third party a manager is a ‘butter in.’”

Bescher

The Commercial Tribune Editor accused Evers of attempting to “bunk the fans about the elaborate set of signs and counter signs the Cubs use.”

Townsend said the “brainy second baseman” said he and Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker “never made a move” with signaling one another. He contrasted that with the second baseman and shortstop of the 1904 New York Giants, Billy Gilbert and Bill Dahlen, who:

“(N)ever used a signal of any kind. The duties of their positions were second nature to them.”

Contrary to the trend, It was a game of spontaneity, not science:

“No one should underestimate ‘generalship’ and strategy as a component part of the game, but the decisive plays come up on the spur of the moment. They cannot be rehearsed in the clubhouse…’Inside ball’ will always be a favorite theme, but the speed boys and hard hitters, aided and abetted by a start staff of pitchers and a master workman behind the bat, will continue to win games, knowing nothing about the ‘signs and signals’ which ignorant fans imagine they are wise to.”

“He Dresses as he Darn Well Pleases”

1 May

In 1914, writing about Honus Wagner in “The Baseball Magazine”, William A. Phelon said:

“Wagner’s dislike for fancy clothing is well known. I have seen the massive Teuton lounging in the swellest hotels with a grey flannel shirt and no sign of a necktie, while the fashionables were trooping by. Eccentricity? No—Honus doesn’t pose as an eccentric. Boorishness, ignorance of etiquette? Not that bird, for Hans Wagner is as pleasing a country gentleman as anyone could hope to meet.

“Presswork, publicity stuff? He does not need any. He is as independent as he is powerful; as solid and determined in mind as he is in body, and he dresses as he darn well pleases. He is Hans Wagner and he is worth five or six dressy dudes that look in agony upon his tieless flannels.”

wagner2

Wagner

Phelon shared several stories about Wagner—Phelon, like Hugh Fullerton, was known for his active imagination—the magazine said in the sub headline of the article: “We shall not endeavor to trace their origin any farther.”

Phelon described a night in Hot Springs with the Pirates shortstop:

“He commands attention and gets respect, even before folks know him for the great ballplayer…Wagner, correctly clad, a splendid picture of strength and manly perfection, was listening to the music in the big ballroom. Sitting beside me was a Chicago plutocrat who has his millions, all won by hustling every minute of his business hours. This man who did not know Hans Wagner, was studying the ballplayer’s general makeup. Finally, turning in his chair, the rich man exclaimed, ‘Who the devil is that man? He’s the sort of fellow I’d like to have working for me. Bulldog, fighter; think; learn a trick and never lose it; honest as the day is long—I wish I had him. Say, Bill who is that?’

“’Hans Wagner, Mr. ——-,’ I answered, strangling a grin. The millionaire took another long, long look. ‘So, that’s Wagner, hey?’ he murmured. ‘Now I understand why he has his reputation.’’

Phelon said it “delights a crowd” to see Wagner strike out “especially if the feat is performed by some kid pitcher.”

He then suggested:

“Perhaps I am wrong, but it has seemed to me, on several occasions, as if Honus deliberately struck out just to give the crowd a ration of glee and flatter the youngster on the slab. When the Pirates are safely ahead, and some young hurler has been sent to the hill by the losing foe, Hans actually seems to strike out far oftener than at any other time, and it always looked to me as if he did so—always making a terrific wild swing at the last one—just through good heartedness.

“And how the crowd always yells and bellows in sheer ecstasy! And how the kid pitcher swells up and hugs himself, while he thinks of the glory that is his—the joy of telling everybody, to the last day he lives, about the time he struck out Hans Wagner—and made him miss the big one by a mile.

“Of course, all these strikeouts may be accidental, and the old boy may be trying—but why is it that you will so often see Wagner miss three under such circumstances, while it’s blamed seldom you’ll see him fan is a tight game, with men on, and some star pitcher working against him?”

“Say, Rube, he ain’t Quite Dead yet”

16 Apr

In 1912, Arthur Irwin told William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star:

irwin

Irwin

“Rube Waddell was even a richer card than was usually supposed and nobody unless he were to put it all down in a large, thick book will ever have an actual summary of the things G. Edward said and did during his long career in the fast company.”

Irwin said Waddell, despite his reputation for erratic behavior “had a kindly heart, always open to the cries of the unhappy, and especially gentle towards the ladies.”

rube

Rube

He told Phelon a story about  a dance they both attended in Philadelphia:

“Mr. Waddell arrived early and was quieted by being presented with a gorgeous badge denoting him as floor marshal. Armed with this, Mr. Waddell was as nice and polite as Lord Chesterfield himself and gave no trouble. The managers soon ceased to worry about Rube—and were given other things to trouble them.

“About midnight a prizefighter named Seiger of some repute as a rough, hardy slugger, came into the hall and at once started making war medicine.”

According to newspaper accounts, there were at least four fighters named Seiger or Sieger who had bouts in Philadelphia during the first decade of the 20th Century—the most prominent were both lightweights: Joe Seiger and Charley Sieger

Irwin picks up the story:

“Inside of ten minutes I had to go in and help the floor committee drag him off some inoffensive fellow who hadn’t kowtowed to his sovereignty. About 10 minutes later we had to sally in again and rescue some well-dressed gentleman from Seiger’s clutches. ‘Better cut it out,’ said I ‘you are looking for a trimming and you will get it, sure’

‘”Ain’t nobody on this floor goin’ to hand it to me,’ jeered Seiger, and back he went, shouldering through the throng.”

rubesuit

Rube

A minute later, Irwin said:

“I heard loud noises and then the thud of fast falling blows. In I rushed and beheld Mr. Seiger going rapidly round the floor under the mighty fists of Rube Waddell. Before the Rube’s gigantic strength and pile driving blows the prizefighter was helpless. Seiger was receiving a frightful beating, but he had it coming to him and no one interfered. Finally, Seiger fell against the wall, and the Rube, his eyes blazing with murderous delight, simply hailed blows upon the dazed and bleeding pugilist. Just as he was drawing back his great fists for another wallop, there was a shrill shriek and a woman fainted.”

Waddell turned away from the boxer, and:

“(R)an to the spot where the girl had fallen and picked her up. He bore her to an anteroom, poured ice water on her forehead and cared for her like a trained nurse till she revived.”

Someone told Waddell, as he administered to the woman:

‘”Say, Rube, he ain’t quite dead yet.’

“Rube shook his head, ‘Chivalry,’ said Waddell, ‘comes before pleasure. I ain’t going to move from here till this lady gets her things back. Soon as she’s all OK I’ll go finish him but I won’t stir a step till then.”

“The two Best Batsmen of the Game”

19 Aug

Jack Doyle spent part of 17 seasons in the major leagues from 1889 until 1905. In 1910, he told William A. Phelon of The New York Telegraph that among hitters, “There were two men who were real topliners in their trade.”

It was, he said, “Hardly probable,” there was anyone better than Pete Browning and Ed Delahanty.

browning

Browning

Doyle said neither benefited from “scorers who make everything a hit except a dropped pop fly.”

But, the two were largely dissimilar:

“(T)here never were two men more radically different in their ideas and their opinions of the game than those two great sluggers.”

“Pete Browning was an artist. To him baseball was an art or profession and batting an absorbing passion.

“Delahanty was a workman. Baseball to him was labor or a trade and batting simply part of the daily toil.

“When Browning left the field, the game wasn’t over. He continued to talk batting, theorize on batting, and I think dreamed of batting all night long.

“When Delahanty left the ballpark, the game was all through for the day, as if he were a laborer going home for supper. He ceased to think baseball and would only talk baseball when someone started the conversation that way.”

delehanty.jpg

Delahanty

Each handled success differently:

“Pete Browning made five hits one afternoon. He kept his clubmates awake for hours, telling it over and over. ‘Old Petey’s eyes is pretty bright yet, huh?’ he shouted. ‘Reckon the old man ain’t there with the hits no more, eh?’

“When Delahanty made the record in Chicago, four home runs and a single (July 13, 1896) and was told that he had outdone all former deeds, he grunted, said ‘That right?’ And wanted to know who won the second race.”

Their reaction to adversity differed as well:

“If Browning failed to make a hit at the time of need, he would have tears in his eyes and would bitterly bewail his misfortune. If Delahanty fell down in the pinch, he shrugged his shoulders, hoofed back to the bench and began to talk racing or the weather.

“When an outfielder galloped to the fence and pulled down one of Browning’s mighty drives, Pete would regard it as a personal insult, and glower at the defender like a baffled tiger. When an outfielder robbed Del of a home run, Ed would grunt ‘Good catch bo, didn’t think you’d get it!’ and forget it forever.”

And, of course, no one treated their bats and eyes the way Browning did:

“Pete Browning spent hours polishing his bats, hours rubbing his eyes, in the belief that it made them brighter. Delahanty, perhaps, spent an occasional half-hour fixing up his bats on a rainy afternoon.

“If you had told Pete Browning that the business was losing money, and that he would have to cut his salary next season, he would have accepted the money rather than lose the chance to play the game. If you handed that talk to Delahanty, he would have sneered scornfully, and remarked that you’d have to come up with 500 more beans before he’d even look at a contract.”

The two did have two things in common, he said:

“Neither Peter nor Del cared much where their teams finished on the season. Pete thought only of his hits and the glory of making them, Del thought of a comfortable winter life on the money he made in the summertime.”

Also, he said neither could bunt:

“Del wouldn’t simply try. Pete, with much groaning and protestation, would be coaxed to make the attempt, but his attempts were fizzles. Pure, old-fashioned, straightaway sluggers, both of them, and the two best batsmen of the game.”

“That big Lopsided man can Pitch”

4 Mar

Leonard Washburne, who wrote for The Chicago Herald and The Inter Ocean was another influential early baseball writer who died young—he was just 25.

washburn.jpg

Leonard Washburne

He was killed in October of 1891 while riding in the locomotive of a Chicago and Eastern Illinois train with two other members of The Inter Ocean staff.  The three newspapermen and one member of the train crew were the only four fatalities in the wreck which took place in south suburban Crete, thirty miles outside of Chicago.

The Chicago Daily News said the train “struck a misplaced switch and the locomotive plunged through an engine house.  The engineer and the fireman jumped and saved themselves, but the three newspaper men were killed.”

train.jpg

Newspaper Rendering of the Crash

Washburne was sports editor at The Inter Ocean for less than a year, and left behind a small but colorful collection of observations:

When Harry Stovey was injured in a series in Chicago early in the 1891 season:

“Stovey dragged his six feet up to the plate like a man with one foot in the grave.”

On Amos Rusie:

“Rusie! He is not a handsome man.  His legs lack repose, his fists are too large for their age, his face is a clam-chowder dream, and his neck is so inextensive that he can not wear a collar without embarrassing his ears.

“But how that big lopsided man can pitch.”

amosrusie

Amos Rusie

When the Philadelphia Phillies snapped an eight game Chicago Colts winning streak, shutting out the Colts 3 to 0 on May 23, 1891:

“Maharajah Anson, who for eight days has been looking toward the pennant without pause was jerked to a standstill yesterday with a noise like a hook and ladder truck striking a beer wagon.”

Jim “Tacks” Curtiss made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds in July of 1891–he only appeared in 56 major league games, 27 with the Reds and 29 with the Washington Statesmen in the American Association–but drew Washburne’s notice:

“Mr. Curtiss is a medium-sized man with a comic-opera mustache and a mouth so full of teeth that he looks like the keyboard of a piano.”

Of Patsy Tebeau’s fifth place Cleveland Spiders, dropped their third straight game to Chicago during an August 1891 series:

 “(His) men wandered through the contest like men who have no idea of winning but hope to last four rounds.”

On Cy Young:

“Young is a big, slack-twisted lob, who throws a ball like a man climbing a stake-and-rider fence, and who will retain that indefinable air of the farm about him as long as he lives.”

cyand

Cy Young

Of Brooklyn fans:

“There is nothing else under the administration like a Brooklyn ball crowd.  A Boston assemblage may be mildly enthusiastic; a New York crowd insanely unfair; a Cleveland one a mob of hoarse-voiced wild-eyed fanatics; but the memory of them all, when one sees a Saturday afternoon Brooklyn crowd, withers and fades away like a flannel shirt. No team was playing at Eastern Park when the late Mr. Dante wrote his justly celebrated “Inferno.” Hence the omission If Dante could have dropped in at Mr. Byrne’s Brooklyn joint before he wrote that book it would have given his imagination a good deal of a boost.”

One year after Washburne’s death, a delegation of more than 500 boarded a Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad train to Clinton, Indiana, to dedicate a monument at his grave.

monumentwashburne.jpg

Washburne’s one-time colleague at The Inter Ocean, and best friend, future Congressman Victor Murdock said at the dedication:

“I do not believe that any here who knew him had a feeling that could be called respect and admiration only There was an element of strength in him that did not brook so short a stop.  It was not respect, not admiration.  It was love—deep, strong, everlasting love.”

Years later, William A. Phelon, who was a 20-year-old reporter for The Chicago Daily News at the time of Washburne’s death, wrote in The Cincinnati Times Star that “every press-stand is full of keen-witted, clever boys who make their stuff entertaining and interesting ” as a result of Washburne’s influence.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #25

15 Aug

“Used to Come Upon Field Staggeringly Drunk”

Arthur Irwin was a scout for the New York Highlanders in 1912 when he declared to William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star that, “Players who are hard drinkers in the big leagues are scarce now.”

irwin

Arthur Irwin

Irwin said a combination of “the improvement in morals” of players, and more so the fact that current players were “money mad” were the reason:

“Long ago the hail fellow and the good fellow, who believed that drinking was the jolliest part of life, were numerous in the big leagues, and there were surely some wonderful soaks in the profession.  Stars whose names will shine forever used to come upon the field staggering drunk, and other stars who had sense enough not to exhibit their follies in public would wait till the game was over and then tank up till dawn.”

Irwin told Phelon about King Kelly’s American Association team:

“The club that tried to play ball under King Kel in 1891 at Cincinnati was about the limit.  They made their headquarters at a saloon across the street from the ball park and some of them could be found asleep there at almost all hours when not actually in the game.  Some of the champion Chicago White Stockings and some of the old St. Louis Browns were likewise marvels on the jag, and it has become a baseball legend that the Browns defeated Anson’s men for the world’s championship (in 1886) because (John) Clarkson, Kelly and two or three others were beautifully corned.”

Clarkson won his first two starts of the series, but lost his next two.  Kelly hit just .208 in the series and St. Louis won four games to two.

Jennings’ Six Best

In 1916, Hughie Jennings “wrote” a short piece for the Wheeler syndicate that appeared in several papers across the country, about the six best pitchers he faced:

hughiejennings

Hughie Jennings

Jack Taylor and Nig Cuppy had fair speed and a fine curve ball, with the added advantage of a slow ball, and good control.  The latter, I contend is the most important asset a pitcher can possess.  My six greatest pitchers are:

Amos Rusie

Jack Taylor

Cy Seymour

Denton (Cy) Young

Charles “Kid” Nichols

Nig Cuppy

“Rusie, Nichols and Young had wonderful speed and fast breaking curves.  Cy Seymour also belonged to this case.”

“Batters Might as Well Hang up Their Sticks”

Add Ned Hanlon to the long list of prognosticators who were sure a rule change would be the death of the game—in this case, the decision in 1887 that abolished the rule allowing batters to call for high or low pitches.

hanlon

Ned Hanlon

 

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

 “Hanlon of the Detroits says the abolition of the high and low ball was a fatal mistake, and the batters might as well hang up their sticks.  Ned argues that as the pitcher has the space between the knee and the shoulder in which to throw the ball, all he has got to do is vary the height of his delivery with every ball he pitches, and thus completely delude the batter.  He claims that pitchers capable of doing head work will have a picnic, and that Baldwin will be particularly successful.”

 

Steinfeldt spins a Yarn

9 Jun

Harry Steinfeldt was born in St. Louis, but his family moved to Fort Worth, Texas when he was five years old.  In 1912, he told William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star what baseball was like in Lone Star state in the 1880s and 90s:

steinfeldt

Steinfeldt

“Texan audiences used to be pretty rough stuff when the Texas League began—especially in the more Western cities—and the merry cowboys—gone now forever—were quite a disturbing element.  They used to spring jokes about cowboys lassoing outfielders to keep them from chasing the ball.”

Steinfeldt told Phelon about an incident he claimed happened during a game in the 1890s:

“Fort Worth and Waco were grappling in a desperate struggle—a game that might have considerable bearing on the percentages and on the ultimate disposition of the flag.  The teams were batting heavily, for both pitchers were scared to death and neither seemed to have much of anything.  First one side would rush ahead and get what seemed like a good, safe lead, and then the other team would overcome the advantage and collect a wad of runs. In the seventh, Fort Worth was leading 8 to 7, and looking fairly sure, but Waco came through with three in the eighth.  They came into the ninth with the score 10 to 8 in Waco’s favor.

“Two men were easily disposed of; then came three successive, and the right fielder returned the ball clear over the catcher’s head, letting one man in, while the catcher, by desperate scrambling, just managed to drive another runner back to third.  Men on third and second, two gone, the best of the Fort Worth hitters up, and the crowd bellowing till you’d think pandemonium had been let loose.

“The batsman swung on a fastball, and it sailed out in a long, arching curve, settling near the left field bleachers, but with the left fielder backing up and settling himself for the catch.  Just as the ball was coming down, a revolver cracked, and the ball, struck by a big 45 caliber bullet, flew to pieces in midair.

“The two men on the bases ran in, and a wild riot started round the plate.  But the umpire was a man of nerve.  He held up his hand to still the tumult, and then roared ‘Dead ball! Batsman must hit over again.’

“And there wasn’t a kick as the batter came back and missed his third strike on the next pitch.  Even the cowboy who had shot the ball didn’t make any objection.  ‘I reckon,’ said he, as he climbed down from the bleachers, ‘that there decision was plumb right—for if ever a ball was a dead one it was the particular ball after I done plugged it.’

“Those were great days, and no mistake about it.”

“Frank Chance Stands Forth as the Biggest Individual Failure”

21 Dec

It was widely assumed that American League President “Ban” Johnson had a hand in the transactions that resulted in Frank Chance coming to New York to manage the Yankees in 1913—Chance was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds in November of 1912, then waived again and claimed by the Yankees a month later.

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

William A. Phelon, the sports editor at The Cincinnati Times-Star noted “(T)he strange fact that all the clubs in the older league permitted him to depart without putting in a claim,” as evidence of the fix being in.  And, in “Ban Johnson: Czar of Baseball,” author Eugene Murdock said “Johnson masterminded a series of intricate maneuvers,” to bring “The Peerless leader” to New York.

Chance’s arrival in New York was heralded as a turning point for the franchise, and he made no effort to downplay his confidence.  On January 9, 1913, The Associated Press reported that chance told Yankees owner Frank Farrell:

“I will win the pennant for you before I get through in New York. That may sound like a bold statement to make at this time, but I ask you to remember my promise.”

Frank Chance

Frank Chance

Despite the maneuvers on Chance’s behalf and Chance’s own confidence, he failed miserably in New York. The club finished seventh with a 57-94 record in 1913. The following season, the team was 60-74 when Chance resigned.   The resignation came after a tumultuous season which included charges by Chance that the team’s failures were largely the result of scout Arthur Irwin’s failure to sign decent players.  He also secured a guarantee of his 1915 salary from Farrell before he resigned.

Two months after Chance’s exit, the man who “masterminded” the moves that brought him to New York, unleashed his wrath on the former manager to Ed Bang of The Cleveland News:

“You can say for me that Frank Chance stands forth as the biggest individual failure in the history of the American League.  That’s the sum and substance of what B. B. Johnson, president of the American League said a short time since when “The Peerless Leader” came up for discussion, ‘and what’s more, you can write a story to that effect and quote me as strong as you’d like,’ Ban continued.

“President Johnson had great hopes of Chance molding a winner in New York, and when, after almost two years as the leader of the Yankees, he quit a dismal failure, the blow all but floored Ban for the count.  The American League has always played second fiddle to the Giants in New York, and Ban and other American Leaguers figured that Chance was the man to bring about a change in the condition of affairs.”

Bang said Johnson took Chance’s failure “to heart,” because he believed he “made a ten-strike” for the league when Chance came to New York.  Johnson told him:

“’Chance had the material in New York and I think any other man would have made a success og the venture,’ said Ban.  ‘Surely no one could have done any worse.  Of all the players that were on the New York roster in 1913 and 1914, and there were any number of likely looking recruits, Chance failed to develop even one man of class.  Why, it was an outrage.’

“’And then when he made up his mind that he was a failure, or at least when he was ready to step down and out he had the unmitigated nerve to ask for pay for services that he had not performed.  That surely was gall, to say the least.”

Johnson finished by comparing Chance unfavorably with the Yankees’ 23-year-old captain who replaced him and guided the team to a 10-10 finish:

“’Why, Roger Peckinpaugh, youth though he is, displayed far more class as manager of the Yankees in the short time he was at the helm than Frank Chance ever did.”

peckinpaugh2

Roger Peckinpaugh

Irwin left the Yankees in January of 1915 when Farrell and his partner William Devery sold the team to Jacob Rupert and Cap Huston.  Peckinpaugh remained captain but was replaced as manager by Bill Donovan, who guided the Yankees for three seasons–a fifth, a fourth and a sixth-place finish with an overall record of 220-239.

Armando Marsans’ Tall Tale

19 Oct

Baseball writers were fascinated by every utterance of the Cincinnati Reds’ two Cuban players, Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida.  Marsans was the more popular—and more successful—of the two.   He was also the product of well-to-do background.

marsansandalmeida

                           Marsans and Almeida

William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star illustrated the cultural difference between the Reds’ two Cuban players:

“(S)omeone asked Almeida and Marsans if they wouldn’t like tickets to a grand opera.  ‘Si, si, accented Marsans, delightedly.  I love grand opera—eet ees fines’ of all entertainment for a gentleman.’

‘I thank you much,” negatived Almeida, “but I care not to go.  To me, grand opera eet sound like de screech of de beeg tomcat, and about so much sensible.’”

Perhaps made up on his own, perhaps captivated by the erudite Marsans, perhaps in on the joke—it wasn’t always clear when Phelon was in on the joke—he quoted Marsans spinning a tale of a Cuban legend in his column in 1912:

“I have seen all the great ballplayers of the present time.  I have been in post-season series against (Napoleon) Lajoie and (Joe) Jackson and have made trips just to see Ty Cobb.  They are wonderful ballplayers, but I give you my word that the greatest I ever looked upon was an Indian named Canella, and popularly called Cinnamon.

“Canella was of a strange Indian race that is supposed to be extinct—the Sibboneys [sic Ciboney] of Cuba, who populated the island when the Spaniards came.  The historians and scientific books all say that they are extinct, and it would doubtless be so, if it were not for the fact that they still live in eastern Cuba and have a little city of their own.  They are tall men with ancient Greek faces—nothing but the color of the Indian to make resemble such men and (John “Chief”) Meyers and (Charles “Chief”) Bender—and they are an athletic people, more agile and active by far than we.  Baseball is their own pet diversion, and Canella, known as Cinnamon, was the greatest of them all.

“Canella, who cannot be over 27 even now, came out a few years ago, and at once became the marvel of eastern Cuba.  He was a pitcher, and a star on the slab, but he was also a batsman, lightening base runner, and clever outfielder.  The records of six years ago show Canella, in some 60 games hit .446 and stole 55 bases.  Havana’s best clubs went up against him and found him invincible while he turned the tide of the closest games with his own batting.

“Canella received no offers from the big American leagues, They took it for granted he was a light colored negro, and when his friends explained that he was an Indian the Americans laughed and said ‘There are no Indians in Cuba—the Spaniards killed them all 400 years ago.’

Armando Marsans

Armando Marsans

“So Canella kept right on playing in Cuba, and he seemed to improve each succeeding season.  At least he became so terrible that even the Havana and Almendares clubs sought excuses to avoid meeting him, and the weaker clubs would face him and get shut out every time.  Finally, some influential Cubans managed to make an American magnate understand that Canella was no Negro, and all was arranged for his tryout in the coming spring.  And then came the news that Canella’s arm was gone, and he could never pitch again.

“It seems that the Indians of Sibboney [sic] still practice the games of their forefathers, and of their favorite sports which is throwing the javelin,  Coming home for a visit, Canella saw the young men of the tribe practicing the spear throw.  Laughingly, he said ‘It is many years since I have done thix—let me try.’ And picking up a slender spear, he hurled it with all his might—and something went snap, crack, in his upper arm as he let go of the javelin.  The arm, so long accustomed to throwing the baseball, gave way when he tried to throw the spear, and never since has Canella been able to throw a ball from the pitching slab as far as the catcher.  It was a shame because Cinnamon Canella was the greatest pitcher, the finest batter, and the fastest base runner that I have ever gazed upon.”