Tag Archives: William A Phelon

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.”

“And Mr. Waddell made good”

16 Sep

William A. Phelon, like Hugh Fullerton, told many stories over the years that may or may not have been 100% truthful.  One of his favorite subjects was Rube Waddell, who was the subject of as many apocryphal stories as any player of his era.

Rube Waddell

                    Rube Waddell

In 1912, Phelon, then writing for The Cincinnati Times-Star, told a story that he claimed happened while Waddell was pitching for Chicago and Phelon was writing for The Chicago Daily News:

“When Rube Waddell was much younger than he is today—to be exact, back in the golden days of 1901–he was with the Chicago club, and he was just as original and interesting as at the present time.  In just two respects the Rube was very different then—he was a heavy batter (not exactly heavy, but waddle hit .237 in 334 at bats through 1902, and .129 in 732 at bats thereafter), and he was a fiend for work.  You couldn’t put him on the slab too often to suit him, and you could throw him very few shoots  that he couldn’t hit.”

[…]

“One pleasant summer afternoon, during the Rube’s short stay with the Chicago club, he was feeling unusually hilarious, and worked his head off to show up the opposition.  Never did the Rube have finer curves or better speed.  Zim, zipp, the ball hurtled through the ether, and the batsmen were helpless before his terrific delivery.  He held the hostiles to perhaps three hits, struck out ten men, and made a three-bagger on his own accord.  It was a great day for Rube and the crowd went wild about him.

“Next morning, while Jim Hart, the boss of the Chicago club, was in his downtown office, a delegation of bankers called upon him.  ‘We are all coming out this afternoon, Mr. Hart,’ said the spokesman of the crowd, ‘and we have bought up a whole front row of boxes.  There’s only one thing we are sorry for, however—we had all hoped to see Waddell pitch, and we thought he would be due to work today.  If we had known that he was going in yesterday, we’d have been there instead of this afternoon.”

Waddell in Chicago, 1901

        Waddell in Chicago, 1901

According to Phelon, Waddell was made aware that the bankers were disappointed he would not be pitching and said he’d “go in again” the next day.

“And Mr. Waddell made good.  He went back on the slab that afternoon and pitched a gorgeous game, winning in easy style, while the rapturous bankers whooped and bellowed in the boxes.

“About ten days later, Mr. Waddell walked into the office of the banker who had been the spokesman for the delegation.  He was cordially received and invited to sit down in the inner sanctum.  Mr. Waddell, roosting his hat upon the rosewood desk, lit a cigar, crossed his knees, and said, smilingly:

“‘Are you a believer in reciprocity?’

“’Why of course,’ said the banker.  ‘What about it?’

“’Well, Mr. Banker,  I did you a favor the other day, didn’t I?’

“’You certainly did.  I was extremely grateful to you Mr. Waddell.’

“’Then Mr. Banker, suppose you reciprocate.  Lend me $50.’

“And Rube got the fifty.  Did the banker ever get it back?  Does a Hyena fly?  Why ask such foolish questions.”

 

 

“He is a Model for the Young Ballplayer to Emulate”

21 Aug

March of 1916 was a bad month for “Prince Hal” Chase.

According to The International News Service, Chase, who spent the winter in San Jose, California playing for the Maxwells—a team sponsored by the automobile company–was “the last of the stars” of the defunct Federal League who had still not signed with a professional team.

Hal Chase

                          Hal Chase

It got worse when he was arrested for failure to pay alimony and support to his ex-wife Nellie and their son Hal Jr.

He was released on $2000 bond, and it is unclear whether the case was ever fully adjudicated. After his release, Chase continued playing with the Maxwells and working out with Harry Wolverton‘s San Francisco Seals while rumors of who he would play for during the regular season were advanced on a daily basis.

The strongest rumors were that Chase would go to the New York Giants in a deal which would include Fred Merkle, who would be displaced at first base, going to the Chicago White Sox, the team Chase jumped to join the Federal League.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said the deal was eventually foiled by Pirates Manager Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan, who “refuse(d) to waive.”

At the same time the papers in Cincinnati said Chase would be joining the Reds while West Coast papers said he might stay in California and join the Seals.

The Cincinnati Enquirer said Reds’ Manager Charles “Buck” Herzog “vigorously denied,” that Chase would join his club and said he would stick with Frederick “Fritz” Mollwitz at first base.

Buck Herzog

                     Buck Herzog

Herzog was even more forceful in his denial in The Cincinnati Times-Star:

“I wouldn’t have Chase at the camp.  Mollwitz is a very much better player, and he won’t jump when he is most needed.”

An even stronger indictment of Chase came from Detroit Tigers Manager Hugh Jennings, who told The Detroit News:

“As a player, there is nobody who can touch Chase for holding down first base.”

Jennings went on to note Chase’s intelligence, speed, and “superb” fielding:

“Yet for all his ability I would not have him on my club, and I do not believe any other major league manager will take a chance on him.  He will not heed training rules and has a demoralizing influence on the younger players.”

Tiger Manager Hugh Jennings

Tiger Manager Hugh Jennings

Jennings said while Chase managed the New York Highlanders in 1910 and ’11, led his team “astray,” instead of “trying to keep his players straight.”

Perhaps most damaging, Jennings said Chase was a source of dissent on the clubs he played for:

“One of his favorite stunts is to go around telling on man what another is supposed to have said about him, with the result that in a very short time he has the fellows pulling in all directions  instead of working together.  He is apt to take a dislike to the manager and work against him with the players until the whole squad is sore and will not give the sort of work that it is paid for.”

Jennings, whose team finished second in 1915 with George Burns at first base, said:

“The Tigers would win the pennant beyond question with a player of Hal’s ability on first this season, but I wouldn’t risk introducing a man who had such a bad disposition.  I believe that we can accomplish better results by having harmony on the squad, even if we have to get along with a first baseman with less talent.”

Despite the negative press, and over the objection of Herzog, the Reds purchased Chase’s contract from the defunct Buffalo Blues on April 6.

The New York Times lauded the move and defended Chase against his detractors.  The paper said “His failure with the New York Americans was due to petty controversies and rebellion against the club’s discipline,” and “(W)hen he is at his best there is not a player in the major leagues who is more spectacular than ‘Prince Hal.’”

Chase initially balked at reporting to Cincinnati, telling The San Francisco Chronicle “I haven’t made up my mind…it is possible that I would prefer to remain in California, even if there is no chance to play ball.”

Six days later, while his new team opened the season, Chase was on a train to Cincinnati.  The Associated Press said he agreed to join the Reds after receiving “word from Cincinnati that his entire contract with the Federal League, which calls for a salary of $8,000 a year, has been taken over,” by the Reds.

When Chase arrived in Cincinnati on April 15, the Reds had won three straight after losing their opener, and Mollwitz had played well at first base with five hits in 13 at-bats and just one error.

According to Frederick Bushnell “Jack” Ryder–college football star and Ohio State football coach turned sportswriter–of The Enquirer, Herzog had no intention of putting Chase in the game April 16:

“Herzog had little thought of playing him, as Fritz Mollwitz was putting up a bang-up game and hitting better than any member of the club,” until “Mollwitz made a bad mental mistake in the third inning.”

After Umpire Hank O’Day called a strike on Mollwitz, “the youngster allowed his tongue to slip,” and was ejected.

Fritz Mollwitz

                 Fritz Mollwitz

Chase came to bat with an 0-2 count and doubled off of Pirates pitcher Frank Miller, stole third, and after catcher Tommy Clark walked “(Chase) caused an upheaval in the stands by scoring on (a) double steal with Clark.”

Chase also wowed the crowd in the ninth.  After making “a nice stop” on Max Carey’s hard ground ball over first base and with pitcher Fred Toney unable to cover first in time, Chase dove “headforemost to first base to make a putout on the fleet Carey.”

In all, he played 98 games at first base, 25 in the outfield, and 16 at second base, he also hit a league-leading and career-high .329.

While the Reds struggled, Chase was wildly popular in Cincinnati.  The Enquirer’s Ryder was possibly his biggest fan—the writer raved about Chase’s performance in the outfield, his adjustment to playing second base, and his consistent bat.

While Chase thrived, Herzog, who had a contentious relationship with Reds’ owner August Herrmann, exacerbated by the signing of Chase against his wishes, began to unravel as the season progressed.  On May 30, he was hit in the head and knocked unconscious, by a throw from catcher Ivey Wingo during pregame warm-ups.  While he recovered physically, he became increasingly frustrated by the club’s performance.  On July 5—with a 29-40 record– he announced that he would retire at the end of the season when his contract expired.  He told The Times-Star:

“It would be a great blow to my pride to continue as a player, after being a manager for three years.”

The following day it was reported that the Chicago Cubs and New York Giants were interested in acquiring Herzog.  Within a week, it was reported that Herzog was heading to New York in a trade that would bring Christy Mathewson to Cincinnati to manage.  The negotiations continued over several days but floundered.  The Cubs reentered the picture—Owner Charles Weeghman told The Chicago Daily News “I brought the bankroll along…and I’ll get Herzog so quick I’ll make (the Reds) eyes pop.”  He later told the paper he offered “$25,000 and an outfielder” for Herzog.

At the same time The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said the Dodgers were after Herzog, and The Pittsburgh Post said the Pirates were in pursuit as well.

The pressure got to Herzog who held himself out of the lineup of July 17, The Enquirer said:

“The managerial situation is worrying Herzie, who had expected by this time to be cavorting at the third corner for the giddy Giants.  With the deal held off for various reasons, the Red leader is naturally a bit anxious.”

Herzog’s destination was unclear, but it was clear he would be gone.  With Mathewson seeming to be out of the picture, rumors persisted—fueled by Ryder of The Enquirer and William A. Phelon in The Times-Star—that Chase would be the new manager.

On July 20, Ivey Wingo managed the team to a doubleheader split with the Philadelphia Phillies, and the papers reported on Herzog’s successor:

The Enquirer ran Chase’s picture under the headline “Reds’ New Manager,” although they hedged in another headline which said he would “probably” be named.

The Times-Star said “Hermann has decided to allow Hal Chase to manage the team for the remainder of the season, and for this reason he does not want Mathewson.”

They were both wrong.

Within hours of the papers hitting the streets, a trade involving three future Hall of Famers was agreed to.  Herzog, along with catcher Wade “Red” Killefer went to New York for Mathewson, Edd Roush, and Bill McKechnie.  Mathewson was immediately named manager.

Cartoon accompanying the announcement of Mathewson's appointment.

          Cartoon which accompanied the announcement of Mathewson’s appointment.

Ryder said in The Enquirer that “Chase was greeted with a great round of applause” when he stepped to the plate for the first time on July 20:

“The fans at that time did not know of President Herrmann’s change of mind with regard to Matty, and they thought Chase was the new leader of the team.  The universal and hearty applause showed how popular the star third-sacker has become in this town.”

The Chase story is well-known; two years later Mathewson would suspend him, charge him with “indifferent playing.”  With Mathewson in Europe when the charges were heard by National League President John Heydler that winter, three Reds teammates, and Giants Manager Pol Perritt testified Chase had thrown games.

But in October of 1916 Chase appeared to have repaired his reputation, and his difficult March appeared to be far behind him.  In a season wrap-up, The Enquirer–there was no byline on the article, but it was likely the work of Ryder–published a glowing profile of the National League’s leading hitter and the man who nearly became the Reds’ manager:

“What has become of all the talk about Chase being a bad actor, a disorganizer, a former of cliques and a knocker of managers?  All gone to the discard.  Chase has not only played brilliant ball for the reds all season, but he has been loyal to the club and the managers.  He worked hard for Herzog and equally hard for Matty.  He has been a wonderful fellow on the club.  Chase is modest and does not seek notoriety or approbation…He played game after game in midseason when he was so badly crippled with a Charley horse that he could scarcely walk.  When Manager Herzog wanted to make an outfielder out of him he went to the garden and played sensational ball…Later in the season he filled in for several games at second base, a difficult position for a left-hand thrower, but he put up great ball there.  He is a natural ballplayer of the highest class, and with it all a perfect gentleman, both on and off the field.”

The profile concluded with this assessment of the man who would become synonymous with the baseball’s greatest sins:

“Chase has been a great man for the Reds, and there is many a manager of today who wishes that he had got in ahead of the Cincinnati club in signing him.  He is the smartest ballplayer and the quickest thinker in the National League today.  He is a model for the young ballplayer to emulate, because he is a real artist in his profession.”

“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.”

“Stories of his Badness are told all over the League”

8 Oct

After “Bad Bill” Eagan finished the 1898 season with the Syracuse Stars –he hit just .227, his lowest recorded minor league season average—then returned to his native Camden, NJ–Eagan started his amateur baseball career in Camden as a pitcher, his catcher was another Camden native, William “Kid” Gleason.

Bad Bill Eagan

Bad Bill Eagan

The Harrisburg Telegraph—Eagan had spent two seasons playing in the Pennsylvania city—told the story:

“Bill Eagan the once great second baseman of the Harrisburg Club, in a fair example of what rum will do when it gets the upper hand of a man.  Eagan would have been one of the leading players of the profession if he had left strong drink alone.  He was a sure fielder, hard batter and quick baserunner and ought to be in his prime as a player by this time, but he has drained too many mugs and now winds up in a police court at his home in Camden, NJ, on a charge of attempted murder.

“Eagan was intoxicated yesterday and displaying a 48-caliber revolver, placed it to his temple and remarked: ‘I am going to kill my wife and blow my brains out.’ He paid Barber Riceman fifty cents which he owed him, and also paid a nearby saloon keeper $1 for drinks that he had bought.  Then he returned to the barber shop, said good-bye to his friends, and exclaiming; “Now I am free from debt and am ready to do the job,’ he started for his home and put the threat into execution.

When he arrived home Eagan fired two shots at—and missed–his wife, and then attempted to shoot one of the responding police officers, but because of “a quick blow from (another police officer’s) club the murderous weapon was knocked from the crazed man’s hand.”

The Chicago Tribune said:

“William Eagan, or, as he is known in the baseball profession, ‘Bad Bill’ Eagan, is a player of national reputation.  He is an ignorant man, and stories of his badness are told all over the league.  He was considered one of the best ball players in the profession.”

The Tribune said about Eagan’s brief stay with Pittsburgh earlier in 1898:

“He failed to behave himself, and drunkenness was the charge which let him out as a Pirate.”

Eagan was held in the Camden jail from October of 1898 until March of 1899; it is unclear what he was formally charged with, and he was never tried.

In spite of his reputation, baseball wasn’t done with “Bad Bill” yet.  Shortly after his release from jail, Syracuse sold Eagan’s contract to the Western League’s Detroit Tigers.  His statistics for the season don’t survive, but Eagan seems to have gone back to his old habits.  After he sat out both games of a double-header with the Kansas City Blues in July, The Kansas City Journal said:

“’Bad Bill’ Eagan acquired a jag yesterday and succeeded in making a holy show of himself.  Such creatures and ‘Bad Bill’ should be out of the game.”

Eagan was also seriously injured the same month when, according to The Associated Press, during a game with the Columbus Buckeyes, while trying to stretch a double into a triple:

“Eagan threw himself, feet foremost toward the bag.  His spike caught in the base sack and his right leg was given a terrible wrench.  ‘Bad Bill’ screamed with pain and in an instant was surrounded by members of both teams… (He) had thrown out his kneecap.  (A doctor) pushed the cap back and then the injured player was carried to the bench.”

Whether the injury contributed or not is unknown, but by August The Sporting Life reported that he had again worn out his welcome:

“Bad Bill” Eagan has worn a Detroit uniform for the last time. Eagan has not behaved at all and (George) Stallings has got through for good and all with him.”

George Stallings

George Stallings

One more team was willing to take a chance on Eagan; he was signed for 1900 by the Youngstown Little Giants in the Interstate League.  After appearing in just 26 games The Sporting Life reported that:

“Eagan has been playing ball in Youngstown, OH, but he said he needed a rest.  He came to Detroit for that purpose Saturday morning, and he paid $5 in the police court this morning for the first installment. “Bad Bill” said he was so glad to get back and he met so many friends that he rather lost track of the proceedings. He had fallen Into a Rip Van Winkle sleep when the policeman picked him up. “Bad Bill” paid his fine and went out for the “rest.” Bill doesn’t think much of Youngstown, he says. “

The Youngstown Vindicator said Eagan was released by the Little Giants before he left for Detroit

In either case, he had finally run out of chances, and never played another professional game.

The Indianapolis News said, in late August of 1900, that Eagan was:

 “(P)icked up on the streets of Detroit) insane.  He was removed to the emergency hospital, where he became violent and it took a number of men to overpower him and take him to the station and confine him in a padded cell.  Drink caused Eagan’s downfall. Sober he was a hard working ambitious ball player; if a drink or two were given to him he became a dangerous maniac.”

He was released after several days, and the the many premature rumors of his death began at that point, while Eagan continued to tend bar in Detroit. In April of 1904 w he became ill and was sent to a tuberculosis sanitarium in Denver.  Ten months later “Bad Bill” was dead at age 35.

Despite having played just six games with Chicago in 1893 Eagan made such an William A. Phelon that more than 20 years later he wrote in “Baseball Magazine:”

 “Although the poor fellow had few chances given him in the big league, I always thought there never yet was a second baseman who mixed and mingled in the furtherance of infield plays like Bad Bill Eagan. Possibly I can best symbolize Eagan’s style of second-basing, for the present generation, by stating that he played second just about as (Fred) Tenney played first. (Eddie) Collins doesn’t go so far from second as Eagan did, nor does he carry out nearly so many plays—but it’s quite likely he could if he had to—if he didn’t have, through the past few years, the marvelous (Jack) Barry cutting in and taking his half of the proceedings.

Eagan, though, was almost uncanny at times. I saw him working with (Cap) Anson on first and (Bill) Dahlen at short. It might be taken for granted that Eagan would have to move round considerably on the side toward first, with the ponderous and fast-aging Anson on station one, but Dahlen was then in the flush of his youth and a moving streak at short—when he wanted to be. Yet I saw Eagan bewildering Dahlen as well as Anson by the phantom-like rapidity of his movements, and the way in which he suddenly appeared at the spot where the play should be kept going, arriving on the ground before Dahlen could even draw back his arm to throw.”

Bill Setley

1 Oct

William Warren “Wild Bill” Setley was a career minor league player and umpire, and one of the most colorful figures in 19th and early 20th Century baseball.

He was born in New Jersey in 1871—Setley often claimed he was born in 1859; his grave marker and several sources still list this date, but there is a New Jersey birth certificate that confirms the 1871 date.

Bill Setley 1895

Bill Setley 1895

Setley spent the early part of his playing career in the Pennsylvania State League (PSL).  The Shenandoah Evening Herald said in 1893:

“(Setley) kept the home management on the anxious bench for many weeks last summer by his daring and acrobatic plays on the diamond and his eccentric whims between games.”

As a pitcher, Setley was credited with introducing the hidden potato play (made famous nearly a century later when Williamsport Bills Catcher Dave Bresnahan pulled a similar stunt), and he was known for turning routine plays in the outfield into spectacular circus catches.

William A. Phelon said Setley was “crazier than Rube Waddell ever thought of being,” and described an incident “when the pennant hung on the final game,”  with the winning runs on base in the ninth inning:

“Out came a fly to Setley.  Instead of catching it squarely in both hands he deliberately turned his back, reached out behind and made a dazzling circus catch—almost an impossibility.”

Years later, another Pennsylvania paper, The Mount Carmel Item described him as:

“(O)ne of the most erratic players in his day and while here a dozen years ago he was in his prime, but for a pack of cigarettes or a drink of whiskey he was liable to throw a game.”

George McQuillan who played in several leagues Setley worked as an umpire said:

“He is one of the real wonders of the game, and it’s too bad the big league fans have never had the chance to see him in action.”

There were many versions of the most often told story about Setley, and  Clarence “Pants” Rowland told the version that most often appeared in print:

Pants Rowland

Pants Rowland

“’I was managing Dubuque in the Three-I League at the time,’ says Rowland.  ‘The game was being handled by Wild Bill Setley, who was quite the character in those days.

“’I was coaching at third base and we got a runner to first during the early innings.  The next batter made a single and our runner started on the dead run from first, rounded second and bore down on third.  Right at his heels was Bill Setley.

“The ball was quickly recovered and beat the runner to third by a couple of steps.  Setley waved him out, and I had nothing to say.  But you should have heard me yell when, on turning, he also called my other man out at second, although he was standing on the base.  The third sacker had whipped the ball down to the second sacker, trying to complete a double play on our man who was trying for the base.

“’Where do you get that way? I demanded.  You had your back turned on the play how could you call him out?’

“’Setley grinned, came over to me, and showed me a small mirror he had concealed in his hand.  ‘I had my eye on the play all the time,’ he said, ‘and you know he was out.’  I was stopped all right, had nothing further to say.’”

Setley, on a few occasions, told a different version of the story.  This one placed the event in Pennsylvania and substituted Jack Tighe for Rowland.

In this rendition, Setley claimed that on the way to the ballpark he received “an advertising mirror” as a present for his daughter.  During the game, Tighe scored from second base on an infield hit, but Setley said:

“(I) knew he couldn’t have reached there if he had gone within 50 feet of the third bag.  The crowd kept yelling ‘Throw the ball to third,’ and when the first baseman did so I called Tighe out.  ‘What’s that?  Out! What do you mean?’ He yelled, chasing out on the diamond like a wild man.  ‘You are out for cutting third.’  ‘Well, if I did you didn’t see me’…’Be reasonable, Jack’ I replied, pulling out the mirror and holding it up in the palm of my hand before my face.  ‘When I was running over to first I had this glass up this way watching you.’  That wilted Tighe and he walked back to the bench as meek as a lamb.”

The Texas League was one of the many minor leagues Setley worked as an umpire.  On September 5, 1910, a triple-header (the first two games were five innings each) was scheduled between the Houston Buffaloes and the Galveston Sand Crabs on the season’s final day, with Setley working as the umpire in all three games.  After the teams split the first two games, The Houston Post said:

“The last game of the Texas League race progressed nicely here until the second inning when (with Galveston at bat) (Gus) Dundon singled to left and (Joe) Kipp had walked.  Then (Houston pitcher  Roy) Mitchell and umpire Setley, while (Bert) James was at the bat, had some words.  Suddenly Mitchell turned on the umpire and knocked him down.  Setley arose and ran towards short position, when Mitchell threw the ball at him, striking him in the back of the head rendering him unconscious.  Immediately the crowd surged into the field.”

The Associated Press added a few details, including that Mitchell “ran up and cuffed (Setley) several times,” after hitting him with the ball, and:

“(S)everal thousand fans had swarmed into the field, all of them apparently in sympathy with Mitchell.

“Setley remained motionless on the ground and the rumor spread like wild-fire over the field that his neck was broken.  Six men picked him up, shouldered him and carried him to the club house, where a physician examined him only to discover that his pulse was perfectly normal and that he was uninjured.  It suddenly dawned on the physician that someone was playing possum.

“’Come out of it Setley,’ said the physician, ‘no one is going to hurt you.’

“Setley ‘came back’ with a grin and said nothing but his feelings had been hurt.”

During the “riot” on the field, the Galveston club left the ballpark in a wagon “and returned to town.”  The game was awarded to Houston as a forfeit.

Mitchell was arrested but quickly released on bond.  Five days later he made his big league debut for the St. Louis Browns, beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 2.

Roy Mitchell

Roy Mitchell

Somehow the Texas League and the National Commission failed to take any action against Mitchell for more than a month.  The Sporting News said:

“It was a matter of surprise that Mitchell was allowed to come direct to St. Louis and continue play, as if nothing had happened.”

He was fined $50, and while it was announced he was also suspended indefinitely, he was allowed to begin the 1911 season with the Browns.

Setley was let go by the Texas League in November.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram said:

“(He) will always remember his short sojourn in this league as an umpire, as it probably was one of the most strenuous periods of his existence.  His first appearance was in Fort Worth, where he narrowly avoided a serious conflict with a spectator, and he precipitated wrangles at nearly every point he officiated, with the climax coming in the memorable last day’s game at Houston.”

More Setley stories later this month.

Wagner’s Mysterious Bat

20 Aug

In 1911 Honus Wagner hit .334, it was his thirteenth straight season hitting better than .320, but he still wondered how much better he could have hit if he had the opportunity to regularly use a bat he once found in Ohio.  He told the story to William A. Phelon in The Cincinnati Times-Star:

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

“There was never yet a perfect bat, and I don’t suppose there ever can be.  Not while the shape has to remain perfectly round and fouls can slip off the curving surface, and not while the material breaks just as you are administering a sure home run with the bases full.  I have had bats break when I met the ball fair and square—break deliberately, after months of faithful service—and a feeble grounder would go trickling off the treacherous stick when the force I put into the wallop had spelled at least three bases.”

Wagner said, “bats are strange and moody things,” and that he understood why Pete Browning “used to talk to his bats and credit them with human understanding.”

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

He said he had “handled one that was almost perfection” during 1898, his first full season with the Louisville Colonels.  The team was playing an exhibition game “against some small club in an Ohio river city,” and the Colonels’ bats had already been shipped to their next stop:

“We figured, of course that we would borrow bats from the locals, but we didn’t need to.

“On arriving at the local ball park we found some urchins knocking flies.  One of the kids was using a curious looking bat, long, finely shaped and of a peculiar red-brown color.  I took it from the youngster, examined it, and found that, while it was very heavy, that it balanced nicely in the hand.  I slipped the boy half a dollar for the loan of his bat, and we started the game with the red stick and three or four others of the ordinary pattern which had been scared up by admiring natives.

“We never used the ordinary bats.  That red stick proved to be the proper medicine.  Of course there wasn’t any big league team against us, but the pitcher was one who was destined to be a mighty star in the after years, and he had something that day, believe me.”

Wagner did not say who the pitcher was, but said it didn’t matter how good he was:

“The least tap with that red bat and the ball whirred out in the field like a bullet.  There was spring and a texture to the wood that gave incomparable hitting power.  Tap a fast ball with that bat and it would go for two bases.  Meet a curve and you could send it to the bleachers.  With that bat a man who ordinarily hit .200 would be a .300 hitter, easy, and I blush to estimate the record I could have made therewith.”

Wagner said he and his teammates had “about twenty-eight long hits” during the game, and he asked the boy about the bat’s origin:

“(H)e explained that he had laboriously turned the wood to proper shape himself, and that it was originally the leg of an old-fashioned, broken-down table that his grandfather possessed.  It was some strange oriental wood, something like mahogany, but much heavier and of firmer grain…When the game ended I turned to find the boy, intending to hand him good money for that bat, but the kid was gone.  Apparently afraid we intended to steal his bat…I never saw the boy again, and although I twice played games in that town years after, he never came near the park.  The mysterious bat, brimful of hits, vanished the same afternoon it first appeared and its equal has never been discovered.”

“This Wealth of Mr. Gertenrich has cost the Game an A-1 Player”

7 Jul

Sportswriter William A. Phelon said Louis Wilhelm “Lou” Gertenrich “is not a ball player because he has to be, but because he wants to be.”

The son of a successful candy maker, Gertenrich was rumored to be one of Chicago’s wealthiest young men.  He was also an excellent ballplayer and sprinter, but spent a great deal of time focused on business rather than sports.  Phelon said:

“Gertenrich hasn’t played ball, even when he desired to play the game, because his business interests would not allow him the leisure time.  In other words, Mr. Gertenrich, being a man of income and financial substance, cannot dally with the ball and bat as he would like, and this wealth of Mr. Gertenrich has cost the game an A-1 player.”

Lou Gertenrich

Lou Gertenrich

He began to be noticed as a ballplayer in 1891 as a 16-year-old pitcher with a team called the American Boys (later called the Mystics), the following year he joined the Clybourn Juniors.

At 19, in 1894 he joined Chicago’s City League, first with the Brands and then the Garden Cities, pitching and playing shortstop and outfield.  As local clubs found they could do better as independents than as members of a league the City League went from an eight, to six to finally a four-team league before disbanding at the close of the 1895 season.

Gertenrich remained a popular figure in semi-professional circles in Chicago, playing primarily for the Maroons and the Auburn Parks.

In 1898 The Sporting Life said Hank O’Day thought Gertenrich “is a sure comer.”

On September 15, 1901 the last place Milwaukee Brewers were in Chicago for a doubleheader, the final two home games for the first place White Sox.  Brewers Outfielder/Manager Hugh Duffy, and another outfielder, Irv Waldron, were injured.  As a result, The Chicago Daily News said:

“Manager Duffy gave Louis Gertenrich, a city league star, a trial.”

Starting the first game in right field, Gertenrich singled in his first big league at bat and scored a run on a home run hit by another player making his debut; Leftfielder Davy Jones.  Gertenrich was 1 for 2 before being removed in the fifth inning of a 5 to 4 loss.

In the second game he pinch hit for pitcher Ned Garvin and grounded out in the bottom of the ninth of a 9 to 4 loss to Chicago.

Gertenrich returned to the Auburn Parks with a .333 major league batting average.

He got a big league call again in 1903.  On July 21 the first place Pittsburgh Pirates were in Chicago to playing the Cubs.  Pirates Manager Fred Clarke, who was injured, had allowed outfielder Jimmy Sebring three days off to return to Williamsport, Pennsylvania for his wedding.

Gertenrich was brought in to play right field; he went 0 for 3 with a sacrifice bunt and handled two fly balls.  He returned to the Auburn Parks’ lineup the following day.

He spent most of the next decade playing in the re-formed Chicago City League—spending time with the Logan Squares, Gunthers, the Roger Parks, the West Ends, the Riverviews and Anson’s Colts.  He also coached baseball  at the Morgan Park Academy on Chicago’s South Side.

The Daily News said:

“Gertenrich is recognized as one of the heaviest hitters in local semi-pro ranks, and there is no batter more feared by the pitchers than this speedy fielder.”

1906 advertisement for the Rogers Parks, when Gertenrich played for and managed the team

1906 advertisement for the Rogers Parks, when Gertenrich played for and managed the team

William A. Phelon wrote for The Chicago Journal when Gertenrich left Chicago briefly in 1905, at age 30,  to join the Springfield Babes in the Central League and the Decatur Commodores in the Three-I League.  Phelon told a story about Gertenrich’s stay in Springfield:

“Mr. Gertenrich was able to arrange his affairs for a lay-off of three months (in order to play for Springfield, and) the rich man negotiated with (Manager Jack) Hendricks for a position…The very next afternoon beheld Mr. Gertenrich, free from business care and happy as a proverbial lark, capering in the Springfield pasture and slamming that old ball like seven Cobbs and a Lajoie thrown in for luck.

“On his first day out he got three singles.  Next day he amassed two triples and a double.  The third day he whacked a home run and a single.  On his fourth day he drew three passes and connected for a triple.  On the morning of the fifth day Mr. Hendricks summoned him to headquarters.

“’Mr. Gertenrich,’ said Mr. Hendricks, pausing to wipe away a tear ‘you are a great batsman and a good fellow.  You are setting this league afire.  You are the wonder of the Twentieth Century.  But you are breaking the hearts of my younger players.  They cannot bat like you.  They are losing their ambition.  A few more games with you among them and they will pine away and die…Moreover Mr. Gertenrich, you have money.  You do not need this job.  The boys whom you are shoving into obscurity have little families and need the coin.  I hate to say it Mr. Gertenrich,’—and the manager again wiped away a tear—‘but you and I must part.  Here is your release.  Goodbye, Mr. Gertenrich, and good luck be with you.  Please go away, for I weep every time I look at you.”

Gertenrich also appeared in several games for Decatur after his release from the Springfield Babes, against Springfield’s other team, the Senators, and the Peoria Distillers.

For the next four seasons, Gertenrich remained one of Chicago’s best local athletes.  At 33-years-old in 1908 he was still a good enough runner to win the City League Field Day title of fastest player; The Daily News said he rounded the bases in 14 and 1/5 seconds.

The Chicago Eagle called him:

“(O)ne of the best known and most popular players in Chicago.”

In 1909 he hit .318 (5th in the league) and The Sporting Life said the Brooklyn Superbas were trying to sign Gertenrich and made an offer “which he has taken under consideration.”  The deal was never completed.

Gertenrich hit .350 in 1910 (3rd in the league), playing for Rogers Park.

In 1912 he returned to professional baseball as a member of the Chicago Green Sox in the United States League.  William C. “Billy” Niesen, a long-time City League operator had initially been one of the organizers of another proposed outlaw organizations, the Colombian League, but when then venture failed, and after one of the proposed New York team dropped out of the United States League in late March Niesen was awarded a Chicago franchise; Niesen was a good fit for the fledgling league because already had a ballpark on the North Side of Chicago at the corner of Clark Street and Leland Avenue–called Gunther Park, also referred to frequently in the Chicago press as Niesen’s Park.

The Sporting Life said “Base ball men are still betting that the new league doesn’t open the season,” but Niesen had high hopes.  He hired Burt Keeley, a long-time City League figure who had pitched in 30 games for the Washington Senators in 1908 and 1909.

He also signed Gertenrich, who had played for Niesen’s Gunthers in the City League the year before, and according to The Chicago Examiner had hit a home run off of Bill Lindsay of the Chicago American Giants that was “the longest hit ever seen at Niesen’s Park.”

gunther

Gunther Park, where The Examiner said Gertenrich was responsible for “the longest hit ever seen at Niesen’s Park.”

An ambitious 126-game schedule was announced, but the upstart league was under-capitalized and low attendance doomed it to failure.  The league folded after just more than a month of play.  The Green Sox were 10-12.  Gertenrich returned to the candy business and semi-pro ball.

On March 8 of 1913 the Federal League rose out of the ashes of the United States League and was incorporated in Indianapolis.  Keeley was named manager, and many of the same players, including Gertenrich, who played for the Green Sox signed with the new club.

The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Gertenrich will be the mainstay of the outfield and is a heavy hitter.  He has made final arrangements for joining the club by procuring a competent manager for his candy business.  He will devote his time to the interests of the club.”

The team won their opener on May 6 against the St. Louis Terriers, and got off to a 7-1 start.  Chicago led the league until the middle of June when they were overtaken by Indianapolis.  They faded quickly after that; at the same time the team’s front office was in chaos, the team’s president was removed  and a new set of directors were elected in July.

On August 16 The Chicago Tribune said the team, hopelessly out of the pennant race, ten games behind Indianapolis, released Gertenrich “on the ground of cutting down expenses.”

Individual records are scare, but the 38-year-old Gertenrich was called “one of the classiest outfielders” in the league by The Associated Press.  In March of 1914 The Daily News said Gertenrich “was batting .413” at the time of his release, but had not received an offer from one the Federal League teams for 1914.

While Gertenrich relinquished some of the responsibilities of his company during 1912 and 1913 he had time to receive two United States patents for inventions for his candy company, including one described as a “corn confection” called the “Ball Tosser.”

Gertenrich was finished with professional baseball after his release in 1913, but continued playing semi-pro ball for several teams in and near Chicago, and formed a team called the Gertenrich Stars which played in Chicago through 1917.

He was a regular sponsor and attendee of alumni events for semi-pro and professional ballplayers in Chicago and played on the German Club of Chicago’s baseball team until his death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1933.

As a candy maker he had one more connection with professional baseball.  An advertisement for his company appears on the back of a baseball card set.  The 120 card set–the more common version advertises American Caramel on the back (E121)—was issued in 1922.  The Gertenrich variations are extremely rare.

The Gertenrich back variation of an E-121

The Gertenrich back variation of an E-121 card