Tag Archives: William A Phelon

“The Speed of Rusie”

30 May

Hall of Famer Amos Rusie “The Hoosier Thunderbolt,” was famous for his fastball; it’s been estimated that he threw in the high 90s.  In only nine full seasons he led National League pitchers in strikeouts five times.

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

Sports writer William A. Phelon contended that Rusie was the fastest pitcher he had seen, and in 1913 he told a story by James Tilford Jones who played for the Louisville Colonels in 1897, and was still a fairly well-known minor league player.

The likely apocryphal story (Jones only had one at bat as a pinch hitter that season, and did not strike out)  appeared in The Cincinnati Times Star, and according to Phelon, Jones said:

“ Don’t tell me that Walter Johnson, or any other pitcher of the present time, is faster than Rusie, or even that any man has the speed that Rusie used to throw…That man was unique and individual –there was never one like him before his time, and none since.  I don’t think there ever will be.

“My first experience with Rusie happened a long, long time ago, when he was in full swing and I was playing with Louisville, then a member of the big circuit.  I was warming the bench that particular afternoon, and wasn’t specially noticing the work of the other side, when our manager (Fred Clarke) beckoned me.  ‘Joensey’ said he, ‘you go up and bat for the pitcher.  Two on, two down—we just gotta have this game.  Go up there and lay the bat against the leather.’

“’All right sir’ I assented.  I’ll pickle one outside the lot if he puts it over.’  And up I strode, with a fat bat in my hands.  I saw a very large, red-faced man standing out there on the pitching line and I saw him raise his right arm.  I was wondering why on earth he didn’t throw it, when heard something go POW, just like that, behind me.  I looked around.  It was the thud of the ball ramming into the big mitt, and the umpire said, ‘One strike.’

“I watched the big man keenly, and again he raised his arm while I set myself to annihilate the ball.  An instant later I saw a ball going by me, and swung at it.  It was the ball being returned by the catcher, and I thought it was coming up instead of going away.

“By this time I was furious, also desperately determined.  So I set myself almost upon the plate, with the bat jutting out, and watched the big man very closely.  Then something crashed into my bat, ripped it from my hands, and drove it round against the back of my neck—and I knew no more.

“Two or three days later, the situation was exactly the same—Rusie pitching, our pitcher up, and dire need of a pinch hitter.  Again the manager beckoned me. ‘Go up and hit him, Jonesey’ growled he.

“I marched up to the plate, but went up empty-handed— didn’t even pick up my bat—and calmly stood there in the batter’s box, with nothing but my bare hands.  ‘Hey you,’ yelled the manager, ‘where’s your bat.’

“’Don’t need it,’ I shouted back.  ‘I can’t see them anyway, and it is a whole lot safer with nothing in my hands than be up here with a chunk of timber that he might drive clear through my head!’

“Oh, yes, yes.  Rusie had some speed when he wanted to use it, and I never remember seeing him any time when he wasn’t inclined to use it, either.”

Jones only appeared in two games during the 1897 season; in his first game he pitched 6 2/3 innings in relief in a 36-7 loss to the Chicago Colts, giving up 22 runs, 14 earned—the Colts’ 36 runs are still the Major League record.

Jimmy Jones

Jimmy Jones

Jones became a full-time outfielder in 1900 and returned to the National league with the New York Giants in 1901; he appeared in 88 games for the 1901-02 Giants, hitting .209 and .237.

He returned to the minor leagues and continued playing until 1914, and finished his career managing the Maysville (KY) Burley Cubs in the Ohio State League in 1916.  He served as Laurel County Clerk for twenty years, and died in London, Kentucky in 1953.

Rusie retired with a 245-174 record, striking out 1,934 and walking 1.704.  He died in 1942 and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1977.

Ernie Diehl

18 Mar

Ernest Guy “Ernie” Diehl’s entire professional career consisted of less than 60 games.

Every year from 1900 to 1911 he was offered contracts by professional teams and despite his time with two National League teams and two minor league teams he never earned a penny as a ballplayer.

By the time the 25-year-old Diehl made his first professional appearance with the Pittsburgh Pirates in May of 1903, he was already a well-known player. Diehl was the star of the perennial powerhouse Avondale team in Cincinnati’s semi-pro Saturday League, which The Sporting Life called “a fast, clean league.”

diehl

Ernie Diehl

Diehl was born in Cincinnati in 1877, the scion of a Cincinnati distillery empire; His father Adam G. Diehl had made a fortune in the whiskey business with his brother-in-law; together they founded The Edgewood Distilling Company.

He attended the University of Cincinnati and established a reputation as one of the area’s best athletes.  Perhaps even better at tennis than baseball, Diehl was a prominent amateur tennis player during the first decade of the 20th Century.

In May of 1903 when the Pirates arrived in Cincinnati for a series, the team was decimated with injuries and Diehl joined the team for one game, playing left field on May 31, he went 1 for three in a 3-2 pirate victory.

Despite being offered a contract with Pittsburgh, Diehl chose to return to the distilling business and the Saturday Baseball League.

In 1904, with several Pirate players hurt, Diehl was again asked to join the team; this time for 12 games.  The Pittsburgh Gazette said Diehl also spent time with the Pirates in Hot Springs, Arkansas that spring.

The Baltimore American ran a story before the Pirates arrived in New York in August:

“New Yorkers who attend the games between the Brooklyn and Pittsburgh teams will be treated to an opportunity of seeing the work in the field of a millionaire ballplayer.”

While he hit just .162 for the Pirates in 1904, that did not diminish Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss’ desire to sign Diehl.

Before the 1905 season Dreyfuss told The Pittsburgh Press:

“The one player I would like to get on the team is beyond my reach… His name is Ernest Diehl…He is one of the best baseball players I ever saw.”

Dreyfuss also called Diehl “One of the best all-around athletes,” he had seen.  The Press said that although Diehl was required to sign a contract for his time with the Pirates in 1903 and ’04:

“Diehl never received a penny of salary from President Dreyfuss.”

Barney Dreyfuss

Barney Dreyfuss

Dreyfuss, and every other owner who offered Diehl a contract was unsuccessful in securing him for the 1905 season; Diehl spent the season playing in the Saturday League and in several tennis tournaments across the country.

He again played tennis and semi-pro ball in 1906, until August when the Boston Beaneaters came to Cincinnati. Shortstop Al Bridwell was injured, and Diehl was signed (again for no salary) to play for Boston in the three-game series.

The Associated Press reported:

“’Ernie’ Diehl, a wealthy young distiller of this city, an enthusiastic athlete, long known as a brilliant baseball player on local amateur teams, distinguished himself in the series just played…He played three games in the Boston ranks…He made five hits in eleven times at bat…Diehl could not afford to enter professional ball if he desired, at the highest salary paid in the organization, on account of his business, but is delighted and satisfied with his experience…Besides his heavy batting, his fielding was strictly up to the professional standard.”

Just as he had in Pittsburgh, Diehl turned down an offer to stay with Boston for the remainder of the 1906 season.

In 1907, Diehl appeared in 21 games for the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association, hitting .405.  The Toledo News-Bee said Diehl was spending “His vacation…helping out the Toledo club.”  The Associated Press said that as in the past, “Diehl is wealthy and refused to accept pay for his services.”

In addition to his business interests, amateur tennis and baseball career, and professional baseball “vacations,” Diehl also served on Cincinnati’s city council from, roughly, 1906-1910.

In 1909 Diehl played in one game of a doubleheader for the Boston Doves on August 12 against the Reds, he was 2 for 4 with a double—it would be his last in the National League

Diehl then joined the eventual American Association champion Louisville Colonels, at the request of his friend and fellow Cincinnatian, manager Heinie Peitz.  (Baseball Reference lists a player as “Diehl,” with no first name on the 1909 Louisville roster, with a .226 average in 20 games).

The Sporting Life said Diehl “figured very prominently in Louisville’s winning the championship of the A.A. will again be in Colonel garb,” in 1910; Diehl did not play for Louisville, or any other professional team again.

In 1911 The Associated Press and Cincinnati newspapers said the 33-year-old Diehl had a deal in place with Reds manager Clark Griffith to join the team at some point during the season; as with Louisville, that deal never materialized either.

Diehl was briefly mentioned as a candidate to replace Griffith as Reds manager in 1912, the job eventually went to Hank O’Day.

Diehl’s career was summed up well in a 1914 Baseball Magazine article by William A.  Phelon:

“For ten years it has been a tacitly accepted fact, around the big leagues and whenever players or managers assembled, that Ernie Diehl was not only of major league quality, but what might be called super-quality—the Wagner-Lajoie-Cobb variety.  He could hit, run, and break up a defense with anybody, and was a versatile artist in five or six positions.  Business held him; there never was a chance for him to spend a full season in the game; year after year, in short vacation frolics, he showed the professionals what he could do—and now, getting on in years, with business still gripping him, he sadly gives it up, and lays aside the bat and glove he never had a fair chance to use.”

Diehl’s Edgewood Distilling Company seems to have been dissolved sometime around 1918, and he eventually settled in Miami where he died in 1958.

A Thousand Words–Honus Wagner and Claude Hendrix

1 Feb

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Honus Wagner participating in his 2nd favorite sport with pitcher Claude Hendrix.

William A. Phelon, poet and sportswriter for The Chicago Daily News, Chicago Tribune, New York Morning Telegraph, Cincinnati Times-Star and St. Louis Star—where this poem about Honus Wagner appeared in 1904.

 Hans Wagner, Hans Wagner, we see you lead once more

The Sluggers of the National League—if leather spher’s had gore

The blood of many a fractured globe would dew the faces where

Your mighty whacks, from shoulder swung, went whizzing through the air!

Hans Wagner, Hans Wagner—how oft we’ve felt the shivers

To see you striding to the plate, to knock our hopes to shivers!

How oft we’ve heard the call, “Two strikes,” to make us yelp and smile,

And then our blood was frozen up—you’ve smashed the thing a mile!

Hans Wagner, Hans Wagner, whene’er that ball you spank

We wonder if you think about the coin you’ve placed in bank?

For every time a mighty drive brings roaring cheer on cheer,

You’ve added to your chances for a boost in pay next year!

Hans Wagner, Hans Wagner, your habits are the best—

You never store bad whiskey in the space beneath your vest—

The midnight jag attracts you not—you murmur “Aber nit—

If I should get von chag dis nacht, zu morgen I’d not hit!”

Hans Wagner, Hans Wagner, you’ve saved a load of dough

The products of the scheme by which you give the slabman woe!

You’ve made a record that will live, you’ve gained tremendous fame—

A slugger of the A1 class—a credit to the game.