Tag Archives: William Brown

“So, Great Buck Ewing is Dead”

21 Aug

“So, great Buck Ewing is dead.”

That was Sam Thompson’s reaction when told by The Detroit News that Ewing had died at age 47.

Ewing was less than five months older than Thompson, who had come out of retirement to play in eight games for the Tigers just two months earlier.

“They’re slipping away, aren’t they, those fine old fellows who by their head work and lovable natures made the game what it is today! It was such men as Ewing, (Tim) Keefe, (Roger) Connor and a score of others who inspired me.”

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Ewing

Although roughly the same age, Ewing was in the major leagues for five seasons before Thompson made his debut:

“As a boy I used to read of the great Ewing, and I set him up as my ideal. He and Connor were always my idols.  Later, when I began to play in the big leagues and (later) went to Philadelphia, I roomed with Roger (in 1892), my acquaintance with—while it in no way lessened my regard for him—sort of pulled him from the pedestal. Ewing, however, I never became so closely attached to, and there was always the baseball idol worship about the man for me.”

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Thompson

Thompson said when he did interact with Ewing, it added “to this setting him higher as the ideal” of a baseball player:

“He was such a whole-souled, lovable chap. His wonderful work on the diamond in no way affected his disposition. He was always modest and retiring.”

And he said:

“There never lived a greater catcher or all -around ballplayer.

“Mike Kelly? Well, Kelly was a grand ballplayer all right, but he was the cunning player, the fellow with startling tricks. Ewing, on the other hand, was the thinker, the deep student of the game. His was the inside game. No player ever lived who could play the same kind of game that Kelly put up, but Ewing was of the different type. He was the more consistent thinker.”

Thompson said he believed Ewing was “the first catcher to get the infield signaling down t anything like a system,” and:

“He was the pioneer of present-day headwork behind the bat. He always had us hugging the bases. He devised tricks that are now common in baseball. They were figured out long before the game started. Kelly’s greatness, on the other hand, lay in his marvelous ability to grasp a situation quicker than lightning.”

He said when he played “with the old Detroit team we used to anxiously await who going to catch,” for the Giants:

“If it was (William ‘California’) Brown there was a sigh of relief. Not that we were belittling the work of Brown; it was simply that Ewing was so much better. He dazzled us. He had the infield under his control all the time. He had tricks of pulling us off the sacks that were new and we did not know what to do. That old Detroit bunch could win with Brown catching almost any day in the week, but with Ewing it was different.”

One man was responsible for New York’s success:

“It was Buck Ewing who won all those championships for the old Giants.

“Tim Keefe stood out as a wonderful pitcher. It was Keefe and Ewing. That old battery was the talk of the country.

“And yet Tim Keefe told me time and again, when they were at their best, that without Buck Ewing he would be no better than any other fairly good pitcher.

“’It’s all Buck,’ he would say, ‘he’s the boy who steadies me and gets the work done.”

Thompson’s first major league game—July 2, 1885–was against the Giants, with Keefe on the mound (although he misremembered Ewing being behind the plate that day—it was Pat Deasley):

“I don’t recall whether I did anything in the game (Thompson replaced Gene Moriarty in right field after the latter was in the 5th inning, he was 1 for 2 and scored a run) but I do remember we won. We beat the Giants 4 to 0.

“That victory did more for me among the players than any one thing. They called me their mascot. New York had been beating them right along.”

 

Thompson said when he left the Phillies in 1898, he nearly played for Ewing:

“I had left Philadelphia and had decided to give up the game. Ewing was then managing the Reds and wrote me asking if I would come to Cincinnati. He said he thought he could put through a deal whereby I could sign up all right.

“I was sorely tempted, as I had always wanted to play in Cincinnati. I had always been given a good reception there and had played some of my best games there.

“I didn’t accept, however. I thought that I might not do as well as I had, and I didn’t want to show poorly after all the good work I had done in that city.”

“Leather-Fisted Phil”

12 Apr

“Leather –Fisted Phil” is what Phillip J. Powers was called in his 1914 Associated Press obituary which said:

“(Powers) was famous for his ability to stop the swiftest throws of the league’s star pitchers.”

He most likely earned the nickname in 1877 when, like many other catchers of the era, he began using a small, leather pad on his hand while with the London Tecumsehs of the International Association.

After the London team disbanded in August of 1878 Powers joined the Chicago White Stockings.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“He is a tall young fellow…He is described as a good catcher, but liable to get hurt, fair at the bat, and a genial man on the grounds.”

Powers would spend parts of seven seasons and 155 games in the National League and American Association with the Boston Red Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Cincinnati Red Stockings and Baltimore Orioles, hitting .180.  In between his engagements as a player Powers was an umpire.

It was as an umpire that he made a name for himself, but it probably wasn’t what he had in mind.  Few umpires, even in an era when members of the “profession” were poorly trained and underpaid, were the target of as much criticism as Powers.

In 1881 he began the season as a National League umpire.  By July he had become a target in several cities,

The Detroit News said:

“Phil Powers has acquired reputation enough in the last two weeks to last him a lifetime.  The erroneous umpiring he did here, people were inclined to regard as errors of judgment, but to say the least his ‘mistakes’ have become so numerous that his utter unfitness for the position he holds is unquestioned.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer took the criticism even further:

“Powers is said to have been offered $150 to play ball (for the Detroit Wolverines) for one month, but refused it.  As an umpire he cannot, if square, earn more than $15 or $20 a week and expenses; and must take the chance at that of being chosen an umpire.  He preferred to be an umpire.  Several of his decisions on Saturday were grossly unfair, and, what is worse, they bore heavily on Cleveland.  They were so one-sided that many of the spectators believed he deliberately purposed to give the game to Troy.”

Despite the ill feelings in Cleveland, Powers joined the Blues in August and caught five games for the team after Michael “Doc” Kennedy was injured and John Clapp was “called away by an illness in his family.”   He finished the season with the New York Metropolitans in the Eastern Championship Association.

Powers again became a full-time player from 1882-1885, and was part of the Red Stockings American Association championship team in 1882.  He was released by Cincinnati in July of 1885, signed with the Baltimore Orioles and was again released the following month.

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1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings, Phil Powers standing 2nd from left

Powers was signed by the St. Louis Browns in the spring of 1886, but released before the beginning of the season, and was added to the National League umpiring staff in August.  He again worked as an umpire through the 1887 season, left to return to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumsehs in the International Association, but again returned to the National League as an umpire in August of 1888.   He came back just in time to find himself in the middle of a controversy involving two Hall of Famers.

New York Giants catcher/captain William “Buck” Ewing was hit on the wrist by a ball during a game with the White Stockings in Chicago.  In 1888 the opposing team’s captain had to agree that an injury was serious to necessitate a substitution; Chicago’s “Cap” Anson said he did not agree to a substitution when backup catcher “Big Bill” Brown entered the game in the 6th inning.  Anson appealed to the umpire, and according to The Chicago Inter Ocean, “(Powers) said that Captain Ewing was not so badly hurt that he could not play.”

After a heated argument, during which The Inter Ocean said Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner,” Powers declared the game “forfeited to Chicago by a score of 9 to 0.”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Powers had been involved in a similar situation in 1886, refusing to allow Philadelphia Quakers catcher “Deacon” McGuire to leave a game after an injury.  The Chicago Tribune said Quakers captain Arthur Irwin “told McGuire to catch ‘away back’ (from the plate).” The Tribune said Irwin’s actions created a “scene” and “pandemonium reigned,” until Anson agreed to allow Philadelphia to replace McGuire.  White Stockings President A.G. Spalding “preferred charges against umpire Powers” for losing control of the game.

The substitution rule was changed in 1891, putting an end to controversies regarding the replacement of injured players.

But controversies involving Powers continued.  More on Monday.