Tag Archives: William Peet

“That Night the Butte Gamblers bet Their Heads off”

20 Aug

Clark Griffith repeated the story about how in 1892 he ended up in Missoula, Montana many times.  After the American Association disbanded, Griffith went west to join the Tacoma franchise in the Northern Pacific League.  The team struggled financially, and after receiving an offer from a mining company, the entire team relocated to Missoula and joined the Montana State League.

griffith

Clark Griffith

Griffith appears to have only once told a story about gambling, guns, and baseball in the mining towns of Montana that season.

Shortly after he bought 10 percent of the Washington Senators—he raised the money by mortgaging his Montana ranch—he told William Peet of The Washington Herald about his time in Missoula.  Peet said:

“When there is no real news to hand out, Griff sits back in his chair and between puffs of a cigar tells a lot of interesting baseball stories.”

Griffith told Peet:

“The day before we arrived in Missoula the management there released every man on its payroll, and the day we opened up the ballpark was packed.  Missoula had been the joke of the league.”

Griffith said the club started winning immediately and that the only two pitchers Missoula carried where him and George “Lem” Cross:

“’George Cross and myself did all the twirling, and we worked every other day…our first out-of-town series was in Butte, Montana.  When we hit that town they were waiting for us with open arms.’

“’Our manager Billy Works [sic Work] was told to get all the money he could scrape together, as the Butte gamblers would bet their last cent of the home club.  Works dug up $5000, and the night before the opening game waited for somebody to cover his coin.’

Griffith said the gamblers laid off the first game and did not cover Work’s bet; Cross was “batted all over the lot” and Missoula lost 15 to 4:

“’That night the Butte gamblers bet their heads off, covering our manager’s $5000 in jig time.  I was slated to pitch the next day and the game was a tight one from the start.’

“’Butte tied the score in the ninth, when a ball got away from my catcher.  The ball rolled to the stand, and as he was chasing after it one bug poked his arm over the grandstand rail, extending in his hand a six-shooter: ‘Let that ball alone,’ he cried.  The catcher stopped in his tracks, and the runner scored from third.’”

Missoula won the game in the tenth, and according to Griffith, Work immediately bet his winnings on the next day’s game:

“’Cross confided to me that he wasn’t going to take any chances with such a bunch of roughnecks.  ‘I don’t like the looks of those guns,’ he said.  I believe that if I had not stuck close to him all night he would have jumped town.’

“’We had nobody else to put in, and Cross simply had to pitch the game.  We had an awful time getting him into a uniform, but with a lot of jollying we finally induced him to come along.  He was scared stiff when he entered the box.’

Griffith said Cross “got his nerve back” and beat the Butte team 6 to 1; the easy win seemed to nullify the effects of the armed Butte fans.  Griffith said:

“’It was a grand clean-up all right, and our manager gave me $200 for winning my game.”

Note: This was not Griffith’s only experience with mining, and with guns at the ballpark—he threatened to skip out on his contract before the 1900 to become a gold miner, and during that same spring he was on the mound when “a Southern gentleman opened up with a .44.

 

“Everyone seemed to be trying to pull off the Greatest Stunts of his Life”

28 Mar

Great plays are in the eye of the beholder.

Jack Lelivelt said the greatest play he ever saw came in the greatest game he ever witnessed; the first game of a doubleheader played during the dog days of August by fourth and seventh place clubs hopelessly out of the American League pennant race.

Jack Lelivelt

Jack Lelivelt

Lelivelt watched from the bench on August 4, 1911, as his Washington Senators played the  Chicago White Sox.  Months later, he told Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner the game included “(S)ix plays in it that might any one be called the greatest according to the way a man looks at it.”

The game was a 1-0, 11-inning victory for the Senators; Walter Johnson getting the complete game victory over Doc White.  And Lelivelt was not alone in his assessment.

One Star Pitcher

Walter Johnson

William Peet of The Washington Herald said:

“An old-time fan in the grandstand correctly described the curtain raiser when he slapped his neighbor on the back and cried: ‘That was the best game of ball I ever saw in my life.”

Joe S. Jackson of The Washington Post said:

“No more freakish game than the opener has ever been played at the Florida Avenue field (Griffith Stadium).”

Lelivelt told Fullerton:

“First, (Ping) Bodie caught a home run while running straight out nearly to the center field fence; then (Clarence “Tillie”) Walker caught a fly off one ear while turning a back somersault.”

Bodie’s play robbed Walter Johnson of at least extra bases, with a runner on first in the third inning—and Walker robbed Ambrose “Amby” McConnell of the White Sox in the eighth; The Herald said he “spared it with his bare hand.”

Ping Bodie

Ping Bodie

Lelivelt continued:

(Harry) Lord made two stops on the line back of third, and (Lee) Tannehill grabbed two line drives and started double plays.”

While noting Lord’s “two stops,” Lelivelt failed to mention his most notable play during the game; when he fell into the Chicago dugout to catch a George McBride foul pop out, a play The Herald called “one of the best catches ever seen here.”

Lelivelt said:

“Everyone seemed to be trying to pull off the greatest stunts of his life in that game…with White and Johnson pitching magnificent ball.  It is as if you took a dozen great games of ball and crowded the most sensational parts of each into 11 innings.”

As for the best play, Lelivelt said it came in the third inning after Johnson walked McConnell and Lord sacrificed him to second:

(Jimmy “Nixey”) Callahan whipped a fast hit right down between third and short, a hit that seemed certain to go through to left field without being touched.  The ball was hit hard and was bounding rapidly when McBride went back and out as hard as he could, shoved down his glove hand, scooped the ball and snapped it straight into (William Wid) Conroy’s hands on top of third base.  The play was so quickly made that McConnell saw he was out, and by a quick stop tried to delay being touched and jockeyed around between the bases to let Callahan reach second. He played it beautifully, but he never had a chance.  McBride jumped back into the line and before McConnell could even get a good start back Conroy whipped the ball to McBride and McConnell was touched out before he had moved five feet.

Wid Conroy

Wid Conroy

“So rapidly was the play made that as soon as McBride touched McConnell he shot down to second so far ahead of Callahan that Cal was able to turn and get back to first…If Callahan had reached second on the play Chicago would have won, as (Matty) McIntyre followed up with a base hit that would have scored the runner from second easily.”

Curiously, the play Lelivelt said was the greatest in a game of great plays, the greatest play he said he ever saw, received no notice the next day’s coverage of the game in either Washington or Chicago.

The Herald ran a column listing fourteen key plays in the game but failed to mention Lelivelt’s “greatest play” at all. The Post said only that McConnell was out “McBride to Conroy, on Callahan’s grounder.”  It received no mention in the Chicago papers.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Collins’ “Ten Commandments”

5 Oct

The Philadelphia Inquirer said in February of 1916, Eddie Collins of the Chicago White Sox, had broken “into the ‘Gospel League,’ after  the second baseman gave a temperance speech in front of “500 persons” at the Epworth Methodist Church in Palmyra, New Jersey church.

collins2

Eddie Collins

Despite Collins telling his audience he wasn’t  “contemplating a pulpit career,” the paper said they “(A)pplauded like World Series fans when he handed ‘booze’ some wallops that would have done credit to Billy Sunday.”

Collins’ talk focused on the evils of alcohol:

“I come to bring a message to your young people, from a baseball player’s viewpoint, of the necessity of clean living and I will be glad if anything I say will help any of you fight the battle of life…Temperate living in necessary for success in any field of action.”

He also praised his former manager from the pulpit:

“Life is a whole lot like playing baseball under Connie Mack’s orders.  Mack is the greatest baseball general the world has ever known and any man who has ever played on the old Athletics honors respects and loves the boss.”

Sunday said he approved of Collins taking to pulpit and providing a “boost” for baseball:

“The way to make the great game respectable is for every player to be respectable himself.”

The Inquirer told readers the following day that the Columbia University graduate had little in common with the evangelist who often mangled the language:

“The statement that Eddie Collins is emulating Billy Sunday is entirely erroneous…Eddie had a perfect record at the bat and fielded cleanly with the King’s English.”

Billy Sunday, evangelist

Billy Sunday, evangelist

Within a week, The Philadelphia Press said:

“Eddie Collins’ dip into evangelism has had a home-run effect among church people throughout the country, and he now is swamped with invitations to address church congregations, bible classes, and Sunday school meeting.

“The requests have swept in upon him at his home in Lansdowne (Pennsylvania) in such a deluge that he said today he had reached the point where he would have to give up base ball if he were to meet all the engagements asked.”

Collins told a reporter:

“I am gratified to learn that my little talk of last Sunday and my rules of life amounted to something but I don’t rank as an evangelist and can’t follow that calling.”

Instead of leaving the diamond for the pulpit, Collins printed and had distributed to churches, several thousand copies of part of the talk, what he called “The Ten Rules of Life.”

Some reporters, including William Peet of The Washington Herald, referred to the list as “Collins’ Ten Commandments:”

First: Safeguard your honor

Second: Don’t overeat

Third: Be a good loser

Fourth: Smile

Fifth: Keep good hours

Sixth: Have courage to do right

Seventh: Don’t think you know it all

Eighth: Be prompt

Ninth: Don’t drink alcoholic drinks

Tenth: Think clean thoughts.

Collins’ statements about alcohol were used by various temperance organizations seeking prohibition.  Ads like the one below with quotes from Collins, Ty Cobb, and Connie Mack, and Admiral Robert Peary, as well as boxers Jess Willard, John L. Sullivan, and Joe Stecher appeared in newspapers and handbills distributed throughout the country.

temperance

Cy Swain

8 Jun

Charles R. “Moose” “Cy” Swain was for a short time, one of the best-known players on the West Coast and his brief time as the West’s home run king is all but forgotten.

Born in Palo Alto, California, Swain made his professional debut with San Jose franchise in the California State League in 1904.  Years later, Mike Steffani, San Jose manager, told The San Jose Evening News that his “discovery” of Swain was an accident.

Steffani was in need of a shortstop, and Swain’s brother Ira, who played at Stanford University,  was recommended to him by pitcher Win Cutter.  Cy, who accompanied his brother to San Jose, played first while Steffani worked out Ira at short.  Steffani said he told Cutter:

“I think young Cy is the best player.  I like the way he handles the ground balls.  He acts like (Charles) Truck Eagan to me.”

Cy Swain was signed.  Ira was sent home.

Charles "Cy" Swain

Charles “Cy” Swain

Swain was called “a hard hitter,” who struck out often.  He also apparently enjoyed a drink.  After hitting a disappointing .239 for the Spokane Indians in The Northwestern League in 1907, Swain was traded to the Butte Miners.

In announcing the news, The Spokane Press said, “Charley isn’t exactly a temperance man.”   The paper said that when the Spokane owner sent him a contract with a temperance clause, Swain wired back, “Send me two of those; I may break one.”

Swain, who also struggled with weight issues, went from Butte to the Tacoma Tigers, then the Vancouver Beavers.

In July of 1910, he was leading the league with a .298 batting average when the Washington Senators offered $1800 for his contract.  The Vancouver Daily World said the offer was turned down.  The club’s owner/manager/shortstop Bob Brown told the paper:

“That pennant looks awfully good to me, and until I have it clinched I intend to hold the team intact.  There have been numerous other clubs after Charlie’s services, but they will all have to wait until the season is over.”

Swain slumped badly the rest of the year and finished with a .250 average (and a league-leading 11 home runs). The Beavers finished second, six and a half games behind the Spokane Indians.

Despite Swain’s sluggish finish and questions about his weight—The Seattle Star said he was “carrying 220 pounds”– Washington purchased his contract at the end of the season.  Just before he reported to the team in Atlanta in February of 1911, The Washington Herald said:

“There is a reason why this man Swain should not be overlooked when the time comes for the final selection of the Nationals.  It was Cliff Blankenship who was sent scouting for Walter Johnson five years ago and who signed him…and Blankenship is sponsor for Swain.”

Cliff Blankenship

Cliff Blankenship

Swain responded to a letter from William Peet, The Herald’s baseball writer, about his weight:

“I note what you say about certain of my friends on the Western papers claiming I have taken on so much weight that I am handicapped thereby.  Just write them a personal letter and bet them all you’ve got that I haven’t taken on more than five pounds since I quit playing last fall…I will join the Washington club in shape and try my best to make good.”

Early reports from Atlanta in the Washington papers, The Post, The Times, and The Herald sounded promising:

“For a big fellow Swain is a wonder when it comes to covering ground in the outfield.”

“Though a six-footer, weighing 200 pounds, he runs like a sprinter.”

“He hits hard…his most distinguishing trait (is) a willingness to work and an inexhaustible fund of good humor.”

Swain was hitting .273 in spring games when he became sick (either a cold or the flu, depending on the source) and did not appear in a game, or practice with the team for a week.

Swain in Atlanta with the Senators

Swain in Atlanta with the Senators

On April 6 The Herald said:

“Swain and Manager Jim (McAleer) had a long talk this morning in the clubhouse and when the Vancouver husky emerged his face was wreathed in smiles.

“’It’s all right, boys,’ he said.  ‘I will probably go back to the Pacific Coast.  Had a nice chat with the boss and told him that if he decided he couldn’t use me to ship me (West) and he promised to do so.”

Swain was returned to Vancouver, where he hit. 309 and helped lead the Beavers to the Northwestern League pennant.  After hitting .286 for the last place Sacramento Sacts in the Pacific Coast league in 1912, Swain was sold to the Victoria Bees in Northwestern League in May of 1913, setting the stage for his record-breaking season.

On August 1, The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Swain) is electrifying the natives in the Northwestern League.  Playing for Victoria, up to last Sunday, Cy had connected with 17 home runs and was hitting .329.”

He hit 17 more by September 18.  Swain’s 34 home runs broke the previous West Coast high—Ping Bodie hit 30 for the San Francisco Seals in 1910 (Art Bues had the previous league record with 27 in 1910)—and his .329 average was a career high.

He benefitted from the small dimensions of the league’s parks; The (Portland) Oregonian said fourteen of his 34 home runs cleared Victoria’s 270 foot center field fence and 11 more came at Seattle where the left and right field fences were just 237 feet from home plate.

After another solid season in the Northwestern League in 1914–.310 with 12 homeruns—Swain was traded to the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association for Fred “Newt” Hunter on November 24.

While most of the newspapers in Northwestern League cities shared the view of The Spokane Chronicle, that “The exchange will effect a promotion for Swain as he will play in a class AA league, which has been his ambition.”  The Seattle Star, however, despite the numbers he put up, raised some doubts about Swain:

“It is not likely that Seattle will be disappointed in the trade…Swain did not deliver last season like the fans had hoped and expected.  He was the joke of the league in the pinches.”

Swain

Swain

Just three days after the trade, Swain was working his off-season job for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company in San Francisco, when he fell from the back of a company truck which ran over his right leg.  On December 4, the leg was amputated.

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“He was counting on making good with Minneapolis with the view of someday stepping into the big league, the dream of every ballplayer.  What Swain will do now with one limb lost has not been decided, for the unfortunate player is overwhelmed with grief at the sudden termination of his diamond career.”

Benefit games were held in San Francisco and Tacoma, drawing 4000 and 7000 fans; the games raised more than $4000 for Swain.

He used the money to open a cigar store in San Francisco with another former player, Tommy Sheehan.  The two also organized a team, managed by Swain, called the Independents.  The team was comprised of West Coast professionals—including Ping Bodie, Spider Baum, and Biff Schaller–and played during the winter and early spring.  One of their games in the spring of 1916 was the first game ever played by an outside team on the grounds of San Quentin Prison.  Swain’s team won 15 to 10.

In November of 1916, Swain and Sheehan organized team made up of major leaguers and West Coast players to travel to Hawaii for a series of games.  The team played local and military teams, as well as the All-Chinese team which included Vernon Ayau, the first Chinese player to have appeared in a professional game.

Ayau, played against Swain's team in Hawaii

Ayau, played against Swain’s team in Hawaii

News of the games in Hawaii was sketchy; based on various reports the team played between eight and 12 games on the trip; all sources agree the only game they lost was against a US Army Infantry team.

Swain continued to manage the Independents in 1917 and ’18.  He and Sheehan also sold the cigar store and opened the Maryland Bowling Alleys in Oakland with Cliff Blankenship, the former catcher who recommended Swain to the Washington Senators in 1910.

Early in the fall of 1918, Swain’s brother, Ira, who accompanied to the tryout in San Jose in 1904, contracted the Spanish Flu and died on October 21.  On November 5, The Oakland Tribune said:

“Charlie Swain, one of the most popular ball players in the history of the game in the West, died here last night, a victim of Spanish Influenza.  Two weeks ago today Charlie’s brother Ira fell victim to the malady.”

Swain was 36-years-old.  The Tribune said:

“Good-bye, Charlie, we’re going to miss that happy smile.”