Tag Archives: Win Cutter

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.”

“Mique” Fisher and the PCL

6 May

Michael Angelo “Mique” Fisher is one of the forgotten pioneers of the Pacific Coast League (PCL).  Fisher had no given middle name, but adopted the name Angelo “after the famed painter he admired.”

Born in New York City in 1862, Fisher’s family relocated to Sacramento, California shortly after the end of the Civil War.  Fisher was a semi-pro outfielder with teams in San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento, and in 1884-85 played for the San Francisco Haverlys in the California League.  Sometime later in the decade he joined the Sacramento police force.

Fisher’s only connection with baseball from 1885 until he was nearly 40-tears-old was as a fan and as a friend of a young catcher named Charlie Graham who had played at Santa Clara University and in the California League.

In 1902 Detective Captain Fisher made a career change.

The Sacramento Gilt Edges in the California League were owned by a local businessman named Arthur Beebe.  Beebe, according to The Sporting Life “incurred the displeasure of his associates in the league owing to his continual kicking against the umpires appointed by President (James T.) Moran.”

At a league meeting in February the franchise was taken away from Beebe and awarded to Fisher.  The San Francisco Call said Beebe blamed the move on San Francisco owner Henry Harris, who he said “is backing Mike Fisher.”

Michael Angelo “Mique” Fisher, circa 1905

Michael Angelo “Mique” Fisher, circa 1905

There’s no contemporary reference to why Harris preferred Fisher to Beebe, but within a year Harris would spearhead the effort to expand the California League to the Pacific Northwest—forming the PCL, and might simply have wished to pack the league with allies for the planned expansion.

The new Sacramento owner’s first move was to sign Charlie Graham, who played for Harris in San Francisco in 1901; Graham was named captain.  The Gilt Edges got off to a horrible start, but according to The Sporting Life “managed to replace the weak ones with men that worried other clubs at all stages, and finally crawled up into the .400 class.”

In December of 1902 The Seattle Times reported that Harris’ scheme was official:

“The California League will be known next year as the Pacific Coast League.  It will expand and take in Seattle and Portland.”

The Los Angeles Angels won the first PCL championship, but it was another Los Angeles team that caused the most excitement for Fisher and Sacramento in 1903.

In March three of Fisher’s players, Win Cutter, Charles Doyle and George Hildebrand jumped to the Los Angeles team, in the newly formed Pacific National League—they were said to have been recruited by former teammate Elmer Stricklett.  Hildebrand agreed to return, but Fisher took action as the other two prepared to board a train for L.A.  The San Francisco Call said:

“There was a sensational scene at the railway depot this afternoon, when Michael Fisher, manager of the Sacramento baseball nine, appeared with a police officer armed with warrants and caused Cutter and Doyle, two of the start players, to be placed under arrest on charges of obtaining money under false pretenses.”

The players were held in jail until they agreed to return to Fisher’s club, and the charges were dropped.

After the 1903 season Fisher relocated the franchise to Tacoma, Washington; the move brought better geographical balance to the league, and gave the PCL a foothold in a city that had just been vacated by the rival Pacific National League.

Charlie Graham remained team captain and the pitching staff was improved with the addition of Jim St. Vrain and Orval Overall.  Fisher’s Tacoma Tigers took the pennant, winning both halves of the split season schedule.

Charlie Graham

Charlie Graham

it was Graham, not Fisher, who was generally given credit for the success of the team.  As The Portland Oregonian later said:

“Mique Fisher in the strict sense of the term never was a great manager.  In a general way he knew baseball, but as a master of the fine points of the game as it should be played he was not up to the big thing…It was Graham who taught the players how to play the game.”

The paper did concede that Fisher was a good players’ manager:

“His players liked him and worked hard for him and that always helped a whole lot.”

Other tended to dismiss Fisher, The Spokane Daily Chronicle called him:

“The man who has acted as the original blast furnace for the hot air factory.”

Fisher not only had his baseball acumen questioned, but the move to Tacoma turned out to be disastrous from a business standpoint. The Oregonian said the Tigers won in 1904 despite “little enthusiasm,” from the city of Tacoma.  Fisher also began to run afoul of his investors, according to The Daily Chronicle:

“It is no secret  the stockholders have been losing money and blame for that is laid on the manager.”

The 1905 Tigers started strong, winning the first half—again playing to small, indifferent crowds, then fell apart in the second half, finishing last.  The Tigers were badly beaten five games to one in a postseason series by the Los Angeles Angels.

In September of 1905, Fisher announced that a six-game series with the Oakland Oaks would be played in Spokane, Washington, giving rise to rumors that the team would relocate there the following season.  The rumor also stirred up a conflict with the Northwestern League, who laid claim to Spokane and took their case to the National Commission.

Fisher initially denied that the team had designs on Spokane, but in October he this telegram to The Spokane Chronicle:

“To Sporting Editor…Spokane has been awarded to the Coast League by the National Commission.”

The San Francisco Bulletin said the league needed to abandon Tacoma and:

“It certainly seems that the admission of Spokane is the only logical course for the league to pursue.”

Logic did not win out.  By November Fisher had negotiated a deal to move the team to Fresno, California, a town with roughly one-third the population of Spokane—the PCL made it official in January of 1906 that the Tacoma Tigers would become the Fresno Raisin Eaters.

Fisher had owned a half interest in the team in Tacoma, he gave up his ownership stake in Fresno and signed a three-year contract with the club.

It turned out to be another bad decision.

Fisher, for the first time, managed a team without Charlie Graham by his side.  The catcher started the season with the Boston Americans (his only big league season), but left the team in May to return to San Francisco a month after the 1906 earthquake—various sources attributed his departure to being homesick, wanting to be near family, or to attend to his wife who was ill; in any case he never returned east and signed with the Sacramento Cordovas in the California League in August.

Fresno was a last place team from wire-to-wire, finishing with a winning percentage well below .400.

The new ownership fired Fisher, who eventually sued the team to recover $500 he said he was promised if terminated before his three-year contract expired.  He never collected the $500 and told reporters:

I was gypped out of the franchise.”

Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray was named to succeed Fisher as manager, but Fresno was dropped from the PCL after the Seattle Siwashes withdrew from the league, in order to maintain an even number of teams.

Fisher’s managerial career was over, but his baseball career was not; more on that tomorrow.