Tag Archives: Win Mercer

“The Charming and Fascinating Pig Ward”

14 May

It was as a “coacher” that Piggy Ward—who appeared in 221 games over parts of six seasons with five National League teams between 1883 and 1894—was best known

That reputation began in the minor leagues. In 1889, when Ward was with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Detroit Free Press described him:

“A squatty, thickset man, with a bull neck, loaferish appearance, and voice a combination of the bellowing of a bull and braying of a donkey, attempted to make himself conspicuous in yesterday’s game and succeeded, to the intense disgust of the 1200 people present. Whenever the Hamiltons went to bat this unmitigated nuisance placed himself near third base and bellowed, roared, and ranted till everybody in the park was seized with a burning desire to rush upon and club him into silence.”

The paper called him “The champion lunatic of the noisy coaching clan,” but softened somewhat in their assessment of Ward later when it appeared he would not be returning to the International League:

“There is burning curiosity in this vicinity to whether the Hamilton management intends to sign that meadowlark of the ball field, the charming and fascinating Pig Ward. The echoes of his weird voice still reverberate around Recreation Park.”

piggy1904

The press, for the most part, did not approve of his technique. The Buffalo Express said:

“Ward’s coaching is too coarse altogether and should be stopped. The umpire’s voice is drowned in his babble.”

When he played for the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association in 1893, The Birmingham Times noted that he was the first player of the season to be fined for his “loaferish behavior,” while coaching, the paper also said Ward “has entirely too good an opinion of his own merits and too much contempt for the lesser deficiencies of his brother players.”

Ward’s coaching received greater attention when he joined the Washington Senators in 1894.

The Washington Star said during one game in July, “Ward’s lamentations were loud, continuous, and contentious—so much so that (umpire Bob) Emslie warned Capt. (Bill) Joyce that ‘Piggy’ would be sent to the bench if he didn’t keep quiet.”

O. P. Caylor of The New York Herald, in noting that “noisy coaching” had become more widespread that year, referred to the, “(Tommy) Tucker—(Dad) Clarke—‘Piggy’ Ward method of making noise by howling and shrieking from the coaching lines, in order to ‘rattle’ the opposing pitcher.”

Caylor did not approve, and said the practice because “in part, the science of the game is obscured, owing to the frantic attempts of the players to confuse one another.”

Cap Anson agreed, telling Caylor:

“It isn’t respectable ball playing and neither will I adopt that method or let any of my players use it.”

Ward’s “coaching” caused Anson’s Colts a loss on July 8. The Chicago Inter Ocean was not amused:

“The trick which ‘Pig’ Ward resorted to yesterday in the seventh inning no doubt won the game for Washington, but if (manager Gus) Schmelz were not impervious to all decency and self-respect he would release the man on the ground of dirty ball playing. (Ed) Cartwright had hit a high fly to infield, for which (Charlie) Irwin ran. It was a hard sprint, but the shortstop got well under it, when Ward, imitating the voice of Anson, called out ‘(Bill) Dahlen!’ Irwin, who had to keep his eyes up in the air, of course dropped the ball. Cartwright and (Win) Mercer subsequently scored. The game finished 9 to 8, so that these two runs did the work.”

The paper complained that “under the rules there was nothing Umpire (Jack) McQuaid to do except to the fine the fellow, but even this that functionary refused to do. He should have been fined the limit and ordered off the diamond.”

That same season, his coaching, and the extra effort he added to it, drew the ire of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“When a rotten ball player wants to keep his job, he resorts to dirty tricks to conch his position with his manager. Piggy Ward belongs to this class, and his latest is to paw first with his big feet around first base so as to blind the first baseman and prevent him from seeing thrown or batted balls.”

As Ward’s coaching antics became more commented upon and the nickname “Piggy” became more frequently used for him, The Brooklyn Citizen speculated it was “probably to distinguish him from Brooklyn’s gentlemanly and able Captain,” John Montgomery Ward.

Ward also engaged with fans form the “coacher’s box.” When he returned to Cincinnati as a member of the Senators, The Enquirer related a verbal sparring match Ward engaged in with a fan during a game:

“Piggy Ward is a good coacher. He is on the line nearly all the time, and he has been the target of a good many taunts and unkind remarks from the stand in the two games the last two days. He doesn’t seem to mind it a bit but goes on giving his directions and trying to rattle the opposing team as though everything that came to ears was complimentary.

“Yesterday, a waiter in a downtown restaurant who was with a party of fellow waiters, yelled at Ward:

‘”Who told you that you could play ball? You ought to be behind a plow.’

“’Is that so?’ said Piggy. ‘What are you doing for a living now? The same thing, I suppose. Turning cakes in a fifteen-cent restaurant?’

“Whether it was a chance thrust or not it went home, and for a few moments the waiters and those n the vicinity made matters unpleasant for the fresh young man who endeavored to kid the ballplayer.

Despite having his best major league season at the plate in 1894—hitting .303 in 98 games with the Washington Senators—Ward, who also committed 52 errors at four positions, was often belittled in the press. Sporting Life said:

“Piggy Ward of the Washingtons appears to like the bench better than the field. He was ordered there during the season oftener than any other player in the League.”

Sporting Life also called him “A wretchedly bad second baseman.”

The Star related a conversation between him and his manager:

“’Are you a ballplayer?’ said Schmelz to Piggy Ward. ‘Well, the newspapers say I’m not,’ responded the ever-ready Piggy.”

Ward fractured his thumb on August 14, The Washington Post said the injury occurred while he was “trying to tag a man” at second base.  The injury kept him out of the lineup for several days.

He was released by Washington, ending his big-league career, but not his reputation as a “coacher,” or his story.

Shortly after being let go by Washington, Ward became more of a local hero in his hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania. A fire broke out in the shop of a black barber named J. H. Crocker. The Altoona Tribune said, after several people, tried but failed to get through the dense smoke:

“Frank Ward then made another attempt to get in and succeeded in catching hold of the arm of the man and dragging him out.”

While the man later died, Ward’s heroics were reported in major newspapers in the East.

More Ward tomorrow.

“I Remember Well the First Day Latham Coached”

11 Jun

Arlie Latham “The Freshest Man on Earth” is generally credited as the first full-time third base coach.  Even before John McGraw hired him to coach third for the New York Giants in 1909, Latham’s antics as a “coacher” were already legendary—in 1907 Ted Sullivan, one of baseball’s pioneers and Latham’s manager with the St. Louis Browns, told The Washington Evening Star about Latham’s first time.

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

“’I remember well the first day Latham coached,’ said Sullivan.  ‘It was in Cincinnati in 1883.  I must confess I never had much use for a ‘fresh’ player, and soon after Latham reported I was not backward in telling him he was too d— fresh, but  I later discovered that he was a wonderful player, and that his freshness was of a most harmless and hilarious nature.  But after I gave him the reprimand I noticed he was a little timid about saying anything, but was still of good cheer.

“One day in Cincinnati Will White had the Browns on his staff with his little stingy rise ball.  My best men were on the bases and there was no one on the line.  I asked the men on the bench, ‘Is there no one here able to coach a little?’ Latham speaks up and says, ‘I will coach if you want me.’”

Never one for understatement, Sullivan said what happened next:

“Well, if Gabriel had entered a graveyard and blown his trumpet, and the tombstones had loosened their grip on the dead, it would not have created more of a sensation.  Latham walked out to the home plate and to the consternation of umpire, players and myself, delivered this talk to pitcher White:

‘My Dear Mr. White, we have been very courteous to you during the game, but as the Browns need a few runs we will have to be rude to you for awhile,’ and then stalking off to third base went through those gyrations that afterward made him famous all over America.  White was dumbstruck at the flow of words that afterward fell from Latham, and he became so rattled that the Browns batted him out of the box and won the game.”

Will White

Will White

No Browns game in Cincinnati that season matches well with Sullivan’s initial account—he continued to tell the story to reporters for more than a decade and sometimes said instead the game was “against Cincinnati—the game that best fits Sullivan’s description was a 9 to 5 Browns win over the Reds on May 16. But, contemporary accounts attribute White’s faltering, which led to the Browns come from behind victory, to a knee injury rather than any “flow of words” from Latham.

“Latham was the original funny man in the coacher’s box, and he stood in a class entirely by himself.  He has had many imitators, but they have never reached the position that Latham occupied, for he was a genius in the work and never used language that would offend the ears of the most prudish.

“Many years ago it used to be Latham’s great aim to get out on the coaching line here in Washington in the games that local pet—Win Mercer—was to do the pitching.  It will be recalled that Mercer was an extremely handsome fellow, and often it fell to his lot to pitch on Ladies’ Day.  Latham took the greatest delight in endeavoring to disconcert Mercer, the large number of ladies being mad enough to pull his hair, while at the same time they were convulsed with laughter at his sayings and antics.  He and Mercer were great chums, and when Latham was secured by the Wagners (J. Earl and George) to travel with the Washingtons (in 1899) for coaching purposes alone the two were inseparable, thus showing that though a thorough minstrel and actor, his chaff never broke into bitter personalities  or severed friendships.

“We have our Hughey Jennings and others of today, but in the history of baseball there has only been one ideal coacher from the line—Arlie Latham.”

Latham with the New York Giants

Latham with the New York Giants

When McGraw hired Latham two years later, Bozeman Bulger, sports writer for The New York Evening World said the Giants’ new third base coach had just as much fun as a minor league umpire as he did when coaching—Bulger was a writer for The Birmingham Age-Herald while Latham was working in the Southern Association:

“I had the fun one time of traveling with Latham while he was an umpire in the Southern (Association).  On one of those days the Birmingham club was playing at Little Rock, and Pat Wright was playing first for Little Rock, and Pat Millerick, of Birmingham was at the bat.  He hit a little grounder toward short, and for a moment it was fumbled.  Pat went lumbering down to first.  Seeing that he couldn’t quite make it on the run, he slid for the bag.  Pat Wright at the same time got the ball a little wide and slid for the bag himself, so as to beat the runner.  The feet of both hit the bag at about the same time.”

Latham made no call on the play.

“’Judgment!’ yelled Millerick, as he threw up his hand.

“Everybody waited for Latham to make a decision.

“’Wait a minute,’ said Arlie, ‘I want to do this thing right.’  He then rushed into the clubhouse and came out with a tape measure.  While the crowd sat in suspense Latham deliberately measured the feet of the two Pats—Millerick and Wright.  It was shown that Wright’s foot was one inch longer, and Millerick was promptly declared ‘Out!’  Nobody had the nerve to question the decision.”

“The Deterioration in the Morale of the Players”

10 Jun

The Chicago Tribune had had enough:

“The deterioration in the morale of the players has been followed by deterioration in that of the spectators.  The latter relish the obscene profanity and the slugging exploits of the hulking brutes of the baseball field.”

The Tribune provided an “account of the more disgraceful of the many rows witnessed by spectators of baseball games,” during the just-ended 1899 season:

“May 2—Row at Pittsburgh—St. Louis game.  (Frank) Bowerman was put out of the game.  (Jack) O’Connor was taken off the field by the police, and the crowd chased umpires (Tom) Burns and (William) Smith.

May 19—Umpire Burns put (Giants’ William “Kid”) Gleason out of the game at St. Louis.  Gleason’s protest was so strong Burns forfeited the game to St. Louis.

June 1—Row on the grounds at Washington.

June 16—After a long wrangle and continued rowing on the field at New York.  Umpire Burns forfeited the game to Brooklyn.

June 16—(Fred) Clarke and (Clarence “Cupid”) Childs fight on the field in Louisville.

June 27—Rowdy action of players caused the crowd at the Pittsburgh game to mob umpire (James “Chippy”) McGarr.

July 18—(Tommy) Corcoran slugged (John) McGraw at Baltimore after being first attacked, and his action started a riot.

July 26—(Emerson “Pink”) Hawley, (Fred) Tenney, and (Hugh) Duffy engaged in a game of fisticuffs at Cincinnati.

Aug 16—(Oliver “Patsy”) Tebeau, McGraw and (George “Candy”) LaChance fought at Baltimore

Aug 18—Riot at Baltimore game started by (Tim) Donahue throwing a handful of dirt at (Steve) Brodie’s face.

Sept 1—Childs and Aleck Smith fight on the field in Louisville.

Sept 7—Riots at St. Louis and Brooklyn.

Sept 15—Clarke taken off Philadelphia grounds by police.

Sept 16—Chicago players jerked (Ed) Swartwood around the diamond because he called the game in the eighth inning on account of darkness.

Oct 9—(George “Win”) Mercer assaulted (Al) Mannassau at Washington.

Oct 14—(Jimmy) Scheckard assaulted umpire (John) Hunt, refused to retire, and Hunt forfeited the game to Brooklyn.”

Cupid Childs, repeat offender

Cupid Childs, repeat offender

Al Mannassau, assaulted by Win Mercer in Washington

Al Mannassau, assaulted by Win Mercer in Washington

In addition to the fans, The Tribune blamed team owners:

 “For the multifarious minor acts of blackguardism and rowdyism of which the hired men of the club owners were guilty there is no room.  It is sufficient to say that they, like the graver offenses mentioned above, did not wound the feelings or jar on the nerves of the proprietors of these baseball roughs.  Those proprietors seem to have come to the conclusion that audiences like these ruffianly interludes.”

Like hundreds of predictions before and thousands more to come over the years, The Tribune saw dire consequences for baseball given the current state of the game:

“There was a time when Chicagoans went to see the games of the Chicago club because they had a feeling of proprietorship in that organization.  That day is over.  Men do not go to see games out of local pride, nor do they go to see fine playing.  They go to listen to the language of the slums and to witness the horseplay and brutalities of the players or performers.  When these have lost their attractions professional baseball will disappear. “