Tag Archives: Youngstown Ohio Works

“That Short but Trite remark shaped my Career.”

24 Aug

In 1906, William George “Billy” Evans became the youngest umpire in major league history.  “The Boy Umpire” was just 22-years-old.

A decade later, in a syndicated newspaper article, he told the story of how he, by chance, he began his career as an umpire.  Somewhat altered versions of the story were told over the years, including a version in his obituary; however, this was his earliest, direct telling of the story:

Billy Evans

                                         Billy Evans

“It was one day in 1903 that I journeyed out to the ballpark to cover the game for the paper (The Youngstown Vindicator).  There was a delay when the time arrived to start to the contest.”

Evans said the umpire had become ill and while “a number of ex-players” were at the ballpark, the opposing managers could not agree.

“Finally, my name was suggested and proved acceptable to both managers.  I was informed of their decision but declined with thanks.

“The crowd was impatient.  It became noised about that I was the only man acceptable to both managers, and that since I refused to work the game would probably be called off.”

Evans was determined not to work the game, but said a voice from the stands changed his mind.

“Just when it seemed that I was to escape the ordeal a fan in the bleachers with a decidedly loud voice yelled: ‘What’s the matter—have you lost your nerve?’

“That short but trite remark shaped my career.”

Evans said one of the managers told him he’d earn $15 for the game—later versions said Youngstown Ohio Works Manager Marty Hogan told him what he’s be paid:

“Fifteen dollars for a couple of hours’ work—almost as much as I was getting for carrying the title of sporting editor for an entire week!  It made umpiring appeal to me.  Attired in the very best clothes I had, I took the field for my debut.”

Evans said that first game—a 1-0 victory in thirteen innings for the visiting team from Homestead, Pennsylvania—had “but few close decisions, and I got along famously.”

The regular umpire was still sick the following day.

“I gathered in $15 more.  My bankroll was so large that for the first time in my life I felt that a pocketbook was a necessity instead of a luxury.”

The following day, Evans accepted a permanent position “(A)lthough there were many times when I seriously doubted my wisdom in accepting the position.”

Three years later, Evans made his big league debut in New York.

“When I stepped on the field it seemed that wherever I looked I could see grinning faces.  I imagined that all of them were laughing at me when as a matter of fact I suppose there was scarcely a single person on the field who noticed me.”

Evans, who was harshly criticized early in his career, also wrote about his most dangerous incident on the field.

“I have dodged a million pop bottles…I have had them pass just above my head, between my legs, and, in fact, graze almost every part of my anatomy; but never have I been hit by a missile really intended for me.  I did stop a bottle that was intended for somebody else, and that stop almost resulted in the Great Umpire declaring me out.

“I was working a game at St. Louis, between the Detroit and the St. Louis clubs in the fall of 1907.”

The Tigers were locked in a three-team race  with the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox—entering the series in second place, the Tigers fell to third after losing a doubleheader on September 14.

On September 15 the teams met for another doubleheader.  An overflow crowd filled an area of left field in front of a “swinging gate about six feet long out in the left field fence, about ten feet above the ground…used to facilitate the delivery of bottled goods into the park.”

With the game tied in the fifth inning, St. Louis pitcher Harry Howell was batting:

“(Howell) hit a ball into left field.  As I followed its course I was surprised to see the opening in the fence.  A few minutes before I had occasion to glance in that direction, and had observed nothing wrong.  I afterward learned that the gate had been opened only a few seconds before Howell hit the ball.

“It was my bad luck to have the ball pass squarely through the opening.  When Howell made the hit I had run toward third base in order to be able to follow the ball more closely.  When it passed through the opening I was about fifteen feet back of third base.  Howell paused at second base, and I motioned for him to continue home.”

[…]

“I was at once surrounded by a group of Tigers players all talking at the same time.  There is no fairer man in baseball that Hughey Jennings, the famous leader of the Detroit team, and I told that gentleman that the easiest way to settle the argument was to get rid of the players, and the two of us would thresh it out, which he proceeded to do.”

As Evans and Jennings wrapped up the argument, Evans suddenly slumped to the ground unconscious.

“The next thing I remember was when I came to in the hospital, and inquired what happened.”

What happened was a 17-year-old Browns fan named Hugo Dusenberg threw a pop bottle which struck Evans at the base of his skull.  As Evans lay unconscious on the field, fans attacked Dusenberg.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:

“(Dusenberg) was saved from lynching by the quick action of the players who formed themselves into a guard and held back with bats a mob that swarmed.”

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Fifty policemen fought their way through the mob, rescued the assailant and with the greatest difficulty conducted him out of the grounds.”

Initial reports said Evans’ injury was serious—The Associated Press said his chance of recovery was “slim,” The Washington Post said he was “Probably fatally hurt.”  By the following day, it was reported that Evans would recover, but would likely miss the remainder of the season. Despite the grave predictions, Evans returned to work on October 5, the second to last day of the regular season; he worked the bases, with Jack Sheridan behind the plate, in a game between the Tigers and Brows in St. Louis.

Dusenberg, an American citizen who worked as a clerk at the German consulate in St. Louis, was charged with assault with the intent to kill Evans.  The Republic said in the days following the incident that “Sentiment is for the prosecution to the limit.”

Two months later Dusenberg was released after paying a $100 fine.

“Then the Harder I threw the Harder they hit them”

3 Oct

Walter Newton Justis–often misspelled “Justus” during his career– performed an incredible feat in 1908.  While posting a 25-17 record for the Lancaster Links in the Ohio State League, he pitched four no-hit games between July 19 and September 13.

Walter Justis

Walter Justis

The performance earned him his second shot to make the big leagues.  The first consisted of two relief appearances (8.10 ERA in 3.1 innings) with the Detroit Tigers in 1905 when he was 21.  He said later that he wasn’t ready:

“All I knew was to burn them over.  And the harder they hit them the harder I threw.  Then the Harder I threw the harder they hit them.  Most of the time in the three months that I was there I lugged the big bat bag, and I guess I earned my salary then about as much as at any time I know of.”

Justis’ bizarre behavior often made as big an impression as his pitching.  Roy Castleton was pitching for the Youngstown Ohio Works in 1906 when Justis joined Lancaster (the team was in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League in 1906 and ’07, and joined the Ohio State League in 1908).

Castleton, while playing for the Atlanta Crackers two years later told The Atlanta Constitution  he thought “Rube Waddell and Bugs Raymond, two players well-known for their eccentricities…will have to take off their top pieces,” to Justis.  Castleton was staying in the same hotel as the Lancaster team:

“Early one morning he heard someone raising a disturbance in the hotel hallway and taking a look to see what was doing, he observed pitcher Justis…running down the hallway.

“’At the end of the hall Justice placed a pillow against the wall.  He would get a good start down the hall and after the fashion of a man on the paths would take a running slide at the pillow.  When he arrived at his destination he would hold out his hand as umpires do and yell ‘safe!’  Justis would keep this up for hours at a time playing base runner and umpire out in the hall at daybreak.’

“’Sometimes he would stop the double existence of umps and runner and would (just) be the judge of the play.  Standing over the pillow he would hold out his hand and yell ‘safe’ so loudly that he could be heard a block off.’”

The Constitution also said that Justis was superstitious:

“He never goes into a game without wearing a pair of ladies’ silk hose supported in the usual manner.  Regular baseball stockings would never do for him, as he believes his career as a pitcher would be cut short if he were to wear them in a game.”

He was signed by the St. Louis Browns, and Manager Jimmy McAleer told The St. Louis Globe-Democrat the pitcher’s eccentricities were a positive:

“McAleer says that the reason he signed pitcher Justis of Lancaster was because Justis bears the reputation of being a baseball ‘bug.’  ‘Bugs,’ says McAleer, ‘make good in St. Louis.  We have Waddell, while the Cardinals have ‘Bugs’ Raymond.’”

Justis joined the Browns in Dallas in the spring of 1909.

The Globe-Democrat said after he had a poor outing in an exhibition against the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League:

“Justis pitched two innings for the Browns Saturday and the Houston team got six runs.  Until this bombardment he was tagged for the regular club, and the label hasn’t been removed yet, though slightly loosened.”

And Justis appeared to have made the team when they broke camp in Texas and returned to St, Louis in early April, but The Associated Press reported on April 6:

“Walter Justus, a pitcher recruit of the St. Louis Browns, is confined to his room by a severe nervous collapse, and the nurse in charge says he may be able to leave for his home in Indiana in a few days.  Justis lost his power of speech at the end of a wrestling bout with Arthur Griggs in Sportsman’s Park today.  It is claimed Justus fell to the floor, striking his head, and reopened an old wound received when a boy.”

Justis suffered similar attacks at least four other times during his career; in June of 1907, twice in 1908, and August of 1909.  In July, 1908 after a double-header with the Lima Cigarmakers, The Marion (Ohio) Daily Mirror said “(Justis) suffered a sudden brain stroke akin to apoplexy.  He fell in a dead faint at the close of the second contest.  He was removed to his hotel in an unconscious condition.”   In September, after another attack left Justis hospitalized, The Sporting Life said prematurely “physicians say he will never twirl another game.”   It is likely that he suffered from epilepsy.

Within days of returning to Indiana from St. Louis Justis fully recovered.  The Associated Press said “His recovery is one of the most remarkable in the history of athletes.”  But, despite his recovery, Justis was returned to Lancaster by the Browns, and lost his opportunity to return to a major league team.

He threw another no-hitter for Lancaster in 1909, on May 18 against the Marion Diggers, and went 19-16 for the season.  Justis continued pitching until 1913, finishing with the Covington Blue Sox in the Federal League—where he played with the equally eccentric, enigmatic Fred “Humpy” Badel.

Justis shut out the St. Louis Terriers 4 to 0 on the opening day of the Federal League season, but no complete records remain for the season.  By late September of 1913 he was back home in Greendale, Indiana pitching for a local team.  He remained in Greendale until his death in 1941.

“I Consider him a Weak, Foolish Talker”

13 Nov

Bill Phyle was a no-show.  He failed to appear before Southern Association President William Kavanaugh at the league’s hearing regarding his charges that the end of the 1903 season was fixed.  After the league suspended him he failed to appear in St. Louis to defend his charges in front of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL).  He claimed he was too ill to attend either meeting.

As a result he was expelled from organized baseball in October of 1903.  His appeal was denied in December.

Phyle had very few supporters by the time his fate was settled by the NAPBL, but he still had at least one—kind of:  Milwaukee Brewers Manager “Pongo” Joe Cantillon, the man who sold Phyle’s contract to the Memphis Egyptians.

Joe Cantillon

Joe Cantillon

Cantillon told William A. Phelon of The Chicago Daily News that his former player wasn’t too bright, but that he also wasn’t wrong:

“I consider him a weak, foolish talker, who opened his head when it did not do him any good.  Just the same, Billy Phyle had cause for the charges which he made, and I got it good and straight that there was work done in the Southern league last season which was on the scandalous pattern.”

Cantillon stopped short of saying the season was fixed—but not very far short:

“Understand I do not say, neither does Phyle charge, that any games were sold, or that either manager or club owners were in on any such deals.   Even though there are thousands who say—apparently with mighty good reason—that the league is crooked, always has been crooked since it started, and always will be crooked—I do not accuse anyone of selling out.”

Cantillon then came pretty close to accusing Atlanta of selling out:

“This is the way the thing was done—and if anybody wants to howl I’ll show the goods and produce the names.  When Memphis was playing Atlanta it was a case of anything to beat out Little Rock.  The Atlanta players, knowing that their only chances had gone glimmering, were anxious to help their friend’s to beat Mike Finn’s gang (Little Rock).  There was no sell out and there were no intentional errors—nothing so gross and coarse as that.  But a couple of the best regulars on the Atlanta team were laid off; a couple of substitutes were put in their places; a raw, unseasoned amateur was sent in to pitch, and then, to make assurances doubly sure, the Atlanta catcher told each Memphis batsman just what to expect as he came to the plate.”

Cantillon also said the Birmingham Barons were “trying to help (Little Rock) along,” and:

“Every player in the league was dead wise to the whole situation, but Billy Phyle was the only man who was foolish enough to open his face, and he got soaked proper.”

Cantillon claimed to “positively know” that Phyle had been sick, and that was the only reason he failed to appear to substantiate his claims in front the league and the NAPBL.  Regardless, he said Phyle would have had a difficult time:

“Even if he had been able to attend, what show would he have had, with every manager determined to clear his own skirts and swat Bill for the squeal he made?”

Cantillon challenged anyone in the Southern Association to refute his allegations.

In February of 1904 Cantillon cancelled a scheduled spring tour of the South and Phelon said in The Daily News that Southern Association teams had refused to play against Brewers.

The following month Clark Griffith, who was in the South with the New York Highlanders, told The Atlanta Constitution that Cantillon was “ a nice fellow,” who “had been misquoted and had not authorized the interview, and in fact knew nothing of it until it appeared in the press.”

Cantillon himself never directly denied his statement, but The Constitution, content to keep the focus of Southern wrath on Phyle was happy to give the Milwaukee manager a pass:

“(Griffith’s claim) puts a new light on the question and it is very probable that he has been judged too harshly in the south…Phyle as a baseball issue is now dead.  Any effort to revive him and bring him forward on the stage either as a hero suffering persecution or a sick man worrying his life out by the blacklist hanging over him, will meet with the opposition of every paper in the south.”

Phyle went to Toledo and spent the spring and summer wiring Southern Association President Kavanaugh asking for reinstatement so his contract could be assigned to the Mud Hens.  After his application was rejected in May, and again in July, Phyle joined the independent Youngstown Ohio Works team.  The team played exhibition games that summer with the Brooklyn Superbas and Pittsburgh Pirates—both National League clubs were fined $100 for playing against the blacklisted Phyle.

(Some sources list Phyle as a member of the 1904 Johnstown Johnnies in the independent Pennsylvania League, but several Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Williamsport Gazette and The Scranton  Republican said in August “Phyle turned down a $225 per month offer from Johnstown.”)

Phyle became part of another scandal in 1905.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

Youngstown joined the newly formed Ohio-Pennsylvania League, and needed to submit a roster to the NAPBL for approval.  Phyle’s name did not appear on the submitted list, but he played third base for the club all season, including an exhibition with the Cincinnati Reds on August 31. Youngstown was fined $500 in mid September and ordered to release Phyle.  Cincinnati was fined $100.

Phyle was finally reinstated in February of 1906, after he submitted a letter to the directors of the Southern Association retracting all of his 1903 allegations.

His contract was assigned to the Nashville Volunteers who sold him to the Kansas City Blues in the American Association.  After hitting .295 in 72 games, Phyle got one last trip to the National League.  He was traded to the St. Louis; he hit just .178 for the Cardinals.  He retired after playing three years in the Eastern League with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1907-1909.

More than twenty years later Joe Cantillon was apparently forgiven in the South.  He managed the Little Rock Travelers to back-to-back eighth place finishes in 1926 and 1927.

The rest of Bill Phyle’s story next week.

Three Balls in Play

28 Nov

Bill Speas played 22 seasons in the minor leagues.  At the height of his career he was numbered among the best fielders in the Pacific Coast League, and The Los Angeles Times said he had the best arm in the league.

Bill Speas

Born in Ohio, Speas began his career with Mansfield Giants in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League in 1906; there he was involved in one of the most unusual plays ever in a game against the Youngstown Ohio Works.

Speas, the Giants left fielder, told the story several times over the years.  Harvey Bailey was pitching for Mansfield; Youngstown had runners on first and second:

“The batter hit a long foul to right field, which the right fielder went after, unobserved by the umpire who was behind the pitcher.  He immediately threw another ball to the catcher which bounded over his head…the umps tossed out another ball to Bailey who made a quick heave to the batter, not noticing that his catcher was not in position.”

The batter singled to left field, where Speas picks up the story:

“I got it and threw it into the plate; only it hit the grandstand instead.  In the meantime the fielder had recovered the foul ball (and the catcher had retrieved the other ball) and the shortstop had one, running a man down between second and third, and the second baseman had the other trying to catch a man between first and second…everybody was running around I was almost sick from laughing out there in left field“

The umpire, who caused most of the confusion, and whose name is lost to history, eventually ruled the foul ball and the ball he threw over the catcher’s head out of play.  Youngstown went on to win the game.

Lost Team Photos

19 Nov

Another photo I’ve never seen published before, the 1908 Akron Champs, Ohio-Pennsylvania League Pennant Winners.

Top left to right:

Dick Breen—a minor leaguer for 12 seasons, his career overlapped with another career minor leaguer named Dick Breen—this Breen’s career came to an end in 1917, when while playing for the Reading Pretzels in the New York State League he got in a fight with Wilkes-Barre Barons  manager Jack “Red” Calhoun.  Both men were suspended indefinitely; Breen was released several days later, neither ever appeared in organized ball after that season.

Bill Speas—longtime minor league player and manager, Speas hit.284 in 22 seasons and won three Mississippi Valley League pennants as a player/manager with the Cedar Rapids Bunnies and Dubuque Dubs.

John Brackenridge—appeared in seven games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1904, Brackenridge pitched in the Pacific Coast League from 1909-1913.

Fred “Buff” Ehman—a 6’ 4” (some sources list him an inch shorter) right-handed pitcher, the enigmatic Ehman was 81-36 for Akron from 1906-08, but according to The Akron Beacon Journal, was known for disappearing for days at a time and “sulking.” He had multiple trials with Major League clubs; according The Mansfield (OH) Daily Shield he never stuck with a team because of “his refusal to exert himself.”  Through 11 minor league seasons he won 214 games.

Wilbur Good—spent parts of 11 seasons in the Major Leagues: Joe Tinker said of him, “He is one of the fastest runners in the National League and still one of the poorest base runners.”

Edward Murphy—a light hitting catcher, Murphy played five seasons in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.

Bottom left to right:

Bill Kommer—there is no listing for Kommer on any minor league data base.  He was left-handed pitcher who played for many amateur and semi-pro teams in Ohio during the first decade of the 20th Century;  he was released by Akron in July, there is no record of his statistics for the ’08 season.

William Hille—“Silent Bill” was a shortstop who played until 1917 primarily in the Texas and South Atlantic League.

Jim Callahan—his Major League career consisted of one game with the 1902 New York Giants; played three seasons for Akron (1906-08), was reported to have played in the Western League in 1909, but no records exist.

Matt BroderickThe Reading Eagle called him “one of the best shortstops who ever played on a minor league field,” Broderick played two games in the Major Leagues with Brooklyn in 1903—played minor league and amateur baseball for the remainder of the decade while working for Carpenter Steel Works in Reading, PA.

George Texter—one of the first players to sign with the Federal League in 1913, Texter played for the Indianapolis Hoosiers/New Jersey Pepper during the Fed’s two seasons as a Major League (1913-14).  Managed teams throughout the 1920s in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League (no longer recognized by the National Association, the OPL was nonetheless a strong semi-pro/industrial league during that period).

Cecil Armstrong—a dominant right-handed pitcher, first with the Youngstown Ohio Works team in 1905 during his three seasons with Akron (64-33 from 1906-08), Armstrong spent 1909 and 1910 with New Bedford Whalers in the New England League. Armstrong retired to Akron after the 1910 season.