Posts Tagged ‘Ban Johnson’

1908: Henry Clay Pulliam

September 20, 2018

Henry C. Pullliam

One of the more important, but most overlooked, results of the 1908 “Merkle Boner” was what happened off the field in its aftermath. It forever changed, and some argued shortened, the life of National League President Henry Clay Pulliam.

The future National League President was born in Kentucky in 1869, son of a tobacco farmer and named for one of the state’s most famous statesmen. He graduated from law school at the University of Virginia, became a journalist at the Louisville, Kentucky Commercial. Interested in politics, he ran successfully for the Kentucky state assembly and served a term. He came to the attention of Hall of Fame owner Barney Dreyfuss, who owned the Louisville Colonels of the American Association (a Major League at the time). Dreyfuss named him, first, team secretary (a position that would evolve into today’s General Manager), and later club President. While at Louisville, Pulliam signed future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner to his first major league contract.

When the National League contracted for the 1900 season, Dreyfuss and Pulliam moved their headquarters to Pittsburgh (Dreyfuss owned both Louisville and Pittsburgh under the “syndicate” rules of the day), taking with them Louisville’s primary players, including Wagner. It began the turn of the 20th Century Pirates dynasty that managed to get to the first World Series.

But by the first World Series, Pulliam was no longer with the team. He was well liked, considered knowledgeable about the sport, easy to get along with, and quite frankly a number of owners thought he could be easily manipulated. That got him elected to the presidency of the NL in 1902.

His first job was to end the “war” with the fledgling American League. Although Cincinnati owner Gerry Herrmann was primarily responsible for proposing the terms of the “National Agreement” that ended the war, and Dreyfuss was the first proponent of the World Series, Pulliam was instrumental in seeing both implemented. He got along with AL President Ban Johnson (almost no one else did) and was able to ease Johnson’s acceptance of the National Agreement. As NL President he, along with Johnson and Herrmann, was part of the trinity that ran Major League Baseball for the next several years.

But all this led him into conflict with two men of great importance to baseball: Andrew Freedman, owner of the Giants, and the Giants manager John McGraw. Both men argued that Pulliam’s decisions on disputed issues always favored the Pittsburgh position. After an initial unanimous election as NL President, Pulliam’s annual reelection was by a 7-1 margin with New York casting the no vote (later Cincinnati joined New York to make it 6-2). This continued even after Freedman left the Giants and John T. Brush took over as New York team owner.

Always considered “high-strung” Pulliam began suffering health problems by 1906. Some sources indicate he was on the verge of a “nervous breakdown” from the strain of his job. Then came the Merkle Boner (see the post just below this one) and he was thrust into the center of a raging fight between the Giants and almost everyone else. By 1908 John T. Brush had taken control of the Giants and he was furious with both umpire Hank O’Day, who’d ruled the Merkle game a tie, and Pulliam for upholding the decision. For the next year Brush relentlessly hounded Pulliam calling him a cheat in the pay of the Cubs and other things that are not acceptable for a family oriented site like this.

John T. Brush

All of that got to Pulliam and he suffered something like a breakdown in late 1908. He took a leave of absence and didn’t return to NL headquarters until after the 1909 season began. Apparently unable to withstand the pressures of his job, he went to his apartment and shot himself on 28 July 1909. He died the next day still in his apartment. He is buried in Kentucky. John Heydler, his assistant took over the job as NL President.

Pulliam is in many ways a tragic figure. He was good at his job, apparently honest and well liked. But he was unable to withstand the constant strain of the position. It’s much too much to say that Brush and the Giants killed him, but their constant abuse certainly helped lead to the depression that ultimately led to his demise.

Pulliam’s final resting place (from Find a Grave)

 

Advertisements

MIBGs

March 29, 2018

The Judge

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were watching Ken Burns’ documentary on Jackie Robinson. When we were done she turned to me and the following conversation (more or less) took place:

She: Is he the most important player ever?

Me: Let me think about it.

Ultimately all that led me to thoughts about the Most Important Baseball Guys. And sorry, ladies, but it is all guys, Effa Manley, Helena Robeson, and the All-American Girls baseball ladies not withstanding (not to mention Marge Schott). So I put together, just for my wife, my list of the 10 MIBGs and you know you’re about to be let in on it, don’t you?

First, the usual caveats. This is a list of the MOST IMPORTANT baseball people, not the BEST PLAYERS. There is a difference. I’m looking here for people whose contribution is so important that it cannot be overlooked when detailing the history of the game. Also, I’ve done something like this before years back and I’m cleaning up that list because it included groups (like the Knickerbockers or the Atlantic) and that’s not what I’m looking for. As we really don’t know who “invented” baseball, the origins guy, whoever he is, can’t be on this list and the earliest teams are not a substitute for him.

So here’s my list. I reserve the right to declare, in a week or two, that it is utterly stupid and that this post doesn’t really exist.

Here’s my list of the 10 MIBGs in baseball history. First a list of seven non-playing contributors (in alphabetical order):

1. Ed Barrow invented the Yankees. OK, I know Colonel Ruppert owned the team and coined the name, but when Ruppert brought Barrow to the Yanks, he changed the fortunes of the team. As the team secretary (we’d call him the general manager today), Barrow was a knowledgeable baseball man who’d been instrumental in making the Red Sox a power (he’d managed the 1918 team to World Series title). Barrow went out and collected a number of players like Babe Ruth, Joe Dugan, and added new guys like Lou Gehrig and created a juggernaut that, by the time Barrow retired in 1946 his charges had won 14 pennants and 10 World Series’.

2. Do you like baseball statistics? Do you study them and quote them and use them to bolster your arguments? Then you owe a great debt to Henry Chadwick. A 19th Century sportswriter, Chadwick was the first to systematize baseball statistics. He invented the box score and came up with a number of other statistics that are still in use. New stats may have made some of Chadwick’s work obsolescent, but the guys who came up with them owe a debt to Chadwick.

3. William Hulbert invented the modern league system in 1876 when he founded the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (baseball was two words in 1876). The key word here is “Clubs.” Hulbert’s system put the clubs, not the players, in charge of the league. It created labor problems, it gave us owners who were first-rate jerks (including Hulbert himself), but it worked. It stabilized professional baseball and served as the model for all American team sport leagues (whatever sport) created since.

4. Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson founded the American League. After a quarter century of leagues coming and going, ultimately destroyed or absorbed by the National League, Johnson created a league that was stable enough to challenge the NL for players and gate receipts. After a short “baseball war,” the American League emerged as the equal and rival of the more established league, an equality and rivalry that remain today.

5. Kennesaw Mountain Landis was the first commissioner of baseball and, arguably the most powerful person in the history of the game. Coming into office with a lifetime contract he was able to clean up the sport in the wake of the Black Sox Scandal and to rule the game with an iron fist. He kept Branch Rickey from cornering the market for new players by opening up the farm system for other teams. That made it possible for teams to be more competitive. At the same time he was a staunch segregationist and almost single-handedly kept baseball from integrating until after his death (I never said these were all nice, enlightened guys).

6. If you are opposed to wage slavery and think people ought to be paid what they’re worth and what the market will bear, you have to tip your ball cap to Marvin Miller. Head of the Player’s Union, Miller revolutionized baseball by destroying the reserve clause (admittedly he had help) and opening up salaries. This led to more movement of players and thus more chances for teams to compete as the best players were no longer locked up forever.

7. Twice Wesley Branch Rickey revolutionized the game. A mediocre catcher and manager, he became team secretary for the St. Louis Browns in 1913, moved to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1919 and invented the farm system. This may have been deadly to a free minor league system, but it bound players to an organization in such a way that the best players were able to hone their skills in a team system, that emphasized working together, melding groups of players into a unit that knew each other and to at least some extent learned how to play together. It assured Major League teams of a constant supply of quality players (provided the scouts, owners, and executives knew what they were doing). In 1942 he moved to Brooklyn where he again revolutionized the game by integrating the Major Leagues in 1947. This action helped truly nationalize the game and was a major step in the civil rights movement of the 1940s through the 1960s.

And now two transcendent players:

8. Jack Roosevelt Robinson was not the first black man to play in the Major Leagues. There is evidence that William Edward White who played one game with Providence in 1879 was black. Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday, both of which played for Toledo (a big league club) in 1884 certainly were black. But none of them stuck. All were out of the major leagues within a year and the so-call “Gentlemen’s Agreement” re-segregated baseball until 1947, when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was an excellent player, a leader, and a person who could not be ignored as either a man or a player. His arrival opened up the game for an entire group of players who had been excluded for 60 years.

9. George Herman “Babe” Ruth revolutionized the game by introducing power as a central element of baseball. His feats were legendary, some were even true, but he became a household name unlike any other in the game and arguably in American sport. “Ruthian” still describes a larger than life feat in sports. He didn’t save baseball in the early 1920s (Landis did), but he made it popular again and became the centerpiece of the Yankees Dynasty that has been at the heart of baseball since 1921.

All of which brings me to the tenth guy. I thought about a lot of people, Al Spalding and Happy Chandler, Harry Wright, John Montgomery Ward, and Vin Scully, William Rufus Wheaton and Duncan Curry, Daniel Adams and Jim Creighton. All are important in American baseball history and I sort of hate to leave any of them off, but I’ve only got one place left and it belongs to

10. Andrew “Rube” Foster. Foster was an excellent pitcher in the rough and tumble black leagues of the early 20th century. By 1904 he was in Philadelphia and moved in 1907 to Chicago. Still a terrific pitcher, he became a manager and team owner of the American Giants. In 1920 he moved to form the first stable black league, the Negro National League. It was later joined by the Eastern Colored League. These leagues, led by Foster’s NNL, gave form and order to much of black baseball and made it possible for players to coalesce around specific teams. There was still a lot of barnstorming and player movement, but order was coming to what had been an essentially disorganized group. It made it possible for the black press to more easily highlight the black players and it popularized the game. Foster was confined to a mental institution in 1926 and died in 1930. The Great Depression killed the NNL, but the idea remained and a new NNL was formed in the 1930s. It joined the Negro American League in creating a stable playing system for black baseball until the Major Leagues were willing to integrate.

So that’s my list and my present to you on opening day. Feel free to disagree (I know many of you will). Now “Play Ball.”

 

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1928

June 2, 2016

Time again for a look at the newest inductees to My Own Little Hall of Fame. This time, it’s the class of 1928, meaning there are only six more classes to go.

Frank Baker

Frank Baker

John Franklin “Home Run” Baker was a star third baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Yankees. With the Athletics he helped power the team to four pennants and three World Series titles. Later he aided the Yankees to consecutive pennants in 1921 and 1922. During his career he led the American League in home runs three times and in RBIs twice.

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

Taking control of the Western League, Byron Bancroft Johnson renamed it the American League and made it the second active Major League in 1901. He remained President of the American League until his retirement and was, until 1920, a key member of the National Commission which presided over Major League Baseball.

And of course there are comments:

1. I have trouble understanding why the true Hall of Fame took so long to induct Frank Baker. He was, arguably the best third baseman to play in the Major Leagues prior to Eddie Mathews. I suppose some might argue for Deacon White or Jimmy Collins, but Baker would have to be in the conversation. I put him in the first chance I got.

2. Ban Johnson, like Baker, got in the first chance I had. Unlike Baker, a lot of people hated Johnson. He was arrogant, abrasive, self-centered, and a loudmouth. In other words he was a lot like the people who owned the teams. But in forming the American League, he gave baseball an alternative to the National League. He led it successfully through the league war that ended in 1903 with the NL accepting the AL as an equal. Then with the formation of the National Commission he became in some ways the de facto ruler of baseball. With the NL President in flux with some frequency, Johnson developed a clout all out of proportion to his position. By 1920, even without the Black Sox scandal, he was reaching a point where the owners were beginning to rebel at his authority. Despite that, it does seem likely that when he retired he’d be given a quick ticket to any baseball Hall of Fame existing in the era.

3. The everyday players available for 1929 include: Jack Barry, Donie Bush, Cupid Childs, Harry Davis, Mike Donlan, Jack Doyle, Art Fletcher, Ed Foster, Bill Lange, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, Clyde Milan, Hardy Richardson, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Burt Shotton, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, Joe Tinker, George Van Haltren, Tillie Walker. That’s 23 and with a limit of 20 on the ballot, three have to be elected or go off the ballot. Look for more losses than elections.

4. The everyday pitchers for 1929 include: Jim Bagby, Bob Carruthers, Jack Chesbro, Dave Foutz, Brickyard Kennedy, Sam Leever, Tony Mullane, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Fred Toney, Doc White, Joe Wood. That’s 12 and with a limit of 10 on the ballot, two have to be elected or go off the ballot. Again, look for more losses than elections.

5. And the contributors available for 1929 include: umps–Bob Emslie, Tim Hurst, Hank O’Day; owners–Charles Ebbets, August Herrmann, Connie Mack, Ben Shibe; pioneers–Lip Pike, William R. Wheaton; Executives–Henry C. Pulliam (NL President); managers–George Stallings; Negro Leaguers–Home Run Johnson, Spottswood Poles. That’s 13 and with a limit of 10 on the ballot, three have to be elected or go off the ballot. This time you may see some additions to the Hall.

6. I’m still wrestling with how to evaluate umpires. I’m beginning to look most closely at one particular ump. He was well regarded in his day, had a long career, and worked in baseball in other aspects of the game before becoming an umpire. I’m still not sure he’s going to make a 1920s-1930s Hall of Fame, but he’s beginning to stand out from the pack of umps when I look for information on umpires. Maybe later; maybe not.

The Ad Man

April 19, 2016
Albert D. Lasker

Albert D. Lasker

I’m going to interrupt my set on the 1991 World Series to stick this post in. Found this information and wanted to share it now. Back to the ’91 Series in a short while.

Born in Freiburg, Germany in 1880 (his parents were visiting Germany), Albert Davis Lasker grew up in Galveston, Texas, the son of a banker. After trying his hand at journalism and in politics, he moved to Chicago to work in advertising. He became in many ways the father of modern advertising.

Working for Lord and Thomas he began to create ad campaigns that were both revolutionary and modern. His first campaign was for a hearing aid company and featured the following newspaper ad:

Lasker's Wilson's Ear Drums ad

Lasker’s Wilson’s Ear Drums ad

It’s nothing special today, but in 1899 it was revolutionary.

He continued with successful ad campaigns until 1903 when he became a partner. By 1912 (aged 32) he owned the firm. And he continued making successful ad campaign after ad campaign. He made Lucky Strike America’s number one cigarette. He made Palmolive soap a household necessity, He made feminine hygiene products something that could be discretely advertised. And of course he made a lot of money. In 1908 he took over the Sunkist Growers account and made a small fruit company into a national institution. And for good or ill he conceived the idea of making a short (15 minute) continuing radio drama that aired daily and sponsored by a soap company. It became a staple of radio and then moved to television. We call them “soap operas.”

In 1920 he became, along with Will Hays (later of the Hollywood Hays Commission), an advisor to Republican Presidential candidate Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding (there seems to be no truth to the idea he invented the saying “A return to normalcy”), When Harding won, he appointed Lasker to the United States Shipping Board, a position he held for two years (resigning on his own and not being involved in any of the Harding Administration scandals). He went back to advertising, remained President of Lord and Thomas, and retired in 1942. He became a major philanthropist, giving money especially to the National Institutes of Health. He also founded the Lasker Awards, which recognize individuals who make significant contributions to science.

“OK, he sounds like a gem of a guy, but what,” you ask, “does he have to do with our favorite sport?” Glad you asked.

Lasker made a lot of money and he was a baseball fan. In 1916 (one hundred years ago this season), he bought an interest in the Chicago Cubs. He held that interest to 1925 when he sold his part of the Cubs (he was the owner with the second most stock) to William Wrigley, Jr. thus beginning the Wrigley family association with the Cubs. But he’s most important for an idea he had that, although subsequently changed, revolutionized baseball.

In 1920 baseball was in trouble. The Black Sox scandal was exploding and baseball seemed unable to figure out how to handle it. The National Commission, the body that ran baseball, was short a member, August Herrmann having just resigned. Traditionally, the Commission consisted of the National League President (John Heydler in 1920), the American League President (Ban Johnson in 1920) and the owner of one of the teams (Herrmann owned the Reds). With or without Herrmann, the Commission was unable to deal with the scandal because of the personal and financial interest of all the members and replacing Herrmann with another owner merely kept the problem going. Lasker came up with a plan (cleverly called “The Lasker Plan”) for a new National Commission. This Commission would retain the two league Presidents, but the third member would be an outsider with no ties to Major League Baseball. In this circumstance it became obvious that this Commission member (a “Commissioner”) would, in many cases, be the deciding vote in running baseball and the Commission would have “unreviewable authority” to run baseball, meaning the owners couldn’t stage a vote and overrule the Commission. They didn’t adopt the entire plan, but Major League Baseball, for the first time, seems to have recognized the advantage of having a non-owner and non-league man run the show. Ultimately, they dumped the two league Presidents (and a later change that would have created a board of three independent commissioners) and decided on a single commissioner. Lasker’s first choice for that job was General John J. Pershing, who didn’t want it. His second choice was a Chicago federal judge named Kennesaw Mountain Landis (In fairness, a number of owners also wanted Landis).

So the modern baseball Commissioner system comes from an idea by a non-traditional baseball man. Lasker is, in a sort of sidelong way, responsible for the Commissioner. Lasker died in 1952, more famous for his advertising genius than for his role in creating the Commissioner of Baseball. He is buried in the family mausoleum in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Lasker mausoleum from Find a Grave

Lasker mausoleum from Find a Grave

The Peacemaker

June 5, 2015
August Hermann in 1905

August Hermann in 1905

I want to take the time to introduce you to one of the most important men ever involved in baseball. His name was August Hermann; he owned the Cincinnati Reds. He also brought together the warring sides in 1903 and produced the peace that allowed for the two Major Leagues to work together, to sanction a postseason set of games, and to work out their contract issues. Although Barney Dreyfuss invented the World Series, Hermann is the man who made it annual.

August Hermann was born in 1859 in Cincinnati. He worked a series of odd jobs eventually going into printing. He began the Hamilton County Law Bulletin which got him into politics. He served as court clerk, a member of the Cincinnati school board, and chairman of the city Water Commission. All that made him both well-known and reasonably wealthy. He was also a baseball fan.

In 1902 he joined three other men in purchasing the Reds. He got the job of actually running the team. And it’s here that he began to make his mark on the sport. The Reds were in a dispute with the American League about who owned the rights to future Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Crawford. It was one small problem in a host of difficulties that were tearing up the Major Leagues in 1902. The newly formed American League was putting teams in towns that were National League cities, they were raiding NL rosters for the best quality players, and they were scheduling games opposite NL games that cut into profits for the existing league.

Hermann decided all this was destroying the sport and, as importantly, the profits available from it. So he began his tenure as owner of the Reds by giving up all claim to Crawford. That got the attention of AL President Ban Johnson. He and Hermann knew each other from Johnson’s days as a Cincinnati sports reporter, but were only casual acquaintances. Nevertheless, Johnson determined that he might have an ally in the NL and began corresponding with Hermann. The two men met, talked over the issues pressing baseball, and Hermann then agreed to host a meeting between Johnson, some of his allies, and the NL leadership.

The result was the National Agreement of 10 January 1903. The agreement established a “National Commission” to govern the sport and work out the problems that were currently creating difficulties. Both league presidents were members, but a third member was needed to break any ties. Johnson nominated Hermann as both a member and the President of the Commission and he was elected easily. For the next several years August Hermann, as both the President and the tie breaker on the Commission, was one of the single most significant people in baseball. He held the position into 1920.

One of his first moves was to support Barney Dreyfuss, Pittsburgh owner, in establishing a postseason series of games to be called the World Series between the NL and the AL. His support was critical for renewing the Series after it wasn’t played in 1904. He is sometimes known as “the father of the World Series.” Although Dreyfuss should probably be given more credit than Hermann for inventing the Series, Hermann was instrumental in making sure it continued.

There’s a lot more on Hermann. But I want this to concentrate on his role in establishing peace between the leagues and supporting the creation of a postseason series. He is one of the most overlooked of all the early owners and should be, in my opinion, seriously considered for the Hall of Fame.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About John T. Brush

December 27, 2014
John T. Brush

John T. Brush

1. John Tomlinson Brush was born in Clintonville, NY on 15 June 1845.

2. He served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

3. In 1875 he opened a department store in Indianapolis. It’s main item was clothing.

4. In 1887 he became part owner of the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the National League. He wasn’t particularly a baseball fan, but he saw the open spaces on the outfield fences as a way to advertise he store.

5. In 1889 he came up with a plan to categorize players in five categories. Players in the highest category (Class A) would be paid $2500 with players in class B would receive $2250, class C would receive $2000, class D would get $1750 and class E would receive $1500 for a yearly salary. This was supposed to stop high salaries and, because salaries were uniform, stop players from trying to change teams. As a result, John Montgomery Ward formed the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players.

6. In 1890 Brush became part owner of the New York Giants (Indianapolis was dropped  from the NL). In 1891 he became owner of Cincinnati. In Cincinnati he crossed paths with Ban Johnson, a local reporter. The two men hated each other so much that Brush nominated Johnson to head the Western League in 1894 just to get Johnson out-of-town.

7. In 1901 he proposed the NL become the National League Base Ball Trust. The trust would assign players to team, determine umpires and managers, and make all teams be owned by the trust. In the annual league meeting the Trust was defeated (although it gained four votes).

8. In 1902 Brush began running the Giants and in 1903 took over control of the team. Still owner of the Reds and also owner of the Baltimore Orioles of the American League (now the Yankees), he pulled all his good players from the Reds and Orioles and formed the Giants team that would win pennants in 1904, 1905, 1911, and 1912. Among other things, he brought John McGraw to New York. BTW “syndicate baseball” (owning interest in 2 or more teams), was only outlawed in 1910.

9. In 1904 he refused to let his pennant winning Giants play the American League’s Boston team in a second World Series. Ban Johnson was President of the AL and Brush was still angry over the 1890s conflict with Johnson.

10. In 1908 his team ended up on the wrong side of the Merkle Boner game. When NL President Henry Clay Pulliam ruled the game had to be replayed (and NY lost) Brush attacked Pulliam mercilessly. Some sources contend Brush’s attacks were a major factor in Pulliam’s 1909 suicide.

11. In 1912 he was injured in an automobile accident. In November 1912, while on the way to recuperate in California, Brush died on a train while passing through Missouri.

12. He has never received much support for the Hall of Fame.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Dummy Hoy

June 18, 2014
Dummy Hoy

Dummy Hoy

1. William Hoy was born in Ohio in 1862.

2. He contracted meningitis at age three. He lost his hearing and his speech. By trade he became a shoemaker. By preference, a ballplayer.

3. After a number of teams turned him down because of his “handicap”, he signed with Oshkosh (Wisconsin) in 1886. He stayed there through 1887.

4. The Washington Nationals (not the current team) signed him in 1888 to play the outfield. By this point the “Dummy” nickname was already attached to him. It’s hard to tell if he liked it or not, but he accepted and tolerated it. By this point he was so well-known by the nickname that he would insist fans call him by it rather than his given name. That season he led the National League in stolen bases.

5. In 1889 playing centerfield he threw out three runners at home in one game. It was a record that has been tied but not broken.

6. In 1890 he joined the Player’s League team in Buffalo. After the failure of the league, he went to St. Louis in the American Association where he led the league in walks.

7. He spent the 1890s playing with Washington, Cincinnati, and Louisville. While with the latter team, he played with Honus Wagner and roomed with Tommy Leach.

8. In 1900 he moved to the Western League (minor league) team in Chicago where he played one season. The next year Ban Johnson renamed the Western League the American League and began competing with the National League as a Major League. Hoy was the White Stockings (now White Sox) original right fielder. The Sox won the pennant. It was Hoy’s only championship.

9. His last big league season was 1902. He was back at Cincinnati in the NL and on 16 May came to bat against Dummy Taylor, the first meeting between the two premier mute players of the era. Hoy got a single.

10. By 1903 he was 41 and at the end of the line. He played for Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League that season and retired.

11. For his career, his triple slash line is .288/.386/.374/.760 with an OPS+ of 110. He had 2048 hits, scored 1429 runs, had 725 RBIs, 248 doubles, 40 home runs, walked 1006 times, struck out 345, and stole 596 bases (most of them of the pre-1897 variety). His WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 32.5.

12. In 1961 he threw out the first pitch in game three of the World Series (in Cincinnati). He was 99 at the time and the oldest living Major League player. He died later that year. The baseball field at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC is named for him.

13. Dummy Hoy is supposed to be the man for whom umpires developed the hand signals for balls and strikes. There is actually no contemporary evidence this is true.

The International Man of Mystery

March 25, 2014
Jack Quinn while with Brooklyn

Jack Quinn while with Brooklyn

Some really good players have short, intense careers. Others have long careers that were never sterling. Then there’s Jack Quinn, who had a long career with sterling moments and a lot of questions about his initial years.

Jack Quinn was born somewhere under some name and that’s about all historians can agree upon. A number of sites have him born in Stevfurov, Austria (now Slovakia). Others have him born in Jeanesville, Pennsylvania or Mahoney City, Pa. Another bunch show his birthplace as Wilkes Barre, Pa. Still others pick St. Clair, Pennsylvania. The year varies between 1883 and 1885. Finally, there’s the question of his name. He shows up as Jan Pajkos, as John Quinn Picas, and as John Picas Quinn. His Wikipedia page picks the Slovakia site and 1883 as does Baseball Reference.com. His SABR biography accepts Slovakia and 1883 but chances his birthdate from 1 July to 5 July. It also indicates that the first four editions of Baseball Encyclopedia give four difference places and four different dates. So I’ll start by saying I have no idea when or where he was born, but 1883 in Slovakia seems to be the building consensus, so it works for me. For what it’s worth, he was elected, in 2006, to the Polish-American Hall of Fame, which might do a job on “Quinn” as his original last name, but who knows.

Where ever he was born and when ever, he came out of the Pennsylvania coal country a pitcher on local semi-pro teams. By 1907 he was in the minors as a spit-balling pitcher with good control, an excellent spitter, and a good enough fastball to pick up interest among the big league scouts. In 1909 he made his debut with the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees), winning the game and going 9-5 for the season. The next year he was 18-12, then fell off for the 1911 and 1912 seasons. He spent 1913 with the Braves then went to the Federal League for both 1914 and 1915. With the Baltimore Terrapins he went 26-14 and then 9-22, the 22 leading the Feds in losses for 1915.

With the folding of the Federal League, Quinn went back to the minors for 1916 and 1917. In 1918 he went back to the Majors, settling in with the White Sox where he went 5-1 over six games. But there was a question as to who retained his rights. New York claimed that although Quinn pitched for the Federal League, his American League rights were retained by his last “real Major League” team, them. League President Ban Johnson agreed and Quinn went back to the Yankees for 1919. He remained there though 1921. He did well in 1919 and 1920, but by 1922 he was 37 (more or less) and spent much of that season in the bullpen. He got into the 1921 World Series, taking the loss in relief in-game three. After the Series he was traded to the Red Sox for a couple of younger arms.

He stayed with Boston into 1925, serving about equal time as a starter and a reliever. He went 45-54 with 14 saves. Midway through the season he was sold to the Athletics for the waiver price and remained in Philadelphia through 1930. He was now 41 (give or take). He had good years with the A’s going 18-7 in 1928 at age 45 (again more or less). In 1929 he got into his second World Series, starting game four. He was 46 (we think), the oldest man to start a World Series game. He was shelled, but the A’s won when the team  scored 10 runs in the seventh inning to pull out a 10-8 victory. He spent 1930 mostly as a reliever and  pitched only two innings in Philly’s World Series victory. Now at 47 (I guess)  he became the oldest man to ever relieve in a World Series game. For what it’s worth, Jim Kaat was 43 when he relieved in the 1982 World Series. Some believe that, because Quinn’s age is in dispute, he (Kaat) is the oldest man to pitch in a World Series.

Released at the end of the Series, Quinn caught on with the Dodgers in 1931. He stayed two years working almost entirely as a reliever (he started one game). He led the National League in saves in both 1931 and 1932 (as the save statistic wasn’t invented until much later, he never knew that). His 1931 total of 15 was an NL record that lasted until 1948. He was released after the 1932 season and signed with Cincinnati. He got into 14 games then was let go. He was 49 (give or take) and through. At his retirement, he had 57 saves, second to Firpo Marberry. He pitched a little in the minors as late as 1935. He was (depending on who you believe) 51. He died in April 1946.

Over a career lasting 23 years (at least we agree on the number of years he pitched) Quinn went 247-218 (a .531 winning percentage), struck out 1329, walked 860, gave up 4238 hits and 1837 runs in 3920 innings pitched. His ERA is an unexceptional 3.29, but his ERA+ is 114. In World Series play he is 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA. As a hitter, his average is all of a buck-84, but he did have eight home runs and 113 RBIs. His Baseball Reference.com version of pitching WAR is 59.

Quinn is one of the more unusual players ever. Not only did he pitch for 23 years, a major feat in itself, he was never a particularly great pitcher. In an era when wins were the most important statistic, he had 20 once (26 in 1914) and that in a marginal upstart league. He had 18 wins twice (eight years apart) and eight years with a losing record (although one of those years he went 0-1). Does that sound like a man who would have a 23 year career? He was, however, a pretty fair reliever (just over half his games pitched are relief appearances), but that wasn’t the same as it is today in the age of the “closer”. Is he someone the Hall of Fame has overlooked? Not in my opinion, but I supposed someone could make a case for him.

 

Baseball’s VIPs

January 16, 2014
Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

A couple of posts back, the one on Judge Landis, I made the comment that he was one of the most important people ever in MLB. Well, that led some of my friends to send me emails asking who I considered the 10 most important people ever in the sport. As you know, I’m sort of a glutton for sticking my foot squarely into my mouth, so I decided to publicly respond to them.

First, let me be clear that “most important” has nothing to do with “best player”. Almost all of these people listed below and little or no actual playing time in the big leagues. So don’t be asking, “Where’s Gehrig?” or “Where’s Wagner?” or about other players. They may be terrific players but they aren’t as important in the grand scheme of things as the people I’m about to mention. As you read through the list, you’ll realize I’m big into origins.

Here are my 10 most important listed in alphabetical order:

1. Mel Allen–I suppose any announcer could have gone in here except for a couple of  points. Most of us get our games through the filter of someone in a booth at the stadium keeping us up on what’s going on, so a play-by-play man is not an unreasonable choice for a position on this list. I pick Allen for two specific reasons. First, he announced for the Yankees for years and thus became the primary voice many people heard. Second, when TV decided to add a second camera to games, Allen is supposed to be the guy who suggested adding the second camera in center field, thus showing the pitcher throwing to the batter in something like close up (the previous camera angle was high up behind home plate). It’s become the single most common angle from which most people see a game on television.

2. Alexander Cartwright–Cartwright is here to represent an entire group of people, the pioneers who invented the game as we know it. Somebody had to start putting the rules of the game into a form that became acceptable. It is possible that people like Duncan Curry or Daniel Adams, or William Wheaton should be here in his place. Cartwright certainly did not invent baseball, but was apparently prominent in one of the many attempts to codify the game. As the Hall of Fame has placed him in its midst, he’ll do for this spot, but I’m not certain he’s the best candidate.

3. Henry Chadwick–You a stat guy? Care about the statistics of the game? Well, Chadwick invented the box score and a number of the statistics we still use to determine the quality of play on the diamond. As the first prominent sports reporter his articles helped to popularize the game. Put those two things together and you have someone who belongs on this list.

4. William Hulbert–I don’t like Hulbert. As a human being he is crass, bigoted, vain, parsimonious. But he founded the National League and thus came up with a way to make baseball profitable enough for people to want to become owners and thus establish a stable (sort of) league that flourishes today.

5. Ban Johnson–Founder and first President of the American League. Was de facto lord of baseball until the arrival of the man below.

6. Kennesaw M. Landis–First and most powerful Baseball Commissioner. Ran baseball with an iron fist. Cleaned up the game after the Black Sox nearly wrecked it. He opposed integration, but supported the more lively ball and the farm system (and besides isn’t he what a Commissioner ought to look like?)

7. Marvin Miller–the Lincoln of MLB. When he took over the Player’s Association it was a joke. When he left the union it was a co-partner with the clubs. Whether you like free agency or not, Miller figured out how to free the players from baseball slavery and change the economics and the dynamics of the game. Of all the people on this list, he’s the only one not in the Hall of Fame (Allen is on the writers plaque).

8. Branch Rickey–changed the game twice. He invented both the farm system and brought integration to MLB. He is  arguably the most influential baseball man of the 20th Century.

9. Jackie Robinson–In 1884 Toledo had a black ballplayer. That lasted one year. John McGraw and others had tried to integrate the game and had failed. With Robinson baseball truly does become a game for all Americans.

10. Babe Ruth–in a game in trouble, Ruth takes over and changes forever the way it is played. With the emphasis on the home run over bunting and base stealing we get the game as it’s been played (plus or minus a rule or two) since 1920.

And Honorable Mention to people like John Montgomery Ward (first union), Fleet Walker (who was the first black player), Jim Creighton (apparently the first professional), Lip Pike (who made professionalism acceptable), Harry Wright (who made the modern manager’s job what it is today), Bill Veeck (who made the ballpark experience so much fun), and a host of others, some of which you may decide should be in the list of 10.

The Emporer Nails It

January 24, 2013
Arthur Soden

Arthur Soden

One thing I’ve learned over a lifetime is that there is great truth to the old saw “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Consider this little gem from De Pretiis, the edict on prices promulgated by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 301 of the common era:

“The only desire of these uncontrolled madmen is to have no thought for the common welfare, for with them the immoderate and unscrupulous is almost a creed.”

Diocletian would have understood Arthur Soden.

Soden was born in Massachusetts in 1843.  He had a job in pharmaceutical supplies when the American Civil War broke out. He was drafted into the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry in 1863, rising, because of his experience with pharmaceuticals, to hospital steward in 1864.

Out of the army, Soden ran a roofing company and became a baseball fan. In 1874, a group of ball players, joined by several fans, toured Britain giving exhibitions. Soden was one of the fans and actually played in one game (This is not the more famous Spaulding tour that went around the world). Back home, Soden bought three shares in the Boston National League club (now the Atlanta Braves) for a total of $45 (or $15 a share–try that today).  With the team floundering after the 1876 season, Soden, joined by William Conant (a hoop skirt maker) and J.B. Billings (who ran a shoe factory), bought the team. Soden became team President with the other two becoming secretary and treasurer.

Initially the team did well, picking up pennants in 1877 and 1878, but problems were developing. To put it as bluntly as possible, Soden made misers look good. He rented rundown hotels for the teams on away trips, cut meal money, used the players as a grounds crew. The players were required to launder their uniforms at their expense, wives were charged full price to watch their husbands play, and the team offered incentives (I’ve been unable to find exactly what, but it must have been something odd.) if a player could make his shoelaces last two years. Then he cut salaries, going first for future Hall of Fame shortstop George Wright. That brought complaints from both team members and the shortstop’s brother, manager Harry Wright. The upshot of it all was that Harry Wright was fired and the team began to flounder.

Here’s a list I found for the period 1875-1880: clubhouse upkeep dropped from $$1626 to $551 per year; travel expenses went from $4000 a season to $2813 a year (reference is made here to the rundown hotels); and payroll dropped 20% to an average of $1377 per player. Meanwhile Soden and his two cronies were making salaries of $2500 a year. Unfortunately for the players, the penny-pinching worked. The team was turning a profit by 1880 and to be absolutely honest, Soden cared only about the profit margin. He admitted on more than one occasion he was in it for profits, not for love of the game.

This sort of attitude caught the attention of another team leader that Diocletian would have understood, National League President William Hulbert. Soden became one of Hulbert’s most trust advisors (birds of a feather, you see) and when Hulbert died in 1882 Soden was chosen interim President (he served for only a few months). While President he managed to return baseball to both New York and Philadlephia, each of which was banned under Hulbert’s Presidency (another story for another time).

Back running the Boston franchise, Soden was one of the leaders in attempting to break the first player’s union in 1890, an organization his actions had done much to help form. For one of the few times in his life he was generous, loaning money to other teams (at interest) to help them weather the Player’s League storm. He was instrumental in forming the reserve rule and ruthless in dealing with players who rocked the boat.

He also had the endearing habit of ignoring his players. He felt that owners and players were of decidedly different social class and shouldn’t mix. He didn’t travel with the team (but did attend home games). One player speculated Soden didn’t want to be seen in the flophouse hotels his players were forced to call home. Catcher Boileryard Clarke played for Boston two seasons. He once commented that he never spoke with Soden and was reasonably sure Soden never knew Clarke was on the team.

But you can’t make a profit with a losing team. By the late 1880s, the Beaneaters (Soden’s team) was making money, so he was able to invest in better quality players. He picked up Hall of Famers King Kelly and John Clarkson in the late 1880s and by the early 1890s his team was in contention. They won pennants in 1891-1893, and again in 1897 and 1898. the 1892 season was a split season with Boston winning one half and Cleveland the other. In the first split season playoff ever, Boston won the championship. In 1897 they won the last ever Temple Cup.

But Soden was in trouble. Although his team was successful, the players still hated working for him. With the arrival of Ban Johnson and the American League in 1901, the Beaneaters were decimated. The team fell off rapidly. The new team in Boston, the Americans (now the Red Sox), were drawing fans in droves and the Beaneaters were dying at the gate. In 1906, Soden sold the team for $75,000 which he split with Conant (Billings had sold out to the other two in 1904). Retired from baseball, Soden continued working (he owned, operated, or was co-owner in a number of businesses). He died while on vacation in 1925.

Because of the way he treated his players, it’s difficult to like Soden. There is a ruthless streak in him that Roman Emperors would have understood but that strikes us today as overboard. It’s fair to say of Soden that he was no worse than many of his contemporaries. It’s also fair to say that in many ways the road from him to Marvin Miller is a reasonably straight line. That Diocletian would never have understood.

Diocletian (follis)

Diocletian (follis)