Posts Tagged ‘William Hulbert’

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.”

 

 

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A Dozen Things You Should Know About Morgan Bulkeley

December 18, 2015
Morgan G. Bulkeley, 1st President of the National League

Morgan G. Bulkeley, 1st President of the National League

1. Morgan Gardner Bulkeley was born in Connecticut in 1837. His family was prominent in politics and his father was founder of Aetna Life Insurance Company.

2. He worked as a gopher and salesman for H.P. Morgan and Company of Brooklyn beginning in 1852. Morgan was owned by his uncle.

3. He served as a private in the 13th New York Volunteer Heavy Artillery during the Civil War. He served in the Peninsula Campaign and left the Army shortly after the battle of Antietam (which he may or may not have fought in–sources vary).

4. He returned to Morgan and Company and remained there until his father’s death in 1872. He moved back to Hartford and founded the United States Bank of Hartford, serving as President, and joined the board of directors of Aetna.

5. Interested in baseball he founded the Hartford Dark Blues in 1874. They played in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in both 1874 and 1875. They finished next-to-last in ’74 and third in ’75.

6. In 1876 he moved his team to the newly formed National League. Although William Hulbert was the league’s primary mover, he was generally unliked while Bulkeley was well liked by the other owners. Subsequently, Morgan Bulkeley was chosen first President of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs.

7. After one year as President, Bulkeley refused to serve a second year, but remained owner of the Dark Blues until the team, failing in both the field and at the gate, folded after the 1877 season.

8. In 1874 he became a member of the Hartford, Connecticut City Council, in 1879 became President of Aetna, and in 1880 Mayor of Hartford. He remained Mayor until 1888.

9. In 1888 he was elected Governor of Connecticut, serving two terms of two years each. He was only elected to the first, but remained in office when the 1890 election resulted in a disputed result and no one was declared a winner (and you though 2000 Florida started this kind of nonsense, did you?).

10. He served one term in the U.S. Senate between 1905 and 1911.

11. He was a member of the Mills Commission that declared Abner Doubleday the father of baseball.

12. Morgan G. Bulkeley died in 1922 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.

Bulkeley's grave in Connecticut

Bulkeley’s grave in Connecticut

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1901

March 19, 2014

If I knew how to add ’em in I’d put all sorts of bells and whistles into this post  to announce the inaugural class of My Own Little Hall of Fame. But I don’t so you’re just going to have to put up with typed words on-screen. Knowing you just can’t wait, here’s the list first (alphabetically) followed by commentary. With only one vote, all winners are unanimous (ain’t that great?).

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes is the finest hitter in the National Association. In the five years of its existence, Barnes hit .391, scored 459 runs in 265 games (1.73 a game), had 532 hits, 101 doubles and 30 triples. He won two batting titles, led the NA in runs scored and in hits three times, in doubles twice, and in triples once plus a lot of other stats that no one in 1901 would have known (I’m not even sure they would have known all the stats I just listed). With the formation of the National League he won the first batting title, and led the NL in runs, hits, doubles, triples, and walks (I could find no contemporary info that indicated anyone knew that Barnes led the NL in walks).

John Clarkson in the 1880s

John Clarkson in the 1880s

John Clarkson won more games in the National League than any other pitcher in the 19th Century. His 328 wins were mostly bunched between 1885 and 1892 when the pitching distance was fifty feet and there was no mound. He led the NL in wins three times, including the second highest total ever with 53 in 1885. A workhorse, he led the NL in innings pitched four times, peaking at 623 in 1885. He also won the strikeout title three times, including in 1889 when he won the pitching triple crown. In both 1885 and 1889 he led the NL in shutouts (I’m not sure they knew that in 1901). He led his team to three postseason clashes and retired soon after the move to a mound and 60’6″ for pitchers.

William Hulbert

William Hulbert

The driving force behind the founding of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs in 1876, Hulbert was a grocery and coal magnate who owned the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs). With the folding of the National Association, Hulbert spearheaded the move to form a new league, this one headed by team owners rather than players. His team won the first NL pennant and in 1877 became President of the NL, a position he held until his death in 1882. During the 19th Century his league became the only professional league to survive more than 10 years. (And he gets this great grave site).

William Hulbert grave, four blocks from Wrigley Field

William Hulbert grave, four blocks from Wrigley Field

the teams listed on the ball in the picture above are those teams existing in the NL in 1882, the date of Hulbert’s death.

Tim Keefe

Tim Keefe

Keefe pitched from 1880 through 1893, winning 342 games. He spent time with both New York teams, the Mutual of the American Association and the Giants of the National League. In 1888 he won the pitching triple crown. He led his league in both wins and strikeouts twice, in ERA three times, and in shutouts once (again, not sure they would have known the shutout total in 1901). He participated in three postseason series helping his team to wins in the latter two, going 4-1 in them. He spent most of his career throwing sidearm from less than 60’6″.

George Wright

George Wright

Wright, younger brother of manager Harry Wright, was the first great shortstop in professional baseball. He played for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings hitting .633 with 49 home runs. Later he anchored the infield of four pennant winning Boston teams in the National Association, then helped the Boston franchise of the National League win pennants in 1877 and 1878. In 1879, as manager of the Providence team he led it to its first NL pennant.

So there it is, the first class of My Own Little Hall of Fame. First a couple of comments, then I’d like to answer a few questions prior to them being asked. I initially, when I thought up this project, presumed my first class would be Anson, Brouthers, Connor, Ewing, and Clarkson. Then I discovered that only Clarkson was retired five years prior to 1901. That, frankly, surprised me a little. I guess I knew that, but as I almost always associate all four of the hitters with the 1880s, I’d forgotten they played as late as the mid-1890s. That meant I had to find four more candidates for the first class. There are a lot of decent candidates available and these are the five I picked.

Now to answer a few questions.

1. Why Hulbert over any of the Knickerbockers? Actually it was pretty easy to pick Hulbert. First he invented a system of control that made professional baseball both profitable and stable. Well, stable if a team could stay on his good side. In other words he came up with a formula that worked and in inventing the first modern professional league he set the format for not just baseball but for football and basketball also. But why not one of the Knickerbockers? First, it’s difficult to really accept that the Knickerbocker rules are the first rules, especially as William Wheaton, one of the members of the Knickerbocker rules committee, stated he had assisted in forming a set of rules for the Gothams in 1837, a decade before the Knickerbocker rules. Now I’ll admit that a voter in 1901 might not know that, but as neither the Alexander Cartwright story or the Abner Doubleday myth were current fodder for voters I don’t know that any Knickerbocker would be seen as the obvious candidate to represent the founding team. And I can’t see electing the “Knickerbocker Rules Committee” (5 members) as a whole. And as for Wheaton, he does not, in the interview I read, claim that his rules were the first.

2. Why Keefe over Pud Galvin? This is kind of complicated, but it seems from what I can find, that Keefe was a lot more well-known than Galvin in 1901. Among other things, Keefe was still alive and had done some coaching in college. Galvin was also still alive (he died in 1902) but appears to have fallen almost totally out of the public eye. Additionally, Keefe pitched for both New York teams while Galvin toiled in Pittsburgh and Buffalo for teams that never won a thing. As I’m trying to do this the way it might have been done in 1901, I’m actually quite comfortable guessing that Keefe would have made the Hall of Fame before Galvin (as he did in the real Hall).

3. Ross Barnes? When the decision was made to count playing time in the National Association as Major League time, Barnes became the obvious candidate. He was easily the finest hitter in the NA. the waiving of the 10 year rule also made it possible to insert him into my Hall (he played 9 years in both the NA and NL). The two rules were not designed especially for Barnes or guys like Cal McVey (who I’m not sure is going to get invited to my Hall) but was designed to help players from an era when careers were shorter, the NL was not the juggernaut it became, and some players (Lip Pike, Joe Start) were already established players prior to 1871 and thus older and prone to leave the game before having 10 years NL service.

4. George Wright over Harry Wright? Well, George was the better player and I’d already decided on Hulbert as my contributor for this group. Harry probably makes it next time (but don’t hold me to that).

5. Running into problems doing it this way? Yes, two in particular. First, it’s very hard to determine exactly what a prospective 1901 voter would know. What sort of stats are available and what newspapers are accessible are two questions that are proving difficult to answer. There are Reach Guides available but their stats vary and include such things as sacrifices and times reaching first, but some stats like RBIs are missing. That’s why in the summaries above I didn’t put in a player’s RBI total. The second problem is that I’m so aware of the new stats (WAR, Peace, JAWS, Paws, WHIP, Chains, OPS+, NOPES-, etc.) that it’s tough to ignore them when I’m looking over a player. I’m trying to ignore them, but I can’t help but notice.

A cursory look at the class of 1902 looks interesting with only one sure to be elected player. I have to be careful and avoid putting in five each time just to pump up the numbers. The class will show up here in April.

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.

Big League, Small Town

January 29, 2013
Troy, New York

Troy, New York

Did you ever notice how Major League teams gravitate toward big cities? There simply are no teams in middle-sized towns. Those towns are reserved for the farm teams. That wasn’t always so. Way back in the beginning of professional baseball, medium-sized cities also played Major League baseball. For instance, there was Troy, New York.

Troy was founded in the early 1700s, grew up during the 1830s and by 1860 was a prosperous industrial town just north of Albany. By 1860 it had a population of 39,000 (56,700 by 1880) and was becoming a hotbed for baseball.

In 1860 the Union club was established. It played at a high enough level that it soon gained the attention of the powerful teams that played in Brooklyn, New York City, and Philadelphia. They played games against the teams from the larger cities and held their own through most of the 1860s. By 1869 they were part of the National Association of Base Ball Players. They participated in 21 championship games going 12-8-1, good enough for fifth place (The Atlantic of Brooklyn won the pennant). In 1870, they were 11-13-1, again good for fifth place in a fifteen team league.

In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed. Troy was one of the teams joining the first fully professional league. They managed a coup when they picked up perennial all-star Lip Pike to both play and manage the team. Pike led the National Association in home runs, extra base hits, and finished second in a number of other categories. Unfortunately for Troy, he wasn’t much of a manager and the Haymakers, as they were now called, finished 13-15, eight games out of first and good enough for sixth in the nine team league. The next season the Haymakers finished fifth (of 11 teams) with a 15-10 record. Pike, their best player was gone, and despite a winning record, the team wasn’t making money. At the end of the season the team folded.

Troy was without a Major League team until 1879 when a new team was formed. The National League had replaced the National Association and was looking to expand. It chose Troy for one of the teams. It might strike us odd today that Troy was getting a team while both New York and Philadelphia were shut out of the NL. It was personal. William Hulbert, founder of the NL, was angry at both cities for failing to complete a western swing in the inaugural NL season of 1876. He vowed never to allow either city back in “his” league. When expansion time came, Troy was close to New York City so it became a chosen team.

The new team was called the Trojans (although some news accounts still refered to them as the Haymakers). It played its home games at the Putnam Grounds, then moved to Haymakers Grounds in 1880. It remained there until making a final move to the Troy Ball Club Grounds (which was in Watervliet, not Troy) in 1882.

They finished dead last in 1879, going 19-56. They did, however, produce one good player. Future Hall of Fame first baseman Dan Brouthers made his Major League debut for the Trojans that season. He hit .274 with four home runs.

The 1880 season was better for Troy. They finished fourth at 41-42. Much of the increase in wins can be attributed to the rookie campaigns of Roger Connor, Buck Ewing, Mickey Welch, and Tim Keefe, all Hall of Fame players. In 1881, they were back to fifth and had lost Brouthers to Buffalo. The 1882 season saw the team continue to plunge, this time finished next to last.  Despite the record, the team drew moderately well.

But it wasn’t enough. By 1883, William Hulbert was dead, the American Association was flourishing and the National League needed teams in New York and Philadelphia in order to compete. The team in Worcester, Massachusetts (which finished last in 1882) was dropped. A new team was established in Philadelphia. Now only New York needed a team. Troy was closest, it was also falling in the standings, but it had a number of good players. The NL decided to drop Troy and set up a new team in New York. A number of Troy players, including Connor, Ewing, Keefe, and Welch, ended up with the new team (now the San Francisco Giants) and Troy was done as a Major League town.

The town continued to provide good quality Minor League teams and players. There is still a team around today. But the experiment of Troy as a Major League city was over.  

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

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)

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Cap Anson

March 1, 2012

Here's a Wikipedia shot of Cap Anson throwing the first pitch in 1908 in Chicago

Time to leave both February and black baseball for a return to the Major Leagues. Here’s a transition (see numbers 8 and 9 below) to start:

1. Adrian Anson was born in Iowa in 1852.

2. He was neither a good student nor a well-behaved child. He was tossed out of both boarding school and the University of Iowa (after a single semester at Iowa).

3. He could play a little baseball. At age 19 he was playing for the Rockford Forest City of the National Association (1871). The team wasn’t very good, but Anson was a competent third baseman and hitter.

4. By 1875 he was a star and one of the first players to join William Hulbert’s new National League.

5. His team, the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs), won the first NL pennant with Anson holding down third base.

6. The team fell off the next two seasons resulting in two changes for Anson. He moved to first base which became his primary position for the remainder of his career, and he was made manager (hence “Cap”, short for “captain”) of the team.

7. During the 1880s he was, arguably, the best player in baseball. He won two batting titles, seven RBI titles (and another in 1891), led the NL in hits and doubles once each, and won two OBP and OPS titles in the decade. His team also won five pennants and participated in the 1885 and 1886 versions of the World Series, splitting the title with St. Louis.

8. Anson was in the forefront of opposition to allowing black players to join the NL. When Moses Fleetwood Walker joined the American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884, Anson announced the Colt’s (the White Stockings had changed names) would not play the team in any case, exhibition, real, or otherwise. He further announced the team would boycott and team that played a team with a black player. He backed down on the threat a couple of times (the team needed the gate receipts), but seems never to have changed his mind about the issue.

9. Anson’s actions were in part, and I emphasize only “in part”, responsible for the banning of black players from Major League baseball by a “gentlemen’s agreement” (I guess people who do that are “gentlemen”). There were obviously a lot of people who agreed with Anson or the ban could not have occurred.

10. He played his last game in 1897. He also managed his last game with the Colts the same year. In 1898 he managed a handful of games for the Giants, then retired.

11. He  became the first player with 3000 hits (and the only 19th Century player to do so), although his exact hit total is disputed. That, along with his other numbers, got him a ticket to Cooperstown in 1939.

12. Cap Anson died in Chicago in 1922.

13. In 1882, Anson had a son. He named him Adrian (after himself) Hulbert (after William Hulbert, founder of the National League). The child died four days later.

The Crusader

February 2, 2011

Wendell Smith

Crusader is one of those words that’s really out of fashion today. It brings up all the images of religious zealotry and fanaticism that make people shy from it. But there is a place for crusading zeal. Wendell Smith knew where that place needed to be and he worked long and hard, with unquestioned zeal, to help accomplish the integration of American sport.

Born in Detroit in 1914, Wendell Smith graduated from West Virginia State College (a segregated university). He edited the sports page for the college newspaper, majored in journalism, and played baseball. After graduation he joined the Pittsburgh Courier the leading black newspaper in Pennsylvania in 1937. By 1938 he was sports editor. He waged a continuous campaign to integrate American sport, especially baseball.  Although individual sports like track and boxing could produce excellent black athletes like Jesse Owens and Joe Louis, team sport (outside a handful of universities) was a bastion of segregation in the era. Smith argued that if black Americans could excel as individuals, they could do equally well as members of a  professional team, something players like Jackie Robinson had proved in college.

With World War II still going on, Smith hit upon the idea of having a tryout of Negro League players. He reasoned that with many of the Major League stars off at war, the teams would need the best quality talent they could get in order to win. This would be especially true of teams that were not usually in pennant contention and contenders who were losing because their best players were gone. And if they didn’t, then it showed their racism to the world.  He managed to talk Tom Yawkey’s Boston Red Sox into holding a tryout on 16 April 1945 for three black players: Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethro, and Marvin Williams. The Red Sox evaluation was that they weren’t good enough. Robinson, of course went on to win the first Rookie of the Year Award and make the Hall of Fame. Jethro also won a Rookie of the Year Award. Turns out the BoSox were right about Williams (1 out of 3) and Smith was right about racism.

Undeterred, Smith continued to support integrating baseball as the sport that would gain the most instant credibility for black players. There is no evidence that he personally influenced Branch Rickey’s move to integrate the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946-7, but Smith certainly supported the idea. His newspaper paid for Smith to accompany Robinson during both the 1946 minor league year and also during the 1947 season on team road trips. Until the arrival on Dan Bankhead in the 1947 season, Smith served as a sort of unofficial roommate and confidant of Robinson, especially in those towns where Robinson was not allowed to stay in the same hotels as the white players. His articles on the road trips are some of his best work.

In 1938 Smith applied for membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America. He was turned down. It wasn’t because he was black (Of course, it wasn’t. They just wouldn’t do that, would they?) but because his newspaper was not owned by a white person (Say what?). In 1948, the BBWAA changed its mind and Smith became its first black member. That made him the first black man who could vote for the Hall of Fame.

In the late 1940s, Smith moved to Chicago and began covering mostly boxing for a local newspaper. In 1964 he joined WGN and became the television station’s first black sports anchor. He continued to write a newspaper article or two while working on television. He died in 1972. In 1993 he was award the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing (thus getting his name in the HofF) and in 1996 his wife donated his papers to the Hall of Fame, where they are available for research.

The above should tell you I really like Wendell Smith. He’s not the greatest writer to win the Spink Award (I think Grantland Rice is), but he wa very good. His style was somewhat folksy, but his ability to cut through the nonsense to get at what he wanted is excellent. He understood the value of confrontation (ala the Red Sox episode), but could also let his prose make his case for him (like the Robinson hotel stories did). I think it took much too long to get him the Spink Award and I think he deserves to move a step beyond that. I’d like to see his full enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, plaque and all. I know a lot of people will disagree with me. After all, the man didn’t play the game. But then neither did Ban Johnson, William Hulbert, Tom Yawkey, and a lot of other members of the Hall. For what he meant to both the sport and the country, I think he should be there.

This post allows me to begin a celebration of black history month in the US with a look at a black American writer. I intend to make a few more looks at the Negro Leagues and other aspects of black baseball off and on during the month. Hope you will enjoy them.

The Scandal at Louisville

March 19, 2010

I really wish I didn’t have to say this, but it’s true. The Black Sox are not completely unique. OK, they threw a World Series and no one else did, but the idea of throwing away a game or a season isn’t unique. Players have been accused of it for a long time. There have been questions of players taking money to lose games, of them playing less that 100% because the hated the owner or the manager. The Black Sox may have been the worst case, but they weren’t first.

By the middle of the 1877 season it became evident that the National League pennant was a two team race: Boston vs. the Louisville Grays. The Red Caps (Boston) was managed by Harry Wright. They had essentially the same team that won the last four National Association pennants then lost the first National League pennant by finishing fourth. Deacon White, George Wright (Harry’s brother), Ezra Sutton, and John Morrill handled the infield; Lew Brown caught; Andy Leonard, Harry Schafer, and Jim O’Rourke patrolled the outfield; and Tommy Bond did the pitching (both Wright’s and O’Rourke are Hall of Famers). Louisville finished fifth in 1876, but produced a strong contender the next season. The Grays featured Juice Latham, Joe Gerhardt, Bill Craver, and Bill Hague were the infield: the catcher was Pop Snyder; the outfield consisted of George Hall, Orator Shaffer, and Bill Crowley; and Jim Devlin pitched.

Th race was tight into late September, then Louisville lost four in a row at Boston, lost three of  four in Brooklyn (the other game was a tie), then dropped the final game of the season to Chicago. Boston won the pennant by seven games after Louisville led for most of the year. The official reason was that Devlin tired and the team just quit hitting. In an era of one pitcher teams, that sounded reasonable.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t so, Joe. It seems that a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, who happened to be the son of the team owner, started asking questions. Little used player Al Nichols (he played six games) was serving as a conduit for gamblers to fix games. Pitcher Devlin, outfielder Hall, and third baseman Craver were the other men accused. For money, they had thrown an unspecified number of games allowing Boston to win the pennant.

The accusations and the proof, in the form of telegrams to Nichols, landed on the desk of league president William Hulbert. The National League was Hulbert’s baby and any chance that gambling was occuring was sheer anathema to him. Any chance that games were being fixed was equally anathema. In looking at his comments, it’s as if he took it as a personal affront to his honor. He moved immediately, banning all four players from the game. None ever played a Major League game again.

As a result of the castastophe, Louisville dropped totally out of the NL the next season. St. Louis attempted to sign two of the “outlaws” and was shown the door also. So the scandal had produced a questionable pennant and cost the NL two teams (which were replaced by Milwaukee and Indianapolis). At least in 1919 the AL lost no teams.

Interestingly enough Devlin, who died in 1883, found another line of work after his banishment. He became a policeman in Philadelphia (go figure).

The Father of the National League

March 12, 2010

There’s a lot of dispute about who invented baseball. There’s the old Abner Doubleday story which is mostly debunked as a myth today. There are those who pick Alexander Cartwright and those that say all he did was write down what was already being done. Whoever you pick, and there are other choices, it gets simpler when you move forward in time. The National League was formed 2 February 1876 and the man who put it tgether was William A. Hulbert.

Hulbert was born in New York in 1832 and the family moved to Chicago in 1834. He married into money, or at least into a successful grocery business, then used the profits to make considerable cash in coal. He was also a huge baseball fan, backing the local club, the White Stockings, when it entered the fledgling National Association in 1871. The club lost its park in the Great Chicago Fire (Hulbert’s holdings in town seem to have been spared) and Hulbert provided a lot of the funding to restore the team to its status in the Association after it had to regroup following the fire. That got him a job wth the club and in 1875 he took over as team President.

The National Association floundered in 1875. There were problems with gambling, scheduling, salaries, competitiveness, rules. Well, there were a lot of problems and the league simply was in the process of collapsing.  By the end of 1875 Hulbert was convinced that the Association was failing, although some of the fault lay with him and his own contract practices. He decided to abandon the Association and establish a new league. Prior to the end of 1875 he had gotten agreements with the major western teams to form a new league. In the baseball language of the day “western” meant west of about Harrisburg, Pennsylvania not west of Albuquerque, so we’re talking teams in Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis.

In February 1876, Hulbert met with teams from Boston, Hartford, New York, and Philadelphia in a hotel in New York City (I’m informed that the hotel no longer exists-pity) to pitch the idea of a new league. According to legend, Hulbert locked the door to the room, pocketed the key, and wouldn’t let the other team presidents out of the room until they had an agreement. He got the agreement and the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs was formed. It still exists.

It’s important to look at the title of the first two professional leagues for a second. There is the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players and the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs. I’ve highlighted the last word in each name for a reason. It marked the real difference between the leagues. The players ran the Association but the owners ran the League. In a comment on the Pike case  post, Bill Miller noted that there was a baseball cabal that organized together for their mutual benefit. He’s right. That’s the most fundamental change that occured in February 1876. Now the clubs would run the show, not the players.

The National League worked and did so for a number of reasons. It was run on solid business principles, which meant it could turn a profit. It cut down on gambling. The money belonged to the owners and they could, and did, parcel it out as they wanted. Ultimately this became a huge problem that led to the Black Sox when owners became more parsimonious with their cash (Having just written that I can’t believe that there were owners more parsimonious than Hulbert, but there were.). Finally, the League made baseball respectable. Beer and whiskey were banned from games, there were no games on Sundays, cursing on the field was fined, as was public drunkenness. That put wealthier patrons in the stands and put more money in the pockets of the owners, some of which trickled down to the players.

Frankly, nobody liked Hulbert (well, maybe Mrs. Hulbert) so the owners drew straws (literally) to determine the first President of the National League. Morgan Bulkeley of Hartford won, but Hulbert remained the power that ran the league. In 1877 Hulbert followed Bulkeley as President (Bulkeley didn’t like the job and wasn’t all that good at it, so he didn’t even bother to attend the meeting to elect a President for 1877.) and remained the man in charge until 1882.

Hulbert ran the National League the same way Judge Landis ran the Commissioner’s office later on. Things were done his way and woe to the villain who crossed him. He tossed both New York and Philadelphia out of the league for refusing to make a western swing after they were eliminated from a possible pennant. The western teams lost gate revenue because of this and lost revenue was something akin to sin in Hulbert’s eyes. He established the idea that the National League office would set up schedules, not the teams. He handled the Louisville scandal quickly (another post for another time). He set up the first reserve rule for players to prevent contract jumping, and in 1881 expelled Cincinnati from the league for playing games on Sunday and selling beer in the stands. In 1882 he had a heart attack, dying the same day. In 1995, 58 years after Bulkeley, Hulbert was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

To be honest, I don’t think I would have liked Hulbert. I admire his desire to establish a league that would last, but he’s just not my cup of tea. It seems to me he spent most of his life looking for a fight and generally found one. But we baseball fans owe him.