A Cincy Legend: A Narrative of Bumpus Jones’ Baseball Career

This article was written by Chris Rainey

This article was published in the Road Trips: SABR Convention Journal Articles


This article was originally published in “Baseball in the Buckeye State,” the 2004 SABR convention journal.

 

On Saturday, October 15, 1892, Charles Leander Jones of Cedarville, Ohio, pitched a no-hitter for the Cincinnati Redlegs against the Pittsburghs. It was Jones’ first major league game and the first National League no-hitter for the Reds. Additionally it was the last game of the last season with a pitching distance of 50 feet. Yet this highly noteworthy event earns less than a line of print in Harry Ellard’s classic history Base Ball in Cincinnati (1907). Is it any wonder that local, oral historians took over to spin a fanciful tale about this fellow know as “Bumpus”?

The legend begins with Jones as the local, teen-aged, hero who pitched for his town team and struck out 27 batters on the rival West Jefferson team. He would later pitch for Cedarville College and also hire out his talents to other town teams for $7 or $8 a game. One version of the tale has him playing a Cincinnati semi- pro team. The tale has the under educated Bumpus, either 3rd or 4th grade, working at the local lime company stoking wood into the kilns. In the summer of 1892, the legends insists, Jones was recruited by a Wilmington, Ohio, team to pitch an exhibition game against the Reds on the 4th of July. In true Hollywood fashion he won! Here the tale takes two diverse paths. In one version, Red manager Charles Comiskey travels by train to Cedarville to take Jones out of the kilns to come to Cincinnati to pitch for the Reds. Another version has the audacious lad walking into the Reds locker room announcing himself ready to pitch in the majors.

No matter how Bumpus got to the Reds, the tale turns to historical reality, when Jones hurls his no-hitter in his first major league game, and becomes the toast of the town. He is immediately signed to a contract and tours with the Reds around the state for the rest of October.

In the Spring of 1893 his career takes an immediate slide. He is beaned in a pre-season game by Tony Mullane. Unable to regain his form, he runs up a 1-3 record in regular season games with an astronomical ERA and is released to the New York Giants. He pitches horribly in his only start and never appears in the major leagues again.

Then the legend continues to assert that in the big city, tortured by headaches from a blood clot, the country lad falls prey to the evil of drink In 1920 he is discovered destitute in the county home in Dayton, Ohio. A benefit exhibition is held for him and a small pension provided and he lives out his years in Cedarville and remains a hero to the local youth.

This fascinating tale appears in various Reds’ histories over the decades and makes an appearance every 10-15 years in the Dayton Daily News, most recently on June 29, 2003. As with every legend, some facets stir curiosity. One “red flag” is the re- ported 4th of July exhibition. The Reds would never schedule an exhibition against a team town on the 4th holiday when they could receive a decent gate with a major league opponent. (In fact on that 4th they split a doubleheader with Boston.) It is also implausible that Bumpus could come from “nowhere” and spin a major league no-hitter.

I determined to seek out the “truth” behind the legend as best I could. Lonnie Wheeler’s book, The Cincinnati Game, has a vignette concerning Bumpus which mentions he was still a hero to local school boys when he died in 1938. I began my search meeting with some of those “school boys” who by the mid 1990s had become the “old timers” but still spoke of Bumpus with great respect. Curtis Hughes had played in a town game in the 1920s and was awarded a bat from Bumpus for his efforts. The bat was treated like the Holy Grail by the remaining contingent of Bumpus admirers.

At a breakfast meeting, these gentlemen recounted the legend, with embellishments, and offered some clues where to start the search for Jones. It seems he was not the only baseball star in Cedarville in the late 1880s. A lad named Cal Morton was his catcher and the locals thought they went to Illinois together. It was hard to imagine Bumpus in college, but the first stop in the journey did begin in Monmouth, Illinois, where Morton was enrolled in college in 1890 and Jones pitched for the local team. Jones started the season with Monmouth in the Illinois-Iowa League, and was the winning pitcher on May 15. Sometime in June, Bumpus joined the Aurora team and is reported to have had a successful season. It was now clear that Bumpus did not appear from “nowhere” in September 1892 to pitch his no-hitter.

In 1891, Jones returned to the area and opened the season with Ottumwa, despite claims from Aurora that he was rightfully their property. Bumpus pitched for Ottumwa for about three weeks, with a 3-2 record. He also pitched in relief and played center field. League President Nic Young was asked to settle the dispute with Aurora and suspended Jones pending a decision which prompted a May 22 ditty in the Ottumwa Daily Democrat:

There is a young pitcher called Bumpus
Who has raised a considerable rumpus.
But Ottumwa, you know, don’t wish him go
As without him the other clubs thump us.

A few days later Young’s decision awarded Bumpus to Aurora, a team with a losing record of 3-18 when Bumpus arrived. They were poor batsmen and even worse in the field. Jones debuted on May 28 in a loss to Joliet, but won his next three games to raise the hopes of Aurora fans. Problems arose when the manager left and the team resumed their slide. The final straw come on June 17 when Jones allowed league-leading Quincy only six hits, yet lost 9-8 when his team committed 11 errors that led to nine unearned runs. The team directors disbanded the team the next day. Jones had a 3-3 record with Aurora.

Bumpus and Aurora catcher Brandenberg were signed within hours by league-leading Quincy. In his first appearance Jones struck out 14 Joliet batters but controversy continued to haunt him. Reports say he had promised Ottumwa he would return if Aurora folded. Once again, Jones’ fate was in the hands of President Young. Bumpus pitched six games for the Quincy Ravens with a 5-1 record before Young sent letters to all franchises awarding Jones to Ottumwa. Quincy hoped to ignore the decision but the Joliet team prevented Jones from pitching against them by producing a copy of Young’s letter. Jones went to Ottumwa in early August and earned a 4-3 record before his sale to Portland, Oregon of the Pacific North West League for $200. His travel across the U.S. must have been a grand adventure for the 21 year old from Cedarville.

Bumpus was immediately thrust into a pennant race as Portland chased Spokane for the league title. Jones pitched very well but had only a 5-6 record. Portland settled for second place. Lost amidst all the team-shuffling is the fact that Jones won 20 games in 1891.

In 1892 Bumpus was back in the Illinois-Iowa League with Joliet who had put together a dominating ball club. Jones was in top form and by the end of June was 15-0 with six shutouts. His fast ball was blazing (“as hard to find as a match in a dark room”) and his curve ball left batters shaking their heads. Joliet lead was so large, the league redrew the schedule, declared Joliet the first half champs, allowing all teams to start even for the last half of the season. Joliet lost their touch, played .500 ball, but Bumpus was still overpowering. When Joliet folded in early August Jones has a 24-3 record. The Joliet directors anticipated the demise of the League and sold two players to the Chicago Nationals for $1,000 and after the season’s premature end six players went to the Southern League, Bumpus among them.

As was his custom, Jones was again in an “ownership dispute.” While making arrangements to play with Atlanta, he accepted a salary advance from Montgomery. He went to Atlanta and Montgomery filed a complaint with the league office which pushed it up to the National League President who ruled in Atlanta’s favor, possibly because Jones returned the advance to Montgomery.

Jones made his debut with Atlanta in a September 1 game versus Macon. The Constitution reported, “every lover of baseball . . . is enthusiastic over the little pitcher. He is very speedy, with a good head and a hard worker.” A ninth inning Macon home run spoiled his debut. His next outing, also at Macon, came a day after a near riot at the ball park when umpire Crowell made several calls against Atlanta, and refused to umpire the next day. Macon brought in a local umpire. Bumpus was breezing along with a 3-0 lead when suddenly everything changed in the sixth inning. The Constitution reported, “Then the fun begins, Every ball Jones pitched was called a ball. Instead of retiring Macon with no runs nine were scored and Atlanta robbed of an honestly earned victory.” Late in September, Jones returned to Cedarville.

He was probably working again in the kilns when the Wilmington Clintons recruited him to pitch an October 12 exhibition with the Redlegs. Clintons pitcher David Reese started the game and gave up nine runs before Bumpus took the mound. He held the Reds hitless the last three innings and the Wilmington Democrat stated that Jones was invited by Comiskey to come to play in Cincinnati. The October 13 Cincinnati Commercial Gazette made the same claim.

Three days later Bumpus pitched his historic no-hitter against the Pittsburghs, noted in the Bumpus legend as “the best hitting team in the league.” Once again the legend overreached. Pittsburg finished ninth in 1892 with a .236 team batting average. No matter, a no-hitter will always be the highest measure of pitching excellence. Jones walked two batters in the first inning before settling down. According to the Commercial Gazette, “after the first Bumpus was all wool and a yard wide.” The only blemish was in the third inning when Bumpus walked Patsy Donovan, then made a throwing error that allowed him to score. The Commercial Gazette mentions there were only two tough plays, both line drives that center fielder Bug Holliday hauled in. Comiskey and George Smith were the batting stars in a 7-1 Reds victory.

The Reds immediately made plans for Jones on the squad in 1893. They embarked on a two week exhibition tour and Comiskey, a wise showman, put Bumpus in charge of the game in Springfield, Ohio, ten miles from Jones’ home town. Bumpus tossed a seven- hitter and won 12-0. Estimates of the crowd ranged from one to two thousand.

The 1893 season introduced the plate at 60 feet, six inches. The Redlegs opted to train in Cincinnati with exhibitions in the mid-west. On April 9 Bumpus faced St. Louis and won 12-3. The Commercial Gazette reported he pitched a “splendid game” with good speed on his “inshoots” that foiled the visitors. In his first regular season action, Jones could not loosen up and was quickly yanked. Three days later he threw a complete game against Chicago but lost 7-1. It was decided he should go home and get “the kinks out of his arm.”

When he returned he pitched poorly throughout May and June, with many days of inaction. With the Reds ahead of Louisville 14-0 on June 18, Bumpus was called in to mop up so starter Chamberlin could be rested. Despite his lackluster performance, six walks and many hits, the Reds won a lopsided 30-12 win. It was Jones’ second major league victory and his last game for Cincinnati.

In mid-July, the Giants added Bumpus to their roster. He started against Cleveland and Cy Young on July 14 with mediocre results. Jones walked ten, hit a batter, made and error on way to a 6-2 loss. He remained with the Giants through July but never saw action again. His major league career was over with two wins and four losses. And a no-hit game.

But Bumpus’ career as a baseball professional was not over. He left the New York Giants to join the Providence Grays of the Eastern League who needed pitching in their struggle to get out of the league cellar. Bumpus did not report when expected after signing his contract which may have been caused by a drinking binge following his departure from the big leagues. On August 11, he was reported to show “terrific speed” but also poor control with nine walks leading to an 8-4 loss. Three more appearances left him with a 1-2 Eastern League record and on Sept 2 the Providence paper reported Jones had jumped to Reading. But the Reading papers show no evidence of Jones taking the field.

Jones had become a baseball vagabond. He played for at least seventeen teams, several of them more than once with other teams in between. One reason may have been his reputation as a “hot weather” pitcher, a notoriously slow starter. Another may be his reputation as a player with a drinking problem. What was not under his control was the frequent demise of some teams.

From 1894 through 1899 Bumpus played in Ban Johnson’s very competitive Western League, with periods of considerable success in a league known as a hitter’s circuit. In 1894 he was with Sioux City as the number three pitcher behind Bill Hart and Bert Cunningham, both with major league experience. By mid- June Sioux City was 31-9 and Bumpus was 8-4. When traded near the end of the season to Grand Rapids, he was 13-14. In seven games with Grand Rapids he had a 3-3 record including a revenge win over Sioux City when he hit a three-run homer in a 23-2 rout.

Bumpus’ longest stay with one club was 1896-1899 with Columbus. In his first year he was again mediocre and earned a dedicated acerbic critic, Salvator of the Columbus Dispatch. His remarks included, “Bumpus had nothing but a slow ball and a wild pitch” and “two out-of town writers say Bumpus was at his best today (in a 12-8 win), if this be his best pray tell what is his worst.”

Finally the tide turned and Jones had the two best years of his professional career. In 1897 he went 17-6 with an ERA of 1.45 and became an undisputed ace in 1898 winning 27 games and losing 13. After the 1897 season, the Detroit Free Press sponsored a Cup Series between Indianapolis and Columbus, won by Indianapolis three games to two. It was reported the Columbus players received $75 each for the series. To Bumpus it meant rent for six months. Opening Day of 1898 Bumpus beat Connie Mack’s Milwaukee team with a four hitter, and in August twirled a one hitter against St. Joseph.

Ban Johnson was determined to move his Western League to major league status and changed the league name to American League in 1900. It would not happen until 1902 but the Western, now American League, was by far the strongest minor league. Bumpus moved from Columbus to Grand Rapids, and to Cleveland in 1900. He was the first player to report to the Lakeshores, trained in Cleveland in horrible weather and was named the starting pitcher for the first game. Bumpus became the winner in Cleveland’s first game in the newly named American League.

By May, however, he was released to Ft. Wayne of the Interstate League. He pitched well but in early August was released. The Sentinel reported that he and others were let go because their behavior had not been “suitable,” hinting the players were enjoying the nightlife too often. In 1901 his career ended after two starts with St. Paul and a stay in the hospital. There were reports of benefits to raise money for his hospital expenses in varied papers, but his hometown paper, the Cedarville Herald, was surprisingly silent about his plight.

Knowledge about Jones’ final 19 years is sketchy. Writer Fred Marshall of the Dayton Journal Herald wrote the story about Jones being destitute in the county home in 1920. For the remainder of his life he lived mainly in Cedarville. His death on June 25, 1938 was the result of complications from a stroke he suffered in the mid-1930s.

A poorly-educated kiln worker parlayed his baseball talents into an 11 year career, with three 20-win seasons. He played with the likes of Pete Browning, Connie Mack, John McGraw, Rube Wadell and Cy Young. And he pitched a no-hitter in his first major league game.

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