From A Researcher’s Notebook (1979)

This article was written by Al Kermisch

This article was published in the 1979 Baseball Research Journal


First Reserve Clause Enacted 100 Years Ago

Baseball’s first reserve clause was enacted 100 years ago at a meeting of the National League magnates held at the Palace Hotel in Buffalo, New York, on September 29, 1879. The delegates to that historic meeting were:  William A. Hulbert, President of the National League, who represented both the Chicago and Cincinnati clubs; J. Ford Evans, Cleveland;T. Gardner Earl and C. L. Deforest, Troy; Arthur H. Soden, Boston; Henry J. Root, Providence; John  B. Sage, Buffalo, and Nicholas E. Young, League Secretary.

During the season of 1879, the Boston, Troy, Syracuse (disbanded before the end of the season) and Buffalo clubs lost money, pennant-winning Providence broke even and Chicago, which finished second, showed a small profit. The panel discussed the problem for many hours, looking for some way to make the clubs more self-supporting. The heavy losses were attributed to high salaries, the result of the clubs competing against each other for players. It was first suggested that a uniform salary plan be adopted, but that was voted down as unsatisfactory. Finally, Mr. Soden proposed that each delegate be allowed to name five players from his own club as a nucleus for the next season and those chosen not be allowed to sign with any other club without permission. Since clubs in those days carried only one or two extra players, this would at least give them half a club to start with. The delegates finally approved this plan, and after considerable telegraphing, each club selected its five players. The names of the players selected were then put in writing and all the delegates signed the agreement. The list of the players chosen was never released, but apparently Michael “King” Kelly was left off the Cincinnati list since he later signed with the Chicago team for 1880. Kelly went on to become one of the most colorful performers of all time. In 1 887, his sale to the Boston club for the then unheard of price of $10,000 proved a sensation in the baseball world.

 

Numbers on Players’ Backs in Majors Began 50 Years Ago

Fifty years ago numbers appeared on the backs of players’ uniforms in the majors for the first time. While the New York Yankees were the first big league club to wear numbers on their backs on a permanent basis, home and away, they were not the first team to appear in a championship major league game so attired. That honor belongs to the Cleveland Indians, who wore numbers on the backs of their home uniforms in 1929. Cleveland, it must be remembered, was also the first major league club to have players wear numbers on their sleeves for a brief time in 1916.

Both the Yankees and Indians were scheduled to open at home on April 6, 1929, but while the Yanks were rained out at New York for two straight days, the Indians opened as scheduled. Cleveland defeated Detroit 5-4 in 11 innings, spoiling Bucky Harris’ debut as Tiger manager. Earl Averill, wearing No. 5, celebrated his first time at bat with a number on his back and also his initial trip to the plate in the majors by blasting an Earl Whitehill two-strike pitch over the right field screen in the first inning. Charlie Gehringer hit a home run for Detroit off Joe Shaute in the third inning.

The Yankees finally got started on April 18, defeating the Boston Red Sox 7-3. Babe Ruth, wearing No. 3, also celebrated his first time at bat with a number on his back, by hitting a home run off Red Ruffing in the first inning, a drive into the lower left field stands. Lou Gehrig, No. 4, also homered, his coming in the sixth inning off Milt Gaston. It is interesting to note that the first Yankees to wear numbers 5 and 7, eventually retired by Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, were Bob Meusel and Leo Durocher, respectively.

When the Yankees played at Boston on April 23, it was the first time a visiting major league club appeared with numbers on the players’ backs.  The Red Sox spoiled that one for the Yanks by winning 4-2. The first time that both clubs appeared with numbers in the big leagues was at Cleveland on May 13, with the Indians defeating the Yankees 4-3. Mark Koenig, No. 2, hit a home run for the Yanks off Willis Hudlin in the sixth inning.

 

Mullane Pitched with Both Hands in League Game

Tony Mullane was noted for being able to pitch with either hand, but the question is always asked as to whether he actually pitched both ways in a championship game. Many years after his major league career was over, Mullane stated in an interview that he had pitched with both hands in a game against Baltimore and that Charlie Householder had beat him with a home run in the ninth inning. Since Householder had played with Baltimore only one year, the American Association inaugural season of 1882, and had only one home run that year, it was not too difficult to pinpoint the game. It took place at Balitmore on Tuesday, July 18, 1882, and the home club defeated Louisville by a score of 9 to 8 on Householder’s homer with two out in the ninth. The Baltimore papers commented on the event. The Sun stated that “Mullane changed hands in the fourth inning and pitched with his left, retiring all the batters.” The American went into more detail as follows:

“During the game when the Baltimore group of left-handed hitters, Whiting, Householder and Pearce, were coming to bat, Mullane, the Louisville pitcher, changed his delivery from right hand to the left, and puzzled the batters considerably. This was a novelty in pitching and excited much interest. He was not, however, able to keep the left-hand delivery up for any length of time, but it was very effective while it lasted.”

Mullane was one of the leading pitchers in the majors in the 19th century. He won 285 games, more than any other pitcher not enshrined in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Mullane should easily have reached the 300-win mark, but in 1885, at a time when he was a consistent 30-game winner, he was suspended for the entire season for signing contracts with several clubs the year before. Mullane pitched for the St. Louis Browns of the American Association in 1883. Although on the Browns’ reserve list for 1884, he jumped to the St. Louis club of the newly formed outlaw Union Association. Before the 1884 season opened, however, he signed with Toledo of the American Association. Tony claimed he had no other choice since he could not play with either St. Louis team without being prosecuted by the other. Henry V. Lucas, owner of the St. Louis Unions, got an injunction against Mullane and it was several years before he was allowed to perform in t. Louis.

Then in 1892, Mullane quit the Cincinnati team of the National League in July, when he already had 21 victories to his credit. The National League was going through its worst financial season in its history. It was its first year as a 12-club circuit and the only time it played a split schedule. The lague was in such shaky condition that an across-the-board reduction in salaries was ordered for the second half of the season. Naturally, the highestsalaried players had to take the heaviest cuts and Mullane rebelled. After sitting out several weeks, he finally agreed to return to the club. After pitching one game, a losing effort in Chicago, he left for good when the Cincinnati club refused to pay him for the period he was inactive. He drifted off to Montana and pitched for an independent club.

 

Babe Ruth as a Right-handed Batter

If some old-timer tells you that he saw Babe Ruth at the plate at Yankee Stadium batting from the right side, you can take his word for it.  The Babe changed over several times in 1923. The pitchers were walking him so often that year, he changed his position at the bat just to keep things interesting. On August 1, he crossed up the Indians by starting in to bat right-handed against Sherrod Smith in the ninth inning. He took one strike and then jumped back to the left side and this necessitated the entire rearrangement of the Cleveland defense (clubs were shifting against Ruth as early as 1920). Hardly was the shift completed when Smith pitched and Ruth swung. There was the well-known crack and the ball was on its way far into the right-field bleachers for Babe’s 25th homer of the season. Smith, however, defeated the Yankees 5-3. Four days later against the St. Louis Browns, again at Yankee Stadium, Ruth batted right-handed twice when he saw that  Elam Vangilder, who was pitching in relief for the Browns, intended to walk him, the first time with two on in the eleventh inning.  He also did the same thing in the thirteenth inning when he was again passed intentionally to fill the bases. But this time Bob Meusel singled in Waite Hoyt to give the Yanks a 9 to 8 victory. The Browns were taking no chances with Ruth in the extra innings for earlier in the contest he had hit his 26th and 27th home runs off Ray Kolp.

 

“One Arm” Daily Fanned 20 in 9-Inning Game

Of the five pitchers listed in the record books as sharing the major league record of 19 strikeouts in a 9-inning game-Charley Sweeney, Providence, NL 1883; Hugh Daily, Chicago UA 1884; Steve Canton, St. Louis NL 1969; Tom Seaver, New York NL 1970, and Nolan Ryan, California AL 1974 – Daily deserves special mention. He actually fanned 20 batters in his game but received credit for only 19 since one batter reached first on a missed third strike by catcher Bill Kreig, and scorers of that era did not include it in the strikeout totals.

Daily’s big game for the Chicago Union Association team took place at Boston on July 7, 1884. Of course, the pitching distance at that time was only 50 feet, but Daily pitched a remarkable game that day, defeating the Boston Unions 5 to 0 on one hit. The Boston Morning Journal gave an excellent account of the performance in proclaiming that “One-Arm Daily Proves a Terror to Boston and Breaks the Pitchers Record:”

`Three strikes and out’ was the monotonous cry of Umpire Dutton yesterday afternoon as man after man of the Boston Union team struck out, partly by his drop curve and swift delivery and partly through nervousness and lack of confidence. He kept it up until nineteen had been put out either by catcher or at first base and the twentieth had a life on a missed third strike, thus excelling Sweeney’s record of nineteen struck out in a game of nine innings. Crane was the only man to make a safe hit, a terrific drive to left for three bases after two men were out. Hackett tried to make another, but Briggs got under the ball with a brilliant catch and the best chance for a run was gone. Of the remaining ten men who came to bat, four flied out, one got a base on a balk, two on fumbles and died on first on weak hits. The strikeouts were Slattery 4, Irwin 3, Butler 3, McKeever 3, Crane 2, Scanlon (2 and a missed third strike), Hackett and Burke. Mumane alone escaped.”

 

“Lefty Schegg’ Case Closed

In August 1912, Clark Griffith, manager of the Senators, signed a pitcher by the name of Lefty Schegg, a member of the Nebraska Indians, a famous baseball touring club of that era. Schegg appeared in only two games for Washington before Griffith shunted him to the minors and obscurity. Some years ago I got curious about Schegg and following through on his release to Atlanta discovered that his real name was Gilbert Eugene Price and that he was born in Leesvile, Ohio on August 28, 1889. He used his real name in the minors. That ended my interest in Price, but it was only the beginning for Tom Hufford, one of SABR’s experts on running down the whereabouts or final resting places of ex-major league players. Hufford discovered that Price died on February 21, 1963 in Niles, Ohio. Hufford even visited the grave site and took a photograph of the final resting place of “Lefty Schegg.”

Schegg’s debut with Washington is an interesting story in its own right.  The Senators had a doubleheader scheduled with Cleveland on August 21, 1912. Walter Johnson was invincible at the time and was going after his 15th straight victory, which would set a new American League record for that period. Grffith was so confident that Walter would win that he wanted him to face Cleveland’s ace southpaw, Vean Gregg. Using a bit of subterfuge, Griff wrote Schegg’s name in his starting lineup and as soon as he saw Gregg’s name in Cleveland’s lineup, he sent Johnson to the mound. But umpire Tom Connolly informed Griffith that he could not use Johnson until Schegg had faced one man. The Old Fox had given no thought to that particular rule which had only been in the rule book since 1909. So Schegg took the mound and after he retired the first batter, John Ryan, on a liner to second baseman Ray Morgan on a 3-2 pitch, Johnson took over the pitching chores. Cleveland manager Harry Davis was not too happy with the turn of events and as soon as Gregg walked Clyde Milan, he sent in Bill Steen. Although Johnson won 4-2, he was not as sharp as usual and Gregg may have had a chance to beat Walter if Davis had kept him in the game. Instead, Davis saved him for the second game which he thought might be easier against young Carl Cashion. Cashion, however, pitched the game of his life and blanked his opponents 2-0 on a six-inning no-hitter, called by agreement to allow Cleveland to catch a train.

 

Eastern League Clubs Didn’t Know the Score

In this day of electronic magic it probably couldn’t happen, but on August 8, 1903, two Eastern League (now the International) clubs went into an extra inning before discovering that Providence had won the game from Rochester 1-0 in nine innings in the first game of a doubleheader at Rochester. Providence went out in the top of the tenth inning and the home club had actually tied the score in the bottom of the stanza before official word finally got to the umpire that Providence had won the game in nine innings. The bizarre happenings came about because no one on the visiting Providence bench had kept score and the boy working the scoreboard somehow had failed to tally the fifth inning. An attempt was made to inform umpire Tom Kelly that the game had been completed but he misunderstood and thought the crowd was trying “to get on him.” But later when the official score was shown to him, he immediately called the game and awarded it to Providence 1-0 in nine innings.

 

Ball Player Pike Beat Race Horse at 100 Yards

Lipman Pike, one of the early stars of professional baseball, was also a sprinter of note. While with Baltimore of the National Association in 1873, outfielder Pike accepted several foot race challenges. On August 27 of that year he even took on a race horse-a fast trotter by the name of

“Clarence.” Pike and the owner of the horse had a side bet for $250. The race was held at Newington Park, home of the baseball club, and was witnessed by about 400 persons.

The horse started 25 yards back of the starting line and as he struck the chalk mark Pike let out and hung on to the trotter for about 25 yards before edging ahead. The ball player maintained a yard lead until the 75-yard mark when the horse broke into a run. Pike then increased his speed and crossed the finish line four yards ahead of the horse. Pike ran the 100 yards in ten seconds, which was outstanding in those days.

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