From a Researcher’s Notebook (1981)

This article was written by Al Kermisch

This article was published in the 1981 Baseball Research Journal


Yank Robinson’s One-Man Strike in 1889

When modern-day players go on strike against their owners they do so as a collective unit – the Major League Baseball Players Association – but back in 1889 it took a bit of courage for William (Yank) Robinson to stage a one-man strike against the owner of the St. Louis Browns. And, curiously enough, it all started over a pair of soiled baseball pants.

The drama unfolded in St. Louis on May 2, 1889, when the Browns who had won four consecutive American Association pennants, were scheduled to play Louisville. It was Ladies’ Day and Robinson, the star second baseman for the Browns, wanted to look his best while performing before the fair sex. In the clubhouse Robinson checked over his uniform and decided that his trousers were soiled and also a shade too small for him. He spoke to Manager Charles Comiskey about getting a new pair and the pilot told him to get a pair from his teammate Tip O’Neill. Robinson sent a small boy over to O’Neill’s quarters across from the ball park and wrote out a note authorizing the boy admittance to the park. The youngster carried out his mission but the carriage-gate keeper, an elderly gent, would not let him back into the park.

Forced to play before the ladies in a soiled, uncomfortable pair of pants, Robinson was not too happy about the situation and, at the first opportunity, let the gate-keeper know just what he thought of him, using some very strong language. The latter complained to owner Chris Von der Ahe, who then approached the players’ bench and proceeded to put Robinson in his place in full view of the spectators. Robinson grew indignant at being reprimanded in front of the fans and let Von der Ahe know it in no uncertain terms. However, the owner had the last word and fined Robinson $25 for talking back to him.

After defeating Louisville 5-1, the Browns made preparations to depart for a four-game series in Kansas City. At the train depot, Robinson refused to leave unless the fine was remitted. Yank was sorry that he had taken out his wrath on the old gate-keeper and was willing to apologize for his actions. Most of the players sided with him and when the trained pulled out, the St. Louis party consisted of Manager Comiskey, rookie player Charley Duffee and owner Von der Ahe. Before returning to his quarters, Robinson told his teammates that it was his fight alone and for them to go on to Kansas City. After some pleading with the players, the club secretary bought a second set of tickets and finally induced the boys to take the 9:00 p.m. train to K.C.

Robinson’s defection had a demoralizing effect on the Browns, who had gotten off to a great start in quest of a fifth straight pennant. Without Yank at second base, the club lost three straight games to K.C. by the overwhelming scores of 16-3, 16-9, and 18-11. In the latter game, Kansas City got 11 runs in the ninth inning to win. Von der Ahe fumed over these losses and threatened to hold an investigation, stating that he would blacklist the entire team if he found that they were throwing the games. The Browns defused the tense situation by taking the last game at Kansas City 11-9 and returned home.

The next day – May 7 – at St. Louis, Comiskey met with Robinson and told him to get into uniform and be ready to play. Once more Robinson reiterated that he would not play unless the fine was lifted. Von der Ahe would not budge, but with the fans and press solidly behind the ball player, the owner finally gave Comiskey full authority to patch things up. After Comiskey assured him that he would not have to pay the fine, Robinson finally ended his four-day strike and went back to work. He was back on second base that afternoon and played the game of his life, securing four hits and sparking his team to a 21-0 crushing of Columbus.

 

Rube Marquard Flopped in First Pro Trial

Rube Marquard, the Hall of Famer who died at the age of 90 in 1980, often talked about his brief fling in professional baseball at Waterloo, Iowa, in the Iowa State League in 1906, when he was only 16 years old, but he never mentioned his real debut, one that was very brief and unsuccessful, in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League earlier that same year.

Although only 16, Rube was a standout on the sandlots of Cleveland and his exploits earned him a trial with the Lancaster team. On May 1, 1906, Marquard got his chance when the starting Lancaster hurler got knocked out of the box in the fourth inning of a game against Newcastle. Rube failed to retire a single batter and, after giving up five runs on four hits and his own error, he was replaced. Newcastle won the game 9-3. After being released, Rube picked up where he left off on the Cleveland lots. On May 15, pitching for the Leaders of Cleveland, he beat Ashtabula 10-0 on a two-hitter. Later on, Marquard hitch-hiked to Waterloo for another shot at pro ball. He pitched in five games, winning two of three decisions, but after developing a sore arm, returned to his home in Cleveland. He signed with Indianapolis of the American Association in 1907 and was farmed to Canton in the Central League, where he won 23 games and started his climb to the majors.

 

Grove Only Southpaw 30-Game Winner This Century

A half century ago, Lefty Grove, the star southpaw of the Philadelphia Athletics, had a fabulous 1931 season, winning 31 games while losing just four. He is the only lefthander to win 30 or more games in a season in the 81-year old history of the American League, as well as the only portsider to do so in the majors in this century. The last southpaw to reach the 30-mark in the National League was Frank Killen, who was 30-18 with the Pirates in 1896.

Grove’s credentials for 193 1 included a string of 16 straight wins, which was stopped at St. Louis on August 23, when Dick Coffman of the Browns beat him 1-0. Johnny Moore, a rookie left fielder, misjudged a fly ball that led to the only run of the game. After that loss, Grove won six in a row before he was routed in his final start of the season at New York on September 27. The Yanks thumped him for five runs and eight hits in three innings and went on to beat the A’s 13-1. Besides the losses to St. Louis and New York, he dropped single games to Washington and Chicago. However, he defeated the Senators six times, the White Sox five times, the Browns four times and the Yankees three times. He was 5-0 against the Tigers and 4-0 against both Boston and Cleveland.

While on the subject of major league southpaws, the record books state that the winningest lefthander for one season in the big leagues was Lady Baldwin, who won 42 games for Detroit, National League, in 1886. Baldwin certainly holds the senior circuit mark, but the major league record belongs to Matt Kilroy, of the 1887 Baltimore Orioles of the American Association, who won 47 games that year. Moreover, Kilroy and John “Phenomenal” Smith, who won 25 games, gave the two southpaws 72 of the 77 Oriole victories for the season.

 

Frank Robinson’s Instant Grand-Slams for Orioles

Frank Robinson, current manager of the San Francisco Giants, hit 179 home runs for the Orioles in just six years and 102 of them were hit at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, one of the major’s tougher home run parks. But the great slugger, who is the only player to hit a ball out of Memorial Stadium, failed to hit a single grand slam home run in his home park. In fact, he hit only two bases full homers for the Birds and they came in consecutive times at bat at Washington on the night of June 26, 1970. He hit one off right hander Joe Coleman in the fifth inning and another off-southpaw Joe Grzenda in the sixth as the Orioles won 12-2.

Don Buford, whom Robinson brought back to major league baseball this year as a coach for the Giants, hit only 67 home runs for the Orioles in five years but he also hit two grand-slams for the Birds. Buford, however, did manage to hit one at Memorial Stadium as well as one on the road. His first came at Boston on the night of September 16, 1968, and his slam off Jim Lonborg in the fifth inning capped a five-run inning to give the Birds a 6-1 lead as they went on to win 8-1. Then on August 8, 1970, in the second game of a twi-night twin bill at Baltimore, Dave Baldwin relieved Gene Brabender in the sixth inning with Milwaukee leading 4-3. Baldwin walked Boog Powell intentionally to load the bases and Buford homered to give the Orioles a 7 to 4 lead and ultimate victory.

 

Pitching Contrasts – Jim Palmer and Jeff Schneider

On Wednesday August 12, 1981, in the first game of a twin bill against Kansas City at Baltimore, Jim Palmer, on the mound for the Orioles for the first time since the long players’ strike, pitched six innings and left the game trailing 3 to 0. Those six innings gave Palmer a total of 3575.1 innings pitched in the majors in 493 games without ever throwing a grand slam home run. Palmer was replaced by Dave Ford, who could retire only two men in the seventh inning and gave way to Jeff Schneider, a 27-year-old southpaw, who was making his major league debut. Schneider got the dangerous George Brett to fly out to end the inning. But before he could retire a batter in the eighth inning, he had given up a bases loaded home run to Frank White as the Royals went on to a 10-0 win. So what no major league tatter could do to Palmer in 3575.1 innings in 493 games, one did to rookie Schneider in one-third of an inning in his first big league contest!

 

The Day Sadie McMahon Came Back to the Orioles

During the 1980s Sadie McMahon was one of the pitching stars in the majors, both with the Philadelphia Athletics and the Baltimore Orioles. In his first six years he won 145 games and lost 107. In 1894, he helped the Orioles to their first pennant with a record of 25 and 8, but during the last month of the campaign, when the Orioles were fighting bitterly for the flag, he came up with a sore arm. He did not pitch again until the latter part of the 1895 season, and his work in the stretch drive enabled the Birds to win their second pennant in a row. He won 10 of 14 decisions, including four shutouts. He fell to 12 and 8 in 1896 and Ned Hanlon let him go after that season. He signed with Brooklyn in 1897, but after losing five games without winning one he was released. Sadie left baseball and returned to his home in Wilmington, Delaware. In the early 1900s McMahon reappeared occasionally with independent teams around Wilmington.

In 1903, however, one of his old teammates, Hugh Jennings, took over the managerial reins of the Orioles of the Eastern League. In August of that year, Jennings was hard up for pitchers and asked the 35-year-old McMahon if he would like to give it another try. Sadie said his arm was sound and agreed to come to Baltimore. Jennings sent him in to pitch the second game of a doubleheader against Newark on August 15. The news that McMahon was to pitch was spread around town and the game drew the largest crowd of the Eastern League season – 8,947. For the first time that year ropes had to be stretched to accommodate the overflow crowd in the field.

Sadie rose to the occasion and won 7 to 6 – and he drove in the winning run, to boot. The crowd was so enthusiastic over his victory that after the game he was carried on the shoulders of a group of rooters to the clubhouse. The next day McMahon was nowhere to be found. Without a word to anyone, he had returned to his home in Wilmington. Jennings informed the press that there was no disagreement with McMahon, that he had been perfectly satisfied with the terms offered. But several days later, Jennings received a letter from Sadie in which he thanked Hughie for giving him the chance but admitted that the one game had taken so much out of him that he had decided to retire for good. Of course, you won’t find it in the official records for that year but you can just add the following to McMahon’s pitching record:

Year  Club  League     G         CG      W        L          Pct.      IP  R  H   BB   SO       HP

1903  Bal    E.L.          1          1          1          1          1.000  9   5  12   1      4          2

 

Sam Rice’s Batting Record Purified

Sam Rice was one of the most consistent hitters in baseball history but for many years his playing record included a first-year item of 18 games at Muscatine in the Central Association with a batting average of . 194. That item certainly was not consistent with the rest of his career, which lasted through 1934, with no other batting average less than .293. But in the 1981 edition of Daquerreotypes, published by The Sporting News, the Muscatine entry has finally been deleted and Rice’s record now begins with a .310 mark in 31 games with Petersburg in the Virginia League in 1914.

Just how Rice got saddled with the Muscatine record for so many years is just one of those things, but Sam himself gave me the clue that it wasn’t his record when I had a chance to chat with him briefly just before a Washington baseball writers’ banquet some years ago. I casually mentioned to Sam that he must have had a difficult time getting started at Muscatine. “But I never played at Muscatine,” replied Rice. “I did have a tryout as a pitcher with Galesburg in that league but I was released.” Rice later joined the U.S. Navy and saw action on the battleship New Hampshire during the Vera Cruz uprising in Mexico in 1914. He was a coal passer and he was in the landing party from his ship which went ashore. He later recalled that bullets were flying all over the place.

Rice was the star pitcher of the New Hampshire baseball team. In 1913, his team played the battleship Louisiana nine for the championship of the U.S. Navy. The series was played at Annapolis, Maryland, and the Louisiana won two of the three games to win the title, but Rice’s pitching was outstanding as he pitched all three games in as many days.

After the action at Vera Cruz, the New Hampshire berthed in the Portsmouth Navy Yard and Rice spent his furlough pitching for Petersburg in the Virginia League. He eventually bought his way out of the Navy to concentrate on pro ball. Sam was well passed his 24th birthday when he made his debut for Petersburg on June 29, 1914. He relieved Harry Hedgepeth in a 4-3 loss to Norfolk and did not allow a hit in one and two-thirds innings. The next day he played left field and had one hit in three at bats. Rice made his major league debut for the Senators on August 7, 1915, against the Chicago White Sox at Washington. He replaced Jim Shaw in the sixth inning and gave up one hit in one and two-thirds innings as Chicago won 6-2. He had one turn at bat against Jim Scott and popped to shortstop Buck Weaver. Incidentally, the right fielder for the Senators the day that Rice (who was to make the Hall of Fame as an outfielder) was making his debut as a pitcher, was none other than the great Walter Johnson, who was playing in place of the injured Dan Moeller. Johnson had one hit in three trips.

Rice may be the only Hall of Famer who served in both the Army and Navy. In 1918, he was drafted into the Army and served at Ft. Terry, N.Y. He still managed to get into seven games with the Nats while on furlough and got 8 hits in 23 at bats for a .348 average.

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