Umpiring in the 1890s

This article was written by Rich Eldred

This article was published in 1989 Baseball Research Journal

You think umpires take too much abuse from players? Late last century they often had to fight their way off the field. Here’s a sampling of epithets and brawlgames.


UMPIRING IN THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY was often perilous. Virulent and sometimes violent abuse from players, fans, owners, and reporters was common. Although baseball fans were disgusted by the constant turmoil, the magnates did nothing.

“The pay is good and you can’t beat the hours,” umpire Tim Hurst said, but in fact few men long endured working a game alone. Half a season, a year, were routine tenures. Most umpires were hired sight unseen by National League president Nick Young, and many were ex-ballplayers with no experience. Young’s failure to rotate umpires —one man commonly worked an entire homestand or more – allowed minor tiffs to escalate into running feuds.

In one stretch of 1897, Tom Lynch handled 63 games involving Boston. On Labor Day, manager Frank Selee wrote Young asking for somebody else.

“I can only give decisions as I see them,” Lynch told Tim Murnane of the Boston Globe. Dropping by the Boston Herald office before leaving town, he thanked baseball writer Jake Morse. “If all papers were as fair as the Herald, it would not be such bad work umpiring,” Lynch told the Herald. Lynch’s work was a “treat,” Morse wrote on September 8, but he added his opinion that the league should use two umpires.

In times of inertia it takes a crisis to stir some action. One crisis occurred in August 1897 and the league’s response had far-reaching implications.

On August 8 the Baltimore Orioles were in Boston. Naturally, Lynch was the umpire. In the eighth inning he kicked Joe Kelley and Arlie Pond off the Orioles’ bench. “You’re a big stiff,” yelled Jack Doyle, Baltimore’s first baseman. Lynch looked away. Passing by after the inning, Doyle suggested Lynch would get “trimmed” in Baltimore. Lynch thumbed him.

“Doyle followed Lynch up, thrice applying to him an epithet so vile and offensive as not to excuse hut to demand physical retaliation,” Bert Smalley wrote in the Boston Record, adding, “The epithet Doyle then used was too much to be endured, even by an umpire.” When Doyle repeated it the second time, Lynch whirled around. “What’s that you say?” As Smalley described it, “A third time the foul-mouthed player flung the insult in Lynch’s teeth and Lynch struck him fairly between the eyes. The fierce minute’s work that followed before the police and the players could pry the men apart had best be forgotten.”

Observed Murnane: “The time will soon come when no person above the rank of garrotter can be secured to umpire a game.”

“I for one admire Lynch’s pluck and sand,” Smalley declared. “Players of Doyle’s stripe are fast making the game one that only a prize fighter or a thug has any business in.”

The plucky Lynch, unable to open his left eye because of Doyle’s head butt, went home to New Britain, Connecticut. He told Murnane that except in Boston, the team owners failed to back the umpires. New York owner Andrew Freedman, who complained that the umpires were incompetent and dishonest, was the worst crank, Lynch said.

Baltimore’s owner/manager, Ned Hanlon, illustrated Tom’s point. “Is it any wonder after the deal that Lynch gave the Baltimores on Friday that some of the players would have resented it?” he said. “It has been a general roast and this man Lynch is at heart a Boston man and I know it,” he told the Globe.

Doyle defended his attack on Lynch. “I want to tell you one thing, that all with Irish blood in their veins will never stand being openly assaulted without retaliating,” he told the Boston Post. “. . . That is the first time in my life I ever raised my hand on the ballfield at any umpire.”

Ashamed of the incident, Lynch sent Young his resignation. Nick refused it; he couldn’t spare Lynch because umpire Tim Hurst was in jail. (More on this later.)

To fill in for Lynch while he was away, Young hired Bill Carpenter, a twenty-three-year-old umpire in the Maine State League. When Doyle batted, the crowd hissed. “Doyle has a crust like an alligator. . . . He simply faced the pavilion and clapped his hands,” Murnane observed. One fan hollered, “Dirty ball, dirty ball.” Baltimore catcher Bill Clarke told Carpenter, “Don’t judge us by the action of one man.” He’s right, Murnane said. “Ed Hanlon must blush at the language used by his men.” Carpenter twice called for policemen when he ordered Baltimore players off the field. When Boston’s Hugh Duffy ran in from left to argue, the Oriole bench “to a man commenced to cry, `Police! Police!’”

And why was Tim Hurst in jail? It was because of something that happened in Cincinnati.

You could buy a mug of beer at the park in Cincinnati. Occasionally, unhappy fans gave the umpire a “crystal shower.”

Later, explaining what had happened that fateful day, Hurst said, “I am sorry . . . but it is done and cannot be helped now. . . . The crowd kept jeering me but I paid no attention until a heavy beer mug struck me on the foot. I turned in time to see another coming. I picked up the first one and threw it underhanded into the crowd. I did not throw it at any particular person. . . . I lost my temper and this is the result.” The “result” was that a fan was hospitalized with severe head injuries.

HURST WAS ARRESTED and charged with assault to kill. He put up a $300 bond and left town, but the man’s condition slipped and, at the request of the Cincinnati police chief, Hurst was picked up during the Pittsburgh-St. Louis game. After spending the night on a bed in the jury room, he was released on $500 bond.

Reappointment is out of the question, Murnane thought. “Hurst is a most companionable fellow, the wittiest of entertainers and a good friend. He never drinks or uses tobacco.” But “public sentiment will condemn him.”

Despite his occasional problems Hurst had long success, and it wasn’t owing to gentle diplomacy. One time, Bert Smalley wrote in the Boston Record on July 28, 1897, Tim “put his mouth close to the player’s ear and said coolly, `Now you’re getting a bit chesty, I see you’ve made a couple of good stops, knocked out a couple of hits and you think you’re solid with the crowd. Well, I’ll just tell you something. I’ll give you the key to my room at the hotel, where everything is nice and quiet, and when we get in there alone I’ll break that jaw of yours so you can’t kick for the rest of the season. I’ll see that you get out quietly so you can explain your injury by Saying you fell down somewhere.’” The kicker didn’t take the key.

Joe Kelley told Hurst, “If I was Hanlon you’d never umpire another game in Baltimore.”

“What? Not be allowed to umpire in this city for a lot of swell gentlemen like your crowd? Now, Kel, don’t say that, old boy, for you know all the umpires are stuck on you people.”

Hurst called a Brooklyn player out at home. The player retorted, “You’re a nice duck, ain’t you. Why, he didn’t come within a yard of me. Say, Tim, I know your girl in Philadelphia.” Hurst whipped out his notebook and pencil. “When any of my friends so forgets themselves as to speak to such a yellow ballplayer as you, I scratch them,” he said as he erased the name.

As Hurst explained to Tim Murnane, “You see, I don’t let these people bother me in the least, . . . If a man takes these ballplayers seriously it is only a matter of a very short time until they drive him to drink or to a madhouse.”

But unfortunately for league president Young, the players were winning. Jack Sheridan quit and Bob Emslie was hurt. Four of Young’s seven-man staff were in trouble.

“Altogether I am very badly off for umpires and don’t know where to look for recruits,” Young said. “I sincerely hope there may be extenuating circumstances in Hurst’s case.”

Young, sitting in his Washington office (besides serving as league president he worked as .a clerk for the Treasury Department), reflected on “the toughest week for umpires in all my experience,” which dated from 1871. Heaving a sigh and looking forlorn, he remarked, “I don’t know where to get acceptable men to umpire if this thing continues. . . . Here is Connolly of the New England League, said to be one of the best men in the business, [he] positively declines to accept an appointment.” (Connolly had refused in `96 also.) “And Dan Campbell begged off until umpiring was semi-respectable. . . . John Sheridan sat in a chair right at my desk and vowed he could not stand the personal abuse heaped on him by certain players, managers and newspapers. He vowed to me that he had not taken a drink of liquor since the season began, notwithstanding the charge made against him by Ned Hanlon.”

Young noted that he’d be in a “pretty fix” if not for Bob Emslie and Lynch. “Lynch is a sick man and he needs a few weeks’ rest. He intended to go to the seashore to build up his constitution,” but could not be spared. “Bob Emslie received a sharp blow over his left lung and coughed up a large clot of blood,” but was still calling them. Al Reach recommended John Kelly of the Pennsylvania Interstate League, and Nick signed him pronto.

Eventually, Young felt himself compelled to resign from his federal sinecure to give full attention to the umpire problem.

The Globe’s Tim Murnane went to New Britain, Connecticut, to talk with Tom Lynch. (Lynch, who worked at the Opera House during the winter and was “considered a man of executive ability,” was himself the National League president years later.) Murnane and Lynch discussed Jack Sheridan. “The players simply broke poor Jack’s heart,” Lynch said. “I saw him at the Ashland House yesterday and he told me the players abused him until he could stand it no longer. While he was in Pittsburgh I sent him a telegram telling him to stick it out. . . . He told me that the message cheered him up for several days. . . The poor fellow cried like a child as he went over his troubles for Sheridan was the soul of honor,” Lynch said. Murnane concurred: Sheridan was “always impartial and fearless until slimy-tongued players abused him and he lost heart for the position.”

On August 9, Murnane reviewed the season up to then, and one wonders why only Sheridan quit.

Early on, Cleveland’s Jesse Burkett, “well educated by [manager Patsy] Tebeau,” threatened to “whip” Michael McDermont after a game. A Louisville crowd mobbed Sheridan and when he called Lajoie out for deliberately getting hit by a pitch, several Philadelphia players tried to slug him.

In Pittsburgh, a mob “grossly insulted” Tim Hurst. Tim knocked down one fan, precipitating a general row, and fifteen police escorted him out. “A block away a man hit Hurst in the back of the head and the umpire promptly sent his assailant to the grass too. The mob was closing in now and Hurst, breaking through, jumped on a trolley car and took the first train out of town.”

When McDermont forfeited a game to New York and fined Pittsburgh’s Dick Padden, Frank Killian, and Pat Donovan $25 each, the Pirates kicked out the dressing-room windows. Later, McDermont fired a punch at Jim Rogers of Louisville.

In Chicago, Lynch called a Colt safe at home. Boston catcher Fred Lake protested and Cap Anson got into it. Lake tried to bop Cap. “Lynch, in trying to separate the belligerents, handled the `old man’ [Anson] a bit roughly, whereupon Anse squared off at him. Lynch then grabbed the broom with which he swept the plate and made a swipe at the Chicago captain, who ducked. Then Lynch put Anson out of the game.” The police dragged Monte Cross off the field and fined him $25.

On July 10, Sheridan was pelted with rotten eggs. On the same day, in Louisville, Lynch tossed Clarke and Davis out of the first game of a doubleheader, then, after a “wild row,” refused to umpire the second game. Jim Wolf filled in. New York, Louisville’s opponent, was ahead 7-2 in the ninth when Mike Sullivan and then Amos Rusie lost the plate. When Tom McCreary walked, forcing in the tying run, and the Giants surrounded Wolf, the crowd charged the field, “Joyce tried to punch Wolf and Parke Wilson struck Hach of Louisville in the face. In the midst of the row, when a policeman was hauling Wilson off the field, Pickering of Louisville scored the tying run.”

On July 22, Pink Hawley of Cincinnati decked Sheridan with a shot to the jaw. Jack ejected him. In the second game, the crowd brought bags of rotten eggs and bombarded Sheridan again. In another game, Heine Peitz, the Reds’ catcher, charged Hurst. Tim jolted him in the tummy with his mask and Peitz smashed Hurst in the mouth, drawing blood.

Murnane concluded: “There are more games lost by woodenheaded players failing to exercise their alleged `thinkers’ . . . than by erroneous decisions of the umpires.” About the latter, Murnane said, Hurst, Lynch, and Emslie were the best men. Sheridan was before he went backsliding. “O’Day is honest but loses his head too easily,” McDonald is good if he’s left alone and McDermont is “just fair.”

BUT NOT ALL MEN were as nifty with their fists as Mr. Hurst, and the $1,500 salary wasn’t attracting anyone. Cincinnati pitcher Frank Dwyer donned the mask for a day. The Reds were down 3-2 in the ninth with two out and the bases loaded. Dwyer called Bid McPhee out on strikes. “The air became blue,” Murnane wrote.

“Dwyer’s associates were hot enough to mob him. Few players would have acted as honestly as Dwyer.” (Dwyer and Bill Carpenter later became full-time umpires.)

With all this happening, the time was never better for strong, united action by the magnates. Typically, they did nothing.

Lynch returned to his post. Hurst, found guilty of attempted murder in Cincinnati (the victim recovered), was fined $100 plus court costs. Jack Sheridan was gone for good.

In September, Andrew Freedman docked in New York City, fully rejuvenated from his annual European vacation, and immediately blasted his favorite targets.

The Giants would be second except for rotten umpires in Cincinnati, he told Murnane. “The players there are a lot of loafers and the umpires we had to submit to were thoroughly incompetent.” Who was to blame? “Nick Young. He is dominated by a bad influence [John T. Brush]. When we were in the west we were furnished with the worst and now that we have returned home we have two umpires and always the best the league affords. I have no complaint to make to this, because we play only clean ball.”

Sure you do, hut what about the Reds? “They are a lot of loafers and will not receive any courtesies from me. They have won game after game by unfair means and their tactics are sanctified by the Cincinnati management. As long as that team is in the hands that it is, it will not succeed.”

The other owners were not pleased with Freedman’s comments. “Mr. Freedman has made some serious charges in his recent interviews,” said Brooklyn owner Charles Byrne. “He has charged umpires with being drunk,” and picking on New York. “. . . He is reckless and doesn’t care what he says.”

In case he hadn’t assured his termination, Tim Hurst chattered away with Murnane: “What do you think of that stiff Freedman? Here he goes and abuses Mr. Young as if he were a pickpocket. . . . Why that man works 20 out of every 24 hours of his life for the National League. .Making such cracks about Nick Young is enough to give a decent man the pip. The league ought to get after this Bowery boy and throw him into a tank.”

The Herald’s Jake Morse concurred: “The league could not replace Mr. Young.”

But of course they could replace Mr. Hurst.

The American League, just over the horizon in the late 1890s, succeeded where others failed, for many reasons.

By 1900 people were sick of lawless National League ball. Ban Johnson’s reputation was that he brooked no challenge to the umpire’s authority, and the press expended barrels of ink extolling him in 1901, when Ban faced similar troubles. While Johnson’s disciplinary actions were tempered by box-office considerations, he won nearly unanimous approval in print, even from National League partisans, And across the tracks, Andy Freedman banned umpire Billy Nash from the New York grounds and openly mocked and threatened Nick Young. The contrast wasn’t lost on the fans.

Maybe the American League would have made it even if the National League had run a tighter ship, but no other rival had.

One of Johnson’s original umpires was Tommy Connolly, who had twice turned Young down. He lasted until 1931 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953.

“I am glad to have the opportunity to be with Johnson,” Connolly told Sporting Life. “I’ll get a chance to get backed up. In my last venture in the National League, I fined 14 men in two weeks and not a fine went. All the rules in the world will not help the game if the umpires are not supported.”

Johnson also hired Jack Sheridan. On the way to his first assignment, Jack got off the train in Missouri and began directing an imaginary game in the middle of Main Street. He was hospitalized for “mental derangement.” Drink was responsible, Johnson lamented. Fortunately, Sheridan recovered rapidly and went on to umpire 14 years in the American League.

After being fired by Nick Young, Hurst signed on as manager of St. Louis for 1898. His team had a dismal (39-111) record. Amazingly, Hurst was rehired by Young.

He didn’t last long. This time, Murnane wrote, Hurst “has himself to blame for his luck, for besides poor umping, he has added a foul mouth to his work.”

There’s no backing, Tim told his pal Jake Morse. “I got tired of it. What’s the use? There was only one way —grin and bear it.”

Even on the fringes of baseball, Hurst was beloved by the scribes and remained one of sport’s most quoted men. Annually, Morse and others wondered why Ban Johnson didn’t grab such a fine ump. In 1905 Ban broke down and signed him up.

But Tim’s pugnacious, both-guns-blazing approach was not what Johnson wanted. When Tim spat in Eddie Collins’ face, “because I don’t like college men,” Ban let him go.

In a way it was the end of an era. There have been incidents since then, but never again would an umpire have to brawl his way to the top or face the relentless barrage of scorn that defined umpiring in the 1890s.

RICH ELDRED is researching the origins of the Boston Red Sox.