Happy Birthday, Bananas Benes and Chauncey Fisher

Just tinkering while I have a little time…  Will be going back to my project(s) about minor league all-star Ike Futch and an article about the Augusta  Yankees later this week.  Please forgive me for (a) not giving each player full due and (b) not being careful to document my sources as I do with other posts.

Joe “Bananas” Benes

Joseph Benes was a pretty good minor league infielder, usually on the east coast, playing in Springfield or Newark or Syracuse for the better part of fifteen years during the 1920s and 1930s.  Usually a shortstop, Benes was quick and a decent fielder but apparently wasn’t as good a hitter – which kept him out of the fast company except for about a six week period in 1931 when Benes was already 30 years old.  Born 8 January, 1901, Benes grew up in Long Island City and learned to play ball there, played semi-pro baseball in the Brooklyn area, and landed in the minors as a teen.  In 1931, Branch Rickey had a prospect that wasn’t getting much playing time named Eddie Delker.  So, to get Delker more playing time, Rickey arranged a deal to “trade” Delker to Columbus in the American Association and kept Benes on the bench as a pinch hitter or late inning defensive replacement from early May to mid-June.  Benes, who had already been a regular for more than a decade in the minors, appeared in ten games and got to bat fifteen times, reaching base with two singles, two walks, and getting hit by a pitch before being sent back to the minors.  (Delker wasn’t that much of a prospect and his big league career ended in a couple of years.)

Benes was friends with many scouts in the Yankees chain and later in his career would help them when he played with or against young talent, helping scouts find George “Specs” Torporcer and George McQuinn, among others.  When his minor league career came to an end, he would coach semi-pro teams when not running his own sporting goods store, Benes Sporting Goods, which could have been found at 41-10  29th Street in Long Island City.

Benes remained in the area before he passed to the next league in 7 March 1975.

Chauncey Fisher

Chauncey Fisher was a pitcher who, because he didn’t seem to get along with all of his managers, seemed to get bounced around a lot in the 1890s.  Born and raised in Anderson, IN on 8 January, 1872, he came through the semi-pro circuit and lower level minors before becoming a prospect while pitching in the Western League.  Up and down between the National League and the Western League, it took about three years for Fisher to get his bearings, but by 1896 he was pretty good.  Coming off a 36-win season for Indianapolis, the Reds used him regularly in 1896 until he was shuttled back to Indianapolis, apparently to help the Hoosiers win the Western League crown.  (That would never happen today.  Can you see the Yankees, out of a pennant race, sending Ivan Nova down to AAA after showing form with the big club just to help their AAA club win a minor league crown?)

Fisher was traded to Brooklyn the next year – apparently he also didn’t get along with Reds player/manager Buck Ewing – he pitched well but got on the wrong side of Dodgers manager Billy Barnie, which got him farmed to Omaha.  In 1899, Baltimore drafted him – just to send him back to their farm team in Buffalo, and eventually he landed with the 1900 Chicago White Sox in the newly renamed American League where his 19 wins helped the Sox win the first AL pennant.

A very good summary of Fisher’s career is found in the book “Major League Baseball Profiles: 1871 – 1900 (Volume 1)” edited and compiled by David Nemec.  There are two volumes and this collection is truly amazing.  In it, there are two pretty cool stories about Fisher.  The first is that he was a heck of a gambler, and an especially good poker player.  He would frequently leave tables $100 to the richer against weaker card playing foes.

The second story is perhaps more interesting.  In Volume 2 under a story about Albert Manassau, a Western League and Major League umpire, Fisher was involved in a play that would become more famous a decade later.  Trailing by a run with two outs in the last of the ninth inning, Fisher – now playing for the St. Paul Saints – hit a single that tied the score and sent another runner scurrying from first to third.  When the next batter, Eddie Burke, lashed a single to center to score the winning run, Fisher paused while running the bases to congratulate Burke for his winning hit.  However, the centerfielder saw Fisher stop.  George Hogriever scooped up the ball and ran to second, then asked Manassau to call Fisher out by a force play.  Manassau called Fisher out – but by then the field was full of people who thought that St. Paul had just won the game.  Manassau ruled the game had ended in a tie.

This was 1899.  Only nine years later, Fred Merkle would do the same thing in a game that cost the Giants the 1908 National League pennant.  You’d think that, with Fisher’s error still rather fresh in the minds of baseball people, players would have known to run out every ball.  Rather, Merkle’s Boner is very, very famous in baseball annals, while Fisher’s error – having occurred in a minor league game – was generally forgotten to time.

Fisher’s career degenerated soon after that – drinking and weight gain are tough things to pitch through – and he retired to Anderson where he ran a wrecking company until 1937.  He retired a second time to Los Angeles, where he passed away on 27 April 1939.  Fisher had a younger brother, Tom, who also pitched in the majors.


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