About Paul Proia

Technology Professional, Amateur Baseball Historian, Published Author, Husband, Father. I try the best I can with the limited skills God gave me.

Happy Birthday, Walter Marbet!

“With the game lost, Walter Marbet, the new pitching acquisition from Cleveland, Tenn., made his first appearance. He gave cause for hope. Marby seems to have a ‘hop’ on his fast ball, and he has a good curve. He escaped damage in the last two rounds though the outfielders were kept busy.”

“Card Chirpings,” St. Louis Star and Times, June 18, 1913: 8.

With little professional fanfare, Walter Marbet was lifted from the obscurity of Kentucky and Tennessee baseball diamonds and placed on the mound used by the St. Louis Cardinals. His stay in the majors was about two weeks; it took but three days to show that Marbet belonged behind the counter of his family businesses in rural Tennessee.

Walter William Marbet was born on September 13, 1891 in Merrill, Iowa to Swiss immigrants Jacob and Pauline (Karrer) Marbet. The German speaking parents arrived in the United States around 1880 and had three sons – Walter arrived after Albert and before Otto. Around 1896, the Marbets left Iowa for Hohenwald, Tennessee – a town founded by Swiss immigrants about the time that Jacob and Pauline arrived in the United States. In fact, part of what is now Hohenwald includes a town named New Switzerland. Jacob opened a hotel there and ran the hotel until his retirement around World War I.

walter-marbetWalter and Otto both played baseball in Hohenwald in the late 1900s and early 1910s. In fact, they both tried out with the Nashville Volunteers in 1911. Otto’s career never got much beyond that tryout, though he played baseball locally for several years. Walter’s first impression might have been a bit different. In an exhibition game against Vanderbilt, Walter reached as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning and, forgetting a belt, struggled to keep his pants above his posterior while racing to first base. Walter and his flying fanny didn’t make it with Nashville, though he was was versatile enough with a strong arm – good enough to get a look with Clarksville in the Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee League – called the Kitty League at that time.

Walter Marbet played first base, center field, and pitched with Clarksville for much of 1911 and then semi-professionally for Centreville, TN to begin 1912. That June, Walter signed with Paducah in the Kitty League. At first, the tall and lean Marbet was stunningly successful. After winning his maiden effort, the righthander went 14 innings to beat Hopkinsville. However, three weeks after he signed with Paducah, he either lost his nerve or lost his fastball. By early August, manager Pat Bohannon told Marbet to stay home. Marbet agreed and stated he wouldn’t return to Paducah until he was in condition to win games.

Something changed – Marbet wanted to pitch but didn’t want to return to Paducah for 1913. After trying to sell Marbet’s rights, Paducah traded Marbet for infielder Daddy Whitaker with Cleveland of the Appalachian League. There, Marbet found his form – and pitched well enough in front of a St. Louis Cardinals scout to earn a trip to the Gateway City. Marbet’s signing earned a surprised take from his old home city. The Paducah Evening Sun noted, “Marbet pitched star ball for Clarksville in 1911, but his arm went bad, and he showed only flashes of his form last season. Whether Marbet can make good in fast company is a puzzle to the fans.”

A couple of weeks after arriving in St. Louis, Manager Miller Huggins gave Marbet two innings of mop up duty in an 8 – 3 loss to Brooklyn on June 17, 1913. Two days later, desperate to find anyone who could pitch, Huggins gave a start to Marbet against the same Brooklyn nine. This time, Marbet wouldn’t be so lucky. In the first inning an error and two singles scored a run with one out. However, after a foul out, Casey Stengel was fooled by the hidden ball trick to end the inning with just the one run scored. In the second inning, after a ground out, six straight Brooklyn batters singled, scoring four runs and ending Marbet’s day – Bob Harmon came in to finish the remaining 7.2 innings.

Marbet got one more chance – this time in the tenth inning of a June 25 game that was 1 – 1 when the extra inning started. Rube Geyer was hammered by Pittsburgh, so Huggins called for Marbet. Marbet proceeded to walk the next three batters, forcing in two more runs. Huggins next tried Poll Perritt, who at least got the final out – if not quickly. Exactly a month later, St. Louis sent Marbet back to Cleveland, TN.

And with that, Walter Marbet’s professional career was over. And it was Walter, not Walt. If you run queries for “Walt Marbet” on Newspapers.com you won’t get a single hit. But “Walter Marbet” returns scores of hits over a five or ten year period of time. Marbet tried out one more time in 1914, but the Nashville Volunteers decided he wasn’t good enough after three years wandering through other professional circuits. He’d play locally in any number of amateur or semi-professional leagues for the rest of the decade, but Walter Marbet’s days getting paid to play baseball were done.

Like many of this era, Marbet registered for the draft as World War I started. However, a few things changed. His father sold the hotel business – and Walter Marbet became a year older, listing his birthdate as 1890 instead of 1891. On that registration form, Marbet used his father’s retirement as a reason he should have been exempt from military service – he was the lone provider for his father. One figures that the locals saw through the ruse. Walter eventually was inducted into the Army and sent to Camp Wadsworth in late October, 1918. The war ended three weeks later and Private Marbet soon returned home.

Marbet married a woman at least twelve years his junior, Florine Springer. His father was eighteen years older than his mother, so maybe this was in his genes. To pay the bills, he operated a grocery store for the better part of thirty years. The life long Democrat also served two terms as a county trustee from 1944 to 1948. Florine helped run the family grocery store and gave birth to two children. The oldest, Dorothy, would marry and move away. His son, Jacob Springer Marbet, opened a service station around 1950 but only ran it for five years – he would perish in an automobile wreck at just 29 years old in 1955. Walter Marbet still worked the service station in Hohenwald when lung cancer took him to the next league on September 9, 1956 – just four days shy of his 65th birthday, He was buried in Swiss Cemetery in Hohenwald two days later.

NOTES:

Baseball-Reference,com
Retrosheet.org
FindaGrave.com

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Censuses
Iowa Birth Records
Tennessee Death Records
Tennessee Marriage Records
World War I Registration Records

“Walter Marbet,” Nashville Tennessean, February 8, 1911: 7. (Includes picture.)

“Three of Hirsig’s Proteges Arrive,” Nashville Banner, March 14, 1911: 12.

“Notes of Yesterday’s Game,” Nashville Banner, April 6, 1911: 16

“Diamond Dope,” Hopkinsville Kentuckian, April 15, 1911: 4.

Jack Nye, “Vol. Sidelights,” Nashville Banner, May 25, 1911: 14.

“Go Out and See New Club,” Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, May 22, 1912: 1.

“14 Innings to Great Victory,” Paducah Evening Sun, June 28, 1912: 6.

“Big Chief,” Paducah Evening Sun, August 8, 1912: 1.

“Kitty Scratches,” Paducah Evening Sun, May, 8, 1913: 6.

“Walter Marbet Given Tryout by Cardinals,” Paducah Evening Sun, June 6, 1913: 8.

“Card Chirpings,” St. Louis Star and Times, June 18, 1913: 8.

“Marbet Will Go Full Route Today Against Dodgers,” St. Louis Star and Times, June 19, 1913: 10.

“Dodgers Pass Cubs; Return in Third Place,” Brooklyn Standard Union, June 20, 1913: 12.

“Big Bob Before Native Friends,” Davenport Daily Times, June 26, 1913: 13

“Contracts and Releases,” Fall River Globe, July 25, 1913: 6.

“Colonels Romp on Vols 6 to 2,” Nashville Banner, March 23, 1914: 10.

“N., C. & ST. L. Team Defeats Hohenwald,” Nashville Banner, July 6, 1916: 10.

“Moore Democratic Primary Quiet,” Nashville Banner, April 2, 1946: 18.

“Hohenwald Man Killed in Wreck,” Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, August 26, 1955: 4.

W.W. Marbet Dies in Lewis; Rites Wednesday,” Nashville Banner, September 25, 1956: 6.

The Lost Career of Ralph Sharman

The death of a young person is not just tragic for the loss of life but for the loss of a future. In major league baseball, one of the more tragic losses was that of Ralph Sharman, one of the casualties tangentially related to World War I.

Ralph Edward Sharman was the last of five children born to English immigrants John and Hannah (Ette) Sharman, arriving on April 11, 1895. The Sharmans married in England, then arrived at Ellis Island aboard the Arizona with a child in tow in May, 1883. They first settled in Pennsylvania, then moved to Ohio. Ralph, named after John’s brother, was born in Cleveland shortly before the family moved near Cincinnati in the late 1890s. John Sharman sold insurance and was active in the community, serving as a Norwood city councilman. Their lives were comfortable and socially busy, as John or Hannah might appear in the social columns of the Cincinnati Enquirer from time to time.

Ralph was an athlete – slightly above average in height (5′ 11) and solidly built (his weight was variously listed as 175 and 195). And, he grew up in a city that had been a baseball town for some fifty years by the time he earned notice as an amateur centerfielder for the U.S. Printing baseball team and later as a member of the Norwood city team. He earned the nickname “Home-Run” Sharman while at Norwood. In 1914, after getting a brief tryout with Portsmouth in the Ohio State League, he clocked two triples and a long homer off of former major league pitcher Jesse Tannehill, who was now throwing for amateur teams in Cincinnati.

While Sharman didn’t stick the first time with Portsmouth, he was given a second chance for the 1915 season – and this time he was more than equal to the task. Keeping with his “Home-Run” nickname, Sharman hit the longest ball ever seen at Springfield, Ohio breaking a mark thought to be held by Buster Keene.

But fans, a new mark was set in over-the-fence drives yesterday, Sharman’s wallop that cleared the enclosure was a longer drive than Keene’s. It was nearer center field, which increases the distance as left field is shorter. Candidly, Sharman’s hit will go down in the baseball archives as the longest home run ever uncorked in the River City. The pill landed this side of the Dardanelles.

“Wrests Honor From Keene,” Portsmouth Daily Times, May 20, 1915: 10.

When the season closed, Sharman led the Ohio State League with a .374 batting average, was tops in hits, third in runs scored, and just five stolen bases behind the leader with 31 thefts. The New York Giants took an interest in the young outfielder and sent Portsmouth a $500 check for his rights. The following spring, Sharman joined the Giants in Marlin, Texas for spring training.

Sharman, a humble sort known to have shared his paycheck with his family back home, was modest in describing his chances to stick with the Giants. He told a scribe that he didn’t think he would make it with the Giants and expected to be sent to a Class AA or Class A club for more seasoning. “Better have another year in the minors and be sure of success in the big show afterwards,” says Sharman, “than to go into the majors too green and score a failure.”

Sharman was right. Soon after arriving in Texas, Sharman contracted blood poisoning in his foot – he blamed it on wearing his cleats too tight – and was dispatched to Memphis in the Southern League. Things didn’t get better there – he injured himself a second time, tearing a tendon in his leg while making a mighty swing. With Memphis, Sharman got just five hits in thirty-eight at bats and was once caught napping by the hidden ball trick. By mid-May, Sharman was optioned to the Galveston Pirates in the Texas League.

Finally, Sharman got things squared away. It took a few weeks, but by late summer his batting average had snuck back over .300. He finished the 1916 season with 104 hits in 106 games, good for a .277 batting average. A quarter of his hits were for extra bases. He played well enough for Memphis to exercise their option and have Sharman return there for spring training in 1917.

Maybe he didn’t like the food. Once again, Memphis dispatched Sharman to Galveston, but he wouldn’t stay there long. Galveston was removed from the Texas League and his rights were then acquired by the Fort Worth Panthers. After a particularly good game against former major leaguer Dode Criss (five hits, with two doubles and a triple), the Fort Worth Star-Telegram read the tea leaves and predicted that 1917 would be the year Sharman made it to the majors.

“At the rate Ralph Sharman has been going since joining the Panthers it seems that he intends to make this his last year in the minors. The former Pirate had his hitting togs on Thursday and laced Buff hurlers, Criss and Glenn, for two doubles, a single and a triple in five trips to the plate. He covers as much territory as any outfielder in the league and sports an arm that makes it dangerous to take any kind of chances on the pathways.”

“Kike’s Komment,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 13, 1917: 10.

Ralph SharmanBefore Sharman would win the Texas League batting crown (.341, with 203 hits – 42 doubles), he began attracting the notice of scouts, including those of the Cubs and Athletics.  Connie Mack won the bidding war, purchasing his rights from Fort Worth in August and agreeing to let Sharman join the Athletics once the Texas League season ended. 

Sharman made his debut in the first game of a doubleheader against the Yankees on September 10. The Yankees got out to an early lead, so Mack starting putting in the kids – Sharman replaced Amos Strunk in center field in the third inning. In the seventh, Sharman beat out a grounder to the shortstop for his first major league hit in his second at bat. Then he got a couple of pinch running or pinch hitting chances before sitting down for two weeks to watch the regulars. But this wasn’t a good Athletics team – it wouldn’t quite win 36% of the games in 1917 – so for the last ten days of the season, Mack sat the regulars to let the rookies play.

The player who best took advantage of that opportunity was Ralph Sharman.

After a game with two walks and no hits, Sharman would hit in each of his remaining seven starts, getting ten hits in thirty trips before the season ended. Sharman finished with a .297 batting average, adding a couple of walks and three extra base hits. One was a triple that was launched way over the head of Ty Cobb, but Cobb’s speed and accurate throw to Donie Bush, who then made a perfect relay to home, was able to nab Sharman at the plate.

It was an impressive finish to the season. Fans likely looked forward to seeing the young kid getting a chance to prove himself in 1918, especially after Mack moved Amos Strunk to Boston and right fielder Charlie Jamieson hadn’t exactly earned a guaranteed job in right field with his powerless .267 batting average. (Jamieson hit .202 in 1918 – he might not have played that much if Sharman were around.)

However, that would have to wait. With World War I raging in Europe and the United States committing resources to the Allies, Sharman enlisted in the United States Army, joining Battery F of the 136th Ohio Field Artillery. He spent a week in Fort Thomas, Kentucky before being sent to Camp Sheridan near Montgomery, Alabama. Camp Sheridan’s encampment had a large “Buckeye” contingent in the field artillery batteries.

Sharman’s training included sports. After being promoted to Corporal, Sharman was placed in charge of the Camp Sheridan baseball team. The Cincinnati Reds trained there – convenient given the large number of Ohioans nearby – and Sharman’s team would play practice games against Christy Mathewson’s spring training teams.

While thousands of these soldiers would see battle in Europe, Sharman was not to be one of them. However, he would be a casualty to the war effort. On May 24, 1917, during a break from training, Sharman was swimming in the Alabama River when he got caught in a whirlpool and was pulled under the surface. While more expert swimmers were brought over to try to rescue Sharman, the effort proved unsuccessful and he drowned; his body not recovered until hours later into the night. After a funeral at the camp, his body was returned to Ohio and buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.

There is no guarantee that Sharman would have played another game for the Athletics. Camp Sheridan was hard hit by the 1918 flu pandemic and thousands of its soldiers who were sent to Europe were killed or wounded in battle. However, he MIGHT have survived and became a regular American League outfielder. One of his Portsmouth teammates in 1915 was Austin McHenry, who had a nice major league career until he, too, died way too young. Instead, we are left saddened by Sharman’s death; we can only wonder what his future might have been.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org
FindAGrave.com

1900, 1910 US Census
World War I Registration Card
OH Marriage Records
NY/Ellis Island Passenger Lists
Ohio Roster of Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, World War 1917-1918

“Norwood,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 10, 1910: 4-5.

Box Score, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 14, 1914: 18.

“Amateur Baseball,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 19, 1914: 23.

“Ralph Sharman,” Portsmouth Daily Times, May 10, 1915: 10.

“Wrests Honor From Keene,” Portsmouth Daily Times, May 20, 1915: 10.

“Local Players are Paid Off in Full,” Portsmouth Daily Times, August 19, 1915: 9.

“$500 For Sharman,” Portsmouth Daily Times, October 2, 1915: Sports, Pg. 1.

“Sharman is Modest,” Portsmouth Daily Times, October 19, 1915: 10.

“Ralph Sharman Boss Hitter in Ohio State,” Portsmouth Daily Times, October 25, 1915: 10.

“Sharman is Better,” Portsmouth Daily Times, March 9, 1916: 10.

“Recruit for Memphis,” Knoxville Journal and Tribune, March 20, 1916: 9.

“Giants’ Colts Beat Regulars For Title,” New York Times, March 24, 1916: 12.

Ed F. Balinger,”Pirate Pickups From Tennessee,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 5, 1916: 10.

“Sharman Injured,” Portsmouth Daily Times, April 19, 1916: 10.

“Fine Boost for Ralph Sharman,” Portsmouth Daily Times, April 27, 1916: Sports. Pg. 2.

“Waivers on Sharman,” Portsmouth Daily Times, May 9, 1916: 8.

“Old Army Game Worked on Sharman,” Portsmouth Daily Times, May 12, 1916: Section 2, 2.

“Memphis Turns Back Sharman to Giants,” Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, May 23, 1916: 12.

“Ralph Sharman With the Galveston Club,” Portsmouth Daily Times, June 7, 1916: 10.

“Sharman Clubbing Pill,” Portsmouth Daily Times, July 24, 1916: 10.

“Minor Circuit Clubs Exercise Player Option,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 15, 1916: 12.

“Memphis Club Has Many Texas Lads,” Shreveport Journal, March 23, 1917: 9.

“Chicks Sell Sharman to Galveston Club,” Chattanooga News, April 5, 1917: 12.

“Kike’s Komment,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 13, 1917: 10.

“Sharman is Sought By Major Clubs,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 7, 1917: 8.

“Sharman is Bought By Connie Mack,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 12, 1917: Page 19.

Karl Bettis, “Sharman and Bernsen League’s Best Polers,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, September 2, 1917: 11.

“Tigers Put Check on Rookies’ Rush,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 29, 1917: 14.

“Mack Loses Another Player,” Kansas City Times, November 6, 1917: 8.

Cincinnati Enquirer, March 15, 1918: 8.

“Ralph Sharman of 136th Field Artillery Drowned Friday,” Montgomery Advertiser, May 25, 1918: 3.

Happy Birthday, Carl Spongberg!

Carl Spongberg went from an educated pitcher tossing in obscurity in a small Idaho town to being a member of the 1908 Chicago Cubs and back in the span of eight months. His reward? Baseball encyclopedias spelling his first name wrong for more than a century.

Born May 21, 1884, Carl Gustave Spongberg with the first of six children born to a pair of Swedish immigrants, Gustave and Anna (Sellstrom) Spongberg, in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Spongbergs and Sellstroms arrived in the United States around 1881 and soon moved to Montpelier, Idaho where Gustave became a bank clerk and later ran a grocery. Carl was both a good student and athlete – in his teens he went away to a business school in Salt Lake City, the first of many times he would leave his Idaho home for Utah.

Baseball took to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s and Spongberg took up the sport in his hometown of Montpelier. He’d play a variety of positions, but only on the days he wasn’t pitching. Pitching became his calling card in Montpelier – and groceries… More on that later. After a particularly good season in the Snake Valley League, he joined John Dubel’s Salt Lake City team in the Utah State League. He pitched well enough there in 1907 to earn a tryout with Aberdeen, which was replacing Spokane in the Northwestern League. He didn’t stick, so Spongberg returned to the Utah State League for 1908, only this time with Odgen.

For a kid not good enough to pitch in Aberdeen, he suddenly became a national name in the span of a month pitching for Ogden. Owner of multiple double-digit strikeout games that season, Spongberg’s outing on July 4th against his old Salt Lake City team drew raves. “Most of the credit for the victory goes to Spongberg, the pitcher who hails from Idaho,” wrote the Salt Lake Tribune. “Time and time again with lightning-like rapidity a batsman would retire after but three balls and been thrown over the plate.” Spongberg fanned thirteen batters, walked nobody, and the only Salt Lake base runner reached by an error. Two weeks later, he made a difficult catch of a softly hit infield fly and turned it into a triple play. Spongberg was on fire.

Two people with scouting ties were on hand to see Spongberg pitch. One was his manager, Frank Gimler, who also played centerfield. The other was Joe Shea, who gained fame for finding Walter Johnson, the Idaho pitcher now a star with the Washington Senators. They passed this information on to Frank Chance, a west coast native now managing the Chicago Cubs, who just so happened to be looking for additional pitching help.

Chance and Chicago owner Charles Murphy were willing to take a chance on Spongberg, not only because of the tip, but because it would be an inexpensive investment. As the Utah State League was not part of “Organized Baseball,” the Cubs wouldn’t have to pay a purchase price for Spongberg to head east. Chance sent $150 in advance for Spongberg’s $300 per month salary and covered transportation costs for the pitching prospect. Spongberg made one last start for Ogden on July 26, 1908 – leaving after one inning because a sore on his second finger began to bleed – and headed on a train east to Boston.

Pitcher Karl Sponberg reported to Manager Chance tonight. He is a big husky right hander who looks as if he knew baseball, but will get no chance to show it until he recovers from his long journey from Utah.

“Notes of the Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1908: 10.

Carl Spongberg

The Cubs, in that famous race with Pittsburgh and New York for the 1908 National League pennant, had just left Brooklyn for Boston to begin a five game series with the Doves – and Spongberg was making a four-day journey across the country. Spongberg arrived in Boston on July 30, met the team and got a uniform that would fit his 6′ 2″, 208 pound frame.

The Cubs won the first four games of the series, but Boston got the best of Chicago starter Carl Lundgren in the fifth game on August 1, Chance pulling him after just four batters. Chick Fraser came in to finish the inning, but the Cubs were now behind 7 – 0. Chance pulled himself, one other player, and Fraser, inserting Spongberg into the lineup as the new pitcher.

“Manager Chance gave up the game right there and decided to try out Sponberg {sic}, his latest recruit from the west. The youngster had not regained his land legs after a five days’ journey from Utah and the scenery, including the home plate, was still moving past the car windows for him.”

I. E. Sanborn, “Cubs Massacred by Doves,” Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1908: 15.

Spongberg gave up two runs in the second inning, another in the third and fourth – including a homer to Boston manager Joe Kelley – before finally getting through an inning cleanly in the fifth. Walks and an error by Johnny Evers plated three more runs in the sixth, but Spongberg finished two more clean innings before the game was over. Boston won 14 – 0, and Spongberg’s line included six innings, seven walks, eight hits, two hit batsmen, and seven runs allowed. However, he had two of the Cubs’ five hits. Cecil Ferguson struck out Spongberg in the Swede’s first at bat, but Spongberg got two hits the next two times up.

And that was it. Chance released Spongberg, but he and pitcher Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown both felt awful that Spongberg came all that way for a one-game tryout. Each reached out to contacts to help find Spongberg another baseball gig in the east – Chance getting a job with Springfield, Illinois one hour before Brown got Spongberg a job with Reading. Spongberg was given a tryout, things didn’t work out, and by season’s end, Spongberg was back in the Utah State League, but with Salt Lake City.

Spongberg returned to Montpelier, initially taking a clerk’s role with an implement store and pitching for his old Montpelier team. In fact, while Spongberg lived in Montpelier, he could be counted on to pitch for his local team through at least 1919. In 1913, he returned to Salt Lake to take a position with a large bank there. He met Jean Leishman and they married in May. In time they had one son, Jay Allen. Their stay in Salt Lake was temporary. Before long, he went home to Montpelier and operated a grocery into the 1920s. Western States Grocery Company then reached out to Spongberg and made him a manager of their wholesale grocery company. This necessitated two moves – one to Oregon, and a second to Los Angeles.

In the summer of 1938, Spongberg fell ill. He came down with pneumonia and died on July 21, 1938. He was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles, leaving behind his wife and son.

FYI, if you look up Spongberg in the encyclopedia or even Baseball-Reference.com, you will see his name spelled as Karl Spongberg – but every other reference from his time period, with RARE exception spells it as Carl. Including documents like his World War I registration card which includes his own signature…

SOURCES:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com
World War I Registration Card
1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 US Census
Utah Marriage Index
California Death Index

“For Utah Schools,” Salt Lake Herald, September 13, 1901: 3.

“Each Won a Game,” Montpelier Examiner, July 28, 1905: 1.

“Was The Whole Show,” Montpelier Examiner, May 10, 1907: 8.

“Aberdeen Gets Sponberg {sic},” Salt Lake Herald, March 25, 1908: 10.

“Indians Hit Ball Hard’ Win 11-3,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, April 25, 1908: 14.

“Spongberg Pitches a No-Hit Game,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 5, 1908.

“Ogden Winner in Fast Game,” Salt Lake Herald, July 20, 1908: 7.

“Chicago Nationals Sign Spongberg,” Salt Lake Herald, July 25, 1908: 10.

“Thunder-storm Prevents Game Between Champions and Dodgers,” Chicago Inter Ocean, July 26, 1908: 17.

“Ogden, 4; Occidentals, 3,” Salt Lake Herald, July 27, 1908: 7.

“Notes of the Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, July 29, 1908: 12.

“Notes of the Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1908: 10.

“Boston Gives Cubs an Awful Walloping,” Chicago Inter Ocean, August 2, 1908: 13.

I. E. Sanborn, “Cubs Massacred by Doves,” Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1908: 15.

“Sponberg for Springfield,” Chicago Tribune, August 6, 1908: 6.

“Sponberg Didn’t Last,” Washington (DC) Evening Star, August 9, 1908: Part 5, Page 1.

“Spongberg Still in Demand,” Montpelier Examiner, August 21, 1908: 2.

“Lobsters Trim White Wings,” Salt Lake Herald, September 21, 1908: 7.

“Local News,” Montepelier Examiner, May 17, 1912: 5.

“Two Fast Ball Games on the Local Diamond,” Montpelier Examiner, July 31, 1914: 1.

“Ball League Opens with Good Games,” Montpelier Examiner, June 6, 1919: 1.

Carl G. Spongberg, Los Angeles Times, July 23, 1938: 32.

Carl G. Spongberg, Salt Lake Tribune, July 23, 1938: 13.

A brief baseball tale about John Abadie…

John Abadie was a Philadelphia native who played baseball with the Centennials and Brooklyn Atlantics in the National Association in 1875, which is how he made it into your baseball encyclopedias. And, until Hank Aaron was added to the baseball record books in 1954, Abadie would have been listed first in the encyclopedia, if not first in your hearts…

John Victor Abadie was the oldest son (of five children) of Victor and Mary Abadie, born November 4, 1870 in Philadelphia. Victor was of French descent, Mary was listed as being born in Ireland per a later census record. Having grown up in a baseball town, John Abadie was first listed as a member of an organized team in 1873, when he was the first baseman for the Eastons. By 1875 he had signed with the Centennial Base Ball Club, a Philadelphia based team that joined the National Association. The team lasted but fourteen professional games, losing all but two, and Abadie was listed as one of the team’s weak spots. “Abadie as a ‘sure catch’ is a poor success. There are boys of 12 in amateur clubs far superior at this point. However, yesterday being but his second game with the Centennials, he may do better.”

Abadie appeared in 11 of the 14 Centennial games and must have played somewhat better. Good enough that when the Centennials disbanded, the Brooklyn Atlantics picked Abadie up to play a single game with them on June 10, 1875 when the Atlantics were in Philadelphia and needed an able body. The Philadelphia Times said Abadie “played first finely for them.” However, it wasn’t fine enough to keep a job. Abadie stayed home in Philadelphia, played amateur baseball for a few clubs in Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre, and was out of baseball circles by 1880.

Instead, Abadie found work as a laborer. Around 1900, he was a partner with a company handling horses for a local inn in Northampton, NJ. It’s a bit difficult to piece together Abadie’s family life. In the 1880 US Census, he is living in Philadelphia with a wife, Kate (possibly Kate Cook), and two daughters, Jane (4) and Mary (2). By then, their first child, Victor, had already died of typhoid in 1878. In fact, he notes a family illness as a reason for leaving the Wilkes-Barre base ball club in 1877 – it could have been that of his mother, who died that September, or his son who died a few months after that. In the 1900 US Census, he’s listed as married for three years, and a marriage record can be found for John and a Mattie A. Brown, who got hitched in Camden in October 1896. However, they weren’t living together in the 1900 US Census record and she’s not listed in Abadie’s obituary five years later.

Abadie died in Pemberton, New Jersey of carcinoma found in his stomach and liver on May 17, 1905. His obituary only noted that the funeral would begin at the home of his younger brother, Alfred. No other names of spouses or children would be listed. He was buried in St. Denis Cemetery in Havertown, PA.

Notes:

Baseball-Reference.com lists his full name as John V. Abadie, which is what is shown on his obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’m working under the assumption that the V stands for Victor as he’s the first son born to Victor and John’s first son by wife Kate was named Victor.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com
Retrosheet.org

1870, 1880, 1900 US Census
New York Death Index
Philadelphia Church Records
Pennsylvania Death Records
Philadelphia City Directories

“Sports and Pastimes,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 13, 1873: 3.

“Amusements,” Harrisburg Telegraph, August 5, 1874: 3.

“Base Ball,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 27, 1875: 2.

“Base Ball Notes,” Philadelphia Times, May 21, 1877: 4.

“Special Meeting of the B. B. Club,” Wilkes-Barre Times, May 29, 1877: 2.

“Sporting News,” Buffalo Commercial, March 22, 1879: 3.

“A Victory for the Atlantic,” Philadelphia Times, May 2, 1879: 1.

“Abadie (Obit),” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 19, 1905: 7.

The Sad Tale of Harlan “Biff” Wysong

Harlan Wysong - 1931 Reds Spring Training

You can almost write Wysong’s biography with four articles.

“Harlan Wysong, little son of Mr. and Mrs. Ed. Wysong, was severely burned in the face last week by an explosion of coal oil, which he was pouring on a fire.”

The Wilmington Journal, 21 Feb 1912, Page 2.

Reds prospect in the 1930s, Harlan Wysong went 1 – 3 from 1930 to 1932, but walked 34 guys while striking out 11.  Apparently, his arm went bad in 1932, so he returned home and played semi-pro baseball as a first baseman for a few years. 

“Wysong’s Pitching Arm is Treated”, Wilmington News-Journal, 27 July 1935, Page 2.

“Common Pleas Judge Frank M. Clevenger granted Eva Wysong a divorce on the grounds of neglect.  Custody of their two children was awarded to Mrs. Wysong and he was enjoined from interfering with the plaintiff, but is to have the right to visit the children.  He was instructed to pay $10 per week for support of the children.”

“Granted Divorce”, Wilmington (OH) News-Journal, 25 April 1946, Page 2.

Wysong was in poor health for years, but it took a bad turn in the summer of 1951. He was hospitalized for a few weeks and then death called. He was just 46 years old when he passed on.  Apparently he was temperamental, and frequently displayed an uncontrollable temper.  “…His admiring fans all chipped in to buy him a fine leather traveling bag.  They presented it to him with appropriate ceremony before a game and the temperamental Biff gave it an unappreciative kick under the player’s bench and remarked something about not being able to pitch with ‘a thing like that.'”

“Death of Biff Wysong Sets Off Reminiscing About Baseball Here”, Washington Court House Record-Herald, 9 August 1951, Page 17.

Harlan Wysong’s life seems so unhappy – and short. So, instead of stopping here at with these four snippets, let’s fill in some of perhaps the happier stuff, too.

Harlan Wysong arrived on April 13, 1905 to Edward and Eveline Wright (Jones) Wysong in Clarksville, OH. Harland was the fourth of five children born to the homemaker and cannery engineer. He completed a year of high school and began work – but didn’t avoid schools. He pitched for Wilmington College for at least a year. As a pitcher there, he stopped the University of Dayton’s 21 game winning streak. According to the Wilmington News-Journal, locals could recognize the tall but sturdy pitcher. “He’s big, tall, strong, and the picture of an athlete. He has cheeks that get red as the contest gets hotter and his ears turn even more red.”

From his teens, Harlan was a top amateur and minor league pitcher and a crack hitter who played the outfield and first base when not on the mound. After making his way through the nearby town teams in Clinton and Clarksville (The Clarksville Coca-Colas), the Washington Court House Athletics, as well as the Auger Bit Company’s team, the left hander was signed to pitch for Peoria in the Three-I League. From there, he landed in the Central Ohio League with Washington and pitched well enough (9-3, 103Ks in 105.2 innings at one point) to be recruited to pitch for Columbus in the American Association. He wasn’t just a good low level pitcher – he was hitting 100 points better than his team. That was 1928.

Anyway – Columbus recognized that he had control issues with his fast ball, and they released him to Erie of the Central League for the 1929 season. A year later, Wysong returned to Columbus where he won nine of 21 decisions. Cincinnati gave Wysong his first major league start on August 10, but the Phillies clocked him for five runs on six hits and three walks in just 2.1 innings, so Wysong was returned to Columbus. Wysong became a true prospect with a spring training in 1931 that included many fine appearances against major league teams. Reds outfielder Bob Meusel said, “Wysong showed me a better fast ball than Lefty Grove owns.” All Wysong had to do was learn to control his pitches.

“It would have been an easy game for Biff if only he had gone out to the park in the morning and made a quiet investigation as to the location of the platter. Biff overslept, however, and did not make the trip. He entered the contest, therefore, handicapped by a dense ignorance of the habitat of the rubber, and this caused his downfall in very short order.”

Ryder, Jack. “Reds Hit Well, But Pirates Go Them Several Points Better”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 April 1931, Page 40.

That didn’t happen. The Reds kept him as the last pitcher on the staff for 1931 – but the season was a disaster for Wysong. Starting two games and relieving ten more, Wysong had more walks than innings pitched, had an ERA near 8.00 and lost both starts without ever getting out of the second inning. Stories came out that Wysong wasn’t ambitious enough – teammates claimed he needed to get mad and that the Reds manager was trying to find a player who could get under Wysong’s skin and use his anger to get him to pitch better.

For whatever reason, manager Dan Howley remained optimistic that Wysong would become a star pitcher. According to the Wausau Daily Herald, “Wysong stands 6 feet 4 inches. When he whips down the ball at the speed of which he is capable, the sphere is just a blur on the landscape. In the mood, he has control enough to baffle any batsman – so Howley says – but he hasn’t shown it yet.”

Wysong returned for 1932, had a solid spring training (despite Wysong’s claims of a sore arm), and was kept again as the last ditch pitcher. After a few slightly tolerable outings, Wysong was called on to pitch in an extra innings contest with the Braves on May 7, 1932. In the 12th, Wysong allowed three runs, but the Reds answered with four runs – the last driven in by Ernie Lombardi’s triple (!) to give the Reds the win. It was Wysong’s only winning decision (against three losses) and his last major league appearance. Cincinnati traded Wysong to Rochester for pitcher Benny Frey. Before long, Wysong, who tried to pitch through pain, had shuffled through three minor league stops (Rochester, Columbus, Houston). When the season ended, he went to Terre Haute to see a specialist to treat a lame arm.

Wysong spent spring training with Houston in 1933 (despite the soreness he pitched well enough – five wins in six decisions – at the end of 1932), but his arm didn’t come around. Dispatched to two minor league teams (Elmira got him, then sent him within days to Springfield in the Mississippi Valley League), Wysong’s arm didn’t allow him to pitch. Before long, Wysong was playing amateur baseball, but at first base instead of as a pitcher. He remained a hard hitting first baseman through at least 1940 playing in various local leagues in central Ohio.

Harlan married Eva Mulford in 1930; they had two sons, Gordon and Gary. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1946. By then, Wysong was a laborer in road construction and later ran a mill at a General Motors plant. In July, 1951, Wysong was admitted to McClellan Hospital in Xenia; it couldn’t have been good as his ex-wife even checked on him. Cirrhosis of the liver took Wysong on August 7, 1951. He was just 46.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindaGrave.com
OH Birth Indexes
1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Census
OH Birth Indexes
OH Death Certificate

Wilmington Journal, 19 April 1905, Page 1.

“Peoria Ball Club Calls for Wysong”, Wilmington News-Journal, 08 April 1927, Page 12.

“Quakers Break Dayton’s 20-Game Winning Streak”, Wilmington News-Journal, 05 May 1927, Page 6.

“Washington Athletics Sign ‘Lefty’ Wysong”, Wilmington News-Journal, 19 May 1927, Page 6.

“Wysong Signs With Washington Team”, Wilmington News-Journal, 09 June 1927, Page 6.

“Sporting”, Circleville (OH) Herald, 04 August 1927, Page 7.

“Columbus Team Signs Wysong”, Wilmington News-Journal, 04 August 1927, Page 6.

“Wysong Day Is To Be Staged”, Wilmington News-Journal, 09 September 1927, Page 6.

“Washington Athletics To Have Real Battle On Hands Sunday”, Wilmington News-Journal, 12 October 1927, Page 6.

“Wysong Signs”, Wilmington News-Journal, 17 February 1928, Page 6.

“Wysong Attracts Consideration at Senator’s Quarters”, 17 March 1928, Page 6.

“Wysong Released To Erie, Pa., Outfit”, Wilmington News-Journal, 09 May 1928, Page 6.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 25 January 1929, Page 6.

Babb, Kroger. “Wysong Gaining Diamond Fame”, Wilmington News-Journal, 05 March 1929, Page 6.

“Wysong Victorious”, Wilmington News-Journal, 07 June 1929, Page 6.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 16 October 1929, Page 9.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 11 April 1930, Page 13.

“Biff Wysong Fast Becoming Ace of Columbus Mound Staff”, Massillon Evening Independent, 16 April 1930, Page 8.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 14 May 1930, Page 6.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 02 July 1930, Page 6.

Ryder, Jack. “Wysong Comes To Redland In Exchange for Campbell”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 04 August 1930, Page 9.

“Harlan ‘Lefty’ Wysong Is Traded to Cincinnati”, Wilmington News-Journal, 04 August 1930, Page 6.

“Wysong Gets Chance in Majors”, Wilmington News-Journal, 04 August 1930, Page 6.

“Cinci Drops Double Bill to Phillies”, Richmond Palladium-Item, 11 August 1930, Page 9.

“‘Biff’s Wysong Suffers From ‘Charleyhorse'”, Wilmington News-Journal, 05 Mar 1931, Page 8.

“‘Biff’ Wysong still on Reds Injured List”, Wilmington News-Journal, 11 March 1931, Page 8.

“Howley Praises ‘Biff’ Wysong”, Wilmington News-Journal, 13 March 1931, Page 6.

Smith, Lou. “Sport Sparks”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 28 March 1931, Page 17.

Ryder, Jack. “Reds Hit Well, But Pirates Go Them Several Points Better”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 April 1931, Page 40.

Thompson, Denman. “Howley Turns to Vets As His Youngsters Fail”, The Sporting News, 2 April 1931, Page 5.

“Dan Howley Has Visions Of Taking One From Giants; But How About Chicago?”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 May 1931, Page 9.

“‘Biff’ Gets Stiff Training Course”, Wilmington News-Journal, 03 August 1931, Page 6.

“Babe and Lou Put It In Bleachers As Yankees Whitewash Redlegs, 8 – 0”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 11 August 1931, Page 15.

“Biff’s Arm Lame; Johnson To Start Against Cards”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 09 March 1932, Page 9.

Ryder, Jack. “Champion Cards Play Improved Ball to Crush Reds, 4 – 2”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 27 March 1932, Page 29.

Ryder, Jack. “Si May Twirl Nine Frames Against the Colonels Today; Second Team At Knoxville”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 02 April 1932, Page 15.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 28 April 1932, Page 6.

“Three in Twelfth for Braves — Four For Reds — Score Is 9 – 8”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 08 May 1932, Page 34.

“Cincinnati’s ‘Sleeping Beauty'”, Wausau Daily Herald, 14 May 1932, Page 12.

“Wysong Sent to Rochester”, Wilmington News-Journal, 10 May 1932, Page 6

“Pitcher Harlan Wysong Sold to Red Wings by Cincinnati”, The Sporting News, 12 May 1932, Page 1.

“Wysong To Columbus”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 24 June 1932, Page 16.

“Wysong Shipped To Texas Club; Donahue Is Out”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 08 August 1932, Page 9.

“Wysong’s Mother Hurt”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 22 August 1932, Page 9.

“Wysong Returns Home Last Week”, Wilmington News-Journal, 19 Spetember 1932, Page 6.

Specialist Treating ‘Biff’s’ Hurling Arm”, Wilmington News-Journal, 29 October 1932, Page 6.

“Rixey Visits Wysong At Home in Clarksville”, Wilmington News-Journal, 10 October 1932, Page 8.

“Elder Brother of Dizzy Dean Joins Houston”, Shreveport Times, 26 February 1933, Page 15.

“Elmira Colonels Get Wysong From Houston”, Reading Times, 20 April 1933, Page 11.

“Rice Slashes His Pitchers; 3 Are Shifted”, Elmira Star-Gazette, 08 May 1933, Page 12.

Deeley, Don. “Playing it Over”, Elmira Star-Gazette, 11 May 1933, Page 19.

“Richmond Nine to Meet Powerful Shroyer Team”, Richmond (IN) Palladium-Item, 08 July 1933, Page 7.

“Harlan ‘Biff’ Wysong, Slugging First Sacker, Added to Linco Roster”, Richmond Palladium-Item, 20 June 1934, Page 7.

“Wysong’s Pitching Arm is Treated”, Wilmington News-Journal, 27 July 1935, Page 2.

“‘Biff’ Wysong Is Hitting Ball Hard”, Wilmington News-Journal, 27 June 1939, Page 6.

“Divorces Sought”, Wilmington News-Journal, 28 February 1946, Page 3.

“County Courts (Real Estate Transfers)”, Wilmington News-Journal, 04 May 1946, Page 8.

“Mainly About People”, Wilmington News-Journal, 06 July 1951, Page 2.

“Harlan Wysong Dies; Hurled for Reds”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 09 August 1951, Page 28.

“Biff Wysong Passes; Former Red Hurler”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 09 August 1951, Page 20.

Frank Sigafoos, Owner of a Phantom Homer

As a major league player, Frank Sigafoos was a bit snake bit.  Getting four different chances with four different teams, he never was able to get in a good groove with either Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, or Cincinnati.

Frank Sigafoos - IndianapolisAs a Tiger, Sigafoos once hit a home run off of Cuban lefty Oscar Estrada that technically didn’t happen.  It was the only game that Estrada would pitch in the majors – he came on in relief in the ninth inning of a game between the St. Louis Browns and Detroit.  With a runner on base, Sigafoos drilled a pitch far over the wall in right-centerfield.  Except that home plate umpire Bruce Campbell called a balk, nullifying the pitch, the homer, and instead of giving up two runs, Estrada’s penalty was to give up a base to the runner at second.  It would have been Sigafoos’s first, and only, homer.  Maybe it would have turned things around.  Instead, Sigafoos would have to be a star in the minor leagues.

Francis Leonard Sigafoos was born in Easton, PA on 21 March 1904 to William and Kathryn (Beltz) Sigafoos, the first of their four children – though Kathryn brought three daughters into their family from a prior marriage. William Sigafoos was a laborer in chemical works plant. After his days in high school (where he was a three sport star), Frank would work in the coal mines outside of his city.  Looking for a better life, he enrolled in Purdue University where he would play baseball there.  Returning to Philadelphia after college, Sigafoos was playing semi-professional ball when scouted by Connie Mack.  Mack signed him but then dispatched Sigafoos to Newark for the 1925 season.  After hitting .284 there as a third baseman, Mack moved him to Reading where Sigafoos would play shortstop and hit .321, earning a cup of coffee with the Athletics at the end of the 1926 season.  He’d bat .256, but in just 43 at bats.  Mack was no longer enamored with his stocky prospect (5-9, 180); he sold Sigafoos to Portland in the PCL instead.

For two years, Sigafoos hit .335 and .296.  Detroit signed him for the 1929 season, but things didn’t work out and Sigafoos returned to the PCL, this time for Los Angeles.  Hitting .305 there, Cincinnati took an interest in him.  However, after a solid spring training, Sigafoos hit .169 for the Reds and was dispatched to Indianapolis in the American Association. Indians pitcher Bob (Lefty) Logan said of Sigafoos, “He was a swell guy, one of the best, quiet and unassuming … he never bragged about himself and he had great talent.”

It was in Indianapolis that Sigafoos had his best seasons, including a 1933 season where he batted .370, with 53 doubles and had a league record 41 game hitting streak.  Sigafoos loved the city, he loved the fans, and a few years after his baseball career ended, he would return to Indianapolis for the rest of his days.

By then, Frank and his wife, Alice, had been married and living in various American baseball cities for years. He was just finishing high school when the personal secretary of the Easton mayor surprised her friends who were about to throw her a surprise shower – announcing she was getting married. That was 1923. Alice E. Weppel provided one son, Ron, after Frank’s playing days ended. In the off-seasons, Frank took a position with Citizens Gas in Indianapolis.  After spending two years in Louisville, one year as a minor league nomad – and watching his batting average fall from .341 to .253 – he retired from baseball and went to work for Citizen’s Gas all year, which he did for nearly 30 years.

Frank SigafoosAfter his retirement, the company’s recreation and athletic association endowed a scholarship in Sigafoos’s name, awarding $500 to a local high school baseball player for use in his first year of college.

While mowing his lawn, his wife found him slumped near the lawnmower.  Sigafoos died of a heart attack on April 12, 1968; his remains were cremated.









Sources:

Baseball-Reference
FindAGrave.com
Indiana Death Certificate
1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Censuses

“Frank Sigafoos Gets ‘Another’ Night,” Indianapolis Star, December 4, 1966: Section 4, Page 10.

“Tribe Infielder Crowned Champ,” Indianapolis Star, December 25, 1933: 26.

“Overman Wins Sigafoos Award,” Indianapolis Star, July 11, 1968: 45.

“Frank Sigafoos Dies; Indians’ Baseball Star,” Indianapolis Star, April 14, 1968: 1, 7.

Harry Bullion, “When is a Circuit Blow Equivalent to a Pass,” Detroit Free Press, April 22, 1929: Sports, Page 1.

“Mayor’s Stenog Weds Easton’s Star Athlete,” Allentown Morning Call, August 26, 1923: 10.

“Alice Sigafoos dies; ballplayer’s widow,” Indianapolis Star, October 30, 1985: 53

Happy Birthday, Morris Critchley – King of the Quintuple Header!

“Critchley, the man of weak legs and broad shoulders, astonished the world by batting the ball far into the left field, where it was lost in the grass, and before Manning could find it, the giant had made a home run. It was only luck, but it counted, and one man at least was supremely happy.”

“Tobin’s Trouble,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, June 2, 1879: 4.

Morris Critchley was briefly a major league pitcher with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and St. Louis Browns of the American Association in 1882, but was more famous as a pitcher in the minors during the 1870s. In the late 1870s and early 1880s there were very competitive leagues that included cities like Buffalo, Syracuse (the Stars), Rochester, Albany, Manchester, Providence and other cities in the northeast: the International Assocation and National Association being two of them. Many players who gained fame during this era all played there – Ned Hanlon, Lip Pike, Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, Jack Glasscock, etc. – and Morris Critchley faced and was successful against all of these guys.

This image of Morris Critchley with the Hornells was found on Wikipedia Commons, and originally was provided through a link from the guys at Out of the Park Baseball. Links to the image are provided below under “Sources”.

Morris Arthur Critchley (see note below) was born on 3/26/1850 in New London, Connecticut to Michael A. and Margaret A. (Dempsey) Critchley. Both Michael and Margaret were Irish immigrants who spent their American lives in or near Hartford; Michael as a factory hand or laborer and Margaret as the home hand and laborer. Morris would spend his first two decades – and probably a good part of a third – in the Hartford area. When Morris took up professional baseball, he gained fame pitching in upstate New York, allegedly once winning five games in a single day (!) for Auburn. His most famous outing was a 17 (or 18) inning effort where he beat the Allegheny team in 1877 and allegedly injured his heart, something that was listed as a probable cause of his death many years later.

Hartford was a major league city from 1874 to 1876 and had its fill of amateur teams; it makes sense that the tall and thick Critchley would find his way to the game. His first documented professional work is with Providence in 1876. That organization moved to Auburn, New York for 1877 where Critchley’s pitching began to gain regular notice. He went 15 innings in a tie against the Rhode Islands, pitched a one-hitter and three-hitter to blank Rochester and Fall River, and even took a game from the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, an event riddled with injuries. Two Allegheny players were injured during practice, their catcher split his hand during the game, the manager was hit by a broken bat – even the umpire got hit in the face with a foul tip.

For a giant of a man, easily standing at least an inch over 6′ 0″ and likely weighing close to two hundred pounds (and more in later years), Critchley was known for his lack of speed. As a pitcher, his bread and butter was a big breaking curveball. Once, in a demonstration, he threw a ball that broke around the corner of a hotel building. He also threw an odd sort of a change up – he’d exaggerate the speed of his wind up only to toss a soft one in there. If he threw especially hard, there is no recorded proof of it.

And, he was especially slow afoot. Stories claim he was granted a courtesy runner for some games. When he hit a home run for Albany, a Buffalo paper said, “The Rochester fielders must have been drugged Saturday when they allowed big Critchley of the Albany’s to make a home run.” One time he hit a double and the Buffalo Express noted, “It generally takes a hit that other players would reach second on to get him to first, so that he must have drove the ball an immense distance to allow of his securing second.”

For 1878, Critchley signed with the Hornells where, again, he’d pitch nearly every inning. His best game was a 4 – 0 win over the Alleghenies – only a Jack Glasscock single prevented Critchley from throwing a no-hitter. Then, in a series against Buffalo, Critchley got in hot water with team directors when Critchley and his long time catcher, Ed Keenan, let a game with Buffalo get away due to inexcusable errors. Already losing 2 – 0, Buffalo’s Davy Force reached with a leadoff single and stole second. After a strikeout, a routine grounder ended with the throw to first being dropped. Buffalo pitcher Pud Galvin struck out, but since Ed Keenan didn’t catch the third strike, he had to throw the ball to first for the out. For some reason, the ball was returned to the catcher, who must have thought there were three outs. Keenan rolled the ball toward the mound, allowing Force to steal third. Critchley picked up the ball and tried to throw Force out at third – that throw sailed high and wide and Force scored the third run for Buffalo. When a late rally in the ninth produced two runs for the Hornells, the misplays by Keenan and Critchley loomed especially large.

Sure enough, there were those that felt like something fishy had happened and, in fact, Critchley was called out for laying down the game. After defending himself in front of team directors, Critchley was absolved of those charges. The accusation, though, made the rounds – appearing in papers like the Chicago Tribune.

Critchley pitched well enough for the rest of the season, including a shutout over Buffalo, but the Hornells disbanded, allowing Critchley to sign with Albany for $110 per month to complete the season. With Albany, he shut out Buffalo again allowing just four hits. Critchley would stay with Albany through the beginning of the 1880 season, helping Albany to take the National Association crown in 1879 as their regular pitcher.

Unfortunately, things were starting to work against Critchley – starting with an injury that resulted in a dislocated shoulder in September, 1879. Albany signed Tim Keefe, then a young prospect, to finish the 1879 season. When the 1880 season started, Keefe was seen as the better pitcher and Albany asked Critchley to take a smaller salary as the change pitcher – something that didn’t sit well with last year’s ace.

“He was offered a salary deemed commensurate with his value as a change pitcher, which he declined to accept; and he was therefore given his release… In regard to the release of Critchley from the club, it should be stated that he has recently been subjected to a medical examination, and the examining physician pronounced one of the muscles of his arm so badly strained or injured that it could not be of any service to him for some time to come. In the game at New Haven a week or more ago, his arm was so painful that at the close of seven innings he was obliged to retire. It is not likely that he will be able to pitch effectively this season.”

“Sporting Notes,” Buffalo Express, May 8, 1880: 4.

Critchley took a job with Baltimore of the National Association and immediately got revenge against Albany by beating his old teammates (and Tim Keefe), 9 – 4. He followed that with a 2 – 0 shutout over the Washington Nationals. His good fortune wouldn’t last – Washington returned the favor with a 2 – 0 win as Jack Lynch fired a no-hitter to beat Baltimore. Critchley move to Troy, then pitched for the Rochester Hop Bitters, and even pitched for Albany where he beat Boston in an exhibition, 3 – 2. That was just in June…

For 1881, Critchley took a break from pitching. He umpired a few games in Albany and began to learn the saloon trade while serving as a bartender at a saloon owned by heavyweight boxer Paddy Ryan.

Somehow Critchley got a pitching gig for 1882 – and with a new major league. The Pittsburgh Alleghenys picked up both Critchley and his catcher Ed Keenan in the maiden season of the American Association. The season didn’t start well for Critchley – he was sick and dealing with a lame arm. One game, Pittsburgh was desperate for players. Critchley played centerfield and was a substitute pitcher in a 19 – 5 exhibition loss to Cleveland. If Critchley was in the outfield, no wonder Cleveland scored so many runs… Critchley, hoped to be a regular contributor at the start of the spring, was now expected to be a change pitcher – if he could stay healthy.

In his only official MLB game for the Alleghenys, Critchley threw a 2 – 0 shutout to beat Cincinnati. Cincinnati didn’t seem to get good wood on the ball and the Allegheny fielders were on their game, too. Cincinnati faced the Alleghenys about 10 days later, winning the first game of the series, and then blew out Critchley 18 – 4 in a mid-series exhibition game. The Commercial Gazette said, “They at once opened procedings on Critchley and lit on to his slow balls and knocked him right and left.”

The Pittsburgh Press noted that the betting lines changed after the blow out loss and Critchley was again accused of laying down (if not playing in such a way as to influence betting). Pittsburgh suspended Critchley (yet used him as an umpire in exhibition games) before finally releasing Critchley and restoring Critchley’s good name in early June. A month later, Charles Comiskey gave Critchley a final chance but it didn’t work out. He was regularly beaten in the four official games he pitched for the Browns, and even lost an exhibition game to Reading.

Critchley, despite whatever accusations came his way in 1882, settled in Pittsburgh and, when he wasn’t working behind the bar, served as an umpire on and off for the next few years. For one season, he was a substitute umpire for the American Association and worked behind the plate for a few games. There was a thought he might be able to pitch for a Union Association team in 1884, but his arm never came back. In 1895, he purchased a hotel and saloon at 2818 Smallman Street from the late Aaron Agans estate. He would own that hotel until his death on March 6, 1910 – barely three weeks before his 60th birthday. Critchley is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

This seems like a good time to tell the story of his family life. Somewhere around 1868 or 1869 Morris Critchley connected with Florine (or Flora) Adella Hamlin. They married and had two children, George and Burton – Flora was still a teen when George arrived in 1870. By 1880, though, they were separated and Flora is listed in that year’s US Census as Flora Hart, as she had now taken the name of her stepfather with whom Flora was living. She must not have had much to do with the kids after a while. When Burton died of consumption in 1904, Flora is not listed in his obituary; when George died many years later, the death certificate didn’t even mention her. In the 1880s, Morris met and eventually married Margaret Dunning (born Birmingham). She was an accountant and invested some of her own money in Critchley’s hotel.

When Critchley died, Margaret’s sold the business and transferred the liquor license to John Jackal. Soon after, she completed the probate process. Critchley death, his being famous and all, made the wire copy and Flora Hart learned of Morris’s sudden demise (via heart attack) and reached out to the authorities looking to stake a claim on Critchley’s estate. Apparently they never divorced, making Morris Critchley a bigamist and costing Margaret $2100 to settle the claims by Hart. Hart then changed her name again. Beginning with the 1910 census (and 1910 Hartford city directory) she is listed as the widow Flora Critchley, a name she maintained until her death in 1938, sixteen years after the death of Margaret Critchley. Margaret passed away on December 18, 1922 and is buried near her husband in Calvary Cemetery.

Note: I could be equally convinced that Morris Arthur Critchley was actually born Michael Arthur Critchley. First – I found an 1860 US Census record that shows a Michael Critchley living with his parents, Michael and Margaret in Hartford. All three were born in Ireland per the census. Plenty of Irish kids are named for their parents, especially at that time. He’s listed as 14, but age is something that seems to change by a year or two every decade of the Census back then. In the 1870 US Census, Michael is married to Flora (Florence in the census record) – he’s now 22. If he decided to pursue a baseball career, he might have changed his name so that his dad wouldn’t be embarrassed to have a son playing a game for a career – as was done frequently in that era. In 1880, when Michael/Morris would have been pitching all over (Albany, Troy, Baltimore, etc.), George Critchley, 9, is living with a Bridget Critchley; we find out later that Bridget is Morris’s sister through her obituary in the Hartford Courant as she had taken a job as a dress maker and was living apart from her parents in 1860.

Anyway – it would also explain how Morris could easily evade Flora at a time when his baseball fame was growing in the 1870s.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference,com
FindAGrave.com (Morris)
FindAGrave.com (Margaret)
FindAGrave.com (Flora)
1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 US Census
PA Death Certificates (Morris, George, Margaret)
Naturalization Documents (Michael)
Pittsburgh City Directories

“A Wonderful Game at Providence, R. I.,” New York Herald, June 11, 1876: 7.

“A Wonderful Game at Providence, R. I.,” New York Herald, June 11, 1876: 7.

“Semi-Professional Scraps,” Chicago Tribune, March 17, 1877: 7.

“Auburn vs. Rochester,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, May 28, 1977: 4.

“Auburn vs. Fall River,” New York Clipper, July 28, 1877.

“Out-Door Sports,” Boston Globe, July 24, 1877: 8.

“Base Ball,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, August 11, 1877, Page 4.

“Buffalo vs. Auburn,” Buffalo Morning Express, August 14, 1877: 4.

“Diamond Dust,” Buffalo Express, September 6, 1877: 4.

“Base Ball,” Buffalo Express, June 3, 1878: 4.

“Hornells, 4; Alleghenys, 0,” Boston Journal, May 22, 1878: 4.

“Base Ball,” Buffalo Courier, June 17, 1878: 2.

“Base Ball,” Buffalo Express, June 17, 1878: 4.

“Base Ball,” Buffalo Express, June 20, 1878: 4.

“Base Ball,” Buffalo Express, June 21, 1878: 4.

“General Notes,” Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1878: 7.

“Notes,” Buffalo Express, August 24, 1878: 4.

“Notes,” Buffalo Express, August 28, 1878: 4.

“Demoralized Buffalos,” Buffalo Express, September 30, 1878: 4.

“Base Ball,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 17, 1879: 6.

“Base Ball and Other Sports,” Buffalo Express, April 26, 1879: 4.

“League and National,” Buffalo Express, June 3, 1879: 4.

“Later Baseball Notes,” New York Clipper, October 4, 1879.

“Providence vs. Albany,” New York Clipper, October 11, 1879.

“Sporting,” Fall River Daily Herald, May 7, 1880: 1.

“Sporting Notes,” Buffalo Express, May 8, 1880: 4.

“Baltimores, 9; Albanys, 4,” Boston Globe, May 15, 1880: 1.

“Baltimores, 2; Nationals, 0,” Boston Globe, May 18, 1880: 1.

“Nationals, 2; Baltimores, 0,” Boston Globe, May 25, 1880: 1.

“Albany vs. Troy,” New York Clipper, June 19, 1880.

“Base Ball Yesterday,” Watertown Daily Times, June 4, 1880: 3.

“Sporting Matters,” Boston Globe, June 22, 1880: 4.

“Doings of the Sports,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 18, 1880: 4.

“Base Ball Notes,” New York Tribune, July 19, 1880: 2.

“Contests and Pastimes,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, March 6, 1881: 4.

“They Lost It,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 13, 1882: 2.

“Base Ball Matters,” Buffalo Express, April 14, 1882: 4.

“Cleveland’s Picnic,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 28, 1882: 6.

“The Best Yet,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, May 9, 1882: 4.

“They Started Well,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 12, 1882: 5.

“That Amateur Club,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, May 18, 1882: 4.

“A Pair of Pitchers,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, May 19, 1882: 4.

“Expulsions From the Allegheny Club,” Philadelphia Times, May 19, 1982: 4.

“Base Ball,” Pittsburgh Post, May 31, 1882: 4.

“Diamond Dust,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 3, 1882: 8.

“Notes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 8, 1882: 8.

“Base Ball,” Pittsburgh Post, July 12, 1882: 4.

“The Sporting World,” Philadelphia Times, July 22, 1882: 3.

“The Active Victorious,” Reading Times, July 25, 1882: 1.

Mexico (MO) Weekly Ledger, September 6, 1883: 4.

“The National Game,” Dayton Herald, June 5, 1883: 3.

“Sporting Sundries,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 21, 1883: 7.

“Base Ball Notes,” Wilkes-Barre Record, May 14, 1884: 3.

“Pittsburg’s Club,” The Sporting Life, April 22, 1885: 4.

“Diamond Chips,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 1885: 11.

“Games Played April 28,” The Sporting Life, May 6, 1885: 3.

The Sporting Life, July 7, 1886: 3.

“In the Criminal Court,” Pittsburgh Post, September 4, 1895: 4.

Buffalo Enquirer, May 19, 1899: 4.

“Conspiracy Alleged Against Card Players,” Pittsburgh Press, April 29, 1903: 3.

“Burton H. Critchley,” Pittsburgh Press, June 14, 1904: 5.

“Meet some of Auburn’s earliest baseball players,” Auburn Citizen, November 24, 2013: C4.

“Old Baseball Star Dies of Heart Disease,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, March 7, 1910: 1.

“Pitcher Dies of 1877 Injury,” Munster Times, March 08, 1910: 3.

Legal Notice, Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, September 8, 1910: 13.

“Court Surcharges Widow with $2100,” Pittsburgh Press, May 24, 1911: 17.

“Mrs. Florine H. Critchley,” Harford Courant, January 9, 1938: 14.

H. Franklin Andrews, “A Genealogy of Capt. Giles Hamlin of Middletown, Connecticut, 1664-1900,” Author Published, Exira Iowa, 1900: 271.

Photo Links:

Wikipedia Commons Image Link
OOTP Image Link

The Brief Life of Will Collver

W. J. Collver, a Detroit ball player, has signed to play with the Zanesville Club, of the Ohio League, the coming season. Collver is a sturdy young fellow of good habits, a good fielder and batter, and will prove an acquisition to the Zanesvilles.

“Sporting Notes,” Detroit Free Press, February 1, 1887: 7.

Will Collver only played in a single game, the second game of a Fourth of July doubleheader between Boston and Detroit in 1885. His life was equally brief.

William J. Colver was the second child of three born to Francis (Frank) Taylor Collver and Mary Elizabeth (Bartlett) Collver on March 21, 1867 in Clyde, Ohio. Mary raised the three children while Frank worked as a salesman, telegrapher, and travel agent during Will’s days with his parents. Prior to their marriage, Frank served with Company K of the 65th New York Infantry, which saw action at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Appomattox among other battles. Mary was a Daughter of the American Revolution, through Samuel Bartlett of Massachusetts and Maine. After their wedding Frank and Mary moved some, from Ohio to Indiana, and it included a stop in Detroit.

It was in Detroit where Will Collver became a ballplayer, playing for the Cass Club. And, it was in Detroit where he became, for one day, a right fielder for Boston in 1885. Boston was in town and playing a doubleheader when they lost their catcher during the first game. Mert Hackett broke a finger reaching for a wild pitch – Boston used a bunch of catchers in 1885 – and with injuries piling up Guerden Whitely was pressed into duty as a catcher, requiring Boston to hastily find a right fielder. The guy they found, likely in the stands among the 2,500 to 3,000 people at Recreation Park on this holiday, was the eighteen-year-old Will Collver.

Collver’s day was uneventful – he struck out once and went hitless in four at bats. He did not catch a fly or throw anyone out; he was error-free for the game. Any Detroit hits into right field were taken and the ball returned without incident. Detroit won the second game to complete the sweep for the day and Collver returned to being a semi-professional ballplayer.

In 1887, he signed to play with Zanesville serving as a shortstop and alternate pitcher. There, his speed and power led to home runs and complaints from a neighboring landowner who grew tired of Collver launching baseballs into a chicken coop beyond the outfield wall. After being released at the end of the summer, Collver was picked up to play for Kalamazoo when their shortstop, Billy Otterson, was sold to Brooklyn. He didn’t play many games for Kalamazoo, but Collver doubled, homered, and collected four hits in a win over Sandusky. For 1888 he signed a contract to play in Hutchinson, Kansas.

When not playing ball, Collver earned his pay as a brakeman for a local railcar – but not for long. In March of 1888 he required a minor operation. What today might be routine was not for Collver – he fell ill and feverish following the surgery and his demise could not be prevented.

“He submitted to a very unimportant operation at St. Mary’s Hospital on Saturday, and taking a chill, died after all threatened bad results of the operation itself had passed away.”

Detroit Free Press, April 2, 1888: 3.

Collver passed to the next league just three days after his twenty-first birthday on March 24, 1888. His Cass Club teammates attended his funeral, and then Collver’s remains were returned to Clyde, Ohio and buried in McPherson Cemetery there.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com

Baseball-Reference calls him Bill Collver, so for me to use Will – I should have a reason. One newspaper reference I saw called him Will; most used William or Wm. Both of his Census records call him William or Willie. I’m not saying that people might not have called him Bill, but I can prove Will and can’t prove Bill. So Will it is.

FindAGrave.com (Will Colver)
FindAGrave.com (Frank Colver)

1870, 1880 US Census
Ohio Marriage Records
Detroit City Directory – 1886
North American Family Histories, 1500 – 2000

“Morning Game,” Detroit Free Press, July 5, 1885, Page 7.

“A Fielding Record,” Zanesville Daily Times Recorder, May 21, 1887: 1.

“Yesterday’s Ball Playing,” Zanesville Daily Times Recorder, June 8, 1887: 1.

“Otterson Joins the Brooklyns; Collver Signs With Kalamazoo,” Detroit Free Press, September 1, 1887: 2.

“Kalamazoo Issues a Drubbing to Sandusky,” Detroit Free Press, September 4, 1887: 6.

“Shockingly Sudden,” Detroit Free Press, March 26, 1888: 4.

Happy Birthday, Eddie Hogan!

Eddie Hogan, at the time a semi-professional pitcher with the St. Louis Reds, pitched in one game for the St. Louis Browns on 05 July 1882 and lost, 7 – 4.  The Louisville Courier-Journal mentions him in the box but nothing else – which is more than the St. Louis Post-Dispatch…  The Post-Dispatch called him “Williams.”  Hogan threw an eight inning complete game, fanned four without giving up a walk, and allowed ten hits, but the Post-Dispatch noted that the team (including Hogan, who made two errors) let Hogan down in the field.

Hogan got a second shot at major league baseball when he was given a contract with Baltimore in the Union Association.  He was among many, however, who didn’t play, “…Manager Henderson attempted to make bench cleaners and general house workman of them…,” so he returned home instead.

Robert Edward Hogan was born 06 April 1862 (or, quite possibly 1860 – keep reading) to Edward and Hannah Hogan, both Irish immigrants, in St. Louis.  Robert Edward appears to be the last of at least eight kids born to the clerk and very busy housewife.  When not playing ball, Hogan is listed as commercial traveler, a tobacco salesman, and finally – after moving to Yucaipa, California, the manager of a hotel.  He married Hanora (frequently listed as just Nora) Hogan around the time he was playing ball.  They had twin daughters, Nora and Margaret (Maud) in 1884, and a daughter named Gertrude in 1890 or 1891.  Hogan passed to the next league on 22 January 1932 in Yucaipa.  As to his age at death, the baseball encyclopedias list him as being born in 1862, but other documents, starting with his gravestone and including the 1860, 1870, and 1880 US Censuses suggest he was born in 1860. (He couldn’t have been born in 1862 and appeared in the 1860 US Census, you know,) So, he was either 69 or 71 at the time of his death.

Sources:

1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 US Censuses
Baseball-Reference.com
FindaGrave.com
Birth Registers, Missouri

“Sporting.”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 05 July 1882, Page 8.

“Sporting.”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 06 July 1882, Page 8.

“Sporting.”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 24 July 1882, Page 8.

“Freezing Out.”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 07 May 1884, Page 8.

“Obituary: Robert E. Hogan”, St. Louis Post- Dispatch, 24 January 1932, Page 40.

From Baseball To Box Offices: Rivington Bisland

Rivington bisland - 1911 Pirates PhotoRivington Bisland, the baseball player, was most known for coming back from a brutal injury to play major league baseball.  However, his most prominent contribution to sports was likely being the box office manager for the biggest boxing promotor of his day, Mike Jacobs.

Rivington Martin Bisland was born February 17, 1890 to Alfred Rivington and Henrietta (Wood) Bisland in New York City.  While there were claims that Bisland hailed from an especially wealthy family, Alfred Bisland was a butcher with six kids (Rivington was #4) – some of whom brought their own husbands and children to live with Alfred and Henrietta in their house north of the city.  Rivington was the first to finish high school in his family and he learned to play baseball on the sandlots of his city.

“This year Rivington Bisland of New York City was given a trial and proved a veritable “find.” He was signed as an infielder and played the opening game at third, proving the star fielder of the game.

“Banner Crowds for Pottsville Players,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 9, 1909: 18.

While still a teen, Bisland signed to play with Pottsville for the 1909 season, and despite that team already having experienced outfielders, Bisland proved good enough to make the roster.  Unfortunately, the Atlantic League folded within three months – Bisland was quickly signed by Harrisburg of the Tri-State League.  Before he got his feet wet there, though, Pittsburgh President Barney Dreyfuss got wind of the young speedster and signed Bisland to a contract with the Pirates, and then optioned Bisland to Wheeling where he became their starting right fielder before moving to third base.

Bisland returned to Wheeling for the beginning of the 1910 season.  On July 18, playing in a game against Ft. Wayne, Bisland’s career nearly ended.  Ft. Wayne’s Grover Reddin took a chance and tried to advance to third base, but the throw got there in time.  Reddin slid into Bisland’s left ankle and gashed the rookie infielder’s ankle and foot, spilling blood all over and requiring at least ten stitches on the field before they took Bisland to a local hospital to have doctors get a look at the ugly mess that was his ankle.  Players and Bisland’s manager, Bill Phillipps, said it was the worst spiking that any of them had ever seen.

The doctors who saw Risland’s injury tried different operations to stop the bleeding and connect loose tendons, and at some point they were convinced that gangrene was about to set in.  To prevent further problems they thought it was in Bisland’s best interest to have the foot amputated.  Doctors took Bisland to the operating room and knocked him out.  However, a nurse interfered with the surgery.  She claimed that, as a teen, surgeons couldn’t remove his foot unless they got approval from Bisland’s father.  Eventually the doctors agreed not to remove the foot and cleaned up the mess as best as possible.  Bisland stayed hospitalized for five weeks.

While he was there, Dreyfuss visited with Bisland and payed all of his expenses.  He told Bisland, who was distraught about the extent of his injury, that he had a place on the roster next spring so long as he was healthy.  So Bisland did just that – when allowed, he returned home and did various exercises (mixed with rest) to heal and recover.  He suffered a few setbacks, though – one while attending automobile races in New York City, another a month or so before spring training.  Dreyfuss saw that Bisland was making the effort to come back – so he offered to cover the expenses of seeing Bonesetter Reese in Youngstown, Ohio.

“Despite the handicap resulting from an injury to his foot last season, Bisland covers a large amount of ground. His throwing, like Carey’s, is fast and sure. Bisland, it seems, must be counted as a possibility for the outfield unless Clarke soon makes up his mind that he will be well enough fortified with Carey and Bates.

“..He swings his club nervously and watches the pitcher like a hawk. His a good waiter and makes the pitcher pitch. When he swings he hits hard and he seems to place his hits well.”

“Bisland Going Good in Pittsburg Outfield,” Dayton Herald, March 31, 1911, Page 20.

Whatever Reese did worked – Bisland was able to attend spring training with the Pirates in 1911.  He impressed manager Fred Clarke enough to keep him through most of the spring, even moving Bisland to the outfield as it would be easier on Bisland’s ankle than playing third base.  Unfortunately, another rookie outfielder beat Bisland out for the last spot in the outfield: Max Carey.  Bisland was optioned to Indianapolis, who then optioned him to Youngstown of the Ohio and Pennsylvania League.  In August, the Pirates, not wishing to expose their young prospects to other teams, recalled Bisland (and other players, such as Urban Faber) back to Pittsburgh for the last six weeks of the season.  Bisland may have been on the Pittsburgh roster, but he never saw action.

For 1912, he was returned to Springfield, where he batted .287 with a little more power, before being recalled again to the Pirates to close out the season.  This time, he actually got a chance to play.  On September 13 he pinch hit for Marty O’Toole, bounced out, and never played for the Pirates again.

Bisland was thought to have a shot at the Pirates roster in 1913, but he was sold to Atlanta in the Southern League instead.  Bisland moved to shortstop, and after a couple of so-so months, he really broke out.  Over a 47 game stretch, he hit .384 and fielded .981 – a remarkable run of consistent hitting and error free fielding – that helped the Atlanta Crackers to the 1913 pennant.  The Browns took a chance on the young shortstop and brought him up to the majors where Bisland appeared in twelve games for the last place Browns.  He didn’t help, though – getting just six hits in his 47 plate appearances.

rivington bisland - 1914 Browns team photo

When the 1913 season ended, there were rumors that Bisland would sign with a Federal League team – first in Pittsburgh, then in Indianapolis where his Wheeling manager, Bill Phillipps, now was signed to manage.  Neither of those rumors came to fruition.  Bisland was brought back for spring training with the Browns in 1914.  The Browns had no spot for him, though – he was waived in April but Cleveland had a need for temporary help as Ray Chapman was hurt.  So, Cleveland put in a claim and eventually purchased Bisland.  Bisland got six hits for Cleveland, but over 18 games and 64 plate appearances.  With Cleveland struggling and Bisland barely hitting .100, he was benched and then sold back to Atlanta.

Rivington bisland - 1913 Atlanta PhotoBisland spent 1914 and 1915 with the Crackers, but never put together a stretch as good as his 1913 summer.  He was sold to Chattanooga for 1916, but never played owing to a salary dispute.  Chattanooga wanted to pay Bisland, who hit only .229 in Atlanta, $225 per month, which was $25 less than the books showed he was paid in 1915 (the Southern League had a salary cap).  However, Bisland was the field captain, and claimed to have received $100 more on the side from Atlanta management.  Kid Elberfeld, who managed Chattanooga, wanted nothing to do with managing a player who was taking that kind of a pay cut – and the two sides argued for two months as to what a player like Bisland was worth.

Bisland was now married, too, having met and married Margaret Cecilia Hague.  Bisland had other ways to make money.  In his off-seasons, he worked ticket sales for the Drury Lane Theatre in New York – he even sang in an opera there in winter of 1913-14.  He could continue to work in New York theatre if things didn’t work out – and they didn’t.  By the summer of 1916, Chattanooga grew tired of his threats to quit and go home to his wife and stopped trying to sign him.

Back in New York, Bisland left the Drury Lane Theatre for the Princess Theatre, an off-Broadway location near 39th Street.  After having two sons together, Bruce and Richard, Margaret left New York and lived alone in Pittsburgh, where she first worked as a hair dresser and then later as a seamstress.  Then Bisland left the box offices of the theatre to work box offices for Mike Jacobs.

Jacobs was a boxing promoter who learned his trade helping Tex Rickard’s promotions in the 1920s and early 1930s.  In the 1930s, Jacobs convinced Detroit’s Joe Louis to let him promote his fights.  He just needed someone with box office management experience to join his new sports promotion company, Twentieth Century Sport Club.  So, he hired Bisland around 1936, and Bisland gladly moved into Jacob’s offices located in the Brill Building.  For at least twenty five years, Bisland collected the six figure (or higher) box office moneys for championship fights from Louis-Braddock in 1937 through the Floyd Patterson-Ingomar Johansson fights in 1959 and 1960.

During the war years, Risland met and married Vera Gallino, a woman thirty-four years younger than he. After he retired from sports promotions, the two moved to Austria. Bisland passed to the next league in Salzburg on January 11, 1973, dying of plasmocytoma – essentially cancerous tumors that grow in the plasma found in bone marrow or other soft tissue. His ashes were spread at the Kommunalfriedhof (cemetery) in Salzburg. Vera’s ashes were spread there after she died in Vienna on January 10, 2006.

By the way, a Rivington Bruce Bisland III is an Esports and video game promoter these days. His grandfather, Rivington Bruce Bisland, is the ballplayer Rivington Martin Bisland’s son.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org
FindAGrave.com

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Census
NY Birth Certificate
NY Marriage Index and License
CT Marriage Index
Social Security Application and Claims
World War I Draft Registration Card
World War II Draft Registration Card
US Report of Death of American Citizen Abroad

“One More Man and Pottsville’s Ready,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 28, 1909: 18.

“Banner Crowds for Pottsville Players,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 9, 1909: 18.

“Benefits Tri-State,” York Dispatch, July 20, 1909: 5.

Davis, Ralph S. “Davis’ Dope,” Pittsburgh Press, July 29, 1909: 16.

“Odd Names in Baseball,” Hancock Democrat, September 2, 1909: 8.

“Bisland Has a Rich Dad,” Dayton Herald, September 16, 1909: 8.

“Spiking May End Bisland’s Diamond Career; Phillipps Gets a Third Sacker Here,” Dayton Herald, July 19, 1910: 6.

“Rivington Bisland, Wheeling Star, May Not Play Again,” East Liverpool Evening Review, October 11, 1910: 6.

“Bisland is Seventeenth Man Signed,” Pittsburgh Press, January 23, 1911: 2.

“Bisland Injured Again,” South Bend Tribune, January 31, 1911: 9.

“Rivalry Rampant Among Slabbists,” Pittsburgh Press, March 12, 1911, Page 18.

“Little Bits of Baseball,” Pittsburgh Press, March 15, 1911: 14.

“Bisland Going Good in Pittsburg Outfield,” Dayton Herald, March 31, 1911, Page 20.

“Burke Gets Riv Bisland,” Dayton Herald, April 4, 1911: 10.

“Plucky Nurse Saved Career For Bisland,” Evansville Press, April 5, 1911: 4.

“Five Players Are Recalled By Pirate Management,” Pittsburgh Post, August 17, 1911: 9. Also photo…

“Springfield Receives Castoffs of Pirates,” South Bend Tribune, January 31, 1912: 10.

“Big Squad Taken On Last Journey to Eastern Lots,” Pittsburgh Post, September 10, 1912: 13.

“Pirates Possess Real Opera Star in Riv. Bisland,” Pittsburgh Press, January 16, 1913: 14.

“Death of Player Recalls Old Days,” Pittsburgh Press, January 19, 1913: 17.

Jemison, Dick. “Rivington Bisland Greatest Southern League Shortstop,” Atlanta Constitution, August 31, 1913: 10A. (Also Photo)

Troy, Jack. “All in the Game,” Atlanta Constitution, July 28, 1938: 16, 18.

“Notes of the Game,” St. Louis Star and Times, October 10, 1913: 6.

“Bisland Signs With Federals,”The Baltimore Sun, November 2, 1913: 13.

“Baseball Chatter,” Sheboygan Press, December 6, 1913: 3.

“Rickey Has Many Youths,” Chattanooga Daily Times, December 12, 1913: 10.

“Base Ball Briefs,” Washington Evening Star, April 13, 1914: 15.

“Indians Buy New Infielder From St. Louis Americans,” Indianapolis News, Aprl 15, 1914: 10.

“Rivington Bisland To Be Benched,” Nashville Banner, June 4, 1914: 11.

“Risland Will Be Atlanta Field Leader,” Knoxville Sentinel, March 22, 1915: 12.

“Bisland Spiked; Out For Season,” Atlanta Constitution, August 28, 1915: 8.

“Atlanta Paid Me $350 Salary Per Month Last Year,” Birmingham News, February 8, 1916: 13.

“Open Series With Barons,” Chattanooga Daily Times, June 5, 1916: 8.

“Henrietta Bisland,” Brooklyn Times Union, December 18, 1934: 10A.

Runyon, Damon. “Runyon’s Ramblings,” Lancaster New Era, August 22, 1936: 8.

“Braddock-Louis Gate to Reach Million Dollars,” Wilkes-Barre Evening News, May 31, 1937: 10.

Ward, Gene. “Floyd-Ingy Ticket Sale Spurts,” New York Daily News, June 12, 1959: 58.

McQueen, Red. “Hoomalimali,” Honolulu Advertiser, June 7, 1960: 8.