Happy Birthday, Goldie Rapp!

Third baseman Goldie Rapp spent nearly a decade entertaining fans in the minors with his acrobatic fielding exploits and willingness to mingle with the fans before the New York Giants gave him a shot in 1921.  His major league career was interesting, but short.  Rapp was returned to the minors in 1923.

Goldie Rapp in 1915

At 19 or 20 (depending on the source) Rapp got his start with the Wichita Witches in 1913 where he’d play alongside former major league player, Peaches Graham.  (See photo at right.)  Then, he just drifted throughout the Midwest. Suspended by Wichita management, he was sold to St. Joseph in the Western League. St. Joseph decided not to keep the light hitting glove man, so he was allowed to sign with Peoria for 1916. After his season in Peoria, Rapp was signed by Richmond (IN) in the Central States League for the princely sum of $250, but that team lost his rights when the league folded at the start of World War I. So, he took a job at a cigar store and played baseball on weekends with the Muncie (IN) Grays until Uncle Sam sent him to training camp.

After World War I, Rapp was released from duty and returned home to Cincinnati where he played in high level semi-professional leagues. Local scouts got the word out and the Reds gave Rapp a look. He didn’t stick, though, and the Reds tried looking for minor league suitors. After a few failed attempts, the Reds let him go to New Orleans and the Beaumont Oilers (Texas League) in 1919, and after spring training in 1920 he was dispatched to the St. Paul Saints without attaching any strings.

Rapp hit .335 with 37 doubles, nine triples, and another 49 stolen bases for St. Paul in 1920 – it was easily the best season he had in the minors.  That November, the Giants purchased Rapp from the Saints for $15,000 and brought him to spring training for the 1921 season, John McGraw liked the switch hitting infielder, but thought he was 25 years old (and not likely 28). However, he could have been a Yankee had not a scout known something different than McGraw.

Bob Connery was a scout for the Yankees and had assembled many of the players that surrounded Babe Ruth when the first great Yankee clubs came together. Colonel Jake Ruppert was furious that McGraw got to Rapp first and called Connery to ask why he hadn’t been signed by the Yankees. Connery knew that Rapp wasn’t really the right choice for the Yankees (a combination of age and occasional mental errors) and figured this would lead to McGraw giving Rapp his walking papers quickly.

McGraw liked Rapp’s fielding because he always seemed to get in front of all grounders. “Rapp has this most necessary scooping qualification,” he told the New York Tribune. “Just watch his outstretched hands as he goes after a ball and note his position when the ball reaches his grasp. That big glove of his affords a target as big as a house, and he will not be as apt to make many errors. He also, like Bancroft, will make the hardest plays appear easy.” He was mobile as a fielder, but he threw with a near underhanded loop to the first baseman.

Goldie Rapp in 1923

Rapp at Spring Training with the Phillies.

As Connery predicted, Rapp didn’t make a good an impression right away, including a time when Rapp froze on a sure double and was thrown out between first and second base. And, for someone with a reputation as a good base runner, it didn’t help that Goldie was thrown out trying to steal eleven times in fourteen attempts. Two months later, hitting only .215, Rapp was moved to Philadelphia mid-season where he batted better (.277) – but wasn’t really putting a lot of runs up on the board. He batted .253 with the Phillies in 1922, and though he rarely struck out (29 times in 551 plate appearances), he also rarely walked and hit for little power.

Goldie Rapp in 1923 with Phillies

Captain Rapp, prior to being sent to the Texas Leagues.

There was at least one sore moment in his major league career. In May of 1922, he missed a month of games after he fell into the dugout chasing a foul pop, breaking a rib, spraining an ankle, and knocking himself unconscious.

Still, Philadelphia management liked him enough. In 1923, Rapp was named a team captain by manager Art Fletcher, and was so impressive as a captain and player that he was released to Fort Worth in the Texas League in July.

Rapp stayed in the minors for the rest of the 1920s and played well enough in various leagues, even as he was sinking from the American Association to Richmond in the Central States League, and finally to Allentown in 1929. At one point, he purchased his own release to play semi-professional ball with the Texon Oil Company team in Texon, TX for the 1928 season, where he was recruited to play by Snipe Conley (Conley knew Rapp from their days in the Texas League). Rapp would play semi-pro ball after his professional career ended into the 1930s.

Goldie Rapp and his Golden Tooth

Source: Craig Schultz (Ancestry.com).

You might expect that someone with that nickname sported golden blond hair. Nope. Joseph slipped on ice as an eight-year-old while skating and lost one of his front teeth. The dentist gave him a gold tooth as a replacement. When he returned to school, kids called him Goldie and the name stuck.  (See photo at right.)

In his early days, Rapp was considered a bit of an eccentric personality and, in addition to making remarkable fielding plays, the fans loved him. Rapp was suspended and released in the minor leagues for refusing to play unless Wichita owner Miles Elbright gave Rapp an advance on his salary. (This also happened years later, while with Toledo in 1925. Toledo balked and sold him to Rochester.) And sometimes his willingness to act on or say whatever came into his mind got him in trouble with umpires.

Rapp told the story of how umpire Joe Becker tossed him from a game while he was with Peoria in the Three-I league. Becker had been getting a rough go of it from the home fans in Peoria and at one point asked Rapp why the Peoria players were gathered around a commotion in the stands near the first base grandstands. Rapp, who had just walked to home plate to bat, told Becker “A woman fainted after you called that last one right at first…” Becker didn’t see the humor. “You can go over and help bring her to,” Becker replied. “You’re too wise for a guy to be wasting your time in a rotten game like this.” And with that, Becker gave Rapp the heave ho.

Perhaps the best play he made in the field came to end a game in Wichita in 1914. The Witches held a 5-4 lead in the ninth but a runner was on third base with only one out. Connie Callahan launched a line drive down the line and Rapp leaped at least three feet into the air to grab it. Then, on his descent to the earth, reached over and tagged Pepper Clarke for the third out to win the game.

Certainly Rapp’s greatest catch, however, came in St. Paul in 1920. He was walking to the ballpark before a game when he met an active child playing in the street. Thinking it was a boy he laughed in surprise when she quickly announced she was a girl. As he walked away, he heard the girl yell as a runaway horse team dragging a wagon belonging to the People’s Coal and Ice Company barreled down the street toward her. Rapp, the only adult to react, ran over and grabbed the girl, raising her up over his head as the horse and wagon sped by.

Joseph Aloysius Rapp, Jr. was born on 06 February 1894 (or 1893) to Joseph and Gertrude (Benerd) Rapp; both were children of German immigrants. In 1900, his father was listed as a policeman; by 1910 he was polishing furniture for a furniture maker. Joseph was the second of four children (Elinora, Grace, and Irene). Somewhere in there, he learned to play the piano…  In 1913, he married Charlotte Eichhorn (the Wichita papers noted his batting average rose from .042 to over .300 after he got married), and after his baseball days were over, he sold water heaters and helped take care of two daughters, Laverne and Faye.

As to his birth date – Baseball Reference says he was born in 1894.  His World War I draft registration says his birth date was in 1893 (at the time he was playing for Richmond, Indiana; his 1900 US Census record also claims an 1893 birth year). Rapp was already married to Charlotte at the time he registered for service, where he did fifteen months with the Army before heading home in 1919. Years later, Rapp was a member of the US Naval Reserves working as a Chief Ship Fitter in World War II and is buried in Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, CA after his death on 1 July 1966 next to his second wife, Julia.

SOURCES

Baseball Reference

Taylor, Charles A. “‘Goldie’ Rapp Slated to Play Third as Regular for McGraw”, New York Tribune, 13 March 1921, Page 19.

“New Giant Regular Was Sent to Minors By Reds Last Season”, New York Tribune, 13 March 1921, Page 19.

“‘Goldie’ Rapp Tells Of Losing Clash of Wit with Umps in Game at Peoria”, Moline Dispatch, 19 June 1923, Page 11.

“Dentist Gave Goldie Rapp His Baseball Nickname”, Fayetteville Observer, 12 April 1921, Page 7.

“Goldie Rapp Badly Hurt Chasing Fly”, Honolulu Advertiser, 16 May 1922, Page 1.

“Goldie Rapp Is Suspended”, Wichita Daily Eagle, 08 June 1915, Page 7.

“Baseball Notes”, Chicago Eagle, 07 May 1921, Page 2.

“Goldie Rapp, Of Wichita Fame, Is Sold To Giants”, Wichita Daily Eagle, 17 November 1920, Page 8.

Cullum, Dick. “Cullum’s Column”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 23 July 1964, Page 23.

“New Star Infielder Of Giants Once Cost Richmond Club $250”, St. Bernard (Arabi Louisiana) Voice, 21 May 1921, Page 6.

“‘Goldie’ Rapp Still On His Wanderings”, Richmond Palladium-Item, 11 June 1919, Page 9.

“Will Captain Phils”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 January 1923, Page 16.

“Former Three-I Stars Set Pace in Major Loop”, Moline Dispatch, 19 May 1922, Page 20.

“Allentown Signs Goldie Rapp To Play Hot Corner”, Hartford Courant, 26 February 1929, Page 12.

“‘Goldie’ Rapp Goes South With Reds”, Richmond Palladium-Item, 06 March 1920, Page 9.

“Girl’s Life Saved by ‘Goldie’ Rapp”, Lincoln Star, 02 June 1920, Page 8.

“Goldie Rapp Signed”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 March 1931, Page 16.

“‘Goldie’ Rapp Leaves Toledo; Sold Outright”, Fremont News-Messenger, 18 May 1925, Page 6.

“Goldie Rapp is Released by Phils to Fort Worth”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 06 July 1923, Page 15.

“Wichita Again A Winner”, Wichita Daily Eagle, 17 September 1914, Page 8.

“Goldie Rapp, Former Local Player Now With Cincy Reds”, Richmond Palladium-Item, 12 May 1919, Page 14.

“Former Local Player Now With The Giants”, Muncie Star Press, 10 April 1921, Page 9.

“On the Bench”, Topeka State Journal, 04 June 1913, Page 3.

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 US Censuses
World War 1 Draft Registration
Find A Grave (which notes not just his gravestone, but the USNR designation)

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Baseball History for December 29th

BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENTS:

1861 Joe Flynn
1882 Frank Delahanty

One of about five Delahanty brothers to play in the big leagues.  Frank had a nice career if you include his time in the American Association, too.

1884 Lou Fiene
1885 Gus Salve

Lefty pitcher with somewhat of a baby face who got a two game (one complete game loss) tryout with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. His career is mostly pitching in the south – a few seasons in Richmond, but a few other stops in between. Not bad for a kid from Boston…

1888 Bill McAllester
1890 George Aiton
1891 Dave Skeels

Washington native (and Native American) who attended Gonzaga and played college baseball one season there in 1909. He pitched in one game for the Tigers in 1910 after a season playing minor league ball in Western Canada.  As you can imagine, any nicknames assigned to him included his heritage, most frequently being called “Chief”.

DAVE SKEELS NEEDS MORE EXPERIENCE

Speaking of Dave Skeels, the former Western Canada League twirler, the Detroit News says:

“Dave Skeels, who pitched his first game as a Tiger yesterday, was the victim of a hard batting bee by the Naps. The Tigers managed to win, 9 – 8, because Eddie Summers came to the rescue and pitched remarkable ball for three innings.

“Skeels has a good curve and lots of speed. He needs a lot of experience, but since he is only 19 he has plenty of time to get that. He should be a good pitcher some day.”

Winnipeg Tribune, 20 September 1910, Page 6.

He was sold back to Seattle by the Tigers the following spring but lasted but one season before his arm left him.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Skeels was a good switch hitter who played the outfield when not pitching and was a fast runner, too.  Skeels considered trying out as an outfielder on the off chance his arm didn’t recover.  At one time, he held the Northwestern League record for strikeouts with 15. He also fanned 21 in the second game of a double header, a game that lasted eleven innings (he had 16 after nine).

“Big Dell’s Record League’s Best”, Missoulian (Missoula, MT), 20 May 1913, Page 3.

“Pitcher Skeels Comes Near Equalling A World’s Record”, Winnipeg Tribune, 23 May 1910.

“Dave Skeels”, Detroit Free Press, 08 September 1910, Page 9.

“Skeels In Shape; Signs With Giants”, Vancouver Daily World, 05 February 1912, Page 14.

According to the 1920 US Census and the Indian Census Rolls of 1924, Skeels lived on the Colville Reservation in Washington, married Hilda Pearson (her parents came over from Sweden), and they had four kids (Loraine, Evaline, and Louisa were alive, his son George Lloyd had died). Skeels died in 1926 in a Tuberculosis sanitarium.

1893 Joe Smith
1894 Hank DeBerry
1895 Clyde Barnhart
1904 Bill Sweeney
1911 Bill Knickerbocker
1926 Tom Upton
1934 Ramon Conde
1937 George Perez
1941 Bruce Brubaker
1941 John Upham
1946 Ken Rudolph
1952 Dennis Werth
1956 Dave Ford
1959 Mike Brown
1960 Jim Wilson
1962 Devon White
1964 Craig Grebeck
1964 Rod Nichols
1966 Luis de los Santos
1968 James Mouton
1969 Scott Ruffcorn
1972 Jim Brower
1973 Tomas Perez
1974 Richie Sexson
1974 Emil Brown
1975 Jason Pearson
1975 Thomas Jacquez
1975 Jaret Wright
1977 Jimmy Journell
1977 Jack Wilson
1982 Kevin Hart
1982 Brad Davis
1991 Odubel Herrera

OBITUARIES:

1888 Asa Brainard
1916 Ed Doheny
1924 Bill White
1928 Mort Scanlan
1930 George Stutz
1930 Ginger Shinault
1930 Sandy Piez
1935 Harley Payne
1936 Bill Prough
1947 George Blaeholder
1948 Larry Hoffman
1951 Hi Bithorn
1952 Bob Meinke
1962 Tiny Graham
1965 Alex Main
1977 Jimmy Brown
1978 Walt Alexander
1979 Ed Albrecht
1980 Art Reinholz
1981 Don Plarski
1988 Earl Mossor
1988 John Happenny
2004 Gus Niarhos
2004 Ken Burkhart
2010 Steve Boros
2011 Rosman Garcia
2014 Bob Usher
2015 Ed Mayer
2015 Frank Malzone

YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!!!

2002 Riverfront Stadium is demolished.

TRANSACTION WIRE:

1981 St. Louis signs free agent pitcher Joaquin Andujar.

1995 San Diego signs free agent outfielder Rickey Henderson.

2006 San Francisco makes a significant investment in free agent pitcher Barry Zito…

2009 The Mets sign Jason Bay to a four year deal.

Happy Birthday, Abraham Lincoln Wolstenholme

Born on the day that Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln Wolstenholme played in three games as a catcher and third baseman for about a week in June, 1883 for the Phillies – the first year of Philadelphia’s National League existence.  He had one hit in eleven at bats, a double, over those three games.  After that, he was gone.  As Philadelphia had a pretty extensive semi-professional circuit then, he may have been active in local games for a portion of his adult life.

From simple research, he was born to John and Alice (Heargrave) Wolstenholme in 1861, though his death record says he was born in 1862.  He was the fourth child (behind Jeremiah, Sarah, and Elizabeth).  Not long after his baseball career ended, he married Maggie Evans on 4 February 1884 and spent most of his days as a file cutter, his last job was with the Forman File Works.  In the 1900 and 1910 census, he was living without his wife – either with his parents (1900) or as a lodger.  You don’t want to read too much into this, as she signed his death certificate, but I don’t see any records (city directories, etc.) that show them living together much after they got married, or that they had any children.

Wolstenholme is one of a handful of players (and people, really) who died on his birthday, passing to the next life on 4 March 1916 (he was 55) and is buried in the family plot at North Cedar Hill Cemetery.  The cause of his death was uremia complicated by nephritis – essentially kidney failure.

Happy Birthday, Jake Virtue!

After being released by the Cleveland Spiders, Jake Virtue was looking forward to a new season and a new team.  He had just signed a contract to play for the Louisville Colonels in 1895, the holidays were over, and he was readying for a trip south for spring training.

And then, though having just turned 30 years old, Jake Virtue’s career was over.

Virtue was born in Philadelphia on 2 March, 1865 and learned to play baseball in the open areas of the city.  Having completed school, he started playing amateur baseball – first with the Somersets of Philadelphia, and then for teams around the state.  He would play for Ironsides, Lancaster, Oswego, Altoona, and Canton.  In Altoona, he played for a championship team that included future major leaguer Lave Cross.

In 1889, he was signed to play with Detroit in the International League where he dazzled on the field with his aggressive fielding, strong throwing arm, daring base running, and solid hitting – he was the only Wolverine regular to clear .300.  As with Altoona, Detroit made a run at the league crown and Virtue made a local name for himself by playing through a broken finger to help clinch the flag.  Playing through pain, “the broken digit mended itself right on the diamond” (“Necrology”, The Sporting News) – and it would remain crooked for the rest of Virtue’s life.

Virtue remained in Detroit in 1890, but the International League died and with a bunch of players jumping to the Player’s League, Virtue took a job playing first base with the Cleveland Spiders.  This was a good young team, featuring a rookie pitcher named Cy Young that would help the Spiders be competitive for the first half of the 1890s.  Virtue cleared .300 for the Spiders in his 62 games, adding 49 walks to just 15 strikeouts.  Staying in Cleveland for 1891, he continued to grow – though his batting average fell with the influx of talent returning to the National League, he still hit .261, walked 75 times, drove in 72 runs, hit 14 triples, and fielded admirably.

Before he even landed in Cleveland, people were singing the praises of his skills and efforts.  “He will jump higher for a high ball, reach further for a wide ball, and cleanly pick up more ground thrown balls than any man who ever stood at first base in Recreation park,” wrote the sporting editor of the Detroit Free Press.  “Being a swift runner, which is not characteristic of first basemen, he will cover more ground in quest of foul flies than any other first basemen, some of his feats in this respect being truly remarkable.”

In Cleveland, they talked about his having the strongest throwing arm of all first basemen.  And, with his fleetness afoot, he was extraordinarily valuable as he could play nearly every position on the field.

Toward the end of the 1892 season, a Boston batter hit a pop foul between home plate and first base.  A player on the Boston bench called out to both the catcher and the first baseman to make the play – leading to a serious collision.  Virtue was injured and much of the recklessness with which he played soon disappeared.  He must have taken the change personally, because over time he was called out for not having the nerve many other players displayed on the field.  His manager, Patsy Tebeau, once discussed this with Elmer Bates at Sporting Life.  “Virtue is a valuable player and is hitting the ball hard. I only wish he thought as well of himself as I do of him,” Tebeau explained.  “Timid players handicap themselves.”

Timid play – despite being able to back up anybody and still hitting fairly well- finally caught up with Jake Virtue.  When the mound was moved back to 60′ 6″, a lot of hitters saw their batting averages jump.   Virtue’s did not – he fell from .282 (but with 84 walks) to .265.  He remained rather difficult to strike out – he fanned just 14 times in 378 at bats in 1893.  In 1894, he was reduced to a limited utility role and played in just 29 games.  The Spiders secretly relieved him of his duties, but didn’t announce this until after the season was over.

In December, 1894, Virtue signed with Louisville – and things were looking up.  Writers in Louisville hailed the signing.  J. J. Saunders wrote this in The Sporting Life:

“The signing of Jake Virtue was hailed with delight and more space given for that event by newspaper boys than any for a long time.  There is believed to be several years of good ball playing in him yet, and if his batting is up to his Cleveland standard he will be a big improvement over anything we have had on the initial bag since the days of Harry Taylor.”

However, as March got started, a severe case of rheumatism possibly coupled with a minor stroke left Virtue nearly paralyzed on his right side.  He didn’t travel with the team to spring training, and in six weeks, despite getting some of his basic physical ability back, he was summarily released by the Colonels.  Two years later, he was hit with a second stroke that again left him paralyzed on the same right side of his body.

At that point, Virtue and his family were in difficult straits.  His wife reached out to catcher Chief Zimmer, who helped raise funds from former Spider teammates, and benefit games were played on his behalf.  He was frequently unable to work, and even though he would have some semblance of physical ability, chronic rheumatism affected his ability to hold jobs.

As an aside, Jack O’Connor, a former teammate, later told a story about Virtue having cursed himself.  O’Connor’s story hit the wires; here’s how it read in the Burlington Evening Gazette:

“While at Hot Springs, John Sheridan saw one of the St. Louis players become highly incensed over the loss of a ball which, he alleged, had been stolen from him.  ‘I hope,’ he said, ‘that the arm of the man who stole that ball may fall paralized [sic] by his side.’  ‘Don’t say that, pal,’ prayed Jack O’Connor, in most earnest words.  ‘Such talk is liable to bring ill-fortune to you.  I once heard Jake Virtue make the same prayer, and within six months he was stricken with paralysis, from which he never recovered.  Virtue could not find his sweater one day and became very angry.  “May — paralyze the man who stole my sweater!” said Virtue.  After awhile he found his sweater where he had put it away.  We paid no more attention to it, until one day we read in the newspapers that Jake had been stricken with paralysis.  His prayer was granted.'”

Virtue was cursed for sure.  In 1899, he was well enough to ride a train to see the unveiling of a Hartranft statue.  On the way back, his train was in a serious wreck near Exeter, PA. that killed 25 people.  Virtue survived, but just barely.  According to a story in Sporting Life, “When the crash came he was sitting in the first section of the fourth car with a friend.  Jake escaped with his life, but sustained many bruises and lacerations.  His face was cut almost beyond recognition and his scalp was torn, a large piece being entirely sliced off the back of his head.  He is now at the Charity Hospital in Norristown.”

Virtue healed and for a short while, Connie Mack and Ben Shibe gave him a job managing the press box for Athletics games after the turn of the century.  Even this didn’t last long – eventually Virtue would remain effectively paralyzed for the rest of his days.  He died on 3 February 1943 while living with his son, William, in Camden, NJ.

SOURCES:

Nemec, David (Editor), Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Bison Books, 2011, Pages 334-335.

“Necrology”, The Sporting News, 11 February 1943, Page 4.

“Base Ball Notes”, The Boston Globe, 3 August 1896, Page 3.

“Recall Old Timers”, Altoona Mirror, 4 June 1940, Page 29.

“Jake Virtue”, Hamilton Daily Democrat, 6 May 1893, Page 3.

“Base Ball Notes”, Burlington Evening Gazette, 14 April 1899, Page 2.

“A Veteran Injured”, Sporting Life, 20 May  1899, Page 6.

“Base Ball Tips”, Indianapolis Sun, 21 September 1889, Page 3.

“Talk of the Diamond”, Boston Sunday Post, 24 March 1895, Page 3.

“Base Ball Briefs”, Mansfield News, 14 April 1895.

“Baseball Gossip”, Boston Post, 5 May 1894, Page 3.

“Stars of the Field Fast Passing Away”, Anaconda Standard, 22 December 1905, Page 26.

Indianapolis Sun, 26 February 1895, Page 8.

“Base Ball Notes”, Burlington Evening Gazette, 28 July 1897, Page 4.

Bates, Elmer. “Cleveland Chatter”, Sporting Life, 23 May 1896, Page 8.

“Philadelphia News”, Sporting Life, 2 March, 1895, Page 6.

“Why Tempt Avenging Furies?”, Sporting Life, 5 May 1894, Page 1.

Bates, Elmer.  “Forest City Findings”, Sporting Life, 4 March 1893, Page 3.

“News, Gossip, and General Comment”, Sporting Life, 29 September 1894, Page 6.

Mighty Casey Baseball Bio: Ollie Pickering

You may have heard of the term “Texas Leaguer” – a little flair or bloop single that falls just beyond the infielders and just in front of the outfielders – but you might not know where that term came from.

It’s tied to one of the early nomads of baseball history, outfielder Ollie Pickering.

Oliver Daniel Pickering was born on April 9, 1870 in Olney, Illinois to Joseph McKendree Pickering and Emma Jane (Cochenour) Pickering.  His dad was a cooper, building barrels for local wheat and grain mills.  Ollie was one of two kids – he had a sister, Josephine Elijah, who was seven years younger than he.  A fan of baseball from the first time he came in contact with the game, one thing was certain and that was he didn’t want to build barrels.  Ollie had a more adventurous and daring streak – so in 1892 he saved up all his money and used it to buy postage.  He wrote to every baseball manager he could find in the United States, included an envelope with return postage, and hoped that someone would give him a chance to try out for the team – certain that if given a chance, he’d stick.

Nobody gave him a chance, except a manager for the Houston entry in the Texas League, John J. McCloskey.

Meanwhile, Pickering learned that rival baseball clubs in San Antonio, Texas were looking for fresh talent to help resolve a local baseball rivalry.  Without a penny to his name, Pickering raced out and caught a train heading south (well, west and then south) to Texas.  He would race up alongside a slow moving train jump up along a cattle car, and then hang on for dear life.  As Ollie once told The Sporting News, “I pigged it from my home at Olney, Ill., to San Antonio, Tex., a distance of 1,600 miles, hanging to the brake rods.  They couldn’t come too fast for me in those days, and I’ve caught a train going 20 miles an hour.”

Landing in San Antonio, he once again reached out to McCloskey, using the last stamps he had.  McCloskey said he was interested – but never sent a train ticket so Pickering could get to Houston.  While waiting, Pickering played with a couple of local semi-pro teams but didn’t have enough to cover room and board, so he lived “… under a high sidewalk at San Antonio a couple of weeks waiting for a ticket.”  The season was about to start and he still hadn’t heard from the manager, so Pickering took to the rails again.  ‘McCloskey forgot to send the ticket, and two days before the season opened, I pigged it over to Houston.  These days a player won’t report without advance money, transportation, and Pullmans, but the pig train was good enough for me.”

Let’s let Ollie finish the story.

On the morning of the day the season opened, I fell off a slow freight at Houston, hunted up McCloskey and said, “I’m here.”  

He looked me over and said: “Who are you?”

I told him and he sort of gasped.  I had a crop of whiskers with clinkers in them, one shoe, and what clothes I wore were tied on with ropes and wire.  “How did you get here?”  McCloskey asked.  

“Pigged it,” I said. “Tickets don’t cut no ice with me.  I’ve come 1,800 miles looking for a job.”  

“Have you any money?” the manager wanted to know.  

“Couldn’t make the first payment on a clay pipe,” I said.  

McCloskey said he guessed I’d do.  He gave me 50 cents and told me to come out that afternoon for a trial.  He said there might be something in me, and there was.  I blew 10 cents against a barber shop and the rest for grub, and maybe I didn’t throw in a (beverage) that did me good.  With a meal inside of me and rigged up in a new uniform I felt like a horse.  Nothing could stop me.  In seven times at bat I made seven hits with men on bases, and they couldn’t put anything past me in the field.  Houston beat Galveston 30 to 1, and the town went crazy.  

When the excitement cooled down I strolled round near McCloskey and wondered out loud if I would do.  “Come here,” hs said.  He hustled me downtown, bought me a trunk, suit case, suit of clothes, shoes, underwear, shirts, collars; in fact, a whole dude outfit, and stabled me at a hotel with real beds in it.  McClosky must have spent all of $25 togging me out, and I was the white-haired boy at Houston.  I was stuck on being a ball player, and that was how I broke into the game.  And, do you know, it was weeks before I could ride in a Pullman car without holding on with both hands?

— (“Gossip of the Players”, The Sporting News, 2/15/1902, Pg 2. and “A Ball Player’s Start – Ollie Pickering Relates His Early Experiences”, San Antonio Daily Light, 2/18/1902, Pg. 4.)

Pickering wound up hitting ,300 in the Texas League, and he must have hung around there for a while as Baseball-Reference has a record of his playing for Houston in the South Texas League in 1895, but no records for Pickering playing in organized ball between 1892 and 1895.  In 1896, he was playing closer to home – Cairo, Illinois – before being sent east to Lynchburg in the Virginia League.  There, he was signed by a scout for the Louisville Colonels and given a chance with a major league team.  In his first game, facing Cy Young, he had three hits – all little flairs into the outfield.

Between those two events – his seven-hit game for Houston consisting of little flairs just beyond the first or third baseman or his three-hit game for Louisville consisting of several short flairs to the outfield – is the tale of the term Texas Leaguer.  Having read the stories tying the term to his first game in Houston only makes sense if his hits off of Cy Young were similar – as the term itself is rather derogatory.  A real hit is a line drive or a well placed shot.  A Texas Leaguer is the type of flair or accidental bloop single a lucky minor leaguer got in a big league game.  Either way – all the stories say it started with Ollie Pickering.

With Louisville, Pickering hit .303 and stole 13 bases in 45 games.  He didn’t hit nearly as well in 1897, so Louisville replaced him with Texas League star William Nance and sent Pickering to Cleveland.  There, Pickering found his batting stroke – he hit .352 in 46 games there.  Pickering was also fast – he could run down long flies in the outfield and stole 38 bases in 1897.  At the same time, he had his own struggles.  Pickering occasionally misplayed grounders hit to him in the outfield, and was once referred to as a “Blind Bull” on the bases – reckless and not always paying attention.

Cleveland optioned Pickering back to the Western League despite hitting .352 – he played with Omaha in 1898, Columbus/Grand Rapids and Buffalo in 1899 and the new Cleveland entry in American League when Ban Johnson and his friends started the process of converting the Western League into a major league – first by changing the league’s name.  So, when the American League declared itself a major league for the 1901 season, Pickering stayed with Cleveland – where he hit .309, scored 102 runs, and stole 36 bases for the Blues.  When his batting fell back to .256 in 1902 – a season full of injuries – Cleveland shipped Pickering to Philadelphia and Connie Mack’s Athletics.  Pickering would have a fine season for Mack in 1903 – he hit .281, stole a career high 40 bases, and scored 93 runs.  A year later, Pickering struggled, he would hit just .226 for Mack, and so he was let go.

Pickering signed with Columbus in the American Association where he was a star outfielder.  In 1905 and 1906, he hit .327 and .313 with 398 combined hits in the two seasons.  After two solid seasons, he was drafted back into the major leagues by the St Louis Browns.  In 1907, Pickering hit .276 – not a horrible season considering he was now a 37-year-old outfielder.  However, he wouldn’t stay – he was traded to Washington for Charley Jones.  The New York Times suggested that Pickering fell out of favor with Browns manager Jimmy McAleer because he occasionally enjoyed a beer and was putting on weight.  “Ollie Pickering, cast off by Connie Mack of Philadelphia, and Jimmy McAleer at St. Louis because he liked pie and beer for breakfast, has at last found his way to Washington – the baseball graveyard.”  More likely, Washington manager Joe Cantillon, who knew Pickering from his westward exhibition tours, wanted a better outfielder than Charley Jones, who complained about being in Washington.

It’s hard to believe that Pickering was trouble for anyone.  From what can be gleaned from various articles, people generally liked Pickering.  He had his limitations – he liked his pitches low but struggled against left-handed pitchers, especially those who could keep pitches higher in the zone.  There’s a story Joe Cantillon used to tell about sending Pickering to scout a young lefty pitcher.  “Bring a bat,” Cantillon told Pickering.  “If you get a few good foul balls off him, leave him in the minors.”  Articles talked about his speed afield and on the bases, as well as his occasional miscues – but he was usually referred to as being a well-known and famous outfielder, almost always in a positive light.

As a guy willing to take risks and hit the road, Pickering took a chance in the 1907-1908 off-season by investing in a local theatre troupe and touring around the Midwest with them.  Performing the act “Humpty Dumpty”, the show didn’t last long – having disbanded with just enough money to pay for tickets home for the cast and crew.  Pickering said that when the show got to his birth town of Olney, he was in trouble.  “I thought,” said Pick, “that when my own folks wouldn’t come to see a show it must be pretty punk, so I gave them all carfare home.  I don’t see why it wasn’t a winner.  Had a fine show.  I got a newspaper man to write me some bills, and they were surely swell.  Here is one of them:  ‘Pickering’s Polluted Pollywogs – Picturesque, Pestilential Posers, the Perihelion Pinks of Piccadilly.’  And yet the people wouldn’t come to see my show!”

Pickering lost about $1,000 on the venture.  His son and daughter, Joe and Ozeta, easily took to the stage, though.  They did a traveling skating show and she was an actress for a number of years before returning to Vincennes, Indiana and starting a family there.

Pickering struggled on a poor Washington team in 1908 – he hit .225 with little else to show for his season.  Released at the end of the year, Ollie threatened to retire rather than get shipped back to the minors – but that wasn’t Ollie Pickering.  He was a baseball player.  For most of 1909 he played with the Minneapolis Millers – his friend and former manager, Joe Cantillon, was happy to have Pickering in the outfield.  However, he struggled with illness and injuries.  In 1910, he was traded from Minneapolis to Louisville.  Not good enough to play in the American Association – then known for being a home for fading major leaguers, he went to Omaha in the Western League for 1911, then returned to play for his hometown Vincennes, Indiana team.  As that season ended, he suffered an even greater loss – his son, Joe, was killed while hunting when his gun accidentally discharged and fired a bullet into his chest.

Over the next decade, Pickering continued to play for low level teams in Terre Haute, Henderson, Owensboro, Owatonna, St. Boniface, and even Manitoba (Canada) – where he lied about his age and told his Canadian-based ownership he was 41 (instead of 45).  Joe Cantillon said that “he looked great for fifty…”  For several years, Vincennes tried maintaining a minor league team and Pickering would be called on to manage and occasionally play.  When not managing, he played semi-professional ball, or took time out to manage a firing range and gun club.  When Indianapolis got a team in the Federal League, there were stories that Pickering was interested in being involved – even as a player if possible.  In 1920, at 50, he was playing for Redfield in the South Dakota League, and a year later he would play for the Fort Branch Studebakers.  After managing in Paducah in 1922, he finally called it good and returned home to work in the grain mills.

But baseball never left him – we’re talking about a guy who played into his 50s.  So, he opened up a baseball school in Vincennes and tried to teach the finer points of the game to kids who wanted to make a run at being a professional baseball player.  After years of chasing dreams and fly balls, his heart finally gave out on January 20, 1952, and his restless body was buried in his adopted hometown.  One assumes his soul is still looking to play a ballgame somewhere.

In addition to adding to the lexicon of baseball, Pickering left a legacy in Vincennes – a street there is named after him.  His grandson, Oliver John Russell, like Ollie – a free spirit willing to travel anywhere to follow his dream – would eventually purchase roller coasters and other kiddie rides, bringing them home and setting up a very successful Kiddieland Park in Vincennes.

Web Sources:

Ollie Pickering Page on Retrosheet.org

Ollie Pickering Pages on Baseball-Reference.com

(Majors)

(Minors)

Newspaper Articles:

Centralia Daily Sentinel, 2/17/1896 Page 2.

“Sporting Notes”, Fort Wayne News, 9/21/1900, Pg. 3

“A Ball Player’s Start – Ollie Pickering Relates His Early Experiences”, San Antonio Daily Light, 2/18/1902 Pg. 4.

“Gossip of the Players”, The Sporting News, 2/15/1902, Pg 2.

F. C. Richter. “Philadelphia Points”, Sporting Life, 10/25/ 1902, Pg. 4.

“Baseball Bunts”, Indianapolis Sun, 4/4/1904, Pg. 8.

“Baseball Notes”  Washington Post, 7/9/2014, Pg. 27.

“Milwaukee Players”, Washington Post, 8/12/1904, Pg. 27

“Gossip of the Diamond” Indianapolis Sun, 12/20/1904

“Ollie Pickering Goes Back to Minor League”, San Antonio Gazette, 3/1/1905, Pg. 3.

“Johndon Re-elected President of American League”, Sandusky Star Journal, 12/13/1907, Pg. 7.

“Baseball Gossip”, New York Times, 12/17/1907, Pg. 7.

Poseyville (IN) News, 1/10/1908, Pg 5.

“Show Was Disbanded”, Sullivan Daily Times, 1/21/1908, Pg. 1

“Pick’s Show”, Sporting Life, 2/22/1908, Pg. 7

“Baseball Notes”, Racine Daily Journal, 4/24/1908, Pg. 9.

“Short Sports”, Newark Advocate, 12/28/1908, Pg. 6.

Racine Daily Journal, 1/8/1909, Pg. 10.

“Ollie Pickering Has Unique Record”, Altanta Constitution, 1/17/1909, Pg. 27.

“When Pickering Lost a Toenail”, Des Moines Daily Register, 8/20/1909, Pg. 9.

“Omaha Signs Pickering”, Bessemer Herald, 2/4/1911, Pg. 7.

“Des Moines Gets New Outfielder”, Des Moines Daily News, 5/22/1911, Pg. 8.

“Boy Hunter Accidentally Shot”, Loogootee Sentinel, 12/8/1911, Pg. 7.

“Pickering Bereaved”, Sporting Life, 12/16/1911, Pg. 15.

“The Western League”, Sporting Life, June 10, 1911. Pg. 23.

“Texas Leaguers”, Sporting Life, April 21, 1906, Pg. 2.

“News Items Gathered From All Quarters”, Sporting Life, April 13, 1912, Pg. 5.

Huntington News Democrat, 3/22/1912, Pg. 6.

Muskogee Times Democrat, 3/29/1912, Pg. 9.

“Ball Tosser Heads Club”, Lebanon Patriot, 6/13/1912, Pg. 12.

“Baseball Notes”, Alton Evening Telegraph, 6/8/1914, Pg. 6.

“Pickering, at 41, Beats Kid Stars”, Massillon Evening Independent, 6/15/1915.

Janesville Daily Gazette, 9/13/1915, Pg. 8.

Chandler D. Richter. “Mack’s New View”, Sporting Life, 1/23/1915, Pg. 6.

“It’s Up to Albert Lea to Keep Up Reputation”, Albert Lea Evening Tribune, 9/1/1916, Pg. 6.

“Vincennes to Have Team”, Washington Democrat, 2/23/1917, Pg. 3.

“Sport Column”, Princeton Daily Democrat, 3/16/1917, Pg. 2.

“Former Big-League Star Gets New Job”, Elkhart Review, 8/5/1919, Pg. 8.

“Fort Branch to Play Haubstadt Next Sunday P.M.”, Princeton Daily Democrat, 6/24/1921, Pg. 5.

“Kitty League Rejuvenated”, Laurel Daily Leader, 4/14/1922, Pg. 1

“Sign Four Players for Vincennes New Ball Club”, Bicknell Daily News, 4/7/1923, Pg. 1.

“Caught on the Fly”, Sporting Life, 8/12/1911.  Page. 17

“Kiddieland Thrives In Town of 18,000”, The Billboard, 2/19/1955, Pg. 59, 71.

John McGraw – a Different Perspective

It’s time to reconsider the legacy of John McGraw.  If Rob Manfred gets to review Pete Rose’s case and consider reinstating him, perhaps Manfred should review the history of John McGraw and consider kicking McGraw out and having him removed from the Hall of Fame.

How did I come to this conclusion?  I had thought about it for a little while (see my article on Pol Parrott), but it really came clearer to me in recent weeks.  I was doing some research on Horace Fogel; it was his birthday a few weeks back and I couldn’t remember who he was, but it gave me a reason to think about John McGraw.  I even bought two books about him – a biography and his autobiography.

Long and short, I no longer think John McGraw is one of the greats of the game of baseball.  Rather – I think he was one of the villains.  He’s Aaron Burr with better press and a better final act.

As a player with the Baltimore Orioles, McGraw had a reputation as a cheat.  As a baserunner, he cut bases; as a defender he grabbed players to prevent them from running around third.  He tripped people, he grabbed belts.  The reason we need four umpires (if not six) at a ball game is because of guys like McGraw.  He menaced umpires and other players – when he retired nobody had been thrown out of more baseball games than John McGraw.

Very noble.

It didn’t end there.  McGraw somehow was made the manager of the AL’s Baltimore Orioles.  Always running in harms way with the umpires, McGraw got on the wrong side of AL President Ban Johnson.  So what did McGraw do?  He worked out a deal with the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds.  He took over managing the Giants – stole many of the best players (some went to the Reds, who were in cahoots with the Giants since the former owner of the Reds was now the owner of the Giants) – and wrecked the Orioles.  Johnson was so angry, he moved the Orioles to New York and set up the Yankees.

McGraw was a successful manager for the Giants – don’t get me wrong – but given a chance to play in the 1904 World Series, McGraw said no.

In the next decade, the Giants were consistently good – but rumors abounded that the Giants had help.  Here’s where Horace Fogel comes in – he owned the Phillies in the early 1910s.  He was a front for the owners of the Cubs and a guy affiliated with the Reds, but he was the president of the team.  Anyway – Fogel was having a rough year – he had invested in good players and they were competitive, but then things went the wrong way.  A player got suspended, another key player got hurt, and the team fell down the stretch.  At some point, he said things he probably should not have said – but some of the things he said were coming from the guy who owned the Cubs.  One of the things Fogel claimed was that in the height of the pennant race, the St. Louis Cards deliberately played to lose when facing the Giants, which helped the Giants win the pennant.

Roger Bresnahan was the manager of the Cardinals – he had become a manager because McGraw took the raw, fiery pitcher with crazy athletic skills and turned him into an outfielder and then a Hall of Fame catcher (not that there was a Hall of Fame then).  Roger doesn’t get this job without McGraw having helped him as a player, and then by providing Bresnahan with quite the letter of recommendation.  Fogel claimed that Bresnahan returned the favor by helping the Giants win the 1914 pennant, in part, by folding games when facing the Giants.

Fogel was brought before the National League owners and management team, where they decided that they needed to shut Fogel up and kick him out of baseball.  Fogel couldn’t really prove anything; but he was saying things the league didn’t want to talk about, so it was easier to make Fogel – who had no real ownership in the Phillies – go away.

A few years later, Pol Parrott was pitching for the Giants when Hal Chase tried to extract some information from Parrott in hopes to make money on a doubleheader (something Hal Chase did a lot, you know – he looked for information, and often included cash offers).  Parrott told McGraw, word got out, and Chase was brought before a league tribunal to account for his actions.  John McGraw testified about what Parrott said to him.  Somehow, Chase got away with it.  To top it off – McGraw then signed Chase to play first base for his New York Giants.

How does that happen?

McGraw was very good friends with the guy who ran a gambling syndicate (actually, a crime ring) in New York, Arnold Rothstein.  They owned a race track together, among other things.  Two players on McGraw’s 1919 Giants – Chase and Heinie Zimmerman worked with Rothstein to throw the World Series.  Makes you think that Rothstein saw an opportunity to make some extra money and had his friend, McGraw, give Chase a job.

After the Black Sox scandal, the Giants were still among the best teams of the National League and won pennants to start the 1920s.  They shared the Polo Grounds with the New York Yankees – oddly, the team that was created when the Orioles franchise was returned to the American League and moved to New York in 1903 – first as the Highlanders, and eventually taking on the Yankees moniker.  Over time, the Yankees proved to be the more popular (and more successful) team – so McGraw, who was now a part owner of the team, worked to kick the Yankees out of the Polo Grounds.

McGraw’s reward was to lose a tenant, and then never win another pennant.  Sure – he won a lot of games until he called it a career, but he never made it to another World Series after 1924.

If you think about this – what is it, exactly, that makes you think that John McGraw should be treated like one of the greats of the game?  It’s like saying Pete Rose deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because he has 4200+ hits – so what if he broke one of the cardinal rules of baseball.  Maybe THE cardinal rule.  McGraw cheated on the field, he may have indirectly affected the outcome of a pennant race, he cultivated a world of gambling on his own team that contributed to the fixing of a World Series.  He was belligerent; he was pompous; he was corruptible, if not corrupt.

Oh, yeah – he was a great judge of talent.

Happy Birthday – Curtis Schmidt!

The leading pitcher of the 1991 and 1992 Kansas Jayhawks, Curtis Schmidt went from a 41st round pick of the Montreal Expos to one of the 24 kids who hailed from Montana to make it to the big leagues.

Curtis Schmidt was born 16 March 1970 in Miles City, Montana, a mostly farming community in the southeastern portion of the state.  After graduation, he attended Howard College in Big Spring, Texas before transferring to the Jayhawks for his junior and senior seasons.  The 6′ 5″ Schmidt immediately earned a ticket into the starting rotation with his heavy 90 MPH fastball that led to frequent strikeouts and even more frequent ground balls.  While at KU, he fashioned a 13 – 10 record with a 2.80 career ERA, earning two All-Big Eight Conference awards.

He was drafted in 1991 by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 28th round, but chose to return to college.  Then, after completing his eligibility at Kansas, he was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 41st round of the 1992 draft.  Assigned to Jamestown in the NY-PENN League, Schmidt showed promise – he struck out nearly a batter per inning, allowed just a lone homer in over 6o innings of work, and just 42 hits in 63+ innings.  Advanced to West Palm Beach in the Florida State League for the 1993 season, Schmidt continued to show growth but it was his 1994 season with AA Harrisburg where Schmidt went from decent minor leaguer to ” blue chip relief prospect.”  Schmidt went 6 – 2 with a 1.88 ERA, striking out 75 and walking 29 in 71.2 innings of work.  He allowed only 51 hits all year, just four of them clearing fences.

He was called up to the Expos in early 1995, where he would face the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field for his first taste of the major leagues on April 28.  Rey Sanchez bunted on the rookie pitcher, beating out a single to open the fifth inning.  Schmidt, whose fastball usually stayed low, did just that – getting Mark Grace to bounce into a double play.  Then, Sammy Sosa flew out to end the inning.  Unfortunately, not all of Schmidt’s outings were that successful.  Getting a late call in September, Schmidt appeared in 11 games, pitching 10.1 innings, but allowed 15 hits and nine walks, leading to a 6.97 ERA.   Between call ups, Schmidt was undefeated for the AAA Ottawa Lynx in 1995, which became his minor league home for the next two seasons as well.  After starting 1997 slowly, Schmidt moved to the Pirates where he pitched better for Calgary of the Pacific Coast League, but was no longer considered a prospect.  Trying one more time, Schmidt pitched for the independent Somerset Patriots in 1998 before calling it a career.

For me and several of my Jayhawk journalism alums, Curtis Schmidt is a throwback name – a time when Dave Bingham was moving the Jayhawks baseball program forward.  Several of my friends spent springs and summers calling games where Schmidt would mow down hitters in Hoglund-Maupin Stadium, whether as a Jayhawk or a member of the semi-pro Maupintour Travelers.  A year after Schmidt left, the Jayhawks were in the College World Series; Schmidt was part of that growth pattern.  And of the many players we covered from that period, Schmidt was one of the few who made it to the pros.

 

Sources:

Curtis Schmidt Page on Retrosheet.org

Curtis Schmidt Pages on Baseball-Reference.com

(Majors)

(Minors)

Pascarelli, Peter “It’s Not The System, just bad management”, The Sporting News, 9/12/1994, Pg. 47.

“The playoff share”, The Sporting News, 9/11/1995, Pg. 12.

“Schmidt Tabbed in 41st Round”, Lawrence Journal-World, 6/4/1992