The Polo Grounds And Peanuts Lead To A Rare Film Showing Life In 1911 New York

Public domain, via Library of Congress #LC-DIG-pga-02288

New York’s Polo Grounds, 1887

On Thursday, April 13, 1911, at New York’s Polo Grounds, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the New York Giants, 6-1. 

via baseball-reference.com

It was an unremarkable game – the second of the season – and Giants losing pitcher Christy Mathewson was not yet in the form that would lead him to 26 wins that season and an NL-leading 1.99 ERA.

Despite their uninspiring 0-2 start, the Giants would go on to win 99 regular season games and the NL pennant. (They would lose the World Series to the Philadelphia A’s.)

But, this is not about the Giants. (The Phillies ended their season 19.5 games back of the Giants and it’s not about them either.)

Public domain, via Library of Congress #LC-USZ62-58783

Fans at the Polo Grounds, a day earlier, April 12, 1911.

A few hours after the game, around midnight, the grandstand of the Polo Grounds was engulfed in flames. By morning, the grandstand and the right field bleachers had burned to the ground.

 

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The 1896 Orioles Opossum

 “The charm of the work of the Baltimores is that every man is alive and thoroughly in earnest, playing ball for all he is worth all the time. It is a very hard club to beat, and it is the verdict that there is little wonder this club won the pennant last season.” ~ The Boston Herald, Spring 1896

Dear Baltimore Orioles,

Me, again.

I guess I don’t have to tell you why I’m writing.

At 8-25, you’re tied with the Reds for the worst record in baseball.

Last night.

You’re worse than the terrible everyone predicted you’d be.

You’re 16 games back of the AL East leading Red Sox, which is pretty nuts, because you’ve only played 33 games.

Things are terrible bad in Birdland. Horriblaciously, rottenificously, awfulmoungously bad.

So bad I have to make up words to describe the badiciousness.

This is “unbelievably bad” territory.

You blow first innings, you blow ninth innings. Those innings in-between? You blow them, too.

And, extra innings too … because …

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Walter “Steve” Brodie: Warrenton’s “Duke of Roanoke”

Take one part Yasiel Puig crazy …

Stir in Adrian Beltre …

 

… and that thing about people touching his head.

Toss in last summer’s nacho incident with Addison Russell …

 

And, there. You’ve got Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie.

1894

No, wait. We need some angry David Ortiz, too.

There. Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie.

1894

Goofy. Quirky. A bit of a mean streak.

The starting centerfielder of the 1896 Baltimore Orioles, Brodie wasn’t the greatest player on that legendary team, but he wasn’t the worst either.

1896 Baltimore Orioles. Brodie, Middle Row, Far Left.

He was loved by fans nearly everywhere he played, including Boston, St. Louis, and Baltimore, but not Pittsburgh, because … well, they had their reasons.

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The Short Life & Tragic Death of Walter “Mother” Watson

I wish I had a photo of Walter “Mother” Watson of the Cincinnati Red Stockings to show you, it being “Mother’s Day” weekend and all.

I know he was a pitcher. A three-game cup-of-coffee guy. But, righty? Lefty? No clue.

Over two games, just 14 innings, in May of 1887, the Red Stockings put Mother Watson on the mound.

Watson gave up 18 runs in those two games though, to his credit, only 9 of them were earned.

He played just one more game for the Reds, when they stuck him out in left field.

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Just South Of The White House, They Played Baseball

News from Washington, DC …

“A Base Ball Club has just been formed in this city. … It is a good sign to see such health-promoting exercises taking the place of insipid enervating amusements.” ~ The Washington Star, November 4, 1859

See, things were enervating back then, too.

There are far more important websites – newsy-type places trying to make sense of today’s Washington – you could be reading right now and I encourage you to do that.

In a sec.

Because, there was a time when, just south of the White House, they played baseball.

According to Histories of the National Mall, the first baseball games were held on the White Lot – the 52-acre park south of the White House that is now the Ellipse – in 1860.

white-lot-baseball-fields-1940s

Public Domain. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection LC-USW31-058724-C

The White Lot baseball fields in the mid-1940s.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln would take an occasional break from war strategy and catch a game at the White Lot with his son Tad.

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Sitting Here, Thinking About “Len, The Slugger”

These last few winters, the story has been pretty much the same. The Baltimore Orioles need an outfielder. Preferably two, but at the very least one.

And, every January, Orioles management scoops up a still-available outfielder at a bargain price. The Orioles get the guy for a year, he has a great season – greater than anyone could have imagined – and then “poof” he’s gone the next season, to a far richer, more generous team.

This brings me, in the most meandering way, to the brief career and life of Len Sowders.

len-sowders

Len Sowders

Sowders played just one season in the majors — 1886. He was a Baltimore Oriole.

He was an outfielder (who moonlighted some at first). A so-so fielder. A left-handed batter with a .263 average from his handful of at-bats in Baltimore.  Not a lot of power, but still, .263 isn’t the worst you can do.

That puts him right around current O’s centerfielder Adam Jones’s .265 last season and Mark Trumbo’s .256, the Orioles’s one-season outfielder whose 47 home runs led all of baseball last year and who is now a free agent looking for much more money than the Orioles will offer.

Embed from Getty Images

This Trumbo homer last August was a grand slam.

Back in 1886, Sowders was picked up by Baltimore late in the season from a minor league club in Nashville.  Before Nashville, he’d played in Evansville, where he was also known for running a local fish business and for making loans with interest (fitting, I guess, that a man in the fish business was also a loan shark). He was, one newspaper assured readers, a good player and a strict church-goer.

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Two “Inglorious Defeats” & A Somber 4th of July

Twice Beaten Buffalo Morning Express July 5 1881

Buffalo Morning Express, July 5, 1881

There’s a lot of baseball on the 4th of July.  Playing baseball on Independence Day is a tradition that goes back more than a century – pretty much as long as baseball has been baseball.

All 30 big league teams will play today (weather permitting). There will be hundreds more playing in the minors, college summer leagues, kids’ leagues, and pick-up games. There will be a lot of baseball.

This is not about any of today’s games. (Except to say, “Good luck, Orioles. Don’t screw this road trip up any worse than you already have.”)

1881 was as good a 4th of July as any for baseball, I figured.

Because there were two games in Buffalo that day, along with two in Detroit, that marked the first-ever major league doubleheaders specifically created to take advantage of a holiday.

Mickey Welch

Public Domain

Troy Trojans Pitcher Mickey Welch

Because future Hall of Fame pitcher Mickey Welch of the Troy Trojans pitched both of those games against the Buffalo Bisons – complete games, winning both, including a three-hit shut-out in the afternoon.

Because, that 4th of July also was Welch’s 22nd birthday.

Game One: Troy Trojans – 8  Buffalo Bisons – 3

Game Two: Troy Trojans – 12 Buffalo Bisons – 0

There are no box scores from that game.

Well, that’s not exactly right. There are box scores. I just can’t read them …

Troy at Buffalo Game 1 July 4 1881

Game 1 Box Score. Buffalo Morning Express, July 5, 1881

Pitching was different in 1881. Complete games – and two-man pitching rotations – were as normal then as worn-out bullpens and six-inning “quality starts” from your ace are today.

Troy Trojans unknown date

Public Domain

Troy Trojans, early 1880s. Welch may be the player seated at the far left.

Troy was a pretty lousy team with few hometown fans. So, the owners agreed to move a July 5 home game to fill out the Buffalo doubleheader. The teams would make more at the gate in Buffalo on a holiday then they could ever make in Troy on a Tuesday.

The story should end there:

The 4th of July. A Monday, just like today’s.

Mickey Welch – “Smiling Mickey,” the future Hall of Famer with the friendly demeanor and an assortment of quirky underhand curves – pitches 18 innings and wins two complete games in baseball’s first holiday doubleheader.

On his birthday. On America’s birthday.

Smiling Mickey Welch Baseball Card

I love that story.

Except for this.

As in all things, baseball doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

NYTimes July 3 1881 Garfield Shot

New York Times, July 3 1881

Two days earlier, President James A. Garfield was shot at a train station in Washington, DC.

President James Garfield

Public Domain

President Garfield

If you know your high school history, this will all sound vaguely familiar. Just three months into his Administration, a deranged office-seeker shot Garfield twice – once in the arm and once in the belly. And, if you remember your medical science classes, you might recall that Garfield died two months later, not from the actual gunshot wounds, but from infection caused by the virtually nonexistent sanitation practices of the time and all the unwashed, dirty fingers that doctors used to probe the belly wound.

This lets a lot of the air out of an otherwise sweet 4th of July story.

The country was in shock. Citizens clogged city streets near newspaper and telegraph offices to get the latest news on the condition of the President.

His “condition” depended on the newspaper …

Washington Evening Critic July 4 1881 Garfield Critical But Not Hopeless

NY Times July 4 1881 Every Hope of Recovery Garfield Improving

Buffalo Evening News July 4 1881 Hope Is Dead

Washington Evening Critic, New York Times, and Buffalo Evening NewsJuly 4, 1881

Many cities cancelled their Independence Day fireworks and events out of respect.

Buffalo called off its military parade. The city’s annual boating regatta went on as planned because, organizers agreed, the President seemed to be doing better by Sunday, and the weather was supposed to be perfect.

BuffEveNews 7 5 1881 how Independence Day was Celebrated in Buffalo

Buffalo Evening News, July 5, 1881

The Regatta, a Pigeon Shoot, and the Independence Day revelry of people shooting at each other went on as scheduled in Buffalo.

Despite the somberness of the weekend, people tried to get back to normal.

Baseball went on as planned and more than 4,000 fans attended the games against the Trojans at Buffalo’s Riverside Park.

“In the afternoon the stands were filled to sardine compactness and the assemblage was very enthusiastic,” according to the next day’s Buffalo Morning Express.

Troy surprised the Bisons. “It does seem ridiculous that such a motley combination of base-ball talent should be able, when they play in this city, to do such good work as the Troys,” The Express reported.  “The [12-0 afternoon game] was a disgrace to the name of the Buffalos. … Welch was too much for the home club.”

The 4th of July wins were rare ones for the Troy Trojans. They finished the season in fifth place in the National League, with a 39-45 record. Twenty-one of those wins belonged to Welch.

President Garfield never recovered. He died on September 19.

The Troy Trojans folded the following season and Welch went on to become a star with the New York Gothams, whom you may know today by the nickname which ultimately stuck with them – the Giants.

Mickey Welch with NY Giants

Public Domain

After finishing his playing career – amassing 307 wins and a career 2.71 ERA — Welch went on to run a hotel and saloon and then a dairy business, before returning to baseball as a gatekeeper and attendant at both the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium.

Mickey Welch died of heart failure, at age 82, on July 30, 1941. On his death certificate his “Usual Occupation” was listed as this: “Baseball player.”

Death Certificate July 1941 Mickey Welch

ancestry.com, New Hampshire Death Records

Yoo-Hoo!

To fall in love with baseball is to fall into the past, as far back as you can remember it when you were a child, and even further than that if you can.

To fall in love with baseball is to fall in love with people and places and games that are from times that are much older than you, places you’ve never been to, and games that are now just box scores on paper.

Baltimore Orioles Defeat NY Giants 8 5 1896

Baltimore Orioles beat the NY Giants 10-4. August 5, 1896.

Wee Willie Keeler. 1909.

To fall in love with baseball is to be in love with a game that has a history and a culture that is nearly 200 years old. It has changed and evolved and changed back again, but, it’s still pretty close to what it was right from the start.

(When the main thing that people still argue about is the designated hitter rule, you know that things really haven’t changed all that much.)

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Coulda Been Worse

sad kid

© The Baseball Bloggess

Hey, kid! Don’t freak out! The Baltimore Orioles have had plenty of seasons worse than this one. 

Sure, the Orioles will finish a crummy third in the American League East this season. They’ve hovering a game under .500 with just one left to play.

But, it coulda been worse.

In 1899, the Baltimore Orioles finished 4th in the 12-team National League with a 86-62 record.

Balt Sun 9 9 1899

The Baltimore Sun, September 9, 1899

“The Poor Orioles”

Their .581 win percentage, good enough for 4th place in 1899, would have won them this year’s AL East pennant. So, there. Take that, Blue Jays.

Those Orioles weren’t that bad, especially when you realize that 1899 was also the season that the Cleveland Spiders went 20-134, the worst team in baseball history.

(The Spiders were so bad – and attracted so few fans – that most teams refused to travel to Cleveland for games, forcing the Spiders to play most of their games on the road. Teams don’t get to do that anymore. It doesn’t matter if raw sewage is seeping into the dugouts, you still have to play in Oakland.)

But, finishing 4th wasn’t good enough. At the end of the season, the League decided to cut its “deadwood” and the Orioles were tossed in the chipper along with those lousy Spiders, the Washington Senators, and the Louisville Colonels.

In 1902, a patched-together Baltimore Orioles, now in the American League, finished 8th – 34 games out of first – with a 50-88 record.

Balt Sun 9 30 1902

The Baltimore Sun, September 30, 1902

“Almost Like a Funeral”

At the end of the season, that team was packed up and moved to New York.

Damn Yankees.

In 1988, the Baltimore Orioles started their season 0-21, the worst start by any major league team ever. They finished the season 54-107.

Washington Post 10 3 1988

The Washington Post, October 3, 1988

Worst O’s Team. Ever.

But, they got to stay in Baltimore.

So, hey. There is that.

And, this season?

Adam Jones 2015

© The Baseball Bloggess

Even All-Star Center Fielder Adam Jones couldn’t figure out how to fix this team.

One game left. And, one win away from finishing at .500.

manny machado 2015

© The Baseball Bloggess

All-Star Third Baseman Manny Machado. A lot of this season was kinda stinky. (But, not Manny.)

Ending the season with a win today over the Yankees sure would be nice.

But, either way … it coulda been worse.

kids

© The Baseball Bloggess

Photos: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore. 2015. © The Baseball Bloggess

“The Official Table of the Slaughter”

Oh, for crap’s sake. Can nothing go right for the Orioles?

Yesterday, I shared one of those “On This Day In Baseball” stories. It’s here.

How, on September 3, 1897, two Baltimore Orioles – outfielder “Wee” Willie Keeler and first baseman “Dirty” Jack Doyle – both went 6-for-6 in a single game.

This, historians agree, would be the only time in baseball history that two teammates went 6-for-6 in the same game.

I checked the story out. I checked the box score. I knew that there was a very brief time that walks counted as hits in baseball. But, that was 1887. And this was 1897.

box score 9 3 1897 keeler 6 for 6

Keeler — 6 At Bats, 5 Runs, 6 Hits

I should have left it at that. I should have said, “Wow. Cool.” I should have walked away.

But, no.

Because, come to find out, box scores don’t always agree.

Especially box scores that are nearly 120 years old.

So, out of curiosity, I checked the Baltimore Sun’s report from the game.

And, wouldn’t you know …

Baltimore Sun Box Score 9 3 1897 Keeler 4 for 6

Keeler — 6 at bats, 5 runs, 4 hits

“The official table of the slaughter” that day shows Keeler with just four hits.

Not that this stopped the Baltimore Sun from also accepting the legend of 6-for-6.

In a 1997 story on Keeler, the Sun’s Mike Klingaman wrote:

“Seven times [in 1897], he got four hits in one game. Four times, he got five hits. Once, Keeler went 6-for-6.”

But, the Internet can be a wild and wonderful place, and I found this buried deep in its archives:

Joe Kelley Letter jan 3 1940

Robert Edwards Auctions, 2008

A letter from Orioles outfielder Joe Kelley about the 1897 game

(Kelley, you may remember, went 5-for-6 in that game. He was also known as a something of a cutie pie ladies man who would slip a comb under his cap, so he could tidy up in the outfield before flirting with the gals during games.)

In 1940, Kelley, then 68, responded to historian Albert Kermisch’s inquiry about the game:

“Your letter with the summary of game played in 1897 received and you are going a long way back on me to think and be right. But I am pretty sure that the Sun paper’s account is right and Billy Keeler did not make six (6) hits in that game. Frank Patterson was the Sun reporter at that time and am kind of certain but not real sure that he was the official scorer that season.”

(This letter, by the way, was authenticated and sold at auction for nearly $10,000 in 2008. It was, according to the auctioneers, an extremely rare handwritten letter from the future Hall of Famer.)

Keeler McGraw Jennings Kelley 1894

By BPL CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Orioles Keeler, John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, and Kelley, circa 1895 (clockwise from top left)

So, who’s right?

The general press account and box score of the game that appeared in newspapers throughout the country that show that Keeler went 6-for-6?

The Baltimore Sun’s “official table of the slaughter” that says 4-for-6?

Baseball Almanac that gives him six hits?

Or, Kelley, who, thinking about a long-ago game, is “pretty sure” it wasn’t six?

The Baltimore Sun’s report gives a somewhat clear rundown of Keeler’s day. Batting second, behind McGraw, Keeler:

  • Singles, steals second, and scores in the first;
  • Reaches first on a questionable play in the second that includes an error that allows the man on third to score. That error would not necessarily negate a single by Keeler, but it looks like the Sun believes it does. Keeler takes part in a double steal and scores on a double from Kelley;
  • Triples in the third;
  • Is hit by a pitch in the fourth, takes part in another double steal, and scores on a wild pitch;
  • Singles in the sixth; and
  • Singles in the eighth.

There you go. Keeler was on base in all six of his appearances. But, it looks like he reached on an error in the second and his hit-by-pitch negates his at-bat in the fourth.

Ergo, Keeler was 4-for-5. (I don’t know why The Sun reports six at-bats. Maybe they counted the hit by pitch as an at-bat, which we don’t today.)

Doyle’s 6-for-6 day checks out, by the way. But, Keeler’s doesn’t. Two major league teammates have never gone 6-for-6 in the same game.

But, I can tell you this. Keeler began the 1897 season with a 44-game hitting streak, a record that stood until DiMaggio. His 206 singles in 1898 was a record until Ichiro Suzuki broke it in 2004.  His .424 average in 1897 is the best for a left-hander, ever. Over his 19-season career he batted .341.

And, good grief! 22 runs, 28 hits, double steals. Must have been quite a game.