November 15, 2018

More Interesting Research Finds

March 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

One of the pleasures of doing research for a book or article is the discovery of interesting facts that have nothing to do with what’s being researched, but demand attention.  Here are more interesting and odd research finds that I’ve discovered over the years.

Famous Last Words

October 19, 1912: When Philadelphia Athletics magnate Connie Mack heard rumors that the Boston Red Sox were attempting to purchase the great Walter Johnson from the Washington Senators for $50,000, he called the reports “ridiculous” and imagined how Philadelphia fans would react if he were to sell his best pitchers.

Connie Mack

“Imagine me, for instance, selling either [Jack] Coombs, [Chief] Bender or [Eddie] Plank to Washington or Boston for any amount, fifty, seventy-five, or a hundred thousand,” said Mack.  “Why, if I attempted such a thing I might as well pack the Athletics up and get out of Philadelphia.  The people don’t want such monkey business…As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t consider an offer for any of my team for any club in either league, and, what’s better, the public wouldn’t stand for it, and it shouldn’t.”

But selling off his best players is exactly what Mack did, and not once but twice.  After Bender and Plank jumped to the Federal League in December 1914, Mack released Coombs and sold second baseman Eddie Collins to the Chicago White Sox for $50,000, pitcher Bob Shawkey to the Yankees, shortstop Jack Barry to the Red Sox, shortstop Larry Kopf to the Reds, catcher Jack Lapp to the White Sox, third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker to the Yankees for $37,500, and made two separate deals with the Red Sox in less than a month at the end of 1917/beginning of 1918 in which he sent pitcher “Bullet Joe” Bush, catcher Wally Schang, first baseman Stuffy McInnis, and outfielder Amos Strunk to Boston for far less talented players and $60,000.

The Athletics went from four pennants and three championships in five years from 1910-1914 to dead last for seven straight seasons from 1915-1921.  After averaging 98 wins a year during their domination of the A.L., the A’s averaged only 46 wins during their precipitous decline, and lost over 100 games in five of those seven seasons.  It wasn’t until the mid-1920s that the A’s became relevant and competitive again, and they won three straight pennants and two World Series titles from 1929-1931 before the second major sell off began at the end of the 1932 campaign.

On September 28, Mack sold outfielders Al Simmons and Mule Haas and infielder Jimmy Dykes to the White Sox for $100,000.  Then in December 1933, he made three deals that netted him a handful of nobodies and $245,000.  Mack dealt pitchers Lefty Grove and Rube Walberg and second baseman Max Bishop to the Red Sox for two nobodies and $125,000; sent catcher Mickey Cochrane to the Tigers for another nobody and $100,000; then traded pitcher George Earnshaw and the nobody he received from Detroit to the White Sox for catcher Charlie Berry and $20,000.

In December 1935, Mack traded slugger Jimmie Foxx to the Red Sox for two nondescript players and $150,000, then, three weeks later, traded Doc Cramer and Eric McNair to the Red Sox for two more nobodies and $75,000.

By the time the smoke cleared the A’s found themselves back in familiar territory, languishing in the basement of the American League.  From 1935-1954, the team’s last year in Philadelphia, the Mackmen finished in last place 11 times and never finished higher than fourth.

Hell Hath No Fury…

Fred "Snow" Snodgrass made a costly error in October 1912, then was sued for "breach of promise" in November.

November 22, 1912: Newspapers reported that Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass, he of the infamous “$30,000 Muff” that helped cost his team the 1912 World Series, was being sued for $75,000 by Miss Nellie Frakes, who charged Snodgrass with breach of promise and seduction.  According to Frakes, Snodgrass “won her consent to marry him” on January 15, 1908.  Frakes assumed she was Snodgrass’ fiancee until the center fielder married Josephine Vickers a year later (why Frakes waited so long to sue is anyone’s guess).

On January 11, 1913, Sporting Life reported that Snodgrass’ request for a change of venue from Los Angeles to Ventura County had been granted by Judge Walter Bordwell.  On January 28, it was reported that Snodgrass’ first attempt to have the case dismissed was rejected, so a second attempt was made and taken under advisement.

On March 4, Frakes made her first public appearance in the case and, according to the Los Angeles Times, was quite a head-turner.  “She is a pretty and slender brunette and was gowned in most fashionable attire of brown,” wrote the Times.  “She attracted considerable attention because of her youthfulness and comeliness.”  Apparently Mrs. Snodgrass took notice of Frakes’ beauty as well, frequently turning to take a look at her husband’s former beloved.  Mrs. Snodgrass’ glances were met more often than not with a smile from Frakes.  Frakes’ attempts to have the case moved back to Los Angeles failed, as did her attempts to delay the trial.  Meanwhile her attorney was doing his best to clear the jury of Oxnard men, as Snodgrass had made that city his home and was a favorite among the locals.

Finally on March 11, the case was dismissed after the jury “failed to agree,” voting seven to five in favor of a conviction.  Frakes’ attorney claimed that another trial would be sought, but no more reports followed.  Fred and Josephine were married for the rest of their lives, so perhaps he made the right choice after all.

One Hit, Two Runs, and One Very Big Save

July 25, 1916: Detroit Tigers outfielder and future four-time batting champion Harry Heilmann helped his team beat the Washington Senators on July 25 with a hit and two runs in a 6-5 win.

Harry Heilmann made the greatest catch of his life on the evening of July 25, 1916

Later that evening, he made an even larger contribution to the city of Detroit when he jumped into the Detroit River and saved a woman named Lydia Johnson from drowning. The car in which Johnson was riding plunged off a Waterworks park driveway and into the river, killing two of the passengers.  The Chicago Tribune reported that the driver, Leroy Steadman also survived, but his wife and three-year-old daughter didn’t.  The San Francisco Chronicle, however, reported that both Steadmans drowned and that Heilmann actually saved three people: Johnson, the Steadman’s little girl, and a man named Harry Draper.

The next day, Heilmann went 1-for-4 with a stolen base, a sacrifice fly, and three putouts in center field, helping the Tigers beat the Senators by a score of 6-5 for the second straight day.  He also received a nice ovation from the crowd before the game.  “The most notable feature of the contest was a demonstration for Heilman [sic], who last night, dove into the Detroit River and saved a woman from drowning,” wrote the Hartford Courant.

The Sultan of Stroke?

June 27, 1920: In a game pitting the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox at the Polo Grounds in New York, 26-year-old Red Sox spitballer Allen Russell was handling the Yankees quite well, holding them to only two runs on four hits in seven innings.  But the wheels fell off in the eighth as the Yanks scored five times for a come-from-behind 7-5 victory.  Not surprisingly, it was Babe Ruth who provided the game-tying blow, a two-run triple off an exit gate in right center field that knotted the score at 5-5.  Bob Meusel followed with a double that broke the tie, then came home on a Del Pratt single to cap the scoring.

Russell had once been a Yankee, pitching for them from 1915 to July 29, 1919 when he went to Boston in the infamous Carl Mays trade that shook up the American League and caused a war that almost fractured the circuit in two.  Russell hadn’t been particularly successful with New York, going 26-36 with a below-league-average 3.05 ERA, but upon his arrival in Boston, he showed great promise, going 10-4 with a 2.52 ERA in 21 appearances.  He was enjoying another solid season in 1920 and headed into the June 27 contest against the Yankees with a 5-5 record and a very good 2.62 ERA.

“Some dopesters contend that every ball game has its psychological moment,” wrote the New York Times the next day,  “and Ruth certainly seized upon the all-important time to make his only hit of the game.  While the Sultan of Swat had been dormant in the early innings, his brother Yanks were the same.  Russell was stepping along as if to repeat that old, old story of a pitcher coming back to make a manager regret that he had been cast aside.”

But Roger Peckinpaugh started the eighth-inning with a single past third, then came all the way home on a double by Aaron Ward.  Wally Pipp dropped a Texas League single into short left field to put runners at first and third, then Ruth crashed his tremendous triple past Harry Hooper and Wally Schang, normally a catcher who was playing center field, and Meusel and Pratt applied the finishing touches to Russell’s disappointing day.  Ironically it was Mays who earned the win.

After the game, Russell took a train to Baltimore where he was born and raised and where his wife and baby lived.  The next morning when he awoke, Russell discovered that he was paralyzed on his right side and his tongue was so swollen he couldn’t speak.  Russell’s wife summoned Dr. George W. Murgatroyd, who found that the hurler had suffered a stroke.

Babe Ruth often put the fear of God in enemy pitchers, but according to Dr. Murgatroyd, he also gave Allen Russell a stroke

“Dr. Murgatroyd…pronounced Russell’s illness as a slight cerebral hemorrhage, the result of a rupture of a small blood vessel,” reported the Boston Globe on July 1.  “Over-straining himself in the gruelling [sic] game against the Yankees, in which he was called upon to face Babe Ruth several times with runners on the bases, is given by the doctor as the cause of the pitcher’s sickness.  He overtaxed his strength and brain in the battle against the greatest hitter the world has ever known.”

Whether or not Ruth and the Yankees had anything to do with Russell’s stroke is debatable, but the pitcher missed the remainder of the season and was never the same, posting a 4.19 ERA over the last five seasons of his major league career.  He went back to the International League, went 3-12 with a 4.24 ERA in 1927, then called it a career after appearing in six games with Newark in 1928.

Otherwise Russell showed no ill effects from the stroke, dying in Baltimore in 1972 at the ripe old age of 79.

News Only an A.L. Pitcher Could Love

March 4, 1923: The New York Times reported that Babe Ruth was feeling better after struggling with yet another illness that had him bed-ridden. The paper wanted everyone to know, however, that he was very much alive.  In fact, he toiled on the golf course with a 102 degree fever before his doctor ordered him home.   “During the day he was kept in good humor by a constant stream of telegrams asking him to deny or confirm  a rumor that he was dead…”

“I think I’ll want to die if I don’t get out of this bed pretty soon,” the slugger joked to reporters on March 3.  The Boston Globe reported that their switchboard operator, a young man named Jimmie, was being inundated with calls from concerned fans all over Massachusetts who demanded to know if the Bambino was dead or alive.  “Naw, he ain’t dead,” Jimmie would explain.  “He’s alive as you are.  Sure it’s only a rumor, and false at that.  That’s all right.  Goodbye.”  According to the Globe, the operator fielded calls from midnight until daylight, receiving at least one every five minutes that concerned Ruth.

“Wonder who starts these bum rumors?” Jimmie asked no one in particular.  “Wish they’d start them at a time that didn’t interfere with my beauty sleep.”

According to Dr. W.T. Wootton (or Wooten), Ruth was merely suffering from the flu and would be back on the ball field and the links in no time.  Not only did Ruth recover, but he enjoyed one of his best seasons ever, batting a career-best .393 with 41 homers and 131 RBIs.  He also established career highs in plate appearances (699), hits (205), doubles (45), stolen bases (17), walks (170), and on-base percentage (.545).  A.L. pitchers could be forgiven for hoping the rumors of Ruth’s premature demise were true.

February 29, 1924: Almost exactly a year later, the Bambino contracted the flu again and collapsed in the lobby of the Hotel Majestic in Cleveland after a short walk.  Dr. Wootton was concerned that Ruth may develop pneumonia, but the slugger’s temperature dropped from 103 to 100 on March 1 and Wootton declared him “well on the road to recovery.”  Again, Ruth escaped the clutches of the Grim Reaper and tormented pitchers to the tune of a .378 average, which won him his only batting title, 46 homers and 121 RBIs.

April 7, 1925: If nothing else, the man was consistent.  Like clockwork, Ruth got sick again in 1925, this time with “the grip,” which is just another fancy name for the flu (from the French word “grippe”).  Upon further investigation, I found a rather humorous article from the New York Times, which claimed in 1891 that the best cure for “the grip” was pure medicinal whiskey, which I’m sure Ruth would have been thrilled to learn.  On April 9, all Hell broke loose.  London newspapers dedicated their front pages to Ruth’s death—”The London press…gave the report of Babe Ruth’s death today a prominence which the passing of a mere financier of politician would not have achieved.”

Simultaneously, a report originating in Canada had Ruth passing away on a train en route to Washington from North Carolina.  According to the New York Times, “…the report spread with almost incredible rapidity,” having started to the north and reaching Virginia as Ruth’s train sped through the state.  It was a topic of conversation among government clerks in Washington until officials from the Southern Railroad boarded the train and found Ruth to be very much alive.

But unlike previous years, Ruth had a much more difficult time coming back and being productive.  On April 29, the New York Times reported that many had speculated that Ruth’s career was over, that he’d never swing a bat again, and that the nature of his illness was being kept secret by his personal physician, Dr. Edward King.  King denied the accusations and insisted that Ruth was merely suffering from the flu again, as well as an abscess that formed in his stomach and required surgery.  He was expected to be in the hospital for two to three weeks, with a return to the field scheduled for June.

Babe Ruth always seemed to be on death's doorstep before recovering and posting otherworldly numbers

Sure enough, he made his 1925 debut on June 1 against the Senators and, except for a one week suspension at the hands of Yankees manager Miller Huggins for “general misconduct,” Ruth played the rest of the 1925 season.  It wasn’t a great season by any stretch of the imagination—he batted only .290 with 25 homers and 66 RBIs in 98 games—but at least he was still alive.

In mid-October, it was reported that Ruth was ailing again and that inflammation from his surgically repaired stomach had set in, forcing him to leave the World Series where he was watching as a spectator.  He recovered, though, and enjoyed a 1926 season in which he batted .372 with 47 homers and 146 RBIs in 152 games.

June 4, 1929: The Chicago Tribune reported that Ruth was suffering from a heavy chest cold and needed only a few days of rest before he’d be healthy again.  But on June 7, Dr. King told the Yankees that Ruth had “muscular heart trouble.”  He insisted, however, that it wasn’t serious.  Still, word began to spread that Ruth had suffered a debilitating heart attack and calls began to flood Yankee offices.  Eventually the rumors grew and many thought Ruth was dead (again).  Ruth himself told reporters, “I’ll be as good as ever in ten days.”  His new wife claimed the slugger was “very ill,” but clarified her statement to mean that he was too ill to conduct interviews and pose for photos.

As usual, Ruth found great humor in the reports of his demise.  “You tell them that I’m far from a dead one,” he told his wife.  “If he had his way he would get dressed and go right out to the stadium and want to play,” Mrs’ Ruth told the press.  “The hardest part of this case is keeping Mr. Ruth quiet.”

On June 8, Ruth reported that most of the pain in his chest had dissipated and it was just a matter of time before he’d be back in action.  But he also bemoaned the press’ exaggerated reports of his illness.  “It looks like a guy has got to die before people are satisfied nowadays,” he told reporters.  The next day, he held an impromptu press conference in his New York apartment and told reporters that he wasn’t really sick, he was just worn out from a hard season full of exhibition games and doubleheaders; that he didn’t have a heart condition, but was told to stop drinking, smoking, chewing tobacco, and using snuff.

But Irving Vaughan of the Chicago Tribune reported that it actually was Ruth’s heart that was keeping him off the field, and not a severe cold as had been reported.  According to Vaughan, Ruth told Browns skipper Dan Howley and Pirates manager Donie Bush that he was concerned.  “I finally know what it is to worry,” Ruth told his friends.  “Never worried about anything before, but this thing almost had me down and I’m still thinking a bit.”  Mrs. Ruth explained that her husband was having a difficult time sleeping and suffered from crying spells.  Vaughan thought Ruth was concerned that his career might be over and that his condition was more grave than everyone was letting on.  “If his strenuous labors on the ball field combined with his amazing disregard for training over a period of years have so affected his heart that doctors deem it necessary to hide him from all excitement and all forms of exertion, it is something serious.”

Ruth and his wife headed off to the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland where he was said to be “fishing and bathing in the warm waters of the Chesapeake.”  He finally returned to the field  on June 19 and went on a tear, blasting 36 of his 46 home runs from that point on.  He batted .345 and drove in 154 runs in 135 games.

Though he suffered various illnesses throughout the rest of his career—appendicitis in 1932, nausea from a defective sewer line under the Yankees’ dugout in 1933—Ruth held on until he died of cancer on August 16, 1948.  He was only 53.

Babe Ruth at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948, two months before he died of cancer

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