June 25, 2018

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: So Much to Read, So Little Time

May 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Last issue, I mentioned that I ran across something from the White Sox bat boy in 1919. Since then, believe it or not, I found an interview of sorts with the assistant bat boy.

In 1962, Father Kenney, a priest, ran into Henry McLemore, a reporter whose column ran in papers like the Idaho Falls Post Register, and you can look up the whole story in the August 14, 1962, issue. Just 12 in 1919, Father Kenney was born and raised a few blocks from Comiskey Park. According to McLemore, Fr K was one of the boys who, when the fix was exposed, is said to have cried to Jackson when he left the park, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” — James T. Farrell recalled it this way, too, but without the “Say.” “It was as if all my patron saints had left me,” said the priest in 1962. “I didn’t walk in a ball park for eight years, and neither did hundreds of other Southside Chicago boys.”

Oddly enough, Fr Kenney is not the only Catholic priest to appear in this issue, as you’ll soon see.

Much of this issue comes out of my computer, which is tuned in a lot these days to old newspapers. Which I enjoy a lot more than television. Mining, fishing, beating the bushes, it is even fun when I re-read an article but spot something new. For example, in Notes #377 I reported a nugget from a Dunkirk, NY, paper in 1932, in which Shoeless Joe Jackson says that he “asked to be suspended before the world series of 1919. I didn’t want to play after I heard what was going on. But I had to play. And I did play.” Then the usual “look at the record” and so forth.

Well, that interview — by William Braucher, NEA Services Sports Writer — also appeared in the Piqua Daily Call (Ohio), the Frederick News-Post (MD), the Syracuse Herald (NY), and in the Waterloo Daily Courier. The headlines are different in each, and the length varies, too. In that last version, from Iowa, the headline reads Twelve Years After — Joe Jackson, Savannah Pants Presser, Takes Time Out from Healthy Business to Reminisce Just a Little. All the others headlines are considerably shorter. The Iowa article also has an anecdote that may be new to you, as it was to me. Jackson recalled how Eddie Collins was “the smartest man on the field” and often “did our thinking for us.”

Once he told me to play over on the left field line for Babe Ruth, I asked him why. I could move 10 feet, you know, after a ball and I couldn’t figure why Eddie wanted me to go over so far. But Eddie said Babe was going to hit over third base that day, and he wanted me to be all set. I stood almost on the foul line. Babe hit a smash right into my hands that would have busted up the ball game.

So if Jackson was playing out of position in the WS of 1919 (and I don’t think he was), was it his fault, or his manager’s, or McMullin’s (he scouted the Reds) — or Captain Eddie’s?

Anyway, although this is a longish issue, I had a lot of fun putting it together, and I hope you all find it fun to read.


Last issue, I wrote about the “Cobb strike game” of May 18, 1912. It included this paragraph:

A poor lad named Al Travers pitched the entire game, yielding 26 hits (although both box scores I found said 25), and giving him what turned out to be a lifetime ERA of 15.75; he walked seven and fanned one. Oh well, at least he could point to the CG and that one K.

Thanks to Gary Livacari, I can now tell you the rest of the story.

Al Travers was one of the young men recruited from nearby St Joseph’s College in Philadelphia. He was a 20-year-old junior with little baseball experience. Travers was found by Detroit manager Hughie Jennings with the assistance of a sportswriter from the Philadelphia Bulletin, Joe Nolan. Nolan knew Travers, the college team’s assistant manager, and apparently Travers was contacted first, and asked to find ten or twelve others. Nolan told them that they would not be expected to play the game, only to take the field — and that, only if the Detroit players went through with their threatened strike.

Travers found eight volunteers: Dan McGarvey, 25, and Jim McGarr, 24, were teammates at Georgetown College. Pat Meaney, 20; Jack Smith, 19; Hap Ward, 20; Ed Irvin, 20; and Bill Leinhauser, 19, were apparently from St Joe’s. Billy Maharg, 29, and Leinhauser were both amateur boxers, Leinhauser being more noted. What this group had in common was a need for $25, not bad pay for a couple hours of hanging around.

When umpire Bill Dineen called out “Play ball!,” the Detroit regulars took the field, while the recruits stayed in the bleachers. Ty Cobb trotted out to centerfield, but umpire Ed Perrine waved him off. Nice try, Peach. As Cobb walked off the diamond, his teammates followed him. Back in the Shibe Park clubhouse, they removed their uniforms. Jennings waved to the recruits, and they poured into the clubhouse, donning uniforms and hastily signing one-day contracts.

Twenty thousand fans were waiting to see what would happen next. Connie Mack, the A’s manager and team owner, certainly did not want to lose the revenue, and insisted that the game go on. This stunned Jennings, and must have shocked the recruits. They were being fed to the Lions. Jennings put his coaches, Jim McGuire and Joe Sugden, behind the plate and at first base, respectively. Jennings offered Travers an extra $25 if he would pitch. He later confessed that he had never pitched before.

He was not even a natural athlete. He played the violin and did some acting, and now he was cast as The Pitcher. As the baseball team’s assistant manager, his duties were writing up summaries for the school yearbook.

The outcome was a 24-2 rout, and given the circumstances, it is a wonder that the score was not worse. Travers walked seven, and I have to believe the umpire was generous with his strike calls. Ed Irwin actually went 2-for-3, giving him a lifetime batting average of .667, higher than his fielding average of .500. Some fans did ask for a refund and left early. But no one disrupted the game.

Detroit was not scheduled to play the next day (Never on Sunday was still the rule in some cities). Ban Johnson cancelled their Monday game, to avoid another travesty. Then he told the striking players that if they failed to take the field again, their careers were over. Ty Cobb urged them to play, and they did. Johnson reduced Cobb’s indefinite suspension to ten days, starting with May 16, the day after his mugging of the fan.

Al Travers graduated from St Joe’s in 1913 and entered the Jesuits. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1926. He taught some high school in Manhattan, then returned to St Joe’s, where he taught Spanish and religion for 25 years, until his death in 1968. He never talked much about his day as a major leaguer, but once was interviewed about it by Red Smith.

He told Smith how he rounded up a bunch of fellows who were standing around the corner of 23rd and Columbia. Travers said that he threw the A’s a steady diet of slow curves, no fast balls. Like many pitchers, he complained that he just didn’t get any support.

Gary’s article includes a photo of Father Al Travers. He is probably in his 70s. He’s holding a baseball, and smiling.

To read Gary’s full article:

I’ve only been in Philadelphia a few times. The first, in 1962, was for the Pennsylvania State Championship basketball game, Class A Catholic schools. I was a sophomore at North Catholic on Pittsburgh’s Troy Hill, and more than five busloads of kids made the trip. We won, finishing the season 26-5. The game was played at St Joseph’s College. If I was Rod Serling, I would now tell you that I sat beside a Father Al, who asked me if I liked baseball. That didn’t happen.

I had no idea that I was anywhere near Connie Mack Stadium, which is the name Shibe Park went by from 1953-1970. What I remember, besides the game (now a blur), is hopping on a train that took us under a river, I think, to downtown Philly, where I caught a glimpse of the Liberty Bell (it was all that it was cracked up to be — sorry, I couldn’t resist), and was dazzled by being able to purchase food in something called an Automat. It must have been awful, but hey, it was a taste of the future.

The above is an excerpt from Issue #486 of Gene’s Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown. To read the rest of the issue (or past issues), click here.

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