August 25, 2019

A Good Old Fashioned Mano a Mano Fight in Milwaukee

April 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Baseball fights still occur, but very seldom are they only a two-man affair. It seems the entire team has to show up now. But in baseball’s Deadball Era I have come across a number of one-on-one fights. One of the nastiest occurred in Milwaukee on May 8, 1913. The press coverage gives us the feeling we are on the field with these two players.

On Tuesday, May 6, 1913, the Minneapolis Millers started a four game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Athletic Park. At the time the Millers were in 5th place in the American Association, with an 11 and 10 record. The Brewers were in 3rd place with an 11 and 9 record.

The Brewers took the first game of he series, 9 to 7. Both teams used a large amount of players, especially for that time, the Brewers 14 and the Millers 17. Miller manager Joe Cantillon used five pitchers in the loss. Part of the reason the Brewers used so many players was that Umpire J.A. Murray ejected second baseman Phil Lewis in the fifth inning “when the Cornell grad complimented him on his eyesight.” From the bench Joe Burg added to the debate and was also ejected. In the seventh frame catcher Doc Marshall was gone after pushing umpire Murray. Milwaukee fans got a taste of the fireworks that would come two days later when Murray threw off his mask and protector and was ready to go around with Marshall. Players got between the two would-be combatants and peace was restored. However, it was reported in the Milwaukee Sentinel that after the game a couple of bugs—the 1913 term for fans—offered to fight Murray, “but lucky for them, the umpire refused.”

On Wednesday the Brewers, now in second place, lost the second game of the series 8 to 7 in 10 innings. The game was uneventful in terms of pugilistic activity– no doubt because manager Harry Clark had told his boys there would be no kicking at the umpires–but after the game there almost were fireworks. The other A.A. umpire in this series, Eddie Handiboe, had been a “more or less a peace loving chap” so far. But near the end of the game Phil Lewis made a remark that was not to the umpire’s liking, and the ump “invited Phil to come under the stand and settle matters, in the good old American way.” The Brewer second baseman accepted the offer and both went under the grandstand. In this case Harry Clark and umpire Murray acted as peacemakers and no fists saw action. Sports writer ‘Brownie’ of the Milwaukee Journal told the paper’s readers: “If these ball players and umpires don’t quit challenging each other one of these days there is going to be an honest to goodness fight.”

Prior to the Thursday, May 8 game Phil Lewis was notified that he had been suspended for three games because of the incident the day prior. Even though no fight occurred, A.A. president Thomas M. Chivington took the action on umpire Handboe’s written report. The game was a hitting and scoring affair not associated with the Deadball Era. Minneapolis scored a single run in the first inning and the Brewers came back with two runs in their half of the inning. Brewer starter Tom Dougherty become ill in the first inning and John Nicholson took the mound “without a thing but his suit, shoes and glove.” Nicholson gave up seven runs in the second inning to put the game out of reach early. Problems between the Brewer players and the umpire crew continued. In the third inning shortstop Lena Blackburne was bounced from the game by Handiboe. After six innings the score stood 13 to 4 in the Miller’s favor.

What exactly happened in the seventh inning was disputed, but the results were “probably the most disgraceful scene ever witnessed since the inception of the American association,” according to the Evening Wisconsin. According to this evening paper Minneapolis shortstop Dave Altizer walked and then stole second base. From this point the Evening Wisconsin gave its readers a description of the incident, round by round, as if reporting a boxing match:

ROUND 1 – Altizer starts from second to steal third. Clark blocks his way and Dare Devil Dave jumps into him feet first, spiking the Brewer manager quite badly. Clark immediately showed fight and pasted Dave with hard right and lefts to the face. Altizer kicked viciously, planting his sharp spikes on Harry’s forehead, drawing the blood in streams. Clark continued to drive in blow after blow, raising two big blotches on Dave’s face.

On this round the Milwaukee Sentinel reported that when coming into third base Altizer leaped high in the air and spiked Clark with one foot on his forehead and the other dug a gash in his chest. It was at this point that the Brewer leader, “enraged by the dastardly attempt to cripply [sic] him jumped onto the runner and rained blow after blow on him while he was on the ground.” Exactly where Clark was spiked was not clear, the Sentinel saying the forehead and chest, the Milwaukee Journal reporting the forehead and mid-hips, the Evening Wisconsin in its game article saying the spikes cut into Clark’s ankles.

ROUND 2 — Altizer manages to rise and the two square away for a regular scrap. Dave smashes hard right to jaw and Clark staggers. Clark comes back with two heavy wallops to the face and several fierce exchanges take place before some of the players reach the scene. Both men are seized, but Clark manages to break away and they are at it again. All the players, the two umpires and several policemen now reached the scene. Umpire Murray grabs hold of Altizer and bodily throws him to the ground, and several players hold him down, while others are getting Clark and keeping him away.

The Evening Wisconsin commented both players “appeared to be like mad bulls and refused to be pacified.” The Sentinel wrote the two players exchanged wallops for almost three minutes. The umpires did their part, as did the Brewers management off the field, as we see from the newspaper’s continued round by round coverage of the scene.

ROUND 3 – Both Clark and Altizer are ordered from the game. Ferris taking Dave’s place, and Cy Slapnicka succeeded Clark. The game is restarted after the fans are driven from the field.

What none of the above relates is that the umpire called Altizer safe at third, as Clark had dropped the ball in the spiking and fighting. According to reports Altizer would have been out by ten feet.

ROUND 4 – Secretary Louis Nahin sends in a riot call to the police station and a squad of blue coats is ordered to the park.

As the accounts of the incident went across the sporting pages of the country a few things were added that it appears did not really occur from reports in the Milwaukee newspapers. Almost all out of town newspapers talked of a near riot, which might not be too far off the mark. The Washington Post reported both Altizer and Clark “practically unconscious, were carried off the field, while policemen, with drawn revolvers, were standing off the crowd.”

But the action was not over, as we see.

ROUND 5 – After the game Clark lies in waiting for Altizer in the dressing room. Clark makes a fierce rush at his opponent, and for a moment a fierce encounter ensues. Policemen and players interrupt the battle and quiet is restored again.

The game ended with the Millers taking a 20 to 9 victory. But former Brewer manager Joe Cantillon, now piloting the Millers, sensed his player might be in bigger trouble with the police.

ROUND 6 — Manager Cantillon spirits Altizer out of town to avoid any legal action.

What happened was Cantillon kept Altizer in his room until the last minute and then quickly got him on a train for Chicago. Altizer would meet up with his teammates in the Windy City and continue on to Kansas City.

ROUND 7 – President Thomas M. Chivington will land a solar plexus blow and then both men will be repentant.

The two combatants had their say in the press. The Milwaukee Sentinel gave each a paragraph to explain their side:

BATTLING CLARK—Altizer deliberately spiked me. He aimed his spikes straight at me when he jumped at the bag, and one of his feet caught me just between the eyes, cutting a deep gash in my forehead, which a doctor had to sew up. His other spiked shoe got me in the chest. Early in the game he threatened to “get me,” and losing my temper I hit him. I know he tried to injure me, but if the same thing happened again, I would wait until I got off the ball field to settle accounts. I would rather lose $1,000 than to get mixed up in an affair of that kind. I have been playing ball for ten years, and that was the first time I ever exchanged a blow with a fellow player though the circumstances were such that I could not restrain myself. But it was the dirtiest kind of a dirty trick.

SPIKES ALTIZER—Clark called me a vile name early in the game, and told me he would “get me” the first chance he had. When I came to bat in the seventh, I know he ordered Nicholson to try to hit me, for four balls were thrown straight at my head. When I reached second he invited me to try and steal third, and I told him I was coming on the next pitch. I started for the base, and as he was in the way he was spiked.

As can be expected the local press sided with the Brewer manager, but not 100 per cent. The Sentinel gave this paragraph on the incident:

That he [Altizer] deliberately tried to spike the Milwaukee leader there is no doubt, and to an unbiased spectator Clark was perfectly right in taking a punch at him, though it would have been better judgment to seek his revenge some other place than on the ball field. At that we can hardly censure Clark for his part in it. Any player who will deliberately try to maim a fellow ball player is worthy of no consideration whatever, and it was only the impulse of a healthy human being to resent such an attack in the same way it was made.

The Evening Wisconsin had this to say:

From the press stand it appeared as if both men were about equally to blame. Altizer for jumping into Clark feet first when there really was no occasion for his double steal, as the Millers were far in advance of the Brewers. Clark, however, stayed right in his position in the middle of the path and Altizer could not have avoided him had he tried.

Perhaps the man coming out looking the best, and having the best attitude, was Minneapolis Miller manager Joe Cantillon:

It was a deplorable affair, and I would give anything if it had not happened. It was I who landed Harry his present job, and I am almost as anxious to see his club up there fighting as my own, and I am sorry he had to got into this kind of a mess. He and Altizer had a few words in the third inning, and when Dave returned to the bench he said that Clark had called him a bad name. However there is no excuse for one player deliberately trying to spike another, no matter what the provocation may be. I do not believe, however, that Dave spiked Clark in the face as Harry claims. Altizer made a kick at Harry while Clark was on top of him, and it was then that Clark’s face was cut. It was a case of both men losing their heads. Altizer told me after the trouble that when he was at second, Clark urged him to try to steal third, and warning him to be careful. Dave has just as much nerve as Clark, and he started for the bag on the next pitched ball, and made a leap for the base. Harry refused to get out of the way and when he went down to take the throw was slashed by Altizer’s spikes. Altizer is working for me, but I am not in sympathy with that kind of baseball and no matter what provocation he had he should have been more careful in sliding for the bag. Clark should also have kept his temper and not struck Altizer. It was a nasty affair and one player is as much to blame as the other.

Brewer management promised the last game, a Friday ladies’ day, would produce no violent incidents. And as promised, the game was played as peacefully “as a Quakers’ camp meeting.” The Brewers won the contest 11 to 2, as the two teams split the four-game series.

American Association president Chivington sat on the incident for a while, in part due to his being ill. A week later he fined each player $50, but there were no suspensions. (A number of newspapers reported the fines to be only $25.) Chivington explained suspensions would be more of a hardship on the clubs than on Clark and Altizer.

At least one state newspaper came down hard on the owners of baseball regarding this, and other rowdy incidents. The Racine Journal-News’ T. S. Andrews wrote in a lengthy editorial:

The numerous fights between players and also between players and umpires on the field this season have brought the owners and heads of the leagues to a realization that something must be done to put a curb on such work, or the first thing they know baseball will be getting into disrepute the same as some other sports….

Ball players are but the same as other human beings. They have feeling the same, but they must also know that they are being paid to please the spectators, the same as actors on the stage, and they should learn to control themselves at all times. A boxer in the ring controls himself if he is knocked down or out by an opponent; in fact boxers have proven time and again that they have wonderful control over their feelings, so why not baseball players?

Players work for salaries the same as clerks in stores and they should work for the benefit of each other….The American people like clean baseball and aggressive ball, but there is a difference between aggressive and rowdy ball. Cut out the rough stuff and give us baseball which ladies can attend without fear of being ashamed of lending their presence to such contests.

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