February 8, 2023

Using Player Reminiscences

September 15, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Many times we read stories told by players of an incident that occurred years previous. On occasion we use these in our research. But we should always be suspicious of taking these stories as the absolute truth. I would think there is almost always the basis of a true story there, but the details get blurred or mistaken over time.

Such is a story I found when I decided to take some time and look into a story told by manager Joe Cantillon to a Milwaukee Journal reporter on December 29, 1913.

Here is the story in full, as published in the Journal:

I had a catcher once who caught for the balance of the season, nearly three months, without giving a sign. That was Kid Speer. It was back in 1903 when I was manager at Milwaukee. We were going pretty tough and had big Phil Stimmel pitching for us. Toledo had a player called “Dusty” Owens. His first time up he made a hit that scored two runs. The player’s bench was close to the plate at those grounds and I called to Speer. “What did you call for, kid”?

“A high fast one outside, ” said Speer.

He was right, but I was sore and said, “Great Scott, trying to throw the game?” I could see him getting red round the neck as he crouched down for the next play. Next time Owens came up, he hit a long double. It scored two more runs.

“What’d you sign for then?” I roared.

“A wide curve,” bawled Speer as he set his teeth.

“Well, what’d you expect? Any rube would know more than that,” I said.

Speer grabbed his cap and threw it on the ground. “Anytime anyone makes a hit, I’m the fall guy. I’m through this signing business.”

Speer settled behind the bat to receive the ball delivered to the next batsman and I could see big Stimmel stretching his neck trying to get the sign.

“Well, what is it?” yelled Stimmel.

“Pitch”, came back from Speer.

“I can’t see the sign,” remonstrated Stimmel.

“Pitch”, yelled Speer. “There ain’t no sign,” and there wasn’t that day or any other day during the season.

Great story, but is it true?

For starters all the principals played with the Brewers or Toledo in 1903 (even though Stimmel’s name was Archibald Raymond) so that starts good for the story.

I have all the Sporting Life box scores of the Brewers games from 1903. Milwaukee played Toledo 21 times that season. Archie Stimmel only faced the Mud Hens three times, August 19, 20 and September 4. On both August 19 and 20 Bob Wood caught him. In addition to this, Thomas Llewellyn Owens went hitless in both these games. On September 4 Stimmel pitched and Speer caught the game. Owens went 0 for 4. Toledo lost the game 5 to 3, so Cantillon’s game description of 4 runs scoring does not come close, especially when one of the Toledo runs was a home run by Bill Cristall.

One conclusion here, Cantillon perhaps had the wrong pitcher.

So I went back through the box scores looking for games in which Owens had at least two hits. This only happened 4 times. (Owens was 18 for 79 against Brewer pitching in 1913.) These games were June 15, July 24, August 5 and September 3. For starters on August 5 Speer did not catch, so that game can be eliminated. On July 24 Owens went 2 for 4—both singles–as the Mud Hens lost 5 to 2. Elmer Meredith pitched, but the Mud Hens did no score enough runs for Cantillon’s description. In addition to this, from the Milwaukee Sentinel game description Owen’s first hit was a bunt single. On September 3 Owens went 4 for 4 with two doubles—but much too late in the season for Cantillon’s story.

Thus the game to home in on was the June 15 game. It fits the time of season (3 months to go), and Owens went 2 for 4 with a double in the Toledo 7 to 6 victory. Kid Speer caught in the game, but Elmer Meredith pitched. So if Joe Cantillon was mistaken on the pitcher this could be the game.

But a reading of the game summary from the Sentinel found this could not be the game. Wood started as the Brewer catcher and Speer only came into the game in the eighth inning—after Jiggs Donague was ejected from the game for arguing, Wood then taking over at first base and Speer coming in to catch.

Thus Cantillon’s story could not hold here either.

So there are a number of possibilities here.

Cantillon had the wrong catcher—not likely for his story, as Kid Speer is the focal point of his story.

Cantillon had the wrong team this happened against—again not likely as he named Owens by name.

Cantillon had the wrong batter–Certainly a possibility, but again, Cantillon names Owens by name twice.

Cantillon had the story right, but two different batters in the game, Owens one time and some other Mud Hen the other at bat.—Certainly a possibility.

Cantillon had the wrong pitcher—but we examined this above.

The game occurred later in the season, so Speer did not go three months without giving signs—perhaps, then Cantillon greatly exaggerated the time frame. I checked the local newspaper game summaries of the September 3 game in which Owens had four hits, and could not determine if his at bats fit the description of the game Cantillon gave the newspaper man.

Cantillon had the wrong year–Stimmel did not pitch with the Brewers in 1904, but Cantillon managed the club and Speer caught again in 1904. Speer did not play with the Brewers after 1904. Also Owens did not play for Toledo (or any club in the American Association) after 1903.—If this were the case, Cantillon was wrong on the year, the pitcher and the batter. Right then on only 1 out of 4 particulars.

The story probably has some kernel of truth, but far too many names and facts do not add up to take it at face value.

The moral here: BEWARE, BEWARE when using old remembrances of players or managers as the gospel.


One Response to “Using Player Reminiscences”
  1. Bob Buege says:

    Well done, Dennis!

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