adventures in baseball archeology: the negro leagues, latin american baseball, j-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports
Just wanted to point out this beautiful image of the 1904 Philadelphia Giants, which John Thorn has posted at least a couple of times (most recently in this entry on Sol White).
To my knowledge, the photograph was first published in the September 2, 1904, issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer (though one wonders if it didn’t first appear in the pages of The Item, the paper that employed the Giants’ owner Walter Schlichter).
Since when I originally noticed this photograph much of my interest came from its status as the earliest known photograph of Pete Hill, here’s a closeup of him:
During the winter of 1926, Wesley Rollo Wilson, the dean of east coast black sportswriters, conducted an interview with Rube Foster that has become a key text in the modern reconstruction of Negro league history. I first happened upon it because I was looking for more information about the confusion between Walter Ball and George “Georgia Rabbit” Washington—but there’s a lot more here.
It was really not so much an interview as an oration by Rube Foster with Wilson as stenographer.
(Pittsburgh Courier, January 16, 1926, p. 12)
This column has been used as the source for a number of oft-repeated nuggets, claims, and facts, not all of which are strictly speaking accurate, though by no means is it a totally unreliable source. There are a few small corrections you could make to this column. Rube’s years are a little off sometimes—Pete Hill didn’t leave for Chicago until a year after Foster did, in 1907, for example, and Rube joined the Philadelphia Giants in 1904 rather than 1903—but these are trivial.
These are a few of the more interesting (and questionable, or in one case misquoted) claims that have been frequently cited and repeated, but only rarely (if ever) actually examined:
•Rube Foster names the 1910 Leland Giants “the greatest ball team in the history of the game, BAR NONE!”—and claims that the Leland Giants “won 123 games and lost 6.” I haven’t tried to compile all the games for the 1910 Lelands, but they did win 22 and lose only 2 (while tying 1) against black professional teams. In Cuba in the fall of 1910, however, they won 7, lost 5, and tied one—making their overall record against Cuban and “Negro league” teams for the calendar year 29-7-2. I’d guess Rube wasn’t counting Cuban games.
•Rube considered Bill Monroe “the greatest player who ever lived and one who would have been a star in any league. Ask John McGraw—he knows.” I think this quote has been a garbled a little and transformed into McGraw (rather than Foster) declaring Monroe “the greatest player of all time” (for example, see Riley’s Biographical Encyclopedia, p. 561).
•Rube claims that the heavyweight champ Jack Johnson—“Yes, THE Jack Johnson”—played first base for the Philadelphia Giants in 1903 and 1904. This is apparently the source for Johnson’s entry in Riley’s Biographical Encyclopedia (p. 436), where Riley takes Rube’s claim at face value. Needless to say, Johnson was not the Giants’ first baseman, then or ever. He was a friend of Foster, however, and there were some other baseball connections for Jack Johnson, which I might write about some other time.
•Rube declares that “In all the years I pitched I lost only SIX games to colored teams.” He had a great winning percentage, but not that great: 48-17 against black professional teams in the U.S., and 19-13 against Cuban teams in Cuba. Again, he probably wasn’t counting the Cubans. (I haven’t tried to separate out his wins over Cuban Stars teams in the U.S. from his overall “Negro league” record—maybe if you don’t count Cuban teams at all, anywhere, his claim holds up…)
There are also a couple of nuggets of information here that haven’t been much remarked on, but that are also pretty interesting.
•He says that when John Henry Lloyd joined the Lelands he was an outfielder until the shortstop (George Wright was the 1909 Lelands’ shortstop) fell ill in Jacksonville, presumably during spring training. “Lloyd was brought in to fill the position and our shortstop lost his job forever.” Of course Lloyd had already been a middle infielder for several years with the Cuban X-Giants and Philadelphia Giants. It’s hard to believe he wasn’t signed to play shortstop for the Lelands. Yet Rube seems to be saying here that he meant to convert Lloyd into an outfielder until fate intervened.
•And of course there’s the original reason I became interested in this interview. Talking about the Philadelphia Giants, he remarks that “Georgia Rabbit” Washington joined the team. This provides solid confirmation of my circumstantial case that George Washington (and not Walter Ball) was the “Georgia Rabbit” that Sol White was referring to in his book. To underline this point, earlier in the column, when Rube refers to Walter Ball coming to Chicago to play for the “Union Giants” in 1906 (Foster, or Wilson, means the Leland Giants) he calls him “Thomas Walter Ball,” and not George Washington Ball. (Official documents call him “Walter Thomas Ball.”)
I have wondered whether Olympia Field in Harlem (site of the “Rube vs. Rube” game in 1903) was the same as, or somehow related to, Olympic Field, which later became the home of the New York Lincoln Giants. The address for Olympia Field was commonly given as 135th Street and Lenox Avenue, whereas Olympic Field was usually said to be at 136th Street and Fifth Avenue—so the locations were just a long block away from each other.
Well, as it turns out, Olympia Field was a distinct place from the later Olympic Field. Olympia Field was built on the block bounded by Lenox Avenue, 135th Street, and 136th Street, with the field evidently well below street level. It seems to have existed as a major venue for as little as three years, from 1901 through the early months of 1904, hosting semipro baseball, high school sports, semipro or amateur football, a circus, track and field competitions, and during the winter skating events.
It served as the home field for at least two white semipro baseball teams, the Harlem Athletics in 1902 and the Murray Hills in 1903. Olympia Field’s most famous baseball game was certainly when the New York Giants took on the Murray Hills on October 4, 1903, which was said at the time to be the first Sunday baseball game ever played in Manhattan by a major league team--although if the August 2, 1903, game between the Cuban X Giants and Murray Hills really was the legendary Foster/Waddell matchup, that would inarguably be the most historically significant baseball game played at Olympia Field.
(New York Times, October 5, 1903, p. 8)
But the biggest event ever to occur at Olympia Field was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which played Harlem in 1902. They rented Olympia Field, annexed several adjacent lots still held by the city, and created a huge enclosed space with canvas-shaded seating for 16,000.
(New York Press, May 25, 1902, p. 12)
The parade that brought the Wild West Show to Olympia Field was probably much like the one filmed by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company a year before, a march down Fifth Avenue on April 1, 1901:
After some skating championships in early 1904, Olympia Field vanished as a sporting venue. By 1905 a block of eight six-story apartment buildings had taken its place, “egg shell” tenements built very quickly to house immigrants—while Olympia Field was a few blocks north of what’s usually thought of as Italian Harlem, I’ve found a number of contemporary references to this area as part of “Little Italy.” In order to bring the lot up to street level it had to be filled in, apparently mostly with sand. Unsurprisingly the ground turned out to be unstable, resulting in the collapse of one of the buildings in March, 1905. I don’t know much about the subsequent history of the site, but it’s currently occupied by the Harlem Hospital Center.
Meanwhile, Olympia Field was replaced by a new ballpark, Olympic Field, no doubt named with the older venue in mind. This new park was just one block over, bounded by Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, and 136th Street, although I’m not sure of its precise location (I haven’t found a fire insurance or other map that shows it). It was managed by the McMahon brothers, Eddie and Jess, later the founders of the Lincoln Giants. The park was opened on April 3, 1904, with a game featuring Rube Foster (this time with the Philadelphia Giants) once again pitching against the Murray Hills:
(New York Press, April 4, 1904, p. 4.)
A few days later (April 8) Olympic Field hosted a game between the Murray Hills and a pick-up team made up of players from both the Giants and Highlanders, the major leaguers crushing the semipros 19 to 1. The game account from the Times includes a few details about the ballpark:
(New York Times, April 9, 1904, p. 7)
Olympic Field lasted through the 1919 season, when it was torn down to make way for a parking garage. The grand stands were moved to the Lincoln Giants’ new home in the Bronx, the Catholic Protectory Oval.
Here’s another contemporary mention of the Cuban X Giants’ defeat of Rube Waddell and the semipro Murray Hills at New York’s Olympia Field on August 2, 1903—the game that may have been the source of Rube Foster’s nickname. From the Jersey Journal (August 13, 1903, p. 7):
The relevant sentence is this one:
Typically copy like this, retailing the victories of a traveling team, originated with the traveling team itself, there not being any easy way for reporters (or the manager of the local team) to keep track of black or semipro teams and all their doings. So, eleven days after the August 2 game in New York, it seems quite likely that E. B. Lamar was using the defeat of Waddell to advertise his Cuban X Giants.
In the meantime Scott Simkus has been able to add to the discussion by finding an instance where Rube Waddell was advertised as pitching for the Murray Hills against the Philadelphia Giants, albeit in 1905:
(New York Evening World, June 24, 1905, p. 7)
This is what Scott says:
Phil Dixon [in his book on the 1905 Philadelphia Giants] has the Giants rallying for ten runs in the ninth to defeat Murray Hills 14-13 on June 25. Phil was mystified by why Rube Foster, the Giants pitcher, had trouble getting anybody out. No mention of Rube Waddell, no mention of players in the Murray Hills line-up. The Athletics had a played at home a day or so earlier, were off on Sunday and then went to Washington DC for a series. Could Waddell have been joined by his mates (or some of them, anyway) in New York, to make a couple quick bucks? If the Philly Giants were losing 13-4 going into the 9th, did Waddell tire or get taken out of the game?
For my own part I haven’t uncovered any accounts of this game. But it’s interesting that we now twice have Waddell linked to a game that featured Rube Foster vs. the Murray Hills. Anybody who feels like jumping in with additional information, please do!
When Charles Dryden of the Philadelphia North American reported on the meeting between Rube Waddell and Andrew Foster in New York City, August 2, 1903, he used half his space to talk about a bizarre incident involving a foul ball off the bat of Waddell that supposedly ignited a box of matches in a spectator’s pocket, setting the poor guy’s suit on fire and causing an uproar.
Ten days later, Dryden wrote about another Waddell start, this one for the A’s against the Boston Americans, in Boston. Here’s the last part of his account, which you may have seen before:
PRODIGAL WADDELL PITCHED AND LOST
As a Side Issue, ‘Rube’ Caused a Bean Factory to Blow Up.
In the seventh inning, Rube Waddell hoisted a long foul over the right field bleachers that landed on the roof of the biggest bean cannery in Boston. In descending, the ball fell on the roof of the engine room and jammed itself between the steam whistle and the stem of the valve that operates it. The pressure set the whistle blowing. It lacked a few minutes of five o’clock, yet the workmen started to leave the building. They thought quitting time had come.
The incessant screeching of the bean-factory whistle led engineers in neighboring factories to think fire had broken out and they turned on their whistles. With a dozen whistles going full blast, a policeman sent in an alarm of fire. Just as the engines arrived, a steam cauldron in the first factory, containing a ton of beans, blew up.
The explosion dislodged Waddell’s foul fly and the whistle stopped blowing, but that was not the end of the trouble.
A shower of scalding beans descended on the bleachers and caused a small panic. One man went insane. When he saw the beans dropping out of a cloud of steam, the unfortunate rooter yelled, ‘The end of the world is coming and we will all be destroyed.’
An ambulance summoned to the supposed fire conveyed the demented man to his home. The ton of beans proved a total loss.”
Although Dryden otherwise reported what actually happened in the Boston/Philadelphia game, it probably won’t come as a great shock to learn that he made up the stuff about the bean factory. If you have any doubt, check out Bill Nowlin’s article, “Consider Your Sources: Baseball and Baked Beans in Boston,” in the Baseball Research Journal (volume 34, 2005, pp. 110-112; unfortunately not online yet).
I should check the Philadelphia North American itself for other, similar stories. Maybe Dryden made a running joke that year out of Rube’s foul balls causing slapstick mayhem.
Incidentally, I don’t think Dryden’s foul-ball fabulations call into question the veracity of the Murray Hills/Cuban X Giants game, or the truth of Foster facing Waddell that day; that the game happened is firmly established by other sources than Dryden, and his usual operating procedure was to add funny stories into otherwise factual accounts of real games. Given that he had no problem making up stuff about regular, high-profile American League games that were lavishly reported on in other papers, there’s no particular reason for him to have inserted Waddell into an obscure semi-pro contest in New York unless the Rube was actually there.
NOTE: The image of Dryden above is taken from the BJR article by Bill Nowlin.
A few months ago I finally found the long-sought game (suspected by some, including me, to be mythical) in which Andrew Foster pitched against, and defeated, Rube Waddell, thus earning the right to be called “Rube” himself. This contest, with Foster hurling for the Cuban X-Giants and Waddell (under the pseudonym “Wilson”) for Nat Strong’s New York City semipro club, the Murray Hills, took place on August 2, 1903, at New York’s Olympia Field.
The other day John Thorn tipped me off about a sequel to this story (which he wrote about here). Six weeks after the Murray Hills game, the X-Giants were barnstorming in upstate New York. On September 21 (as John describes) they met the Kingston Colonials of the Hudson River League and edged them 3 to 2. Foster was on the mound for the X-Giants. His opponent, the Kingston pitcher, was one Art DeGroff, who went on to a long career as a minor league outfielder and made some appearances in the big leagues with the Cardinals in 1905 and 1906. “It may be coincidence,” John says, “but by the time [DeGroff] reached Rochester for the 1904 campaign, and forevermore thereafter, he too was known as ‘Rube’.”
So (perhaps) Foster beat Waddell to take the name Rube, then DeGroff came close to beating Foster to gain the nickname himself. Whatever the case with DeGroff, Waddell was the indisputable godfather of Rubes. Richard Marquard, the third in the trinity of baseball’s most successful Rubes, also supposedly got his nickname because he reminded a minor league sportswriter of Waddell.
“It was during this period [the early 1900s] that the nickname ‘Rube’ was attached to the young pitcher. Legend has it that his teammates began calling him Rube after he defeated George E. (Rube) Waddell and the Philadelphia Athletics, 5-2, in a game in New York.” --Robert Peterson, Only the Ball Was White (1970), p. 107.
“By his own recollection, that’s the year [1902) he met and whipped the great Rube Waddell, who was 25-7 with the pennant-winning Athletics. Other reports say the Waddell game was in 1903 or 1905. No box score has yet been found. However, since there was no Sunday baseball in those years, the Athletics were in the habit of playing exhibitions outside the city every Sunday, and it is not unlikely that they played Rube’s club on one or more of those occasions.” --John Holway, Blackball Stars (1988), p. 11.
“As a raw-talent rookie pitcher soon after the turn of the century, the big Texan was credited with 51 victories in 1902, including a win over the great Rube Waddell, the game in which Foster received his nickname.” --James Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (1994), p. 290.
“One postseason contest against the Athletics saw Foster go head-to-head against Connie Mack’s star southpaw, Rube Waddell. Foster won 5-2, and as a consequence, he later recalled, ‘they gave me the name of the colored Rube Waddell’. News accounts, starting in 1905, first began referring to the Philadelphia Giants’ ace as Rube Foster.” --Robert Cottrell, The Best Pitcher in Baseball: The Life of Rube Foster, Negro League Giant (2001), p. 19.
Andrew Foster, it is said, acquired his nickname on the field of battle, defeating Rube Waddell and taking it from him in what sounds like some kind of ancient warrior ritual. As far as I can tell, nobody has identified the actual exhibition game against the Philadelphia Athletics, and accounts vary considerably about the year in which the legendary contest occurred, anywhere from 1902 to 1905.
I haven’t been able to find the game against the A’s either, though I wouldn’t rule it out (see Holway’s comment above). The earliest example I’ve found of Foster himself telling the story of his nickname appears in an article by Frederick North Shorey in the September 14, 1907, issue of the Indianapolis Freeman. Shorey quotes Foster saying, in part:
The order of the sentences kind of implies it took place in 1905, though I’d say it’s still more than a little ambiguous. Phil Dixon doesn’t record any exhibition games between Waddell’s A’s and Foster’s Philadelphia Giants in his thorough account of the Giants’ 1905 season, though there are lots of blank spaces in October, and again, I wouldn’t rule it out.
But Foster was called “Rube” before 1905. The earliest example I’ve found so far is from the July 26, 1904, issue of the Trenton Evening Times, in a story about a game between the Philadelphia Giants and the Trenton YMCA:
So perhaps it took place earlier in 1904, or possibly in 1902 or 1903. In 1902, Foster played for the Chicago Union Giants and a white semipro team in Otsego, Michigan; so far, I haven’t found any indication that either of these teams ever faced Rube Waddell, though my search has hardly been exhaustive. In 1903 Foster joined the Cuban X Giants on the east coast. I haven’t found them playing the Philadelphia A’s yet, but there is this, from July 28, 1903:
(New York Evening World, July 28, 1903, p. 8)
The Murray Hills were a fairly prominent Manhattan semipro team managed at the time by Nat Strong. And the following Sunday (August 2) they did indeed meet the Cuban X Giants at Olympia Field (see below), with Foster on the mound for the Giants, vs. “Wilson” for the Murray Hills.
(New York Sun, August 3, 1903, p. 6)
It happens that Charles Dryden of the Philadelphia North American, one of the most famous baseball writers in the country, wrote up an account of this game. I haven’t seen the original, but a passage from it was quoted a couple of days later in the Pittsburg Press:
(Pittsburg Press, August 5, 1903, p. 10)
The Philadelphia Athletics were in town to play the Highlanders, but at that time Sunday baseball was illegal in New York, so Waddell spent the enforced day off pitching as “Wilson” for the semipro Murray Hills in an illicit game (although results were still reported in some newspapers) against Andrew Foster of the Cuban X Giants. Waddell struck out 12 but was dinged for 11 or 12 hits, while Foster scattered 7 hits and won, 6 to 3. At one point Foster hit Waddell in the head, to the apparent entertainment of the crowd. Later a foul tip from Waddell supposedly hit a fan and ignited a box of matches in his pocket, setting his clothes on fire.
On the top of that, this game appears to be the only documented instance of Foster pitching against Waddell. Even though it was against the Murray Hills and not the Athletics, and the score was 6 to 3 and not 5 to 2, it seems to me quite possible that this was the game that led to Foster being forever after known as Rube.
Some closing notes:
• I still think it’s not unlikely that Foster was really called Rube because he was a new arrival in the North from rural Texas, and that the story that it came from his victory over Waddell is a case of retconning.
• You’d think that Nat Strong and the Murray Hills would have wanted it known widely that Waddell was pitching for them that Sunday. This would be complicated by the blue laws, obviously, and by the fact that Connie Mack would probably have frowned on his star pitcher throwing nine innings on his off day. So I’m wondering what kind of guerrilla marketing techniques Nat Strong used to evade detection by the authorities but still pull in a good crowd.
• The address given for Olympia Field (135th St. and Lenox Avenue) was only a long block away from the address later commonly given for Olympic Field (136th St. and Fifth Avenue), eventually the home of the New York Lincoln Giants. I don’t know if they were really the same ballpark, or related in some way.
Here, in a wonderfully high-res scan from Robert Edward Auctions, is a panoramic photograph of a 1923 Chicago American Giants-Kansas City Monarchs game at Schorling Park.
(click to enlarge)
You will recognize this photograph from one of my posts a couple of years ago—it appeared, with the same captions and insets (the box with the series scores on the left, the photo of Rube Foster on the right), in a 1925 book edited by John Taitt called Souvenir of Negro Progress: Chicago, 1779-1925, and can be found (in a lower-res version) at the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery.
Contrary to the description on the auction page, the Negro National League did not hold playoffs between the top two teams from 1920 through 1923. The pennant winner was simply the team with the best record at the end of the season. So this game was not part of a championship series. It was, in fact, a normal regular-season contest, held on Sunday, May 27, 1923, with over 17,000 in attendance. It was so crowded they put up temporary grandstands—one of which, holding 1500 people, collapsed at the end of the seventh inning. Amazingly only 28 people suffered serious injuries, and the game was resumed.
(Chicago Daily Tribune, May 28, 1923, page 3)
It was a “great game,” as the Defender said; here’s the box score and play-by-play, if you want to check it out.
(Chicago Defender, June 2, 1923, page 10)
This was game 2 of a four-game sweep by the American Giants that put them in first place. These were the dates of the games:
May 26: American Giants 3, Monarchs 2
May 27: American Giants 5, Monarchs 4
May 28: American Giants 3 (or 6; see below), Monarchs 2
May 29: American Giants 7, Monarchs 4
The score of game 3 is listed in the box on the left side of the photograph as 3-2 American Giants. The Chicago Defender agreed, printing a box score that showed it finishing 3-2. The Chicago Tribune, however, gave the score as 6-2 Chicago. Which score was correct?
Both, it turns out, depending on which rule you apply about walk-off home runs. With the bases loaded, two out, and the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the tenth, the Giants’ Harry Kenyon smashed a grand slam home run over the center field fence. By the rule that pertained in the major leagues prior to 1920, teams that won in the bottom of the last inning could only win by one run. So a batter who struck a game-winning hit was only awarded the hit necessary to get the winning run over the plate. In Kenyon’s case, the Giants only needed one run to win, so under this rule he would be credited only with a single, enough to get Cristóbal Torriente from third to home.
Even though that rule had been eliminated by the major leagues in 1920, the Chicago Defender applied it to the May 28 game, and credited Kenyon only with the single (and only Torriente with the first run scored in the inning), giving the score as 3 to 2. The Tribune, however, applied the rule in its modern form, and credited Kenyon with his home run, gave runs scored to Jim Brown, John Beckwith, and Kenyon, and put the score at 6 to 2.
The man who famously refused to play against black players, mostly Fleet Walker, on multiple occasions in the 1880s, and has often been charged with a high degree of responsibility for the formation of baseball’s color line, ran a semipro team in Chicago in the 1900s that played against black teams quite frequently. And he sometimes suited up with the team himself, well into his 50s.
So, to answer the obvious question, yes, Cap Anson did play against African American teams. Here is a box score for one such game, played on August 22, 1908, showing a 56-year-old Anson taking the field against Walter Ball, Pete Hill, Harry Moore, and the rest of the Leland Giants:
How did baseball’s most notorious racist before Ty Cobb come to swallow his objections to racially-integrated baseball? Who knows, since to my knowledge he never said anything about it himself—but I’d guess four possible reasons:
He changed his views, or at least mellowed a bit with age;
He didn’t think it was such a big deal away from the major leagues;
As proprietor of a semipro club, he realized that games with black clubs were his biggest draw, largely because they were by far the most talented opponents the semipros could book on a regular basis;
He thought that his own appearance against black clubs would attract fans who were aware of his reputation, and might have expected something crazy to happen.
It’s likely some combination of these factors, with number 3 probably the most important, in my opinion.
And of course there is this photograph. I don’t actually know the story behind this (if there is one).
This picture, by the way, is one piece of evidence (among many) that Rube Foster wasn’t six feet tall (see comments on this post). Anson was supposed to be six feet tall himself, and he’s clearly taller than Foster here. Unless Anson was standing on something (I don’t think I’ve seen a larger version of the photo) or his commonly listed height was wrong and he was really 6’3” or 6’4” or something, Foster was, on the evidence of this photo, probably a few inches under six feet. More on this in a future post.