Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Great Caruthers

At the present observation the bright particular star in the base-ball firmament is "Bobby" Caruthers, the Chicago boy, who for three years has been one of the foremost players in the American Association. As an all-round player he ranks second to on one in the profession, and there are many competent judges who consider him the most valuable of all. combining the qualities of a great pitcher, a first-class batsman, a splendid fielder, and a fleet base-runner, it is not to be wondered at that he rivals Kelly as a $10,000 beauty and that the Brooklyn and Cincinnati clubs have each offered that amount for his release, and are besides willing to pay him a salary of $5,000 a year.

Robert Lee Caruthers was born in Memphis, Tenn., Jan 5, 1865. His father, James P. Caruthers, was a distinguished member of the Tennessee bar. After serving as State's Attorney he was elected to the bench of the Chancery Court of Memphis, where he presided for eight years. The mother of the subject of this sketch was before marriage Miss McNeil of Kentucky. Her grandfather, while continuing to reside in Kentucky, invested liberally in Chicago real estate, and she is now one of the McNeil heirs who have inherited valuable property in this city. Judge Caruthers was a Confederate sympathizer during the war but was not in the service of the "Lost Cause." During the greater part of the war he and his family were refugees. In 1876 he moved to this city, and remained here until his death, which occurred Sept. 8, 1880. While Mrs. Caruthers was opposed to Robert's playing ball the Judge favored it. The boy was slender and delicate in appearance and his father believed the exercise incident to the game would benefit him. As a result the boy indulged his love for the National game and soon was conspicuous as a good ball player among his schoolmates. The first club he belonged to was the North End Club, with which he played in 1882, he being then 17 years old. The following spring he joined the Lake Views of the local amateur league, his position being that of catcher. He played behind the bat during April and May of 1883. About the middle of May he began to practice pitching, and between that time and the first week in June he pitched four games for the team. On the strength of those four performances in the box he became a professional pitcher being signed June 6, 1883 to pitch for the Grand Rapids club of the Northwestern League of that year. His salary that season was $75 a month. He did so well for Grand Rapids that the following spring he signed with the Minneapolis club, his contract calling for $175 a month. He remained with the Minneapolis team until it disbanded, Sept. 2, 1884. Preferring to play ball in this city he endeavored to get an engagement with the Chicago club to play on the "reserve team," which it was running that year, but a difference of $50 lost him to Chicago. He asked $200 a month for the rest of the season and Spalding would not give more than $175. While Spalding was awaiting an acceptance of his terms Von der Ahe captured the prize at $250 a month and "Bobby" joined the St. Louis Browns Sept 6, 1884. The season of 1885 made him famous. He led the pitchers of the American Association and stood fourth in its batting record. In February, 1886, he named $3,000 for the season as is terms to Von der Ahe, but the latter would not listen to the demand. Then "Bobby" sailed for Europe, with the intention of making a tour of the world. He got as far as Rome, where he received a cablegram from Von der Ahe to come back and sign a contract on his own terms. This brought him back, and he reached St. Louis April 1. At the close of the season of 1886 he stood fourth among the pitchers and second in the list of batsmen in the association. This year his salary was $3,250. His record was fourth among the pitchers, third in batting (average .401), and fourth as a right-fielder. He bats either left-handed or right-handed, so that "south-paw" or "north-paw" twirlers are all alike to him, and while not having played games enough to get a record as a fielder in any position except right field, he demonstrated that he can play every position in a nine and play it well. Nothing can induce him to go behind the bat again. He stands five feet ten and one-half inches high in his shoes and weighs 152 pounds. Some of his friends affect a belief that he is troubled with heart disease, while others believe his lungs are weak; nevertheless he manages to play through each season with a loss of very little time, and the managers are all willing to take big chances on his health. He personally offered Von der Ahe $8,500 for his release, but failed to secure it.
-Chicago Daily, December 4, 1887


David Ball said...

When Von der Ahe started dealing off his players, he got a lot more money for Caruthers than for Foutz. It's my impression the only reason for that is that Foutz had begun to show signs of a bad arm late in the 1887 season. Does that seem right to you?

Jeff Kittel said...

Foutz hurt his thumb in August of 1887 when he took a line drive off of it. The reports at the time said that it wasn't broken but he had it bandaged up for over two weeks. Supposedly, the injury prevented him from throwing his curveball and he was never the same pitcher after that. I did a quick search and couldn't find anything about an arm injury or a sore arm but you'd have to think that the 500+ innings Foutz threw in 1886 took a toll on his arm.

David Ball said...

That's it, no doubt. I've only seen imprecise reports from the time of the sale suggesting he was suffering from some physical ailment that limited his ability to pitch.

Brooklyn paid at least 60% more for Caruthers than Foutz. Was that because Caruthers was always the more valuable player, or would they have had about the same market value had Foutz not suffered the injury?

Jeff Kittel said...

If the sale had taken place after the 1886 season it's probable that the Browns would have gotten as much, if not more, for Foutz than they did for Caruthers. His 1886 season (on the mound) is very impressive. An interesting thing about the sale of Foutz and Caruthers that you never really see brought up is that both were beginning to decline as players by 1888 and the Browns' decision to sell them was a good one. Whether they got enough back is another question but the sale itself looks like a good baseball decision in hindsight. And Silver King, by 1888, was the best pitcher of the three.

If you're asking me who I think was better, Foutz or Caruthers, that's something I've gone back and forth on. Lately, I'm of the mind that Caruthers was the better player.