Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Couple Of Good Stories From Gus Schmelz

Manager Schmelz has an inexhaustible fund of baseball anecdotes. In a reminiscent mood the other evening he told of some of the ludicrous things he had seen on the ball field. Probably the funniest of these occurred here in Washington in 1886. In that year Mr. Schmelz was managing the St. Louis Maroons for Henry V. Lucas, who had at that time more money than he could use. But the story is told best in Manager Schmelz's own words.

"The Maroons," Mr. Schmelz said, "were a great team, with Jack Glasscock, Jerry Denny, Fred Dunlap, Al McKinnon, George Myers, and a lot of others just about as good. We arrived in Washington to play the Nationals, and in the game during the afternoon Al McKinnon had reached first base and George Myers was at the bat. McKinnon started for second just as Myers hit the ball on the nose. Hines was playing center for Washington and when the ball was hit it did not look as if Paul would get anywhere near it. By the time McKinnon had turned second it began to look as though Hines might get the ball, so Dunlap, who was coaching at third, yelled for McKinnon to go back. Just then Paul reached for the ball, barely touching but not holding it. By this time Jerry Denny, who was coaching at first, was yelling for Myers, who had turned back in disgust when he thought Hines was going to get the ball, to go on. In the excitement of the moment and the yelling of the balance of the team, who had in the mean while rushed up to the lines, McKinnon started back to first, while Myers ran on around to third. The two men met near second and Myers tried to head McKinnon off and turn him back toward third, but Al, who had been rendered nearly frantic by the noise and coaching cries, thinking Myers was one of the enemy trying to block him, gave George a shove which landed him on his back and continued back toward first. Meyers scrambled to his feet and chased himself up to third.

"Hines had now secured the ball, but seeing one of the Maroons breaking for third while another was running still harder to get back to first, Paul didn't know what to do. Finally he ran in with the ball in his hands, accompanied by the whole Washington team. He found McKinnon, who should have been on third, safely perched on first while Meyers, who belonged on first, was wildly clutching third with both hands.

"Now ensued one of the funniest scenes ever witnessed on a ball field. Paul first went up and touched Meyers with the ball then he was dragged by his club mates over to first for he would not relinquish his hold on the ball to touch McKinnon. Then they changed their minds and dragged Paul back to third and made him touch Meyers again. Needless to say that by this time the procession back and forth across the diamond had been joined by all the Maroons, who had the Umpire in their midst, and were arguing and gesticulating as they dragged that official from one side of the diamond to the other. All this combined with the howls, yells and laughter of the audience, so confused the umpire that it was fully half an hour before he could give a decision and all that time the Senators determined to make sure of at least one man dragged Hines and the ball from third to first and first to third, touching first one man and then the other, according to the direction in which the umpire seemed to be inclined to give his decision. The Maroons, equally determined not to have either man declared out, dragged the poor umpire in the wake of the other procession. Taken altogether the scene was too funny to be described.

"The most remarkable play I ever saw," continued Mr. Schmelz, "was made on the St. George grounds, Staten Island, when Erastus Wiman owned the Metropolitans. I was managing the Cincinnati team at the time. Jim Keenan, of Indianapolis, was the mainstay catcher of our aggregation, and he was the receiving end of the battery that day. A foul tip struck his hands, went straight up in the air, fell on top of his head (he had his cap on), rolled up against the edge of his mask and stayed there. Keenan reached up, picked the ball off the top of his head and the umpire declared the batter out."
-Washington Post, April 1, 1894


David Ball said...

Stories that sound too good to be true, but here's what I have from the August 2, 1887 issue of the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, reporting on the previous day's game at New York:

In the first, batter Jack Nelson tipped a pitch. The ball struck Keenan's hands, bounded to the top of his mask, then to the top of his head and sat there. When Keenan moved his head to look for the ball, it dropped into his hands and he caught it, putting Nelson out. "The play set the spectators roaring with laughter, and even [umpire] Bob Ferguson laughed till the tears rolled down his cheeks." No word on whether Nelson joined in the laughter.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I'm not oppossed to the spinning of yarns and the telling of tall tales especially when you realize that the stories reveal something about the person telling them. I always think of Schmelz as a kind of gray figure and have a difficult time getting a handle on him. These stories help in that they reveal something about his personality.

But I'm actually shocked that there's verification on the Keenen play. I figured the base running story was an exaggeration based in fact but that the ball on top of the head thing was completely made up. Baseball's a strange game.