Monday, March 26, 2012

The 1884 Providence Grays: Drunk Enough To Be Stupid

In to-day's game Sweeney pitched up to the eighth inning; the score at that time stood 6 to 2 in favor of Providence.  Then Miller, the new pitcher, was sent in to pitch, but Sweeney refused to go to right field.  He abused Manager Bancroft, and finally ended by talking off his uniform and leaving the grounds.  Sweeney was expelled to-night.  This action was probably the result of the efforts of Union Club managers who have attempted to take the players.  In the eighth and ninth innings the Providence Club played with eight men and the Philadelphias scored 8 runs, winning the game.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 23, 1884

By reference to the Globe-Democrat's special from Providence it will be observed that Sweeny, the rising phenomenon in the pitcher's box, was expelled last night.  He will, of course, now seek an engagement in the Union Association, and will no doubt get one at an early date.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 23, 1884

I have brazenly stolen the title of this post from Ed's chapter about the Sweeney incident in Fifty-Nine in '84.  Here's a condensed version of Ed's account of the incident:

Charlie Sweeney woke up on Tuesday morning, July 22, with a howling headache.  A glance at his pocket watch told him he had missed the Grays' mandatory morning practice, and if he did not get a move on, he would miss his scheduled start against the Phillies that afternoon in Providence.  The unpleasant prospect of fines and hectoring lectures confronted him.  Staggering, stinking of drink-apparently still drunk-he got up and got dressed. 
When he arrived at the Messer Street Grounds that afternoon, Charlie was showing the influence of liquor, Bancroft recalled.  The pitcher found his frowning manager in a side room off the clubhouse.  "If you want to know why I was not here this morning, I will tell you.  I was drunk last night and did not get home," Sweeney confessed.  That was a violation of his temperance pledge, certainly, and an admission of reckless disregard of managerial authority, but Sweeney had at least conceded the truth, and he wanted to make up for his lapse by pitching.  Bereft of Radbourn, Bancroft felt he had little choice but to cut his ace some slack and send him out to the box.  Bancroft posted Miller in right field, planning to bring him in during the later innings if Sweeney faltered. 
Sweeney worked effectively for five innings, finding the plate in spite of his woozy condition.  He was ahead, 6-2, when Bancroft, worried that the pitcher was beginning to get hit hard, and not wishing to risk Sweeney's recently healed arm, asked his field captain, Joe Start, to make the pitching switch.  But when the first baseman went to the box and relayed the order, the pitcher barked at him to go away...For two more innings, the manager let him get away with this flagrant insubordination, but in the seventh, Bancroft called Sweeney over to the scorer's stand behind home plate and instructed him to let Miller pitch for a while... 
"You go out to right field and let Miller come in and pitch the game out," Bancroft told Sweeney... 
"As long as I've got my game won, I'll finish it," Sweeney replied. 
Bancroft was through negotiating.  "You go out in right field or I will fine you $50." 
Sweeney, his anger rising, asked Bancroft if he meant it. 
"You will find out that I do," the manager replied icily. 
"All I have asked you to do is to let me finish this game and you want to fine me $50 for it," Sweeney complained.  "You can take that $50 along with the rest of my salary"-and, surely added, shove it somewhere. 
The Evening Telegram reported that Sweeney told Bancroft: "I give you a tip.  I finish all the games I start, or I don't play ball."  When Bancroft told him to stop that foolishness, the pitcher declared, "I guess I'll quit," and stomped off... 
...In the next inning, only eight men left the bench and jogged into the field.  Sweeney was nowhere to be seen.  Bancroft trotted down the grandstand stairs and found him in the dressing room, already in his street clothes.  When he ordered Sweeney to put on his uniform again and go out and play, the twenty-one-year-old "most villainously abused" him.  "It is true I called him names," the pitcher later admitted, "but I think at the time and under the circumstances that I had sufficient provocation, and when you take into consideration the work I had done in keeping the club in the lead and the little wish I wanted Bancroft to grant me, that of finishing the game, I think he could have reasonably complied with it without injury to his managerial dignity, where he so inclined."

Sweeney went so far as to come back out on the field in his dress clothes, "arrogantly watching his teammates flounder while the crowd of 450 hissed him."  Later, and this may be my favorite part of the story, he left the grounds in the company of two prostitutes, who he had actually brought with him, earlier, to the ballpark.  Sweeney had come to the ballpark late, drunk and in the company of two prostitutes before he quit on his team.  So, yeah, later the directors of the club met and kicked him off the club.  Ed has a great quote from the Sunday Morning Journal which called Sweeney's actions that day "one of the most disgraceful exhibitions ever witnessed on a ball field."

I was going to write something about how, in this day and age, we're used to this kind of behavior on the part of our star athletes.  But, come on.  If Stephen Strasburg showed up late, drunk and in the company of a couple of hookers then started the game, only to get into a fight with Davey Johnson, walk off the field and quit the Nationals, can you imagine what would happen?  It would be 24 hours a day, wall to wall coverage.  It would be all Strasburg, all the time.  ESPN would self-combust in excitement.  It would be pure insanity.

And now imagine if Strasburg turned around the next day and had another team give him a job, with a pay raise.      

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