The Double Life and Strange Death of Phils Manager Arthur Irwin

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about former Phillies managers*. By far, the most interesting tale I’ve found has been that of Arthur Irwin, manager of the team from 1894-1895.  He was quite a character. He is credited with adding fingers to the baseball glove (he did so to protect two broken fingers) when he was a player, he was UPenn’s head baseball coach for numerous years, and as a pro manager he led one of my favorite squads in Phillies history, the mid-1890s squad led by Big Ed Delahanty and lefty catcher Jack Clements. After leaving the Phils, he continued to manage and scout for a number of minor league teams.

But it is his death in July of 1921 that makes him worthy of further study. He had relinquished his position as scout for the Hartford club of the Eastern League a few weeks earlier due to abdominal trouble, caused by stomach cancer. The former Phillie skipper was also suffering from “nervous attacks”. He decided to book a berth on a ship, the Calvin Austin, to ride from New York to Boston. Once at sea, he told a fellow passenger on the steamer, “I am going home to die.” Irwin didn’t make it home. When the steamer pulled up in Boston, Irwin was not on board. “Irwin was with a party of friends aboard the steamer. Members of the party said today that he was depressed when he left them before midnight.”  They never saw him again.

It was a few days after his disappearance that the incredible truth was revealed. The July 20th New York Times screamed: “IRWIN’S DOUBLE LIFE BARED BY SUICIDE” in all caps. It turned out that Irwin had two families, one in Boston, with a wife named Elizabeth and three kids, and another in New York City, with a wife named May and three kids. The New York wife never had any idea she was married to a two-timer. According to the Gettysburg Times on July 22, 1921, “Mrs. Irwin and her son, F. Harold Irwin, first heard of the Boston family from a reporter. They were in the widow’s apartment at 565 West 192nd Street. ‘I cannot believe it,” Mrs. Irwin said. “Since we were married 27 years ago in Philadelphia, Arthur has been a model husband. He was seldom away from home for more than a day or two at a time.’”

Elizabeth, whom Irwin had married first but who he had spent much less time with in the past 30 years, wasn’t quite as unprepared for the news. “I never suspected my husband even when years ago members of my family tried to tell me there was…probably another woman.”  According to the New York Times, “She uttered no blame for her husband, but said the missteps of her husband must have been entirely the fault of the woman in New York.” She further consoled herself with the fact he had been headed for Boston at the time of his death. “I feel confident and happy in the belief that, although he had this other woman in New York, he was on the way to see me when he died-that he knew he was dying and that he turned to me as the woman he really loved at the last. He wanted to die in my arms.”

His death was a compelling human interest story, but it was also a quite a mystery. Did he kill himself because he was so physically ill or because he was so devastated by what he had done? Was he murdered, as perhaps someone knew that he had just made $2000 and were hoping to get their hands on it? Did he die at all, or was it all an elaborate ruse to get out of the hole he had dug for himself? You know, like Elvis. Questions and conspiracy theories abound, spurred on by the mysterious acts of his final days.

Before he hopped on the ship, he sent a check to his “legal” wife Elizabeth in Boston for $500 and a note reading, “God Bless You All”. It was unusual in that he had almost never shipped money home or sent such cryptic notes.

He had made $2000 the day before he boarded the steamer, as he had sold the rights to an electric scoreboard he had helped to create. (You can read about Harvard “watching” the 1920 Rose Bowl on one such scoreboard here. I told you Irwin was an interesting dude.) But the check on the bill of sale was made out to “Seeler”, and no-one named Seeler was ever found. $500 of the sale went to Elizabeth, and the other $1500 went to May in New York. So much for Elizabeth’s claim that he loved her more.

Of course, with any good double life and mysterious death story must come a few conspiracy theories, and this one comes to us courtesy of a great piece on Irwin in the Torontoist:

There were rumours, recounted in David Nemec’s The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Major League Baseball (University of Alabama Press, 2006), that Irwin had withdrawn $5,000 from his account prior to sailing—perhaps enough motive to prompt theft and murder. Others, more compellingly, suggested that because the doctor who’d diagnosed Irwin’s fatal illness had never come forward, he had faked his death. According to a 1922 letter at Cooperstown from a former teammate of Irwin queried: “How can Arthur Irwin be dead? I just saw him in Oklahoma.”

Needless to say, if anyone reading this has any further information about this incredible story, we would love to hear it. I have had little success finding any sort of postcript to this story, and would love to hear how things turned out for both families. Please leave a message in the comments with your email address.

*Fun fact, the Phillies had 22 managers during the time that Connie Mack ran the A’s. In the pic below, that’s Irwin holding the ball and giving the “Heil Fuhrer” salute. Love that photo. Check out the babe on the fence ad. 


Shibe Park Sunday


I never get tired of searching for Shibe Park stuff. Here are a few things I’ve stumbled across lately. (Above is a short video about Shibe from the MLB Network.)

Shibe Park’s 12-foot rightfield wall not only offered us a fine view of the ballgames, it allowed freeloading fans an opportunity to sneak into the park. Their antics, after getting a boost over the fence, often provided as much entertainment as the game. Landing in the outfield, they snaked their way toward the stands, drawing cheers and jeers from the crowd, as they dodged security guards and the stream from the firehose. Parenthetically, this was the only water spectators would see, as the frugal Connie Mack banned water fountains in order to boost soft-drink sales.

  • A radio broadcast of Richie Allen’s first at bats in Shibe Park as a member of the Cardinals. He had been traded away from the Phillies the previous season in a deal that was similar to the Scott Rolen situation. Insanely talented, feuded with management, and fans took their leaving for St. Louis personally. The crowd only numbered 11,759 that day, but they go nuts each time he steps to the plate, and when he strikes out in his 3rd at bat it sounds like the team just won the pennant. And they go completely bats*** crazy when he hits a homer in his 4th at bat. Also fun to hear By Saam calling the game.

 

 

  • And of course I’m not going to leave you without an awesome Shibe Park photo. I got this off the BEST baseball forum on the interweb. Baseball-fever.com is just mindblowingly awesome. If you are a baseball history junkie like me, I heartily encourage you to join.

Here’s a pic of Shibe on the morning of the final game played there.

 


What in the Hell is John Smallwood Talking About?

Interesting column by John Smallwood this past week in the Daily News about the 1982 Phils, and comparing them to the 2012 team.

I WONDER IF this is what Philadelphia was like in 1982.

Were disgruntled Phillie fans storming Veteran Stadium with pitchforks and torches in hand demanding the head of new manager Pat Corrales?

Did they want to trade superstars like Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Gary Matthews for prospects to protect the future?

After all, just two seasons before, in 1980, the Phillies won the first World Series championship in franchise history.

But in 1981, they lost to the Montreal Expos in the National League Divisional Series during a strike year.

Now, in ’82, management was clearly guilty of trying to stretch out a great run instead of building for the future.

From World Series champs to 81-81 in two short seasons — convincing evidence that this franchise stunk once again and was heading down the toilet.

A pretty interesting comparison of the 1982 Phillies to the 2012 Phillies. Except that the 1982 he describes didn’t happen. Not even close. The Phillies did not go 81-81 in 1982. They went 89-73 and missed the pennant by a mere 3 games. There was no outrage in Philadelphia because the team was still pretty damn good, winning only two less games than they did in the World Champion year of 1980. Why would people bring pitchforks to the Vet when the team led the NL East as late as September 13th?

It’s understandable when writers make minor mistakes. I do it all the time. (See that alert reader corrected an error in the comments of the Frank Baker story below.) But geez, when the mistake forms the entire premise of the column, you’d think there would be perhaps a quick Google search of “1982 Phillies”, either by Smallwood or an editor.

Smallwood says that the 1982 Phillies and the 2012 Phillies are quite similar. They couldn’t be more different. The Phillies made a serious run at the pennant in 1982. The 2012 Phillies won’t come anywhere the pennant. The 1982 Phillies won 89 games.  The 2012 team has a better chance of losing 89.

I find it amusing that the opening line is, “I wonder if this is what Philadelphia was like in 1982.” The answer is No. Not even close.


Frank “Home Run” Baker, Terrell Owens, and the Greatest Collapse in MLB History

The 2012 Phillies aren’t in the midst of the most spectacular collapse of a dynasty in Philly baseball history. That happened in 1915. The A’s were coming off four World Series appearances in five years, with victories in 3 of them. But success has it’s own price, and for Connie Mack, that was trying to keep his players paid. With so much success, the stars of the team were wanting major pay raises. Adding pressure to the problem were a couple of major developments. For one, the Federal League, baseball’s USFL more or less, was offering huge wads of money to MLB stars, many of whom played on the A’s. And Mack, coming off a season in which fans had become spoiled by success (The A’s were 5th in the AL in attendance in 1914 despite winning the pennant), became convinced that fans enjoyed watching a team try to get to the top more than seeing a team already there. He was also losing money to technology. The giant scoreboard the Philadelphia Record had erected across from City Hall was hurting him too (similar to this one at the New York Herald’s offices). Fans were showing up for free to “watch” the game on the board instead of paying to get into the ballpark. Finally, he believed his own hype, and thought that if he built this dynasty, why couldn’t he start from scratch and build another?

The dismantling began with Mack selling AL MVP Eddie Collins to the White Sox in December of 1914, reportedly for $50,000. (It was with Chicago that Collins is perhaps today best remembered for being the “clean” superstar on the 1919 Black Sox.) Collins was floored by the move, loved playing in Philly and for Mack, but the money Comiskey was offering was just too great to turn down.

The move was not met with derision in Philly or nationally, as most people considered it a smart move. As WA Phelon wrote in Baseball Magazine:

“It reduces the Athletics payroll, brings the needed cash, yet will not hurt the gate. Hence it’s a great thing for the Mackmen.”

He released the aging Jack Coombs, another hero of the 1911 World Series. Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, though both toward the end of their careers, jumped to the Federal League and the big paydays. Still, the team seemed to be pretty much intact. An aging but capable Nap Lajoie was brought back to town from the Indians to take over for Collins at second base. The three of the four members of the famous $100,000 Infield were still in place and the 4th piece had been replaced by a legend. The team would be fine. Except for one thing.

Third baseman and city legend Home Run Baker (above, left) was torn between returning to the A’s or retiring to his farm in Maryland.

At the team’s annual banquet in February of 1915, Mack dropped a bombshell, “I can’t say that I’ve had as good a time tonight I’ve had in years gone by at this banquet. I have given you a lot of surprises lately, but tonight I have a real surprise for you. Frank Baker wrote me a letter that he would not play for the Athletics the coming year. Frank has decided to quit the game for good.” The air went out of the banquet hall, and the annual jovial affair took on the air of a funeral reception. Mack continued on.

“He’s just sick of traveling and he wants to settle down for good on his Maryland farm. His wife has been at him for years to quit and it has been a tussle to make him sign each season…The boy isn’t dissastisfied. He doesn’t want more money, and he isn’t flighty.”

That was partly true. Collins was a country boy who loved his farm. But as he told a reporter that winter, “Every man has his price at which he is willing to work. I have mine. I am not stating what it is, but I will take it if it is offered. I will work for Connie Mack cheaper than I will work for anyone else. But I will not work for Mack or anyone else under the conditions as they are at present.”

Baker, a bonified superstar, could not be happy with the fact that he had signed a $6,666 per year contract a year before Collins had signed a $15,000 a year contract. And he certainly wasn’t pleased when Mack brought in the 40-year old Lajoie for $9,000. “I wish them all the luck in the world, but I have to look out for my own interests also.” At a time where the economy in the US wasn’t so hot, Baker’s holdout didn’t go over real well. Almost all of Philadelphia sided with Mack. Baker had signed a 3-year, $20,000 contract the year before, and now he was breaking it.

When the team reported to Jacksonville that March, Baker was nowhere in sight. Players wrote him. He wrote none of them back. Rumors began to swirl that he would be dealt to the Yankees. He said that he would play in New York, but he would play in Philadelphia for cheaper. It was beginning to look like exactly what TO would want from the Eagles 90 years later; a modest bump to the salary he had already signed, just to show respect for what he had given the team and the city. It’s worth noting that in both cases, fans in the city tended to side with management, since both players were so egregiously overpaid to begin with. And in both cases, the loss of the star player resulted in a team going from the championship game to an epic disaster. (Of course, TO would play a few games with the Eagles, while Baker didn’t play a single one.)

Baker met with Mack on Opening Day. He wasn’t reporting to the team, though you get the feeling that when he talked to Mack, he had to be hoping that the A’s leader was going to offer him a token raise and the problem would be solved. It wasn’t. Baker asked permission to opt out of his contract and play for a semi-pro team in Delco. The obstinate Mack granted him permission, so long as he didn’t play any games in Philadelphia. They had only months previous been the two undisputed kings of the city. Now they went their separate ways.

The A’s, without stars Collins and Baker, and with a young pitching staff that Mack had greatly overrated**, made a nosedive into the cellar of the AL. A year after winning 99-games and winning the AL by 8.5 games, they went 43-109, 58.5 games out of first place. The drop of 56-games is still a major league record. (The Phillies would have to go 8-66 for the rest of the season to break it.) Many fans of the A’s drifted 6 blocks west and started watching the exciting 1915 Phillies team, who would make their first ever World Series appearance that October.

Baker would play a year of summer league ball in Maryland, then Mack would sell his contract to the Yankees. He would play four years for them, though he never again duplicated his numbers from his Philadelphia days. The A’s meanwhile, wouldn’t recover from the Collins deal and the Baker fallout until the mid-1920s, when Mack would put together his second dynasty.

A lot of this info comes courtesy of the excellent books, “Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball” and “Connie Mack, The Turbulent and Triumphant Years“, both by Norman Macht.

**Hmm, losing two best players and overrating young pitchers. Sound familiar?


Badass Poster of Schmidt and Steve

This poster was released after the 1980 season. Any of you guys have it hanging on your wall when you were kids?


The Great Jimmy Young Goes Toe-to-Toe With Ali

by Michael Collazo

Most boxers live the life cycle of cars. Like cars, boxers are hip, sleek and seemingly unstoppable at first. Never mind both notoriously depreciate – both basically start losing value as soon as they roll off the lot – but in their primes can be the awe of their peers. Both can pick up the hot chicks.

Boxers fleetingly make the big bucks; cars show off those big bucks.

Thirty five years ago, Philly’s Jimmy Young was in his prime. By 1977, Young was good enough to be a contender but seemingly never could beat an elite heavyweight. His boxing style didn’t help his perpetual underdog status. Young’s best skill was his defense and counterpunching – which doesn’t always sell tickets. Ask B-Hop about that. So he was vulnerable to close-but-no-cigar decisions.

In 1976, Young fought the great — but at fight time, the listless — Muhammad Ali for the WBC and WBA World Heavyweight titles. Expecting an easy fight in preparation for a title defense against Ed Norton, Ali looked overweight and lacked snap in his punches. Meanwhile, Young looked sharp and took advantage. Despite the unanimous decision for Ali, Young certainly made it close – and some feel could have won a close decision.

So after the tough loss to Ali, Young had to climb his way back up to another title shot. In his way was George Foreman. The Don King Production took place at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico: March 17, 1977. Young, seemingly confident off his Ali performance, came in at tip-top shape. The opening six rounds were feel-out rounds – Young was measuring George’s power; Foreman was looking to explore where to score a big blow and knock Young out.

By Round 7, the fight heated up – but at first not for Young’s benefit. ABC’s Howard Cosell reported during the fight that Young had predicted a win if he could stay unscathed after Round 5. Well early in Round 7, it didn’t look like Young’s prediction would work out. Foreman threw a big right cross then an uppercut, staggering Young. This is when George overpowers the light-punching Young right?

Wrong.

Young held his way out of trouble then late in the round countered twice to stun Foreman. By now several thousand Puerto Ricans began chanting “JIM-mee Jung! JIM-mee Jung!” Foreman was the brute who lost to Ali in Zaire; Philly’s Jimmy Young was the scrappy underdog potentially winning the fight. The locals were on Jimmy’s side.

Using Round 7 as a turning point, Young won a unanimous decision, controlling the fight until the final bell – even falling Foreman in Round 12, in a fight that was named Ring Magazine’s 1977 Fight of the Year. Foreman would avoid comment after the fight and not get in the ring for another 10 years. Foreman would say later basically he found God after this devastating loss. A Michael Moorer title win and millions of George Foreman Grills later…well, the rest is history. You can watch the Foreman-Young tilt here.

Sadly, Young’s Second Act didn’t go as well. He would lose a title eliminator bout against Norton the following November. Young meddled around with bouts until 1988. Young fought financial and drug problems until his death in 2005.

Postscript: while living on Broad St. and 71st Ave. in the late 80s, we always saw this powder blue late 70s Cadillac broken down and parked on the corner. So one day my Dad and I noticed a bushy-haired guy turning a wire hangar down the window to get inside. Dad recognized that man.

It was Jimmy Young.

Indeed, boxers rarely drive off into the sunset.

If you like this, you’ll also like The Fast Rise and Tragic Fall of Tyrone Everett.

North Philly native, former Syracuse University classmate of Donovan McNabb, and childhood friend of Jimmy Young’s son James, Michael Collazo is Group Sales Manager for Prudential Center in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @MCollazo215.


The 4th of July on Which Hooks Wiltse Was Nearly Perfect

The Phillies came dragging into their July 4th matchup with the New York Giants in 1908. They had started the season well, but had lost four in a row and five of their last six. The Giants, on the other hand, were red hot, having won 16 of their past 21 games. They had knocked off the Phillies in 6 out of their 8 matchups so far that season, and had won the first two games of this 4-game tilt.

On the hill for the Giants for the first game of that day’s scheduled doubleheader was George “Hooks” Wiltse, who had acquired the nickname not for his curveball, which was devastating, but for his fielding prowess. He was in the midst of what would be a superlative year, as the 28-year old lefty would go 23-14 with a 2.24 ERA.

Wiltse had his famous curveball breaking on this holiday, and each and every Phillie who came to the plate headed right back to the dugout. Unfortunately for the Giants, Phillies pitcher George McQuillan was also in the zone, and through 8 innings the teams were deadlocked at zero.

In the top of the 9th, the first two Phillies went down. Up came McQuillan, who was having a career year (23-17 with a 1.53 ERA) but who would end his career with a pathetic .117 batting average. The count went to 1-2. Wiltse reached  back, fired, and threw a pitch right down the middle. McQuillan’s bat stayed on his shoulder…and umpire Cy Rigler’s hand stayed by his side. Ball two. Shaken, Wiltse would hit McQuillan with his next pitch. The perfect game was ruined. Wiltse got the next hitter out, and the game went to the bottom of the 9th. The Giants went down quietly, and out came Wiltse for the 10th. Once again the Phils went down 1-2-3, and finally, in the bottom of the 10th, the Giants pushed a run across the plate to take a 1-0 victory.

Wiltse is still one of only 3 men in MLB history to throw a 10-inning no-hitter (the others are Fred Toney in 1917 and Jim Maloney in 1965. Interestingly, both guys played for the Reds. In 1997, two Pirates combined to pitch a 10-inning no-hitter.), and one of only three men to throw a no-hitter on the 4th of July (along with Tigers’ pitcher George Mullin in 1912 and Yankees pitcher Dave Righetti in 1983). And if it wasn’t for Cy Rigler’s blown call, he would probably have thrown the only 10-inning perfect game in MLB history (unless, like me, you count Harvey Haddix’s 12 perfect innings. The MLB does not). It was not unlike the infamous Galarraga/Joyce game, as Rigler later apologized for blowing the call, and according to Wiltse’s bio on SABR, “spent years giving Wiltse cigars to atone for it.”


The Best Baker Bowl Photos on the Internet Part 2

Mr. Baker Bowl himself, Chuck Klein. Probably no player’s career was as affected by the Baker Bowl as Klein’s was. He was a lefthanded batter who learned to hit high flyballs into right field, and batted an incredible .395 in 581 career games at the Baker Bowl (He hit .286 in road games and .221 after the Phillies moved to Shibe). He also hit 164 homers there, as opposed to the 136 he hit in the over 1200 games he played in stadiums other than the Baker Bowl. In 1933, his splits were laughably absurd, as he hit .467 with 20 HRs and 81 RBIs in 72 games at home, and .280 with 9 homers and 39 RBIs in 80 games on the road. This home cooking kept Klein out of the Hall until 1980.

This shot must have been taken in the 1900s or 1910s, because there is a beer sign (before Prohibition) and the fence is moved in tight at center (there would later be a gap between those center field seats and the fence, which provided sort of a strange nook you can see below). Notice how center field stands seem to extend into the field. You can also see it in centerfield of this pic of Baker Bowl dimensions. I also don’t see the Lifebuoy sign or the tin fence above. I do know they moved the rightfield wall back about 8 feet in the 1920s. I’m thinking that that created the strange nook in center, and is why you don’t see it in the above photo. As for the giant tin wall in right, that was an added creation once they realized how absurdly easy it was to hit a home run there.

This is just a great shot of the whole venue (sent to us by site fan Mark Komp), though whoever wrote “America’s finest ballpark” was clearly delusional or had never been to another ballpark. Must have been so weird to play center. You could run due right chasing a fly ball and crash into a fence. I believe this shot was from the 1930s. I know that Coke sign was still standing after the ballpark was no longer in use.

This shot gives you a good idea of just how tall that crazy right field wall was. 60 feet, 23 feet taller than the Green Monster. CHeck out how it looms over the guy in right field. It was constructed of a bunch of different materials, then covered with tin, so it made a very distinctive sound when the ball hit it. ANd keep in mind, the mesh fence above the green was also part of the field.

Here are the umps for the 1915 World Series at the Baker Bowl. The guy with the megaphone is the PA announcer, and I wonder if he is the same guy you see in this postcard, since it was a similar time period. Now if you haven’t seen it already, this computerized model of Baker Bowl is well worth a gander.

Here’s Part 1 of the Baker Bowl photos.


The Best Baker Bowl Photos on the Internet, Part 1

Been looking all day for these, on flickr, baseball-fever, and google. Here’s some of the best stuff I found. And after you check these out, be sure to check out Part 2.

The famous Lifebuoy sign in rightfield. Legend has it that in the 1920s, as the Phillies settled into their annual spot in the basement of the standings, someone snuck in and, right under the “The Phillies Use Lifebuoy” sign, painted the words, “And they still stink”. The right field was an incredible 280 feet from home plate. Think of how short the Green Monster wall is, then sheer off another 35 feet. Until 1921, it was 272 feet from home plate. Just unreal.

An aerial shot of Baker Bowl. Just check out the dimensions of RF as opposed to left and center. Dead center was 408 feet, just one foot shorter than the deepest part of CBP.

Kind of fun to compare Phils dimensions back then and today.

So much to love about this old postcard. First of all, love the guy with the megaphone behind home plate. He was the PA announcer, and just like today, he would announce each batter. Love the Philadelphia flag in the upper left corner. And the view into left is very Camden Yards-esque. Even Cooler? The two tall buildings in the background still exist. The tall brick building was a Ford Motor Company plant. The brick building across the street still stands as well. Also, notice how wide the dirt path was between home and the pitcher’s mound. It’s the widest path I think I’ve ever seen.

Ok, so this pic is obviously two photos put together. You won’t get anything about the field from this photo, but think it is a neat look at the structure. You are sitting in the cheap seats, which you’ll appreciate more in the next photo.

Ok, look how empty the bleachers are. Now look to the right of the photo. Cheap seats are completely packed. Everybody loves a deal.

A great look at the neighborhood around Baker Bowl. Not only are the two buildings behind Baker Bowl still there, but so is the building across the street from them.

The Baker Bowl hosted exactly one World Series, in 1915 (it also hosted the 1924 Negro League World Series). As you can see above, the Phillies fans in the cheap seats were Flyered fired up about it. Tickets in the grandstands were $3 for this Series. Babe Ruth made his first ever World Series appearance with the Red Sox at the Baker Bowl, grounding out as a pinch hitter in Game 1. It was also the first time a President attended a World Series game, as Woodrow Wilson threw out the ceremonial first pitch of Game 2. (below)