Phillies You Should Know: Former Philly Pitcher Phenomenal Smith

Phenomenal_SmithLooks like I’m also gonna have to update the Phillies All-Nickname Team.

Phenomenal Smith was born John Francis Gammon in Manayunk in 1864, and made his pro debut with the Athletics of the American Association in 1884. The next year he joined the Brooklyn Grays. It did not go well. His teammates didn’t appreciate the cocky 20-year old, and when he said he didn’t need teammates to win, they taught him a lesson.  In his first start, the Grays intentionally committed 14 errors and Smith lost 18-5. The team President fined the players $500 each, but in an effort to ensure team harmony, fired Gammon after only one game.

Following that debacle, he joined the Newark Little Giants of the Eastern League. On October 3rd of 1885, he threw a no-hitter in which he struck out 16 and didn’t let a ball leave the infield. The performance was so remarkable that it earned him a new nickname, Phenomenal Smith.

He kicked around the majors and minors for the next several years, re-appearing with the Athletics in 1889, then joining the Phillies in 1890. He was cut in 1891, and never made it back to the majors, though he played and coached in the minors for another 15 years, playing for colorful teams such as the Green Bay Bays, the Hartfort Cooperative, and even a team that named itself after him, the Pawtucket Phenoms. While coaching a team in Norfolk, VA, he signed a young Christy Mathewson. Under Smith’s tutelage, Matthewson thrived, and by the end of the season he was signed by the New York Giants.

After retiring, Smith joined the Manchester, Massachusetts police department. He died in 1952 at the age of 87.


Five Steals in a Game? Eh, No Biggie. One Phillie Stole Seven


Jacoby Ellsbury made an ass out of the Phillies last night, swiping five bags, and in the process setting a team record. It was also the most the Phillies have ever given up to one player in a game. But there is a Phillie who has done even better, and a member of the Philadelphia A’s who did better twice in a two week time frame!

One of the all-time great Phillies is Billy Hamilton, a member of the 1894 Phillies outfield that had 3 players (Hamilton, Ed Delahantey, and Sam Thompson) each hit over .400, and yet still finished 3rd in the NL.

On August 31, 1894, the Phils took on the hapless Washington Senators, on their way to a 11th place finish. Bill Wynne took the hill for his first (and last) Major League start. Behind the plate was back-up catcher Dan Dugdale. Hamilton made their lives a living hell, taking advantage of the inexperienced pitcher and a catcher whose career would be over a month later, and swiped seven bases (2nd base four times and 3rd base three times), still tied for an MLB record. The Phils won easily, 11-5. It was hardly an anomaly, as Hamilton would steal 100 on the season, leading the league. He would finish his career with 914 stolen bases, still good for 3rd all time after Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock. He’d end his career with a .344 batting average as well, and be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1961. His 7 steals in a game tie him with George Gore of the Chicago White Stockings, who did it in 1881.

Only 4 different players have stolen 6 bases in a game. Carl Crawford did it in 2009, Eric Young did it in 1996, and Otis Nixon did it in 1991. But remarkably, Philadelphia A’s superstar Eddie “Cocky” Collins did it twice…in 12 days! The first time was on September 11th, 1912, against the Detroit Tigers. On September 22nd, he did it again, this time against the Red Sox. He’d finish the season with 63 steals. Despite being the greatest 2nd baseman in Philadelphia baseball history, these days Collins is probably better known as the “honest” guy on the 1919 Black Sox.

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, he was an innovator of the electric scoreboard, 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 (Supposedly. The doctor who diagnosed him was never found). 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. As a newspaper reported the next day, “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. 

An Athletic You Should Know: Eccentric Madman Rube Waddell

There’s one position in each team sport that requires more mental toughness than all of the rest.  In football it’s the quarterback, in basketball it’s the point guard, in hockey it’s the goalie, and in baseball it’s the pitcher.  With pitching comes the relentless pressure of knowing that you are one mistake away from single-handedly losing the game for your team.  Whether it’s a defense mechanism to cope with this stress, or simply a job requirement, major league pitchers, especially lefties, are generally the weirdest players on the field.  And the oddest of the bunch was Philadelphia Athletics’ pitcher, Rube Waddell.

A harbinger of things to come, George Edward Waddell was born on Friday the 13th in October of 1876 in  northeastern Pennsylvania.  He learned his craft on nearby farmland by throwing rocks at crows trying to poach seeds as they were being planted.  Waddell developed farm boy size and was soon dominating the local youth baseball league.

When he was 19, he earned a spot on Butler’s local semi-pro team anddisplayed an overpowering fastball.  He also displayed a childlike rawness that reflected his provincial background.  When he started playing, he would bean any runner who hit a groundball back to the mound instead of forcing the player out at first, explaining “hit the batter and he’s out where I come from.”  Discovered by a traveling salesman in 1896, Waddell was offered a job on the Franklin Braves in the newly-formed Iron and Oil League.

When Waddell arrived in Franklin, catcher Jack Nelson gave him the nickname “Rube,” which was reserved for hicks and it stuck immediately.  Although there was no questioning his talent, Waddell’s head was often somewhere other than in the game.  He would leave in the middle of games to go fishing, or, if a firetruck passed the field he would run off and chase it.  He would also go on drinking benders and disappear for days on end.

After Franklin folded, Waddell’s next opportunity came with Volant, a local college.  Volant made Rube an offer he couldn’t refuse: free tuition and room and board, in addition to $1 per game and free tobacco.    At Volant, both his skill and his eccentricities were on full display.  He was absolutely dominant as the lefty had developed a sharp curve ball and great control.  He averaged 15 strikeouts per 7-inning game.  More than once, Rube called for all of his players to the leave the field and pitched with no defense behind him.  Waddell would celebrate three-strikeout innings by cartwheeling, or walking on his hands, or somersaulting off the field back to the dugout.

With these antics, he soon caught the attention of major league baseball teams and signed with the National League’s Louisville Colonels in 1897.  However, he lasted just two games and left after being fined $50 for drinking, which had by this time become a major problem.  Over the course of the next few years, he split time between the majors and the minors.  In 1902, Connie Mack took a risk on the oddball and signed him to the Philadelphia Athletics.

As an Athletic, Waddell immediately turned things around and put up unreal numbers in 1902 en route to clinching the franchise’s first pennant.  His first start came on June 26th, 51 games into the season.  Appearing in only 33 games that year, he compiled a 24-7 record, a 2.05 ERA, led the American League with 210 strikeouts (50 more than runner-up Cy Young who appeared in 100 more innings than did Waddell).  He also pitched baseball’s first immaculate inning on July 1st.  Over the course of Waddell’s career in Philadelphia, from ’03-’07, he won 21, 25, 27, 15 and 19 games respectively.  His ERA with the A’s was a paltry 1.97 with a low of 1.48 in 1905.  During that season, Waddell was motoring along until he got into a fight with a teammate over a straw hat and injured his throwing shoulder.  This injury cost him the last month of the season, including the World Series. (Phillies owner Horace Fogel said Waddell was absent because he was paid off.)  From ’04-’07 he pitched at least 7 shutouts per season.  He also led the majors in strikeouts over 5 consecutive seasons.  His record of 349 ks in 1904 stood for 60 seasons until Sandy Koufax struck out 382 in 1965.

Waddell’s turnaround was a direct result of Connie Mack’s managing.  According to Mack, Waddell “had more stuff than any pitcher I ever saw. He had everything but a sense of responsibility.”  Because of this, Mack paid Waddell on an as-needed basis in singles so he wouldn’t blow his earnings on alcohol.  While Mack could control Waddell’s paychecks, he couldn’t control all of the idiosyncrasies.  Waddell’s fascination with fire departments continued throughout his time with the A’s and he routinely wore red under his clothing just in case a fire bell would ring.  He missed starts because he was fishing, or was late to games because he was playing marbles in the streets of Philadelphia with children.  He was married three times and was often put in jail for missing alimony payments.

Cooperstown historian Lee Allen succinctly described 1903 in the life of Rube Waddell:

He began that year sleeping in a firehouse in Camden, New Jersey, and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling, West Virginia. In between those events he won 22 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, played left end for the Business Men’s Rugby Football Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, toured the nation in a melodrama called The Stain of Guilt, courted, married and became separated from May Wynne Skinner of Lynn, Massachusetts, saved a woman from drowning, accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and was bitten by a lion.

Other examples of the bizarre with Waddell include:

  • He wrestled alligators during the off season.
  • He played for two Philadelphia Athletics clubs in 1902: the baseball club and the Philadelphia Athletics of the first National Football League (at 6’2″ and 200 lbs. he was a fullback).
  • He almost shot Connie Mack in the head when a pistol fell out of his pocket and fired at the team hotel.
  • His contract included a clause, at his catcher’s insistence, that prohibited Waddell from eating crackers in bed.  During the early years, players would share beds on road trips and Ossee Schreckengost couldn’t sleep because of the crumbs.
  • In 1903, he climbed into the stands to beat up a spectator who was heckling him and was suspended for 5 games.
  • In one game, Waddell was at bat in the 8th inning with 2 outs and a man on second.  After a pitch, the catcher threw to second in a pick-off attempt, but the ball sailed into the outfield.  The A’s runner took off and was rounding home to score when the center fielder fired home.  Waddell, with bat still in hand, swung and hit the ball back into play.  He was called out for interference.  His explanation for the gaffe, “They’d been feeding me curves all afternoon, and this was the first straight ball I’d looked at!”

At the end of the 1907 season, Waddell was slumping badly and was then sold to St. Louis “in the interests of team unity.”  He pitched out the final three years of his major league career before drinking his way back to the minors in 1911.

The events surrounding Waddell’s death were just as memorable as those surrounding his life.  In the fall of 1912, he was living in Kentucky with friends when a nearby dam collapsed and caused devastating flooding in the region.  Waddell immediately went to help out in whatever way he could, by pulling people out of homes and by working for hours on end in cold water piling up sandbags.  Although his actions were herioc, they also proved costly as he developed pneumonia.  As a result, his body was severely weakened and he battled bouts of pneumonia and tuberculosis from which he never fully recovered.  He died in 1914 at the age of 37…on April Fool’s day.

In 1946, he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  By all accounts, Waddell was known much more for his eccentricities than for his talent.  But there is no doubt that the former rivaled the latter as Waddell was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.

The Greatest Left Handed Catcher in MLB History Was a Phillie

For the past century, almost no left handers have strapped on shin guards and gone behind the plate. A long season makes people do goofy things, so there have been occasional glimpses of lefties, but they have been more of a novelty than anything. The Cubs Dale Long caught two games in 1958, White Sox 1B Mike Squires caught a few games in the early 80s, and Benny Distefano caught for 6 innings for the Pirates as an emergency replacement in 1989. He was the last lefty to wear the tools of ignorance.

Only 5 left handers have caught over 100 games, and all of them played in the 19th century. The first lefty to go behind the plate was Philly native Bill Harbridge, who did so for the Hartford Dark Blues in 1876. He would catch 128 games. But there was only one left handed catcher who had a long, impressive career behind the plate. That was Jack Clements, who played on the Phillies from 1884-1897. (Not only was he the last every day lefty catcher, he was also the first catcher to ever wear a chest protector.) Though defensive stats are unavailable, we do have this little gem from the Phildelphia Ledger to let us know what kind of a catcher he was…his fine throwing held runners so closely to their bases, that they could not get around unless by consecutive hitting or through errors by the fielders.

Clements was a fine hitter, batting .287 for his career but hitting .350 or high for three straight years from 1894-1896. (The 1894 team was one of the greatest hitting teams in baseball history, with all 3 outfielders hitting over .400 and the team hitting .350 as a group.) Clements had some pop, too, hitting 17 homers in 1893 and finishing his career as the only 19th century player who played in 1,000 or more games with more career homers (77) than triples (60). Bill James had him listed as the 58th greatest catcher ever, and he certainly can be included in the discussion with Lieberthal, Boone, Seminick, and Daulton for greatest Phillies catcher of all time.

Did Delahanty Get Stuck in a Doghouse?

Welcome to Delahanty Day here at PSH. This is a good one. It comes to us from the Baseball Hall of Shame 3. There is no exact date on this one, but it supposedly happened in July of 1892. The following from the book.

It happened at the Huntington Grounds, where Philadelphia was playing host to Chicago. That stadium had one unique characteristic-a “doghouse”. It was a tiny structure with an oval topped doorway that made it look like it had been built for man’s best friend. The doghouse was situated at the base of the flagpole in right field and was used to store numbers for the scoreboard.

In the 8th inning of game the Phils led, 2-1, future Hall of Famer Cap Anson came to the plate. He hit a ball into right field that somehow got stuck in the doghouse. Big Ed tied to crawl in to retrieve the ball. Again from the book:

“From the grandstand, all that was visible was the rear elevation of his country seat,” wrote W.N. Pringle, a spectator whose account of the incredible incident was published 16 years later. “His heels were kicking in the air in a lively manner in his frantic efforts to extricate himself. 

In the meantime, Mr. Anson was clearing the bases at a lively clip amid the greatest excitement I ever saw on a ballfield. I do not think there were a dozen people in that immense crowd who were not on their feet, laughing, cheering and yelling themselves hoarse, and throwing hats, canes, and umbrellas in the air.”

By the time teammate Sam Thompson helped Delahanty out of the doghouse, 3 runs had scored and the Cubs had taken a 4-2 lead. At least, that’s what the book (and presumably Mr. Pringle) would have us believe. However, the Phils won all their home games against the Cubs in 1892, with the Cubs never scoring 4 or more runs in Philly. And I can’t find any other mention of the story online. Is Big Ed getting a bum rap in an embarrassing story? As of press time, I have been unable to contact Mr. Pringle or anyone else who was at that game. If you know any Phillies fans from the 1890s, have them get a hold of me.

Grady Commits 4 Errors in One Play, then Saves Women and Children from Deadly Fire

Sometimes, I come across something so insane, so ridiculous, that I have to find a way to tie to Philadelphia, no matter how tentative the connection. This is one of those times. Mike Grady was born in Kennett Square, and started his career for the Phillies, so there’s your connection. But it was a couple of things he did while a member of the Giants that makes this story worth writing.

In 1899, Grady had a ground ball hit to him while playing third base. He bobbled it, committing error number one. He then scooped it up and threw it to first, sailing it over the first baseman’s head. Error #2. The right fielder chased it down, and noticed the runner taking off for third. He threw it to Grady. The ball bounced off his glove and headed to the outfield. The runner broke for home. Grady ran, grabbed the ball, and still had a shot at glory, if he could just nail the runner at the plate. He could not. The ball went sailing over the catchers glove, giving poor Mike Grady 4 errors in one play.

However, the Chester County native would go from goat to hero less than a year later. He was walking to the Polo Grounds with teammates Kid Gleason (who would later manage the Black Sox) and George Davis. They saw smoke and flames rising from an apartment building. Davis scurried up a fire escape and rescued a woman from the 3rd floor. Gleason and Grady ran up to the 4th floor, rescuing a Mrs. Tibbets and her 3 year old. Grady then ran back up to the 3rd floor and helped to rescue a Mrs. Pease. The three players then made their way to the ballpark, where they tied the Boston Beaneaters 10-10. In September of that year, Grady and Davis were both involved in what is believed to be the first triple steal in MLB history. Grady retired to Kennett Square, where he passed away in 1943 at age 73. He is in the Chester County Hall of Fame.

Photo of the Day

A pic of birthday boy Dan Brouthers who would be turning 153 today. Brouthers played for a remarkable 10 different teams in his career, including the 1896 season with the Phillies. Brouthers was a 19th century giant, standing all of 6’2″ and weighing over 200 pounds, and once killed a catcher named Johnny Quigley by running over him. He retired after his season in Philly, and his .342 career batting average ranks him 9th all time in MLB history, remarkable since it seems he used a tiny little bat (above).

History at the Penn Relays

Jesse Owens at the Penn Relays

The Penn Relays are taking place now through Saturday at Franklin Field. Officially the Penn Relay Carnival, the Relays are the longest running uninterrupted collegiate meet in the United States. The first meet was held in 1895 (a year before the first modern Olympics) and is considered the birthplace of the modern relay. The event has long drawn the top high school, collegiate and Olympic level athletes from around the country and beyond.

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Frosty Bill Duggleby Goes Yard

April 21, 1898 was a heady day for Bill Duggleby. He was taking the mound for his first ever start in the Major Leagues. Furthermore, when he stepped up to the plate for his first career at bat, the bases were juiced. “Frosty” Bill, as he would come to be known for his lack of desire to make friends on the team and the fact that he wore a black suit even in summer, gave the pitch a good swing and-CRACK-sent it hurtling into the stratosphere. The Phils pitcher circled the bases and entered into the record books. He was the first player to ever hit a grand slam in his first ever career at-bat. No-one would do it again for 107 years, when Jeremy Hermida did it in his first at bat in 2005. The next year, Kevin Kouzmanoff would do it, and incredibly, in 2010 Daniel Nava would do it. After no-one had done it in 107 years, 3 guys did it in 5 years. Baseball, as they say, is a funny game.

What made it more remarkable was that Duggleby didn’t turn out to be much of a slugger. In his next 648 career at bats, he hit 5 home runs. Only 5 Phillies since Duggleby have homered in their first at bats. They are Ace Parker, Heinie Mueller, Ed Sanicki, Ricky Jordan, and Marlon Anderson.