From the Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/31/1935, Magazine Section, pp. 6-7, 12 (57 digitally)
IT’S “BATTER UP!” TIME on the CITY’S SANDLOTS
BY G. WATSON JAMES JR.
THE malady or whatever it is strikes you about the middle of March. You are possessed with a strange, restless, feeling. You gaze out of the office window and more than likely miss several appointments during the day. You can’t sleep and you don’t eat very much. As like as not you find yourself gazing, abstractly, into the window of a sporting goods store. The family suggests that you go to see the doctor; that you probably have a touch of spring fever. If this advice is taken, 10 chances to 1, the doctor looks you over and tells you to take more exercise or “the fatal dose.” There are, apparently, no definite results from this treatment.
You then feel as if a trip down to Mayo’s Island with a bamboo pole and a box of worms to catch catfish might be the solution. Then without any warning you hear a yell from the alley, “C’on skinny, we’re gonna play ‘structions.” “I vench on batter.” And then the whole thing clears up, as you rush madly out to see a mob of yelling kids on the neighborhood sand lot. “Twas a sand-lot baseball game you needed.
We suffered terribly from this malady last week, and having decided what was the definite cure, conceived a brilliant idea?
Imbued with the bright idea, who should we run into but Charlie Nash.
“What do you know about sandlot baseball, way back when…,” we queries.
“What do I know about it – Well, my brother, Bill Nash, was one of the old-timers, who worked for Boschen when he ran the baseball park up near the R. F. & P. Railroad…and his teammates were Johnson and Glenn…and, but the way, brother Bill was bought by a scout from the Boston team and played with it 15 years…and that was before the days when they had a park where the Lee Monument is now, and Lonnie Graves umpired and they didn’t have pop, and sold beer for refreshments…
THEN and there was started a wild goose chase which ended last Thursday in the office of Albert O. Boshcen, veteran legislator. Charlie Nash told us that the only men in Richmond who knew anything about those days were Manny Sycle and Albert Boschen. We went to see Manny Sycle. He forgot all about NRA codes and buying for next season and suggested that we get hold of Sam Eichel and Sonnie Hattorf and Buddy Ladenburg. “Manny” was certain that Leftwich could help with our great literary effort, and, of course, the trail led to the “daddy” of later baseball in Richmond, Dr. George Bagby, and so on ad infinitum.
So begins this story of sand-lot baseball and the first professional baseball in Richmond. It would appear from Manny Sycle that one of the first sand-lot teams was under the management of Tim West, and that the sand-lot was located on the present site of the City Hall. There, Manny as a youngster, and a proud one, was tickled to death when allowed to chase balls for Barley Kain, Harry Leftwich, Jim Tresden, and others who tossed the sphere where now the City Fathers deliberate, and we pay our gas bills.
Another great sand-lot aggregation, which graduated men to big baseball later on, was the Sheep Hill Gang. They played on the lot, the location of which was indefinitely described as “just this side of Boschen’s Park,” of which, more anon. The boys who played with the Sheep Hill “Invincibles,” or “Unconquerables” – whatever they were called – were Barely Kain, Napier, Earnhart, Bill James, Puss Luck, Albert Anthony and Jim McEvoy, to say nothing of the famous battery composed of Fergusson and the catcher, Pitsie Morgan. Pitsie, by the way according to Manny, caught with a juicy beef steak in his hand instead of a glove. There was no such thing as a glove in those days. Fergusson, incidentally, was an all-round, all-over-the-lot player with a 400 per cent batting average.
Well, this gang often took on the lads from Butcher Town Flats, Church Hill, and the famous Clay Street team, of which Hattorf was catcher, Bernie Ratcliffe, pitcher, Manny Sycle, shortstop, Frank Johnson second base, Dancey, first base, Eddie Birch, third base, Sam Sycle, center field, Clyde Ratcliffe, right field, and Charlie Habliston in the left end of the lot.
Every Sunday if you were in the vicinity of the west side of the reservoir embankment, you would hear “Play Ball,” and see the aggregation known as the Country Club of Virginia lining up to take all comers into camp. There was Puss Luck, catcher, Hicks, alternating with him at the sack; Phil Schloss at first base, Sam Eichel holding down second base, and Manny Syle at his old job, stopping the hot ones between second and third, backed up by Buddy Ladenberg. Sam Sycle was out in left field, pulling them down out of the ether; Eugene Pile over in the right field, and Bill Landrum shooting fast ones across the plate.
When the boys got hot and tired, there was Bill Snellings to serve refreshments at the club, and doubtless the gang guzzled many a mug of “suds” particularly on the day when the Forest Hill “Non-suchers” went down into ignominious defeat before the Country Club lads to the tune of 5 to 3.
HERE we leave the sand-lotters for a little history of the beginning of professional baseball in Richmond. The dean of it all appears to have been Henry Boschen, who conducted an old-fashioned shoe manufactory between Second and Third Streets on Broad Street. Henry Boschen trained Eddie Glenn, Pop Tate, of beloved memory, Paul Latouche, Jim Powell, nephew of the Powell who ran the old Richmond Theatre, Barefoot R. F. Butler, Bill Nash, and Puss Luck. Glenn, Tate and Nash were employed by Mr. Boschen and formed a nucleus for the team that had as its home plot what was known as Boschen’s Field, opposite the R. F. & P. yards and very close to the first factory erected by Mrs. Kidd of “Pin Money Pickle” fame.
Under the leadership of “Daddy Boschen,” this first professional team delighted thousands of Richmonders before a world series was ever imagined. According to Albert Boschen, his father not only managed the team, coached the men but could hurl a fast one across the plate. He is credited by his son as being probably the first man to develop what was later known as a “spit ball.” Pop Tate caught the fast ones as they came over from Boschen’s arm, and we might say in passing that the “Daddy of Richmond baseball” could pitch some “upshot.”
We switch for the moment from Albert Boschen’s office to Manny Sycle, comfortably seated in the middle of the West Broad Street establishment. Manny takes up the story when the first Virginia League was organized, and his father, Simon Sycle, Capt. Charlie Epps, Thomas Alfriend, Charles Stegar and Mr. Seddon were directors. This organization took over the men trained by Mr. Boschen, and the ball park was moved to the site of the Lee monument, its central gate being approximately where the circle around the monument is today. The park area extended south to Cary Street. Here, it is of record, that no less a person than John L. Sullivan, silk hat and swallow tail coat, crashed the gate even though “Lonnie” Graves was taking in the pasteboards.
“THEM was the days,” according to Charlie Nash. After the boys had ridden out in carriages, hacks, or proceeded westward on “shank’s mare,” and yelled themselves hoarse, rooted for Charlie Fergusson or Pat Morgan or the Dugan brothers, a famous battery, in those days, there was a grand rush for the long brass rail beneath the grandstand, where Theodore Boschen had the refreshment concession. Here may have been cigars, but it is a cinch there was no pop, soda, or crackerjacks. There was Bock, Lager, and 100 proof.
From that old ball park, now the center of Richmond’s “Michigan [Monument] Avenue,” went Billy Nash to Philadelphia big league ball, and thence to Boston and Pop Tate to the Baltimore Orioles and Johnson up to the city “where the Cabots speak only to the Lodges and the Lodges speak only to God.”
But before we bid adieu to this epoch in Richmond baseball, we cannot forget the famous game when Mr. Boschen, with his team the “Richmonders,” played the Virginia team, largely composed of the men he trained in his factory. One of the highlights of the game, according, to Albert Boschen, was when Billy Barfoot caught one of Charlie Fergusson’s “inshoots” and drove it to the infield fence with such force that it hit the upper part of the plank above the top rail of the fence and broke the plank off. In truth, “them was the days,” when they used beef steak for gloves and young saplings for bats. What a grand old man was “Daddy” Boschen, who numbered among his best friends Al Reach of the Philadelphia Athletics. It was through Mr. Boschen, incidentally, that Charlie Fergusson was sold to the Philadelphia aggregation for $3,000 – Babe Ruth take notice!
But with the changing styles came the change in ball parks, and in the due course of human event, when spring had just turned the corner, professional baseball was played at Vine and Main Street, also on Mayo’s Island, which was originally a sand lot. It is of record that in 1890 Messrs. Donald, Latouche and others organized a new baseball club known as the “Virginia,” composed of John Disney, William Disney, T. C. West, Charles Kain, H. L. Leftwich, Oscar Foster, Richard Hattorf, T. Latouche, Ed Luck, W. Napier, and L. Green. John Disney, as many old timers will remember was the genial host of Murphy’s Hotel.
Then there was the Virginia Tri-City League, composed of the “Virginia Brights,” “Forest Hill” and “Petersburg” teams. The Forest Hill team, incidentally, met the first woman’s baseball team ever to play in Virginia. The second baseman of the former team, according to his own account was much embarrassed when one of the women players made a two base hit, came sliding into second base and made it safely because the bewildered male covering the sack was a bit confused where to tag his opponent.
Then came the days of the old Broad Street Baseball Park and the famous league of Scranton, Wilkes Barre, and if memory serves us, Trenton and Newark. Those were the days of Tannyhill, Chesbro, Elberfield, Seybold, Reddy Foster, Jake Wells, etc.
In those days the famous place for “chislers” was the top of the frame dwelling that still stands in a triangular lot where Allen Avenue dead-ends in Broad Street. Many a kid has gotten in the gate by chasing a home-run ball in that neck of the woods.
WE thought we have ancient baseball down pat until we drifted into Doc Bagby’s pharmacy, and were told of the days when the lads wore skin-tight trousers and the rules of the gamer were thus! – The catcher always caught the ball on the first bounce. The batter had the option of calling for a low ball or a high ball. The low ball had to be between the waist and the knee and the high ball between the chin and the waist. If the old-time pitcher didn’t serve one or the other of these balls, it was just too bad.
Imagine, if you will, in a world series game if it was the rule that nine balls had to be pitched before there were three balls, and of some such warning from the umpire floating across the Yankee Stadium, “Warning – Mr. Pitcher…” As this evidently sounds queers, dear reader, we will explain, as explained to us by Doctor Bagby.
If the batter called for a low or a high ball and the pitcher failed to meet these conditions nine times, the umpire would cry “Warning – Mr. Pitcher.” If the tenth ball was wild, the batsman walked leisurely to the first sack. Again if the batter struck three times without connecting, the Chesterdelphian arbiter of the game would in his best English shout: “Warning, Mr. Batter,” and if Mr. Batter struck and missed the fourth time, he was out!
If you can’t figure this out, reader, try to sometime when you are off cross-word puzzles. Nevertheless it obtained just as did the skin tight breeches, a pair of which ripped on Dr. Bagby during a hotly contested game. “Doc” made for the dugout and reappeared later clothed in his right mind, per se, ordinary pants.
Now when one has the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Bagby it is tantamount to interviewing the dean of what we might term modern inter-city and tri-city baseball. It all happened this way. Back in 1906, when city baseball consisted of games between teams from various churches, Doc was called upon to umpire the championship game won by the Second Baptist Church, captained by Cleve Bailey. Shortly thereafter, Cleve sounded out the genial pharmacist with a view to his manipulating a team that would take on some of the “nines” from other cities. As “Doc” loved baseball like nobody’s business, he straightaway formed the famous “Collegians” in the spring of 1907. Here we come to such baseball figures as Stanley Clark and John Russell, catchers; Crawford and Fitzpatrick, pitchers; Woody Ford, first base; Cleve Bailey, second base; “Pete” Sheppard, short stop, “Jack” Collins, third base, “Eddie” Rose and Olen Owlin Richardson in the out field; to say nothing of Billy Sitterding, Fergus McCree and Fritz Sitterding.
Later on the “Collegians” had such stars as Gus Ezikiel, Dr. Harry Hinchman, who hurled the sphere, and Harry Augustine, who held down the third sack. Harry, but the way, is a bank official in Baltimore at the present time. The “Collegians’” “meat” was Fredericksburg, and Chase City, but particularly the Charlottesville Y. M. C. A. aggregation, captained by Eppa Rixey of National League fame. The Collegians and the Y. M. C. A. outfit always played on the anniversary of the independence of our country, and the collegians usually won – Stand up and cheer, old-timers!
Then the Collegians used to play Dr. William H. Parker’s Church Hill team, and that swell battery he had composed of Frank Bolling and Joe Bolling. Out of this grew the Amateur Baseball Commission, of which Dr. Bagby was a member. The rest of the story is too modern for this chronicle.
No record, however, of the Collegians would be complete without touching on the great game played at Fredericksburg which the Collegians captured to the tune of 1 to 0 in eleven innings. Mickey Kelleher hurled for the George Washington’s hometown boys and Johnny Mace was catcher. Zanetti, who afterwards became famous on the Lynchburg team, was also with the Rappahannock boys. It was one of those games when you pulled your neighbor’s necktie and scratched his ear in sheer abandon. Owlin Richardson was playing center field; Fitzpatrick pitching, there was one man on second base and two outs, when Mickey Kelleher stepped up to the plate. From all accounts Mickey was a home-run king’ so Doc Bagby signaled to Fitzpatrick to pass him. Fitzpatrick couldn’t see it that way, so shot a fast one across the plate. Mickey connected and the ball seemed destined to rest somewhere between Quantico and Washington. There was a sinking feeling as the sphere went hurling through the blue; but according to Doc Bagby, Owlin Richardson, 10-second man, jumped six feet in the air and pulled the ball down to terra firma in his glove. Whereupon the crowd went wild and one estimable old Negro baseball fan shouted above the pandemonium, “Good God, don’t eber tell me dat ‘dem’ boys from Richmond don’t know baseball!”
THEN the great game when Dr. Harry Hinchman shut out Chase City 3 to 0, and Fitzpatrick didn’t show up for the second game of the double-header. Dr. Bagby relates how he went back to the hotel and told the boys that the jig was up. Eight of them might have believed it, but Dr. Hinchman didn’t, and what’s more, backed up his disbelief by shutting out the Chase City boys for the second time. No wonder his old manager was enthusiastic the other night, and justified, when he said that the well-known Richmond physician “was the speediest pitcher the city ever turned out.”
Now Dr. Bagby also has the distinction of playing ball until he was 47 years of age and of organizing the “Doctor’s Team,” on which he played first base. Incidentally Dr. D. Hinchman was the hurler with Douglas Call on the receiving end. During one of their games, Dr. Bagby got two triples, a double and a single out of four times at bat.
Musing the other night on the days when the medicos mopped up, “Doc” related an incident which happened at a game played in Norfolk.
As he ambled up to the bat, his hat flew off and one bright soul in the bleachers yelled, “My, that’s an old man.”
To which, Doc replied, “Come down. I’ll make you think I’m not.”
“Shoot her out, old man,” was the retort. Doc did, and furthermore, stole second, finally getting around to third when his wondering coach from the bleacher yelled, “Come on in, old man, and get a drink.” “Doc” reached home plate, and got the drink.
And so ends another epoch in baseball, except to say that as late as 1930, the doctor coached a team for the Second Baptist Church that mopped up the bity boys in grand style.
NOW this very disconnected and rambling account of the great American game cannot be closed without returning to a few of the sand-lotters via George Rogers, veteran city official, whom we encountered in our wanderings and who proudly stated in the presence of witnesses that he was the manager of the Fulton Brownies; furthermore that his aggregation had beaten the celebrated “Jimplecutes,” managed by Otis Thompson. The home field of the Rogers nine was on R. E. Lee grounds in the vicinity of Fulton, and some of the boys were: Charlie Echo, Albert Anthony, Jim Bowers, Arthur Lee Shorp, William Morgan, Danny Hogan and William “Bee” Gathright. Among their opponents on the “Jimplecutes” were Stanley Bigby, Claude Hooker, John “Yiddy” Bishop, “Mac” Levy and Paul Bender. Then there was the Barton Heights “Unconquerable,” which had in their line-up Harden E. Bache, John R. Rose Jr., Letcher Boone and Bob Triton. They played baseball too. Ask any of them if they didn’t.
Thus we come to that time when we can remember something about sand-lot baseball, when the site of the Virginia Electric and Power Company’s building consisted of a mass of rails, skims, spikes, rocks and other material which was conducive to good playing. We remember that on this lot played Fergus McCrea, “Bub” DesPortes, “Billy” Davidson, “Jim” Wheat, “Billy” Young, Dutton Pearson and we also ran.
Now before the 14 points were broached to a war-torn world, the “Helegomites” played the “Fourth Street Terrors” at Harrison and Franklin Streets, and in the lineup was John James, R. Homer Wood, Otway Chalkley, Carl Walker, Earl “Roll” Miller – we what’s the use, we can’t remember any of the rest of them.
And while these future citizens of our fair city were holding down the sand-lot, before mentioned, the famous “Eagles” were doing their stuff at their old stamping ground on Meadow between Stuart and Park Avenue. There could be seen any afternoon when spring came around, William Beveridge, pitching; “Bunny” Crump, catching; Bunks Wood, as short stop; George Minter, on the first sack; Bob Saville, at second, and H. Garrett at third, ably supported by John Simpson in center field, Michaux Crump, right field, and J. Vaughan Gary, left field, later of legislative fame.
“Bunny” Crump, known in railroad circles as Burnleigh Crump, sat in with us at a “bull session” the other day. He put us wise to a magnificent system and fine example of strategy as adopted by the “Eagles.” Bunny had carefully cut his favorite piece of cake, stirred his coffee, and consumed his last green pea, when he chortled the following story:
“It was all right if the home team won, but a riot if the visiting aggregation had the edge. If the ‘Eagles’ happened to be the visiting and apparently the winning team, why the system was like this: - The catcher signaled to the pitcher to let ‘em get a few hits – not too many, so as to prevent the home players and rooters from assembling an assortment of rock, tin cans and brick bats. If the ‘Eagles’’ pitcher couldn’t resist the temptation to still fool them, then as the ninth inning came with two outs, why it was everyman for himself in nothing flat; else bandages and the hospital for some few ‘Eagles.’”
“Bunny” knows, because he was trained on the famous sand-lot which is now West Clay Street. He also got the “beat it” technique from yearling days on the “Slaughter Pen” lot of dear and savory memory.
Now let’s draw the curtain, with the invitation to all sad-lotters to pipe up if they can beat this attack of spring fever.