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Criminals in Baseball

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  • #61
    CHARLIE SWEENEY - The road to the Hall of Fame passes through Murderer's Row....

    Way back before the Pacific Coast League was formed in 1903, California was a hotbed of talent just waiting to be tapped into by the ‘old’ National League. Records are pretty sporadic for players in the early 1880s, but from all accounts, a young pitcher named Charles Sweeney had the goods to make it big. Sweeney was one of the very best players to come out of the California State League during the very early days of the game. In 1882, he made a name for himself in the CSL by possessing a devastatingly nasty curveball (one of the first ever hurlers to throw that pitch) to go with a blazing fastball, although he was barely 20 years old. Hall of Famer Tim Keefe, who had seen Sweeney pitch while on a visit to the West Coast, once called him "the best pitcher I have ever seen."

    Unfortunately, Sweeney was also one of the most troubled players in history. His extremely volatile temper was more than a curse, it was practically his complete downfall. In fact, when Ty Cobb started to make a name for himself - and was becoming notorious for his hair-trigger temper - a sportswriter once claimed that he had seen Charlie Sweeney play and that Ty had nothing on Charlie!

    On May 14, 1883, Sweeney was on the mound for a team from San Francisco - the Niantics - pitching against a strong Haverly team. After uncharacteristically giving up eight runs in the third inning, his manager moved him to second base in favor of a new pitcher. Sweeney grudgingly moved to second base but was fuming the entire time. When the Niantics took the field in the fifth inning, Sweeney refused to take his new position again. The rules at the time stated that no substitute could be inserted since Sweeney, himself, had been inserted as a substitute at second base and only one substitution per position, per game, was allowed, so the team was forced to go with the eight players they had on the field, awkwardly attempting to position them to fill all the gaps. As a result of this disadvantage (not to mention Sweeney’s lousy pitching performance) the Niantics lost the game 21-3. Sweeney didn’t even bother to tell his manager that he was through with the team - he just walked off the field and never returned.

    His talent was well-known, however, and he was quickly snatched up by the Providence Grays of the old National League. When he arrived, he was pleased to learn that two of his friends from the CSL, catcher Sandy Nava and third baseman Jerry Denny, were already with the squad. He took a particular shine to Nava (whom many credit as being the first Hispanic player in professional baseball) who, although a weak hitter, would become Sweeney’s ‘designated catcher’, as the pitcher insisted that Nava be behind the plate for most, if not all, of his outings. Sweeney was also joining the great Charles ‘Old Hoss’ Radbourn in the Grays’ pitching ‘rotation.’ Sweeney would compile a mediocre 7-7 record with Providence in 1883 but the best was yet to come. Or was it…….?

    Sweeney got off to a great start with Providence in 1884 and, on June 8, his fastball, coupled with his amazing curveball, completely baffled Boston as he struck out an unheard-of 19 batters (called ‘strikers’ at the time. A catcher was called a ‘behind’.) This was something akin to superhuman in the old deadball days of contact hitting. The record stood for several decades, although subsequently tied, until Roger Clemens broke it with his 20 strikeouts in a game in 1986. Following that incredible pitching performance, Charlie Sweeney was the toast of the town of Providence! He was wined and dined by worshipful fans and was becoming a local hero very quickly. According to some accounts, Radbourn, who had been the team’s ace prior to Sweeney’s arrival, had a bit of a jealous streak upon seeing Sweeney’s newfound fame and adulation. He didn’t have to wait long, however, to see it all come crashing down on Charlie Sweeney.

    On July 23, Sweeney was pitching a nice game and leading Philadelphia 6-2 in the seventh inning when Providence manager Frank Bancroft, having noticed Sweeney frequently massaging his arm as though it was hurting him, decided to move him to the outfield so that Radbourn could mop up for him. Sweeney went ballistic and refused to give the ball to Old Hoss. In those days, many pitchers considered it an insult if he wasn’t allowed to finish what he started, especially when he had pitched as well as Sweeney had. As he had done the previous year with the Niantics, he stormed off the field, after having assumed his position in left field, thus ensuring the Grays would have to play with only eight men in the field. Bancroft, incensed, found Sweeney in the clubhouse changing into his street clothes and read him the Riot Act. Sweeney, in turn, called Bancroft what the papers termed an ‘opprobrious name’ and left in a huff. This childish behavior went a great deal toward Hoss Radbourn’s Hall of Fame pitching career. Once he was again the only ace of the staff, he was dominant the rest of the year and posted an amazing 59 victories (some credit him with 60.)

    Sweeney was still in demand, however, and the St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association, which would last just the one season of 1884, picked him up. He had won 17 games with Providence with a 1.55 ERA and prospered again with his new team, going 24-7 with a 1.83 ERA. In total, he was 41-15 in 1884 and was easily among the very elite of professional pitchers. He even batted .307.

    It was after this season that Charlie Sweeney began to go downhill quickly – both his baseball career and his life. After his huge 1884 season, his arm became sore. That blossomed into full-blown pain and he could never throw his famous fastball as fast again. His curveball became predictable as a result and in 1885, he went 11-21 with St. Louis, this time in the National League. His arm went almost completely dead in 1886 when he started only eleven games and went 5-6. He still holds the record for surrendering seven, count’ em, SEVEN! home runs in a single game in 1886. After 1887, nobody took up his contract and he was forced to retire after a brilliant, yet sporadic, career.

    For a few years, Sweeney wandered from one job to another until, in 1894, he took a job as a bartender in a San Francisco saloon which was owned by the ‘King of Portero Hill’, Frank McManus. This was the beginning of the end for Charlie Sweeney – and where murder enters the picture. Or, at least, what was called ‘murder.’

    As it happened, Frank McManus was a feared gangster who had most of the San Francisco politicians in his back pocket. He ruled the notorious ‘Irish Hill’ neighborhood of the city, which was located near the modern-day western end of the Bay Bridge (for those of you not familiar with SF, sorry, but I am a proud Bay Area native and this stuff matters to me!) McManus’ brother, Con, started a fight with Sweeney that fateful night that ended in Con McManus' death. Sweeney fired three shots, two of which ‘took effect’ according to newspaper reports. It was reported that when Charlie Sweeney heard that Con McManus had died, he broke down and ‘cried like a child’, swearing that he never meant to kill McManus but that he had been provoked. It goes without saying that he was also frightened because everyone knew that Con’s brother, Frank, owned much of the city and would likely be looking for Sweeney.

    Upon hearing that his brother had been killed, Frank McManus did, indeed, declare that he would kill Charlie Sweeney. Sweeney, meanwhile, had been arrested, booked and incarcerated for the killing, even though it was likely in self-defense. At one point, McManus showed up at the prison where Sweeney was being held and demanded to see him. When he was refused, McManus stuck his foot in the door as it was being closed on him and tried to force his way in. He was finally turned away.

    McManus arranged for a funeral for his brother but the priests refused to say High Mass at the service because of McManus’ reputation. McManus, being the louse he was, threw cobblestones through the stained glass windows of the church and threatened the priests’ lives. Frank McManus was finally apprehended while carrying a ladder on his back in front of the San Francisco Examiner building. He was attempting to post a huge sign protesting the non-actions of the priests.

    There’s more to this story but I won’t bore you any more other than to say that Sweeney’s trial was a farce and a travesty of justice. Despite the fact that the evidence was overwhelming that Con McManus was the aggressor in the fight that led to his death, nobody would testify against ‘King’ Frank McManus and Sweeney was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison in San Quentin. He was released after three years. It was also brought to light in the media that McManus had intimidated and bribed jurors but nothing came of that.

    Sweeney died of tuberculosis three years after his release at the age of 38 in 1902. “King” Frank McManus was already dead by then of congestive heart failure in 1896.

    Charlie Sweeney. Amazing talent. Yet another player of Hall of Fame potential who denied himself because of his temperament and attitude. Oh, and okay... maybe a sore arm, too.
    Last edited by Dodgerfan1; 04-10-2012, 07:51 AM.
    Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours. - Yogi Berra


    • #62
      Great stories DodgerFan, share some more if you have them, they are great reads.


      • #63
        Story about Ralph "Blackie" Schwamb from the show Amazing Sports Stories Episode 103: Blackie Schwamb: The Greatest Prison Baseball Player of All Time Airdate: April 26, 2008 on Fox Sports Net...

        Ralph "Blackie" Schwamb tried to have it all. He was a talented baseball pitcher in the mid-1940's, but his mob ties and problems with alcohol derailed a once promising career. Mesmerized by the local Los Angeles gangster scene, Blackie quickly became associated with the infamous Mickey Cohen and his gang. Blackie used his lean 6'5 frame as a selling point and was quickly hired to provide "muscle" for the gangsters to collect debts for bookies and loan sharks. But Blackie’s physical attributes were not only good for protecting and securing the property of organized crime, since Blackie was also a promising baseball talent. One day, while watching a semi-pro team affiliated with the St. Louis Browns, Blackie is downing some beers and starts heckling the players on the field. A scout tells Blackie to “shut up or show ‘em”, and does he ever. Eleven strikeouts later, he had everybody’s attention and within a few months, Blackie had a contract with the team. Blackie now has two jobs: one as a pitcher and another as a gangster.
        Two years later, after bouncing and drinking his way through the minors, Blackie was finally invited to the St. Louis Brown's major league camp and is promptly tabbed the most promising rookie pitcher. A few months later, Blackie defeats the Washington Senators to nab his first major league win. But that feat was short-lived, as Blackie’s penchant for drinking and barhopping resulted in a suspension. Unable to choose between his budding baseball career and his ties to organized crime, Blackie’s life becomes more complicated and his drinking only gets worse. And then, at the age of 22, the rising star pitcher for the St. Louis Browns is brought back down to Earth.
        After a long night of drinking in a local Los Angeles bar, Blackie finds himself involved in a plan to score some quick cash by hitting up a doctor who is hanging out with two of his friends. Unfortunately, the plan goes awry and later that night after a scuffle, the doctor is found dead on the pavement…Two months later, Blackie is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
        Blackie left his wife and son behind and finds himself transferred to the infamous San Quentin prison in January 1950. Feeling his life has hit an all time low, Blackie finds himself involved in regular fights amongst the inmates and is often sent to solitary confinement. Blackie seeks an outlet for his situation and finds it in a familiar place: the baseball diamond. Blackie becomes a part of the prison’s baseball team, the San Quentin All-Stars, whose only “fans” are the sharpshooters patrolling center field. Since Blackie had a history tied to the mob and gambling, bookies on the inside tried to get him to “throw” games for them. But baseball had taken on a new meaning for Blackie, and despite numerous threats to his life, he refused to be intimidated. Through his pitching and involvement with the team, Blackie is able to prove not only to the other inmates but also to himself what a great pitcher he truly was.
        Blackie was so renowned for his pitching skills, he had a 100 mph fastball and nasty curveball, that scouts came from around the country to match hitting prospects against him. And major and minor League players regularly came to San Quentin and Folsom prisons to get a chance to play against the legendary prison pitcher. In one game, Blackie pitches against a team with five major leaguers, and throws a perfect game. During his ten-year stint behind bars at San Quentin Prison, Folsom Prison, and Tehachapi, Blackie wins 70 games and records 720 strikeouts. Without his regular drinking routine and mobster distractions, Blackie was able to create a legend and emerge as the greatest prison baseball player of all-time.
        After completing his sentence in 1960, Blackie makes a desperate attempt to resuscitate his baseball career and get back to the big leagues. But Blackie’s difficult past and ex-convict status left teams unwilling to take a chance on him. He ends up pitching one game in triple A and then realizes that he’ll never make it back to the majors. He once told a friend, “You know…I really could have been something”. And he could have, if it wasn’t for one person always holding him back: Blackie himself.
        Last edited by Capital City Goofball; 04-12-2012, 06:36 PM.


        • #64
          Folks, if you're gong to post long stories of that nature, please be sure to attribute them. Thanks.
          Dave Bill Tom George Mark Bob Ernie Soupy Dick Alex Sparky
          Joe Gary MCA Emanuel Sonny Dave Earl Stan
          Jonathan Neil Roger Anthony Ray Thomas Art Don
          Gates Philip John Warrior Rik Casey Tony Horace
          Robin Bill Ernie JEDI


          • #65
            Originally posted by Captain Cold Nose View Post
            Folks, if you're gong to post long stories of that nature, please be sure to attribute them. Thanks.
            Absolutely - no problem. The Charlie Sweeney story came mostly from The Greatest Minor League - A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957. Parts of it came from The San Francisco Examiner - May 14, 1883, Boston Globe - July 23, 1884, Boston Globe - October 18, 1884 and SF Chronicle - July 16 and 17, October 26 and 30, November 2 and 10, 1894.
            Last edited by Dodgerfan1; 04-12-2012, 03:26 PM.
            Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours. - Yogi Berra


            • #66
              Originally posted by Captain Cold Nose View Post
              Folks, if you're gong to post long stories of that nature, please be sure to attribute them. Thanks.
              Sorry about that, I completely forgot... I've edited my post to include the source...


              • #67
                Originally posted by Capital City Goofball View Post
                Sorry about that, I completely forgot... I've edited my post to include the source...
                Thanks. Not a huge deal, but you never know who may be reading.
                Dave Bill Tom George Mark Bob Ernie Soupy Dick Alex Sparky
                Joe Gary MCA Emanuel Sonny Dave Earl Stan
                Jonathan Neil Roger Anthony Ray Thomas Art Don
                Gates Philip John Warrior Rik Casey Tony Horace
                Robin Bill Ernie JEDI


                • #68
                  Goofball, great story! I'd never heard of Blackie Schwamb before your narrative. What an incredible waste of an even more incredible talent...
                  Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours. - Yogi Berra


                  • #69
                    Dave Brown, a left-handed pitcher in the Negro Leagues (information courtesy of Wikipedia)...

                    Early career

                    Brown was born in Leon County, Texas. He had a good curveball and excellent control. He was also a good fielder and had outstanding speed but was a weak hitter. Brown played with the Dallas Black Giants in 1917 and 1918. He was regarded as a "timid nice guy" who did not cause trouble, but during his time with the Dallas Black Giants he was involved in a highway robbery. Although Brown was reported to have become a fugitive, Rube Foster agreed to pay $20,000 for Brown's parole and he became a member of Foster's Chicago American Giants. Brown became the ace of the American Giants as they dominated negro league baseball in the early 1920s. From 1920 through 1922, he posted a 29-8 record in league games. His 11-3 record led them to a pennant win in 1921 including three victories in a playoff with the Bacharach Giants. His 8-3 record contributed to another pennant in 1922. In the winter following the 1922 season, Brown joined Oscar Charleston for the first season of the Cuban League's Santa Clara Leopardos.

                    League change and abrupt career end

                    For the 1923 season, Brown left Rube Foster's American Giants for the brand new Eastern Colored League. Foster voiced his displeasure, pointing out that Brown had been paroled to him and that he had promised Brown's mother to take care of him. He pointed out that the public would vilify him if he revoked. Brown posted a losing record in his first season with the New York Lincoln Giants but he and Charleston returned to Cuba the following winter and helped Santa Clara compile one of the best records in Cuban baseball history. His second season with the Lincoln Giants improved on the first and he defeated "Cannonball" Dick Redding and the Brooklyn Royal Giants to win the New York City championship.

                    Brown's career came to an abrupt end in 1925. He went to a bar one night with Frank Wickware and Oliver Marcelle. Marcelle was a third baseman with a reputation for trouble off the field. A fight erupted at the bar, and Brown killed one of the participants. Wickware and Marcelle were questioned the next day at the ballpark, but Brown had disappeared.

                    Rumors and legacy

                    The FBI searched for Brown but he was never officially seen again. Rumors abounded that he continued playing baseball under the alias "Lefty Wilson" with semi-professional teams through the Midwestern United States. Lefty Wilson toured with Gilkerson's Union Giants in 1926, a white team in Bertha, Minnesota in 1927 and 1928, and he was rumored to have played in Sioux City, Iowa in 1929 and Little Falls, Minnesota in 1930. More unsubstantiated rumors claimed that Brown died under mysterious conditions in Denver, Colorado in 1930.

                    In 1927, a Pittsburgh Courier column solicited opinions for the best black baseball player of all time. On April 2, John Henry Lloyd announced his list which included Dave Brown. When the Pittsburgh Courier announced a similar list in 1952, they included Brown on their second team.
                    Passages from the book The Best Pitcher in Baseball: The Life of Rube Foster, Negro League Giant by Robert C. Cottrell...

                    Negro league baseball statistics and player information from and Baseball-Reference (Negro leagues)...
                    Last edited by Capital City Goofball; 09-05-2012, 02:37 PM.


                    • #70
                      Who was the one that was supposedly a can't miss prospect? Was it Toe Nash?
                      "Chuckie doesn't take on 2-0. Chuckie's hackin'." - Chuck Carr two days prior to being released by the Milwaukee Brewers


                      • #71
                        The rise and fall of Sweeney is explained further in 59 in '84. The son of a violent policeman, Charlie advanced to stardom following his 19-k game. Within months, it was all over. I had a hefty post about him a while back, and I would post it here if I could decipher the BBF search engine...

                        I'd also like to add baseball's first banned player (and holder of fewest HR/9IP): Jim Devlin
                        "Allen Sutton Sothoron pitched his initials off today."--1920s article


                        • #72
                          Tyrus, it's been a long time. Hope you are well! I didn't mean to step on your toes with my Charlie Sweeney post. I don't recall seeing yours. Anyway, we both agree his was a fascinating life's story.
                          Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours. - Yogi Berra


                          • #73
                            Originally posted by Dodgerfan1 View Post
                            Good stuff, BIzmaRK. So you are an A's, Dodgers and Mets fan? Any particular order to that list?
                            Actually I am a fan of all teams. As the Giants & A's are the teams I grew up with, I have a slightly stronger allegiance to them than to other teams. I also have a tendency to root for underdogs, so that gives me a slightly stronger allegiance to teams like the Indians, Brewers, Astros, Mariners, etc.
                            Holding a pitcher accountable for how many runs his team scores is like holding the designated hitter accountable for how many runs his team allows.

                            An individual statistic is meaningful only if it is based strictly on what the player does and not on what the other players on his team do.

                            Contrary to what most baseball fans claim, a pitched ball which is hit into play is not a strike.


                            • #74
                              Originally posted by Dodgerfan1 View Post
                              Tyrus, it's been a long time. Hope you are well! I didn't mean to step on your toes with my Charlie Sweeney post. I don't recall seeing yours. Anyway, we both agree his was a fascinating life's story.
                              Hope you are well too. I wish I could find my post so we could compare! Sweeney was quite the character, much to the disdain of the other Charlie in the Gray's two-man rotation, Old Hoss Radbourn. The two only had brief encounters during their lives: 1884. And a partial season at that. Sweeney lost a good chunk in the beginning because of a sore arm. Radbourn picked up the extra workload for no extra pay, something that caused him to commit near career suicide.

                              I'll add another: umpire Richard Higham is the only ump to ever be banned from baseball. He tried to throw a Detroit Wolverines game. No criminal charges were pressed.
                              "Allen Sutton Sothoron pitched his initials off today."--1920s article


                              • #75
                                Originally posted by Capital City Goofball View Post
                                Dave Brown, a left-handed pitcher in the Negro Leagues (information courtesy of Wikipedia)...

                                Passages from the book The Best Pitcher in Baseball: The Life of Rube Foster, Negro League Giant by Robert C. Cottrell...

                                Negro league baseball statistics and player information from and Baseball-Reference (Negro leagues)...
                                Great story Capital City Goofball. Something I noticed in this story is, 7 specific teams are mentioned, and 6 of them are called the Giants. Thought that was kind of funny.