Wild Days in New Orleans
Standing the Gaff: The Life and Hard Times of a Minor League Umpire,
by "Steamboat" Johnson (1935)
A Southern Association umpire recalls bizarre incidents in games in the Crescent City.
New Orleans in the days of Jules Heinemann when baseball was at its height was a tough spot for umpires, and I have had my share of jams there.
One of the run-ins that I remember most clearly was when Bert Niehoff had the Mobile club going for a pennant.
Let me say right here that Niehoff is a smart capable manager, and as long as an umpire was hustling and keeping right on top of the play he would never give any trouble. Let an umpire give Bert the idea that he was asleep at the switch, or loafing on the job, and Bert could cause more trouble in five minutes than some of them could in a whole season.
Along in the middle of the game - it was a hot July afternoon - Bert came up to me and said - speaking of the New Orleans pitcher - "Steamboat, that fellow Craft is using something on the ball. Watch him."
Next inning I saw Craft going back to his hip pocket with his right hand, so I called time and ran out to the pitcher's box. Craft was standing there looking at me with his hands down at his side to see what I was going to do. I went behind him, reached into his pocket and brought out a long piece of licorice, such as small boys chew.
I said to Craft: "You're out of the game," and turned and started for the plate. Just as I got to the plate, Craft had come up behind me. He grabbed me around the neck, and he was not trying to pet me, either. I was so surprised I could do nothing for a minute, but I finally managed to jerk loose.
I maneuvered until I was backed up against the backstop and was swinging my mask at his head, as he kept coming in and mixing it with me. By this time, four or five players crowded around and stopped the fight. Larry Gilbert put in another pitcher, and the game was finished.
A crowd milled around the dressing room after the game, but I was not harmed. They all thought Craft had tobacco in his pocket and was just reaching for a chew; but I knew better and, besides, had the licorice. I sent it into President Martin with my report.
It was in Heinemann Park, August 27, 1927, that one of the longest nine inning games on record was played, and one of the worst fights occurred that I ever saw on any ball field. There were 15,411 people in the park. Some 2,000 broke down the gates after they had been closed by order of President Martin, who was there to see the game, and rushed in.
Jules Heinemann and the stadium that was named for him
Along in the middle of the game, Ray Gardner, New Orleans shortstop, was at bat. Hollis McLaughlin, the Birmingham pitcher, threw one so close to Gardner's head that Gardner took it for a bean ball. In a flash Gardner lost his temper and sailed out after McLaughlin.
Pel Ballenger, the Birmingham third baseman, rushed over to help Mac. They began to mix it up on the mound, and Joe Sonnenberg, a police captain who was at the game in civilian clothes, came out of the grandstand on the run to stop the fight. Max Rosenfeld, Birmingham second baseman, thought Sonnenberg was a fan and met him with a solid lick to the jaw. It was a fast, furious battle while it lasted, but the bluecoats stopped it and took Rosenfeld off to jail.
Umpires Brennan and Shannon and I, who were handling the game, told President Heinemann that we would not allow the game to be resumed until he got Rosenfeld out of jail, since the player had hit the police captain through a mistake. It took two hours to get Rosenfeld back from jail, and then we resumed play where we had left off.
The final score was 25 to 16 in favor of New Orleans. Fifteen two-base hits were made in all. The elapsed time from start to finish was 4 hours and 10 minutes.
Late in the 1925 race Atlanta was playing in New Orleans. The game was close, and "Red" Torkelson, usually an easy-going sort of player, was at bat. A good strike came over and I called it.On my way to the dressing room I got a pop-bottle shower. The police rallied around and took the bottle shower, too, just to see that I got safely off the field. The crowd waited for me outside the park, so Superintendent of Police Mooney, since deceased, took me down to the police station in his car and several hours later took me to the Hotel Monteleone where the umpires were stopping.
Red turned around and said: "Steamboat, that ball was not over the plate."
"It was," I said.
Red stepped out of the box and began calling me everything he could think of, and Red had an active mind.
"Out you go, Red," I said.
"You can't put me out," he said.
"But you already have been out for a long time," I said, and so out he walked.
Then Buddy Rezza came to bat, and he took up where Red left off, looking back and talking to me. I told him: "It will cost you less to look at the pitcher than at me."
Well, Buddy stepped out of the box and talked himself out of the game. That made two in all, and I knew I was in for it.
About This Site
Hits since 8/3/12
For Your Reading Pleasure