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Thursday, June 21, 2001

Who is Major League Baseball History’s Most Interesting Character?

Baseball history didn’t start in 1901.

You think Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Ichiro Suzuki are   interesting characters? You thought Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were intriguing? Not   compared to John Montgomery Ward.

When interesting and intriguing characters of the game are discussed, Monte   Ward is not usually among the first names that pop up. But the name should roll   off the tongue. When the topic of influential men of the game is brought up,   Monte Ward is not among the first names that pop up. But it should.

When many think of fascinating or interesting or intriguing baseball men, the   names of Ruth, Cobb, Cap Anson, ?Shoeless? Joe Jackson, John McGraw, Moe Berg,   Casey Stengel, Jackie Robinson, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and the likes   are named off. Not many think of Ward, who was as big a baseball figure and   mind as he was a factor while playing.

To those who don’t have reservations about reading or learning of 19th century   players, there is plenty to learn and perhaps a new baseball hero to talk about   upon learning of Ward’s impact.

Start with the fact that Ward is the only player in major league history to   have accumulated as many as 2,000 hits and have earned as many as 150 wins.   (Ruth won 94 games.) Continue with the fact that he established the first players’   union in baseball history as well as a rival major league at one point, and   you have the makings of a multifaceted man and a strong leader.

Ward ?is perhaps the most fascinating figure in baseball history?, said Mark   Alvarez, editor for Society for American Baseball Research.

The ever-so competitive Ward had the playing   style and hustle of a Pete Rose, the pitching ability of a Charles ?Old Hoss?   Radbourn, the leadership presence of a Willie Stargell, the fight of a Billy   Martin, the brains of a Cobb and Tom Seaver, and the power of a Landis and Donald   Fehr. A player, manager, labor organizer and team owner, Ward was quite simply   the most significant baseball man in the 19th Century, aside from   the game?s inventor Alexander Cartwright.

Today?s fans don’t know of Ward, because he played his last major league game   in 1894, or 107 years ago.

When not pitching, the five-foot-nine and 165-pounder was primarily a shortstop   though he played third base, second base and the outfield as well. Overall,   Ward played 826 games at short, 491 at second base, 291 as a pitcher, 215 in   the outfield and 46 at third base.

In 1878 for Providence of the National League, the 18-year-old rookie out of   Bellefonte, Pennsylvania used a great curve ball to dazzle batters with a league-best   1.51 ERA, the lowest of his career, as he won 22 of 35 decisions. The following   year, Ward led Providence to the National League pennant as he won a career-high   and league-leading 47 games, while posting a 2.15 ERA over 587 innings.

But 1880 was a special campaign for Ward, who went 39-24, with a sparkling 1.74   ERA and eight shutouts spanning a massive total of 595 innings. The season was   especially notable since he threw baseball history’s second perfect game, five   days after John Lee Richmond threw the first on June 12th. Ward?s gem was a   5-0 win over Buffalo and fellow Hall of Famer Pud Galvin.

The wear and tear began taking its toll on Ward, who had   pitched 1,516 innings over his first three seasons and a whopping aggregate   of 1,182 frames over the 1879 and 1880 campaigns. With a tired arm and sore   shoulder, Ward?s workload would decrease every season there on.?

By no means was Ward unable to perform spectacularly as evidenced by his 18-inning   shutout on August 17th of the 1882 season. He just couldn?t perform spectacularly   as often.

After two more seasons at Providence with a collective record of 37-30 and a   combined ERA well under 2.50, Ward moved to New York.

In his first year with the Giants in 1883, Ward went 16-13 with a 2.70 ERA over   277 innings. Unbeknown to him, that would be his last full season as a pitcher.   With his arm dead-tired, his sling was dealt a final straw, suffering an injury   while running the bases during a game early in 1884. Thus it ended a marvelous   pitching career that featured a 164-102 record for a .617 winning percentage.   In addition, Ward threw 24 shutouts, pitched 2,462 innings and compiled an ERA   of 2.10, which still ranks as the fourth-best ever.

But his career was far from over. Wanting to remain a player, Ward decided to   work hard to secure a position elsewhere on the field. Already handy with the   glove (thanks to his previous experience at third base, outfield and shortstop)   and very fast on the base paths, Ward was diligent in his endeavor to become   a better hitter. Through 1883, Ward’s first seven seasons as a pitcher and part-time   position player, his batting average was .248. That wasn?t good enough for Ward,   who would eventually become an excellent bunter and situational hitter, not   afraid to give himself up for the sake of the team.

With his pitching career over and his future so uncertain, Ward couldn?t just   sit and play the healing game. Like Tris Speaker would do years later, Ward   grew impatient and decided he couldn?t sit idly while his right arm recuperated;   so he taught himself to throw left-handed in order to play center field for   the remainder of the 1884 season. To boot, he also demonstrated his leadership   skills by managing the last 16 games of the year - his second brief stint in   five years.

As his right arm regained its strength, Ward took over as the Giants? full-time   shortstop for the next five seasons. During those five campaigns, he served   as the Giants? captain and established himself as the league’s best shortstop,   averaging over 104 runs scored and almost 62 stolen bases (they began counting   them in 1886) in the process.

In October of 1887, Ward married actress Helen Dauvray. Described as a ?handsome   society lion? by Total Baseball, Ward was about to enjoy the fruits of   his labor.

His desire became even more prominent when, in 1888, he taught himself to bat   left-handed after a beaning made him realize that his batting style would be   more conducive to a left-handed swing.

All his hard work, effort and leadership paid off as he marched his Giants to   the N.L. pennant and ?world championship? in 1888 and 1889. And he proved to   be the team?s true leader, simply taking over in the ?World Series?.

In the victory over the St. Louis Browns (champions of the American Association)   during the 1888 World Series, Ward hit .379, with 11 hits, six RBI and six stolen   bases in eight games. In the victory over Brooklyn the following October, Ward   got on base very often for the big sluggers like Roger Connor, and would have   most definitely received a series MVP honor if one had been in place. He hit   a series-high .417 with 15 hits, five walks, 10 runs scored and a whopping 10   stolen bases. He also drove in seven runs to boot.

For his efforts, he was being considered ?the model ballplayer of the country?   and ?the most dashing, daring and winning player the Giants ever had? by reporters   of the day.

An article in the New York Journal stated, ?(Ward) was, too,   the hero of more close games that were won - pulled out of the fire by individual   excellence, grit and ginger - than any other Giant, old or new.?

One month after the Giants’ second straight World Series triumph? in 1889,   Ward organized, established and announced the formation of the Players League.

Ward, who had founded the first-ever union for players and named it the Brotherhood   of Professional Base-Ball Players four years earlier, had his hand forced when   the owners secretly decided to lower all the players? salaries by classifying   and ranking them while they were on Al Spalding?s world tour following the 1888   season. It was a dirty underhanded trick, and the players union was going to   reciprocate.

Ward and the rest of the players already were against the reserve clause, which   he described as ?a contract, which on its face is for several months being binding   for life?. And now a salary cut, he thought?

Playing for and managing the not-so-talented Brooklyn Wonders in the Players   League, Ward had one of his best seasons in 1890. Among 100 players who jumped   leagues, Ward hit .337 and stole 63 bases, with career-highs of 134 runs scored   and 12 triples, to lead Brooklyn into a surprising second-place finish. Defensively,   he shone as well with a league-leading 303 putouts and 450 assists.

The season appeared to be a success for the Players League, which outdrew the   National League and the American Association, and may have very well been the   start of something big had there been enough financial backing. It was for that   reason that the Players League folded after one year.

Ward and the other players returned to the National League in time for the 1891   season. Ward stayed put in Brooklyn, where the Bridgegrooms, formerly of the   American Association, desired his services after the city had fallen in love   with him.

After two years as player-manager with Brooklyn, Ward returned to finish out   his career with the Giants in the same capacity. The move across town rejuvenated   Ward as he batted .328 in 1893, with a career-high 193 hits, 129 runs scored   and 46 thefts on the base paths. Ward, who retired following the 1894 season   after leading the Giants to a Temple Cup victory, finished a 17-year career   with 2,105 hits, 1,408 runs scored, a .275 batting average and 540 stolen bases   (the last total excludes his first eight seasons).

His numbers as a manager may have been even   more impressive, if possible, winning 394 of his 701 decisions for a .562 career   winning percentage.

Ward was not, in the least bit, lost after his playing days   were over. The intellectual had prepared ahead. While other players rested and   recovered in between seasons, Ward hit the books hard and earned two degrees   - one in law and one in political science - at Columbia University, graduating   with honors. With that, Ward became a full-time lawyer and opened his own practice.   Among his clients were baseball players, of course, who sought representation   in disputes with their teams. His most notable client was Amos Rusie, who sued   hated Giants owner Andrew Freedman and benefited by settling out of court.

Ward was indeed a winner. Everything he touched turned to gold. He couldn’t   do anything wrong, it seemed, even if he tried.?

As a matter of fact, Ward, who earlier served briefly as the president of the   Boston Braves and ran for N.L. President in 1909, was hired as a business manager   for the Federal League’s Brooklyn Tip-Tops in their financial fight against   Major League Baseball in 1915.

Ward?s talent and versatility even spread to   golf and journalism, as he founded and presided over the Long Island Golf Association,   and even wrote a few books and articles on baseball.

Ward was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964, almost 39 years after   his death.


Here are some other accomplishments by Ward:

     
  • He was one of the few men in history, and just the second ever, with a   shutout in each of his first two major league starts (July 18th and 20th,   1878; each against Indianapolis)
  •  
  • He introduced the intentional walk to baseball
  •  
  • On August 9th, 1878, Ward earned two complete game victories (both wins   over Indianapolis)
  •  
  • Ward became the first pitcher ever to hit two homers in a game (on May   3rd, 1883 for N.Y.)
  •  
  • He hit 10 career homers as a pitcher
  •  
  • He had five games with five or more hits
  •  
  • During the first game of a doubleheader on June 10th, 1892, Ward recorded   12 assists for Brooklyn (no second baseman has ever surpassed the mark)

Mike Attiyeh is a published baseball historian whose works have appeared   in such publications as Baseball Digest, Pirate Report, Society for American   Baseball Research, Birch Brook Press, and numerous web sites. Attiyeh, who has   appeared as an expert guest analyst on sports radio talk shows throughout the   United States, is best known nationally for breaking the story of Tony Gwynn?s   blood clot in 1997.

 

Mike Attiyeh Posted: June 21, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. The Original Gary Posted: June 23, 2001 at 12:08 AM (#603950)
He apparently became the cause for pitch counts as well.
   2. Ron Johnson Posted: June 27, 2001 at 12:08 AM (#603955)
Also note that Ward represented Norfolk in a lawsuit against the
New York Giants in the matter of Christy Mathewson.

The Giants had agreed to pay Norfolk $2,000 for Mathewson --
and that only if he stuck with the Giants.

The Giants instead talked the Reds into placing a claim (cost
was only $100) and traded Amos Rusie to the Reds for Mathewson.

Norfolk sued and eventually won. Interestingly the guy who
owned the Reds at the time of the scam (John T. Brush) owned
the Giants by the time the case was settled and ended up having
to pay the damages.

Nice article by the way.
   3. Mike Attiyeh Posted: June 28, 2001 at 12:09 AM (#603957)
Thank you gentlemen very much.

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