Tuesday, January 24, 2012

THE HISTORY OF SYRACUSE BASEBALL - CHAPTER 10 - THE KUNTZSCH - GRIFFIN YEARS , GROVER CLEVELAND ALEXANDER'S GREAT 1910 SEASON

During the winter of 1902, George N. Kuntzsch decided to once again center the baseball wars. This time with a partner Tobias "Sandy" Griffin. Griffin & Kuntzsch entered a partnership that would last for the next ten baseball seasons and bring Syracuse baseball to new heights. They first purchased the Rome, NY franchise and moved the team to Syracuse. They then looked for quality players as Sandy Griffin searched the east coast for new talent. He signed pitchers- Jack Fifield, Bill Mains and George Wheeler. Next outfielder Frank "Wildfire" Schulte (who later became National League home run champion with the Chicago Cubs). Schulte was as famous in his day as the Cobbs and Speakers were in later history. Also sign were outfielders Jake Magie & Art Ross and catcher Fred Payne (Camden, NY native). Griffins efforts led the Stars to a fourth place finish in the newly formed New York State League. The Star also returned to their former home Star Park on So. Salina Street.

A year later more success, Jack Fifield and Bill Mains combined to win 36 games, finishing in third position. The hitters were led by Frank Schulte (.294), Charles Louderslager (.326) and soon to be major league outfielder Mike Mitchell (.297). Mitchell spent nine seasons (1907-14) seeing action in 1,122 games with Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Washington.

It had been twelve years since a championship flag had flown over Syracuse. But 1904, was the crowing jewel in the Kuntzsch & Griffin years. Manager Sandy Griffin's  Stars led the New York State League from start to finish winning 91 of 135 games. No less than five of the 1904 champions were claimed by major league clubs at the close of the season. Frank "Wildfire" Schulte (.307) spent the next twelve years with the Cubs leading then to three N.L. pennants and two World Series. Fred Payne had good years with Detroit, Henry Harley and Willie Lauterborn were claimed by the Boston Nationals and Mike Mitchell (.296) went with Schulte to Chicago and then covered center field for a number of years with Cincinnati. The Stars were led on the field by Pat Chrisham (.309), but pitching was the key as both Fifield and Mains won 20+ games . They were aided by Henry Harley and "Hilly" Haslem notching 19 victories each. The championship roster also included native Syracuseans Bill Dunn, Ed Daley, Bill Stroh and Dick Trainer.

At the end of 1904, Star Park- So. Salina Street was claimed by private interest. The park was demolished, wooden fences sold and land sub-divided with Clinton Street extended to Cortland Ave. The Stars again returned to Athletic Field (Hiawatha Blvd) in 1905 New uniforms graced the defending champions, white flannels trimmed in red, red caps and white stocking. New additions to the pitching staff highlighted a successful second place finish. Conrad "Nick" Carter won 21, while Syracuse hometown hero Bernie Maurer posted 11 wins against just 2 losses. Maurer son of Long Branch resort owner Ben Maurer became one of Syracuse's greatest sports hero's at the turn of the century. Bernie pitched many weekend games  the next few seasons when his services were not needed at Syracuse's greatest resort areas. He was a champion ice and motor boat racer who had brought the sport of bowling to new heights in Central New York. He was inducted into the first class of the Syracuse Bowling Hall of fame. Thirty two more victories were divided between Jack Fifield and Bill Mains. The year ended with a 10-5 exhibition lose to the Brooklyn Superas (later named Dodgers).

Scranton was the league champion in 1906. The Stars finished third 72-65 behind Carter, Fifield, Mains, Maurer and Bill Cristall (12-10). The Boston Americans paid a visit on June 3 only to lose to Bernie Maurer 7-3. Frank "Wildfire" Schulte returned with his Chicago Cubs defeating the Star in another exhibition 9-4.

Athletic Field had seen it's last game as the bleachers had collapsed during the Syracuse- Colgate football game injuring many. Games were shifted to Hallock's Park located at the end of No. Salina Street at Onondaga Lake. This park would also be called Star Park III, First Ward Park, and State League Park during it's use between 1906 and 1918.

The next three seasons the team's spark was gone finishing sixth, fourth and sixth. The greatest moments being three one hitters in each of the three seasons. Roy Miller, Ed Schultz and Nick Carter in 1907. Three more the next year, Ralph Works twice and Lou "Snake" Wiltse on his way to post a 11-5 record. While Cecil Thompson's two and another by Wiltse pinpointed 1909.

During the three year period two prominent longtime baseball figures donned Star uniforms. The first, long time baseball coach at Syracuse University Lou Carr. Carr joined the Star after playing along side Honus Wagner with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The second Jimmy Walsh, uncle of Syracuse Mayor Bill Walsh, great uncle of U.S. Congressman Jim Walsh. Walsh joined the Stars for a single contest in 1907 plus 74 games a year later. Jimmy then signed his first pro contract with Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics. His baseball career spanned over forty tears seeing major league action with the Athletics, Red Sox and Yankees. Jimmy Walsh still holds the record as being the oldest player to win a batting title in the International League at age 40, 

The Mills Commission finally issued it's report on the origins of baseball in 1905. The group chaired by former National League President A.G. Mills declared that baseball was an American game invented by one Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, NY back in 1830.  Evidence to the contrary was ignored.  Thirty years later major league baseball would erect it's National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in that quaint village. Years later historians would prove the committee's finding to be incorrect.

The pennant race in 1910 almost duplicated that of the year before. Wilkes Barre under manager Bill Clymer grabbed the league lead in July and hung on for a first place finish. In April 1910, the Stars signed a 22-year-old farm boy from St. Paul, Nebraska who would change the history of Syracuse and major league baseball forever. Grover Cleveland Alexander arrived in Syracuse just before the start of the New York State League season.   Alexander who had pitched for Galesburg in 1909 posted a respectable 15-8 mark before being struck in the head by a fast ball. He spent time in the hospital complaining of being cross-eyed and double vision as the pitch had injured his optic nerve. The Indianapolis club of the American Association drafted him but soon realized be man never pitch again. So they optioned him to the Syracuse Stars who were looking for new pitching arms. Little did they know that Alexander's sight would return to normal in the late winter-early spring.

Alex was happy in a Stars uniform and his $250 a month salary. His first appearance was on April 17, 1910. He hurled five scoreless innings on a four hitter vs the Royal Giants a team of touring black ball players. In the NYS league opened he lost to Utica, but returned the next day and blanket Utica 1-0. This would be the first of 13 shutouts in a Star uniform. Alex's delivery was described as three-quarter, or side arm as we know it today. Manager Ed Ashenback used Alex on a three day rotation, By mid-July the Stars were deep in sixth place, suddenly Alexander's curse broke a bit sharper, his fastball picked up speed and he totally dominated the second half of the State League season. The Syracuse Post Standard newspaper termed him "Iron Man" after his amazing double-header victories W3ilkes Barre on July 20. The twin kills began to turn the season around. Alexander began his season ending 12 victories in a row.

Newspaper headlines harked his success "Alex blanks Elmira". "The Iron Man Allows Two Hits". "Alex's The Master". Alex's success sent the Stars on a roll. By August 22, they had gained second place gaining on the leader Wilkes Barre. August 27, 1910- Wilkes Barre arrived at Star Park to a standing room only crowd. Not wanting to disappoint the great crowd, umpires allowed loyal fans to stand along the outfield wall behind the players. Alex was unstoppable as he shutout the Barons 4-0 Late in the season manager Ashenback used him in various rolls when not on the mound. In centerfield on one occasion, a pinch hitter in another. As a fielder Alex led the State League making only one error on 132 chances.

Soon the major leagues top scouts viewed Alex's every outing. After a 4-0 victory on September 6, the Syracuse Journal Newspaper crowned him "Alexander the Great" a name that stuck with him his entire major league career. Alex single-handed keep the Stars in the pennant race. But the down side was the Stars were not winning when Alex wasn't on the mound. The season ended on September 18, although the Stars finished with a fine 78-57 record it wasn't good enough and Wilkes Barre won the league championship,

 If this wasn't enough Alexander had finished the year hurling 50 scoreless innings against the leagues finest. Grover Cleveland Alexander the fix foot, one inch tall, farm boy won 29 games for the Star that year but losing 14. His fame would not spread to the National League as he was drafted by the Philadelphia Nationals (Phillies) for the bargain price of $750. In his rookie season in Philadelphia "Alex the Great" won 28 games while striking out 227 a major league record that stood till 1984 when it was broken by Dwight Gooden. His major league highlights are many, the strikeout of Tony Lazzari in the 1926 World Series with the bases loaded, his 373 career wins tied with with Christy Mathewson for third place behind Cy Young and Walter Johnson, 90 career shutouts still tops the National League, 16 shutout in a single season wit Philadelphia in 1916, winning 21 games with the St. Louis Cardinals at age 40, winning 30 games three consecutive years (1915-17), 436 complete games and numerous others.

Alexander returned to Syracuse in alter years with Philadelphia and the House of David to reminisce of his walks down North Salina Street visiting with store owner on his way to Star Park in that memorable year of 1910. Alex's amazing career was highlighted in a 1952 featured film called "The Winning Team" staring former president Ronald Reagan as Alexander.The film is still seen on  DVD's and various cable channels  even today. Sadly their is the omission of his great year in Syracuse in that film. Alexander would later he inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and the Syracuse  Baseball Wall of Fame. November 4, 1950 Grover Cleveland Alexander the "Syracuse Iron Man" died in his home town of St. Paul, Nebraska.

The Kuntzsch- Griffin reign of ownership ended with a sixth place finish (65-74) in 1911. Wilkes Barre was once again New York State League champion (82-61). The managerial ranks changed from Ed Ashenbach to John "Snake: Deal on July 6. The season opened with a disastrous 1-8 start resulting from light hitting and an ineffective mound staff. Although they led the State League playing 36 straight error less games. Oskar Nagle obtained some success with 14 victories including two 2-hitters and a one-hitter vs Elmira on July 16. "Left" Goode (.285), "Snake" Deal (.283), Buster Armbuster (.283) and Mike Wotell (.294) were little help in this blosay year.

2 comments:

  1. It says early on that the Stars returned to their former home ballpark on South Salina Street. For how long were they playing somewhere else, and where were they playing when they were not at Star Park?

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  2. Ron, great site.

    I have a question: Did Jack Humphries manage the Stars at all in 1902? If so, for how long and under what circumstances? Baseball Reference says he did and suggests he was replaced by Sandy Griffin, but I have been unable to verify that.

    Cheers,
    David McDonald
    SABR member/Ottawa

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