Harry Harper’s Minneapolis No-hitter in 1915

Yesterday, May 19, 2011, was the 96th anniversary of a no-hitter by Harry Clayton Harper of Hackensack, New Jersey. From a pitcher’s standpoint, any no-hitter is extraordinary. But history would dictate just how special this gem was. On the surface you have two struggling teams, crosstown rivals whose fans grabbed the local streetcar to head over to the opposition’s city and have a raucous time watching baseball. But it would prove to be a landmark game in the six-decade history of the storied rivalry between the St. Paul Saints and Minneapolis Millers. Here is what I wrote about the event for an upcoming article I’m having published on the 1915 American Association season, slightly edited to provide context:

Sitting at 14-14 just a month into the 1915 season, the St. Paul Saints made the jaunt over to Minneapolis for a matinee against the Millers. And it was then that a funny thing happened on the way back to their season resurrection. On Wednesday, May 19, a rangy, just-turned-20-year-old southpaw named Harry Clayton Harper took the hill for the Millers at Nicollet Park and reeled off a no-hitter. The gem would become the only Millers vs. Saints no-hitter ever in the American Association. The final score: 4-0. The eleventh Minneapolis victory of the season next to 14 losses, it was surely a boost to everyone in the city. Despite Harper’s no-hit heroics, the club did not rebound, losing eight of their next ten. It would be several weeks before Harper and his Miller teammates could come through with anything resembling a celebration. Could the sparkling event have been foretold? Perhaps the baseball gods were atoning for an earlier lapse on their part. On May 11, Harper struck out 16 Columbus Senators enroute to an extra-inning loss at home, just a sign of the times for Pongo Joe Cantillon‘s men. At least, in Harper, there was something bright about the season after all, and maybe there was something to look forward to in Mudville.

1905: Louisville Players Hurt in Wreck

Back in the day, as they say, accidents involving railway cars were fairly common, but it’s still interesting to look back on such events and find out how they impacted the game of baseball during an earlier time.

The header on page 10 of the Louisville Times for Monday, Sept. 4, 1905 read:

WILL SUE FOR HEAVY DAMAGES…Louisville Players Blame Kansas City Street-Car Company for Accident

On Thursday, August 31, 1905, the Louisville Colonels were in Kansas City to play the Blues in another exciting American Association contest. There wasn’t much at stake; Art Irwin‘s Blues were mired in the cellar of the American Association with a record of 45-101 at the time, while the Louisville squad, under their second manager Suter Sullivan, was in fourth-place in the eight team league, with a record of 75-72.

A group of Colonel players boarded a street car that evening, perhaps headed back to their hotel after arresting the Blues, 6-2, at Kansas City’s Association Park earlier that Thursday. As the trolley car was descending a steep hill, the “motorman” lost control as it continued to gather speed. A wreck was the result, after what was described as a collision. There were no fatalities but eight Louisvilleans sustained injuries. Pitcher Ed Kenna was hospitalized for an extended period.

Among the first to report on their condition upon their arrival in Louisville were shortstop Larry Quinlan (who went 3/4 that day against Kansas City’s Walter Justus), outfielder Fred “Hen” Clay (who lost enough skin in the accident to “cover many baseballs” having been dragged 50 feet), second-baseman Roy Brashear and pitcher Charlie Stecher (who was having a fine season with a 14-8 record on the year). A total of eight players were involved in the debacle.

The scheduled game for the following day at Toledo was not played.

However, on Sept. 2, the Mud Hens hosted the depleted Colonels at Armory Park, as Louisville was able to rely upon local amateurs out of Toledo to fill in for the injured players.

An impending law suit against the street car company and the motorman was to be brought, based on the testimony of the players. It was their belief that the operator (or motorman) was not in control of the rail car, and in addition that he’d failed to ring the warning bell which might have prevented the resulting collision.

From the Times report:

“Brashear and Clay, who are only able to walk about with the aid of canes, and who are suffering no little from their injuries, will not be able to play again this season. Stecher thinks that he will be able to take his turn on the slab the latter part of next week, and Quinlan says that he will be able to get back in the game as soon as the team returns to this city [from its trip to Toledo]. All the players feel confident that Kenna will recover from his injuries and be able to play ball again next season but state that he was badly injured in the wreck.

“All the players place the blame for the accident on the motorman, and suits against the street car company will be instituted shortly. They claim that the car was coming down grade at an excessive rate of speed and that the motorman did not ring the bell to give warning of the approach.

“Brashear says that he will never again take such chances as he did in that ride. ‘The next time I find a wagonette going fast where any car lines are near you will find me doing the duck act. Right out of the rear end for me,’ he said.

“Stecher said that he did not know that he was injured until after he had reached the hotel, when he found that he could not walk.”

“Clay says that the first thing he knew was when he was under the fender of of the car. ‘It was then that I grabbed hold of the fender to protect my life. I certainly had an experience that I hope I will never again be so unfortunate as to have. I was dragged over fifty feet, and I was so rapidly losing my strength that if the car had not been brought to a standstill when it was I am certain wthat I would have been killed.'”

The Colonels’ ball club was supplanted by Toledo amateur players Tommy Lovett who covered the short field, Al Daly who played first-base and Joe Smith who took over duties at second-base. In addition, Miller (first name unknown) played in right field during both games of the Sunday doubleheader to close out the series with Toledo. Louisville tried to arrange to have these players travel with the team to Indianapolis, but were not successful.

The first game held after the accident took place Saturday, September 3. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal,

“…with the exception of Daly, they played nice ball. Daly had some stage fright, but Lovett covered short and Smith second in big league style. Lovett drove the ball deep into the field three times, and in the last inning got a hit.

Kerwin [Dan] captained the team and had his batting eye open, securing a double and a single. Hallman [Bill] and Stoner [Herb], Dunkle [Ed, “Cannon Ball”] and Scott [George] each hit, but the safe drives were all scattered. Dunkle pitched a good game, allowing but five hits. He had the worst of several decisions and was cautioned by Umpire [Brick] Owens not to take advantage of the crippled condition and make any remarks.”

Despite out-hitting the Hens 8-5, the battle-weary Colonels were held scoreless by Toledo pitcher Wylie Piatt who equalled the season’s strikeout record by whiffing 11 would-be hitters. The Friday final: 3-0, Hens.

Ed Grillo‘s Toledoans swept the weekend series. No doubt the Colonels were just happy to have it behind them.

Fall Almanac Proceeding Apace

Wish I’d been doing a better job keeping current with the blog here, but life intervenes.

On the front burner is work on the American Association Almanac for Fall 2007. It’s another big issue, will wind up at least 31,000 after the death notices are added. There are multiple topics, all dealing with the 1910-12 Minneapolis Millers. I didn’t have room to include 1912 in the Summer issue so the Fall issue starts off with the 1912 team and its offensive characteristics. The pitching of the 1910-12 Millers will occupy the remainder of the issue. For the 1910 team I include a comparison with the league’s top pitching team, the Toledo Mud Hens. While I don’t expect another issue of the Almanac to surpass the Summer issue in overall quality, this will be a very solid issue, maybe a bit heavy on the statistical angles. Either way, it will fill a nice of baseball history that will hopefully lead to further inquiry. Baseball during the deadball era was an especially fascinating subject of American culture that had a host of fascinating aspects.

A few of the starting pitchers that are examined in this issue include “Long Tom” Hughes, Nick Altrock, Roy Patterson and the Big Finn, Lou Fiene, all of whom contributed to the 1910 Miller team. The legendary Chicagoan Hughes led the league in wins (31), winning pct. (.721) and bases on balls (129) and strikeouts (222).

Dominic Castro

John Castro of Phoenix, Arizona emailed me the other day to mention that his grandfather, Dominic Castro, was a catcher in the old American Association. Here are Dominic’s numbers with the first American Association team he played for, the 1944 St. Paul Saints, which finished in 4th place with a record of 85-66 under Ray Blades:

Games Played at Catcher: 127 (84%)
Games Appeared In: 128
At-Bats: 389
Runs: 35
Hits: 80
RBI: 42
2B: 9
3B: 3
HR: 3
BB: 23
SO: 55
SB: 1
BA: .206

Castro would have caught for Otho Nitcholas, Ernie Rudolph, Loy Camp, Cy Buker, Bill Webb, Walt Tauscher, Art Herring and the like. Look ’em Up!

Castro’s number with the 1945 Kansas City Blues (seventh place, 65-86, under Casey Stengel):

Games Played at Catcher: 31 (21%)
Games Appeared In: 34
At-Bats: 95
Runs: 5
Hits: 16
RBI: 11
2B: 2
3B: 0
HR: 0
BB: 7
SO: 10
SB: 0
BA: .168

Some of the pitchers Castro may have pitched against were Clarence Marshall, Edson Bahr, John Orphal, Elmer Singleton, John Moore, Gale Pringle, Joe Valanzuela, Fred Pepper, Charlie Cozart, etc. Marshall led the league in complete games with 15 while sharing the league lead in walks allowed with his moundmate Ed Bahr with 107. Look ’em Up!