Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prince Hal (Chase)

(I guess this is a blog version of something that went into the repeat mode. The article on Prince Hal was done in March. With the passing of my folks and putting them to rest on June 8, 2012, I suppose idle thoughts were free-flowing like the germs of an infested petrie dish.  I apologize for the repeat article.)

Harold Homer Chase born February 13, 1883 in Los Gatos, California and left planet Earth on May 18, 1947, last seen in Colusa, California.  In between, he lived a most colorful life that he admits could have been done a little differently.

He is sometimes considered the first true star of the franchise that would eventually become the New York Yankees. His days, from 1905-1913, they were mainly known as the Highlanders until 1912.  He was a player-manager for the Highlanders in 1910 and 1911.

Chase made his professional debut with the Los Angeles Angels of the Class-A, Pacific Coast League in 1904.  It was then the NY Highlanders selected Chase from Los Angeles in the 1904, Rule 5 draft on October 4, 1904.

Chase faced allegations of wrongdoing as early as 1910, when his manager, George Stallings, claimed that Chase was "laying down" in games. This claim was later made by Stallings' successor as manager of the Highlanders, Frank Chance.  Yet, during this era, gambling was so rampant that whenever a player was not at his best, particularly in a big city like New York, there were claims of players laying down, whether it was true or not.  Stallings' claims may have resulted from a feud between him and Chase.  While Chance allegedly made the same claim, he later told management that Chase was giving his all, but his abilities were in a state of decline.

"When Mr. Stallings accused Hal Chase, the captain and first baseman of the New York Americans, of laying down, or deliberately losing games for the purpose of preventing the team from becoming a pennant winner, he made a very serious charge against Chase. One that demanded a most thorough and careful investigation. That has been conducted by the owners of the club, whose good name were at stake, assisted by the president and vice-president of the American League.  President Ban Johnson, the head of the American League said, "Stallings has utterly failed in his accusation against Chase. He tried to besmirch the character of a sterling player. Anybody who knows Hal Chase knows that he is not guilty of the accusations made against him, and I am happy to say that the evidence of the New York players given to Vice-President Somers this morning showed Stallings up."

According to the website: http://www.chaseplace.iwarp.com/, President Johnson was obviously eager to disbelieve any charges against Chase.  He didn't want the prize jewel of the New York franchise branded as a cheater. Johnson developed a protective attitude toward Chase and shielded him from controversy to maintain good will with the American League fans.  The "thorough investigation" by the New York owners Frank Farrell and Bill Devery never did take place. Stallings, angered that the owners backed Chase, quit as a manager.

In 1914, Chase found conflict playing for the overbearing Charles Comiskey and got into an argument over his contract. A feature of many of Comiskey's contracts and of other clubs at this time, was a "ten day clause," meaning the team could terminate a player's contract within ten days.  Chase jumped the White Sox and played for Buffalo of the "outlaw" Federal League.  Chase's explanation:  At the time, Comiskey called me into his office and asked me to have the ten-day clause stricken from my contract. I demurred at this. A contract, it seemed to me, ought to bind both parties to the agreement. If that agreement allowed him to dispose of my services with ten days notice, I didn't see why I shouldn't enjoy the same privilege."

In the next month, Comiskey and the White Sox took Chase to the Supreme Court.  Long before Curt Flood challenged baseball's reserve clause, Prince Hal Chase found himself in the midst of a historic case against baseball ownership.  Whether he was motivated out of selfishness or principle in fighting his contract, the judge in the case saw his point. The ruling in the case of the Chicago White Sox versus Hal Chase, as given by Judge Herbert Bissell, is as follows:

"While the services of these baseball players are ostensibly secured by voluntary contracts, a study of this system..reveals the involuntary character of the servitude which is imposed upon players by the strength of the combination controlling the labor of practically all of the players in this country. This makes it necessary for the player either to take the contract prescribed..or abandon baseball as a profession and seek some other livelihood...This system of servitude..provides for the purchase, sale, barter, and exchange of the services of ball players, skilled laborers, without their consent...(the players servitude) under the operations of this plan of agreement is contrary to the spirit of American institutions (and) to the spirit of the Constitution of the United States... This court will not assist in enforcing an agreement which is part of a general plan having for its object the maintenance of a monopoly, interference with the personal liberties of a citizen, and the control of his free right to labor wherever and for whom he pleases."

On July 23, 1918, as the Reds traveled to Boston for a doubleheader, Magee sat in the smoking car, watching out the window. Chase soon joined him. Chase made it sound that the bet would be placed on the Reds to win. The bet was to be placed with Jim Costello, owner of a poolroom at the Oxford Hotel in Boston.  Magee knew Costello and was going to place the bet himself, but Chase insisted, "No, I'll make the bet."  Chase wagered $500 for both Magee and himself and the Reds won 4-2 in 13 innings.  At the end of the game Chase revealed he had bet on the Reds to lose. Magee then stopped payment on his check.  The real intrigue began when Jim Costello was called to the stand. He contradicted Magee's tale.  Here is a portion of Costello's colorful testimony...

Q: I wish you would describe what was said between you and Lee Magee, if anything was said, on or about July 24, 1918. A:  On the vening (in question), about eight o'clock, Magee came in my place looking for me.  I says, "What is it?"  He says, "On tomorrow's ball game," he says "We can't talk details just now," he says.  "But I will have another man tomorrow with me and we will talk it over together."  I says, "What time?" He says, "Ten o'clock."

Q: Before you come to the next morning, what was said by Magee, as to what was to be done?  A: He said it was in regard to a ball game the next day; they wree going to "fix" a ball game.   By "tossing" a game it means your own side loses the game- bet against his own side...The next morning at ten o'clock Magee and the other party came in my room and we go down in the corner and talk things over. Q: Who was the other party?  A: I says, "What is your proposition?"  Q: (Repeated) Who was the other party?  A: The other party was Hal Chase."

An unknown individual sent National League president, John Heydler, a copy of a $500 check that Chase received from a gambler for throwing a game in 1918- the same year that he had acquitted Chase for throwing games. Armed with this evidence, Heydler ordered Giants owner, Charles Stoneham, to release Chase. Since no American League team would sign him (on the advice of Detroit Tigers manager Hughie Jennings), Chase was now effectively blackballed from the major leagues.

On his legacy: "You note that I am not in the Hall of Fame. Some of the old-timers said I was one of the greatest fielding first basemen of all-time.  When I die, movie magnates will make no picture like Pride of the Yankees, which honored Lou Gehrig...I am an outcast, and I haven't a good name. I'm the loser, just like all the gamblers are.  I lived to make great plays. What did I gain? Nothing. Everything was lost because I raised hell after hours. I was a wise guy, a know-it-all, I guess."

In his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James quotes a poem entitled "You Can't Escape 'Em:"

Sometimes a raw recruit in spring is not a pitching find;
He has not Walter Johnson's wing, nor Matty's wonderous mind.
He does not act like Harold Chase upon the fielding job,
But you may find in such a case, he hits like Tyrus Cobb.

(thanks to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hal_Chase and http://www.chaseplace.iwarp.com/ for the information I was able to relay toward accuracy in this rant.)

Kevin J. Marquez