Sunday, November 23, 2014

Dubuc escaped wrath of Judge Landis, Part 2

Dubuc was included in the 1915 candy card
issue from Cracker Jack.

(Continued from yesterday)

         While the Tigers improved to fourth place in 1914, Dubuc's record dropped below .500 for the season. He was 13-14 on an ERA of 3.46. One newspaperman described him that season as "a fair pitcher who has a great ability to 'get away with it' when opposing teams can't quite understand how he does it."
          Dubuc explained that his success with the slow ball was the result of three years of hard work in its development, and in its judicious use, depending "on the hitters and the clubs. There are some batters in the American League who murder a slow ball, while others cannot hit it. Naturally, then, I depend upon the delivery when facing men I know are weak before it." He claimed that his slow ball had only once been hit for an extra base.
          Dubuc was again used frequently that season as a pinch-hitter. He went 6-for-32, on the year, a .188 average.
          Following the 1914 season, Dubuc expanded his interests to the fight game, as manager of Frankie Fleming, a featherweight described as one of Canada's most promising boxers. 
          In 1915, Dubuc returned to 17-win form, though that was only the third-best winning record on the Tigers. Detroit won 100 games that year, but finished in second place.
          A highlight of Dubuc's season was a May 9 match-up with Walter Johnson before a crowd of 13,000 (that was big numbers back then) in Detroit. Dubuc one-hit the Senators for a 1-0 shutout. It was one of five shutouts Dubuc threw that season.
          The following year Dubuc's knee injury resurfaced and though his ERA dropped back under 3.00, he was able to garner only a 10-10 record as the Tigers finished third. Figuring he was through as a major league pitcher, the Tigers sold him to Chattanooga for 1917.

1915 M101-5 and M101-4 card sets include Dubuc.

          Dubuc refused to report to Tennessee and his contract was transferred to Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League. There was considerable speculation in the Hot Stove League as to whether or not Dubuc would go to Utah. The press said, "Dubuc is a well-known Detroit slow-ball artist. There are doubts that Salt Lake will be able to sign him, as he has been under a $5,000 or $6,000 contract for the past three or four years. During his big league career Dubuc has salted away a goodly horde of shekels and he may prefer retirement to the comedown of a minor league stipend."
          Before he did accept terms with Salt Lake City, Dubuc made a determined attempt to buy the Montreal team in the International League, but was unsuccessful. He was successful, however, in fashioning a 22-16 season with the Bees in 1917, despite a two-week hiatus in August while he dealt with the draft board.
          On Aug. 18, Dubuc pitched an 8-7 win over San Francisco, going 3-for-4 at the plate. He then left the team for his military physical. He evidently received some type of deferment, possibly because of his bad knee, because he was back in baseball uniform on Aug. 31. For the remainder of the season he was 5-4 on the mound, with a 14-inning tie game thrown in.
          Just prior to the opening of the 1918 Pacific Coast League season, Dubuc, along with moundmate Ken Penner, was seriously injured in an auto wreck. Each suffered broken ribs, multiple cuts and contusions.
          The start of Dubuc's season was delayed until April 13, when he pitched an inning of relief. After a couple of pinch-hit appearances, Dubuc began taking his regular turn in the rotation on April 24, with a victory. Dubuc's recovery was considered complete when he one-hit the S.F. Seals on May 8 for a 1-0 win.
          As the season progressed, the player pinch became acute as volunteers and draftees into World War I service began to take a toll. On May 1, the league dropped its roster limit to 16. War industry jobs, with lots of overtime, suddenly became an attractive alternative to minor league baseball salaries, as well.
          By July 1, Dubuc had become Salt Lake City's regular right fielder when he was not pitching. He hit .303 for the season and played errorless ball in the outfield. Dubuc's pitching record for the Bees was an even 9-9 with an ERA of around 3.59. Exact pitching and fielding stats for the P.C.L. in 1918 were not promulgated by the league office and had to be reconstructed from box scores. Along with most other minor leagues, the P.C.L. shut down its 1918 season early due to lack of manpower. Salt Lake finished fifth in the six-team race.
          While the Coast League season was over in mid-July, Dubuc's season was not. He was acquired by the Boston Red Sox for the pennant drive. He joined the team at Chicago and was sent in to mop up the final two innings of an 8-0 blanking by the White Sox on July 28. He got his only hit in a Boston uniform in that game. He was used as a pinch-hitter on Aug. 7, 10 and 24, but failed to connect. In the final game of the season, Dubuc got his only start for the Red Sox, in the second game of the Sept. 2 Labor Day doubleheader at the Polo Grounds. He lost to the Yankees 4-3.
          Dubuc made no contribution to what became the Red Sox last World Championship. He saw action in only one game of the 1918 World Series against the Cubs, as a pinch-hitter striking out in the ninth inning of Game 2, which the BoSox lost 3-1. It's unknown what portion of a $2,315.27 winner's share Dubuc was awarded.
          Surprisingly, the Red Sox took Dubuc to spring training in 1919. Before the season opened, however, they declined to settle with Salt Lake City for the $2,500 draft price and Dubuc was returned to the Bees' roster. He was then sold to the New York Giants, who needed a right-hander in the bullpen.
          Dubuc led the National League in both wins and losses by a relief pitcher in 1919. His entire 6-4 record came in relief, though he had five starts during the season. He was credited with three saves, tops on the team and tied for second in the league. His ERA was 2.66. The Giants finished second in 1919, to the Cincinnati Reds who went on to win the tainted World Championship.
          In January of 1920, Giants manager John McGraw released Dubuc to Toledo of the American Association, presumably as a favor to his old catcher, Roger Bresnahan, who had purchased the Mud Hens.
          Dubuc proved a solid all-around player for Toledo in 1920. When Bresnahan stepped off the field in July, he handed the managerial reins to Dubuc. Besides compiling a 9-7 pitching record on a 2.72 ERA, Dubuc played 23 games in the outfield and 45 games at third base, batting .292 for the season. His fielding was not adequate, however, as he made 22 errors. Dubuc's fielding average as an outfielder was third-worst in the A.A., and only one Association third baseman showed worse glovework.
          As the 1920 season ended, things were getting hot in Chicago as investigation into the 1919 World Series was undertaken. Dubuc's name began to be mentioned as the grand jury took testimony and on Oct. 5, Dubuc was summoned to tell what he knew.
          He presented the panel with a telegram he had received from former teammate Bill Burns prior to the opening of the 1919 World Series, telling him to bet on Cincinnati because it had been fixed for the Reds to win. There was no information leaked as to whether Dubuc acted on the tip or not. He did say that he passed the information on to Giants' teammate Rube Benton.
          McGraw also appeared before the Chicago grand jury that day. His testimony was that Hal Chase and Heinie Zimmerman, who had been dropped from the Giants towards the end of the 1919 season, were the only players on that team guilty of wrongdoing.
          A week later at the World Series in Brooklyn, McGraw confronted Dubuc and accused him of crookedness. A fight was prevented when Bresnahan stepped between the two. McGraw then blasted Dubuc in the press, intimating he had disposed of him to Toledo because of his association with gamblers. "Bill Burns hung around the Giants the latter part of the 1919 campaign," McGraw said. "He was trying to interest me in a Texas oil proposition, he said, but when the season ended and the Reds had clinched the pennant, he disappeared. He constantly associated with one of our pitchers, Jean Dubuc, for which reason I finally decided to release Dubuc unconditionally. Burns and Chase, according to the Chicago indictments, helped to frame the 1919 World Series, and in my opinion they had something to do with the Giants failure to beat the Reds that year." McGraw stopped short of voicing his suspicion that Dubuc, along with several other Giants, may have conspired to throw the 1919 National League pennant to Cincinnati. 
          In November, Bresnahan was reported to be in Montreal to visit Dubuc for the purpose of arranging to purchase a franchise in the International League for the Quebec city. The Sporting News called it, "a queer story." A month later, Bresnahan announced the release of Dubuc. He revealed that the true purpose of his trip to Canada had been to investigate Dubuc's role in the World Series scandal by interveiwing the fugitive fighter Abe Attell, who had been hiding out in Montreal to avoid testifying against gangster Arnold Rothstein in the Black Sox affair.
          In March of 1921, Heinie Zimmerman made headlines by charging that Benny Kauff, Fred Toney and Rube Benton had taken bribes to throw games during the 1919 season. The Sporting News dragged Dubuc's name into the matter by reviving gossip that the Giants had thrown the crucial games of Sept. 15-16 to the Reds, and that Dubuc had been a participant in one of those games. Dubuc had come on in relief of Benton in the game of Sept. 15. Benton had staked the Reds to a three-run lead in the first five innings, but Dubuc held Cincinnati hitless for the two innings he worked. The Reds won 3-0. Dubuc didn't appear in the 4-3 Giants loss on the 16th.
          Dubuc received another black eye during the trial of the World Series conspirators in July. From the witness stand, Bill Burns testified that Dubuc and Toney had been present in a hotel room when the details for the fix were being nailed down.
          Through all of the noise and fury of the Black Sox investigation and trial, and Commissioner Landis' banishment of players who participated or knew about the plot, Dubuc was laying low, playing semi-pro ball in Montreal. Apparently the "out of sight, out of mind" strategy worked to prevent Dubuc from being totally blackballed in Organized Baseball. While he never again pitched in the major leagues, it is likely his mound skills would have prevented a return to fast company anyway. Dubuc joined a handful of other players on the periphery of baseball's gambling scandals who were allowed to continue to play in the minor leagues.
          In its Feb. 16, 1922, edition, The Sporting News reported, "The astounding news comes from Syracuse that President Ernest Landgraf plans to take on Jean Dubuc, former major leaguer and later with Toledo, from which club he drew his walking papers because he was supposed to know too much about the throwing of the 1919 World's Series."
          The Stars had a working agreement with, and were 50% owned by, the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1922 they were managed by Frank Shaughnessy, who had scouted Dubuc in Canada the previous season. According to a local sports writer, Shaughnessy "claims that Dubuc is as good a pitcher today as he was when with the Giants. Aside from his pitching ability he is a good hitter and can play any outfield position creditably."
          Dubuc was also apparently recruited as something of an assistant manager to aid in the development of young pitchers. When the manager was away at St. Louis' spring training camp in Texas, Dubuc was placed in charge of the Syracuse players.
          By mid-May, Dubuc was being called the ace of the Stars pitching staff. On May 14, facing Reading and their player-manager Chief Bender, Dubuc threw no-hit ball for eight and a third innings before Bender broke it up with an infield single off the legs of another future Hall of Famer, Syracuse first baseman Jim Bottomley. Reading tied the game and Dubuc and Bender hooked up for an additional five innings. Dubuc won his own game in the bottom of the 14th with a home run. According to the paper, "The crowd swarmed on the field and made the circuit of the bases with Jean, and after he had touched home plate the fans put the hero of the day on their shoulders and carried him to the club house."
          In early July, Dubuc's pitching arm gave out and he was relegated to relief work and position play. He was hitting over .400 at the time.
          He finished the season third on the hitting list, with a .351 average. He had led the league with 32 pinch-hit appearances. Besides an 8-9 record on a 4.77 ERA in 26 games on the mound, Dubuc had played 56 games in the outfield, a dozen at third base and two at first base. Syracuse finished the season next-to-last in the I.L.
          Somebody at The Sporting News continued to rake the muck and in a post-season editorial titled "The Difference in Policy," Dubuc once again came in for unfavorable mention.
          The editorial read, "At this time the names of three players are recalled who attracted unsavory comment during the investigation of the 1919 World's Series scandal. They had no part in throwing the games, because they were not members of the White Sox team. But it was alleged that Joe Gedeon, Rube Benton and Jean Dubuc had been tipped off that the White Sox were to throw the Series.
          "In the case of Gedeon, he manfully admitted his part; in the case of Benton affidavits were made by other players that he had told them there was something doing and they should bet every dollar they could get hold of on the Reds; in the case of Dubuc there was also documentary evidence.
          "And now three years after, what is the status of this trio? The St. Louis Americans dropped Gedeon from their roster, instanter, and he has disappeared. Benton was dismissed by the Giants 'because he would not obey training rules,' and now that he seems valuable, efforts are being made to bring him back to the National League; Dubuc is with a minor league club owned by the St. Louis Nationals, after Roger Bresnahan dismissed him.
          "Gedeon gone; Benton and Dubuc on National League payrolls!
          "Just a difference in policy, that's all."

(Continued tomorrow)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dubuc escaped wrath of Judge Landis, Part 1

Jean Dubuc's most ubiquitous baseball card appears
           in the tobacco card set known as T206, issued 1909-11
with many different cigarette brands.

(Editor's note: This feature updates an article that I wrote for Sports Collectors Digest circa 1993.)

Nearly every baseball fan and collector is familiar with the "Eight Men Out," the Chicago White Sox players banned from Organized Baseball for fixing the 1919 World Series. Fewer know that baseball's investigation of that scandal and other gambling in the majors and minors resulted in a significant number of other players being thrown out.
          In his efforts to clean up the national pastime, newly ensconced baseball czar Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis threw his net far and wide to rid the game of ballplayers with questionable ethical standards.
          One player -- as guilty as many of those who were banned for life -- escaped the full force of Landis' wrath by hiding out in Canada for a year. When things cooled down, he was able to return to the minor leagues and continue a long and distinguished career in professional sports.
          The "crime" of Jean Dubuc was not that he accepted bribe money or threw ballgames, but rather that he had advance knowledge of the 1919 World Series fix, and instead of blowing the whistle to baseball's hierarchy, he used the information to his personal profit by betting the right way. It was exactly the same charge on which other players were permanently barred, but by making himself scarce while the heat was on, Dubuc salvaged his career.
          While his ancestry was French Canadian, Dubuc (pronounced like the city, Dubuque) was born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, near the New Hampshire border and less than 50 miles south of Canada, in 1888.
          There are conflicting accounts of Dubuc's school days. Some say he was raised in Nashua, N.H., where at age 13 he weighed 175 pounds and was already showing promise as a pitcher for that city's Indian Head team. His obituary in The Sporting News indicated he attended St. Michael's high school in Winooski, Vt., where he once defeated the University of Vermont team. He is variously reported to have attended Holy Cross College at Worcester, Mass., Fordham in New York and an unnamed theological seminary in Montreal where he is supposed to have studied for the priesthood. Undisputed is the fact that he graduated from Notre Dame in 1908 with a collegiate pitching record that some sources put at 17-1. Among his teammates at Notre Dame were future major leaguers Bob Bescher, George Cutshaw, Bert Daniels, Cliff Curtis and Frank Scanlan.
          Not unusual in those days, Dubuc was immediately signed to a major league contract with the Cincinnati Reds. He made his major league debut in Chicago on June 25, 1908. In the middle of the fourth inning, Dubuc wrenched his knee and was removed from the game. In 3-1/3 innings he had given up five hits and five walks, striking out one. He'd been 0-for-1 at the plate. Dubuc was charged with the 7-0 loss. (Dubuc was relieved by another college boy making his major league debut, Bert Sincock of the University of Michigan. Sincock finished that game and never threw another ball in the big leagues.)
           Dubuc's knee recovered sufficiently for him to appear in a relief role on July 12. He pitched his first complete game on Sept. 3, a 3-1 loss to the Pirates.
          His next start came back in Chicago on Sept. 7 when manager John Ganzel handed him the ball for the first game of the traditional Labor Day doubleheader. "Well, they threw the hooks into me here before," he told the skipper. "This time I may do a little hook-throwing myself, and if I do, I will turn them around after I get them in." Dubuc pitched a 6-0 shutout that went into the books as a two-hitter because of the scorer's charitable interpretation of a misplay by Reds second baseman Hans Lobert. Dubuc's batterymate George Schlei said after the game, "It's a shame because it would have been quite a nice thing for Dubuc to have a one-hit game to his credit against the world's champions. I don't see how they can figure that easy one of Evers' as a hit."
          Dubuc finished the 1908 season with a 5-6 record for the fifth-place Reds, despite an ERA of only 2.74.
          He remained on the Reds roster for 1909, used mainly out of the bullpen and as a spot starter. He had a record of 3-5 on a 3.66 ERA. Under today's rules he would have been credited with a pair of saves.
          In the spring of 1910, Dubuc was sold to Buffalo in the Eastern League for $1,000. The Sporting Life commented, "No one knew why Dubuc was carried all of last season, but at the same time it was figured that he would hold his job another year. Nothing doing. Dubuc, with steady work on a team that can afford to lose some games in the pitching department, ought to develop into a winner. But conditions were such with the Reds that he couldn't be used often and when he was used he didn't look so good."
          In July of 1910, due to a personality conflict with manager George Stallings, Dubuc was sold to Montreal. His combined record for the season was 9-13. Shortly after the season's close, Dubuc was diagnosed with typhoid fever and became seriously ill.
          His recovery was complete, however, and in 1911 he went on to win 21 games for Montreal, despite walking 114 batters, the fourth-highest total in the Eastern League. At one point in early August he had won 10 straight games, the last of which was viewed by no fewer than 15 big league scouts. Montreal magnate Ed Barrow put a $10,000 price tag on the young pitcher and reportedly turned down several offers of $5,000. In September, however, the Detroit Tigers were able to acquire Dubuc for the $1,500 draft price.
          Dubuc did not immediately jump at the opportunity to become a Bengal. He sent back the Tigers' first contract with the following letter now in the archives of the National Baseball Library at Cooperstown. So seldom is such original material available from that era, that it is appropriate to reprint the letter in its entirety, with some minor editing for corrections and clarity. Addressed to Detroit's president, Frank Navin, Dubuc wrote on Jan. 20, "Have just returned from Boston this morning and found your letter and contract awaiting my arrival but I am sorry to say that I am obliged to send the latter back unsigned.
          "You will, no doubt exclaim, 'Another case of hold out,' which is not the object of this letter. I just wish to make you a proposition. You probably already know I am in business here (Dubuc owned a pool hall in Montreal), and that the signing of a Detroit contract would keep me away from it for seven months at least; a long time to be absent considering that four and a half of those are the most busy ones.
          "Now you state in your letter that I received $350 a month for playing here last season, but make no mention of the $400 bonus I received at the close of the season for winning over twenty of my games, which netted me $2,196.68 for a five-month season. On the other hand you sent me a contract which calls for $2,250 for seven months during which I will be obliged to get a good reliable man at a big salary to replace me here. Do you honestly believe that I would be justified in leaving for two months longer and have the worry of my place for a raise in salary of $53.32?
          "Understand me. I do not wish to compete with you on this subject, for I know you can put a thousand like myself out of Base Ball if you so desired; however I do want you to give me an even break and a fair chance.
          "I am young and just started in business and wish to make good in all my undertakings and, under the circumstances, I would rather play in this league rather than leave here for seven months. Now here is just how I stand and as I am always truthful and honest in my dealings, I will lay down my hand open to you knowing you hold the stronger and can raise or call according to your wish; but I want you to consider my position first of all.

          "I am willing to join Detroit for $2,800 or buy my own release for $1,500. I have not much money but would be willing to give you that amount if satisfactory to you. On the other hand, if you wish me to play in Detroit I will go satisfied for the $2,800 which is just an increase of 25% over what I received last year and would enable me to pay a man to replace me here for a good enough salary to stop me from worrying during the playing season. Furthermore, if you have any doubts as to my earning that amount for you I will gamble another $500 with you that I make good. I would not write you this had I not had the experience I have had of big league playing and fell through my own fault. However, experience teaches.
           "I hope you will not misunderstand the meaning of this letter and as I said before I lay myself at your mercy. If you don't think you can afford to pay me $2,800 then I will be glad to pay you $1,500 for my release. If neither meets with your approval then I will be obliged to accept your verdict and remain here with my own interests.
          "I am just asking you a fair chance and I hope it will meet with your approval, and I am sure whichever way you decide you will be giving me a helping hand that you will never regret, if earnest endeavor and hard work will make me a winner for Detroit which I am pretty sure I will do.
          "Hoping this will meet with your approval and that I will receive an early reply, I remain, Yours truly."
          It's unknown what deal was finally struck, but Dubuc signed with the Tigers in March and went on have a strong 1912 season. He tied for the staff lead with 17 wins and led the Tigers' pitchers with a trio of saves.
          In late June the Sporting Life called him "the Tigers best bet in the pitching line." He'd developed a "wonderful change of pace that has made him a vastly improved hurler over what he was when (1909 Reds manager) Clark Griffith thought him unfit to associate with big leaguers and relegated him back to the minors." The paper continued, "He has a tantalizing slow ball, and also a nifty fast one. His delivery is perfect and one that deceives the batsman completely. He gives no inkling to the batter as to what he is about to dish up, as is the case with most pitchers, and this is his strong point. He winds up and grips the ball, to all appearances, exactly the same for every delivery, and this has the batter guessing all the time."
          Future Hall of Fame umpire Billy Evans went so far as to say that Dubuc's slow ball was the best he had ever seen.
          In mid-season, Dubuc went on an 11-game winning streak before being beaten by the Highlanders (Yankees) 5-4 on Aug. 15. Dubuc gave up five stolen bases in the first inning, and three more in the rest of that game. In recognition of his win streak the fans of Montreal sent him a $500 purse.
          By mid-September, however, Dubuc's salary wing was in trouble due to overwork. Because of injuries to the staff he'd been required to fill in between his regular starts when a reliever was needed. The pitcher was required to visit an osteopath for treatment of his forearm, which had swelled to what he described as "three times its natural size." There was no great pain, Dubuc reported, just an occasional twinge in the fingers of his right hand and a general feeling of uselessness of the arm.
          Even before the season closed, Dubuc began his campaign for another salary boost for the coming year. Apparently a crafty manipulator of the press for this purpose, Dubuc again cited his outside business interests as the reason he'd need a fat increase to return to the mound in 1913.
          A Sept. 19 article in The Sporting News said Dubuc "has been a valuable man and President Navin is willing to meet the demands of those who, he thinks, deserve consideration. It is probable that Jean will return to Detroit next spring a much higher paid man than he is now.
          "Dubuc owns a very profitable pool and billiard room and has a bowling alley in Montreal and he has an opportunity to get into a paying cafe business. He is in baseball because he believes it will pay him financially, so if he doesn't get what he wants he says that he'll quit the game. Besides the emoluments coming from his business in Montreal, Jean has some mining stock that is in the lucky column and is paying good dividends."
          In mid-November, Dubuc stepped up his salary drive with news that he had been offered a five-year tenure in Paris as baseball coach of the French Union team. The salary was reported to be $3,000 more than he was being offered by the Tigers. The pitcher told Sporting Life "he felt confident that Detroit would give him a satisfactory increase in salary, and that he rather preferred to remain on this side of the Atlantic."
          The Philadelphia North American speculated on the offer, "the probable motive being that he is one of the few diamond stars who could say, 'Work the corners, old boy,' 'Shoot 'em over,' 'Give us all you've got,' 'Try yer fast one' and 'You've got everything today, old fellow' in the language of the frog absorber."
           On Jan. 15, Dubuc formally rejected the Tigers $4,000 contract for the 1913 season. He was managing and playing on an all-star hockey team in Montreal and said he would quit baseball before he'd sign for less than $5,000. He claimed he had an offer to coach baseball at Notre Dame that spring.
          Navin fired back in the press. "Dubuc has been treated well by this club," he said. "A year ago he was a recruit who had failed once in the big leagues and we took a chance with him. He made good, and proved to be our winning pitcher. I will say that for him. The club gave him a nice boost in salary, and the contract we offered to him called for a salary which was almost double what he got two years ago in the International League."
          The Tigers' prexy continued, "Dubuc won 17 games for us last season and lost 10. While he was making his bid for a pitching record he also was a good attraction, but when his winning streak was broken his work fell off badly."
          Navin then pulled out the traditional poor-mouth plea of baseball owners of all eras, "The Detroit club is not a mint. We are now a second division team, and have lost much of our attraction on the road, as it is now three years since we were champions. It is absolutely necessary for us to economize in some way, and the salaries our stars are trying to get from us are entirely out of the question."
          The sides did come to terms, however, on what was apparently a long-term contract which prevented Dubuc's name from ever surfacing in the great Federal League baseball raids of 1914-15. Dubuc was chosen as the opening day pitcher for 1913, beginning another good season for Detroit, though the team again finished in sixth place. Dubuc led the Tigers staff with 15 wins and two saves. He also appeared 28 times as a pinch-hitter, though he batted only .107 in that role.
          In a barn-storming game following the 1913 season, Dubuc reinjured his knee. The damage was serious enough that Navin considered ordering him to report to Detroit for surgery. The pitcher was able to come back by spring training, taking a detour to Hot Springs to work out the wounded joint.

Dubuc was among 36 native Vermonters
in a 36-card set issued in 2000 by
the Vermont Historical Society.

(Continued tomorrow)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

World on Wheels custom: 1955 La Femme

There are many vintage cars and other vehicles with which I have a more personal connection and for which I will be making custom cards in the format of 1954-55 Topps World on Wheels, but for my third such card (see #1-2 on my blog from Aug. 30) I chose to work up the 1955 Dodge La Femme.

La Femme was Dodge's attempt to capture the market for autos that would appeal to women. Some of their sales literature said the car was created, "By Special Appointment to Her Majesty . . . the American Woman".

La Femme made it into production as the result of positive reviews of the concept car La Comtesse that Dodger had presented at the 1954 auto shows. Too, Dodge had learned that by 1955 it was the lady of the house that most influenced the color and luxury options on most new car purchases, so the company figured it could go a step further and make a market in a car designed exclusively for the fairer sex.

In essence, La Femme was a tricked-out Royal Custom Lancer two-door hardtop coupe. It was available for 1955 only in one color scheme: Sapphire White and Heather Rose. The Lancer badging was replaced with goldtone script "La Femme".

Inside, the car was upholstered in tapestry fabric with pink rosebuds on a silver-pink background and there was pale pink vinyl trim everywhere. 

Feminine touches included a pink calfskin purse with a brushed gold medallion in a pocket behind the passenger seat. The carry-along shoulder bag contained a face powder compact, lipstick case, cigarette case, lighter, comb and change purse in faux tortoiseshell plastic. The accessories were all by Evans of Chicago, a maker of women's fine garments and accessories.

In a pocket behind the driver's seat were a rain coat, rain bonnet and umbrella made of vinyl matching the upholstery.

The car featured Dodge's Red Ram 183-horsepower V-8 and the two-speed PowerFlite push-button automatic transmission.

The La Femme option package came at a cost of just $143, bringing the MSRP to $2,518.

A color change to Misty Orchid and Regal Orchid and a revamping of the interior appointments were made for the 1956 La Femme.

Company records apparently do not indicate the  number of La Femmes sold in 1955 and 1956, the only two years the model was offered. It is believed around 2,500 were sold combined in that time. 

Apparently a lack of aggressive marketing retarded demand. There was little print, TV or radio advertising, and few of the country's Dodge dealerships had a demonstrator in the showroom. A single-sheet brochure was all the dealer had on hand to promote the concept.

Marque specialists estimate that about 40 of the 1955 model La Femme survive, and about 20 of the 1956s. I saw one of the 1956 La Femmes at a car show once back in the late 1970s. It was immaculately restored and even a quarter-century after it rolled off the assembly line, it was still a real draw for the ladies.

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this custom card for $12.50, postpaid. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all my available custom baseball, football and non-sports cards can be found on my blog posts of Oct. 14-16.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bentley was first "Next Babe Ruth," Part 2

(Continued from Nov. 13)

One of only a handful of career-contemporary
baseball cards of hitting-pitching star Jack
Bentley is this card from the 1925
Walter Mails card game.

  In an era when holdouts by major league stars were still a relative rarity, Brooklyn baseball writer Thomas S. Rice attempted to explain each side's position in Jack Bentley's holdout against the N.Y. Giants in 1923.

Speaking of Bentley's case, he said, "It is perfectly natural that a player who has done such good work that his club is offered a huge sum for him should feel that part of the sum was coming to him from somebody as a just reward of merit and endeavor. On the other hand the player seldom stops to consider that the sale of players is largely the life of a minor league. Nor does the average player consider that while a high price may have been obtained for a star such as Bentley, the club selling the star has probably spent thousands of dollars upon other players who have proved more or less worthless, and have caused the salary, training expenses, railroad and hotel expenses and other items to go entirely to waste."

Rice continued, "The minor club owners furnish the schools, or factories, in which most of the major leaguers are developed. They have all the risk in keeping the club going and in experimenting with new material, while the player risks nothing at all. If he makes good he gets his salary, if he fails he is no worse off than before the club lost money trying him. Therefore the clubs feel that when they have polished a rough diamond found among a lot of rubbish, they are entitled to all of the proceeds when the diamond was sold.

"And there you are," Rice ended, "Which has the better argument in a case like Bentley's, the club or the sold star?" It seems obvious where Rice's sentiment lay.

Bentley's holdout continued into the latter stages of spring training, when McGraw commented on the mercenary motives of young players, as opposed to the purity with which players of his day approached the game, "The attitude of the younger ballplayers certainly has changed. In the days when I was an active player we first wanted a chance to prove that we could play ball. Now the young players want to be paid a bonus for giving a mild demonstration of baseball.

"I blame no man for trying to get all that he thinks he is worth," the Giants' manager continued, "but what the club owners might think would be something else again. When Hughie Jennings and I were a couple of ambitious young players breaking into the big time we even used to report to the ball parks early and rake over our part of the playing field. No, in those days they did not maintain luxuries such as groundskeepers. Every player did his own raking over.

"The game remains the same, of course, Muggsy concluded, "The only startling developments are the increase in the size of the ball parks and the increased value which a young player puts upon himself."

 By the end of the month, Bentley had signed his Giants' contract. Two decidedly different versions for the impetus found their way into the sporting press.

One account indicated that the pitcher dropped his demands on Dunn as the result of the death of Dunn's son, Jack, Jr., in late March, at the age of 27. Bentley was said to have been "the boy's boon companion," and when he saw Dunn's great grief said to him, "You have sorrow enough, I will not add to it by asking what I think is my due."

According to a later version, Orioles vice president Butch Schmidt was negotiating with Bentley, probably during Dunn's bereavement, while a cadre of reporters waited in another office supping the club's liquor. As the meeting stretched for hours and the booze supply began to run low, another team official is said to have rushed into the negotiating room and announced, "Say, Butch, if he only wants $5,000 give it to him. If this session keeps up much longer it's going to cost us that much for drinks for those fellows out in the other room."

Whatever the reason, it is believed that each club kicked in $2,500 to Bentley. The deal was already beginning to cause problems in the commissioner's office, where Landis ruled that the Giants could not send the "players to be named later" to Baltimore without draft attachments. Because the International League would not accept drafts of its players from the major leagues. That ruling cost New York another $10,000 payment to Baltimore.  

Bentley made his debut with the Giants on April 20 at Boston. He was soundly trounced, 9-2, giving up 13 hits, walking two and hitting two Braves batters. He struck out three and was 1-for-3 at the plate. His second outing was before the home crowd on April 29 and the Phillies knocked him out of the box in 2-2/3 innings, scoring six runs on nine hits and a walk. He took the 9-8 loss.

His next turn on the mound came at Philadelphia on May 7 where he won ugly, 13-8, and was hit hard, giving up a dozen base hits and three walks while striking out five. On the 18th he was the loser in a 7-0 blanking by the Reds, going eight innings and being touched for eight hits, six walks and a balk.

The Sporting News said of Bentley's early outings, "Jack Bentley, some of the critics say, is suffering the penalty of delay in reporting to the Giants. He came into camp fat and it took all his time to reduce his belt line, without a chance to try out his arm. Now he is stamped with the fatal word 'lemon' and it will be a tough job for him to climb the grade."

Cincinnati baseball writer W.A. Phelon issued these sarcastic comments, "Jack Bentley is a great thing for the National League and should be applauded and encouraged. Every time he goes to the hurling hill he gets a beating, the Giants get tumbled and life looks more pleasing for the other clubs."

Baltimore writer Roger Pippen analyzed Bentley's problem thusly, "New York writers have Jack Bentley wrong when they say that when (he) gets runners on bases he loses his nerve, his poise and his effectiveness. The southpaw then loses form, control and poise. He seems to be flustered, worried and nervous. And that's why opposition teams, when Bentley is on the mound, have for their slogan, `Get one man on base and we'll have a marathon.'

"But when Jack gets men on the paths he loses only one thing  his windup. His nerve and his poise are just the same, but without his corkscrew windup, Jack is like Samson with his locks cut. When Bentley is able to take his windup, it is hard for the batsmen to follow the ball and it is upon him before he realizes it."

Baltimore fans got another look at Bentley on Sept. 27 when the Giants played the Orioles in an exhibition game. Bentley hooked up for 10 innings against Lefty Grove and came out on the short end of a 4-3 score.

If Bentley's pitching arm wasn't up to par to begin the 1923 campaign, his batting eye was. Through July 13 he was batting .474. On July 15 he was used for the first time by the Giants as a pinch-hitter, and produced the desired result.

By the end of the season, Bentley was the league leader with 10 pinch hits in 20 PH at-bats. Combined with continued fine production at bat when he was pitching, the season ended with Bentley carrying a .427 batting average; 38 hits in 89 at-bats. That is a record that stands to this date. No major leaguer in 50 or more games has hit for a higher mark than Bentley's 1923 performance. (Hershiser ended the 1993 season with 26 hits in 71 at-bats, a .366 average.)

Bentley also managed to put together decent pitching stats that season, winning 13 and losing eight despite an ERA of 4.48. He ranked third in the league in strikeouts per nine innings, 3.93.

Once again in 1923  for the third straight year  the Giants met the Yankees in the World Series. Bentley's hot hitting continued into the Fall Classic. In Game 1 he came through with a pinch-hit single to help the Giants to a 5-4 victory.

In Game 2, Bentley came on in relief of Hugh McQuillen in the third inning, with two men on. Bentley loaded the bases by soaking opposing pitcher Herb Pennock, but got out of the inning with no damage. In the next inning he gave up a home run to Babe Ruth, then settled down to pitch four-hit ball with no more scoring the rest of the way. He had no decision in the 4-2 loss. At the plate, Bentley doubled in two at-bats.

Called upon to pinch-hit again in Game 4, Bentley again was successful, singling in the seventh inning in an 8-4 Giants loss.

Bentley was given the start in Game 5, played at Yankee Stadium before a crowd of 62,817, a World Series record. He was knocked out of the box after only an inning and a third, having given up five hits and two walks. He was tagged with the loss and had no plate appearances.

In the sixth and final game of the '23 Series, Bentley was called upon to pinch-hit in the ninth, but grounded out as the Giants lost the game 6-4, and the Series, 4-2.

Bentley led all hitters with his .600 batting average in the World Series, though his 9.45 ERA was nothing to be proud of.

Loser's shares of the 1923 World Series, the richest in the history of the contests, were $4,363.

Following the 1923 World Series, Orioles owner-manager Jack
Dunn (center) brought his two prize discoveries, Babe Ruth
(left) and Jack Bentley to Baltimore for an exhibition game.
Ruth wore a N.Y. Giants uniform for the engagement.

In 1924 Bentley's batting average dropped 162 points. Still, his .265 mark is one which any pitcher would brag on. More importantly to the Giants, Bentley's pitching record improved to 16-5, the third-best winning percentage in the league, though his ERA remained relatively high at 3.78.

The Giants went to the World Series again in 1924, with the same result as 1923, though in '24 it was the Senators who proved American League superiority.

Bentley played a minor role in Game 1. Coming on in the 12th inning as a pinch-hitter, he drew a walk and was replaced by a pinch-runner who later scored to help the Giants beat the Senators and Walter Johnson in the first-ever World Series game played in the nation's capital.

In Game 2 Bentley had a complete-game loss, 4-3 and went hitless at the plate. Pinch-hitting in the ninth inning of Game 4 back in New York, Bentley was unsuccessful and the Giants lost 7-4.

Bentley was matched against Walter Johnson in Game 5 at New York and came out the winner of the 6-2 contest. Bentley helped himself greatly with the bat. He singled in the third inning and homered in the fifth to give the Giants the lead. In the eighth he gave up a home run and a single before being pulled for a relief pitcher.

In Game 5 of the 1924 World Series, Bentley was thrown out at
home to end the third inning, but defeated Walter Johnson 6-2.

In the final game of one of the all-time great World Series, Bentley came on in relief in the 11th inning with the score tied 3-3. In an inning and a third he gave up a walk and three hits and lost the game 4-3 to Johnson.

Bentley hit .286 in the Series. His pitching line was a 1-2 record on 3.18 ERA. He pitched 17 innings, giving up 18 hits and eight walks while striking out 10. Loser's share of the 1924 World Series purse was $3,820.

Though Bentley's pinch-hig had dropped off to 4-for-18 (.222) in 1924, he performed much better in that capacity in 1925, tying for the league lead with 28 pinch-hit at-bats and coming through with a league-topping nine pinch hits (.321). Bentley raised his overall batting average back over .300 that season and, for the first time since 1917, played a handful of games in the outfield as well as a game on first base.

On the mound in 1925 Bentley's record evened out to an 11-9 mark and his ERA ballooned over 5.00. The Giants finished second that year.

This is a 1925 Universal Toy &
Novelty strip card from a
team-set sheet.
Because he was said to have lost faith in Bentley "as a money pitcher," McGraw traded him on Dec. 30, 1925, along with Wayland Dean, a "promising pitcher," for veteran Phillies pitcher Jimmy Ring. Considering the purchase price of Dean and Bentley, the Giants paid $122,500 for Ring, who was 11-10 for the Giants in 1926 before being traded to the Cardinals the next season with Frankie Frisch for Rogers Hornsby.

The Phillies had hoped Bentley could fill their long-standing need for a first baseman. Veteran ballplayer and baseball columnist Jess Altenburg said, "The
y say that Jack Bentley is to become (manager Art) Fletcher's regular first baseman. They want Jack in the line-up every day, as they figure his hitting will be a big asset to the Phillies. This seems like a wise move.

"Bentley is a big, powerful left-handed hitter, and in the Philly park, which is a small one, Jack should be able to get many a base hit. He seems made to order for his new surroundings.

"Fletcher may be planning to use Jack as Baltimore did," Altenburg speculated, "That is, play him regularly on first, but shove him in to pitch occasionally. Bentley can stand a lot of work, or he could, not long ago, and he'll give a good account of himself whether pitching or on first."

Unfortunately, Bentley was not the first baseman the Phils had been looking for. In 56 games he hit .258. He also appeared on the mound in seven games for the Phils, with an 0-2 record and an 8.28 ERA.

On this 1927 Exhibit card, Bentley is
pictured in a Phillies uniform, but
correctly listed as a N.Y. Giant.
On Sept. 15, the Phillies waived Bentley. Ironically, it was the Giants who claimed him for the $4,000 waiver price. He appeared in just three games for the Giants; twice as a pinch-hitter; once for two innings of relief work on the mound, with no decision.

About this time, Bentley became an off-season employee of John McGraw's, as well. The Giants' manager had become involved in the Florida land boom and was promoting a housing development at Sarasota called "Pennant Park." Bentley was hired to serve as New York agent for the project which eventually went belly-up and cost McGraw a fortune and his health.

Bentley closed out his big league career with the Giants in early 1927. He made four relief pitching appearances with no record, and played twice at first base, hitting .222. In late May the Giants bailed out the financially strapped Newark Bears of the International League. As the first transaction of their new working agreement, the Giants sent Bentley to the Bears in exchange for first option on the team's roster at season's end. Bentley's manager at Newark was Walter Johnson -- this was in the era when even the game's superstars didn't expect major league managerial reins to be handed to them without serving an apprenticeship in the minors.

Bentley pitched well in the minors, with an 11-3 record, even though he was sidelined for several weeks with the mumps. He hit .270 for the third-place finishers.

Back with Newark for 1928, Bentley hit .311. He went back to splitting time at first base as his pitching arm had lost its pizzazz. He had a 6-7 record and Newark finished seventh in the league.

At the close of the season it was announced that Bentley had been traded to the York White Roses (one of the all-time great minor league team nicknames) of the New York-Pennsylvania League, which team he was expected to serve as playing manager. York was a farm club of Newark at that time -- yes, even minor league teams had minor league teams back then.

Bentley spent three seasons as skipper and first baseman at York. He hit a cumulative .357 from 1929-31 for York, and led the league with 46 doubles in his first year, while also leading the league first basemen in fielding percentage.

As a manager, Bentley had no great success at York, finishing fourth, sixth and fifth in his three seasons.

In late August, 1931, Bentley resigned as York manager and was signed by Rochester for their pennant drive. In 17 games at first base for the Red Wings he hit .306 and Rochester did, indeed, win the International League pennant.

After nine seasons, Bentley found himself again facing St. Paul in the Little World Series, at the same time the parent St. Louis Cardinals were playing the A's for the major league championship.

When George Sisler was forced out of Game 1 with a recurrence of an old groin injury, Bentley took over the initial sack for the remainder of the series. He batted .310 in the series overall, and in Games 5-7 hit .500 with a home run, five RBIs and three runs. His fielding in the series was flawless. Rochester beat the Saints five games to three, but because of cold weather, the Depression or the on-going World Series, the purse amounted to a winner's share of only $600.

On the recommendation of Rochester president and future National League president Warren C. Giles, Bentley was offered a job for 1932 as a manager in the Cardinals' chain, returning to the N.Y.-Penn League with Elmira.

Bentley appears on a number of
1990s collectors card, such as this
1993 Conlon Collection issue.
Bentley was basically a bench manager with the Colonels, playing a few games at first base, doing some pinch-hitting and even making his first appearance on the mound in five years. He gave up three hits and a run, walked two and struck out three in three innings of work. With the bat, Bentley hit just .232.

Late in the 1932 season, when Specs Toporcer replaced Billy Southworth as Rochester manager, Bentley rejoined the Red Wings as a coach. The following season, with the Depression deepening, minor league coaches became a luxury that even the rich St. Louis farm system couldn't afford and Bentley was released, ending his professional career.

After his playing days Bentley worked as a salesman for a Washington, D.C., paint company. His late years were plagued with severe arthritic pain and Bentley was said to have become an avid reader of the classics and a student of Chinese philosophy.

On Oct. 24, 1969, Bentley died at Olney, Md., at the age of 74.