Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Bad News Bees, Part 3c, Bill Rumler

(Continued from yesterday)

Judgement is rendered
            In the closing days of September, a special meeting of the Pacific Coast League owners was convened to pass judgment on league president William McCarthy’s suspension of Bill Rumler. Unfortunately for Rumler, just prior to that meeting, news of the Black Sox scandal in Chicago became public. Rumler, who had appeared at the meeting in his own defense, along with Bees’ team president Bill Lane and the entire board of directors of the Salt Lake club, said, “That Chicago scandal makes it all the tougher for me.”
            By a seven-to-one vote – Lane naturally the lone dissenting ballot – the league owners voted to sustain McCarthy’s suspension of Rumler.
            Almost forgotten in the wake of the scandal was the close of the 1920 Coast League season. With two-thirds of its outfield and much of its hitting suspended, Salt Lake fell from first place in late August into the second division when the season ended, in fifth place, 9-/2 games behind the pennant winner – Vernon.
            In late October, Los Angeles County convened a grand jury to investigate the allegations of gambling and game-throwing. A parade of ballplayers and sporting men made their way through the star chamber proceedings. When it came Rumler’s turn in the barrel, he was quizzed sharply on the matter of his safety bet with Borton. The grand jury was unable to find any evidence that the money Rumler received from Borton was anything else.
            Testimony raised in the grand jury’s investigation also appeared to satisfactorily explain the absence of Rumler from the Salt Lake line-up in the final days of that crucial series in Vernon in 1919. According to “Dr. Spencer, a local bone-setter who had treated many ballplayers,” Rumler injured his right hand sliding into third base. “He said he did not want to stay out of the game because he was battling (Sam) Crawford for the hitting leadership of the Coast League,” the doctor testified. “I found the ligaments so badly injured that he could not throw a ball or grip a bat. Not only would he have been a detriment to his own club if he had played ball,” the doctor opined, “but he also would have taken chances on cutting short his baseball career.” The physician produced records to affirm he had been treating Rumler for his injury on the days he had sat out against Vernon.
            Despite the inability to prove any culpability on Rumler’s part, he was indicted by the grand jury in December, along with Borton, teammates Harl Maggert and Gene Dale, and Seattle gambler Nate Raymond.
            In mid-month, the P.C.L. owners meeting in Sacramento turned into a riot when Bill Lane physically attacked Pres. McCarthy, claiming that McCarthy was trying to ruin the Salt Lake club and award the franchise to a location more beneficial to the rest of the league’s travel budget. McCarthy turned in a resignation, but was later coaxed back when his salary was doubled to $10,000 – something of an early Christmas present.
            Rumler and his indicted co-conspirators also received an early gift when, on Christmas Eve, California Judge Frank Willis dismissed the indictments on the grounds that there was no law in the Golden State prohibiting ballplayers from throwing ballgames, or gamblers from inducing them to do so.
            According to The Sporting News, that gift may have been a white elephant in Rumler’s case. The paper said, “The lawyers certainly messed it up for Bill Rumler in the Los Angeles court proceedings by having the indictment against Rumler dismissed. Bill was insisting loudly upon a trial, so that he might clear himself before a jury. Now that chance is denied him and there’s small chance of him convincing any baseball jury that he’s an ‘innocent boy,’ particularly after a grand jury found evidence enough to indict, even if there was no law to cover such an offense as charged.”
            The paper added, “The Salt Lake club had set great store by a trial in which Bill Rumler might be cleared. Confident it could not be proven the payment by Borton to Rumler was a bribe, the Salt Lake club then planned to demand reinstatement of Rumler. Now that the case must be settled entirely as a baseball affair outside the courts, the Salt Lake contention may not have so much technical merit to stand on.”
            McCarthy, in extracting a doubled salary from the owners, also demanded a vote of confidence for his continued stance that Rumler would not be allowed to return to the Coast League.
            Given the tenor of the times, Rumler’s suspension from the P.C.L. meant no other circuit in Organized Baseball would accept him. Then, as now, however, O.B. was not the only game in town. There were plenty of places a professional ballplayer could ply his trade, often at wages competitive with all but the highest minor leagues.
            Thus Bill Rumler found himself in Minot, North Dakota, for the 1921 season. A team photo of the Minot squad, labeled “North Dakota Champions 1921” has the name “Moore” under Rumler’s picture. Family members assume he was playing under a pseudonym. In the off-season, Rumler accepted a job from an old Army buddy, beginning his law enforcement career as a desk sergeant in Minot.
            In November of 1921, the Salt Lake club hired attorneys in an attempt to get newly named Commissioner of Baseball Kenesaw M. Landis to review Rumler’s situation as a preliminary to another threatened lawsuit. Nothing came of the attempt. It is probably fortunate for Rumler that Landis did not too closely scrutinize Rumler’s case or he would have almost surely made the five-year suspension permanent, given his handling of similar cases during his tenure.
            For 1922, Ruler moved on to Hibbing, Minn., in the Mesaba Range League, another independent pro circuit. Besides his play for the city’s team, Rumler’s contract paid him $150 a month to work for the township.
            The following year Rumler joined the Canton, Ohio, team in the outlaw Mid-West League. At that time the league was the fastest semi-pro circuit in the central U.S., stretching across the industrialized Great Lakes area from southeastern Wisconsin to Ohio. In the early 1920s the leagued proved a haven for players who had been black-balled by the major leagues, including on its rosters several of the Black Sox. Rumler’s 1924 contract with Canton survives in a family scrapbook, providing for payment at the rate of $650 a month.
            There is nothing found in the family archives or in the records of Organized Baseball detailing Rumler’s whereabouts between 1924 and the end of 1928. The five-year suspension handed down by McCarthy should have expired at the close of the 1925 season. McCarthy himself had been replaced as P.C.L. president in a bitter 1923 dispute among the owners. Whether Rumler applied for reinstatement in 1925 is unknown. It’s possible Rumler pursued his police career during this period. A newspaper account in the 1960s said Rumler had been a member of the “suicide squad” of the Portland, Ore., P.D., but provides no dates.
            Inquiries concerning reinstatement must have been made at some point thereafter, however, for the first report of Rumler’s return to O.B. indicated he had severed his ties with the outlaw leagues at least prior to the 1927 season. In an effort to further punish those whom it had banned, it was the policy of the major leagues and the National Association (the minor leagues’ governing body) in that era to refuse admission to an O.B. roster to any player who had played with or against banned ballplayers, even in exhibition contests.
            In December of 1928 it was reported that Bill Rumler had been reinstated to good standing with O.B. during the minor leagues’ winter meetings at Toronto, by action of the Board of Arbitration. Rumler’s contract reverted to Hollywood, where Bill Lane had moved the Salt Lake team in 1926.
In 1929 Ruler returned to the
Pacific Coast League and to
Zee-Nuts' baseball cards with
the Hollywood Stars. 
   Rumler’s return to the Coast League in 1929 could have inspired “The Natural.” At the age of 38 he helped lead the Stars to the pennant. He batted .386, the third-highest mark in the league and the highest batting average that would ever be attained by a Hollywood player. He had a career-high 26 home runs and his .990 fielding average was the best in the P.C.L. for an outfielder in more than 55 games.
            Hollywood won the PC.L. pennant in 1929, though the team was third overall in the won-loss columns. The Mission Reds had a 4-1/2- game lead as the season neared the halfway point, and were pulling away from the pack. To maintain interest in the remainder of the season, the league’s owners voted to split the season. Hollywood won the second half by one game over Mission and the two teams met in a best-of-seven playoff series that the Stars won 4-2. In the fourth game of that series, Rumler was hit in the head with a pitched ball and had to be carried from the field to a hospital. He was able to return for the final game, going 1-for-1 with an RBI to help Hollywood claim the pennant.
            Besides the injury, Rumler suffered a major financial setback in 1929. While on the field one day, thieves removed $485 from his clothes in the locker room. As a token of their appreciation, owner Bill Lane and Rumler’s teammates took up a collection and made up for the loss. Rumler put that money, and his season’s savings into the local bank following the season’s close – and the bank failed in the Depression.
            The 1930 pre-season looked like it would be another banner year for Rumler. In a two-game series with the Chicago Cubs, the final tune-up prior to the opening bell, Rumler went 9-for-10 at the plate.
            As the team traveled to Oakland for the season opener Rumler suffered a freak accident that delayed his own season debut by more than a week. Asleep in a Pullman on that trip, Rumler apparently had a nightmare – at least that’s the way the press reported the accident – and crashed his leg through the train window, badly lacerating his foot.
            Rumler recovered and was having another big year, batting .353 with 14 home runs as the end of August approached. Again, injury intervened.
            The 1930 season was the first in which large numbers of minor league teams experimented with night baseball. Naturally, the lighting left a lot to be desired. In his first game at Los Angeles under the lights, on Aug. 27, Rumler broke his ankle when he misjudged a slide and jammed it into the base. He missed the remainder of the season, another pennant-winner for Hollywood.
            Whether it was the injuries or his age that slowed him, Rumler passed out of fast company with the end of the 1930 season.
            At age 40 in 1931, he opened the season as left fielder and clean-up hitter for Denver, in the Western League. Official statistics credit him with 16 games, though his name appears in only 14 box scores. (My go-to source for baseball stats,, does not show Rumler playing with Denver in 1931. The site does, however, has a separate entry for a Rumler, first name unknown, playing there. Those stats should, in fact, be included with Bill Rumler’s.)
            Rumler was the Bears’ regular left fielder from the May 1 opener through May 18, but the team got off to a dreadful start. They lost eight of their first nine games by a
Rumler was included in
the 1931Denver Bears
team photo.
combined score of 73-46. Although they won the next three games, Rumler was benched while the team piled up a couple more wins. With Rumler back in the outfield, Denver immediately dropped its next pair of games by scores of 13-3 and 11-5, and Rumler was released, having hit just .236.
            Following his release from Denver, Rumler once again went on the road, as manager of a traveling team known as the Canadian Clowns. The team, carrying its own portable lighting system, introduced many a small town to night baseball, playing local nines, Negro aggregations and whomever else could draw a crowd.
For 1932, Rumler came home to Nebraska, as manager of the Lincoln Links of the Nebraska State League, a Class D circuit.
            Lincoln’s opening day festivities on May 20 found the stands packed with Milford residents while the ton band played on the sidelines. Nebraska’s governor threw out the first ball, which was caught by Lincoln’s mayor. The fans were treated to a great inaugural contest. The McCook Generals scored three runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 10-all.
            Lincoln opened the home half of the 10th inning with a triple, then the McCook manager ordered the next two batters intentionally walked. After a strikeout, McCook’s pitcher walked in the winning run. Rumler’s on-field contribution to the win was a trio of doubles in five at-bats.
            That debut victory was the highlight of Rumler’ season, however, as his team stumbled out of the starting gate. In one early-June game Rumler’s team committed 10 errors, allowing nine runs—all unearned—in a 9-1 loss.
            On June 22, the Links visited McCook for a double-header. The Generals were ahead 4-2 in the opening game when Rumler slugged the umpire, precipitating a riot that was quelled only when local police led Rumler off the field. That game was declared a forfeit to McCook. In the second half of the bargain bill, McCook also won, 8-2. That game, too, was marred when a pair of Lincoln players attacked the same umpire whom Rumler had bloodied.
            “I really got into it with him,“ Rumler said later. “He poked his nose in my face, so I lowered the boom on him—right on the nose.”
            With a 12-26 record at the time, Lincoln was in fifth place in the six-team league, 15 games out of first. League president Bob Russell fined Rumler $25 ad suspended him indefinitely for his assault on the umpire. Lincoln’s ownership used the occasion to replace Rumler as manager. Despite his .340 batting average over 17 games, Rumler was also released as the team’s right fielder. It was the end of his career in Organized Baseball.
            For the remainder of the 1932 season, Ruler managed the Maryville, Kan., amateur baseball team.
            Details of Rumler life between 1932 and World War II are unchronicled. He likely was involved in some combination of working the family farm and law enforcement around Milford.
During the war Rumler worked as chief of guards (and manager
of the baseball team) at a Nebraska ordnane factory. He's
shown here kneeling at left in the middle row.
            During the war, Rumler served as chief of guards at the Cornhusker Ordnance Depot in Grand Island, Neb., where he played on the plant’s baseball and basketball teams. In 1943 he was made lieutenant of the guards working on the Al-Can Highway at Skagway, Alaska.
            Rumler returned to Milford after the war and became the town’s chief of police. He also served some time as chief of the village’s fire department, was a 10-year member of the county draft board, and, upon his retirement from law enforcement in 1964 sometime after suffering a heart attack, became justice of the peace for the Milford police court.
            Local lore credits Rumler with being a cop who was firmly rooted in the tradition of the tough-but-fair city marshal of the century past. He is said to have had no tolerance for juvenile delinquents or challenges to his authority.
            But Rumler also cared enough for the local youth to coach the town’s American Legion basketball team all the way to the state finals one year. Rumler retired from public service in 1964, hoping to spend his remaining years hunting and fishing. On May 26, 1966, he died in Milford at the age of 75. He is buried in the town’s Blue Mound Cemetery.

This undated portrait shows
Bill Rumler as remembered
by family and friends in
Milford, Neb.
            (Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Sport Collectors Digest, Sept. 17, 1993 . . .  more than 20 years ago. It was written following a visit I made to Milford, where a  grand-niece of Bill Rumler’s, Terry Torrez, maintained Rumler’s last home as well as the family’s scrapbook and other remnants of Rumler’s life and baseball career. In an upstairs bedroom, the walls are hung with framed photos of some of the teams on which Rumler played or managed. A chair in the corner has on its rails the hats he wore as a World War II security guard and as the town’s chief of police.

            One of the few remaining family members who knew Rumler prior to his death, Ms. Torrez said that prior to being contacted about this article, the family had few details about the scandal in which Bill Rumler had been involved. It had not been a topic of conversation among the relatives. A special thanks to Ms. Torrez for her sharing of the archival material for this presentation.
             The concluding parts of the story of the Bad News Bees will be presented on this blog about this time in September, detailing the role of Babe Borton, the "fixer.")

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