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)

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