Tuesday, January 10, 2017

TOT - Beaneaters Get One of Baseball's Most Vulgar Characters

Transaction of Today...January 10, 1890 - The Boston Beaneaters purchased Tommy Tucker from the Baltimore Orioles for $3,000.

Born in Massachusetts, Tommy Tucker's numbers don't stand out much outside of ranking third in baseball history with getting hit by a pitch (272 total). Nevertheless, "Foghorn" had a 13-year career in which he left a lasting impression on many people - quite often in a negative way.

Tucker originally appeared with the Baltimore Orioles in the financially challenged American Association. After two underwhelming seasons, Tucker became the first switch-hitter to lead a major league in batting average when he slashed .372/.450/.484 in 1889. When the Orioles left the American Association to join the minor league Atlantic Association, Tucker considered a jump to the upstart Player's League. Ultimately, he allowed the Orioles to sell him to a major league team. The Boston Beaneaters had just lost future Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers to the aforementioned Player's League so they had an opening at first base.

Tucker spent seven-and-a-half years with Boston after joining them 127 years ago today. That included a starring role on the 1891-1893 teams, which all finished first with a combined winning percentage of .660. However, Tucker's story is less about his accomplishments as a hitter and more about Tucker's tendency to rub nearly everyone he met the wrong way.

Aggressive and foul-mouthed, Tucker was never accused of playing the game like a gentleman. On wild pickoff throws, he would simply fall on the runner to keep him from advancing to second base. One time, he had to be taken away from the stadium by police after his manager, Frank Selee, refused to play a clearly drunk Tucker.

In 1894, Tucker would be involved in a memorable and potentially life-threatening game. On May 15, the Baltimore Orioles visited the South End Grounds for an afternoon game with the Beaneaters. The South End Grounds was eight-years-old that season and one of the most extravagant parks in baseball with a pair of twin spires rising from the Grand Pavilion, which covered a double-decked area. Like most stadiums of the time, it was built mostly of wood.

Tucker was seething by the third inning. Earlier in the game, he had been kicked in the jaw while sliding into third base by John McGraw. Tucker was expecting a chance for vengence. It never came. In the third inning, fire under the right-field bleachers was noticed. Wind fed the small fire and it grew. Soon, the entire outfield bleachers were on fire. It then spread to the Pavilion and in less than 45 minutes, the entire stadium was charred.

While no one died, the fire went on to destroy an additional 200 buildings and left nearly 2000 people homeless. Kids were blamed for starting the fire while others felt a lit cigarette in trash led to the blaze. To be honest, it was only a matter of time and fires damaged two other stadiums that summer as it became clear that the wooden stadiums of the past would need to be replaced.

The next season, Tucker was part of a bit of poor gamemenship by Boston. After a 2-1 lead turned into a 12-2 deficit in the 8th, the Boston team tried to delay the 8th inning from completing. Doing so would have reverted the score back to the last completed inning - the 7th. There was a light rain, which Boston hoped would convince the umpire to call the game. That didn't happen and after Philadelphia intentionally got called out by missing a bag, the game was forfeited when Boston refused to continue play. Considered a ringleader for these shenanigans, Tucker was later assaulted by several fans before Philadelphia players and the police saved him. He suffered either a broken cheekbone or a severe bruise during the fight.

Tucker was a fan favorite, but Selee was never much of a supporter. The foul-tempered first baseman's numbers fell in 1895 and he was slowing down as an athlete. Selee was looking for a replacement, but couldn't find one until the Beaneaters moved Fred Tenney from behind-the-plate to first base in 1897. Tucker rarely played for several weeks that season until he was sold to the Senators in early June. He played out the season with the Senators and did well for them, but Washington sold him before the next season.

Tucker would play in the bigs for two more years, but he was a shell of his former self. Three years later, in 1902, he retired for good and returned to his pre-baseball job - working in a paper mill. For 13 years, Tucker played the game his way. He didn't make many friends, but his career .290 batting average is just a sign of how he earned the right to be whatever vulgar player he wanted to be.

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