For many ball players, Philadelphia becomes merely a second home. What we aim to do with the "Philadelphia Baseball Ghosts" series is take a look at those who are born within Philadelphia city limits before they set off on their grand baseball adventure somewhere else in the vast, horrible world.
John Francis "Phenomenal" Smith
DOB: January 18, 1874
What was happening in Philadelphia at the time: I routinely make light in this section of a particular threat to urban life in the 1800s, and that is fires. While people lost their lives quite often to the hazard back then, it is a testament to the improvement of architecture, rescue services, and other resources that we don't so often face roaring flames upon getting out of bed in the morning.
But a gander at Philadelphia's most memorable moments of the 1874 calendar produces a simply staggering number of burnings, including a pair of ballet dancers who, while tending to a stove, had their dresses come aflame and were killed. Just like that, in 1874, one's life could be snuffed by in a mundane chore. Unfathomable.
Moving on to far lighter fare, we will of course be addressing here a paramount moment in our city's - and nation's - history: the opening of the first animal prison. The Zoological Society of Philadelphia had actually been set to open in 1859, but faced a slight 15-year delay when the country inconveniently broke somewhere around the Mason-Dixon Line and the top and bottom halves warred for a good bit.
Eventually, with the Civil War well behind them, the zoo finally opened the same year our boy Zeke Wrigley was born in Philadelphia, ushering in an era of childhood memories, biological advancements, and me attending beerfests while a lounging tiger eyes my torso disapprovingly.
MLB career: 1896-98 Washington Senators; 1899 New York Giants and Brooklyn Superbas
.258/.296/.351, 5 HR, 20 3B, 25 2B, 46 BB, 55 SO, and -0.8 WAR in 239 G and 861 AB
Bio: George Watson "Zeke" Wrigley, the most recently covered player on these pages to feature a disappointing real name, flashed onto the scene of 1896 baseball as a 22-year-old, went 1-for-9 with 2 RBI, and then waited patiently for the following season, when he would put up some actual numbers.
The shortstop's career took off that year, in which he hit .284 with a .704 OPS, though the side of the plate he stood on and the arm he used to throw the ball have been lost in time.
As portrayed in this moment in Fred W. Veil's "Bucky: A Story of Baseball in the Deadball Era," Wrigley was one of those sarcastic-types everyone likes to have hanging around.
And how about Baltimore Orioles manager Ned "Foxy Ned" Hanlon's response to a rumor that he was thinking of making a trade for Wrigley in 1897:
"There is not a word of truth to it... I don't know (the agent) or Zeke Wrigley, and I don't want to."
So it's fair to say Wrigley did not spend his four-season professional baseball career being hotly pursued by suitors. In fact, when the Brooklyn Superbas did acquire him in 1899 (while being managed by Ned Hanlon) from the Syracuse Stars of the Eastern League, the acquisition caused 16 baseball games to no longer exist.
Wrigley, while banging out a contract with Brooklyn, got the okay from league leadership to sign and play with the New York Giants. Once the Brooklyn deal was squared away, the Superbas ordered him to show up and play for them, which New York didn't like for some reason (Wrigley hit .203 in 1899). Mostly, it was due to Brooklyn's deal with Wrigley being for the 1900 season, which they decided was starting... now.
In the end, the Superbas were docked $500 for their crimes and the 16 games in which Wrigley played were determined to have never happened.
In 1908, his pro career long behind him, Wrigley was still swinging for the Columbus Senators in a tight pennant race with the Indianapolis Indians. The season came down to some critical games, covered quite ably in the 22nd volume of a newsletter for railroad workers. Wrigley's role in the first game was to miss an easy pop-up while manning second base. Taking the loss, Senators fans grumbled about the intense gusts of winds responsible for the team's poor luck, as well as the umpire's questionable calls, the response to which was the publishing of a vitriolic poem called "The Umpire (With Apologies to the Vampire)" following the recap.
Wrigley would play in the minors until he was 40-year-old utility infielder for the Trenton Tigers in 1914, a team which he co-managed with Pop Foster.
What riding on a bus with sarcastic a-hole Zeke Wrigley might have been like:
COACH: All right guys we're almost back at the stadium--
ZEKE WRIGLEY: Oh, really? I thought all the road signs for "Brooklyn" meant we were pulling into St. Louis. [elbows annoyed seatmate]
COACH: Uh, so, everybody just grab you gear and get whatever rest you can. I know we drove all night but today's game starts in 20 minutes.
ZEKE: 20 whole minutes?! Should be quite the sojourn through dreamland for us, then! What a well-rested troupe we'll be! [elbows vigorously]
COACH: Oh, about the locker room - nothing works. And I've been told that the bench in the home dugout has been infested by a family of possums.
ZEKE: Maybe we can slot him in at clean-up.
SEATMATE: [leans away from Zeke's elbow] Does anyone want to switch seats?
COACH: The good news is, the building manager says he can fry up some possum steaks by the fourth inning so we can get some of our strength back.
ZEKE: Can't wait to feel my guts full of nature's squealing acrobat!
COACH: Which I felt was really a hell of a deal, the guy is going to miss the birth of his first daughter to cook some possum meat for a ball team. Swell guy.
ZEKE: Yeah father of the year, there.
COACH: Hopefully the smell of the meat will distract the other team, they're riding a 10-game win streak in which they have yet to score less than 30 runs in the first six innings.
ZEKE: Favorable match-up when you consider the roadkill we'll be eating.
COACH: Finally, some of our team owner's hired goons came to the park bench I was sleeping on last night and kicked me in the ribs until I agreed that we'd cover the spread today.
ZEKE: No pressure.
COACH: If we don't, they're going to pick a player at random and shoot him to death, but I worked out a deal that the first player on the chopping block is... uh, you know. Someone nobody will miss.
ZEKE: At least the poor fool will have the strength of a momma possum to try and defend himself!
REST OF TEAMMATES: [All smirking at each other]
- "Bucky: A Story of Baseball in the Deadball Era," by Fred W. Veil
- Railroad Men: A Monthly Publication Devoted to the Railroad Service, Volume 22
- "A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters, and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant," by Bill Feiber
- "The League that Failed," by David Quentin Voigt