A Halloween Ghost Story … and Other Pastime Tales

What better team and player to appear in a Halloween story than the Giants and Madison Bumgarner? (via Dirk Hansen)

The man had made known his presence.

He was, as they say, for real.

He had ended the third inning by throwing out Mel Ott on an attempted steal of third, and had ended the sixth even more dramatically: by nailing Gus Mancuso to complete a strike-’em-out-throw-’em-out double play and help the Reds maintain a 3-2 lead over the first-place Giants at the Polo Grounds.

More than 3,000 souls, as they say, were watching.

The Reds still held that lead as 27-year-old rookie Hank Erickson, making his 19th career start at catcher, stepped into the right-hand batter’s box in the top of the eighth. In his first trip to the plate, the 185-pound backstop had provided solid evidence of his material existence by getting hit by a Slick Castleman pitch. Smack! Only corporeal beings bruise. Now, with two outs, Erickson hoped to make the Giants pay for having intentionally walked teammate Lew Riggs to get to him. Riggs took his lead at first base. Babe Herman took his lead at second. Making his first appearance for New York, reliever Euel Moore came set and then delivered the pitch.

Smack! Erickson yanked a sharp line drive over shortstop Dick Bartell and toward the grassy expanse of left field. In the physical realm of Coogan’s Hollow — in its three dimensions of Manhattan space and its one dimension of Eastern Standard Time — it appeared destined for a run-scoring safety.

“It did not seem humanly possible to reach it,” wrote a Cincinnati Enquirer scribe in the story that followed. But then? Then, the writer continued, a figure “bobbed up out of nowhere, came in at lightning speed, took a long head-first dive, grabbed the ball three inches off the ground, somersaulted, and came up on his feet with the precious sphere clasped in his glove.”

Did not seem humanly possible? Bobbed up out of nowhere?

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the Gause Ghost.

***

Halloween is now upon us, people, and what that means, per autumnal tradition, is that the boundary between the real world and the spirit world is thinner and more delicate than at any other time of the year. Halloween gives us ghost stories because the ghosts, in whatever form they take and with whatever force they exert, are lifting the veil and encroaching on our annually accessible consciousness. And if the ghosts appear as tangible as we are to ourselves, their stories seem just as real.

One ghost story that is real is that of the Gause Ghost himself. Born Joe Gregg Moore in tiny Gause, Texas, on Christmas day, 1908, he became better known as Jo-Jo Moore, the dazzling left fielder for the Giants, and his diving catch of that Aug. 19, 1935, line drive allowed the Giants to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth and to win it in walk-off fashion when Bartell singled home Ott in the 10th.

Of course, Moore is not the only major leaguer to boast a spooky nickname. On the all-time roster are two men called Spook, one called Spooks and one called Boo. There’s a Creepy, a Creeper, a Phantom. You’ve got the Shadow, Dr. Death and men called Bones. You’ve got the Werewolf and the Mummy.

You’ve got guys, too, whose given names are as creepy as Creepy’s sobriquet. You’ve got Vern Fear, Nick Goulish, Sid Graves. Then there’s Mike Myers, whose cinematic namesake scared the bejeebers out of the good people of Haddonfield in the movie Halloween. Here in the real world, where people tell such haunting tales and other people heed them, Halloween would seem to bear little relation to baseball. After all, some historians have traced its origins to a Celtic festival called Samhain, which derives from the Old Irish term for “summer’s end.” And really, you can’t get more contrary to baseball and all its balmy evocations than by citing the dawn of the fall.

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Even in the realm of facts and not just convincing fictions, however, Halloween and the Pastime do bear documented associations. On Halloween day, 1960, infielder Al Dark was traded for the final time of his 14-year career, going from the Braves to the Giants. And even though Dark, owing to his surname, would find a place on several All-Halloween baseball rosters, he would never play ball again. Instead, he signed a two-year contract to manage the Giants. And in 1962, he led those Giants to the National League pennant and a World Series berth against the Yankees.

In the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Seven, with the Yankees leading the Giants, 1-0, and runners on second and third with two outs, Dark looked on as Giants cleanup hitter Willie McCovey swung at an inside fastball from Yankees starter Ralph Terry. Smack! He yanked a sharp line drive toward the grassy expanse of right field. In the physical realm of Bayview Heights — in its three dimensions of San Francisco space and its one dimension of Western Standard Time — it appeared destined for a run-scoring safety.

Later, and for the rest of his life, McCovey would call it the hardest-hit ball of his career. Positioned perfectly, or perhaps just propitiously, Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson did not bob up out of nowhere. He took a half step to his left, lifted his hands and clasped the precious sphere in his glove.

“If that ball had gone out of his reach,” NBC television announcer Mel Allen said on-air, “the Giants would have been the winner. Now it’s the Yankees.”

McCovey, in his telling, would be haunted by the moment for the rest of his life.

That life ended in 2018, on Halloween.

***

The dead give rise to Halloween. With the boundary thinned and the veil lifted, their souls are said to return home on that one fall night each year.

It is to life that death is indebted. of course. It leans all the way back on birth. The first major leaguer born on Halloween was a New Yorker named Kick Kelly. It sounds made up, and was. Born John O. Kelly in 1856, he unwittingly honored Halloween by crafting multiple identities and wearing numerous ensembles. He also went by several names. One name, apart from Kick, was Diamond John. Another was Honest John. Following his brief playing career, in which he posted a dismal OPS of .326 across 16 games for both the Syracuse Stars and the Troy Trojans in 1879, Kelly turned to umpiring. By the time he retired from that role following the 1888 season, he had racked up a record 587 games. Then in 1897 he ended his retirement and returned to umpiring for 39 games near the end of the season. In that short span, he claimed the season crown among all big league umpires with 15 ejections.

Prior to his initial retirement from umpiring, Kelly had dressed up in a different baseball ensemble: that of a manager. Indeed, in 1887, he led the Louisville Colonels to a 76-60 record. On that team were Chicken Wolf, Ducky Hemp and Toad Ramsey, not to mention Ice Box Chamberlain and Peek-A-Boo Veach.

Sadly, their season ended before Halloween.

Kelly returned to manage the Colonels in 1888, but in June, after the team had posted a record of 10-29, he was fired. That’s when he returned to umpiring. On Sept. 21 of that season, he missed his scheduled assignment for a game between the Giants and Wolverines in Detroit. And where, pray tell, was Kelly? Fittingly, the man born on Halloween was in the so-called Dead Man’s Cell at Central Police Station.

So reported the Detroit Tribune. He had been arrested after drunkenly assaulting a woman at a brothel.

The next Halloween-born big leaguer, Hardie Henderson, entered the world of the living in 1862. Henderson, like Kelly, was an incorrigible drunk. True to his Halloween birth, he was arrested at a masked ball, in 1883, after fighting over a woman. A year later he was arrested for public drunkenness following a brawl between members of the Browns and his Orioles. Per reports, Henderson behaved so brutishly en route to the police station that “extreme measures” were taken to restrain him.

In 1886 he pitched for the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. In 1903, while returning home from a pool hall, he was struck and killed by a trolley he failed to dodge.

***

No one leaves here alive, of course. In time, death comes to claim the worst-behaved players and even the best-. Deacon McGuire, among the many victims of Kick Kelly’s thumb, acquired his ministerial nickname because of his gentlemanly style of play. Like Kelly, he wore many hats. Not only did he play in the big leagues — and for 26 seasons — he also umpired, managed, scouted and coached. On May 15, 1912, while serving as the pitching coach for the Tigers, he looked on as Ty Cobb entered the stands at Hilltop Park and administered a beating to disabled fan Claude Lueker.

In response, American League President Ban Johnson suspended Cobb. Cobb’s teammates reacted by going on strike. Hoping to avoid a forfeit, however, Tigers owner Frank Navin told manager Hughie Jennings to field a team for Detroit’s game against the Athletics on May 18.

He did field a team, one that included college players, semi-pro players and the 48-year-old McGuire. All dressed up as a Tiger, he gave a convincing performance by going 1-for-2 and scoring one of Detroit’s runs in its 24-2 loss.

Following his retirement from baseball, McGuire donned yet another ensemble: that of a chicken farmer near the town of Duck Lake. A decade later, in 1936, the man they called Deacon passed away — on Halloween.

In the years to follow, other creatively named players, and not just Hub Perdue and Dixie Parsons, would pass away on Oct. 31. Among the 29 major leaguers to have died on Halloween are Sheriff Blake and King Lear.

Still, as ever, death leans back on birth, and not only did Halloween play host to the births of the creatively named Kick Kelly and Hardie Henderson, it also played host, in 1939, to the birth of the boringly named Edwin Marvin Stroud.

But in the summer of 1966, just before his call-up to the White Sox, the outfielder acquired a different name. They called him the Creeper.

***

Baseball is a birthing place for nicknames.

Whatever their actual origin, some go straight to the heart of Halloween.

What follows, based entirely on nicknames, is our All-Halloween Team.

First baseman: Bob “Spook” Speake

Player note: After pinch-hitting in each of the first nine games of his rookie season, Spook got his first start when Cubs teammate Hank Sauer suffered food poisoning after eating tainted shrimp. Gruesome.

Second baseman: Julian “The Phantom” Javier

Name note: On his first baseball card, he dressed up as a Pirate — not only a Pirate but a Pirate named Manuel Javier. That is what they called the man.

Shortstop: Wally “Spooks” Gerber

Name note: They called him Spooks because of his skeleton-like frame.

Player note: In the 1920s, The Sporting News called him “the class of the American League” shortstops. He was frighteningly good with the glove.

Third baseman: Richie “The Gravedigger” Hebner

Name note: Beginning in ninth grade, Hebner spent the offseasons digging graves in the cemetery his father owned. He kept the job throughout his 18-year big league career. He signed his last player contract in a graveyard.

Player note: In 1971, he struck out eight consecutive times. Shocking.

Center fielder: Ed “The Creeper” Stroud

Name note: Teammates called him the Creeper, wrote Edgar Munzel in the The Sporting News, “because of the hunch-shouldered walk that makes him look like he’s sneaking up on somebody.” Bone-chilling.

Left fielder: Jayson “The Werewolf” Werth

Name note: In 2013, his walk-up song was “Werewolves of London.”

Right fielder: Art “Spider” James

Player note: In his first major league game, he faced Baltimore starter Jim Palmer. Scary. In his second, he faced Yankees starter Catfish Hunter. Scary. In his 11th and final game, he faced Indians starter Dennis Eckersley. Hairy.

Utility infielder: Spook Jacobs

Name note: His given name, Forrest Vandergrift Jacobs, might be scarier.

Player note: In three big league seasons, he hit zero home runs. Frightening.

Utility infielder: Creepy Crespi

Player note: While in the Army, he suffered a compound leg fracture during an armed services game. Shortly thereafter, he broke the same leg during a training accident. While in the hospital, he broke it a third time during a wheelchair race. He never returned to professional ball. Ghastly, for real.

Utility man: Jerry “Casper the Friendly Ghost” Adair

Name note: They called him Casper because of his fair skin.

Player note: Red Sox broadcaster Ken Coleman wrote that Adair deserved a “Tenth Player Award.” Tenth player? It’s almost like a ghost in the outfield.

Right-handed starting pitcher: Frank “The Shadow” Gilmore

Player note: In 1885, while in the minors, Gilmore and catcher Connie Mack formed the so-called “Bones Battery.” Both were tall and skinny. Gilmore had chronic arm trouble. He once kept Mack up “all night rubbing his arm with witch-hazel.” Bones Battery? Witch-hazel? The Shadow? Yeah, this guy is team captain.

Right-handed starting pitcher: Dave “Boo” Ferriss

Name note: He was listed as Boo, not Dave, in his hometown phone book.

Player note: Boo went 21-10 in 1945 and 25-6 in 1946. Scary good.

Right-handed starting pitcher: Danny “Dr. Death” Darwin

Player note: During a 1998 brawl between the Phillies and his Giants, Darwin punched Orel Hershiser in the face. Key point: Hershiser was his teammate. Hersisher claimed it was payback for a hit-by-pitch years earlier. Yikes.

Right-handed swingman: Jim “The Mummy” Coates

Name note: In Ball Four, Jim Bouton wrote that the 6-foot-4 Coates “could pose as the illustration for an undertaker’s sign. He has the personality to match.”

Left-handed swing man: Dick “Bones” Tomanek

Player note: We need a lefty. In 106 games, he started 11 and finished 53.

Right-handed reliever: Dick “The Monster” Radatz

Name note: At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, Radatz was monstrous.

Player note: He went 15-6 in 1963 and 16-9 in 1964 — in relief. Monstrous.

Right-handed reliever: Jim “Bones” Blackburn

Player note: In 1944, just a year removed from his third season in the minors, he was wounded and taken prisoner in the Battle of the Bulge. Frightening, for real.

Player note 2: Among his 247 games, he started 46 and finished 89. Victory.

——

So that’s our All-Halloween Team, based solely on nicknames. If you wish to add players whose given names give them a spot, we can add shortstop Everett Booe, whose name was pronounced “boo;” outfielder Casper Wells, who calls to mind the friendly ghost of cartoon fame; and hurlers Ray Crone, Ricky Bones, Kendall Graveman, Danny Graves and Mike Myers.

We can also add pitcher Vern Fear. A knuckleballer, he pitched in four games for the 1952 Cubs. That was the extent of his time in the majors. Still, what a time. In his debut, he faced four batters and retired none. Scary. The first two batters he faced were future Hall of Famers: Roy Campanella, who singled, and Duke Snider, who homered. He then faced five-time All-Star Andy Pafko, who singled, and eight-time All-Star Gil Hodges, who also singled. Yikes.

In his second game, he got his one and only plate appearance in the major leagues. And it came against Sal “The Barber” Maglie. Terrifying.

In his third game, the starting pitcher for Philadelphia was none other than Russ Meyer, namesake of the man who made the movie Motorpyscho. Horrifying.

In his fourth and final game, the final two batters he faced were Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst. Spine-chilling! He retired both.

Then there are the brothers Joe and Sid Graves. Joe, a middle infielder, totaled just two games in the majors. In his first game, he entered as a defensive replacement and promptly committed an error. Unnerving. In his debut at-bat, he faced Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance. Hair-raising. In his second and final game, he got the start at third base. He committed two errors and went 0-for-4 at the plate. Shocking.

His brother was better but not much. Like Joe, Sid committed an error in his first game. In fact, he committed it on his first play — on a single off the bat of Lloyd “Little Poison” Waner. Then in his seventh and final game, he made his second and final error. In the bottom of the fourth, with two runners on base, Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett singled to center field. Graves misplayed the ball, opening the door for a three-run inning. His Braves went on to lose, 6-2.

And so in his seven games, Graves had committed two errors —both on singles by Hall of Famers: Little Poison and Old Tomato Face. Frightening.

We might also add Nick Goulish. In his 13 plate appearances, Goulish posted three hits and one walk. His final contest came on May 26, 1945, at Wrigley Field. In it, he entered as a pinch runner for the Phillies. For whom did he pinch run? He pinch ran for Gus Mancuso, the same Gus Mancuso whom Hank Erickson had gunned down in a strike-’em-out-throw-’em-out double play almost exactly 10 years earlier.

At times, in baseball, the connections are almost scary.

Or maybe they’re just … routine.

The Dark Arts

On the mound was Art Ceccarelli. At the hot corner was Al Dark.

The date: Aug. 13, 1959. The place: Wrigley Field.

With two runners on base in the third, Ceccarelli delivered a pitch to the Giants’ Willie Kirkland. He lifted a high pop-up to the left side of the infield. Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks called for it. Moments later, Banks — along with Dark, Ceccarrelli and 18,000 other souls — watched as the ball cleared the ivy for a home run.

Were the dark arts at work on the North Side?

Had conjury, wizardry or devilry by any name turned a routine pop-up into a four-bagger at the Friendly Confines? Nope. In fact — and we do mean fact — a strong wind had blown into the Windy City and by game’s end had helped send nine fly balls over the ivy in Chicago’s 20-9 beatdown of the Giants. One of the wind-aided dingers was a grand slam by Dark himself. Teammates Ceccarelli, who yielded seven runs in two innings, and Art Schult, who hit a two-run pinch-hit single, were watching as Dark went yard.

And that is why, oh so craftily, I call this section The Dark Arts.

What, you thought you were getting voodoo?

Human beings, burdened with being human, are practiced in the art (call it dark if you must) of applying irrational, otherworldly explanations to events that are otherwise explicable in rational, worldly terms. And baseball, wherein superstitious players routinely leap over curse-casting foul lines, is a hotbed of mystical and ultimately mythical interpretations of the game’s confounding mysteries. Fans, too, get in on the supernatural action, explaining crownless decades by citing the Curse of the Bambino, the Curse of the Billy Goat, the Curse of Coogan’s Bluff — until such time that Keith Foulke saves the Game Four win, that Ben Zobrist hits a tie-breaking double and that Madison Bumgarner comes dressed in orange and black.

Indeed, on Halloween night, 2010, the rookie MadBum came to haunt the Rangers by spinning eight shutout innings in San Francisco’s 4-0 win. It gave the Giants a 3-1 advantage en route to their first Fall Classic crown since 1954. No amount of Texas juju could prevent the Halloween shutout. The Rangers came dressed as hacks.

This is a world of history, and though history does rhyme with mystery, it culls reason from its conundrums and lays fact over its fictions. On Halloween night, 2009, Phillies fans surely wanted to blame witchcraft for Alex Rodriguez’s fourth-inning home run off Cole Hamels. Given that the blast became a dinger only after replay review, they surely wanted to cite the Evil Empire’s alleged alliance with the forces of darkness. In truth, though, it really was a homer. It still is. It’s in the books.

Whatever their reliance on the Yankee mystique, the Bombers had already established a precedent. They had conjured Halloween hocus-pocus in previous classics of the fall. On Oct. 31, 2001, Derek Jeter came dressed as a Yankee shortstop but departed as Mr. November. His post-midnight homer had given the Yanks a 4-3 victory in Game Four against the Diamondbacks.

But was it really hocus-pocus? Nah. Byung-Hyun Kim just hung a slider.

Leave it to the Yankees, though, to make us ponder a partnership between the pinstripes and the forces of sorcery. In 1924, some nine decades before Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy let a Halloween grounder go under his glove to open the door for the crowned Royals, Yankees slugger Babe Ruth stepped to the plate during a Halloween-day exhibition game in Brea, Calif. On the mound stood Walter Johnson, fresh off two victories in Washington’s triumphant World Series.

The rest is history, unofficial in the annals of major league baseball but documented nonetheless. Facing the Big Train, the Sultan of Swat clubbed one of his two homers on the day. And he clubbed it almost mythically far.

“It was perhaps the longest hit he has ever made, according to (Ruth) himself,” reported the Anaheim Bulletin.

It traveled a reported 550 feet — no trick, all treat.

***

If, after all the evidence is in, you still dream of a mystic Fall Classic in which the ghosts of baseball are not just Ruthian metaphors but, y’know, like actual bona fide ghosts, then root for a Brewers-Rays matchup. If you’re lucky, or if the players are cursed, it will even include a game on Halloween.

Why Brewers-Rays? Legend has it that the visiting-team hotel in each city is totally — and we’re being serious here — totally and completely haunted, for real.

Players who’ve stayed at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee have reported all kinds of bumps in the night, and not just from clumsy room service. In 2010, Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis claimed to have seen a “skeletal apparition,” and apparently, it wasn’t the disembodied form of Julio Borbon’s slugging percentage. So terrified was Lewis that he sought the counsel of a chaplain, who likely told him to turn off Showtime and go to sleep.

Not to be outdone, fellow Rangers Michael Young and Adrian Beltre also reported a presence in their rooms. Beltre claimed that his TV and A/C kept going on and off, and as any bonded electrician can tell you, undead spirits in a one-bedroom suite often go straight for the fuse box. As for Young, he reported hearing footsteps. Nothing if not hospitable, Young called out, “Hey, make yourself at home.”

No word yet on whether it was actually Derek Holland.

Seasons hence, Carlos Gomez wasn’t so congenial. He reported that upon stepping out of the shower, he heard static on his iPod. Static on the iPod? Maybe it was Lou Reed. In any case, Gomez wasn’t sticking around to find out. He dashed pell-mell into the Pfister Hotel lobby, completely pantsless.

Meanwhile, back in Tampa-St.-Pete, the Renaissance Vinoy has been haunting many a registered guest with its reputed pair of poltergeists. One is a tall man dressed in a tuxedo coat, likely due back at Al’s Formal Wear any day now. The other is the Lady In White. She probably sorts her laundry.

So convincing are the specters that players have reported clocks being unplugged, faucets being turned on and off and garments being moved. The same things happened in your dorm room.

In any case, longtime reliever Scott Williamson told a better ghost story to the authors of Haunted Baseball. He said that one night, while sleeping on his stomach, he felt a presence pushing down on his back. He said he couldn’t breathe. He said he rolled over and saw a figure wearing “old-fashioned clothes, like something you might see in the 1930s or ’20s. He had a top hat.”

Far be it from me to refute the spookiness of Mr. Peanut. I wasn’t there.

Reliever Jon Switzer told an even better story. He said that he and his wife were in bed one night when they heard scratching on the wall behind them. Upon inspection, they discovered that the painting there had “come to life.” The woman inside it, whether oil or watercolor, was clawing her way out.

What we don’t know is if the Vinoy charged an additional occupancy fee.

Whatever that fee, at least the team ponied up for it. By contrast, several major leaguers have spent their own money in Milwaukee and Tampa-St. Pete to stay in hotels other than the Pfister and the Renaissance Vinoy.

And so, if you are a devoted fan of the spirit world, you now have a rooting interest more ecumenical than just a partisan love of laundry. You can root for a World Series clash of the haunted hotels and all who enter their spine-chilling suites to turn up the heater. In the meantime, while you indulge the treats of this Halloween and recall the tricks of this Fall Classic, you might eagerly await the ensuing October.

Perhaps a classic Game Seven, falling auspiciously on Halloween night, will stir up the baseball spirit. Perhaps Brewers starter Zach “Bat Boy” Davies will go deep in the deciding game, so deep that he pitches opposite Rays reliever Emilio Pagan.

The Halloween stories would write themselves, yes?

No. Davies’ nickname comes not from any connection to the Chiropteran portent of darkness, that mammal known as the bat. He just looks like a bat boy. Likewise, Pagan’s surname has no connection to the historic pagans, whose rituals gave rise to Halloween. No, in Spanish, pagan just means “they pay.” And yet that Game Seven story, written as accurately and insightfully as humanly possible, would still be one worth reading. Pagan has made known his presence, and the Bat Boy is for real.


John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.
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Thanks for the timely and entertaining tour through baseball history! Impressive research . . .