Mr. Shaughnessy Goes To Town
At bat : The Montreal Royals—baseball sensation of 1935
THIS IS the story of a gentleman of Irish extraction who has become one of North America’s most astute shoppers, the tale of a genial Harp—to steal a word from the bright lexicon of the Montreal sports writers —who went to town to buy baseball “ivory” and bobbed up with a pennant-contending team which all summer long has had the townspeople of the Eastern metropolis in the mental state that is known as agog.
The gentleman’s name is Francis Joseph Shaughnessy. Possibly you have heard of him in his former capacity of coach to McGill University football teams, in which status he has been one of the most violently discussed citizens, both pro and contra, in this broad and slightly light-headed Dominion. Until he blossomed forth as general manager, field manager, general factotum and chief purchasing agent for the Montreal Baseball Club of the International League, the average layman apparently did not know that Monsieur Shaughnessy knew anything about the diamond sport. Then he came along in mid-season with a team leading a Class AA league by a margin of some three-and-one-half games, the first real pennant-chasing club Montreal has known since the bad old days of 1898, when the Royals last captured the flag in the old Eastern League, parent of the present International. And the secret of Mr. Shaughnessy's current success, as already noted, is found in the astuteness with which he has gone to market in search of players for his club.
A Real Baseball Club
MONTREAL has always been a good baseball town.
Even in pre-war days, when Sam Lichtenhein owned the team and its games were played in the shadow of the rickety Atwater Park grandstand, which threatened to topple over on to the diamond if any irate fan should stamp his feet, the public used to turn out, in what was commonly regarded as en masse in those piping times, to see sixth-, seventhand eighth-place Montreal teams lose four or five games out of every seven. If the Royals finished in fifth place the townspeople used to feel as though Montreal had won a championship. French and English citizens alike have always passed through the turnstiles in large numbers to call the umpires burglars and to jeer or praise the talent on the field.
The war years put an end to organized baseball in the lee of Mount Royal and everybody thought the town was finished with the game until, in 1928, a group of far-seeing promoters acquired an International League franchise, financed and erected a
stadium capable of seating more than 20,000 rabid fans, and put Montreal back into quasi-Big Time baseball. The new team had its ups and downs. Now and then there would be winning spurts, but something always seemed to be slightly amiss. There were smart-fielding teams which couldn’t hit. There were infields rated as top-notch except for one weak spot. If the club clicked afield and at bat, the pitching was sure to be feeble. Then along came Shag, otherwise Francis Joseph Shaughnessy.
Frank had been general manager—the one who sits behind a mahogany desk and is what the people of the sports world would call the “front man” for the ball club. But last year the active field manager was stricken in mid-season; stricken, it might be added, by a pitched ball on the side of the head. So when the season was over the directors decided that Mr. Shaughnessy had better come out permanently from behind the mahogany, draw on his baseball pants, and get down to the serious business of trying to win a pennant.
He did. And the result thereof is seen in the fact that Montreal leaped into active contention from the day of 1935’s opening game, was up
Above: "Chad" Kinsey, pitcher.
among the leaders all through May and June, and in mid-July was out in front by a cosy margin. The pennant is not won yet. By the time these lines are printed it may be, or, on the other hand, the team may be back in third place. But. come what may, Frank Shaughnessy has given Montreal its first real ball club in more than two decades—for which the town is paying off at the turnstiles to the tune of five-figure crowds. Actually, though playing in a minor league. Montreal is outdrawing several major league clubs at the gate, can beat the attendance figures for at least three contending Big League teams, and is registering better crowds than the Chicago Cubs, a team rated only two and one half games from first place late in July.
Turning Losers Into Winners
O HAUGHNESSY faced the task of building his 1935 club & with the nucleus of a fighting squad but with weaknesses afield, at bat, and in the pitching and catching departments. The club’s number one catcher, Benny Tate, had moved up to Chicago’s White Sox. There was nobody in sight for the first-base job. Good men were on hand for second, short and third, but no first-rate reserves were on the roster, and no team on earth is any better than its substitutes. The outfield housed the brilliant-fielding Jim Ripple, but James had been a spotty batter in 1934 and there were no powerhouse hitsmiths to work with him in the outer gardens. The pitching staff, to say the best for it, was spotty. That was the position of the Montreal Baseball Club when Francis Joseph Shaughnessy came from the G. M.’s desk to become a field manager. Now let us examine the record and study the shopping tours of the winter and spring seasons, which resulted in Montreal becoming a pennant contender for the first time in more years than most of us care to think of.
Last year Montreal had sold its number one catcher, Benny Tate, to the Chicago Sox for Pitcher Kinsey, an infielder, and a sum of money reputed to be $12,(XX). But something went wrong with Master Tate after he reported to Chicago and ultimately he was released. So Frank signed him again for Montreal, and today Ben is going like a house afire, driving in runners when hits are needed and handling Shag’s young pitchers to the king’s, or at least the public’s, taste. The Tate affair seems to have been something of a coup d’état. For the other catching assignment young Lewis was secured from one of the Boston teams, the young man being a fighting player who can hold a fireball with the best of them and wing a baseball down to second with hair-
In the pitching department Shaughnessy found himself woefully weak as he checked the records during the offseason. Smythe, bought a year ago from Brooklyn, was the only really dependable moundsman on the roster. Most of the others were either unknown quantities or, what is just as bad, uncertain ones. So Frank picked up the club cheque book and went out shopping, not in madcap haste to bolster his staff, but with the caginess which has always been the highlight of this grand Irishman’s technique.
Baltimore had a young man named Jablonowski on its staff, but Signor Jablonowski, always a good hurler in International circles, had never seemed to make the grade when tried out in faster company. Furthermore, Mr. Jablonowski suffered a touch of inferiority complex regarding his name, having come to regard it as too much of a tongue-twister for the ordinary umpire, fan or club owner to pronounce. So the pitcher changed it, electing to be identified in future as Mr. Appleton, a name alleged to be a free translation of the Polish cognomen which he had carried about for better than two and a half decades. So Appleton he Continued on page 44 became, and as such Shaughnessy purchased the right to the young man’s services from Baltimore in exchange for a modest .sum of money. When last heard of, young Appleton was no worse than second best among the pitchers in the loop, he and Mr. Smythe having acquired something of a reputation for winning double headers.
Mr. Shaughnessy Goes to Town
Continued from page 11
Then there was Kimsey, one of the toilers who had come to Montreal in the amazing Tate transaction. Kimsey was a fair-tomiddlin’ pitcher in 1934, but in 1935 under Shag’s tutelage he has become a steady winner. Fritz, a reformed first-baseman with a world of speed, was secured from Detroit and became poison to all opponents under the night-time arc lights. One Leo Mangum, an extremely effective moundsman with other I.L. teams but never quite good enough to win a starting pitcher’s rôle in the majors, was picked up from the Boston Braves. A young gentleman rejoicing in the name of Lauri Millykangas, secured by Montreal on graduation from Dartmouth after paying his own railway fare to Canada in search of a tryout, has been developed into a consistent performer after a summer’s seasoning in a Class A league. To round out his staff, Shag put the finger on Baltimore and forced that club to recall one George Granger—on the grounds that he had been sold out of the International without the formality of obtaining waivers—from a Southern city and sell him to Montreal. Mr. Shaughnessy always shops with an eye to the main chance and with due thought for the cheque book.
FOR FIRST BASE Francis J. signed the ageing Del Bissonnette, released outright by another International team, while the wiseacres chuckled and commented on the fact that Montreal had acquired a pretty fair first-sacker if you were willing to overlook a few spavins and a noticeable rheumy mist in his elderly eye. But Frank picked up Bissonnette for nothing, and as this is written the excellent Del is not merely fielding his position like a youngster but has developed the obnoxious habit of breaking up ball games with such trivialities as threebase hits and home runs.
Around second base cavorts Eddie Montague, secured by trading the former first baseman and manager, who was so unfortunate as to obtrude his head into the path of a pitched ball last summer. Mr. Montague has been something of a sensation, whereas Oscar Roettger, the ex-manager, has not enjoyed a pleasant season in his new abiding places and gives every indication of being a player definitely on the down grade. Ben Sankey at shortstop is a hold-over from 1934, but one of Mr. Shaughnessy’s wise purchases of that season. Captain Fresco Thompson, at third base, another veteran of the club, is rated by many knowing observers as the best third-sacker in the league. Nobody questions the statement that he is one of its most dangerous batsmen. Hal King who, if I remember, came along in that Harumesque Tate deal, is another young gentleman who has no need to apologize to anyone either at bat or for his capacity as an infielder.
Shaughnessy wisdom has done equally well in the distant purlieus of the outfield. As a basis to build on, there was Jimmie Ripple, beloved of every Montreal fan, outstanding flyhawk of the circuit but unfortunately something of an in-and-out performer at the plate. Shag devoted many an hour to the strange case of young Mr. Ripple, who sometimes would hit like a demon and at others like a dub. And the result of those hours of toil and skull practice was that Ripple has batted in the clean-up rôle all summer, and as early as June had been sold for post-season delivery to the New York Giants for the trifling sum of $20,000. Not bad.
To flank Ripple, Shaughnessy secured Gus Dugas from Albany—a dangerous swatsmith always likely to break up any game. From Detroit came Bob Seeds, a fighting player who hits when hits are wanted, knows all the outfielding answers, and can do a smart turn as substitute first baseman on occasion. Billy Rhiel, another 1934 holdover, rounds out the outfielding staff with Glenn Chapman, a major league optionee.
HPHIS TEAM which Mr. Shaughnessy has Jconstructed is not an all-star aggregation by any stretch of the imagination, but resembles the Shaughnessy-coached football squads at McGill in that it performs as a team and not as an association of individuals. With his amazing and almost intuitive capacity for extracting the best from a player—a capacity which your immediate operative had some opportunity of studying in McGill days—Shag has his eighteen or twenty young business men just about ready to “die for dear old Montreal” almost any afternoon. The team fights for every run, every extra base and every break which can be made on the diamond. Every hit is run out to the limit. Every ground ball and every fly is pursued as though the fate of the nation hung in the balance. The team fights to win as a team, and it has been the sensation of the league because of those fighting qualities rather than for any individual or collective greatness in its ranks. A perusal of the number of games in which these Royals have come from behind to win—the surest test of a team’s heart—tells the story.
Hitched closely to its fighting spirit as a reason for the Royals’ current success is the astuteness with which Master Shaughnessy fashioned his club. Unlike most Class AA teams, Montreal has no Major League affiliations and is not a member of any of the chain-store baseball groups. So there is no parent club—as is the case between Toronto and Cincinnati, for example—on which Montreal may call for help in time of trouble. The Royals must shop where they can. That Shaughnessy has done his shopping with considerable foresight is seen in the reserve power which he has collected, the sort of reserve power which provides ample replacement for any position on the field in case of accidents or illness. Good reserves are something to comfort the manager who must pilot his young charges through the ardors of a schedule calling for 154 games of baseball.
And somehow Frank has built up excellent reserve strength in a manner calculated to bring balance in his substitutes—an outfielder who can fill in more than acceptably at first base; three or four infielders who seem to be equally at home at second, short or third; two or three pitchers who are good pinch hitters or who can fill in outfield posts in time of trouble. Any manager who can construct such a combination as this without the sponsorship of a major-league club is no slouch. And Shag has done it all on very little money, as these things go.
No Foreign Entanglements
ONE OTHER point to be stressed in the Montreal Baseball Club’s abstention from what might be called foreign entanglements is found in the fact that the contracts of almost every player on the squad are the property of the club itself. In other words, Shaughnessy has no liking for the optioned player who is likely to be recalled by his major-league owners on short notice—a practice which can wreck a contending team almost overnight. So when Frank has gone shopping it has been with a view to permanent acquisition—if there is any such thing as permanence in sports—so that a grey-haired Irish manager might sleep in peace on the eve of a crucial series, secure in the knowledge that his star pitcher or his heaviest hitter will not be spirited awray via the recall route. Shag has built this amazing combination of battling ballplayers in a manner which, if his record continues, is going to cause some bright young gentleman of the sports pages to name him Silver Fox before the season wanes. The build-up, team-wise, has been for balance rather than all-star performance. And from the point of view of the club bank-roll, the shopping has been done in a fashion which may rightfully be described as astute.
Currently, of course, Monsieur Shaughnessy is something of a hero in and about the metropolitan area, as he has been a hero on one or two occasions when McGill has been so fortunate as to have two good half-backs in the same season. At some date in the not too distant future, of course, it is exceedingly likely that he will be roundly hissed by his present adoring fandom, for the baseball public the continent over is peculiarly fickle in the matter of its heroes and quickly calls names when yesterday’s winner becomes today’s loser.
Whether or not Shag is going to bring the big town its first pennant in almost forty years is something which only a zany would try to predict from the current point of vantage. My own guess is that he may, certainly that he will not be far from the top of the heap when the final returns are counted come Labor Day, and the intricate play-off series begins. Such guesses, of course, may be founded on nothing better than my own childlike affection for this hefty, grey-haired fellow who walks past the umpire at home plate, on his way to the coacher’s box, with a gait which can only be described as truculence personified.
Hereabouts, which is the judicial District of Montreal, we hope the Royals come through for him; a lot of us because we have just a touch of pennant fever, and some of us, to state the matter in the argot of the day, because we go for this fellow Shaughnessy and wish him a great deal of luck, all of it good. Forty years is a long time to have waited for a winner.