Toledo holds a special distinction in baseball, for having had a pair of brothers on its big-league team in 1884: Fleet and Weldy Walker. After all, they were among less than a handful of blacks who played in the bigs before Jackie Robinson in 1947.
Much less known is a special baseball connection held by four-term Toledo mayor Brand Whitlock, who was in office from 1905 to 1913, and was U.S. ambassador to Belgium during World War I. Like the Walkers, Whitlock had an unusual association with one of the biggest names in early baseball: Adrian Constantine "Cap" Anson, captain-manager of the Chicago National League team for 19 seasons (1879 to 1897).
The Walkers' association with Anson was as rival players whom Anson was opposed to appearing in games against. An incident with Fleet took place in 1883, and the following year, via correspondence, with Toledo manager Charlie Morton.
Whitlock had a more amicable association with Anson. In the early 1890s, Whitlock covered Chicago baseball, sometimes calling him Grampa on the pages of the Chicago Herald. Then, in 1911, when Anson had just started performing regularly in vaudeville, he made a visit to Toledo. Coincidentally, former-Chicago-teammate-turned evangelist Billy Sunday was in the city at the same time, and they met together with Whitlock. Whether Anson recalled his incidents with the Walkers was not recorded in the city's newspapers at the time.
In his 1883 incident at Toledo, Anson stated his refusal to play an exhibition game because Fleet was announced as in the starting lineup. The game was played. In its recap on Aug. 11, the Toledo Blade (as the paper was then known) told what happened after Anson issued his "break [refusal]." Toledo's management gave an order "then and there, to play Walker, and the beefy bluffer was informed that he could play his team or go, just as he blank [sic] pleased. Anson hauled in his horns somewhat and 'consented' to play [with his team], remarking, 'We'll play this here game, but won't play never no more with the [racial epithet] in.'•"
A month later, a popular magazine known as the National Police Gazette printed the following commentary: "Big Anson tried to bulldoze the Toledo club by refusing to play unless they would fire Walker, [deleted epithet], out of their nine. The Toledos showed their spunk and good common sense, however, by telling him he could take his Chicago team and get off the ground [sic], but that he couldn't come there and dictate to them. Anson weakened like a whipped cur [a mean coward] and went on to play the game, with nothing more to say."
In 1884, Chicago again played an exhibition game at Toledo, which was now in the major-league American Association. Walker sat it out, and unclear is whether he did so to placate Chicago or because he was injured. However, private correspondence survives that provides insight. Three months before the game, Chicago treasurer-secretary John Brown wrote Morton that "the management of the Chicago Ball Club have no personal feeling about the matter," while "the players do most decisively object and to preserve harmony in the club it is necessary that I have your assurance in writing that [Walker] will not play any position in your nine July 25th. I have no doubt such is your meaning[;] only your letter does not express in full [sic]. I have no desire to replay the occurrence of last season and must have your guarantee to that effort."
Brown also wrote Chicago president Al Spalding of Anson's intention not to play. Then, days before the game, Spalding wrote Anson that, as you are known more "than any other on personal reputation, I strongly urge that you play in one game." Also, you should "understand full well how difficult it is to get a game without your presence." Plus, without you, the team will "go to pieces."
Finally, there is "complaint enough now against many of our men, and your leaving the club at Toledo will only add another argument for the 'croakers.'•"
Walker sat out the game, and Jimmy "Deacon" McGuire instead did the catching. Both had sore hands, the Toledo Blade had said a few days earlier. Of the two catchers, Walker was seemingly the more injured, as he did not play in Toledo's second-most recent game.
In newspaper coverage about the incident, I did not find Anson explaining himself or being asked to. That Spalding wrote to Anson and possibly no other Chicago player could mean that Anson was the only notable holdout on the team days before the game.
During his 1911 vaudeville swing in Toledo, Anson colorfully described Sunday, who was now nationally famous, and heard him preach. Billy and Mrs. Sunday and Cap and Mrs. Anson also took a car ride around the city. At the end of their drive, Billy's only comment was, "We had the best fanning bee in our lives, didn't we, Pop!" Cap's head "nodded assent."
Their meeting with Whitlock reportedly lasted several minutes; however, in his 1914 book Forty Years of It, Whitlock said they met for an hour. Also in his book, Whitlock added the following: While Sunday was no longer with the team when he was covering it, "it was not too late for me to have known and celebrated the prowess of that famous infield, Anson, Pfeffer, Williamson and Burns [they had played together for several years], and we could celebrate them again and speculate as to whether there were really giants in those days whose like was known on earth no more."
While Anson had made a lot of money on the diamond, he squandered a lot of it on bad investments and on a penchant for betting. It was Anson's need to make money that led him to launch a vaudeville career in 1910. Two weeks after the visit to Toledo, Cap was appearing in Cleveland when the Cleveland Press reported that while in Toledo, Cap had declined an offer from Sunday of $500, about $10,000 today, to help him with his finances.
However, "Three days later, after their stay in Toledo, Mrs. Anson flashed a check for $500. Sunday gave it to her after Pop had refused to take it. 'I owed it to Pop for the many favors he did me in baseball,'•" it quoted Sunday as having told Mrs. Anson.
Howard W. Rosenberg is the author of Cap Anson 4. For more information on the subject, go to: http://www.capanson.com.