The men who wore navy blue:
Umpires in the W.C.B.L., 1911
By Rich Necker
Three umpires (R.W. Terry, John D. Boswell and John Morrison) were hired by league president C. J. Eckstrom prior to the start of the season (Calgary Daily Herald, Friday April 28, 1911). A single umpire for each game was assigned to handle the calling of balls and strikes as well as render decisions on the bases.
The trio of initial arbiters began to wilt under the pressure and, when a resignation occurred, finding a replacement was difficult. As well, missed train connections from one venue to another sometimes kept a scheduled umpire from arriving in time to fulfill his commitment.
Early in the campaign, one of the new recruits was involved in the season’s most bizarre game ending. John Morrison , thinking that 3 had been retired in the final inning, called the tie game early when, in fact, only 2 were out.
John Boswell was the first to bite the dust and was replaced by umpire Lohr in early June. Umpire Terry’s decisions (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 5, 1911) caused untold dissatisfaction among Saskatoon fans who accused him of robbing the home team of at least two games in a four game series against Moose Jaw. Shortly after that, his name disappeared as an umpire from W,C,B.L. box scores. He would, however, re-emerge in mid-July in another capacity, something I will expand upon later.
On occasion, a local umpire from an amateur league would be called to fill in. The Calgary Herald (June 14, 1911 edition) reported that local umpire “Snapper” Garrison had officiated satisfactorily to both teams when Edmonton visited Brandon. Edmonton manager Deacon White had been far less complimentary regarding the talents of another local replacement (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 7, 1911) when Shuster, a former amateur umpire and, at the time, one of the promoters of the Moose Jaw team, called a Moose Jaw runner out at the plate after a flagrant interference play yet allowed a tally by the following Moose Jaw runner to be counted on the same play.
The name of umpire Schultz first appears in an Edmonton vs Brandon box score (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 12, 1911) but both he and the first league replacement, the aforementioned Lohr, were soon gone from the radar.
The name of another newcomer, Murphy, is seen for the first time in the box score of a Brandon vs Edmonton game (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 15, 1911) with a footnote that this umpire Murphy is “late of the Saskatoon team.” Sure enough, the Berry Pickers had, up until recently, a middle infielder by that surname on their roster. He continued to umpire until the latter part of the month when he, too, departed the scene.
With the umpire shortage trickle of 1911 threatening to become a flood, the most common practice among W.C.B.L. member teams was to plug the dike by using a pitcher from one of the participating teams who was not scheduled to throw that day. On occasion, a non-regular position player or one with a minor injury might be selected for duty.
Another ex-player Tom “Dad” Letcher, who had been used sparingly by both Brandon and Saskatoon, donned the belly pad, mask and shin guards for the first time on June 17, 1911 to become a regular league umpire (Moose Jaw Evening Times, June 18, 1921).
Just before the end of June, another league appointed umpire, Bill Morrow, was signed by Eckstrom to fill in for the departed Murphy. As a result of that signing, it came to light (Calgary Morning Herald, July 26, 1911) that Morrow was the same individual who had begun the 1911 season as the manager of the Brandon Angels until being ousted on June 10th.
By the end of the halfway point in the 1911 schedule, John Morrison was the lone survivor of the original triumvirate of umpire signees for the season. Joining him as regulars on the circuit at this juncture were the newcomer Morrow and former major league player and associate of Morrow in Brandon, Tom Letcher. Longnecker, who had been on the 1910 W.C.B.L. umpiring staff, was added as a fourth regular, officiating for the first time in the second game of a Calgary vs Moose Jaw twin-bill played on July 5 (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, July 6, 1911). Even with the reinforcements, however, there would be occasional missed assignments because of poor train connections.
Near the end of the schedule just ahead of the exodus of the Winnipeg and Brandon clubs from the circuit, Morrison’s name disappeared altogether from the published box scores. During the final week of the season, the names of both Morrow and Letcher were also conspicuously absent. Games played during this closing time frame were handled exclusively by Wheeler, another returning 1910 arbiter, who joined his colleague of the previous season, the veteran Longnecker. Both of these officials were judged as sufficiently competent to be re-hired for the 1912 season. Fate was not as generous to president Eckstrom, however, as his three year tenure as the presiding officer of the W,C,B.L. ended amidst discord and bickering.
Appendix of 1911 W.C.B.L. games in which players were known to have umpired (there are probably more for which no box score has been discovered)
May 26 - Edmonton vs Calgary (2) - Calgary infielder Chandler (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, May 27)
May 27 - Edmonton vs Calgary - Calgary infielder Chandler (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, May 29)
May 30 - Edmonton vs Winnipeg - Winnipeg pitcher “Chief” Ray and Edmonton pitcher Ray Whisman (Edmonton Daily Times, May 31)
May 31 - Edmonton vs Winnipeg - Edmonton pitcher Cy Pieh (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 1)
June 5 - Edmonton vs Moose Jaw - Moose Jaw catcher Art Bliss and Edmonton pitcher Ray Whisman (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 6)
June 6 - Calgary vs Saskatoon - Calgary pitcher Pete Standridge and Saskatoon pitcher Sheridan (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 7)
June 9 - Brandon vs Winnipeg - Winnipeg pitcher Fred Glass and Sullivan, a Brandon player (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 10)
June 9 - Edmonton vs Saskatoon - Edmonton pitcher Skillman and Saskatoon pitcher Ross Pennybaker (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 10)
June 10 - Edmonton vs Saskatoon (doubleheader) - Saskatoon pitcher Sheridan and Edmonton pitcher Skillman split the chores (Calgary Herald, June 12)
June 12 - Winnipeg vs Calgary - Winnipeg pitcher Fred Glass and Calgary pitcher Fred Barnstead (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 13)
June 13 - Winnipeg vs Calgary - Calgary pitcher Fred Barnstead (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 14)
June 14 - Winnipeg vs Calgary - Calgary pitcher Fred Barnstead and Winnipeg pitcher Fred Glass (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 15)
June 15 - Brandon vs Calgary - Calgary pitcher Pete Standridge and Brandon outfielder McGraw (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 16)
June 16 - Brandon vs Calgary - Calgary pitcher Pete Standridge (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 17)
June 17 - Brandon vs Calgary - Brandon pitchers Hinrichs and Thelan (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 19)
June 29- Moose Jaw vs Saskatoon - Moose Jaw catcher Art Bliss and Saskatoon pitcher Alex Backoff (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 30)
July 3 - Calgary vs Moose Jaw - Calgary pitcher Pete Standridge and Moose Jaw pitcher Art Bliss (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, July 4)
July 5 - Brandon vs Winnipeg - Winnipeg pitcher “Chief” Ray and Brandon pitcher Hinrichs (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, July 6)
July 18 - Brandon vs Winnipeg (doubleheader) - Winnipeg pitcher Harry Syfert and Brandon pitcher Ryan (Edmonton Daily Bulletin. July 19)
July 22 - Brandon vs Winnipeg - Winnipeg pitcher Harry Syfert and Brandon pitcher Ryan (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, July 24)
Aug. 5 - Winnipeg vs Moose Jaw (doubleheader) - Moose Jaw catcher Art Bliss (first game) and Moose Jaw player Paul Brown (second game)(Edmonton Daily Bulletin, August 7)
Aug. 10 - Brandon vs Calgary - Calgary pitcher Fred Barnstead (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, August 11)
Aug. 11 - Brandon vs Calgary - Brandon pitcher Thelan (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, August 12)
Aug. 12 - Brandon vs Calgary (2) - Calgary pitcher Fred Barnstead (Calgary Herald, August 14)
Aug. 14 - Saskatoon vs Winnipeg (first game of doubleheader) - Saskatoon pitcher Sheridan (Calgary Herald, August 15)
Aug. 18 - Edmonton vs Calgary - Edmonton pitcher Mike Dickinson (Calgary Herald, August 19)
Aug. 19 - Edmonton vs Calgary (second game of doubleheader) - Edmonton pitcher McQuarrie (Calgary Herald, August 21)
Aug. 21 - Edmonton vs Calgary - Calgary infielder Chandler (Calgary Herald, August 22)
Aug. 21 - Moose Jaw vs Saskatoon - Saskatoon pitcher Sheridan and Moose Jaw pitcher Joe Collins (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, August 22)
Aug. 22 - Moose Jaw vs Saskatoon - Moose Jaw pitcher Joe Collins and Saskatoon pitcher Ross Pennybaker co-umpired (Calgary Herald, August 23)
Aug. 22 - Edmonton vs Calgary - Calgary infielder Chandler (Calgary Herald, August 23)
Aug. 23 - Saskatoon vs Moose Jaw - MJ infielder Bill Quigley (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, August 24)
Now, back to the unusual story of R. W. Terry, one of the three original hirings by president Eckstrom. Hailing from La Grange, Illinois, Terry had been a pitcher before turning to umpiring. He had even played in Winnipeg a few seasons (registering a 16-3 record in 1907) prior to the 1911 campaign (Calgary Herald, April 28, 1911).
We’ve all encountered stories of wannabee athletes finally acknowledging their lack of inherent talent and turning to a career in officiating within the game they love but - what about the other way around?
Terry arbitrated in the 1911 lid-lifter series between Winnipeg and Brandon and, although calling balls and strikes into mid-June when his umpiring aptitude began to be questioned, finally acknowledged that the urge to take the mound again had never left his system even after he had embarked upon his new career of officiating.
Following a month of anonymity, he suddenly resurfaced as a pitcher within the camp of the powerful Moose Jaw Robin Hoods. His name shows in the box score as a player for the first time when he struck out 8 and surrendered 10 well scattered hits in hurling a complete game 11 - 3 win vs Saskatoon on July 11 (Moose Jaw Evening Times, July 12, 1911). A box score and game summary published in the July 15 edition of the Moose Jaw Evening Times, with details of his next start on July 14 vs Edmonton, identifies him once again as the ex-umpire. He picks up his second win when Moose Jaw, by an 8 - 5 score, triumphs. In this contest, he enters the game as a 4th inning reliever, fanning 3 along the way, in his 5 2/3 frames of work off the slab.
On July 21, he makes another start vs Edmonton and pitches into the 8th inning but is not involved in the decision as Moose Jaw loses 6 - 5 (Moose Jaw Evening Times, July 22, 1911). Somewhere between that time and July 26, he was either traded to Edmonton or released by Moose Jaw and signed by the Eskimos as, on that latter date, now pitching for Edmonton, he hurls a complete game 13 - 8 win vs Calgary in the first game of a doubleheader and then comes back to toss in a mop-up role in the second game which Calgary won 7 - 2 (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, July 27, 1911).
After going 3 - 0 on the comeback trail, he then tastes defeat for the first time on July 28, absorbing a 13 - 3 drubbing by Calgary (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, July 29, 1911). On August 3, he was nailed with his second consecutive loss as Calgary thrashed the Eskimos 11 - 1 (Calgary Herald, August 4, 1911). He then plays one last minor role wearing an Eskimo uniform, appearing as a 9th inning pinch hitter in the opener of a double-bill vs Calgary on August 5 (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, August 7, 1911).
Following this contest, Edmonton made a managerial change when Deacon White suddenly resigned. In the same press release (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, August 7, 1911) announcing Johnny Mackin as the new Eskimo skipper, a brief reference was made to the fact that Terry had been given his walking papers.
One would have thought that, at this point, his fantasy had finally ended. He again faded into the woodwork for a few weeks as the season wound down to its last few games. Without any advance notice, he found his way back to Moose Jaw and was selected by Robin Hood manager Bill Hurley to pitch a meaningless final road series game against Saskatoon in the Hub City where he had drawn the wrath of the local fans for his calls while still umpiring. He went 9 full innings but there was no more magic as the Berry Pickers laced him for 10 safeties in winning 6 - 1. Even with the Cinderella start, the prince had reverted to a frog at the stroke of midnight, He never again appeared in a W.C.B.L. game either as a player or umpire.
It later turned up that his full name was Ralph W. Terry and that he had indeed played for 3 seasons with Winnipeg in the North-Copper County League. After a sub-standard 1909 with the class D Waterloo, Iowa team of the Central Association, he had hung up his spikes.