A rougher affair

Clarendon-native Magee probably best known for knocking out umpire who rung him up

Library of Congress photo Sherry Magee, here pictured with the Philadelphia Phillies, was born in Clarendon in 1884.

Baseball in the early 20th century was an altogether rougher affair than what we see today.

Perhaps the archetype of that rough-nosed style of baseball comes from Magee in a 1911 game.

Tom Simon’s article published by the Society For American Baseball Research.

“Sherry was enjoying another banner year in 1911, but his season and career were marred by his actions in the third inning of a game in St. Louis on July 10. With the Phils leading, 2-1, Magee came to bat with one out and Dode Paskert on second and Hans Lobert on first. With two strikes, rookie umpire Bill Finneran called Magee out on what appeared to be a high pitch, prompting Magee to turn away in disgust and throw his bat high in the air. Finneran yanked off his mask and threw him out of the game. Sherry, who had been heading to the bench, suddenly turned and attacked the umpire, clutching him for a second before hitting him with a quick left just above the jaw. With blood spurting from his face, Finneran fell to the ground on his back, apparently unconscious.

“The field umpire, Cy Rigler, and the Phillies manager, Red Dooin, who was coaching first base, both rushed to the plate to assist Finneran; meanwhile Paskert and Lobert ran all the way around the bases, erroneously thinking that time had not been called, and Magee stood in front of the Phillies bench for a few seconds before several teammates led him under the stands. When he came to and realized what had happened, Finneran ripped off his chest protector and tried to reach the Philadelphia bench. Rigler tried to hold him back but only partly succeeded, his shirt becoming blood-covered in the process. Kitty Bransfield eventually intercepted Finneran and prevented him from reaching the bench. After he calmed down, Finneran went to the hospital for treatment of what was thought to be a broken nose. The game continued with Rigler behind the plate, and the Phillies won, 4-2, after which Magee expressed regret for the incident, offering as an excuse that Finneran had called him a vile name. Dooin added that the rookie umpire had been too aggressive all season, often bragging about his ability as a fighter and threatening to lick players, including Dooin himself during a late-June series in Boston.

Library of Congress photo If these baseball cards look familiar, it’s because Magee has cards in the same set as the famous Honus Wagner card that has sold for seven figures. The cards – part of the T206 set – were produced by the American Tobacco Company.

Unsympathetic to the Phillies’ pleas, NL President Thomas Lynch, himself a former umpire, announced that Magee had been fined $200 and suspended for the balance of the season – the most drastic punishment meted out since 1877 when four players were barred for dishonesty. The Phillies appealed to the NL board of directors, arguing that Lynch had been too severe, especially since one regular outfielder, Titus, already was out with an injury and the club was fighting for its first pennant. The directors declined to overturn the suspension, and the Phillies went 13-16 while Magee was out of action, tumbling to fourth place, 6.5 games behind the Cubs. At that point Lynch reinstated him, but even though Magee hit seven of his 15 home runs after his return, the Quakers climbed no higher in the standings by season’s end.”

Simon noted that, though Magee rebounded from the incident with the umpire to have a couple more excellent seasons, he “remained unpopular with the infamous fans of the City of Brotherly Love.”

But in 1914 he was named team captain and the perspective seemed to change.

Simon quotes a veteran teammate as saying that when Magee “was given the captaincy everyone looked at affairs from a different viewpoint. Now he could talk all he liked and there would be no resentment for that was all a part of his job. And it gave the added stimulus to Magee that made him the greatest teamworker we had.”

A career outfielder, the team had a hole at shortstop and Magee volunteered to move to the infield, also seeing time at second base and first base.

Library of Congress photo If these baseball cards look familiar, it’s because Magee has cards in the same set as the famous Honus Wagner card that has sold for seven figures. The cards – part of the T206 set – were produced by the American Tobacco Company.

In December 1914 Magee was traded to the Boston Braves, who were fresh off a world championship.

However, he was injured in spring training – stepping into a hole, falling and injuring his shoulder. After a few down seasons, Magee, according to Simon, led the league in RBIs in the war-shortened 1918 season “becoming the only non-Hall of Famer to lead the league in RBIs four times.”

His last major league appearances were in 1919 as a part-time player for the World Series winning Cincinnati Reds, pinch-hitting twice in the Championship series.

His Major League career concluded with a .291 average, 2,169 hits, 1,176 runs batted in and well as 441 stolen bases.

Magee bounced around in the minors for several years before shifting to umpiring in 1927 – an odd transition given his prior… run in… with umpire Finneran. He was so good at it he was promoted to the big leagues, where he umpired in 1928.

Library of Congress photo Sherry Magee, here pictured with the Philadelphia Phillies, was born in Clarendon in 1884.

At this point, Magee was living in Philadelphia during the off-season, working at a restaurant, Simon notes.

“In early March he came home complaining of a headache and fever. A physician diagnosed that he was suffering from pneumonia, and his condition worsened over the ensuing week. At the age of 44, Sherry Magee died at 8:45 p.m. on March 13, 1929, with his wife, Eda, and three grown children at his bedside. He is buried in the Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill.”

His obituary ran in the March 14, 1929 edition of the New York Times and has been preserved by the website thedeadballera.com.

The obituary describes him as “one of the most colorful players of his day… rated as one of the fleetest of the outfielders and among the best of the hitters during his big league career….”

While the statistics are indicative of someone who has a case for the Hall of Fame, Magee has – through several ballots and mechanisms – fallen short.

According to the website mopupduty.com, “Magee has received votes on seven previous ballots, in 1937 – 1939, 1942, 1945, 1950 and 1951. The highest percentage that he’s ever garnered has been 1%. This season (2008) he is part of the veteran’s committee pre-1943 ballot.”

2008 was the only time that pre-1943 voting process occurred. 75 percent of the 12 voters were needed for election and Magee received three votes, according to Wikipedia.

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