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Judging by the photo above, the perfect choice to play "Cannonball" Crane in a film biography would have been actor Keenan Wynn, had the movie been made in the 1940s. Wynn, in his younger days, was a dead ringer for the man in the photograph.

In newspapers of the 1880s, Edward Nicholas Crane was usually called Ed. with a period after the d., as if letting readers know this was an abbreviation for his real first name. "Cannonball" was often inserted between Ed. and Crane, though styles varied in the spelling of his nickname, which was sometimes two words (Cannon Ball) or hyphenated (Cannon-ball).

Sometimes cannonball was simply an adjective to describe the speed and power of his throws, and this adjective was used to describe the fastballs of other pitchers of his time, Charlie "Silver" King and Amos Rusie, among others, and a man named William Stemmyer, to be mentioned in greater detail later on.

To dispose of another matter, one pitcher who was not called "Cannonball" was Ledell Titcomb, briefly a teammate of Crane on the New York Giants. If Titcomb had a nickname, it was the old, reliable "Lefty." (One New York sportswriter in the 1920s, remembered him as "Southpaw" Titcomb, another referred to him as "some pitcher named Titcomb.")

However, when Titcomb died in 1950, a wire service reporter called him "Cannonball," and it has been circulated ever since. Even Bill James, a self-proclaimed expert on baseball history who popularized arcane statistics, mistakenly identified Titcomb as "Cannonball" in his wonderful book, "The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract."

BACK TO "Cannonball" Crane: Newspapers eventually dropped the period after Ed, and some stories even called him Eddie Crane, though they seemed to do it tongue-in-cheek. That's a challenge in reading old newspapers, deciding whether the writer is joking, sarcastic, or simply condescending. Some writers were downright nasty, as you'll notice in some examples on this page. Crane was also victim of a strange newspaper tendency to turn "Ed" into "Ned." (Another example is Edward "Ed" Williamson, a third baseman who was one of the National League's brightest stars with Chicago in the 1880s, mysteriously turned into "Ned" after his death in 1894; even baseball-reference.com has kept this mistake alive.)

But I digress (as Max Shulman used to say). One story I found said Ed Crane attracted attention three years before he was a professional baseball player. The 1891 edition of The Yankee Clipper Annual, in a section on baseball-throwing contests, said John Hatfield, an outfielder for the New York Mutuals of the National Association, threw a baseball 133 yards, 1 foot, 7-1/2 inches in 1872. That would remain the world's record for many years. The publication went on, "Ed. N. Crane, of Boston, Mass., claimed the credit of throwing 139 yards in July, 1881, but failed to produce any witnesses of his alleged feat."

The publication also mentioned two incidents in 1884 when Crane, then 22 years old, was a member of the Boston team — the Reds — in the Union Association.

"Crane also claimed to have thrown a ball 135 yards, 1 foot, one-half inch, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Oct. 12, 1884, and 134 yards, 5 inches, in St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 19, 1884. In the alleged throws by Crane at Cincinnati and St. Louis, the measurements were not accurately taken, and were incapable of subsequent verification."

We're dealing with Guinness Book of Record stuff here, but, in any event, Ed Crane's first claim to fame was that he may have thrown a baseball further than anyone else. (He also claimed the world's record for distance in throwing a cricket ball.)

However, baseball teams were more interested in how well he could play the game. In that respect, Crane was like the little girl with a little curl in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem. When Ed Crane was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was horrid.

IN PART, because he began as a catcher, then played the outfield, Crane's pitching career was rather short, and there was only one major league season in which he won more games than he lost. There also were seasons in which he hit well, others in which he failed to hit his weight, which fluctuated from 190 pounds to 220-plus, finally approaching 250 toward the end of his career.

He could be personable and funny, or he could be a pain in the ass. After 1890, he was the latter more times than the former, because he'd become a problem drinker, which shortened his career. Let's step through that career, one season at a time.

1884: This was the year of opportunity for aspiring baseball players. The American Association, considered a major league, put 13 teams on the field, five more than the year before, and a new league, the Union Association, was formed, and before its chaotic season ended, would feature 12 teams. The National League had eight teams, so there were 33 "major league" teams that needed to fill their rosters.

The 22-year-old Ed Crane found a spot with the hometown Boston Reds of the Union Association. He did pitch that season, but only in four games. (He had no wins, two losses.) Mostly he played the outfield (57 games) or was the catcher (42 games). Crane led his team in hitting (.285), and his 12 home runs were second in the league to Fred Dunlap of St. Louis, who hit 13. (As for the level of baseball in the Union Association, Dunlap batted .412, in 101 games, and scored 160 runs. A year later, in the National League, he batted .270, hit two home runs and scored 70 runs in 106 games.)

The league began with eight teams, including one in Altoona, Pennsylvania, apparently because no other cities were interested. This team — sometimes called Altoona Mountain City, sometimes the Browns, sometimes the Unions — folded after 25 games. Other teams — the Wilmington Quicksteps, St. Paul White Caps and Milwaukee Brewers — apparently joined the league in progress, but played relatively few games. (St. Paul had only nine games, all in September, all on the road.)

Only five teams played more than 100 games; the St. Louis Maroons won 94 of 113 games, to finish in first place. The Union Association clearly was a mess, and went belly up.

When Bill James tore the league to shreds in his "Baseball Abstract," he mentioned its best players, concluding none of them was very good, given their mediocre performances in the other major leagues. Ed Crane wasn't even worth a mention. (Neither was Sam Crane.)

1885: The Union Association was dead, and the American Association reduced to an eight-team line-up. There were just 16 major league teams this season. One result: There was no demand for the services of Ed Crane. He had played well for a hometown team, but not well enough to impress Boston's legitimate outfit, the National League Beaneaters. However . . .

Crane talked his way into a trial with the Providence Greys, defending champions of the National League, but was released after one game in which he was hitless in two at bats, and made an outfield error.

He then signed with the Buffalo Bisons, also of the National League, and played 13 games in the outfield, batting .275, with two home runs, and nine runs batted in, an impressive performance for someone who had just 51 at bats. But he made six outfield errors, and wasn't much missed when he skipped out on the team, and spent the summer closer to his Boston home, playing for a semi-pro team in Brockton, Massachusetts.

1886: In February, this little tidbit appeared in several newspapers: "Ed Crane, the long-distance thrower, is to cover short for Detroit instead of Jack Rowe, who will play in left field in [George] Wood's place and behind the bat."

Wood did leave the Detroit team, but Rowe remained at shortstop, and a different Crane, this one named Sam, who'd been with Detroit the season before, returned and played a few games at second base and shortstop. (More on Sam Crane.)

Meanwhile, "the long-distance thrower" landed a spot with the Washington Nationals, who would finish last in the National League, appropriate for a team with a home field known as Swampoodle Grounds.

Ed Crane remained primarily an outfielder, but caught four games and made 10 pitching appearances, eight as a starter. He won his first major league game, but lost all seven of his other starts. His 1-7 won-lost record was not surprising on a team that was 28-92.

In a review of the season, the publication Yankee Clipper, in its March 5, 1887, edition, said, "Ed Crane of the Washingtons interested the spectators during any necessary delays in games by giving exhibitions of his skill in long-distance throwing."

For an outfielder, Crane hit more like a pitcher — with a .171 average, only 50 hits in 292 at bats. Crane's statistics would be far different the next season, but so would his team, his league, and some important rules that altered statistics for all players.

1887: Crane signed with the Toronto Canucks of the newly formed International Association, and had the season of his life, though you'll be hard-pressed to find information or official statistics. However, there's widespread agreement that Crane was Toronto's main pitcher, and that he won 33 games, leading the team to the league pennant. He continued to play other positions when he wasn't on the mound. This was fairly common in his day. Crane also may have been the league's leading hitter, batting .425. I say he may have been the leading hitter, because the Syracuse Standard (October 2, 1887) listed (Bob) Pettit of Wilkes-Barre, who had a batting average of .437. (Pettit also played with two other teams that season, Waterbury of the Eastern League and Chicago of the National League, so he may not have had enough at bats to qualify as batting champion in any league.)

The high batting averages in 1887 weren't quite what they seemed. This was the year bases on balls counted as hits. It also was a year that gave hitters an extra strike.

The Syracuse newspaper was very critical of the base on balls rule, but did not mention the four-strike rule, which allowed Crane to do something unique. Though his control was often a problem, he found himself in the groove during a game against Jersey City, and in one inning threw 12 straight strikes, striking out all three batters who faced him. Several pitchers have had what baseball nuts term "a perfect inning" — nine consecutive strikes for three strike outs — but only Ed Crane had a perfect inning while the four-strike rule was in effect. That rule and the base-on-balls-is-a-hit were revoked at the end of the season.

Sometimes Crane's control wasn't so sharp.

The National Police Gazette, New York, August 11, 1888
M. F. Hughes is one of the Brooklyn club’s new pitchers. Hughes was born in New York City in 1866. He is short and stout, stands 5 feet 6 inches high and weighs 165 pounds. Hughes made his professional debut with the Jersey City club in 1885, as one of the club’s pitchers. He alternated with Mike Tiernan and [Mike] Mattimore during that season.

In 1886, he went to Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1887, he went to Newark; while the Newark club was playing in Toronto that season, Hughes was hit in the head with a pitched ball by Ed Crane, now of the New Yorks, and was laid up for several months. It was at first feared that the injury would result fatally, but Hughes recovered, and during the latter part of the season showed such a marked improvement in his pitching that the Brooklyn club purchased his release from Newark.

Thus far this season, he has showed up remarkably well, and if he keeps on improving will make one of the leading pitchers of his profession.


[Hughes won 25 games for Brooklyn in 1888, losing 13, but developed arm trouble and pitched only two more seasons before he retired from professional baseball.]

As for the International Association — commonly called the International League, even then — a book could be written about its 1887 season. For one thing, at least six African-Americans were among the players. The Newark team had an all-black battery, George Stovey pitching to Fleetwood Walker. (Walker and his brother, Welday, had briefly been in the American Association three seasons earlier, and are recalled as the first African-Americans to play major league baseball.)

These players weren't readily accepted by some of their teammates, but what made the season more tumultuous was the uncertain day-to-day status of its teams. Three of them dropped out, and two new teams joined the league while the season was in progress. Also interesting was how Toronto, behind the pitching of Crane, came charging out of fourth place in the closing days to capture the pennant.

Re: George Stovey. Though regarded as one of the best pitchers of the era, he was prevented from pitching in the major leagues because of his race. Some sources say he won 35 games that season; other sources say 33. The difference may be explained by the departure of the team from Oswego after it had lost 23 of 26 games. These games were wiped off the books, costing Newark five victories. I'm guessing two of those victories belonged to Stovey, who couldn't claim credit for them once the Oswego franchise was defunct.

Newark had other troubles. After bolting into first place with 22 wins in its first 24 games, the team began a slow descent into fourth place. When Crane got hot during the home stretch of the season, he pitched Toronto to three wins over Newark in a 28-hour period. Whether Crane re-negotiated his wages during the season, I do not know, but in October it was reported he'd been the league's highest-paid player, at $2,100.

That winter he joined the Philadelphia Quakers of the National League on a barnstorming tour to the West Coast.

1888: Toronto wanted Crane, but he had a better offer from the National League New York Giants. Assigned to catch him was Bill Brown, a 22-year-old from California, who had been a rookie the season before.

According to a story in the New York Press (May 8, 1888), Crane warned the catcher that he threw so hard that his pitches might knock him over. The newspaper reported this exchange between the players:

“Take that!” said Crane, “and that! And that!” as he fired the ball.

“Young man,” said Brown, with solemn sarcasm. “You can’t even warm my hands. I’ll give you one pointer, though. If I were batting against you, I’d wear a pad, mask and gloves, and wouldn’t feel safe then.”

For most of the season, Crane was low man on the Giants' pitching staff. At the top were two future Hall of Famers, Tim Keefe, who'd win 35 games that season, and Mickey Welch, who'd win 26 games. Number three was lefty Ledell Titcomb, who won 14 games. That's 75 of the team's 83 victories. Crane started only 11 games, and managed to have a losing record (5-6) for a first place team. Interestingly, his batting average came down to earth with a thud — .162.

However, Crane closed out the season in style. On September 27, he pitched a no-hitter against last place Washington, in a game called after seven innings because of darkness. Two days later, he pitched again, against Detroit, and lost the game on a passed ball. On October 4, Chicago came to town. The Giants were in first place by eight games over their second place visitors. A win would wrap up the pennant, and fans (called "cranks" in those days) expected Keefe would pitch the game. Instead, it was Crane, who pitched a no-hitter for eight innings before giving up a single to open the ninth. The Giants won, 1-0, and the pennant was theirs.

Crane's fine performance in the last three weeks of the season was probably why he started two games in what was the World Series of its time — a best-of-eleven series pitting the National League champions against the American Association pennant winner, the St. Louis Browns. The Giants won the series in 10 games. Crane won once, lost once, but Tim Keefe proved he was the team's ace by winning four games.

Amusingly (or prophetically), Henry Chadwick, often called "the father of baseball," and the leading baseball writer at the time, was not impressed with Crane. Interviewed by sportswriter William Ingraham Harris of the New York Press on the day Crane pitched his no-hitter, Chadwick said Crane was one of the worst pitchers he ever saw.

When Harris mentioned the no-hitter, Chadwick said, “I know they didn’t make a hit, but, then, the Senators cannot bat. Did you notice that Crane had three balls called on nearly ever batter and that he sent six men to first on balls. The only reason they couldn’t hit was that he scared them by his speed.”

(Chadwick is in the baseball Hall of Fame. He created the box score and wrote the sport's first book of rules.)

Not sharing Chadwick's opinion of Crane was Albert G. Spalding, owner of the Chicago team. He invited Crane to join several other players to be opponents for his White Stockings on an around-the-world tour that winter. It may have been during this long trip that Crane developed the drinking problem that would be his undoing. He must have been drunk when he purchased a tiny monkey that was his companion during much of the trip, and guaranteed Crane would get a lot of press when the ballplayers returned.

1889: Crane thoroughly enjoyed his trip, which introduced baseball to people in several countries. He replaced Titcomb as the Giants' third starter, and had his only winning season in the major leagues — 14 wins, 11 losses — as New York won the pennant again. Tim Keefe was still the team's top pitcher, winning 28 games, Welch won 27.

Following last year's script, Crane did his best work in the fall, starting five games in the World Series against the American Association champions, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Crane won four of those games, and the Giants repeated as baseball's champions, six games to three. That series made Crane a hero in New York City.

At 27, Ed Crane seemed poised for greatness, but he was eating too much, and drinking too much, and the baseball world was in turmoil, thanks to a players' uprising.

1890: Rather than remain with the National League Giants, Crane joined pitchers Tim Keefe, Hank O'Day, catcher Buck Ewing, first baseman Roger Connor, and a few other teammates to form the New York entry in the Players League, which, as the name implies, was organized by a players' union known as The Brotherhood. (O'Day later became a long-time National League umpire.)

The new league went head-to-head for fans in every National League city but Cincinnati. (Instead, the Players League had a team in Buffalo.) On the surface, the new league seemed a success because it attracted more fans, probably because most of the big stars had joined the Brotherhood.

The Boston Reds won the pennant, led by Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn, enjoying his last good year with 27 wins. The Giants finished third. Crane pitched more innings than the other Giant starters — O'Day, Keefe, and John Ewing — but was the only one who had a losing record (16-19). He also had the highest earned run average, walked far more batters than he struck out, and had almost as many wild pitches (36) and the other three combined (38). Oddly, he hit much better than he had the previous two seasons, posting a .315 batting average.

No matter. Eddie Talcott, who'd provided much of the financing for the Players League and was vice president of the Giants, blamed Crane for costing the team the pennant. Whether this actually was true didn't matter, but if the league returned in 1891, Talcott would not offer Crane a contract.

That became academic when the Players League collapsed after National League owners finessed Brotherhood players back into the fold. Crane was not among them.

1891: Instead, Crane teamed with baseball's biggest prima donna, Mike "King" Kelly, to play in Cincinnati for an American Association team called "Kelly's Killers." Thus Crane joined the fourth major league of his career (though that first league — the Union Association — will forever be considered a farce).

Kelly was a superstar, but aging rapidly; at 33, he looked more than 10 years older. But he had managed the Boston Reds to the Players League pennant, appearing in 90 games, playing almost every position, as needed, and batting .325.

It was a stormy year for Crane, Kelly, and the ill-fated Cincinnati team; hell, it was a bad year for everyone in the American Association, which folded when the season ended.

Crane won 14 games and lost 14, but posted the lowest earned run average in the league (2.45). At lot of good that did him; he was released before the season was finished. Here are a few reasons why:

Utica Daily Press, April 27, 1891
LOUISVILLE, April 26 — King Kelly knocked pitcher Ed Crane down in front of the Gait House Friday evening, and the color will not be gone from the curver's eye for a month. Crane was partially drunk and would not listen to reason. Besides, it is said, Chase hit Kelly several times in the face first.

After Kelly had rescued Crane and [Willie] McGill from the station house, he conducted them to the hotel. McGill was very wild. At the Gait House door, however, Crane said he did not care to go inside. Kelly told him he must go to be in order to get in condition to pitch. Crane in very emphatic language said he didn't care whether he ever pitched again.

Kelly then seized him to take him upstairs, when Crane slapped the royal catcher in the face. He did it again, and in a second had struck Kelly the third time. Kelly let the pitcher have it straight from the shoulder. Crane went down all in a heap. He was struck just below the right eye.

When Crane got up, he thought Kelly was right in regard to going to bed. Ed went upstairs and slept for several hours.

The affair attracted a crowd and caused great excitement about the Gait House. Kelly's arm and hand were sore all during Friday's game. It takes a hard blow to knock Crane off his pins, but the "King" has boxed with John L. Sullivan.

Crane slept until the afternoon, when he arose and hied himself to a barroom. After taking a drink or two, he came to the conclusion that Kelly had greatly wronged him.

On June 30, in Columbus, Ohio, Kelly fined Crane $100 for showing up at the game intoxicated when he was expected to pitch. Willard Mains started in his place, and Cincinnati defeated the Columbus Solons, 7-2.

Elmira Gazette and Free Press, August 25, 1891
Ed Crane has received official notice of his release from the Cincinnati Association club. It seems that Crane did not accompany the team to St. Louis. He was at the depot and boarded the train. In a joke, he threw Captain Kelly’s hat under the train, and the “King” sent him flying after it. The train was moving quite fast, and the big pitcher could not get on board again. When he failed to show up in St. Louis, Mr. Von der Ahe at once wired President Kramer’s secretary to release him. Pitcher Keenan has been signed to replace Crane.

Before September arrived, the entire Cincinnati team disappeared. Some of the players — pitchers Mains and Frank Dwyer, first baseman Jack Carney and second baseman Jim Canavan, for example — went to Milwaukee to play for the Brewers, a team that replaced Kelly's Killers. The Cincinnati team had a 43-57 record; Milwaukee closed out the season with a 21-15 record.

Kelly joined the Boston Reds long enough to play four games, then rejoined the National League Boston Beaneaters, which had been his team for three seasons (1887-89) before he jumped to the Players League.

Crane landed on his feet, and was signed by the Cincinnati Reds of the National League, filling a vacancy on the pitching staff created when one of the greats, Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn was released. It was a comedown for Radbourn, who'd been 11-13 with the Reds before they let him go. At age 36, Radbourn retired.

Cincinnati was a seventh place team that season, and Crane fit right in, winning four games, losing eight. Crane had gone back into a season-long hitting slump, batting .155 for Kelly's Killers, and .109 with the Reds.

1892: Not that the news upset Crane, but on February 23, it was reported that James Williams, the Western League's ambitious president, who was trying hard to lure players from the National League, announced a list of players his league had rejected in advance. He said his league had no interest in anyone known to be "a drinking man or a disturber in a team." As far as Williams was concerned, Ed Crane was that kind of man, therefore an undesirable. (By 1900, the Western League would morph into the American League.)

But the New York Giants were interested in Crane, and, on April 2, he was signed to became the team's third pitcher, joining Amos Rusie and Charley King, better known by his nickname, "Silver," given him because of his silvery hair, and the fact that Silver King was also the name of a famous mine out west.

In announcing the acquisition of Crane, Giants manager, Pat Powers, said the pitcher was in fine condition, having trained down from 235 pounds to 180. (That was wishful thinking on the part of Powers.)

Once again, Crane had a losing record (16-24) and the highest earned run average of the three pitchers, and his fastball was no longer the fastest, not even on the Giants. That honor belonged to future Hall of Famer Rusie, who won 32 games for the team that finished seventh in a 12-team race.

Crane had his moments, such as August 26 when he shut out St. Louis on four hits, and struck out nine batters. He walked four, which, for Crane, was a low figure. (Note: The game was played in an hour and 35 minutes.)

The big news for Crane was his marriage to Nellie Dolan, a 22-year-old Chicago woman who wed Crane despite the strong objections of her parents, who did not attend the ceremony at St. Bridget's Church in Jersey City. Unfortunately for Ms. Dolan, her marriage would be a case of father knows best.

1893: Crane won only three games — two with the Giants, one for the Brooklyn Grooms — and lost six. He didn't last long with Brooklyn after New York let him go, and he finished the season with Springfield of the Eastern League. Crane just couldn't get anyone out — he gave up 103 hits and 81 runs in only 78-1/3 innings for both National League teams.

In a game against Chicago, Crane gave up 14 hits, 10 walks and 11 runs — and won. Manager John Ward kept Crane in the game until the ninth inning, finally pulling him after Chicago scored three runs and had two men on base.

Things were so bad for Crane that on June 30 he served as batting practice pitcher for Harvard as the Crimson prepared for their big game against Yale. The Harvard batters had no trouble hitting Crane, and asked him to throw harder. Crane said he was throwing as hard as he could. He gave way to Huyler Westervelt, a highly regarded amateur pitcher (and former Yale student), who was getting a look-see from the Giants. Harvard felt Westervelt was much harder to hit.

Crane was cut loose by the Giants and on July 3 pitched one game for Northampton of the Eastern League, losing to Springfield. Four days later, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Ed Crane, "he of the cannon ball and wicked smile," was joining the Grooms (a brief nickname, shortened from Bridegrooms).

On July 9, Crane made his debut with Brooklyn, and got tagged for 21 hits and 19 runs by Louisville. Needless to say, the Grooms lost. On July 19, Crane gave up 15 hits and 12 runs in a loss to Baltimore.

My favorite newspaper clipping of the season was from the August 7 edition of the New York Herald, which was like something you'd see in "Believe It or Not": Ed Crane was leading the National League in hitting. And it was true that Crane was hitting .467, but he'd had only 30 at bats, getting 14 hits. Even in 1893, a player had to reach a certain minimum number of at bats, and Crane was nowhere near that number, and, besides, Brooklyn had cut him loose. That newspaper item wasn't exactly fake news, but it was put together by someone who didn't know a whole lot about major league baseball, or was making a joke.

Crane went to Springfield of the Eastern League, and on September 6, gave up 18 hits, walked 12 batters and allowed 19 runs in a loss to Troy. He also hit two batters and threw two wild pitches. One thing was for sure — his major league days were over.

1894: Crane's pitching woes in 1893 might have been due, in part, to a knee injury that laid him up for three months the winter before the '94 season. No major league teams were interested; even teams in the high minors shied away. On May 11, the New York World reported: "Ed Crane, who once shone as a New York pitcher, is now twirling for the Haverhill (Mass.) team. Lewistons touched Ed up for sixteen base hits Tuesday."

Haverhill and Lewiston (Maine) were in the New England League. Haverhill soon released Crane.

1895: Crane returned to Toronto to pitch for the Canucks, now a member of the Eastern League, but he no longer worked any magic on the mound, and would finish the season with the Rochester Browns, also in the Eastern League. (Perhaps because its members included so many teams that before and after were associated with the International League — teams in Buffalo, Syracuse, Scranton and Providence, for instance — records set during this stage of the Eastern League's existence became part of International League history.)

Anyway, Crane was wildly erratic all season long, winning only nine games, losing 24, but his batting average, incredibly, was a solid .331. Also, incredibly, Crane was one of the players called upon to umpire games occasionally. Sometimes the scheduled umpires didn't show up; when they did, sometimes they were drunk. Newspapers frequently berated umpires, players and fans sometimes assaulted them. Despite the dangers, Crane considered becoming a full-time umpire, realizing his pitching days were numbered.

Toronto released him in early August, but he was picked up by Rochester. However, Crane was in no condition when he was given his first pitching assignment for his new team, and someone else had to start. Two days later, he pitched against his old team, Toronto, and lost, 14-13, giving up 11 hits and nine walks. (Crane helped his own cause with four hits.)

Despite his problems, Crane was led to believe Rochester would sign him for the 1896 season.

1896: On March 3, it was announced that Crane would not return to Rochester. Instead he joined the Providence Clam Diggers (formerly the Grays) of the Eastern League. The team released him in early May, and he umpired some league games. At this point I notice some newspapers refer to him as "Ned" Crane, with one reporter speculating that the former pitcher can become a "permanent fixture" among the Eastern League umpires "if he leaves the cup alone."

Obviously he didn't, because a month later, league officials told Crane he was no longer wanted as an umpire, and he settled in the Rochester area, and started hiring himself out in the fashion of "Have cannon, will travel." Except he no longer was firing cannonballs.

On June 13, in exchange for $35, Crane agreed to pitch for a team from Mount Morris, about 40 miles south of Rochester. He lasted four innings, giving up 13 runs to a team from Batavia. Mount Morris lost, 22-14. (I don't know how many times Mount Morris played that season, but in the fall it was reported Crane was the only pitcher who failed to complete a game.)

A few days later, he pitched for a team from Seneca Falls against a team from Auburn. Crane pitched well, but lost, 3-2.

Despite being unable to beat town teams, Crane was hired by the Eastern League Springfield (Massachusetts) Maroons. The Syracuse Herald reported that when Crane arrived for his first game, "he appeared in half a Springfield uniform, being so fat that there were no trousers with the team large enough to fit him."

One of his games was against Toronto. He gave up 16 hits, walked nine, and lost, 17-3. What kept teams interested in Crane, apparently, was his fame, left over from his days with the New York Giants. This supposedly gave him box office appeal, but he quickly wore out his welcome in Springfield.

Somewhere along the line, Crane's wife left him and returned to her parents in Chicago. With her was at least one child, possibly two. Crane was unable to support a family, spending most of his money on drinks. When released by Springfield, he went to Rochester and checked in at the Congress Hall Hotel, but in mid-September was given his eviction notice for non-payment of rent. On September 20, his body was found in his room, dead of an overdose of chloral hydrate.

It was reported as a suicide, a logical conclusion, supported by various recent teammates who said earlier in the year Crane threatened to throw himself in the Genesee River, above the Genesee Falls in Rochester. However, a coroner's inquest ruled that Crane died of an accidental overdose of a medication prescribed to help him sleep. If you want to play amateur psychiatrist, you might say his talk of jumping into the river was merely a cry for help. In any event, "Cannonball" Crane was dead, and was only 34 years old. His body was taken to Massachusetts, and he was buried in a cemetery in Brookline.

 

Now about those throwing contests . . .
Throwing baseballs for distance was popular in the late 1800s. Several managers prohibited their pitchers from entering these contests for fear of injuries. They weren't so fussy about players at other positions, and several were interested in competing because of the prizes that were offered.

For many years, the recognized long-distance throwing record was the one set on October 14, 1872 during a contest at the Union Grounds in New York City. The man who set the record was an outfielder named John Hatfield, who played for the New York Mutuals of the National Association, which preceded the formation of the National League.

There were seven contestants that day, the most famous being George Wright, a future Hall of Famer who played shortstop for the Boston Red Stockings, the top team in the National Association, and a young A. C. "Cap" Anson, who also was bound for the Hall of Fame. Anson's throws fell far short of Hatfield's best — 400 feet, seven-and-one-half inches — and even Wright, who finished second in the contest, could come within 15 feet of the winning heave.

Nine years later, Ed Crane, not yet a professional ballplayer, claimed he could throw a baseball more than 400 feet, but didn't get a chance to prove it until he won an 1884 contest held in Cincinnati. His longest throw traveled 405 feet, three inches, but was measured with string, not a surveyor's chain, and that did not satisfy those who passed judgment on such records. As a result, there was a dispute over who really was the champion long-thrower, a dispute complicated over the years by other players who claimed they not only had beaten Hatfield's distance, but also Crane's. Among them were an outfielder-pitcher name Larry Twitchell, a catcher named Harry Vaughn, and future Hall of Famer, Honus Wagner.

However, when John Hatfield died in 1909, the official record was still his. Finally, a year later, a minor league outfielder named Sheldon "Larry" Lejeune put the matter to rest in a contest in Cincinnati when he threw a baseball 426 feet, six-and-one-quarter inches, and that throw was properly measured.

Lejeune tried several times to break his record, but failed. The record stood until 1952 — after all, it wasn't like many players were interested in throwing a baseball as hard as they could, just to set a record that, in the overall scheme of things, mattered very little.

Along came a pitcher-turned-outfielder named Don Grate, playing with the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association, and on September 7, 1952, he threw a baseball 434 feet, one inch. Back in Chattanooga the next season, Grate broke his own record by throwing a baseball 443 feet, three-and-a-half inches.

And while setting this record wasn't exactly big news, there was always someone who was reputed to have a better arm. In 1956, the best arm supposedly belonged to a right fielder named Rocky Colavito, who hadn't yet established himself with Cleveland, though he did begin the '56 season with the Indians. After a poor start, Colavito went sent down to the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League, and during his six-week stay, was convinced by the team's general manager, recently retired slugger Ralph Kiner, to attempt to break Grate's throwing record. Kiner was convinced Colavito could throw a ball further than anyone.

Colavito gave it a good try, but couldn't quite match Grate, who was still active, finding himself with the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association during the last half of the 1956 season.

That set up Grate for one more try, not because he was driven to break his own record, but because the Minneapolis team wanted some gimmicks for the annual "Millers Appreciation Day" at brand new Metropolitan Stadium.

Grate was one of three featured acts. Unfortunately, a helicopter needed for one of those acts developed motor trouble; therefore, Millers catcher Vern Rapp would be spared an attempt to catch a baseball thrown at him from 600 feet in the air. Act two was a race between outfielder Gil Coan and a horse that had been borrowed from an area track. It was an 80-yard race, with Coan getting a 20-yard head start. Coan won.

Act three also had a happy ending for Millers fans as Grate threw a baseball 445 feet, one inch, a new record.

That record would be broken a year later by Canadian-born outfielder Glen Gorbous, who'd played 115 games in the major leagues, most of them in 1955 with the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies. He was nearing the end of his career and playing for the Omaha Cardinals, an American Association team, the Omaha Cardinals. Gorbous knew Grate, and was confident he could beat his record — and he did, by nine inches.

The record Gorbous set on August 1, 1957 still stands — 445 feet, 10 inches, or, as Ed Crane and John Hatfield would put it, 148 yards, one foot, 10 inches. Gorbous did it with a six-step running start. I've seen no mention of what restrictions were placed on Crane, Hatfield and others who entered contests back in the late 1800s.

As someone who played a lot of baseball when I was a boy, it boggles my mind to think that some people can throw a ball the length of a football field — and I mean from the back of one end zone to the back of the other (120 yards) — while they are merely warming up.

 

A few words about Cannon Ball Willie
In 1886, a year before Ed Crane began taking pitching seriously, the pitcher who briefly became known for firing cannonballs was Bill Stemmyer, who stood six-foot-two, and was terrorizing National League batters as a member of the Boston Beaneaters. Known either as "Cannon Ball Willie" or "Cannon Ball Bill," Stemmyer won 22 games that season and struck out 239 batters.

Paterson, NJ, Morning Call, August 30, 1886
Stemmyer, the Boston pitcher, owes his effectiveness to the intimidation of batsmen. In two games in this city, he hit five men and kept others jumping around the plate to keep out of reach of his closely pitched balls.

The words "in this city," I assume, meant New York City where this column of short items likely originated. Stemmyer walked 144 batters that season and threw 63 wild pitches. There was no record of how many batters he hit.

Stemmyer quickly dropped out of sight — his arm was lame in 1887 season, and he retired in 1888, at the age of 23. Years later he was recalled in a story abut one-season wonders:

New York Evening Telegram, April 18, 1920
Bill Stemmyer (Cannonball Bill) was signed by the Boston Nationals in the spring of 1886. Bill was a blond giant and could splinter boards with his terrific speed. Walter Johnson had nothing on “Stemwinder” when it came to a matter of speed. He whiffed 240 batsmen in forty games. With the end of that season, Bill Stemmyer’s short but brilliant career ended. He threw that mighty arm out in one season of real work.

He pitched for Boston in 1887, winning six games, losing eight, and was released. The Cleveland-born Stemmyer attempted a comeback in 1888 with his hometown Blue of the American Association, but lost his only two starts. In one of them, against the Philadelphia Athletics, he gave up 24 runs, most of them unearned because Cleveland made 18 errors — that's right, 18 — with seven of them charged to the pitcher.

Stemmyer then retired, and in February, 1889, a Cleveland newspaper reported that the young man had struck it rich with his saloon. Four months later the New York Press said, "Big Stemmyer is tiring of the saloon industry and threatens to shape up and his his reappearance as a pitching star. His arm, he declares, has lost its kink and is as good as ever. He weighs nearly 250 pounds."

As far as I know, he never pitched again, at least, not professionally. However, his pitching record in the minor leagues is incomplete, even on the best available source, baseball-reference.com. Missing is any mention of the time he spent in 1884 with the Hamilton team in the Ohio State League. The only reason I know he was on that squad is from an interesting item I found, describing a situation similar to the famous incident during the 1908 season when New York Giants rookie Fred Merkle neglected to advance all the way to second base on Al Bridwell's hit that apparently scored Moose McCormick from third base on what should have been the winning run in an important last-season game against Chicago. An alert Johnny Evers of the Cubs noticed the blunder, retrieved the ball (or got his hands on another baseball), touched second base, had Merkle called out, and the game ended in a tie and had to be replayed. The Cubs won that game — and the National League pennant.

This is what happened in an 1884 game between Hamilton and Springfield:

New York Clipper, September 13, 1884
Eleven innings were required at Springfield, O., Sept. 2 to decide the game between the Springfields and Hamiltons, the visitors finally winning by 9 to 8.

At the end of the ninth inning, the game nearly broke up in a fight. The score was a tie, 7 to 7. The Hamiltons had a man on third base and two men out. Stemmyer hit safely between first and second, bringing in the man on third.

The crowd commenced leaving the grounds, but Captain [Joe] Ardner of the home team had watched Stemmyer, and said he had not run to first. He called the umpire’s attention to the fact, and held that Stemmyer should be decided out.

An excited discussion followed, the crowd flocking upon the field, and matters pointed strongly in the direction of a riot; but the police finally restored quiet, and Stemmyer was called out, keeping the score a tie. There was blood in the air for quite a while.

Newspapers of the time did not include first names, not even on the first mention of a person, but I'm fairly certain the Stemmyer who didn't run out his hit was the guy who became "Cannon Ball Willie."

Finally, there was at least one other "Cannonball." His name was Dick Redding, and he pitched in the Negro Leagues between 1911 and 1930. He also pitched a few exhibition games against major league teams, and won at least twice.

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