The Cleveland Spiders Were Never This Scary

John Houseman

Darrell Pittman has come up with yet another story of merit from Houston’s baseball past and this Houston Post story from June 29, 1896 goes all the back to a funny game incident that unfolded here in town during the city’s first 1888 professional base ball season as the unforgettable “Houston Babies.”

The unnamed Houston writer who did the published article attributes credit here to Frank Houseman, a later player for the 1899 Houston club, to having sent the story to him by mail. It’s a shame that either the writer’s modesty, or the Post’s policy, prevented him from taking authorship responsibility. For history’s sake too, even in matters of no apparent vast consequence, it sure is a lot easier pinning down the truth in printed stories if we know up front who put them in motion in the first place.

At any rate, here’s what we got:

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Houston Daily Post, June 29, 1896:

AN ALLEGED INCIDENT.

How Houseman Says Red Ehret Lost a Game in Houston.

Cicago [sic] News.

Frank Houseman, the Chicagoan who is now captaining the New Orleans team, sent me some reminiscences a day or so ago, which would probably make a few of the best known players in the big league writhe and wriggle were they to be published in full. One story, which is on “Red” Ehret of the Cincinnatis, tells me how a championship was won and lost years ago through the agency of fear – fear as implanted in the mind of Phil Ehret, as a result of excusable circumstances.

Red Everett

“It was in 1888,” says Houseman, “and I was playing in the Texas league. Ehret was pitching for another team and the rivalry was intense. Great crowds of excited Texans turned out to all the games and there were all kinds of uproar and hostile demonstration. No, there was no shooting. Up in the Wisconsin league I have seen the cranks on the bleachers take shots at the players with rubber slings, but this was Texas, and they don’t do such thinks there nowadays. Well, it was the day of the great, grand, deciding game between Galveston and Houston, and about everybody in Galveston was on hand to yell, while the Houston gang had brought a great crowd of rooters along. I got into conversation with Ehret before the game, and heard him say, among other things, that he had nearly been bitten by a tarantula during a game at San Antonio. ‘Those spiders,’ growled ‘Red,’ ‘have little holes in the sand, and if you step on their burrows the blamed things come out and bite you. And their bite is rank poison – kills every time. You never know when one of them is around – the only thing you can do is to watch the ground, and when you see one of them crawl out of his tunnel, nail him!’

“Just then the gong struck and the game was called. Well, it was nip and tuck, red-hot, for eight and a half innings. When the finish came, I seemed, between the heat and the hard work, in a dream. Suddenly I awoke and realized how matters stood. I was down in the coaching square. It was the last half of the ninth. We were one behind and had two on bases. Two were out and a feeble hitter at the plate. The crowd, in utter despair, was getting ready to give a final wail and go home. It was off with us, for sure.

“Just them, I don’t know why, I happened to recall Ehret’s story of the tarantula. I remember smiling as I thought about it. Just them – pop – the batter put a little fly.

“It came down right over Ehret and ‘Red,’ a good fielder, with a chance that he couldn’t miss, spread his hands. I opened my mouth as wide as I could stretch it and yelled: ‘Red! Red! Look out for the spider!’

“Well, Ehret gave a shriek and sprang backward seven feet. His frightened eyes swept along the ground and the ball, unnoticed and uncared for, fell on the sand. Both runners skated in and we had won. Did ‘Red’ kick? Oh, not at all. He simply had deliriums and I left the park over the fence before he could get his senses together.

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Biggest Holes in the Story

  1. Houseman says he was playing in the Texas League in 1888, but Baseball Reference (“BR”) apparently has been unable to confirm where that might have been. “BR” records show Houseman breaking into professional baseball in 1891 at the age of 21 with Grand Rapids.
  2. Red Ehret was a pitcher for Kansas City in 1888. There is no “BR” mention that Ehret ever played with either Houston or Galveston.
  3. There is also no “BR” reference that John Houseman and Phil “Red” Everett ever played professional baseball together on the same team.

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Links to the “BR” records for Houseman and Everett

John Franklin Houseman

http://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=housem002joh

Phil “Red” Ehret

http://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=ehret-001phi

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Welcome to the wonderful world of early baseball research. Thanks to data forces like Baseball Reference and Baseball Almanac and the availability of so many newspaper file sources over the Internet, it is, like all things, now a lot easier to research than it was even twenty years ago, but it’s still a formidable challenge.

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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3 Responses to “The Cleveland Spiders Were Never This Scary”

  1. bhick6 Says:

    Regarding Biggest Hole #1, Marshall Wright’s book THE TEXAS LEAGUE IN BASEBALL 1888-1958 lists a Houseman (no first name) with the Houston Buffs in 1889. He was a second baseman. That could have been John Houseman.

  2. bhick6 Says:

    Oops. Sorry about the above post. I was looking at the wrong page in the Marshall Wright book. It was 1899, not 1889, so it was Frank Houseman, whom you had already mentioned.

  3. DAVIS O. BARKER Says:

    Be careful about placing too much stock in BR during the early years and remember that BR is a work in progress since history yields her secrets begrudgingly … also be careful what you read I guess because I found the story referenced above written by a Sporting Life writer in the March 16, 1895 issue of Sporting Life and the year mentioned there was 1889 – so who knows …. and I’m sitting here looking at numerous Tx regional papers that show Ehret in boxscore after boxscore in 1888 … whether Houseman was there, who knows since in early Tx newspaper boxes names with more than eight letters are normally “scrunched” to fit the column – so searching for the name Houseman would be rather difficult … it is what it is when history fades to black ….

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