NevadaGram #171 – Wheezer Dell

Wheezer Dell
Wheezer Dell

A while back I posted a NevadaGram about Wheezer Dell, the first Nevada-born child — Tuscarora, June 11, 1886 — to grow up to play major league baseball, first for St. Louis in 1912 and then in Brooklyn from 1915 to 1917. I had rummaged through the pages of the scrapbook that his wife Eleanor had kept of his phenomenal baseball career and was left with a major mystery unsolved among the photos, signed baseballs and newspaper clippings:

NevadaGram Honored

The Nevada Press Association has awarded the NevadaGram First Prize in its annual contest for Best Writing on the Internet.
Also, our article “A Visit to Belmont Mill and Hamilton” was awarded First Prize for Best Feature Article on the Internet.
NevadaGram publisher David Toll accepted the awards at the annual NPA Banquet at the Nugget in Sparks on October 2nd. The contest was judged by members of the Wyoming Press Association.

Read more here

Why did he disappear from the Robins in 1917? He had pitched in relief to close out an already-lost second game of the 4th of July double header against the Giants, and then he was gone with no explanation. Why?

It turns out it was the same reason he’d disappeared from St. Louis five years earlier: he quit. Wheezer was a hot-head.

He had first been drafted by the Cardinals in 1911 after a strong season with the Edmonton Eskimos in the Western Canada League, but he refused to go.

Edmonton Eskimos, 1910
When Wheezer was cited as the first Eskimo to make the major leagues, it was because he played for the Edmonton Eskimos in the Western Canada League in 1910.

He didn’t want to give up his seniority as a union electrician at the mine in Butte, he wasn’t ready to think of baseball as anything but a lark, and he didn’t like the personal services contract he’d be forced to sign. A clipping in the scrapbook noted, “Weiser was drafted by the St. Louis Nationals, but owing to a salary disagreement failed to report. McCloskey secured his services for the Butte team in the Union Association and Dell proved to be as good a man as was ever in this circuit.”

When they drafted him again the next year Wheezer was persuaded to go, but he went grumbling about greed, exploitation and slavery.

He’d grown up in a working-class family in Butte Montana at a time when labor strife was real and bloody. He was inculcated with life’s lessons by veterans of the IWW and the WFM and the labor struggles in Victor, Cripple Creek and Goldfield. Those guys were staunch union hard-asses and it’s no wonder he grew up with a grudge against the bosses.

So when manager Roger Bresnahan called Wheezer into his office to tell him he was being sent down to the minors, Wheezer told him to go to hell and went home to Butte.

350 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn
350 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn where Wheezer and Eleanor lived, and where their son Jack was born in 1916.

He finished out the season there, then went to Seattle for two seasons where he did so well he was drafted again, this time by Brooklyn. Now it’s 1915; he has a wife and a baby coming. Baseball’s not so much of a lark any more. He went, and however the deal irked him, he managed to swallow his resentment.

Here’s a story that appeared in a clipping from the Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph under the headline, Dell’s Winter Work:
“The poor showing of the Brooklyn Superbas, last year’s [1916] pennant winners, has given rise to many stories as to the exact cause of the team’s slump. But one of the best — both the Squire and the pitcher tell it as a good one on themselves — deals with Pitcher Dell and his remuneration.”

As you read this, ask yourself if someone with Wheezer’s strong opinions would tell this story as ‘a good one on himself’.

“At the end of last season Mr. Ebbets informed Mr. Dell that a chunk of about $700 would be removed from his paycheck in 1917. Long and loud wailed Mr. Dell, and Mr. Ebbets remained adamantine.”

Think about that. They’d just won the pennant and the boss announces a pay cut. What?

“Suddenly a great thought struck the squire. ‘See here, Mr. Dell,’ he exclaimed, ‘you are a house painter by trade aren’t you?’
“‘I am,’ admitted Mr. Dell [he was not]. ‘What about it?’
“‘Well, I’ll fix it with you this way: You paint the grandstand for me, free of charge, and I won’t reduce your salary. How’s that?’
“‘You’re on,’ said Mr. Dell, and the bargain was cemented. Mr. Dell gets full pay for 1917, and the grandstand glistens in a brilliant coat of green paint carefully applied by Mr. Dell during the long watches of the off-season.”

But what do you suppose Wheezer was thinking as he painted that grandstand? ‘Exploitation’ is my guess, with a lot of rude words plus bad names for Charlie Ebbets. Just to throw a little more doubt on the story, here’s what Ebbets Field looked like then. Could one man have painted the whole grandstand for any amount of money? $700 for a section, maybe. (More on Ebbets Field)

He’d started well with the Robins in ’15, winning 11 games vs 10 losses. In 1916 Larry Cheney and Rube Marquard joined the pitching staff and tallied 59 wins between them, helping propel the Robins to the 1916 National League pennant, and even though he’d pitched two consecutive shutouts to start the season, Wheezer was overshadowed and went 8-9 that year.

Five Years Ago in the NevadaGram

It was at this point in the calendar that local residents on the Comstock Lode began to hear about a scheme to pit mine in the Virginia City National Historic Landmark, and to organize against it.

Lucerne Pit, Gold Hill Nevada
And so it began.

We’ve begun to fight, drawing on our experience with earlier attempts to dig enormous pit mines here. One of these previous companies, Houston Oil & Minerals, did dig a huge crater where the original 1859 discovery was made in Gold Hill, and it remains there today, long after the mining company itself dissolved into thin air. A big slab of Sun Mountain is slowly sliding into the big hole, and a bilious green pond has appeared at the bottom.

A few years later another company tried to pit mine in Silver City. The local folks organized a successful resistance, and Lyon County ruled it incompatible with the zoning in the county Master Plan, and turned it down.

This time the struggle is complicated by the fact that the company, Comstock Mining Inc., is active in both Lyon and Storey counties, which have different ordinances and different attitudes behind them. We will have to fight on two fronts. But having both counties involved means more citizen involvement, and CMI will have to fight on two fronts as well.

Read the whole thing here

And so in 1917 when Wheezer hadn’t won a game by the 4th of July his standing with manager Wilbert Robinson was pretty low. Rube Marquard started game 2 for Brooklyn but was yanked in the 4th inning after giving up 6 runs. Wheezer then pitched two scoreless innings, gave up three runs in the 7th, and was also yanked.

He can’t have been in a good frame of mind when manager Robinson called him into his office and told him his contract had been sold to the minor league Baltimore Orioles, because he told Wilbert Robinson to go straight to hell and he went straight home to Butte.

Once there he learned that Organized Baseball had extended its sway over many of the minor leagues across the country, and that if he wanted to keep playing ball he’d have to, um, play ball. So he did, and in mid-March 1918 the Associated Press reported, “”Wheezer Dell, the lanky Dodger pitcher, has been reinstated by the national commission and will rejoin the Brooklyn club in their training stint at Hot Springs, Ark.”

Wheezer was still in Butte, however, with no plans to go to spring training in Arkansas. He was going to pitch for Vernon (a small “wet” city in Los Angeles County) in the Pacific Coast League.

And this was the story I’d intended to tell this time, about the great year he had with Vernon in 1918, 14-7 with a 1.69 ERA, while the league fell apart around him because of the World War, and the season ended early. And how 1919 was even better — beyond belief, really; the movie comedian Fatty Arbuckle bought the team and Wheezer won 24 games including the grandest grand finale you could dream of. But I kept snagging on little things that caught my attention:

On May 9, 1920 Wheezer pitched a 2-hit shut-out, but left the team the next day to take a job as a ball-playing electrician in Richmond, Utah. It was big pay for pitching one game a week, on Sundays (“the teams made most of their money through wagering on the results rather than gate receipts”). He was back two weeks later and went on to pitch six more shut-outs for Vernon over the 1920 season.

Here’s another clipping, undated, from the big scrapbook: “Wheezer Dell is in Los Angeles News Limelight. Pitcher who hurls for Santa Barbara Winter League Team is back with Vernon; Gets Increase Salary says report.” And another one: “Wheezer Dell, pitching for Fresno, allowed but one man to get on base in eight innings.

Ten Years Ago in the NevadaGram

This NevadaGram was composed of three letters from readers about trips they’d made in Nevada. The MaryJane Sisters wrote about traveling the Loneliest Road, W.B. wrote about a cross-country trip from Hawthorne to Elko and back and B.A. described a 5-day pack trip into the Arc Dome Wilderness:

3some-300x200It’s beautiful country but the wrong time of year — it was 105 degrees in Fallon on the way there and it didn’t cool off until we got up to about 7000 feet. . . .

When we met the ‘Wild Horse’ Packer it was near the top of the pass separating the Reese River drainage on the west and the Twin River drainage on the east. He was heading into his camp on the upper Reese as he had lost all of his tents in last winter’s October storms and was restocking his high camp. Anyway, he came down the trail ON FOOT leading a string of 6 or 7 wild horses, none of which were tied to anything, just following along like a line of little ducklings. We stopped to exchange a few pleasantries and he mentioned that we might find one more of his horses further up the trail, but this one was hobbled as he had a tendency to run away.

Arc Dome Wilderness NevadaSure enough another mile or so up the trail at the top of the pass here was the wild horse, hobbled in front and, though free to move, stuck to the ground, frozen with indecision as to which way to go. His herd had headed west and he knew he came from the east, but he was as stuck as could be. We rode right on past him, took in the view, had some lunch and rode back past him. The whole time he just stood there looking like a lost kid.

Later the packer passed us on horseback, heading back to get his horse. I guess he probably found him standing where we did, stuck between the Big Smoky and the Reese River Valleys not knowing which way to go.
South Lake Tahoe

Read the whole thing here

One member of Fatty Arbuckle’s movie troupe was Buster Keaton, who appeared at the Vernon ballpark from time to time to entertain the crowd, and in 1920 Wheezer appeared in a Keaton 2-reeler, “My Wife’s Relations”. Here’s another undated clipping: “‘Wheezer’ Dell, the most consistent pitcher in the minor leagues, wants a salary of $5,000 for this season and says if he doesn’t get it he will stick to the movies.”

I guess he got it, because he did come back and won 20 games or more for four consecutive seasons for the Tigers, who traded him to Seattle in ’23. In 1925 he was playing for the Atlanta Crackers and in ’26, his last season, for Beaumont in the Texas League. After that he went to work for Los Angeles Water & Power and retired from that job in 1951.

I hope I’ve managed to contradict Roger Bresnahan’s indictment of Wheezer in 1912. When he came up to the Dodgers in 1915, Bresnahan, who’d been the St. Louis manager in ’12, was quoted as saying, “the only thing that will keep Wieser Dell from being a sensation in the National League is laziness. He didn’t try very hard to make good.”

But Wheezer was the very definition of a hard worker. He pitched 3,591 innings over his 18 years in organized baseball. He gave up 3,109 hits (only 10 homers in that deadball era), 1,272 walks and 919 earned runs. Add in the unknown numbers from his bush leagues, industrial leagues, winter leagues and outlaw leagues, and when he wasn’t playing ball he was working as a union electrician.

You cannot call this man lazy.

In fact, he had a strong working man’s attitude, formed out west in the mines, that included a deep, dark distrust of the owners.

Here’s what Abe Kemp wrote about Wheezer:

“Bill Essick employs upon his club about as quaint and wonderful a character as ever looked a Pullman porter in the eye.

“Will ‘Wheezer’ Dell kindly step forward?

“A pleasant anarchist — that is what Dell is.

“Until yesterday’s game, Dell had won eleven straight games. You naturally think that a pitcher with so many consecutive victories under his belt would feel elated, the ordinary person would. But that does not apply to the altitudinous flinger.

“‘The lively ball,’ chanted ‘Wheezer’. “It is wrecking us, wrecking us, I tell you! What are they going to do about it?’ The writer suggested that in some of the eleven straight victories to his credit it did not seem as though the livelier ball had affected his winning.

“‘The short fences,’ grumbled Wheezer, ‘that is what makes it so hard on pitchers. What are they going to do about it? Are they going to make them still shorter?’

The Smith Valley Dairy

The recent NevadaGram on Smith Valley contained a reference to the large dairy operation there. It has prompted this response:

Smith Valley Dairy
“Smith Valley Dairy is a family owned dairy farm dedicated to preserving our environment as well as promoting our local and national economies.”

Hi, my name is Cole Vlot. My family owns and operates Smith Valley Dairy. My job, besides working on the ranch and school, is keeping our community updated with information about the dairy farm.

Because I do this, I have to do a lot of research and find the falsities and incorrect information out there and share with people the truth about our dairy and our industry. During my research I came across your site “NevadaGram”.

I love the site due to the fact that its showing people the unmistakable beauty of Nevadas country side. But then I found the section about Smith Valley Dairy. In the article there are two links provided one which brings you to SOS (a group which is dedicated on having our family farm shut down) and the other which I thought would lead people to the Smith Valley Dairy site but in fact the link was inoperable and lead me nowhere. [since fixed —ed]

Also the picture provided in the website is in fact not of Smith Valley Dairy but a local feedlot which houses over double the amount of cows that Smith Valley Dairy will. In the picture provided you can see uneven pens deprived of shade and room for animals. BUT, Smith Valley Dairy is a state of the art dairy facility built with two main things in mind, cow comfort and sustainability.

On our dairy our cows have constant access to shade and water. The pens have been contoured by local contractors to provide plenty of dry space during the wet season. On our dairy we stand by our motto that happy cows are healthy cows and the picture provided does not stand by our beliefs in animal care.

“‘Quit moaning,’ chided a teammate.

“‘Who’s moaning?’ Dell demanded. ‘What I want to know is what are they going to do next year — make the ball still livelier and the fences still shorter?’

“However, it matters not to Bill Essick how much Dell moans, or how often. ‘Wheezer’ has been pitchiing splendid ball for the Tigers, and Essick says the best ball since he joined the team, which is considerable statement, for last year and the year prior Dell was hard to beat.

“Stroll out some afternoon, folks, and meet the pleasant anarchist. He’ll be pleased to tell you in plain words why he voted for Debs, why tipping is a blight, and why prohibition is a menace, though most anyone can orate on this subject.”

More about Wheezer’s Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame years coming in the spring.

The revival of the Territorial Enterprise seems to have been an experiment in glossy fluff that has come to an end after three editions, all seemingly derived from a visit to the legislature when it was in session.

Two new Features were posted this month: Finding Clemens Cove, the successful search for Sam’s timber ranch at Lake Tahoe, and Stalagmites Pinpoint Drying of the American West, about research conducted in Lehman Cave at Great Basin National Park.
What They’re Saying About Us : Why Is Burning Man so White?

Overheard in at Adele’s in Carson City: “I’ll tell you what’s worse than the internet Dolores. Television. That insidious beast is a Medusa, freezing a billion people to staring stone every night for generations now. A Siren, she sang and seduced us, promising so much and giving, after all, so little.

Ray Dunakin’s 2015 Nevada adventure.

Wild & Scenic Film Festival
Photo Courtesy of Wild and Scenic Film Festival

Brief Notes from Beyond the Mountains: Nevada in the month of October is packed full of events! Ely’s Nevada Northern Railway has a Haunted Ghost Train that begins on October 2nd and runs through October 29th . . . Virginia City’s premier train the V&T, has the Pumpkin Patch Trains on dates: October 10th through 11th and on the 17th through 18th, Thomas;s Day Out - V&T Theme Trainfollowing with a Day Out With Thomas on October 23rd through the 25th and on October 30th through November 1st . . . The Corely Ranch on the far south edge of Gardnerville has its Annual Pumpkin Patch Festival that lasts the whole month of October . . . With a slight hop over the border you can enjoy the spirit of the Bourbon Social Hour in Squaw Valley on October 8th . . . The following day on October 10th in Truckee is the Wild & Scenic Film Festival . . . At Lake Tahoe at the Tallac Historic Site on October 9th through the 11th is an intellectual soirée called the Tahoe WordWave, a Festival of Story . . . With a quick jaunt down over Luther Pass into Hope Valley you can join in on the Alpine Aspen Festival that runs on October 10th through the 12th . . .
Renaissance Fair Down south in Las Vegas you won’t want to miss the Age of Chivalry Renaissance Fair on October 9th . . . Elko hosts it’s Oktoberfest and Sparks has

the Oktoberfest Harvest Jamboree on October 10th . . . Also on October 10th in Reno is the Eldorado’s Great Italian Festival . . . In the center of the state go to Winnemucca’s 19th Harvest Hops & Grapes/Chamber Wine Tasting on October 10th and 11th . . . Chefs from around Reno will create ensembles of organic ingredients to dazzle your taste buds during the Reno Bites Week that runs on the week of October 12th through the 18th . . . Follow I-80 east Elko for a town Ghost Tour on October 15th through the 17th , then on the 17th of October go to Elko‘s Witches Night Out . . . On October 17th through the 18th in Reno is the first annual Great Basin Geek Con . . . At the Grand Sierra Resort there will be a grand tasting at the ICS World’s Championship Chili Cookoff on October 16th through the 18th . . . Stateline in Lake Tahoe is showcasing an additional extravaganza of flavor at the South Tahoe Food & Wine Festival. Back down to southern Nevada will be the Laughlin International Film Festival that commences on October 15th and runs through the 18th . . .

Henderson Symphony Orchestra, Masterworks Fall Festival
Photo Courtesy of Henderson Symphony Orchestra

The Henderson Symphony Orchestra will dazzle your ear drums with its Masterworks Fall Concert on October 16th . . . Since October is the best time for brews, let us not forget to mention the Hofbräu Oktoberfest in Las Vegas on October 17th . . . In the skies over Las Vegas there will be the Red Bull Air Race World Championship with runways at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Motorsports Complex, the event begins on October 17 and lasts through the 18th . . . On October 24th Henderson‘s Oktoberfest will keep tilted and warm.

Edna Purviance & Chaplin Film Festival
Courtesy of Aurora Repertory Theatre

You won’t want to miss the Edna Purviance & Charlie Chaplin Film Festival in Reno on October 23rd through the 25th. The event celebrates Edna Purviance and Charlie Chaplins stardom adn American culture of the 1920s . . . For a good cause go to the 6th Annual Pahrump Disability Outreach Program Pumpkin Days on October 23rd through the 25th . . . In Sparks on October 25th got the Pumpkin Palooza . . . In northern Nevada go to Carlin’s Spook Walk on October 24th . . . Wells hosts a Fall Crab Feed on October 24th as well . . . Jarbidge‘s Halloween festival kicks off on October 25th, there will be a Pig Roast, Fire Dept Raffle, Bake Auction and Costume Party . . . Fernley hosts the King of the West Sprint Car Series Season Finale on October 26th . . . In the southeast, Mesquite will be the Flight of Fancy Exhibit at Mesquite Fine Arts Gallery. The event runs through the month of October . . . Go romping through the Dayton on October 30th for a Haunted Hay Ride . . .
Nevada Day ParadeNevada Days Celebration in Carson City on October 31st is as busy as humanly possible, starting with a Balloon Launch in the morning and then a Pancake Breakfast, a Classic Run/Walk, the ever spicy-Annual Chili Feed, a Beard Contest, Music by the Carson City Symphony, a tour of the Governor’s Mansion, a Ghost Walk of Carson City’s haunted hotspots, a Historical Tour of Carson City’s East-Side, a Rock Drilling Contest, a Treasure Hunt, features at the Nevada State Museum, McKeen Car Rides Nevada Day Paradeat the Train Museum, the Telegraph Square Block Party, a RSVP Nevada Day Fair, the “official” Nevada Day Parade . . . Earlier in the week don’t miss the Governor’s Blue & Silver Ball at Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City on October 24th. Beatty Days is on October 30th, click for details . . . Feel the eerie chill with a Haunting of Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City on October 31st at 7 pm . . . In southern Nevada the Boulder Damn Halloween bash! will also commence in Boulder City on October 31st.

Parting Shot —
caronwagongoldfield720x399Don’t know anything about this one, but it must have been a fun day.



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