By David Eskenazi and Steve Rudman
Northwest sports fans have witnessed some dandy feuds, none more entertaining than the mid-1990s verbal smackdown between Wally Walker, former president and GM of the SuperSonics, and his flammable head coach, George Karl, who panned Walker in the public prints so relentlessly that the NBA first fined Karl $25,000 for making disparaging remarks, and then tacked on a $50,000 gouge when Karl refused to stop running his mouth.
Almost as amusing: the 1990 fisticuffs involving Sonics stars Dale Ellis and Xavier McDaniel that spilled out of the teams headquarters on Queen Anne Avenue North. To the amusement of spectators, the pair slugged it out over a city block, the fracas resulting in a fine and suspension for Ellis.
Well before Seattle welcomed its first major league teams, in fact 30 years before, one of the more intriguing no-love-lost stories involved two Seattle Indians (Pacific Coast League) managers, George Burns, who piloted the club from 1932-34, and his successor, Dutch Ruether, who ran it from early 1934 through 1936. Combatant cameos:
Burns played in the major leagues with five teams from 1914-29 and came to the Indians with an impressive resume, highlighted by his 1926 season with the Cleveland Indians when he led the league in hits (226), batted .358, set a major league record with 64 doubles and won the American Leagues Most Valuable Player award, prevailing over a field that included Herb Pennock, Harry Heilmann, Heinie Manush, Al Simmons, Lefty Grove and Lou Gehrig, future Hall of Famers all.
Burns had a couple of other intriguing distinctions. Playing for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1918, he set an American League record with 109 double plays at first base, a mark remarkably broken three years later by Earl Sheely, who became general manager of the Seattle Rainiers in 1947. Also, playing for the Red Sox, Burns turned an unassisted triple play against Cleveland Sept. 14, 1923.
A southpaw, Ruether pitched in the majors from 1917-27 and performed for four World Series clubs, including the 1919 Cincinnati Reds who won that years tainted Fall Classic against the Chicago White (Black) Sox.
Ruether fashioned five 15-win seasons, one 20-win campaign (1922), won 13 games for the 1927 Yankees, and had an extensive career in the Pacific Coast League before and after his days in the majors.
The bad blood between Burns and Ruether developed early in the 1934 season, which Burns entered on shaky ground, owing to the 119 losses the Indians compiled under his command in 1933, and a belief reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Bill Klepper, the Indians business manager, thought Burns was the wrong guy for the job.
In addition to the 119 defeats on the Burns ledger, Klepper harbored a personal grudge against his manager. The previous season, Burns went into cahoots with a dissatisfied group of Indians stockholders that sought, but failed, to boot off Klepper from the clubs payroll, but succeeded in having him demoted from team president to business manager.
So when Ruether sent a Western Union telegram to Klepper in the spring of 1934 requesting a tryout, Klepper, aware that Ruether had been seeking a coaching job for two years, saw his opportunity to make life miserable for Burns.
Klepper brought Ruether to Seattle and not only signed him to a contract to pitch without consulting Burns, but to coach the youngsters, assist Burns with baseline coaching, and pitch a game once a week when his flipper is ready, according to the Post-Intelligencer, which immediately began offering speculations that if the Indians faltered early, as most expected they would, the club would have a ready replacement for Burns.
Burns didnt appreciate Kleppers meddling or Ruethers coaching help, nor did he take kindly to Ruether’s negative opinions about the club, which The Times and Post-Intelligencer seized on greedily.
The Indians opened 1934 on the road against the San Francisco Seals and Oakland Acorns, stumbling to a 4-9 record in the two series.
During the April 24 home opener at Civic Stadium, the Indians lost to Hollywood 7-5, the Stars getting the winning runs after Burns, instead of ordering an intentional walk, allowed pitcher Bill Radonits to pitch to heavy hitter Smead Jolley with two runners aboard, first base open and the count 3-and-0. Jolley made the Indians pay.
Burns managed himself right out of a job, right there, wrote The Times.
No Seattle team, from the Dan Dugdales Giants through Howard Lincolns Mariners, ever cashiered a manager faster than the Indians bounced Burns (15 games), who blamed Ruether for his ouster, although it was really Klepper who engineered the firing.
The 40-year-old Ruether became the eighth manager of the Indians after spending 19 years in professional baseball with 15 teams, including the Indians in 1930-31.
Born Sept. 13, 1893 a Friday the 13th in Alameda, CA., Walter Henry Dutch Ruether grew up in San Francisco and first turned out for baseball at St. Ignatius High School, whose coach, George Hildebrand, umpired in the American League from 1913-34.
After Hildebrand saw an erratic Ruether throw for the first time and refuse all instruction, he stated, Get out of here, you young hard-head. Youll never be a ballplayer as long as you live. Youre solid bone from your ears up.
Hilde, it seems, was wrong, Ruether told an interviewer years later. But then, he was an umpire, and theyre never right.
Ruether came to the attention of professional clubs March 10, 1913. Pitching for St. Ignatius (CA.) College (later the University of San Francisco) in an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox, Ruether took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning and was on the verge of beating a team that included future Hall of Famer Ray Schalk and the infamous Hal Chase when shortstop Buck Herzog smashed a three-run homer, giving Chicago a 4-2 victory.
Although he lost the game, Ruethers performance so impressed that the PCLs Los Angeles Angels offered him a contract. But when Pittsburgh also offered a contract (worth $500), the 19-year-old signed with the Pirates, with one condition — that he could opt out if the Pirates assigned him to a minor league club.
Sure enough, a month after reporting to Pittsburghs spring training camp in Hot Springs, AR., the Pirates farmed him. Ruether quit and returned to the West Coast to pitch in the Northwestern League.
Thus began one of the great vagabond odysseys in baseball history and one for which, initially, young Dutch Ruether was hardly prepared. Wild on the mound, he alternated great games with wretched ones, always showing potential, never consistency, one reason he bounced around with Portland, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Vancouver and Salt Lake City before landing in Spokane 1916 at 22.
Ruether reportedly liked to carouse newspapers frequently called him a playboy and enjoyed taking a nip or two, or three, or four. He had a mind to do things his own way and he harbored lots of opinions, which he never kept to himself.
“I am a left-hander in everything but my thoughts,” Ruether said late in his career, and early in my career I thought left-handed, too.”
That changed under Spokane manager Nick Williams. A former player under Dan Dugdale (see Wayback Machine: Seattle Struck Gold In Dugdale) in Seattle (1904-05), and later manager of some great San Francisco Seals teams (1926-31), Williams tamed Ruether, in part by using him in the outfield and at first base when he wasnt pitching.
In addition to winning 13 games for Williams, Ruether also hit .297 in 384 at-bats.
(The 1916 Spokane Indians employed seven players who would go on to major league careers, notably Oregon native Ken Williams, baseball’s first 30-30 man in 1922 for the St. Louis Browns, and Earl Sheely, who had a career .300 MLB batting average over nine seasons and later became GM of the Seattle Rainiers.)
At the recommendation of Christy Mathewson (who had seen Ruether play) the Chicago Cubs signed Ruether in 1917. He went 2-0, 2.48 before the Cubs inexplicably waived him July 17, at which point the Reds snatched him, only to lose him to the U.S. Army (assigned to Camp, later Fort, Lewis south of Tacoma) for most of 1918.
Ruether rejoined the Reds in 1919 and had his first big year in the majors, going 19-6, 1.82 ERA and a .760 winning percentage that led the National League. More important, Ruethers 19 wins helped the Reds reach the World Series.
Cincinnati manager Pat Moran selected Ruether to pitch Game 1 because Ruether was a better hitter than Slim Sallee, a 21-game winner. Moran chose wisely.
Ruether threw a complete game in defeating Eddie Cicotte, one of the Eight Men Out ringleaders, 9-1, while adding two triples, a single, a walk and three RBIs.
Even today this is true: Only Cy Young, Babe Ruth, and Ruether have pitched and tripled in a World Series game, and Ruether is the only one with two triples.
After Ruether won 16 games for the Reds in 1920, Cincinnati traded him (Dec. 15, 1920, for Rube Marquard) to Brooklyn, where he pitched some of his most memorable games.
To cite two: April 16, 1922, Ruether threw a complete-game, 10-2 win over the Phillies and contributed four hits. Ruether tossed another complete game with four base hits against the Boston Braves Sept. 4, 1924.
Ruether spent four years in Brooklyn, posting a best mark of 21-12 in 1922, and then went to the Washington Senators in a sale Sept. 17, 1924, after falling out of favor with Robins owner Charles Ebbets.
(Ruether featured a notable fastball early in his career, but between (1922-27) he won more games using smarts than stuff. Stomach trouble, which played havoc with his digestion, often rendered him pale and wan. Washington traded Ruether to the Yankees in 1926 because it was feared ill health would end his career, but an operation remedied Ruethers stomach trouble.)
Ruether went 2-6 in 1926 and pitched Game 3 of that year’s World Series (lost 4-0). A year later, when he roomed with Ruth, the Yankees agreed to pay Ruether a $2,500 bonus if he won 15 games.
By Sept. 1, Ruether had 13 victories. The New York brass ordered manager Miller Huggins not to use Ruether in any more games to save on the bonus, the only reason Ruether did not appear in the 1927 World Series.
Stiffed by the Yankees, Ruether quit major league baseball and returned to the Pacific Coast League.
Ruether departed the majors with 137 wins and 95 losses, a .591 winning percentage, holding the National League record for most innings pitched in a season-opening game (14 in 1923), and with a well-deserved reputation of being tough on great hitters: Lou Gehrig (2-for-14, .143 BA), Eddie Collins (2-for-11, .182), Tris Speaker (2-for-9, .222), and Babe Ruth (3-for-13, .231).
When Ruether arrived on the West Coast, he joined the PCL’s equivalent of the 1927 Yankees, the 1928 San Francisco Seals, managed by the same Nick Williams who had turned around Ruethers career in Spokane in 1916.
The 1928 Seals featured one of the greatest outfields in PCL history. Right fielder Smead Jolley (the same Smead Jolley George Burns should have intentionally walked six years later) won the leagues Triple Crown, batting .404 with 45 home runs and 188 RBIs. He also produced 309 hits in 191 games.
Center fielder Earl Averill (see Wayback Machine: The Earl And Pearl of Snohomish) led the league in runs (178) while finishing second in homers (36) and RBIs (173) and sixth in batting (.354). Left fielder Roy Johnson tied for the league lead in triples (16), was fifth in batting (.360) and fourth in stolen bases (29).
So good was the Seals trio that late in the 1928 season Cleveland offered San Francisco $100,000 for them. The Seals said no. The Indians then offered to trade their starting outfield of Charlie Jamieson, Homer Summa and Sam Langford, plus cash, but the Seals turned down that offer as well.
Ruether played a major role in San Franciscos 120 victories in 1928. The 35-year-old lefty led the PCL in wins (29-7) and complete games (28) and batted .316 in 72 games.
Always on the move, Ruether pitched for the Mission Reds in 1929 (14-9) before Klepper purchased him. Ruether won 17 games for the 1930 Indians, who released him in mid-1931, at which point Ruether signed with Portland. Over the next two years, Ruether also pitched for Nashville, Mission (again) and Oakland, retiring as a full-time player in 1933.
Thats when he wired Klepper, who appointed Ruether the Seattle manager 15 games into the 1934 season.
Im tickled to death to get the chance, Ruether said after taking over for Burns. Klepper tells me its just temporary, but I hope Ill show him and Seattle baseball fans Im the man for the job.
Ruethers most valued possession today is an ordinary dime, The Times wrote. He found it on the street in San Francisco. The next day he signed as coach of the Indians after looking for two years for a coaching job, and now hes the manager, for the time being at least.
Klepper made a good choice. Ruether had the Indians in a pennant race by August, but they faded and finished sixth. Ruether went 76-92 after replacing Burns and did such a commendable job that he was selected to manage a PCL All-Star team that met the league champion L.A. Angels in a special postseason game held for charity.
Seattle slugger Mike Hunt hit a home run and two singles, leading the All-Stars to a 9-7 win over a Los Angeles team managed by future Seattle Rainiers skipper Jack Lelivelt (see Wayback Machine: Jack Lelivelt’s Seattle Rainiers).
The Indians did not improve much under Ruether, in the first year of a two-year, $5,000 per-year contract, in 1935, even with Kewpie Dick Barrett (see Wayback Machine: Kewpie Dick & The Rainiers) winning 22 games and Hunt belting 25 home runs.
During his three seasons with Seattle, Ruether came to dislike Klepper and detest Civic Stadium, the distinguishing feature of which was the distance to left field, about 265 feet down the line. Right handed batters, especially Hunt, loved to hit at Civic Field (he led the PCL in homers again in 1937 with 39, frequently knocking bricks off the Civic Auditorium facade just beyond the left field fence. Hunts career faded when the team left Civic Field after the 1937 season for Sicks Stadium).
Ruether didnt mind the short fence as much as he loathed Civic Fields dirt playing surface, and its horrible lack of maintenance: Pot holes and soft spots riddled the grounds.
One of these days somebodys going to break their neck out there, Ruether complained to The Times.
Klepper couldnt do much to alleviate the situation because the Indians always had cash shortages.
Years later, Seattle columnist Emmett Watson wrote, Ruether told me how the owner, Bill Klepper, gave him all the gate receipts to hide from the sheriff, due at the ball park to collect back admissions taxes. Ruether told me I had all those damned dollar bills stuffed down in my baseball pants when I was coaching third base.
Ruethers recollection for Watson foretold the eventual fate of the Indians, famously raided at Civic Stadium on the final day of the 1937 season (a dozen federal agents swooped through the stadium gates, followed by a phalanx of Washington cops representing the state tax commission, all demanding that the Indians hand over all outstanding admission taxes. The next morning, the Seattle Post-Intelligencers main headline blared, G-Men Seize Ball Game Cash”).
Ruether resigned Sept. 19, 1936, after the Indians lost their fourth consecutive game in the PCL’s championship playoff series against Portland. He immediately applied to become manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, but lost out to former teammate Burleigh Grimes.
When no other major positions opened up, in either the major or high minor leagues, Ruether opted to work in the Northwest Semipro League as manager of the Renton Miners.
Neither The Times nor Post-Intelligencer devoted much coverage to the Northwest Semipro League one-paragraph recaps, linescores and standings were about the size of it until early July 1937, when Ruethers Renton Miners traveled east of the mountains to face the Yakima club.
The newspapers couldnt resist the matchup of managers: Rentons Dutch Ruether vs. Yakimas George Burns, who had remained in the Northwest after Klepper fired him, taking jobs in the minors (managed the 1934 Portland Beavers) scouting, and occasionally taking potshots at Ruether in the papers over his managerial performance with the Indians.
Theres no love lost between Burns and Ruether, The Times editorialized July 2, 1937, for the former was fired three years ago when Ruether was given command. Playing with Burns in Yakima will be two ex-Indians who performed under both managers, shortstop Chick Ellsworth and second baseman Andy Harrington.
“Pitching for Renton will be Dutchs stepson, Frank Ruether. Yakima under Burns is leading the Northwest League while Renton has won two of three starts under Ruethers leadership.
The Times labeled the Renton-Yakima showdown as The Grudge Series and gave the game more ink for three days than it did the Indians.
Yakima took two out of three, and the teams played another Grudge Series at Civic Stadium in mid-July, the highlight contest occurring July 25, when Yakima won 3-1 in 11 innings in front of 1,500 fans, who watched Fred Hutchinson (Franklin High) of Yakima outduel Rentons Rube Sandstrom (Broadway High). Edo Vanni (Queen Anne High) played for Ruether’s Miners.
Although Burns won “The Grudge Series,” Ruether’s team won the Northwest Semipro League championship, after which Ruether resigned.
Ruether eventually landed a West Coast scouting job with the Chicago Cubs (he replaced Lelivelt, who resigned to become manager of the Rainiers). Before relocating to California, Ruether was instrumental in convincing Vanni to forgo a football career in favor of a baseball one. Wrote The Times:
“After Vanni left high school, he played for Ruether in Renton. Vanni, like Hutchinson, stepped into the Northwest Semipro League after his prep days. So convinced was Ruether that the Queen Anne Italian had a great baseball future that when he entered UW, Ruether urged him to forgo football, fearing injuries.
“Edo finally succumbed to the lure of the gridiron on condition that he be a kicking specialist. He played freshman football. After the season, Ruether convinced Lelivelt that Vanni could play and Lelivelt offered Vanni a contract.”
Ruether scouted for a number of clubs, including the Giants, until his death May 16, 1970, in Phoenix. He helped discover players such as Joey Amalfitano, Eddie Bressoud, Peanuts Lowrey and Mike McCormick, a four-time All-Star and the 1967 National League Cy Young winner.
The Yakima job became Burns’ last in baseball. He retired in 1939 and hired on as a deputy sheriff in the Seattle Police Department, the only American League Most Valuable Player to serve as a Seattle cop.
Many of the historic images published on Sportspress Northwest are provided by resident Northwest sports history aficionado David Eskenazi. Check out Davids Wayback Machine Archive. David can be reached at (206) 441-1900, or at firstname.lastname@example.org