Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Everyday I'm Shufflin'

Don't worry - no dancing hamsters or cameos by LMFAO are going to me made on this blog post. Blech.

No; but, that song lyric is the first thing that popped into my mind as I started reading about the latest addition to my CATRC - "Shufflin' Phil" Douglas.  Damn that catchy tune!

What we have here looks like an ultra-vintage piece of cardboard; however, sadly that is only an illusion.  This is a 1922 E121-120 series American Caramel card.... that was reprinted by TCMA in 1972.  Still old, but not THAT old.

Hey, I have a budget you know.

These cards, like many of the cards of it's day, has some odd dimensions - 2" x 3-3/16".  They were originally distributed with American Caramels' titular confection and then TCMA did their thing with them several decades later.

As you can see from the back, my Douglas reprint is modeled on the 120 card issue and you can also see that TCMA wasn't trying to fool anyone either.  Additionally, the dimensions have been kept as they were way back when.

This particular card depicts Douglas' tenure with the Giants, one of several teams he "shuffled" to and from in the first half of the 20th century. Originally coming up with the White Sox in the same year that the Titanic sank, he also spent time with the Reds, Dodgers, Cubs, back to the minors, Cubs again (including their 1918 World Series appearance - more on that later), and then the Giants through the 1922 season.

Douglas during the 1918 World Series
Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum

But, that's not how he earned his moniker, "Shufflin' Phil" was known for dragging his feet and taking his time when leaving the bullpen to take the mound. You can't rush greatness, after all.

With a career 2.80 ERA, mostly as a starter, he was a quality arm (he even lead the league in ERA in his final season); so why did he bounce around so often? Well, as one contemporary journalist put it, "drinking wasn't a habit for Douglas - it was a disease."

Known for showing up to games and team meetings drunk as a skunk, Phil quickly wore out his welcome in every town he shuffled through. Even still, that wasn't what spelled the end of Douglas' career.

Earning a suspension from John McGraw  for his drunkeness in the waning days of the 1922 season, Phil sent the following letter to Cardinals outfielder and former Cubs teammate Leslie Mann:

"I want to leave here but I want some inducement. I don't want this guy to win the pennant and I feel if I stay here I will win it for him. If you want to send a man over here with the goods, I will leave for home on next train. I will go down to fishing camp and stay there."

The message found it's way to Commissioner Landis and Phil Douglas was banned from baseball for life for gambling.

Did Phil's former teammate "narc" on his friend?

This wasn't his only tie to gambling either.  The legitimacy of the 1918 World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox has often been called into question and Phil's wild pitch in the 8th inning of game 4 handed the Sawx their third victory of the set.  While there is no concrete evidence to go on, it seems possible that Douglas could have been on the take.

Perhaps this weighed on Landis' mind when shuffling Douglas out of organized baseball for good.  Well, that and the Black Sox scandal was still fresh in the public's mind and he wasn't willing to take any chances, even at a vague threat.

"Shoeless Joe" Jackson, Pete Rose and Phil Douglas.  Don't bet on baseball kiddies!

Tragically, Douglas' life spiraled from there on out, into bouts of domestic abuse, even heavier drinking, his wife's death from cancer and multiple strokes - the latter of which eventually claimed his life in 1952.

The headline as it read in 1922.
Image courtesy of Paper Blog

In the end, I learned an awful lot about a tragic character from baseball's rowdier days from such an unassuming reprint card.  That's what I love the most about collecting the way I do, learning about all of these players that time has long since forgotten.

So many players have filtered in and out of the Cubs roster and the Major Leagues since 1876 (and it's precursors); it's just nice to see read about players other than Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams and to see them immortalized on a baseball card as well.

In the meantime, if any aspiring baseball players are reading this - DO NOT bet on the game.  In fact, don't even think about it and certainly don't tell anyone you're thinking about it.  It will not end well.

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