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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Bugs Raymond: A Baseball Legend

Professional baseball is rife with legends and ciphers that have popped up over the years. Although most of them may not reach the level of a Sidd Finch, there have been many whose stories have vacillated between the humorous and the tragic. Bugs Raymond was an outstanding pitcher who fits into both categories; whose escapades that became legendary even as he battled alcoholism and wound up murdered at the age of 30.

Born Arthur Lawrence Raymond in 1882 Chicago, little is known about his early life. His nickname of Bugs came from “bug house,” which was slang of the time for an insane asylum, and was an apt description of his frequent over the top behavior. He developed a drinking problem at an early age but was still able to also develop into a top-notch pitcher.

The right-hander joined the Waterloo Microbes of the Iowa League of Professional Baseball Clubs in 1904 and won 19 games. That was more than enough to garner the attention of the major leagues, and he was acquired by Ed Barrow of the Detroit Tigers before the season ended. With the team in the second division, the 22-year-old was given an opportunity to see what he could do. He appeared in five games, posting a 3.07 ERA in 14.2 innings. His only decision was a loss, and his drinking likely led to his offseason sale to Atlanta in the Sally League.

Raymond pitched in the minor leagues over the next three years, enjoying mounting success on the back of a highly-regarded spitball. In 1907, while with the Charleston Sea Gulls, he won an eye-popping 35 games of the 51 in which he appeared, logging 335 innings. Despite his continued wild behavior (his unconscious body was allegedly once seen being transported in a wheelbarrow pushed by his manager), his results were so astounding that his contract was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Finally sticking in the majors, Raymond continued to pitch extremely well for someone who also battled a severe alcohol problem. He was 15-25 in 1908 for the Cardinals but had a 2.03 ERA and 145 strikeouts, which was good for fourth in the National League.
Traded that offseason to the New York Giants for future Hall of Famer Roger 
Bresnahan, Raymond continued his cycle of success and struggle with his new team. He won 18 games in 1909 but continued to be completely unreliable because of his behavior and drinking. Not surprisingly, he was frequently at odds with manager John McGraw (no saint himself).

In July, 1910, the pitcher’s behavior got so bad that McGraw gave him a train ticket and sent him home, saying, “I’m through with Raymond. I tried everything to tame him, and he kept getting worse. He put the club to a big expense, and when we kept him sober he couldn’t pitch. Many persons have advised me that he could pitch better ball, or at least would pitch no worse, if he were kept in pickle, but the New York team isn’t going to stand for that sort of work. If we cannot win with sober men we will lose rather than to exploit such a character as a leading light of the game.”

McGraw continued, “No manager would have gone so far with Raymond as I did. Therefore, I’m not going to trade him. Probably nobody wants him. But if he isn’t of any use to me he isn’t worth anything to anybody else, and this game is better off without him. He’s pitched his last game for me!”

As it turned out, Raymond hadn’t quite pitched his last game for Mugsy and was brought back the following year upon his promised best behavior. Unfortunately, he was unable to turn over a new leaf and soon earned a permanent ticket off the team midway through the 1911 season. He never appeared in the major leagues again. Even when he had been able to pitch his stamina wasn’t the same as other pitchers on the staff, sometimes necessitating relievers to finish his games. As one writer wrote, “Bugs was a great starter but a poor finisher. He seldom finished anything but a drink.”

For his major league career, Raymond was a combined 45-57 with a 2.49 ERA in 136 games (95 starts). He also tossed nine shutouts and was thought of well enough that he even earned a Hall of Fame vote on the second annual ballot in 1937.

Sadly, Raymond’s life spiraled even more deeply out of control following his departure from the Giants. When he was sober enough, which wasn’t often, he found work pitching in semi-pro games. It all came to a sudden end on September 7, 1912 in Chicago when his lifeless body was found in a dingy hotel. Sadly, he left behind his wife and a child.

It was originally believed that he had succumbed to a combination of heart trouble and a heat wave that had plagued that area of the country. However, a subsequent autopsy revealed something altogether different. Raymond had a fractured skull and had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.

The following week, 23 year-old Fred Cigranz was arrested in connection to his death and promptly confessed. He indicated he had been at a baseball game and had been struck by a piece of flower pot that Raymond, a spectator, had thrown at him. It later came out that an unknown person had first thrown the shard at Raymond, who thought he was retaliating in kind. Although the Cigranz and Raymond had known each other for years, the enraged younger man attacked the down-on-his-luck pitcher, including kicking him in the head. He was hospitalized for several days but eventually released, obviously not receiving the treatment he needed. Frank Raymond, his brother, ultimately tipped off police as to the sequence of events.

Cigranz lamented to police during his confession that “I’ve known him for 15 years and I would not have hurt him bad for anything.” Frank also told police that the flower pot incident was not his brother’s only recent dust up. Just days prior, the two had been involved in a fight where Bugs was hit over the head with a stick by one of their opponents. Although Cigranz took the blame for the death, what ultimately killed the doomed pitcher in this age of limited science is anyone’s guess.

It was also revealed that Raymond’s wife had left him sometime earlier. No doubt, their troubles were caused by his drinking but were also exacerbated by the death of a young daughter the previous year from influenza. Since leaving the Giants he had not landed on his feet. His occasional amateur games garnered him $10 a pop. He had also wired McGraw to see if he could get his old skipper’s sympathy one last time but the only reply he received was a telegram simply saying, “I have enough troubles.”

The number of stories and legends related to Raymond are many. While some may simply be anecdotal, others are based in fact. Here are some of the most memorable:

-While pitching a game with the Cardinals, he was trounced by the Pittsburgh Pirates and didn’t even bother to change from his uniform after being removed. He walked straight out of Exposition Park in Pittsburgh “in his baseball togs, stopping at every wet goods emporium on the way.” At one of the bars, he slammed his glove on the counter, ordered a beer and announced, “This is on the house! You know me, old pal. I’m Bugs Raymond, the pitcher.” He reportedly eventually made his way back to his team’s hotel but was in such an inebriated state and had so angered his manager, John McCloskey, that he suffered a bad beating at the hands of his skipper.

-This allegedly played out in a similar fashion with McGraw. In 1909, in was reported that Raymond was beset upon by his manager following some bad behavior on a road trip. McGraw told reporters, “Raymond got a little ‘strong’ on the train and needed correction. I did not want to fine him, so I administered a little chastisement.” When next seen, Raymond was sporting a split lip and presumably acting a little tamer.

-While with the Cardinals in 1907, he was struck by a car that was initially reported had killed him. Always seeming to have brushes with injury and near death, he also nearly lost a finger once when attempting to stop an electric fan with his bare hand.

-Raymond was notorious for his love of bananas, and even occasionally took some out to the mound with him and ate between batters (likely just in the minors and semi-pro games). Although he may have enjoyed consuming the fruit, the main reason he liked them so much was that he used the sticky material inside the peel to make his ball move—even leading that pitch to be named his “banana ball.”

-While pitching in the Sally League, Raymond went missing from his team one day during the pennant drive. He was found at a local circus but no entreaties could get him to budge. As he explained, “The circus only comes to town once a year and there is a ball game every day. I just can’t miss the circus.” He was sold shortly thereafter.

-In 1909, Raymond bet his fellow rotation mate Christy Mathewson $50 that he would end up with more wins on the season. Raymond did win 18 games but wagering against Mathewson, the best pitcher on the planet at the time, was just not a smart idea, as he handily took the money by ringing up 25 victories of his own.

-Foreshadowing his tragic death, Raymond was struck by a Les Backman pitch during a 1909 game that knocked him unconscious. His teammates carried him to the bench and laid him out. Fortunately, he eventually came to and was no worse for the wear.

-In late summer of 1910, Raymond nearly lost his life in a train accident while traveling to Litchfield, Connecticut to pitch for a local team. His train smashed into several freight cars just outside of the station. Out of three people injured, his were the most serious, as he suffered a broken pitching arm and cut and bruised leg. Luckily, he was healed enough to pitch the following year.

-Raymond’s drinking problem was so well known that a newspaper once ran an article with the headline “Bugs Raymond Refuses Drink.” It detailed the pitcher’s attempts to be “cured” of his alcoholism by enrolling at a sanitarium and getting injections of drugs designed to curb his urges. All that led to was a temporary lapse and a new cigarette habit, which he picked up while trying to figure out how to while away his newfound time.

-In the winter following the 1910 season, Raymond made headlines by signing on to wrestle professionally in Chicago.

-In April, 1911, a fire broke out at the Giants home of the Polo Grounds. Somehow, Raymond was one of the first on the scene and was later reported to have said, “’When I was warming up yesterday, I had a premonition of this happening. There go the bats,’ sighed Raymond, as the players’ bench caught fire.”

-Hall-of-Fame pitcher Rube Waddell is notorious for being one of baseball’s all-time bad boys. Even he couldn’t believe the exploits of Raymond. When asked by one reporter, he took his fellow hurler to task, stating, “It’s a shame that fellow doesn’t take better care of himself. He would be a wonder if he would just keep in condition and pay strict attention to business.”

-Bill Byron, who umpired in the National League during Raymond’s career, contributed to the legend with a story that was published in a 1927 newspaper account. He asserted that following a game, Raymond asked him to go to dinner. He only agreed to the usually frowned-upon fraternization because the pitcher told him he simply wanted to stay out of trouble so he would be fit to pitch in the next day’s scheduled doubleheader. Byron agreed, and while they didn’t have drinks, the evening led to Raymond astride a whirling merry-go-round horse and breaking the thumb on his throwing hand after attempting to grab a brass ring that would have won him a free ride.

-Rumor has it that Raymond once bet legendary writer Grantland Rice he could eat an entire turkey, drink a full bottle of Scotch, walk two miles to the ballpark and then pitch a shutout. Naturally, Raymond not only won, but entertained the scribe on their hike to the field by throwing rocks at birds stupid enough to get within striking distance.

-The Giants also employed detectives or “keepers” to follow Raymond around in an attempt to keep him on the straight and narrow. One time, the pitcher and his tail disappeared for several days and were only found after McGraw employed a different detective agency, who tracked the pair down to a local saloon where they were going head to head in a drinking contest.

-Another way the Giants attempted to slow Raymond’s journey down the bottle was by parsing out his paycheck. Legend has it that also backfired one day when McGraw gave him a ball and told him to go out to the bullpen and warm up. Later, the player was nowhere to be found. It was only after the game that he was located, still dressed in his uniform, at a tavern with a bunch of recently drained beer steins that had been purchased from the proceeds of the ball he had sold to a fan in the stands.

Raymond truly was one of baseball’s all-time great characters. While a lot of his behavior as a player was humorous, its connection to drinking made it tragic in hindsight. Nevertheless, he contributed greatly to the rich tapestry of the history of the game and should always be remembered.

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