If you think Earl Weaver and Billy Martin—those Ph.D.s in the arts of kicking dust and shouting unprintable epithets—were rough on umpires, well, they were a couple of Peter Pans compared to Henry (Heinie) Zimmerman, who played every infield position for the Chicago Cubs from 1907 to 1916. Unfortunately for Zimmerman and his contemporaries, though, the umps had shorter fuses and quicker thumbs than they have today.
In one game, for example, N.Y. Giants first baseman Fred Merkle objected to umpire Frank New-house's decision on a close play. As Merkle prepared to throw a punch, Newhouse swung his mask so hard in self-defense that he drew blood—Merkle's. That happened not in the nerve-jangling heat of a game that might decide a pennant race, but in an exhibition the Giants played against an Interstate League team in Zanesville, Ohio.
During that same week in 1913, Zimmerman distressed his many fans when umps threw him out of three games in five days. His last ejection came on June 17 as he stood on third base. Bill Klem, who was later inducted into the Hall of Fame as an umpire, called a third strike on a Cub batter and took exception to Zimmerman's rather loud opinion that he could call balls and strikes more accurately 90 feet away.
On June 19, the sports section of the Chicago Tribune published the following letter:
"I'm Irish and I haven't much use for the Dutch, but there's one Dutchman I think a whole lot of, and that's Heinie Zimmerman. I think so much of him that I love to see him fight the other fellows. And ah, there's the rub. Darn him, he doesn't play regular. He gets canned too often for fighting the umpires. It ain't fair for those who pay their money to see Zim swat the pill and it also ain't fair to the rest of the bunch.
"Now to come down to brass tacks: Here's a $100 bill split in two. Go give one half to Heinie and if he stays in the game for two weeks—that is, if he doesn't get canned by an ump in that period of time, pass him the other half and a piece of sticking plaster to glue 'em together.
"Seriously, I want Zim to quit kicking. Two weeks of living in harmony with umps will do everybody a lot of good, Zim most of all.
"Please put a mask over my name, and sign:
"A Split Century"
The Tribune said the offer came from a fan who asked to remain anonymous.
In those days a yellowbacked $100 bill was a lot of money. You could buy a 30 X 125-foot lot within the city limits for $10 down and $10 a month, or watch Marie Dressier in a George Ade comedy at the Majestic Theatre from a seat costing 15¢.
Just before the Cubs met the Phillies that afternoon, Klem handed Zimmerman an envelope containing half the gold certificate. "That $100 is as good as mine already," Zim declared, "for I'm through fussing with umpires." To prove his pure intentions, he kept his cool all afternoon despite going hitless as the Cubs lost a tough 2-1 game.
In St. Louis the next day, Zimmerman showed the strain that perfect behavior had put on his nerves. He was removed from the game during the third inning. This time his ejection came when Cubs manager Johnny Evers tried to settle a dispute in the dugout between Zim and a teammate.
"He said something to me," reported Evers, "and I asked him to say it over to make sure I heard it right. Then I told him it would cost him a hundred and he followed by saying it right over once more, so I raised the fine to $200 and told him to get out of the game." (Zim later apologized and the fine was rescinded.)
When the Cubs took the field and Zimmerman didn't appear, umpire Bill Brennan informed the press that he hadn't thrown Zimmerman out. On the technicality that he hadn't been banished by an umpire, Zim retained his chances of getting the $100.
The next game was canceled on account of rain after three innings, but it counted as another unblemished day for Zim, the letter having stipulated 14 days—not 14 games—without banishment by an ump.
Heinie played recklessly the following afternoon, stretching one line drive into a double, sliding into second ahead of the throw, then stealing third. No one knows what might have happened if he'd been called out on either close play. Chicago Tribune baseball writer Sam Weller reported that the odds had become 3 to 2 that Zim would collect the hundred.
In the second inning of the last St. Louis game, umpire Hank O'Day called Zimmerman out on a checked-swing strike, a decision that irritates even the most easygoing player. O'Day noted that Zimmerman hadn't stopped the bat from completing the swing. Zim protested loudly and fiercely. O'Day stared at him for at least a count of 10.
Weller reported: "Had Heinie dared to add anything more, Hank probably would have ordered him out of the game.... Then Heinie happened to remember the yellowback and strode quietly to the bench. If he gets through tomorrow, half the battle will be won."
Later in the game, Zimmerman proved himself deserving of his reputation as a flake. Lashing a long drive to deep left that would have been a homer in Chicago, he saw Lee Magee gallop over, catch the ball and throw it back to the infield. Zimmerman, who was crossing the diamond toward the bench, intercepted the ball and threw it back to deep leftfield, where Magee made another catch. Zimmerman turned toward O'Day and laughed so the ump would know it was all in fun.
On June 26 Heinie survived another scare before the opener of a four-game series in Cincinnati. While ex-teammates Joe Tinker, the Reds' manager, and Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown visited with him, Zimmerman showed them the half-yellowback. Tinker had read about it, but thought it was some kind of practical joke. When Zimmerman handed it to him, Tinker tore it in half. Zimmerman leaped and grabbed the two pieces of paper, but the incident may have shaken him, for he went hitless that afternoon.
After rating an A for deportment on Day 8, Zimmerman had earned, according to a Tribune communiqué from Cincinnati, $57.14 of the hundred, and "is so sure now of winning that he has planned just where most of it will be spent."
An article in the following day's Tribune said that "Heinie Zimmerman lost his temper today and went into a tantrum right on the ballfield, but it wasn't because he was mad at an umpire." Two Cincy fielders vexed Heinie by turning in spectacular plays, contributing to his going hitless once more.
On Day 10, Zimmerman stroked a double on his second at bat. Breaking out of his slump made him so happy, he never uttered a cross word to either the umpire behind the plate or the one on the bases.
Tinker handed home-plate umpire O'Day three new balls before the last game in Cincinnati. Neither Zimmerman nor any of the other players hit a single foul ball out of the playing field, and though the final score was 9-6, only one ball was used during the entire game.
On June 30—Day 12—Zimmerman and Al Bridwell tried a double steal that almost proved disastrous. As Bridwell started from first, Pittsburgh pitcher Harry Camnitz spun and threw to second. When he did, Zimmerman broke for the plate. He came in sliding, spikes high, just as catcher Bob Coleman got the ball.
"It was close," the Tribune reported, "but umpire [Ernest] Quigley called Heinie out. The star clouter simply got up, brushed the dirt off his clothes and walked to his position at third base." Twelve down and two to go!
Ring Lardner's sports column in the Tribune's next edition included an offering called Heinie's Soliloquy. It began:
The C, or not the C, that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler for the dough to suffer
Mistakes and errors of outrageous umpires,
Or to cut loose against a band of robbers,
And, by protesting, lose it? To kick, to beef,
To beef! Perchance to scream.
On Day 14, with the other half of the hundred almost in his pocket, Zimmerman tried to steal home, showing he wasn't afraid to tempt fate. He streaked for the plate as the Pittsburgh pitcher went into the windup. Heinie and the ball arrived together. Umpire Quigley jerked his thumb over his shoulder. Out!
Zimmerman bounced to his feet, scowled at Quigley and began to scream. "Quigley started toward the enraged player," the Tribune reported, "as if to wave him to the clubhouse. For a moment, everyone in the stands was breathless, for they knew that $100 hung on the words the umpire might say. Then they saw Heinie turn and walk to third base."
Before the game of July 3, umpire Brennan summoned Zimmerman to home plate and presented him with the other half of the "split century." Later, Heinie asked the Tribune to publish this:
"I want you to tell this unknown friend, whoever he may be, that I thank him.... Tell that unknown that I appreciate this thing and I'm hoping to send the bill, when I get it put together again, to my mother in New York."
Chicago continued trying to guess the identity of "A Split Century." The July 6 Tribune put an end to the suspense by confessing it had created the entire scheme in order to help tame Zimmerman's runaway temper.
It must have done some good. Not long after he collected his $100, Zimmerman, sidelined with a bad ankle, was coaching first base in a game against the Giants. Umpire Bill Byron called a Cub runner out on a close play, and though Heinie looked at Byron for several seconds, he made no violent objection.
As comedian Joe E. Lewis, who came out of Chicago some years later, observed, "Money isn't everything, but it sure quiets your nerves."