Thursday, November 10, 2011

Elton Chamberlain: Cool as Ice*

Elton "Ice Box" Chamberlain may have been the original mold for the late nineteenth century baseballist. A sturdy and reliable pitcher for 10 years, Ice Box picked up his nickname from hyperbolic scribes' descriptions of his coolness in the pitcher's box1. In 10 seasons, he won 157 games and was an above-average pitcher in an era where offense ruled the game. He even pitched with his left hand on occasion, an accomplishment also undertaken by one of Chamberlain's contemporaries: lady killer and GNIB honoree Tony Mullane.

In addition to his pitching credibility, Ice Box engaged in all of the traditional, unsavory baseballist off-field engagements of the times.

He bet heavily on boxing. Of course, this is not in itself a crime. But Chamberlain netted himself a hefty $50 (!) fine for helping fix a match in 1891. In another match, Ice Box won a diamond ring from a bet on brawler Edward Gorman. Like any good bettor, Chamberlain lent Gorman the ring. After it became apparent that the ring was never coming back, Ice Box had Gorman arrested and jailed for grand larceny2.

Of course, the natural post-career appointment for a man of such repute is self-evident: Ice Box was hired to be a National League umpire in the 1896 offseason. While the reason is unclear, the result is not. Chamberlain was fired before long.

Not only was Chamberlain a fisticuffs fan, he fancied the occasional participation in what can only be dubbed "assault and battery for fun and profit."

In one instance, Cincinnati teammate and outfielder Jocko Halligan ravaged a bar during what baseball historians have determined "an ordinary baseballist's Thursday." After battering one teammate into a pulp, Halligan3 spotted Chamberlain at the bar and decided that a doubleheader was in order. Ice Box, however, was watching Halligan's approach in the bar mirror. As Jocko lunged, Ice Box turned with a bar mallet4 in hand and coolly dispatched of the raging outfielder.

Ice Box's post-baseball life is not at all documented, outside of his death in 1929. Some say that he worked in a consulting role with baseball hatchet-man extraordinaire Ossee Schrecengost and that he once began a brawl in Cleveland that ended 390 miles away.

All we know is...he's called a prick.

Read the SABR Project bio of Ice Box Chamberlain here.

* For information on this article post's title, rent Cool as Ice (1991), starring award-winning human being Vanilla Ice. Also, please take a moment to enjoy Ice Box Chamberlain's baseball card, presented by Old Judge Cigarettes. Remember kids, Old Judge Cigarettes wrote THE verdict in smoothness.

1 A thorough researching has indicated that rejected nicknames included: Iceberg Spleen, Glacial Glands, Winter Worm, Nattering Nabob of Numbness, Chisel Cheeks and The Rimy Buffalo Hurler.

2 Ed Gorman once defeated a Kiwi world champion named Torpedo Billy Murphy in 1891 in Rock Springs, Wyoming. He also allegedly won a 53-round bout with Billy Hawkins in Chicago by forfeit, though at least one press outfit claimed the fight was a canard. This author finds the claim confusing and dubious, for airplanes had yet to fly, let alone planes with complex aerodynamic surfaces.

3 Jocko was a common enough nickname in baseball. For more information on Halligan's story, please see his succinct entry in the SABR encyclopedia.

4 Can anyone tell me what a bar mallet is, by the way? All of my research indicates that it was either a golf club or a piece of percussion equipment. Because I don't want to venture off on a tangent of a tangent about why he was carrying a golf club or percussion equipment4A, I'll just assume that a bar mallet is a
10-lb. hammer (because Nine-Pound Hammers are for hillbillies), which Ice Box carried with him because Ohio state laws permit concealed carrying of large, blunt objects for just such occasions.

4A Actually, that's never stopped this author from supposition. However, in this instance, I can find no other reason why a roughshod baseballist would carry such items other than to flog his opponents in battle. Chamberlain certainly was not a purveyor of gentlemanly pursuits like golf, nor was he inclined to song, save the dull, rhythmic thudding of a melee.

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