Eadweard Muybridge and Baseball-in-Motion

Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge

This fine article by Rob Edelman appeared in Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game (2013, Volume 7). I have edited this journal continuously since its debut in the Spring of 2007, except for one issue headed by Peter Morris. Edelman, with his delightful interest in the extensions of baseball into popular culture and media, has been perhaps our most prolific contributor. He is the author of Great Baseball Films and Baseball on the Web. His books also include Meet the Mertzes, a double-biography of I Love Lucy’s Vivian Vance and fabled baseball fan William Frawley, coauthored with Rob’s wife, Audrey Kupferberg. His byline has appeared in Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond, Total Baseball, Baseball in the Classroom: Teaching America’s National Pastime, and dozens of other books. He has been a juror at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s annual film festival. He is a lecturer at the University at Albany, where he teaches courses in film history.

ABSTRACTEadweard Muybridge is a pivotal figure in the evolution of moving image technology in that he was the first to employ photography in a comprehensive study of the dynamics of motion. Beginning in 1884 and working at the University of Pennsylvania, Muybridge took thousands of images of humans and animals in motion, with each subject consecutively photographed by 12 cameras. Some were college baseball players; as a result, Muybridge created split-second-long moving images of ballplayers pitching, batting, catching, throwing, and running.

Aficionados of 19th century photography, early motion pictures—and baseball—surely will be captivated by certain still photos and moving images that populate the internet. Google the words “Muybridge” and “baseball,” and you will come up with websites featuring photographic images, dating from the 1880s, that undoubtedly galled those who embraced the era’s Victorian reserve. These images are of young males sans clothing, and who are depicted pitching, batting, catching, throwing, running and picking up a ball, and catching and dropping a ball.

Zoopraxiscope, Animal Locomotion

Zoopraxiscope, Animal Locomotion

The “Muybridge” in question is Eadweard Muybridge, a seminal figure in the history of the moving image in that he was the first to employ photography in a comprehensive study of the dynamics of motion. Simply put, Muybridge made a series of still photographs of his subjects. He then laid them out in chronological order to produce what in essence were moving images, which could be studied to determine the nature of motion. In so doing, Muybridge was creating a kind of motion picture several years before the actual invention of motion picture technology.

Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge in 1830 in Kingston upon Thames, England. He came to the United States in the early 1850s, worked in the publishing and book-selling industries, and returned home at decade’s end. While in England, he became intrigued by still photography and soon came back to the United States. He eventually settled in California and, by 1867, he was calling himself “Eadweard Muybridge” and describing himself as an “artist-photographer.” In subsequent years, he took countless landscape photos; one of his most successful projects was a series, titled Scenery of the Yosemite Valley, which was published in 1868.

Edelman_Muybridge_Image #1_a rendering from Descriptive Zoopraxography

Rendering from Descriptive Zoopraxography

A prime assignment for Muybridge came in 1872 when Leland Stanford, the railroad tycoon and former governor of California, hired him to photograph a horse while trotting. It was Stanford’s belief that, when a horse trots, all four of his hooves are off the ground and in the air in certain moments: a hypothesis that only could be conclusively proven by capturing images that otherwise are imperceptible to the naked eye. Stanford had in fact placed a $25,000 bet that this was true, and hired Muybridge to help him win the wager. Muybridge’s initial photographs—the first-ever lateral images of a trotting horse—were inconclusive, but a different set he made soon afterward convinced Stanford that his theory was correct.

By this time, Muybridge no longer was content merely to photograph scenery or other still images. He became fascinated by the possibilities of serial photography, of creating groups of still images which gave the appearance of movement when placed side-by-side or in a circular fashion. With the financial support of Stanford, he began a series of experiments in which he photographed animals in motion. This project was stalled when he was arrested, tried, and acquitted for the 1874 murder of Major Harry Larkyns, who was having an affair with his wife, Flora. However, Muybridge returned to his experimentation in earnest three years later.

His accomplishments at this juncture included the development of a camera shutter that allowed him to photograph each image in a fraction of a second. He also lined up 12 still cameras, each with an electromagnetic shutter, to consecutively photograph trotting horses in sequence—and then repeated the experiment, only this time with twice as many cameras. The resulting images, which illustrated the horses’ movements in exacting detail, were extensively printed in a range of periodicals—and brought Muybridge international acclaim. Furthermore, he concocted what came to be known as the zoopraxiscope: a device that may be the first-ever projector of images in motion. The zoopraxiscope projected onto a lighted screen a succession of still images that were affixed to slides, which then were placed on spinning glass disks. Each image depicted the subject in motion in split-second intervals, resulting in a repetitive moving image.

And then, beginning in 1884 and working at the University of Pennsylvania, Muybridge took between 20,000 and 100,000 photographs—accounts of the exact number differ greatly—of humans and animals in motion. He enhanced his image-making methodology by employing the newly available dry plate (or gelatin) technology, which simplified the photographic process. Representative images from this landmark effort were printed in Animal Locomotion (the complete title is Animal Locomotion: An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements) published in 1887 “under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania.” Each subject was photographed by 12 cameras, and it is noted in the prospectus for Animal Locomotion that “the complete movement” of each was “accomplished in about one and a half seconds.” Additionally, the images “are reproduced from the original negatives by the photo-gelatine [sic] process of printing, without any attempt having been made to improve their pictorial effect, either in outline or detail; or to conceal their imperfections.”

Muybridge, Plate 275

Muybridge, Plate 275, Baseball Batting

Of the 781 images in Animal Locomotion, 16 relate to baseball. Their plate numbers are 273–288. The first is labeled “Base-ball; pitching.” Five are “Base-ball; batting.” One is “Base-ball; batting (low ball).” One is “Base-ball; catching.” Five are “Base-ball; catching and throwing.” One is “Base-ball; throwing.” One is: “Base-ball; running and picking up ball.” The final plate is “Base-ball; error.”

All the models are identified only by three different numbers: 25, 26, and 30. According to the prospectus, the “greater number of [human models] engaged in walking, running, jumping, and other athletic games are students or graduates of The University of Pennsylvania—young men aged from eighteen to twenty-four—each one of whom has a well-earned record in the particular feat selected for illustration.” With this in mind, the most likely “baseball models” are in fact ballplayers. The most noteworthy is Thomas Love Latta (1865–1961), a catcher and captain of the varsity nine. The other two are Robert Edward Glendinning (1867–1936) and Morris Hacker Jr. (1866–1947).

Other sports are featured in the volume, with models rowing, kicking a football, tossing a spear, playing lawn tennis, performing a somersault, and swinging a different kind of bat—this one used to play cricket. Two men box, while two others fence. Other types of physical activities are featured, with models walking, climbing up and down, turning, curtsying, hopping, dancing, sitting, kneeling, or performing such simple tasks as emptying a basin of water, dropping and lifting a handkerchief, getting into and out of a hammock, making a bed, feeding a dog, and washing, wringing, and ironing clothes.

Muybridge, Plate 273, baseball pitching

Muybridge, Plate 273, Baseball Pitching

Physically disabled individuals are photographed. Blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, farmers, miners, and bricklayers are shown plying their trades. A wide range of animals and birds are presented in motion, from baboons and buffalo to dogs and deer to goats and gnus to hawks, vultures, cockatoos, pigeons, eagles, storks. Not surprisingly, a great number of horses—saddled and unsaddled, with and without riders—are represented.

It was noted in an article printed in 1886 in The Pennsylvanian, the university’s student publication, that “all the prominent University athletes, men and women in the various operations of every-day life, and almost every representative animal in the Zoological Garden, have been caught by the camera in every conceivable posture and active motion.” But clearly, the images of athletes were the most appealing. As proof that ballplayers held the same fascination in the 1880s as they do today, the paper added that

… the part most interesting to University men is the delineation of the athletic sports, foot-ball and base-ball, running, jumping, vaulting and wrestling. Nearly every well-known University athlete of the past two or three years has served as a model in the nude, many of them showing magnificent physiques, and exhibiting exquisitely the play of every muscle. The facial expressions in successive intervals of some feat of skill and strength, is a study in itself.

Muybridge, Plate 283, Catching and Throwing Baseball

Muybridge, Plate 283, Catching and Throwing Baseball

Of the images taken of a ballplayer catching and dropping a ball, The Pennsylvanian quoted Muybridge: “See how curiously … and yet how perfectly, this plate illustrates the occurrence of an error in catching.” The publication continued, “True enough. In the successive pictures the ball is muffed, strikes the player’s thigh, runs up under his arm and across his back, while he is looking eagerly on the wrong side for it.”

At the very least, Animal Locomotion served to redefine the movement of living things, not to mention the manner in which this movement was recreated in paintings and sculpture. And then, at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, visitors paid an admission fee to view Muybridge’s moving images. He also offered talks on his work and published a monograph, the complete title of which is Descriptive Zoopraxography; or, The Science of Animal Locomotion Made Popular, which was available “as a memento of a series of lectures given by the author under the auspices of the United States Government Bureau of Education at the World’s Columbian Exposition, in Zoopraxographical Hall, 1893.” In its preface, it is noted that the zoopraxiscope “is set in motion, and a reproduction of the original movements of life is distinctly visible to the audience…. By this method of analysis and synthesis the eye is taught how to observe and to distinguish the difference between a true and a false impression of animal movements.” But animals are not the sole living creatures featured in Descriptive Zoopraxography.

The reproduced images are drawings, rather than photographs. One is of a ballplayer swinging a bat. For the sake of propriety, this hitter is clothed. Muybridge eventually returned to England, where he passed away in Kingston upon Thames in 1904—just as the motion picture was beginning to advance beyond its baby steps. Nonetheless, his place in the history of moving image technology is secure. For after all, before such pioneers as Thomas A. Edison, W.K.L. Dickson, and Auguste and Louis Lumière, there is Eadweard Muybridge. Before the earliest baseball films—the 50-foot-long The Ball Game, 1898 (http://goo.gl/OrlJns), for example, or Casey at the Bat, 1899 (http://goo.gl/r9Z2su), which runs the same length—there are Muybridge’s ever-so-brief moving images that are labeled “Base-ball; pitching,” “Base-ball; batting”  (http://goo.gl/xvwAv9), “Base-ball; catching and throwing” (http://goo.gl/AVMGsf), and “Base-ball; error” (http://goo.gl/1wAt49).

The Long Season

Baseball in a lunar landscape (Idaho)

Baseball in a lunar landscape (Idaho)

I discovered this story, which I wrote for the Woodstock Times in March 2007, on my hard drive while searching for the phrase “lunar landscape”–I had hoped to find a text citation for a glorious photo of baseball in Idaho at the turn of the century, depicted at the left. I was pleased to find that the story held up; I hope you will think so too. Among the desert conferees were Bob Creamer and Lee Lowenfish, longtime colleagues; Rob Neyer and Gary Mitchem, already dear friends; and James Brunson, destined to become one.

Exhibition games in Florida or Arizona are not exactly a rite of spring but a harbinger: the magical mid-February date on which pitchers and catchers report reminds us in the north that somewhere else in America it is warm, that soon we will see the crocus.

It is not necessary to take a trip to feel the stirrings of renewal, but all of my friends in the baseball business had been to spring training many times and viewed it as a delightful perk of office. Most of my fan friends, too, periodically arranged a winter holiday around a Grapefruit League or Cactus League game. Until last year, though, I had never been to a spring training game and only went then because I had been invited to give the keynote address at a conference in Tucson, Arizona, sponsored by the academic baseball journal NINE.

At the turn of this year, staring at a sixtieth birthday, I surprised myself by registering as a conferee, with no task commissioned, no expenses reimbursed, totally on my own hook. I knew that I would be coming off a hard couple of months as I was scheduled to deliver, in the days before the NINE conference opened, a new book and a new scholarly journal of my own, called BASE BALL. I saw the conference as an opportunity to renew old acquaintances, take in a few games, rest and recuperate. For five days, nothing to do! I even looked forward to the transcontinental flight, with its layovers and inevitable delays, as a chance to read.

Francis Willughby's Book of Games, 1672

Francis Willughby’s Book of Games, 1672

To others my choice for onflight reading—Francis Willughby’s Book of Games: A Seventeenth Century Treatise on Sports, Games, and Pastimes (see http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/07/27/the-amazing-francis-willughby/)—might seem like a chore, but to me it was a thriller, with fresh insights on nearly every page. Created in the early 1670s as The Book of Plaies, the manuscript had never been printed prior to its issue in 2003, when it was renamed by its modern-day editors to deter librarians from cataloging it with dramaturgy. I will have more to say about this another day but for now let me just say that I learned more about early baseball from this book, in which the game is never mentioned, than any other.

The Clarion Hotel was the conference site, located just 10 minutes from Tucson Electric Field (home to the Diamondbacks and White Sox) and 15 minutes from Hy Corbett Field (home to the Rockies). As airport hotels go, it was perfectly nice and, with the NINE group rate, astoundingly cheap. There was a ballroom, a conference room, a pool, and a bar masquerading as a restaurant. Heaven, in short, except for the acoustic-tiled ceilings. Checking in late Wednesday, I looked forward especially to Saturday evening’s keynote address by old friend Bob Creamer, the incomparable biographer of Babe Ruth and Casey Stengel. I was less sanguine about the prospects for the 30 research presentations, but I would do my best to stick with most of them.

According to its official description, NINE “studies all historical aspects of baseball, centering on the societal and cultural implications of the game wherever in the world it is played. The journal features articles, essays, book reviews, biographies, oral history, and short fiction pieces.” It had been created by Bill Kirwin of the University of Calgary (Edmonton) in 1993 and he had been editor of the journal and organizer of the conference ever since. This year he issued the opening welcome on Thursday evening by announcing, in an admirably matter-of-fact way, that he was handing the reins of the publication over to Trey Strecker of Ball State University because he had an inoperable brain cancer. Though he was still able to walk about a bit, he did not stray far from his wife and his wheelchair.

Bob Creamer's classic biography

Bob Creamer’s classic biography

Most of the conferees, myself included, had eased into the fall of our lives. For Bill Kirwin it was suddenly winter, with the shock of his announcement compounded by its spring-training setting. But he was in such fine spirits that after an opening presentation of surpassing irrelevance the attendees headed off to the “social mixer,” where they updated each other on forthcoming books and articles (Lee Lowenfish showed off his massive new Branch Rickey biography). We old boys swapped reminiscences of those no longer with us—the writer Charles Einstein, the ballplayers Lew Burdette and Hank Bauer, the photographer Hy Peskin (“he always smelled of aftershave,” recalled Creamer, who like Peskin had been an original Sports Illustrated staffer back in 1954).

The following day, after some morning presentations, Rob Neyer, Gary Mitchem, my son Jed, and I made our way to Tucson Electric (with a Son Volt CD aptly blasting in the car), with the 10,000 foot San Catalina Mountains in the background making for a lunar landscape like that of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat. On the previous day, early conference arrivers had seen Sammy Sosa continue his drive for a roster spot with the Texas Rangers. Today’s game between Chicago’s Cubs and White Sox would be dominated not by an oldtimer struggling to come back but by the record-setting 95-degree heat. Despite liberal doses of suntan oil and beer, my pals and I said “Uncle” before the sixth inning (and after seeing the ageless Minnie Minoso greeting fans in the shaded vendor arcade).

The blistering heat did not quit for the next day’s NINE excursion, to Hy Corbett Field. The Tucson Mountains loomed behind its right field fence, over which the Rockies sent homer after homer as they mauled the Giants. For this game we baked on aluminum bleachers for three innings, lacking only sour cream and chives before heading out with the score 8-0. Such behavior would be heresy for a baseball lifer in the regular season (except in Los Angeles) but here, with guys wearing numbers in the 60s and 70s, our sense of decency eroded—or fried. We headed back to the air conditioned comfort of the hotel bar.

We had already begun to hear some fine presentations and more would be mixed in among the dross. Karl Lindholm talked about “Pitching’s Moonlight Graham: Frank ‘Socko’ Worm”—a fellow whose one-third of an inning pitched for the Dodgers in 1944 defined his life. James E. Brunson III opened my eyes to an unfamiliar part of black baseball history with “‘Colored’ Champions: Henry Bridgewater’s St. Louis Black Stockings, 1881-1889.” Jean Ardell spoke movingly about Organized Baseball’s first woman pitcher in “Life after Baseball: Whatever Happened to Lefthander Ila Jane Borders?” New NINE editor Trey Strecker discussed Heywood Broun’s 1923 novel The Sun Field, in which the author’s wife, Ruth Hale, was featured as a thinly veiled character (the two both figured large in their son Heywood Hale Broun’s memoir Whose Little Boy Are You?) Academicians vying for fashion props reported ploddingly on matters of race, gender, and class, but two undergrads—Mina Makarious of Harvard and Kim LaGuardia of the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse—both gave promise of having a good deal more to contribute as they progressed beyond their own spring training.

Hotel Congress, Tucson AZ

Hotel Congress, Tucson AZ

At unscheduled moments we drove south into the desert, just short of the Mexican border; we lunched at El Charro Cafe, a Tucson institution since 1922; and we imbibed at the Tap Room of the Hotel Congress, so skillfully remodeled that you’d think it hadn’t been touched since its founding in 1919. Back at the Clarion Hotel we struggled to make ourselves heard over the TVs blaring Final Four basketball contests; only in our archaic world did March Madness refer to baseball. Yet on Saturday morning the hotel courtyard was dominated by Little Leaguers in uniform, warming up for a late-morning playoff game; and on Saturday evening, after Creamer’s fine talk on “Barry and the Babe,” the conferees walked out of the banquet hall into a lobby filled with teenagers and family celebrating a girl’s Quinceañera, or 15th Birthday. A cross between a Sweet 16 and a debutante’s coming out, the celebration united old and young guests in a coming of age gala.

All during the days of the conference, and everywhere we happened to go, the young had vied for their place in the sun with the old. And those of us who are headed west, toward the sunset, were glad of it.

Record Keeping at the Dawn of a League

Pinstripe Empire

The definitive history

After reading the concluding part of “All the Record Books Are Wrong,” my friend Marty Appel wrote this in email. Marty  was the long time New York Yankees PR Director and author of Pinstripe Empire and other books.  A children’s version of that team history, Pinstripe Pride, will be published next month, as will a book he packaged, 100 Years of Who’s Who in Baseball.

John, your excellent 3-parter on records reminded me of what it feels like to be there at the start of a league and suddenly realize before the first pitch is thrown, “we better get this right.”

As you may recall, I did PR for the Israel Baseball League in 2007. I was in Israel and quickly sized up the almost impossible matter that official scorers were needed for each of the 3 games played every day, and they better get it right.

Imagine trying to find three qualified scorers, and to make sure they showed up daily (no pay), and submitted a correct scoresheet.

As we drew within hours of the very first game, I was in total panic over this, feeling we would not be getting the first game right and there went history and credibility.

I had conducted a crash course in scoring with the four volunteers for the task, but was not convinced they understood the whole process.

So distracted was I at the very start that I forgot to get the ‘first pitch thrown’ baseball to keep. Fortunately it wasn’t hit, wasn’t put out of play, and I called to the umpire to retrieve it after the second pitch. I still have it. It was marked “OFFICIAL BALL” without the IBL logo. Those were all at customs at Ben Gurion airport.

Book by lefty reliever Aaron Prible

Fine book by lefty reliever Aaron Pribble

I had done a nice yearbook with full rosters, so I felt we were big league until the scoring process started. With help from Andrew Wilson, a young assistant from the US who worked for one of the team owners, we coordinated a season long schedule of scorers and assignments. I left after 10 games, fingers crossed. Somehow Andrew got all the scoresheets and records were indeed kept. My confidence that they were accurate is about 70%. In no cases, so far as I know, were they ‘faked’ because a scorer showed up late.

All of this is to illustrate what early MLB must have been like.

To my great disappointment, when Baseball America published their 2008 Almanac, they left out the IBL despite my sending them stats. That would have been the only place where we became part of the historical record. They published many other European and Asian league stats. That still upsets me.

The league folded after one year, so I suppose no one cares, but we did have some Dominican players who went into pro ball here as arranged by Dan Duquette, who was Director of Player Procurement for the league.

Just some perspective on experiencing “being there” at the formation of a league. And frankly, if I wasn’t there, I doubt there would have been scoresheets for each game.

All the Record Books Are Wrong, Part 3

Total Baseball, seventh edition (2001).

Total Baseball, seventh edition (2001).

Continuing from Part 2 (at http://goo.gl/J6HRsk), Frank Williams brings it all home. His effort was a personal triumph, of course, but also reflected credit on the Society for American Baseball Research, which by its example nurtured such work. It seems beyond belief today, but the force of Williams’ conclusions compelled the three print encyclopedias–Macmillan’s Baseball Encyclopedia, Neft-Cohen’s Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball, and the Thorn-Palmer Total Baseball–as well as the Elias Sports Bureau and Baseball-Reference.com to conform their records, almost without exception, to his findings.

This discussion didn’t change any of the practices, but in later Spalding publications–How to Score a Baseball Game, J. M. Cummings (1913) and the 1917 Baseball Guide–John Heydler tried to set standard practices for his official scorers to follow. The American League published nothing on this subject during the period.

The existence and the consistent application of these practices during the 1901-19 era demonstrate that there should have been no changing of pitching won-lost records, except for out-and-out errors on the official sheets, by I.C.I. and Macmillan in 1969. Later editions of the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia came out under a new editor, Joe Reichler, and many changes made for the 1969 edition, particularly those of Hall of Famers, reverted to what they were supposed to be.

The 1982 edition states on page 2237, “It was decided that all pitching decisions during the period 1901-1949 shall stand as they are in the official records”–the same wording which has appeared in all editions but the first. The Neft-Cohen encyclopedia also tried to go back to the correct pitchers’ won-lost records for 1901-19. Yet the current editions of both books differ from each other, and neither agrees completely with the official records.

Boston Red Sox 1912 World Series.

Boston Red Sox 1912 World Series.

Macmillan did not switch all the pitchers’ won-lost decisions back to agree with the official sheets, and even when the switch was made, it was not always a complete job. A good example of this is Smoky Joe Wood’s pitching record. I was glad to see that Macmillan corrected his lifetime record to 116-57 from the 114-69 they had shown previously (11 of Wood’s 12 losses in the minors in 1908 had somehow found their way into his major-league totals), but the editor did not change Wood’s won-lost marks in relief or his number of saves. When I did Wood’s day-by-day record, I not only found an extra win for him, but also emended his relief totals. Macmillan should be showing Wood with a lifetime mark of 19-8 in relief with 11 saves, but instead, they are showing him at 15-9 with 17 saves.

When Wood’s 1911 record was changed back to 23-17 from the 21-17 cited in the 1969 edition, Larry Pape’s record should have been reduced by two victories, but it wasn’t. Even by doing that, however, Macmillan wouldn’t get Pape’s record straight because another win it has given to him should be transferred over to Ray Collins! Pape should be 10-8 in 1911, and Collins 11-12. If you add up all the Red Sox pitchers’ wins for 1911 in Macmillan, you will get 80; Boston won only 78 games. This is by no means an isolated instance of halfhearted, unreconciled tinkering.

The reason that Neft-Cohen doesn’t agree with the official sheets is that it is relying heavily upon American League won-lost decisions from the Spalding and Reach Guides for the period 1913-19, which are mostly unofficial records. Even some of the years prior to 1913 do not match up to the official sheets; the season of1915 provides a good example of some of these differences. Examining the Red-Sox won-lost marks, we see Rube Foster at 20-8 when he sould be 19-8; Babe Ruth at 18-6 when he was really 18-8; Wood at 14-5 rather than 15-5; Leonard at 14-7 (should be 15-7); Vean Gregg at 5-3 (correctly 3-2); Collins at 5-7 (correctly 4-7); Mays at 4-6 (correctly 6-5); and the aforementioned Ralph Comstock at 2-0 rather than 1-0. And this mess all arises from one team in one year. 

Cy Young 1903.

Cy Young 1903.

Although the 1982 editions of both encyclopedias disagree on some of the yearly records of Cy Young, they are in accord when it comes to his grand totals of 511 wins and 313 defeats. The Hall of Fame Fact Book and the 1982 Macmillan agree completely on Young from 1890 to 1901, and I agree with them that this is his correct record for those 12 years. They also concur on the 1902 season in showing Young with a 32-10 record, but here I agree with Neft-Cohen, which gives Young a mark of 32-11.

I did Young’s 1902 season game by game and it is impossible to come up with any other record. Cy pitched in 45 games, of which 43 were starts, 41 of these complete, and two games were in relief where he had no record. His record in complete games was 32-9 (including a forfeit game of eight innings). The other two starts were incomplete games which were losses beyond a doubt. They are as follows:

May 2, 1902; at Boston
Baltimore 6 2 0 2 0 4 0 0 0 – 14
Boston     0 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 – 6 Young, 1 inn., LOST; Prentiss, 8 inn.

August 7, 1902; at St. Louis
Boston    1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 – 4 Young, 1 inn., LOST; Sparks, 7 inn.
St. Louis  6 0 0 1 0 3 0 2 x – 12

There is no doubt after looking at these two games, in each of which Young allowed six runs, that he was 32-11 in 1902. Pitching practices both then and now would charge Young with these defeats. Interestingly, I obtained this information from the Macmillan reconstructed sheets which are housed in the Hall of Fame Library (remember, there were no official American League sheets for 1902). The 32-11 record that I.C.I. originally compiled in 1967 and which was printed in the first edition of Big Mac was correct; now Macmillan lists an “improved” record.

For 1903, both the 1982 Macmillan Encyclopedia and The Hall of Fame Fact Book show Young at 28-10, but this too is wrong. The Spalding and Reach Guides containing the American League’s official won-lost records show Young at 28-9. The previous Macmillan edition listed Young correctly at 28-9, and by changing this to 28-10 Macmillan has taken away the won-lost-percentage championship which is rightfully his.

Cy Young was in 40 games in 1903, of which 35 were starts–all but one complete–and five were in relief. He was 26-8 in complete games, and 2-1 in relief with two saves. The one start which did not affect his record is as follows:

April 20, 1903; at Boston, second game
Philadelphia 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 1 3 – 10
Boston        0 2 1 0 3 0 0 0 1 – 7 Young, 7 inn. (6 runs), Hughes, 2 inn., LOST

The two encyclopedias and The Hall of Fame Fact Book all agree on Cy Young’srecords for the years 1904-11, as do I with one crucial exception. For 1907, all three books show Young with a 22-15 record, but my research shows that he was actually 21-15.

In reviewing the Red Sox pitching staff day by day for 1907 from the official sheets, I discovered that an extra win had been marked on Cy Young’s personal sheet without a corresponding date. The extra win is sandwiched between the dates of May 24, when Young pitched a complete-game victory over St. Louis, and May 29, when Young made his next start and lost. He did not pitch in any games between those dates.

Cy Young's phantom win of 1907; look closely around May 29.

Cy Young’s phantom win of 1907; look closely around May 29.

See the photo of this portion of Young’s official sheet, and note the peculiar placement of the extra “W.” It could be that the official scorer started to give Young a win on May 29, then realized his mistake and added the “L.” The writing was in ink and may have been difficult to erase. Or the scorer could have been thinking of the game of May 30, which Young finished for the victorious Ralph Glaze. In any event, the bottom of Young’s sheet showed a won-lost record of either 20-15 or 21-15, which was erased and changed to 22-15 (the handwriting was of the period). The scorer must have counted the “W”s without matching the dates. It could well be that he originally had Young at 21-15, but in rechecking counted the extra “W” and changed the total to 22-15.

In 1907 Young appeared in 43 games, completing 33 of 37 starts and relieving six times. In complete games, Young had a record of 18-13; in incomplete starts, 1-2; and in relief, 2-0 with a pair of saves. He pitched two more complete games which ended in ties, and one start in which he was not involved in the decision.

I checked out Young’s two saves and his incomplete start that the Red Sox won. They are as follows:

May 30, 1907; at Philadelphia–second game
Boston        0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 5 – 6 Dinneen, 2/3 inn., Glaze, 7-1/3 inn., WON; Young, 1 inn.
Philadelphia 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 – 4

Glaze was batted for in the ninth, but was not removed for poor pitching (see Practice Two and the example of Marquard-Crandall). The official sheets gave this win to Glaze.

August 9, 1907; at Boston
Chicago 0 0 0 0 0 3 1 2 0 – 6
Boston  1 0 2 1 0 3 0 0 x – 7 Glaze, 6 inn., WON; Young, 3 inn.

Glaze was batted for in the sixth inning, but went out with the Red Sox ahead by at least 4-3. The official sheets give the win to Glaze. Macmillan shows Young with a relief record of 1-0 with three saves, but the correct figures are 2-0 with two saves, the wins coming on August 21 and August 28.

June 14, 1907; at Boston
St. Louis 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 3
Boston    0 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 x – 4 Young, 1 inn.; Winter, 8 inn., WON

Ralph Glaze

Ralph Glaze

Official sheets show Winter the victor. After proving to myself that Young was without a doubt 21-15 in 1907, I was led to wonder how the two encyclopedias ever reconciled the individual records of the Red Sox pitching staff to the team record that year of 59-90: if Young had one win too many, somebody had to have one win too few. My first hunch was that Glaze had been deprived of his win on May 30, described above, but no–both books are in accord with the official sheets in listing him at 9-13. Neft-Cohen and Macmillan each gave Winter one win too few . . . but this they balanced by giving Cy Morgan one too many!

The win which disappeared in order to balance Young’s belonged to Rube Kroh, who pitched a complete-game 2-1 victory over the Browns on August 18, 1907, yet is listed in Neft-Cohen and in Macmillan as 0-4 for the year. Whatever Macmillan and Neft-Cohen are basing their won-lost decisions on, it certainly is not the official record.

Another major difference between the official sheets and the reference books has to do with the lifetime record of Walter Johnson. The Hall of Fame Fact Book; Macmillan; Neft-Cohen-Deutsch; Turkin-Thompson–you name it, they all show The Big Train with a career record of 416-279. Yet my research proved him to have one more win and one fewer defeat.

I discovered the first error on his record while examining the 1912 season. This was the year in which Johnson became the first A. L. pitcher to win 16 straight games. Although this outstanding record was equaled later that same year by Joe Wood, and again by Lefty Grove in 1931 and Schoolboy Rowe in 1934, it remains unsurpassed in the American League 70 years later.

This great streak lasted from July 3 to August 23. It was well documented in the Spalding and Reach Guides and in all the newspapers of 1912. Ban Johnson fully accepted this winning streak and his references to it were amply quoted in the guides and the daily press. Included in the streak was a game played against Chicago on August 5.

At Chicago; 10 Innings
Wash.   0 0 1 0 0 2 1 3 0 1 – 8 Groom, 2-1/3 inn., Cashion, 5-1/3 inn., Johnson, 2·1/3 inn.
Chicago 1 0 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 7

Walter Johnson drove in the winning run in the tenth inning. The weekly listings in the Washington Post and the New York Times gave this win to him. The Reach and Spalding Guides gave this win to him. There did not exist a scoring practice in that period which would have given the win to anyone but him.

Walter Johnson's winning streak only 15? Look at August 5.

Walter Johnson’s winning streak only 15? Click to enlarge; look at August 5.

It was an open-and-shut case–except that the A. L. official sheets showed Jay Cashion as the winner, and thus left Johnson with only a 15-game winning streak!

This problem is unresolved today. There is no doubt in my mind that the clerk making out the official sheets made a mistake. Walter Johnson allowed no hits and no runs in 2-1/3 innings, plus drove in the winning run. This was a performance far superior to that of Cashion, who allowed three hits and two runs in 5-1/3 innings.

As mentioned earlier, during this period an A. L. official scorer recommended a pitcher for a win or a loss, and then Ban Johnson either agreed or changed the decision. The fact that Walter Johnson appears as the winner in the weekly newspaper listing proves that the official scorer recommended him for the victory. The fact that Ban Johnson accepted the 16-game winning streak proves he agreed with the official scorer. Walter Johnson’s record in 1912 should be changed from 32-12 to 33-12.

In 1917, AI Munro Elias published Walter Johnson’s pitching record from 1907-17 in a Washington newspaper. He showed Johnson’s record against every team for the 1912 season and added it all up to a 33-12 record. I have researched Johnson’s 1912 season day by day and my breakdown agrees completely with that of Elias.

The additional win for Johnson will give him a 9-1 mark against Chicago, which will tie the major-league record for most wins over one club in a season. This will also mean that he had the most wins on the road of any A. L. pitcher in 1912: his record was 17-4.

Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb in Chalmers 36s at Tigers Park, 1911

Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb in Chalmers 36s at Tigers Park, 1911

If Johnson is not given the victory, it will mean that his winning streak in 1912 was only 15 games, and he would no longer be tied for the A. L. high. I believe Johnson deserves the win because all the evidence is on his side. In the Cobb-Lajoie affair, the Baseball Records Committee ultimately left the batting title in the hands of Cobb, despite the obvious existence of a duplicated entry on his sheet, primarily on the basis that Ban Johnson had investigated the matter and had so ruled. Consistency as well as simple justice would dictate following Ban Johnson in the matter of Walter Johnson’s “hidden” win in 1912.

The other two errors in Johnson’s record occurred in the season of 1916. The Hall of Fame Fact Book, Macmillan, and Neft-Cohen all show him with a 25-20 mark, but the official sheets have Johnson at 24-19.

Anyone looking at the 1916 newspaper box scores of the games in which Johnson pitched and applying modern scoring practices would give him 20 losses. Under the practices of that period, however, only 19 losses were awarded to him. The game in question:

August 7, 1916; at St. Louis; 10 Innings
Wash.    0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 – 2 Gallia, 7 inn., LOST; Ayers, 1-1/3 inn., Johnson, 1-1/3 inn.
St. Louis 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 – 3

Common Practice Number Nine applies perfectly to this game: the theory of charging the starting pitcher with the defeat if he was the one who allowed the most runs or could be held mainly responsible for the defeat. The official scorer must have felt this was the case and so charged Bert Gallia with the defeat, even though he did not pitch poorly. There are too many examples of this type of game between 1905 and 1916 to dismiss it as an error or a fluke.

The other problem on Johnson’s record in 1916 was whether he won 25 games, as shown in all the reference books, or only 24, as shown on the official sheets. The game in question was played at New York on June 26, 1916, and lasted 11 innings.

Wash.      0 3 1 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 – 9  Gallia, 3-1/3 inn., Harper, 3-2/3 inn., Johnson, 4 inn.
New York 0 1 1 3 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 – 8

The weekly newspaper listings in the New York Times show Johnson as the winner in this game. This would mean that the official scorer recommended him for the victory; but the official sheets show Harry Harper as the winner. Johnson allowed one run and three hits in four innings while striking out five. He was far better than Harper, who allowed five hits and three runs in three and two-thirds innings. Also, Johnson finished the game very strongly and was pitching when the lead run scored.

I cannot see Ban Johnson overruling the official scorer on a decision like this. Unlike the game of August 7, 1916 cited above, for which we have an abundance of examples to show that the official scorer was right in not giving the defeat to Johnson, here we have a situation in which the common practices of the period all point to a Johnson victory. He should have a 25-19 record in 1916, and accordingly a lifetime mark of 417-278.

I am not the first person to find errors on Johnson’s won-lost record. Up to the late 1950s, Johnson was universally shown with a lifetime log of 414-281, but then a researcher found that The Big Train had been charged with two defeats in 1911 which were really complete-game victories. This elevated his record that season from 23-15 to 25-13, and his lifetime totals from 414-281 to 416-279.

As we have seen from the 1910 Cobb-Lajoie situation, errors were made on the batting records, too–and something similar to Cobb’s “phantom” 2-for-4 game can be found in the 1913 record of Boston outfielder Duffy Lewis. His official sheet lists him as playing in a game on June 29 and collecting two hits (a single and a triple) in four at bats while scoring a run. The only problem was that the Red Sox did not play that day, so his 1913 totals have to be adjusted. Oddly, the rest of that famous outfield–Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper–also had their records botched that year, as Speaker was given an extra hit and Hooper an extra at bat. Small potatoes, perhaps, but it gives you an idea of how rampant scoring errors are in the years before 1920.

Boston Champions 1891.

Boston Champions 1891.

Even something impossible to overlook, like a record-setting winning streak, can be overlooked. Reviewing the season of 1891 in the newspaper accounts, I came across an 18-game winning streak by the Boston Nationals. All record books show Boston’s longest winning streak as 17 in 1897, but this is wrong. The 1891 Braves, who were then known as the Beaneaters, made one of the greatest comebacks in the history of baseball: on September 15, they were six and a half games behind Chicago, but then they started on the 18-game streak which resulted in their winning the pennant by three and a half games. The streak lasted from September 16 through October 2.

I hope that the Baseball Records Committee and the publishers of the various encyclopedias and record books can straighten out the statistics for 1876-1919. Since there are no official sheets before 1903 (N.L.) and 1905 (A.L.), I would think that the I.C.I.-recompiled batting records for the period 1876-1904 should be accepted as the most nearly correct. My personal goal is to finish my day-by-day record for all American League pitchers from 1901-19 and to compile a complete won-lost list for each pitcher based on the official sheets, except where errors are found. Included will be a won-lost record in relief along with the total saves.

In conclusion, I would say that with the identification of the common scoring practices of the 1901-19 era as they relate to pitchers’ won-lost decisions, the time is ripe to support the goals of this study and, at last, to clear up the baseball records mess.


All the Record Books Are Wrong, Part 2

George Winter, Sporting Life, 1902

George Winter, Sporting Life, 1902

Continuing from yesterday’s introductory section (http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2015/01/05/all-the-record-books-are-wrong/), Frank Williams here gets into the nuts and bolts. This spot-on trope will refresh your memory: “This wholesale ravaging of the official records was as if a team of archaeologists had come upon the monoliths of Stonehenge and, not fathoming the reason for the complex astronomical arrangement of the stones, had rearranged them into a pattern they could understand.” From masses of cryptic data, the author detects eleven distinct practices.

The first practice existed primarily from 1876 to 1904. Most pitchers went the full nine innings, but when they didn’t, the win went to the starter if he left the game with the lead and his team never relinquished it. The starter did not have to go five innings, but could get away with pitching two or three innings and still be awarded the win. A couple of examples of this are as follows (pitchers are listed only for the one team which illustrates the practice at hand):

September 27, 1902; at Baltimore–first game
Boston      4 1 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 – 9 Hughes, 4 inn., WON; Altrock, 5 inn.
Baltimore  0 0 3 2 0 2 0 0 1 – 8

April 30, 1904; at Washington
Boston       0 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 – 4 Winter, 2 inn., WON; Young, 7 inn.
Washington 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 1

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

The 1969 edition of Macmillan originally gave the latter win to Young, showing him at 27-16 for the 1904 season and George Winter at 7-4, but the 1982 edition has correctly given the win back to Winter, showing him at 8-4 and Young at 26-16. Macmillan failed, however, to change the relief record. Young’s record should now be 1-0 with one save, but Macmillan still shows him at 2-0. When you make any single change like that, it must be traced all the way through in order to reconcile individual and team totals.

The season of 1905 brought the first real influx of relief pitchers into baseball, and along with this came a drastic change in the awarding of won-lost decisions. It became the official scorer’s job to determine who deserved the win or defeat and then recommend this decision to his superiors, Ban Johnson or John Heydler of the National League. Neither man was shy about overruling official scorers if he disagreed with them.

The second practice, an early change in awarding won-lost decisions, covered the period 1905-15 and is best depicted in a National League game played in 1912.

June 12, 1912; at New York–Marquard’s 13th straight win
Chicago    0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 2
New York  0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 x – 3  Marquard, 8 inn., WON; Crandall, 1 inn.

The following explanation appeared in the New York Times of June 13, 1912:

Rube Marquard, 1911.

Rube Marquard, 1911.

Rube was taken out of the game in the last half of the eighth inning to allow Shafer to try his skill as a pinch-hitter. At that time, the Cubs were in the lead 2 to 1. Shafer walked and that started the rally which gave the Giants two runs and the victory. Crandall pitched the ninth inning. Well, if you must know, Marquard gets the credit for the victory. That is, the official scorer will send in such a recommendation to the Secretary of the National League. In most instances, when a pitcher is retired and the team is behind, the credit for the victory goes to the pitcher who succeeds him. The circumstances in games are so different that there is no rule to cover it and it is often a matter of judgment. The reason that Marquard received credit for yesterday’s game was because he did the bulk of the pitching, and he was not withdrawn from the game for poor pitching. In fact, Rube pitched pretty good ball. [Emphasis mine–F.W.]

Under today’s rules, Marquard would also get this win, but not for the same reason. The following examples are from American League games between 1905 and 1915 which conformed to this practice.

April 21, 1905; at Boston
Philadelphia    0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 – 5 Coakley, 7 inn., Waddell, 2 inn., WON
Boston           0 0 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 – 4

Coakley was batted for in the eighth inning and left the game trailing. He was taken out for not pitching well. Waddell faced six batters in two innings and struck out five of them. In the judgment of the official scorer, he pitched better than Coakley did and thus deserved the win.

May 30, 1905; at Washington-first game
Boston         0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 – 4 Winter, 8 inn.; Young, 1 inn., WON
Washington   1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 – 3

Winter was batted for in the ninth. It wasn’t until the latest edition that Macmillan gave this win back to Young and changed his record from 17-19 to 18-19.

The third practice was the most common used in 1905-19. Under modern rules, this situation would be described as a save, but back then, it was a win. Usually, the relief pitcher finished the game and pitched more effectively in crucial situations than did any of his predecessors. The written coverage of this type of game often stated that the relief pitcher saved the game. Examples are as follows:

June 30, 1905; at New York
Philadelphia   1 0 0 0 1 1 0 2 2 – 7 Plank, 8 inn., Waddell, 1 inn., WON
New York      0 0 0 0 2 1 1 0 0 – 4

Rube Waddell, 1906.

Rube Waddell, 1906.

With none out in the ninth, Eddie Plank left the game leading 7-4, but Waddell pitched out of a tight situation and saved the game. According to the latest edition of Macmillan, Plank and Waddell both had 26 victories that year to lead the American League, but this is incorrect. Waddell was awarded the above game, which made him 27-10. He is also the A. L. won-lost percentage champion for 1905–as you know from the opening quiz–rather than Coakley, who was 18-8 per the practices of that time (the official sheets showed Coakley 17-8, but omitted a complete-game victory on July 10).

July 17, 1909; at Cleveland
Boston      0 0 0 0 0 5 1 0 0 – 6 Arellanes, 4 inn., Steele, 1 inn.,Wood, 4 inn., WON
Cleveland  1 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 – 4

Elmer Steele left this game in the bottom of the sixth inning leading 5-4, but Wood pitched one of the best strikeout games ever by a relief pitcher. In four frames, he faced 17 batters and fanned 10 of them without walking anyone. There was no doubt that he saved the game and, in line with this observed practice, was awarded the win.

June 6, 1912; at Chicago
Washington   1 0 1 0 0 0 3 0 4 – 9 Musser, 5 inn., Johnson, 4 inn., WON
Chicago        0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 – 1

Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

Johnson came into this game when the score was only 2-1 and stopped Chicago the rest of the way. There are countless more examples of this practice. Can you imagine what Macmillan did with all these games in its first edition? Every one of them must have been changed!

The fourth practice is an extension of Practice Number One, which was in effect from 1876 to 1904, but with some slight differences. Page 21 of the 1910 Spalding Guide says, “If a pitcher retires from the game after pitching four innings and his team has a big lead, which is maintained to the end, he surely should get the victory.” I would add to this that a pitcher who left a game because of an injury, illness, or banishment would also get the victory if he had the lead when he departed and his team never tied or trailed. I have combined all these situations into one practice because they go hand in hand. Moreover, I have found that the practice was not limited to a pitcher going four innings; the real point is that so long as he was not pulled for ineffectiveness, he could pick up the win. Examples follow.

May 22, 1909; at Cleveland
Washington 0 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 – 4 Johnson, 3 inn., WON; Hughes, 6 inn.
Cleveland   0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 1

Johnson was batted for in the fourth because he was not feeling well and could not continue.

May 8, 1912; at Washington
Chicago       2 0 1 1 2 1 0 0 0 – 7 Benz, 1-1/3 inn., WON; Walsh, 5-2/3 inn., Lange, 2 inn.
Washington  0 0 0 0 2 0 1 2 1 – 6

Joe Benz left this game because of an injury and the relief pitchers did not pitch particularly well, so in the judgment of the official scorer, he was the winner.

May 18, 1912; at Philadelphia
Detroit          0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 – 2
Philadelphia   3 0 3 0 8 4 4 2 x – 24 Coombs, 3 inn., WON; Brown, 3 inn., Pennock, 3 inn.

The fifth practice is very similar to Practice Number Four except for one main point. It works this way. Let’s say the starter for Team A is pitching strongly, but for any number of reasons except for poor pitching, he is forced to leave the game with his club ahead. The relief pitcher allows Team B to tie or go ahead, but then Team A rallies to win. If the starter has pitched at least four innings and was not driven from the box, he gets the win. This practice came down to a fine matter of judgment on the part of the official scorer, but it certainly shows up a lot in 1907-15. Examples follow.

April 20, 1912; at New York
Brooklyn  0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 – 3
New York 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 – 4 Tesreau, 8 inn., WON; Marquard, 1 inn.

Joe Wood and Jeff Tesreau, 1912 World Series.

Joe Wood and Jeff Tesreau, 1912 World Series.

The scoring practice used in this game cost Marquard a 20-game winning streak. Rube relieved Jeff Tesreau in the top of the ninth inning with the Giants in front 2-1. Two baserunners scored on a Giant fielding error, and they trailed 3-2. Although the Giants rallied to win, the decision was given to Tesreau. The 1913 Spalding Record Book says on page 55, “As Marquard faced but three batters in the 9th inning the game was given to Tesreau on the ground that he had done the bulk of the work and that he was fully entitled to any honor which might arise therefrom.”

April 11, 1907; at Philadelphia–14 innings
Boston        0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 4 – 8 Young, 8 inn., WON; Tannehill, 6 inn.
Philadelphia 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 – 4

Young was pinch-hit for in the ninth and left the game ahead 4-3. He had pitched strongly. The writeup of the game says Tannehill did not perform well in the ninth and allowed Philadelphia to tie.

September 20, 1912; at Detroit
Boston 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 0 – 4
Detroit 0 0 3 0 2 0 0 1 x – 6 Covington, 4 inn., WON; Lake, 5 inn.

Bill Covington had allowed only one hit through four innings when he was thrown out of the game by the umpire in the fifth. He left in front, 3-1. The official sheets, Reach Baseball Guide, and the New York Times all stated that Covington was awarded the victory. This game received a lot of attention because it was the end of Joe Wood’s 16-game winning streak.

August 15, 1913; at St. Louis
Boston   0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 – 2 Moseley, 6 inn ., WON; Hall, 3 inn.
St. Louis 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 – 1Charlie Hall, T207 card

I saved this game until last to show a slight variation in the practice. Here we have Earl Moseley allowing only one hit in six innings and being forced to leave because of an injury. He left with the game tied, but in the judgment of the scorer, he pitched longer and better than Charley Hall, and was primarily responsible for the victory.

The sixth practice was discovered by Paul MacFarlane of The Sporting News, who passed the information on to Cliff Kachline in January 1980. This practice started in 1913 and was reported in Sporting Life as follows: “Ban Johnson ruled that when a pitcher leaves the box at the end of an inning he shall not receive benefit of any runs made in the following inning. He says all runs should aid the reliever, not the previous pitcher.” The game on which Johnson ruled was played in St. Louis on July 16, 1913.

Washington 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 – 3 Boehling, 7 inn., Gallia, 0 inn., Hughes, 1 inn.; Johnson, 1 inn., WON
St. Louis     0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 – 2

This was part of Walter Johnson’s 14-game winning streak in 1913.

The seventh practice involves the relief pitcher being held responsible for the runners left on base by the starting starting or previous pitcher. During this period, if the runners he inherited represented the winning runs and the reliever prevented them from scoring, he was often credited with the victory (this would tie into Practice Three).

August 26, 1912; at Washington-second game
St. Louis     0 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 0 – 4
Washington 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 – 3 Hughes, 6-1/3 inn.; Johnson, 2-1/3 inn., LOST

Addie Joss, T3 card.

Addie Joss, T3 card.

Johnson was sent in to relieve Long Tom Hughes in the seventh inning with the score tied 2-2, one out, and two men on the bases. Johnson allowed both men to score and, as was the custom of the time, he was charged for both runs.

It now came down to who was more responsible for the defeat, Hughes or Johnson. There were those who would have given the defeat to Hughes so that Walter Johnson could continue his 16-game winning streak. Ban Johnson after a couple of days ruled that Walter Johnson was the loser because with the score tied, no matter how many men were left on base by his predecessor, Johnson would have been credited with a victory had his team won out. (Full details are on page 207 of the 1913 Reach Baseball Guide).

Although this decision could have gone the other way, there are enough examples of this type of game to make it definitely an individual practice. Cliff Kachline discovered the earliest form of this manner of awarding defeats:

May 4, 1904; at Detroit
Cleveland 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 2 Hickey, 4-1 /3 inn.; Joss, 4-2/3 inn., LOST
Detroit     0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 – 3

John Hickey started this game, but left in the fifth inning with one out and the bases filled. Addie Joss relieved and allowed a triple by Charlie Carr of Detroit. This allowed the three winning runs to score and the defeat was charged to Joss. This is proven by the fact that the official A. L. records in the 1905 Reach Baseball Guide show Hickey with an 0-1 record in 1904. Hickey pitched a complete-game loss on April 16 against Chicago. Joss is shown with a 14-10 record.

The latest edition of Macmillan shows Joss at 14-9 in 1904 and Hickey at 0-2; they did not award this defeat to Joss. A complete game-by-game breakdown of both pitchers also proves Joss should be 14-10 and Hickey 0-1. The Sporting News Hall of Fame Fact Book has the correct record for Joss.

Babe Ruth Pitching

Babe Ruth Pitching

The eighth practice is one of the most interesting ones, involving the awarding of won-lost decisions in forfeited games. Pete Palmer was the first one to come across it in research he was doing on pitching records in the dead-ball era. Thanks to an excellent article on all forfeited games in the 1978 Baseball Research Journal by Paul Doherty, I was able to find a set pattern in both the American and National Leagues for the period 1901-19.

In all forfeited games from 1901 through 1925, won-lost decisions were awarded to pitchers. There were 20 such games during this period, of which nine were less than the regulation four and a half innings (the last such contest occurring in 1914). There were no forfeited games between 1925 and 1937. All baseball record books show complete won -lost decisions without mention of forfeits because the baseball guides and official sheets of that period included them in the pitchers’ tables.

In fact, it was not until 1940 that the Spalding Baseball Guide stated, “A new clause has been added to Section Eleven in which it is provided that no victory shall be credited nor defeat charged to a pitcher in a regulation game which the umpire has forfeited.”

July 6, 1913; at Chicag0–second game, stopped in fourth inning
St. Louis 3 1 0 x – 4 Sallee (St. L.), WON
Chicago  0 0 0 x – 0 Overall (Chi.), LOST

The ninth practice was based on the theory of charging the starting pitcher with the defeat if he was the one who allowed the most runs or could be held mainly responsible for the loss. It did not matter if his team tied the game or went ahead after he left–just that they lost because of him. This really came down to a matter of judgment on the part of the official scorer, but enough examples of the type exist to warrant it as a practice of that period. Examples:

September 26,1905; at Philadelphia–10 innings
Detroit        0 0 2 0 1 1 0 0 0 2 – 6
Philadelphia 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 – 4 Coakley, 7 inn., LOST; Dygert, 3 inn.

June 18, 1908; at Chicago
Boston  0 0 1 0 1 0 3 0 0 – 5 Patten, 3 inn., LOST; Burchell, 5 inn.
Chicago 0 1 4 0 0 0 0 1 x – 6

July 25, 1915; at St. Louis–first game
Boston    0 1 2 1 1 0 0 3 0 – 8 Ruth, 2-1/3 inn., LOST; Mays, 3-2/3 inn., Gregg, 2 inn.
St. Louis 0 0 4 3 0 0 2 0 x – 9

Ruth was charged with all four runs in the third inning.

The tenth practice was not as common as the others, but I believe I will find more games of this nature as my research continues. Basically, it came down to one-run games in which the starter left the game behind, but the reliever got the loss because he pitched poorly and allowed the deciding runs to score. The following examples will serve to illustrate:

September 11, 1912; at St. Louis
New York  0 0 1 0 1 0 1 2 0 – 5
St. Louis   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 – 4 Powell, 7 inn.; Baumgardner, 2 inn., LOST

Jack Powell had pitched very well for St. Louis, and the report of the game in the New York Times stresses that it was George Baumgardner who pitched poorly and allowed the two runs that provided the margin of victory for New York. It was felt that Baumgardner was more responsible for the loss than Powell.

October 3, 1914; at Boston
New York 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 – 3
Boston     0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 – 2 Shore, 7 inn.; Cooper, 2 inn. , LOST

Guy Cooper allowed the runs which were the margin of victory for New York. The Yankee run that scored in the first was due to fielding errors and was in no way the fault of Shore.

The eleventh and last practice awarded the decision to the middle-inning reliever when he pitched the best. Usually the reliever who finished the game strongly was given the win, but there were occasions when this did not happen.

July 22, 1915; at St. Louis
Boston      3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 – 7 Foster, 1-2/3 inn., Mays, 6-1/3 inn., WON, Wood, 1 inn.
St. Louis    1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 – 3

Mays went out for a pinch runner in the ninth, but his exit was not for poor pitching.

October 6, 1915; at New York–first game
Boston     0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 – 2 Shore, 1 inn., Leonard, 2 inn., WON, Wood, 3 inn., Mays, 3 inn.
New York 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 0

Hub Leonard allowed no hits in two innings.

I have not completed the American League for the period 1901-19 and a couple of more practices may yet emerge, but it is unlikely. Although there are many more examples than those cited in this article, space limitations prevent my listing all of them. There is no doubt that both the American and National Leagues used all but the first practice starting around 1905, but no mention of them appears in print until the editor of the 1910 Spalding Guide thought to bring them up for discussion by the Baseball Writers’ Association.

This story continues, and concludes, tomorrow.

All the Record Books Are Wrong

Joe Wood, 1913

Joe Wood, 1913

In the 1982 launch of The National Pastime, reissued by SABR (http://goo.gl/F8vukv), a previously unpublished writer named Frank J. Williams wrote a groundbreaking article. “A breakthrough,” I called it then: “the ‘Rosetta Stone’ for deciphering won-lost decisions of the dead-ball era.” In the years since, every record-keeping book, website, and organization has been guided by the principles Williams deduced from his awe-inspiring coverage of games from 1876 to 1919. Self-described as a bank accounting officer whose special interests were the Boston Braves, Red Sox, and Joe Wood, Williams carved out an enduring place in baseball literature with this one. For more about Frank, who remains an active researcher, see this, from 1999: (http://sabr.org/content/sabr-salute-frank-williams). 

Pitchers were winning games long before 1876, but were not awarded victories because in an era of nearly universal complete games and restricted substitution, there was rarely a question about which pitcher to credit or debit. In 1885, as Frank Vaccaro wrote in “Origin of the Modern Pitching Win” (http://sabr.org/research/origin-modern-pitching-win), Henry Chadwick “published National League individual totals in the 1885 Spalding Guide. The practice did not catch on. The loss came later. On July 7, 1888, The Sporting News for the first time published win-loss records, and only then after the following disclaimer: ‘It seems to place the whole game upon the shoulders of the pitcher and I don’t believe it will ever become popular even with so learned a gentleman as Mr. Chadwick to father it. Certain it is that many an execrable pitcher game is won by heavy hitting at the right moment after the pitcher has done his best to lose it.'”

I heartily recommend Vaccaro’s article, published in the Baseball Research Journal in 2013. But Williams’ monumental work came thirty years earlier and should be read first. Here it is, online for the first time.

Ready, baseball experts? Here’s a quick quiz, consisting of only three questions, and–bending over backwards to be fair–I will permit you the use of any baseball encyclopedia or record book of your choosing. If you answer all three correctly, your prize is the next tour of duty as manager of the Yankees.

1. Who was the won-lost percentage leader in the American League in 1905 and what was his record?

2. How many games did Ralph Comstock win for the Boston Red Sox in 1915?

3. How many victories did Cy Young and Walter Johnson amass over their careers?

1898 Cameo Pepsin Gum Cy Young Pin

1898 Cameo Pepsin Gum Cy Young Pin

Question 1: The answer, according to both major encyclopedias–Macmillan and Grosset & Dunlap (commonly referred to as Neft-Cohen)–is Andy Coakley of the Philadelphia A’s, with a mark of 20-7. The Sporting News Record Book lists Boston’s Jess Tannehill as the leader at 22-9. The correct answer is Rube Waddell, also of the A’s, at 27-10; this may be found only in Seymour Siwoff’s Book of Baseball Records. All other sources credit Waddell with a record of 26-11; Coakley’s correct log of 18-8 is nowhere to be found.

Question 2: Both Macmillan and Neft-Cohen show the obscure Comstock at 2-0 for Boston in the three games in which he pitched. However, the results of those three games were one victory, one defeat, and one tie. Only Turkin-Thompson gives Comstock his due at 1-0.

Question 3: Over the years, Cy Young’s victory total has been given variously between 507 and 511; Johnson’s wins have been listed as 413, 414, and 416. Currently, Macmillan credits Young with 511 and Johnson 416, as does Neft-Cohen; Turkin-Thompson lists Johnson at 416 but Young at 507. The correct figures are 510 for Young and 417 for Johnson, as derived from my year-by-year, game-by-game study of the official scoring sheets housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame Library. This research, as yet not complete for all pitchers, has revealed errors in Young’s record for 1907 and Johnson’s for 1912 which are of the same nature as those in last year’s celebrated flap over the 1910 race for the American League batting title between Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie. How these errors crept into the record and stayed there for 70-75 years I will detail later in this discussion.

In fact, the confusion surrounding these three “trick” questions is merely the tip of the iceberg represented by the period 1901-19, one in which scoring peculiarities (by modern standards) and transcription errors are legion, affecting Hall of Famers and nonentities alike. Moreover, the random, misguided, unreconciled tinkering of the last 15 years–well-intentioned though it may have been–has piled error upon error, creating a dizzying snarl of statistics which becomes harder to untangle with the appearance of each “revised” edition.

Although the mess spills over into batting and fielding records as well, for the time being I will confine myself largely to pitchers’ won-lost records of the 1901-19 era, how they went wrong, and how they can be righted once and for all. But first, a bit of history.

Until 1967, the official scoring sheets for both the American and National Leagues were unavailable to researchers. This meant that baseball reference books compiled prior to that time (such as Moreland, Richter, Lanigan, Turkin-Thompson, Reichler, et al.) were forced to base their versions of pitchers’ won-lost decisions in 1901-19 on the Spalding and Reach Baseball Guides of that period.

Henry Chadwick in the Clipper, 1880.

Henry Chadwick in the Clipper, 1880.

This method caused a number of problems. For example, from 1902 through 1906 the Spalding Guide showed two sets of pitchers’ won-lost records for the previous season for both the American and National Leagues. There were the records according to Henry Chadwick, who edited the Spalding Guide, and there were the official records put out by the two major leagues. In the 1906 guide, on page 77 Chadwick shows Christy Mathewson with a 32-8 record for 1905, and then on page 107 the National League official record has him at 31-9. The American League was treated the same way, with Chadwick listing Cy Young as 16-18 on page 121 and the American League official record showing him at 18-19 on page 145. This discrepancy was the product of Chadwick’s idiosyncratic practices in awarding wins and losses; it must be remembered that his records were unofficial.

The guides published by Spalding and Reach from 1907 through 1913 were based solely on the official records of both leagues. This continued with respect to the National League in the 1914 guides, but a strange development had occurred in the American League for the season of 1913. Ban Johnson, A. L. president, omitted won-lost decisions from the official records released to the public, believing that these did not reflect the true worth of a pitcher, and that earned run averages did. (Earned run average was an official statistic in the American League for the first time in 1913.)

In the 1914 Reach Guide, the editor, Francis Richter, put it this way:

It will be seen that in the above official record the pitchers are ranked according to percentage of earned runs, and the old way of ranking them according to games won and lost is omitted altogether. As that custom had been too well established to be discontinued at once, the Editor of the Reach Guide takes the liberty for the benefit of the readers of the Reach Guide to append the following unofficial, but substantially covered record of games won and lost and the pitchers’ rating thereunder.

In the 1915 Reach Guide, Richter did not give even an unofficial won-lost list, simply mentioning that the decisions were omitted from the official record. In the 1916 guide, Richter went back to showing an unofficial won-lost list; but instead of showing just the 1915 season, he also offered the 1914 season with the following explanation:

Francis C. Richter, Sporting Life

Francis C. Richter, Sporting Life

During the 1914 season the pitchers’ won and lost records were omitted, which had become so well established that they were regarded as indispensable alike by fans and critics. The omission created such a general protest that President Johnson announced that he would restore that pitching feature to future records. Never the less, we find the won and lost records again absent from the official figures. In obedience to public demands, we therefore append the unofficial records for both 1914 and 1915.

Ban Johnson’s policy continued right through the 1919 season, and each year the Reach Guide carried the unofficial won-lost records; Richter was always very careful to keep these separate from the regular official pitching records (E.R.A., strikeouts, etc.). After all, the Reach Guide was the American League publication and felt an obligation to keep its readers informed.

The Spalding Guide was a National League publication, however, and its editor felt no such obligation. The 1914 and 1915 Spalding Guides offered no explanation for the omissions from the official record and did not bother to show any won-lost decisions for the American League.

Unofficial won-lost records did appear in the 1916 Spalding Guide–but were thrown in with the official pitching records, accompanied by a footnote which read, “The won and lost columns are not included in averages compiled by the American League, but are inserted unofficially as a matter of record.”

This approach by the Spalding Guide, which continued through 1919 (no won-lost records were shown in the 1920 guide), was very confusing for two reasons. First, if the reader did not see the footnote, he thought he was looking at the official won-lost pitching records; and second, the footnote implied that the American League did not compile any official won-lost records during the seasons of 1915 through 1918. The American League did compile these records, but just didn’t release them to the public.

Spalding Guide, 1916

Spalding Guide, 1916

More confusion was added in the 1918 and 1919 Spalding Guides when the wording of the footnote was altered. It now read, “The won and lost and percent columns are
not included in the official averages compiled by the American League, but are obtained from official scores.”

During this period, both guides obtained their unofficial won-lost records from the weekly list of pitchers’ decisions published in The Sporting News, Sporting Life, and the Sunday edition of such newspapers as the New York Times and the Washington Post. These lists were based on what the official scorer recommended to the league secretary or president. (He could never do more than recommend: it was the secretary or president who officially compiled the pitchers’ won-lost records during the season.)

Often, when two or more pitchers were involved in a game, the official scorer’s recommendation was overruled by the league president. It was widely known that Ban Johnson, after reviewing the situation, often disagreed with his official scorers. Sometimes the dispute was made public; usually it was not. This compelled statisticians like George Moreland, who compiled many of the weekly lists that appeared in newspapers, to rely solely on the scorers’ unofficial recommendations rather than the final, official decision rendered by Johnson. Of course, the Reach and Spalding Guides were also forced to use these unofficial lists at the end of the season because Johnson did not release the official won-lost decisions.

Such, then, was the data base for the 1901-19 period which was to be used in record books and encyclopedias between 1920 and 1967. It was the best and only information available.

The Baseball Encyclopedia, I.C.I. / Macmillan, 1969

The Baseball Encyclopedia, I.C.I. / Macmillan, 1969

In the fall of 1967, the official sheets of both the American and National Leagues were made available to researchers from Information Concepts Incorporated, the organization responsible for the first edition of the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia. (The I.C.I. group, incidentally, disbanded shortly after the 1969 publication of “Big Mac,” but David Neft, Richard Cohen, and Jordan Deutsch of that crew went on to compile a rival encyclopedia for Grosset & Dunlap.) The researchers made a sincere and honest effort to clear up any discrepancies that existed in past major-league records. One of the major problems confronting them was the won-lost pitching records prior to 1920, particularly in the American League. The official sheets for the American League prior to 1905 had not survived and the same situation obtained in the National League prior to 1903. This meant the I.C.I. group had to reconstruct day-by-day pitching and hitting statistics for those periods.

In doing the pitching records for the American League, I.C.I. discovered that the won-lost columns on the 1914 A.L. official sheets were blank. In the National League, too, there were games in which no pitcher had been awarded a win or loss; or a pitcher was awarded a win when it should have been a loss, or vice versa; or two pitchers had been awarded the same win or loss. The I.C.I. researchers corrected most of these mistakes and were able to reconcile the individual pitchers’ won-lost records to those of the teams.

Although there were some errors of this nature, the majority of the won-lost decisions for the American League, 1905-1919, had been recorded correctly on the official sheets. Yet the researchers were perplexed by these records too: they found that in games in which two or more pitchers were used, the win or loss was awarded on a basis which did not conform to pitching rules in effect from 1920 to 1949, nor to those prevailing from 1950 to the present.

Evidently convinced that there was no consistency in these pitching practices, I..C.I. chose to apply modern standards, as is indicated on page 2328 of Macmillan I (1969):

Scoring rules governing won and lost decisions by a pitcher did not become official until 1950. It was decided that all pitching decisions during the period 1920-1949 shall stand as they are in the official records, but that for the period 1876-1919 the 1950 ruling shall be in effect. The reason for this was that since 1920 the official scorer did exist, and he had the explicit authority to award the victory based on common practice, which was very close to the rule adopted in 1950. In the pre-1920 period, however, there was no official scoring rule or common practice for wins by a pitcher and for many years no official scorer.

This wholesale ravaging of the official records was as if a team of archaeologists had come upon the monoliths of Stonehenge and, not fathoming the reason for the complex astronomical arrangement of the stones, had rearranged them into a pattern they could understand.

Of course, this switching around of wins and losses caused quite a few changes in pitchers’ won-lost records, including those of Young and Johnson. Young’s wins went from 511 down to 509 and his losses went up from 313 to 316. Johnson’s wins decreased from 416 down to 413, as did his defeats, from 279 to 277.

Balldom, George L. Moreland 1914

Balldom, George L. Moreland 1914

In 1978, I undertook a research project to verify the Boston Red Sox won-lost pitching records day by day from 1901-62, comparing my figures with the statistics compiled in the various editions of Macmillan (the current edition, published in 1982, is the fifth). I had no problem in agreeing with Macmillan’s records post-1920, but for the 1901-19 era, it was a different story. I realized that my totals for Red Sox pitchers, gleaned from a variety of sources, differed so much from Macmillan’s that I would have to go to the Hall of Fame Library and go through the official sheets for the American League.

Despite the lack of official sheets from 1901 through 1904, I did not find those four seasons that hard to check because most of the games featured only one pitcher per team and the official won-lost records were in the Reach and Spalding Guides. The 1905-19 period was not so easy, as I had to start matching written newspaper accounts against the official sheets in order to ascertain the official scorer’s thinking in awarding a decision. This prodedure worked out amazingly well: a consistent pattern emerged on all won-lost decisions for Red Sox pitchers. Many of these practices were completely foreign to anything in use today.

I began to wonder if these practices might apply to other American League teams, and if they were common in the National League, too. This started me on a course of doing other teams’ pitchers on a day-by-day basis for 1905-19 and, sure enough, I found the same common practices in effect. I also found that Irwin Howe, A. L. statistician, had released pitching won-lost records in 1914 to The Sporting News, Sporting Life, New York TimesWashington Post, etc. This solved the dilemma of the blank won-lost columns on the 1914 A. L. official pitching sheets.

All of this plus invaluable information, advice, and help from SABR members Cliff Kachline, Ed Walton, Bob Wood, Pete Palmer, John Thorn, Paul Doherty, Don Luce, Bill Gavin, and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Smoky Joe Wood, brought about a list of common scoring practices used in both the American and National Leagues between 1901 and 1919. Had these practices been known to the I.C .I. researchers 15 years ago, we would have a perfect set of won-lost records today.

This story continues tomorrow.


Gil Hodges and the Hall of Fame

Gil Hodges in Los Angeles.

Gil Hodges in Los Angeles.

Gil Hodges fell short of election to the Baseball Hall of Fame yet again. As Bill Madden wrote after this latest snub, Hodges “holds the dubious distinction of the most total votes of anyone not elected to the Hall of Fame, [and] got as high as 63.4 percent in 1983, his last year of eligibility on the writers’ ballot.” Requiring 12 of the 16 ballots cast by the Hall’s triennial Golden Era Committee, Hodges elicited nine votes in 2011 but three or fewer this time around (the Hall did not release actual figures for those with totals less than three). Even folks who saw him play–and, like myself, thought him a fine man and a very good player–have conceded that it is at last appropriate to remove him from consideration. But perhaps for the last time, let’s sum up the positives.

As a Brooklyn Dodger, Gil Hodges was the quietest man on a quiet team. He drove in plenty of runs and hit his share of homers and was, like Joe Adcock and Ted Kluszewski, the prototypical 1950s big slugging first baseman. Not as huge as his peers, he was nonetheless usually considered the strongest, with hands so big some said he didn’t really need a mitt. Gil was a smoothie around first base, graceful and agile, by many accounts one of the best ever. He had come to Ebbets Field as a catcher, but Leo Durocher gave that job to Roy Campanella in 1948 and asked Hodges to try first base. That move sent Jackie Robinson to his more natural position, second base, and solidified the Dodger infield for the glory years of 1949-1956.

Hodges home run, 1949.

Hodges home run, 1949.

Gil spent his last two years as a part-timer on Casey Stengel’s expansion Mets of 1962 and 1963, splitting first-base duties with “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry. Perhaps his grim experience of going 0 for 21 in the 1952 World Series prepared him for life with losing teams, for after he retired as a player he went on to manage the expansion Washington Senators for five years. Then the Mets acquired him in a “trade” ($100,000 and pitcher Bill Denehy) and in 1968 made him their manager.

Previous Met helmsmen had mastered the art of comedy: Casey Stengel (who said to Tracy Stallard of his 1963 team, “After this season they’re gonna tear this place [the Polo Grounds] down; the way you’re going the right-field stands will be gone already”); and Wes Westrum (after a close game he said, “That was a real cliff dweller”). But Hodges, not exactly a jolly sort, was brought in to win. He instilled discipline and inspired performance. His 1968 team improved by a dozen games. The next year brought two equally implausible events: man walking on the moon and the Mets winning the World Series. The Shea Stadium version of Mission Control was named Gil Hodges.

Old News: Further Thoughts about Frank Pidgeon

Frank Pidgeon, 1858

Frank Pidgeon, 1858

This article was published in the Woodstock Times on October 20, 2004. It is a successor to an earlier piece that first ran there, “Finding Frank Pidgeon,” that may be read here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/10/03/finding-frank-pidgeon/. There is not much here about the baseball days of the Brooklyn Eckfords’ star pitcher, who sailed to California in the Gold Rush of 1849, but there is plenty for the spelunker in American history.

In my last column, in which I weighed the benefits of attending a grade-school reunion (I did; it was great), I mused that it might be a good thing to sense that all of one’s life is connected, and not just one damn thing after another. Three months earlier, in my first column for this paper, “Finding Frank Pidgeon,” I asked readers to supply further information about the once-famous pitcher-inventor-painter who, as it turned out, was buried on Main Street in Saugerties. The sound you are about to hear is the other shoe dropping.

In the first week after the Pidgeon story hit print I received a call from Matthew Leaycraft, a descendant of Frank Pidgeon who differed with my interpretation of how the great man had died (it seemed like suicide to me) but all the same was pleased that his life had come into public view once again. He mentioned that Annie Eliza Pidgeon Searing, one of Frank’s four daughters, had attended Vassar, was an activist for women’s rights, and had written a book for children. Long out of print, When Granny Was a Little Girl detailed life in the Pidgeon household in Saugerties (in the hamlet of Malden, along the Hudson) in the 1860s and ’70s. Among many other interesting bits about his legacy, Mr. Leaycraft said that the figurehead of the ship Albany, which had borne Frank Pidgeon and other New Yorkers to California in the golden year of 1849, had once stood on the lawn of the family’s home in Malden and was now on display at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY).

Figurehead of the Albany, Outdoors

Figurehead of the Albany, Outdoors

The story of the reaper-styled figurehead was intriguing; as a frequent visitor to the MCNY, I was certain that I had seen it there among the many marine treasures. But what seized my imagination was the very existence of the book–a family log not only of life in Saugerties, where I had lived with my own family for 17 years, but perhaps a uniquely personal look at one of the giants of early baseball. I went online to used-book retailer abebooks.com and located a copy immediately.

Receiving the book in the mail a week later, I read it through in one sitting. Published in 1926, when A.E.P. Searing was nearly 70, these personal reminiscences written over many years recreated an idyllic family life along the Hudson that had long since disappeared. When Granny Was a Little Girl was so charming a memoir that I scarcely regretted the absence of anything to do with baseball. It included a splendid chapter on a steamer visit to New York City and a meeting with P.T. Barnum and Tom Thumb; a glimpse of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train, northbound in April 1865; and an entire chapter on the voyage of the Albany and the stunning arrival of its figurehead at the Pidgeon homestead.

Figurehead, Albany, side view.

Figurehead, Albany, MCNY.

Stricken dumb with awe, the little ones watched as a giant man carved out of wood, weather-beaten with age, and bound about with ropes, was lowered to the ground. The huge image was carrying a sheaf of wheat over one arm, and in his other hand he held a sickle. He was dressed in knee-breeches, and a shirt open at the neck, and on his head was a very queer, old-fashioned flat-topped hat.” The children were impatient to learn the story behind this odd statue that their mother called a figurehead.

“Well,” their father began, “your mother was right in her guess – it is the figurehead of the ship Albany in which I went to California in ’49. The old square-rigger must have gone to pieces years ago, and, as is the custom when they break up old ships, the parts were sold for junk. This figurehead–a very fine one–I found by chance in a junk shop on South Street in New York.”

“I don’t see,” Mollie broke in, “why the ship was named Albany when the figure on the bow was a man reaping?”

“Good,” said Father; “very intelligent of you to notice that, Daughter. The name of the vessel had been the Reaper, and under that name she had sailed all over the world. She had been a whaler when Yankee ships were the great whale-hunters of the seas, and then a cargo-carrier to Oriental ports. True to her name, she had reaped harvests of profits to her owners all over the world, and when she was getting old, the gold fever came, and they fitted her up to go round the Horn with a shipful of young gold-hunters from New York State, and out of compliment to them, they changed her name to Albany….”

When Granny Was a Little Girl

When Granny Was a Little Girl

A.E.P. Searing mentioned two other distinguished shipmates of her father’s on that vessel: Henry Meiggs of Catskill, who later perpetrated a famous fraud on the residents of San Francisco and skipped town, though he later won fame as a railroad builder in the Andes; and George Steers, with whom her father had worked in the New York and Brooklyn shipyards and who would go on to design the famous yacht America, for which the racing cup is still named.

Might other notables, baseball or otherwise, have been on board? I wrote to the Society of California Pioneers, whose librarian, Pat Keats, had been so helpful in my research of two baseball argonauts, Alexander Cartwright and William R. Wheaton. Had a passenger list of the Albany survived? Passenger lists of 1850-79 had been published in four volumes, Ms. Keats said, but according to the U.S. Harbor Master of San Francisco in June 1851, “original records of the arrivals from March 26 to July 1, 1849 were defaced in the fire by water and mud, and some portions were entirely destroyed and others rendered unintelligible and difficult to be copied.”

I cast about on the web, and at sfgenealogy.com I found that the Albany had sailed from New York in January 1849 [January 9, to be precise] and, presumably because of bad weather, had not arrived in San Francisco until mid-July [July 7, to be precise] … and what was more, the site had a complete passenger list. It included “F. Pidgeon” and “H. Meiggs,” but not “G. Steers.” Mrs. Searing was wrong; Steers was busy building ships rather than boarding them. Maybe this slip was just a bit of poetic license, or an isolated careless recollection, but it made me suspect her report of the figurehead.

Setting sail on the web once more, I navigated through old newspapers (New York Times, Brooklyn Eagle, San Francisco Alta), nautical and historical books (via the digital libraries of Proquest, Project Gutenberg, Questia, and the Making of America), and specialized sites such as maritimeheritgae.org and mysticseaport.org. The wind was up, and I rode the waves confidently. I discovered that the Albany had been built between 1843 and 1846, had served nobly in the Mexican War, and was lost at sea in 1854. A second Albany had been launched in 1864 but was placed out of commission only six years later, and sold for scrap in an auction advertised in the New York Times on December 3, 1872. Was this second Albany the source of Frank Pidgeon’s figurehead?

Not yet satisfied, I wrote to the MCNY, which I thought might have received some clue as to the provenance and origin of the figurehead upon its acquisition. The Curator of Paintings and Sculpture, Andrea Fahnestock, replied:

The donor of the object in 1937 was Augustus Van Horne Ellis of Pelham Manor. The object’s file indicates that the figurehead was carved c. 1831 for the packet ship Albany when it was built at the yard of Christian Bergh & Co. near Corlears Hook. It is said to have served as one of the principal packet ships of the Havre-Whitlock Line for 16 years. There is no notation of the source of this information. The base on which the figure rests, made later, bears a carved inscription that records the speed of a New York-San Francisco voyage made between January and July 1849. Minutes from the Marine Museum (previous owner of the object) from 1937 read as follows: “It is of interest to note that the father of the donor sailed in the Albany as a passenger, from New York to San Francisco, in 1849, the passage taking six months.”

Residence of Mr. Francis Pidgeon, on the banks of the Hudson. The Pearl, Pearl, Jne 1, 1875.

Residence of Mr. Francis Pidgeon, on the banks of the Hudson. The Pearl, June 1, 1875.

I glanced again at the passenger list, and sure enough, one of the passengers was John Ellis. Now, Mr. Leaycraft had told me that the figurehead had found its way up to Maine sometime after Frank Pidgeon’s death in 1884. Mrs. Augustus Van Horne Ellis, whose husband was to donate the figurehead to the Maritime Museum (and thence MCNY) in 1937, told a member of the Pidgeon family that the figurehead had stood in the garden of John Ellis’s Mt. Desert Island home in 1888, when she married into the family. I thus had to presume, with two shipmates of the 1849 Albany proudly displaying the figurehead, it was unlikely to have come from another ship, even one of the same name.

Back to shore, and back to the web. Now I searched shipping records from 1831, when the packet ship Albany began to ply the Havre line, to beyond 1854, when the first Albany was lost at sea. I found a packet ship Albany making voyages between New York and Spain in the 1820s, and another sailing regularly to Le Havre from 1832 to 1848. And then, in the New York Times of November 12, 1855–a year after the Albany’s presumed disappearance–I found a merchant vessel named Albany cleared to depart New York for port unstated. Here the fact of my ignorance dawned upon me: I had confused a naval vessel Albany (1846-54) with a merchant vessel Albany (1831-??).

And yet the question remained: why would Frank Pidgeon call the Albany a refitted Reaper? Was his vessel the packet ship Albany, built by Christian Bergh, or was it something else? Now I set off on the web for mentions of a pre-1849 vessel named Reaper, and I found plenty.

The (wrong) Albany: a naval vessel of 1846,

The (wrong) Albany: a naval vessel of 1846,

I was most drawn to a Reaper built in Medford, Massachusetts in 1808, and another that was built in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1819. Both were brigs, and the latter was of a tonnage comparable to that of the 1849 Albany. The former plied the Orient and was involved in a celebrated neutrality dispute during the War of 1812, but it may have been “sold foreign” in 1813, according to Glenn Gordinier, Historian at Mystic Seaport. The 1819 Reaper, however, had a figurehead and its log book, which came on the market three years ago, was described by the auctioneer as: “Detailed and lengthy ship’s journal kept on a whaling cruise, notable for accounts of whale chases marked by pictures of whales drawn in the margins. With pencil scrawl on the front cover noting it as the ‘Log kept by William F(?) Brown Ship Reaper of Nantucket.’ … Information from the National Archives and Records Service describes ship as ‘having 2 decks, 3 masts, a square stern, a bust head, and no galleries, as being 101 feet 6 inches long, 338 30/95 tons. It was built at Middletown, Connecticut, in 1819.'”

This brig Reaper also sailed in 1832 from Acra, Africa to Edgartown, Massachusetts. In 1836-37 it took part in the slave trade, according to Captain Theophilus Conneau in A Slaver’s Log Book or 20 Years’ Residence in Africa.

Figurehead, Albany, MCNY.

Figurehead, Albany, MCNY.

In a very recent message, Ms. Fahnestock of the MCNY wrote: “I just found a reference in a caption for the figurehead in a 1978 book of ours titled The City of New York that repeats the other information I gave you from the file, but also says: ‘This figurehead was rescued when the ship was sold for the last time in 1863.'” I now believe that the story told in When Granny Was a Little Girl is largely correct. There was a brig Reaper that became the ship Albany. The packet ship built in 1831 was a different vessel.

All this I found on the web, never leaving my hometown. Twenty years ago, when a book I was researching required access to the Library of Congress and National Archives, I was compelled to take a train and book a hotel room for a week to accomplish what I now can do in an evening.

I can’t be sure just yet, though; even after many exhilarating evenings of web trawling, I still must return to the old ways if I want to do this right. Back to searching methodically but joyously for the needle in a field of haystacks–certain of finding other, greater things by not looking for them–but now I know which haystacks look especially promising.

What explains the impulse to engage in such a seemingly arduous and perhaps pointless pursuit? I don’t know. It feels like play to me.

Is Baseball a Racket?

Mike Gold

Mike Gold

The American Communist Party thought it was. Through the 1920s and until the mid-1930s, the party considered athletics a bourgeois distraction, and did not report on sports in the Daily Worker. The youth party paper, Young Worker, called baseball “a method used in distracting … the American workers from their miserable conditions.” In the ’30s, however, as the otherwise unidentifiable mischaDC wrote in 2006: “Part of the goal was to get the party out of its immigrant niche. One way of doing this was to expand the Daily Worker from a party newssheet to an American paper. A sports section was the key. Mike Gold, a Daily Worker writer, later said: ‘When you run the news of a strike alongside the news of a baseball game, you’re making American workers feel at home. It gives them the feeling that communism is nothing strange or foreign, but is as real as baseball.'” [http://goo.gl/XmfLb6]

In 1936 the American Communist Party hired Lester Rodney as a sportswriter, and he went on to have a profound influence on baseball’s eventual racial integration. But that is a story for another day. Today I’d like to focus on Michael or “Mike” Gold–either way, a pen name for Itzok (Isaac) Granich (1894-1967). He first wrote for the radical monthly The Masses under the name Irwin Granich, and adopted the nom de plume of Mike Gold in 1919, reportedly from a Jewish veteran of the Civil War whom he admired for having fought to “free the slaves.” In 1930 he published his first and only novel, Jews Without Money, which was widely read and translated into other languages; with this he became America’s most famous proletarian writer. Sinclair Lewis praised him–in the same sentence with Hemingway, Faulkner, Wolfe, and Dos Passos–upon receiving his Nobel Prize in Literature that year. 

Three years later Gold became a columnist for the Daily Worker, a role he would retain until the end of his life. His unflagging dedication to the Soviet Union led him to some uncomfortable policy decisions (to uphold, for example, the invasion of Hungary in 1956) and to some grim, humorless prose. 

He wrote one baseball column for the Daily Worker, evidently in October 1934, which holds archaeological interest for readers of Our Game: “Baseball Is a Racket,” offered below. For what it’s worth, I agree with him about Mother’s Day.

We are in the process of watching the birth and evolution of a new national hero. He appears to be a tall, gangling young man with a strong right arm who hails from the cotton belt, and pitches a terrifically fast ball for nine innings a few times a week. At present his name is known to probably more Americans than the name of, let’s say, Nicholas Murray Butler [president of Columbia University and Republican Party power broker–ED.] , who also amuses his countrymen. Down in Sportsman’s Park, in Saint Looie, a crowd of 50,000 citizens howl themselves hoarse when the name of Dizzy Dean roars from the umpire’s mouth. According to private reports, even the Mississippi “lifts itself from its long bed” when the Dizzy goes to the mound to put on his stuff for the honor of St. Louis and a couple of extra thousand dollars World Series money for Frankie Frisch’s boys.

Dizzy Dean

Dizzy Dean

Dizzy seems to be quite a boy. Not only did he single-handedly, it appears, win the pennant for St. Louis, but he has managed to accumulate around himself a whole mythology of legends that would do justice to any of the old Greek gods. Dizzy’s what the boys on the sport sheets call “color” stuff. Strong right arm for pitching, but kinda weak upstairs.

In the fourth game of the Series Dizzy got slammed with a fast ball trying to break up a double play. It smacked him square in the forehead. It would have been curtains for an ordinary mortal, but not for Dizzy; he just passed out cold for a couple of seconds and then came to fresh as a daisy.

Furthermore, it appears that Dizzy has a heart as big as a wagon. After Saturday’s ball game, a couple of smartly dressed gentlemen tried to pick Dean up in their fast roadster as he was leaving the ball park. They offered to drive him back to the hotel. Dizzy, whose heart seems to be unspoiled and whose mind is a bit weak, grandly accepted the offer. He almost gave poor Sam Breadon, the Cardinal’s president, heart-failure. “My god,” yelled Sam, “haven’t you ever heard of gamblers and kidnappers?” But Dizzy just beamed, the idol light shining from his face. Dizzy’s going around town now with a police guard.

With each successive game the fables about the Dizzy Dean grow. It helps business along, piles up the gate receipts, gives the newsboys from the big city papers something to write about, and continues building the tradition of glamor and prowess that surround the heroes of the diamond. Dizzy seems to be a simple-minded, Ring Lardner “You Know Me Al” ball player, raised down in the Southwest on grits and cornbread, gifted with a powerful pitching arm and a keen pair of eyes. But the stockholders of the St. Louis Cardinals and the racketeers and speculators who infest organized baseball as they do every other national sport in the country today, have a keener eye than Dizzy’s pitching ones and a stronger arm when it comes
to counting the season’s profits.

Like everything else in the country, baseball is not run primarily for the fans, but for the pocketbooks of the stockholders. Communists are often ridiculed for their insistence that everything in the present capitalist system is a “racket.” Hollywood recently caricatured the Communist who shouts on Mother’s Day, “It’s a racket!” Well, it is. It’s a racket for the flower merchants, for the candy manufacturers, for the pulpit. The sickening sentimentality that is deliberately fostered by the manufacturers, the false mother-love decorations that surround the price on the box of flowers, attest to the way the emotions of people are deliberately and viciously exploited by the manufacturer for his own profit. Baseball, too, the love of sport, is deliberately and viciously exploited by the promoters.

Pepper Martin, Wheaties

Pepper Martin, Wheaties

Dizzy probably loves baseball. So do millions of other Americans. I remember that we all wanted to learn how to throw a two-finger drop earlier than we wanted to learn why the earth turns around the sun, or the origin of surplus value. But there is a sharp division made in the life of people today: sport, active participation in sport, stops early in life. Life under capitalism is not an integrated life, it is not full in the sense that sport is looked upon as one of the activities of a fully developed man. And, strange as it may seem, to those who see the Communist as a professional kill joy, he has a firmer, richer belief in the development of the full man, than the health culturist like Bernarr Macfadden, whose advertising caters to the sick and the shamed, or the neo-Humanist, whose “full” life is an abstraction born of the library.

One has only to look at the Soviet Union to see how sport is deliberately organized as part of the whole life of the proletariat. But in America, baseball is a different thing. There were 50,000 fans out there in St. Louis and 50,000 more in Detroit shouting their heads off every time Pepper Martin took a head-first slide into second or Hank Greenberg leaned his bat against a fast ball.

They were playing in the World Series too. It was vicarious baseball for the masses, phantoms of their own longing were smacking out homers, striking out the third man with the bases full, or making a miraculous stop of a line hit.

Workers love baseball. But baseball, in its own way, is used as an “opium of the people.” The “bosses” are cashing in on the “heroes” and cashing in on the frustrated love of the people for sports.





Nate Colbert’s RBI Record: More

Bob Carroll by Bob Carroll.

Bob Carroll by Bob Carroll.

My friend David Shoebotham sent me the following, in email today. David is a sabermetric pioneer, as the inventor of Relative Batting Average (Baseball Research Journal, 1976; reprinted here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/03/17/relative-batting-average-landmarks-of-sabermetrics-part-iii/).

I very much enjoyed the Bob Carroll article you reprinted in your blog. I remember it very well from when it first came out. And, yes, like you, I enjoyed Bob’s writing style.

Re-reading the article made me think a little – something I need to do more these days. Since a certain percentage of any team’s runs are not “batted in,” maybe it makes more sense to compare any given player’s RBIs to his team’s RBIs rather than just its runs scored.

Also, as I computed a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away?), the percentage runs that are batted in has gradually increased over time as fielder’s gloves and the interpretation of certain rules have evolved. The graph below shows that evolution for the National League from 1876 to the present. (The American League’s graph is very similar from 1901 to the present.) Amazing that in the beginning not even 2/3 of all runs were batted in. Ouch. Fielding without a glove was painful. And note the big jump around 1920. I think that’s about the time when gloves with webs between the thumb and forefinger became popular.

National League, RBI/Runs

National League, RBI/Runs

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to look at players’ RBIs as a percentage of their team’s RBIs rather than their team’s runs. The results are shown below. Nate Colbert still tops the list, and as you can see he had almost a quarter of San Diego’s RBIs in 1972. I’ve identified 23 players whose RBI totals exceeded 20% of their team’s totals, including several from the pre-1920 Dead-Ball Era. (Since I did this on-the-run, so to speak, I don’t claim these results are at all complete.)

RBI vs. Team RBI: A New 20 Percent Club

RBI vs. Team RBI: A New 20 Percent Club

It’s obvious that players who have teammates who are good RBI men (think Ruth and Gehrig) and players who walk a lot are at a disadvantage in this kind of calculation. Also American League players since 1972 are at a disadvantage because of the Designated Hitter Rule.

Anyway, thanks for the article. It was fun.


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