January 18th, 2012
Yesterday I read a wonderful interview with old friend Bob Creamer over at Graham Womack’s site. If you haven’t read it yet, you owe it to yourself [http://goo.gl/Y9XVN]. Here’s a snip from that interview, about Jimmy Cannon.
Jimmy once bearded Frank Graham, a kind and gentle man. I always felt that Frank’s best work—usually plain, simple, low-key writing— as about as good as sportswriting could get. Always controlled, maybe too controlled. It was very different from Jimmy’s, yet Jimmy had high regard for Frank, so much so that he went to him and asked what he, Graham, thought of his, Cannon’s, work. Graham tried to tap-dance his way through an answer because he knew Cannon wanted praise, unfettered praise, even though Cannon’s style was at the other end of the spectrum from Graham’s. Frank kept dancing around the subject, knowing how sensitive Cannon was. Jimmy was insistent and finally Frank gave in. He said, ‘Jimmy, you’re like a young pitcher. Great fastball, no control.’
This got me to thinking about sportswriting: the old style and the new, the good and the bad. Unlike the new, the old fashioned sportwritese can be bad yet good—overwrought but evocative of bygone days and ways. Here’s one that came to mind for me, as I had included it in The Armchair Book of Baseball back in 1985.
Old Anon, that most prolific and versatile of authors, was a staffer for The New York Times, wherein this grand description of a rather ordinary game appeared on April 26, 1912. They don’t write ’em like this anymore—mixing the rhythms of Broadway and ancient Greece—and more’s the pity. “Here’s one that will bring the weeps,” indeed: not for a ballgame lost but for a style of baseball writing that, because of its excesses, was not mourned upon its passing. Today’s reporter views his efforts as secondary to the game and its players, an attitude that is commendably modest but tends to produce bland, “just-the-facts-ma’am” coverage of the incidents of the game, embellished perhaps by banal quotes about hanging curveballs and “seeing the ball good.” The nameless scribe who gladdened the hearts of Times readers back in 1912 reminds one of Rice and Runyon and, in spots, of another nameless scribe to whom history has given the name, with no thought to our game, Homer.
Yankees Toss Game Away in Thirteenth
Here’s one that will bring the weeps.
The Yankees and the Athletics were tied in the thirteenth inning at 4–4. Rube Oldring jarred Ford’s damp hurl to the center lawn for a single. Ford’s next moist fling slipped and went wild, Oldring racing to second, and then to third. Gabby Street recovered the unruly ball, made a desperate heave to Coleman at third base, and the ball traveled on to left field, Oldring coming home with the run which won the game. Score, 5–4.
Play on, professor—a little more of that funeral march.
Some 3,500 persons, mostly men, sat through to the bitter end, and everyone got cold smoked beef when he walked into the Missus for dinner at 7:30 last evening. That wasn’t all they got.
This is the conversation, husband speaking: “Say, Mrs. Wife, you ought to have seen that pitching duel between Bender and Ford. The Yanks tied it up in the sixth, and after that both flingers were airtight.”
Mrs. Wife now talking: “Say, you, what do you think this is—an all-night lunch? Why don’t you board up at the ballpark? You’ll find something to eat at the ‘Ham-And’ place around the corner.”
It was a ball game worth missing your dinner for. The Yankees showed more fight and vim than in any game this season. For a long time they refused to be whipped, and their chances were just as good as the world’s champions until they cracked in the thirteenth inning and began to toss the ball all over the lot. Wolverton’s men had several excellent chances to win the game, but they lacked the final punch.
The Yankees are in pretty bad shape, and had to rely on green recruits to fill the gaps made by the hospital patients. The whole outfield is now disabled, Hartzell being yesterday’s victim, while Cree and Walter are still recuperating.
In the second inning, Daniels in center and Hartzell in right both chased after Bender’s high fly. The players came together with an awful bump, and Hartzell stretched out on the grass, unconscious. A gash was cut in his chin, and he was carried to the clubhouse. Benny Kauff took his place, and was all hot sand and ginger in the game. Kauff made two fine hits and ran the bases fast, scoring two of the Yankee runs.
It was a toss-up between Bender and Ford. Both pitched great after the sixth inning, getting stronger as they went along. It was the first big game the big Chippewa Indian has pitched since the World Series last fall, and he looks as if he were good for a couple more World Series. Ford was back to his best form and, with men on the bases, was very effective. Ragged support behind him aided the Athletics in their run harvest.
Philadelphia activity started in the second. Murphy was safe when Martin threw wild to Chase at first. Mclnnis beat out a bunt to Ford, and Barry sacrificed the pair up a notch. Then, who comes along but Ira Thomas, who wallops a “pippin” to deep center for a zwei hassocks, scoring Murphy and Mclnnis. The Yanks got one in that stanza, when Kauff ripped a single to center, went down to second on Zinn’s out, and scored on Gardner’s hit to the middle patch.
In the fourth, Barry did a brazen piece of business. Murphy singled, went to second on Mclnnis’s out and to third on a passed ball. Barry’s roller went to Coleman, and Murphy was nailed while skipping up and down the third-base line, Barry racing around to third, while half a dozen Yankees riveted their attention on Murphy. As Ford was pitching to Thomas, Barry started down the third-base line like a runaway colt.
The mammoth nerve of him! The grand larceny was committed with all the Yankees looking on with their baby-blue eyes wide open. Barry slid in safe, while the Yankees continued the nap. Get out the alarm clock.
In the fifth, Oldring was safe on a rap which skinned Gardner’s shins, and he scored on Collins’s double to right. In the same inning, the Yankees began to rush up from behind. Gardner singled and Street strolled. Ford sacrificed them along a base, and they both tore home on Daniels’s safe smash to center.
Sixth inning—Yanks at bat, two out. Benny Kauff banged out a safety to right and went to second when Murphy juggled the ball. Kauff scored on Zinn”s single to center. The score is tied. Nifty, what?
Ford and Bender both closed up like morning glories in the sun. At nine innings, not a run in sight. Tenth inning, the same thing. In the eleventh inning, Collins walked on Ford’s only pass of the day, and got to third on two outs. He stuck there as if planted in glue.
The Yankees should have won in the twelfth inning. Young Martin, the new shortstopper whom Wolverton has just recalled from Rochester, poled a high-powered three-bagger to the darkest corner of right field. He had plenty of time to make the circuit, but was held at third base because of poor coaching. It was a burning shame that such a healthy smash could go to seed, but Martin was tagged coming in on Zinn’s grounder.
Then followed the fitful thirteenth, when the strong-armed pegs of Ford and Street permitted Oldring to breeze home with the hurrah tally.