Last night presented baseball fans with something they had never seen: a World Series game ending on an obstruction / interference call. Veteran observers instantly recalled Game 3 of the 1975 World Series when Ed Armbrister, pinch hitting for reliever Rawly Eastwick, was NOT called for interference with Carlton Fisk on a critical tenth inning play. Attempting a bunt, Armbrister paused in the batter’s box, leading to a collision with catcher Carlton Fisk, trying to reach the ball. In any event, the controversial play did not end that game.
Returning to my hotel after last night’s classic contest, I wrote on Twitter, “I can’t recall ANY game ending on an obstruction call, let alone a WS game.” My fellow tweeps were quick to fill in the blank spots in my recall.
D.J. Short reminded me of a game that I had seen only six years ago (the mind is the second thing to go, I replied to him, with thanks). The Phils defeated the Mets 3-2 on August 28, 2007, as Marlon Anderson’s hard take-out slide was ruled interference (not obstruction, which can only be committed by the defensive team) and became the final out of the game. [http://goo.gl/FKyQ07]
Jacob Pomrenke directed me to a game I truly did not recall, Mariners at Devil Rays on August 6, 2004. In the bottom of the tenth, with the game tied at one apiece, Carl Crawford was awarded home plate when third-base umpire Paul Emmel ruled that Jose Lopez obstructed Crawford’s view of a catch made in left field while Crawford tagged up; Lopez was called for obstruction. [http://goo.gl/q3riIp]
Adam J. Morris and Dan Wade pointed out a game from 2009 when the final out of the game was called for interference because third-base coach Dave Anderson helped runner Michael Young to retreat to third base after starting for home. [http://goo.gl/QGAx9o]
But surely, I thought, there must have been a game in baseball’s Pleistocene Era when such a thing occurred. Maybe when an umpire caught Orioles’ third baseman John McGraw holding onto the belt of a runner rounding the bag for home?
Checking the log of forfeit and no-decision games at retrosheet.org, I find these interesting denouements—not the same sequence of events as last night, but in the same ballpark, so to speak.
08/21/1876, Chicago at St. Louis (NL): With the score tied 6 to 6 in the 9th, St. Louis put a runner on third. The next batter hit a drive down the third base line that hit the runner. The runner was allowed to score. Chicago left the field in protest. The game was awarded to St. Louis. New York Times, 08/22/1876, p. 2 (St. Louis).
08/11/1884, Buffalo at Chicago (NL): In the first inning, with a runner on first, the Chicago batter hit a groundball to the second baseman, who ran the runner back toward first to tag him. The runner threw his arms around the fielder to prevent him from throwing the ball. The umpire called the runner and the batter out. Cap Anson of Chicago did not think the batter should be out and refused to continue. Washington Post, 08/12/1884, p. 1.
05/03/1899, Louisville at Pittsburgh (NL): Louisville was ahead 6-1 going into the home half of the ninth inning. Pittsburgh scored three runs and had two men on base when a strange play occurred. Jack McCarthy hit a ball down the right field line. It looked foul but the umpire called it fair. The ball hit a snag in the field and kicked to the right. The ball headed toward a small boy standing near a door to the dressing room. As the ball approached, the boy opened the door, the ball and the boy passed through it, and the boy closed the door behind them. By the time Charlie Dexter, the right fielder, opened the door and retrieved the ball three run had scored. Louisville claimed fan interference, but umpires Oyster Burns and Billy Smith thought otherwise. Louisville protested the game. It was later called a no-decision. Chicago Daily Tribune, 05/04/1899, p. 4.
08/22/1905, Washington at Detroit (AL): Detroit and Washington battled through 10 innings with the scored tied 1 to 1. In the Washington half of the 11th inning with two out, two on, and a three-and-one count on batter John Anderson, Hunter Hill, the runner on third, bolted for the plate as George Mullin wound up to deliver the pitch. Jack Warner, the catcher, brushed past the batter, caught the ball and tagged the runner out by at least 10 feet. Umpire Jack Sheridan ruled the runner safe because of the catcher’s obvious interference with the batter. Anderson was awarded first on a walk. The Detroit club objected and started to argue. Sheridan calmly waited the required two minutes and called the game. The crowd then rushed the field to confront the umpire. The Tigers team surrounded the umpire and escorted him to safety. The police were called to quell the riot. New York Times, 08/23/1905, p. 4; Washington Post, 08/23/1905, p. 9.
09/03/1906 , Philadelphia at New York (AL): With two outs in the ninth inning of the second game of a doubleheader, the New York team was awarded a forfeit win after tying the game at 3. With runners on second and third (Willie Keeler and Wid Conroy), Jimmy Williams came to the plate. Plate umpire Silk O’Loughlin called two strikes before Williams hit a ground ball toward third baseman John Knight. Knight took a step backwards to field the ball and stepped into the path of Keeler. Keeler fell flat on his face while the ball rolled into left field. Keeler got up and scored. Several Philadelphia players stormed the umpire demanding that he called out on runner’s interference. Two of the players, Harry Davis and Topsy Hartsel, were very vocal and kept arguing. O’Loughlin finally had enough and called the game. After the game he said that the third baseman clearly obstructed the runner. Washington Post, 09/04/1906, p. 9.
Another offering from old pal John B Holway, especially relevant as we near the third game of the fourth World Series matchup of the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.
Do reporters report the news? Or invent it?
Hark back 65 years to the first Red Sox-Cardinal World Series in 1946. You’ve heard the story: Johnny Pesky held the ball while Enos Slaughter streaked home on Harry Walker’s hit to lose the final game. People who never saw the game–who weren’t even born yet–swear to it as the truth.
But those lucky 34,000 who were at the game didn’t see Johnny hold the ball. They couldn’t have, because the official film of the game didn’t see it either. I’ve studied the film again and again in slow motion and stop action.
It just didn’t happen.
Marty Marion and other Cardinals agreed: Johnny got a bad rap.
For 30 years Johnny and I have had a standing offer: If you will watch the film and you still honestly believe he held the ball, we’ll buy you a steak dinner for two.
We’ve never had to buy a dinner yet.
Yet most of the newspapers of that pre-TV day told us that he really did hold the ball. Why were they so positive that something that didn’t happen, did?
The following should be required reading in every freshman journalism class in America. It’s a classic example of how newsmen sometimes don’t report the news. They invent it.
My theory: Six years earlier, in the 1940 World Series, Detroit shortstop Dick Bartell did hold the ball, allowing a Cincinnati run to score in a 2-0 defeat. Six years later the play was fresh in some scribes’ minds. I believe that Jack Lang of the AP yelled, “Did you see that? Did you see that? Pesky held the ball! Pesky held the ball!”
There was no instant replay then. But Lang was so positive that it did happen, the others were too embarrassed to admit that they missed it. Some may have sheepishly inserted it in their stories.
As for the others, when their stories arrived on their editors’ desks, Lang’s AP story had gotten there ahead of them, and the editors decided they better insert it.
I have looked up 18 major major papers that sent writers to cover the game. Half of them didn’t say a word about Pesky holding the ball. The other half mentioned it briefly, half-way down in their stories.
Shirley Povich of the Washington Post, one of the country’s two most famous sportswriters, wrote that Pesky “carefully studied” the signature of league president Will Harridge on the ball while Slaughter raced home.
Vicious sardonic humor, the kind that made Povich famous.
But worthless as journalistic reportage.
Because of such mendacious journalism, Slaughter, a .300-hitting outfielder, was voted into the Hall of Fame, and Pesky, a .313-hitting shortstop, was locked out.
Meantime two other examples of journalistic manipulation were going on.
First, some reports said Slaughter ran through a ”stop” sign by third base coach Mike Gonzales, who was holding up his arms and yelling, “No! No!” This gave us the picture of the daring Anglo-Saxon ignoring a timid Latin to bring victory to his team.
The truth: Gonzales was frantically waving his arms and yelling, “Go! Go!” But that’s not the story the sportswriters wanted to write and their readers wanted to read.
Second, the official scorer ruled Walker’s drive a two-base hit. It’s not unusual to score from first on a double, so Bob Broeg, a cub reporter for the St Louis Globe-Democratic, ran screaming to him: “You’re ruining a great story!” He pleaded with the scorer to change it to a single. It was reported as a double the next morning but was changed to a single the following day. About two weeks later it became a double again, which it remains to this day.
Thus do sportswriters–and other newsmen–create the news they are supposed to be reporting. And their readers and future historians never realize what has been done to them.
There is an addendum to the story that you never read about.
The Red Sox still had three outs in the ninth. Bobby Doerr spanked a single. Rudy York lined another single, sending the tying run to third with no out. But the bottom of the batting order was up, and they went out 1-2-3. The final out was a ground ball. Second baseman Red Schondienst (.289 lifetime) gloved it, but the ball rolled up his arm, and he just did nip the batter at first.
“If I had dropped it,” Red shuddered, “I would have been the goat.” If so, he might not be in Cooperstown today, and Johnny, now shorn of his goathood, would.
The 1913 Fall Classic matched two historic rivals—the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Giants—that exist today if not in their original cities. This tenth World Series of the modern era marked the third between these clubs, who met in a spirit of rancor that cannot be understood without a bit of backdrop.
The upstart American League had defeated the Nationals in the 1903 World Series, but in 1904 John McGraw’s NL champion Giants refused to play because of their scorn for the new league. In 1905 the Giants topped their league again but this time were compelled to play in the World Series. Opposing Connie Mack’s “White Elephants,” as McGraw had derisively termed the AL champion Philadelphia Athletics, the Giants’ manager dressed his men in black. The theatrics prevailed, as the Giants defeated the Athletics in five games, all of them shutouts by future Hall of Famers: one by the A’s Chief Bender, another by the Giants’ Joe McGinnity, and three by Christy Mathewson.
In 1911 McGraw returned to the World Series for the first time, and found himself again matched up against the A’s. A superstitious sort, resorted to black uniforms for his Giants, and Matty topped Bender in Game 1, allowing a single run. But then the black magic wore off, and the A’s went on to take the Series in six. Giants lefthander Rube Marquard lost the second game on a home run by A’s third baseman Frank Baker. In his newspaper column the next morning, Matty criticized Marquard’s pitch selection, but in Game 3, he too surrendered a home run to Baker—who won a new nickname and, as Home Run Baker, would earn a plaque in Cooperstown himself. Six days of rain stood between Games 3 and 4—the longest mid-Series delay until these two clubs, relocated to the West Coast, were interrupted by earthquake in the 1989 World Series.
When the Giants and A’s met again in 1913, they were still the class of their leagues. The A’s had won the World Series in 1910 and 1911, and the Giants were making their consecutive World Series appearance. They had lost in 1912 in a heartbreaking extra-inning finale. Both clubs continued to rely upon aging mound stars—Mathewson, Bender, Plank—but the A’s had subtly become a different club. They had transformed themselves into the most formidable batsmen of the deadball era, led by their “$100,000 infield” of first baseman Stuffy McInnis, second sacker Eddie Collins, shortstop Jack Barry, and third baseman Baker. The Giants were a well balanced club, ranking first in pitching and second batting in the National League. The A’s, on the other hand, were tops in batting (as measured by OPS+) and next to last in pitching (ERA+) in the American League. By sabermetric accounting, these A’s were, in their 76 games at their new Shibe Park, the top hitting home club of all time.
The Giants returned to home whites and road grays for the 1913 Series, but it turned out luck was not a matter of black and white. The A’s won Game 1 behind Bender as Home Run Baker yet again made good on his nickname. In Game Two, the most exciting of the Series, Plank and Mathewson pitched shutout ball through nine innings. In the bottom of the ninth, with none out, the A’s had Amos Strunk on third and Jack Barry on second. The next batter, Jack Lapp, grounded to first, where George “Hooks” Wiltse, a lefthanded pitcher, was filling in. Wiltse made a good stop and threw home to nab Strunk. With Barry on third now and Lapp on first, Plank grounded to Wiltse and Hooks fired home again, nailing a sliding Barry. Thus did Wiltse make up, at least in part, for his ninth-inning disappointment of July 4, 1908 when, having retired the first 26 men to face him and with two strikes on the last—opposing pitcher George McQuillan—he hit him to spoil a perfect game.
But I digress. After Wiltse’s fielding heroics, Mathewson retired the next hitter, and the game went into extra innings. Plank yielded three runs in the top of the tenth, and Matty set the A’s down in order for what proved to be New York’s only Series win. Bender won Game 4 and Plank avenged his first-game loss with a brilliant two-hitter in Game 5. In an oddity, four of the five games were won by the visiting team. The A’s outscored the Giants 15-1 in the games’ first four frames; although the men of McGraw “won” the last five innings, it was a case of too little, too late.
Baker was the hitting star, as he had been in 1911. He rang up nine hits in 20 at bats, for a batting average of .450, while driving in seven. With catcher Wally Schang driving in another six, the pair accounted for 13 of the club’s 23 runs. Collins starred, too, going 8-for-19. It was a shellacking. Matty would never again pitch in a World Series. Bender and Plank would never win another Series game.
Like the great Cubs’ dynasty of 1906-08, the Giants had become the next NL club to win three straight pennants. But they lost in the Series each time, equaling the unhappy record of the Detroit Tigers of 1907-09. In the 100 years since the Giants’ defeat in the 1913 World Series, no other club has matched them in such misery.
The 1913 World Series was not without an irony visible from a century’s distance. These clubs would not meet again in the World Series until 1989, when they had long since become Bay Area rivals. The A’s again walloped the Giants, this time in a sweep. The Philadelphia A’s had a stopover in Kansas City from 1955-67 before settling in Oakland, where, surpassing their predecessors, the Oakland A’s won three consecutive World Series (1972-74).
50 years ago: The World Series of 1963 matched two clubs that had met many times before as the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. But the latter had moved to Los Angeles in 1957, and the Subway Series was now a Jetlag Series. The Yankees had defeated that other East Cost transplant, the San Francisco Giants, in 1962 and were returning as two-time world champions, having also defeated the Cincinnati Reds in 1961, the peak year of Mantle and Maris. But New York’s big bats were sawed into toothpicks by Dodger pitchers Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, and Ron Perranoski. In a four-game sweep, the light-hitting Dodgers allowed their powerful rivals only four runs in the four games. In Game 1, Koufax established a new World Series mark (soon surpassed by Bob Gibson) by fanning 15 Yankees.
25 years ago: In the World Series of 1988, the Oakland A’s squared off against the Los Angeles Dodgers, an underdog as they had been 25 years before. Like the 1913 Athletics of Philadelphia, the Oakland A’s were centered on an awesome offense, led by Bash Brothers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Closer Dennis Eckersley was the featured pitcher. But a hobbled Kirk Gibson hit a memorable pinch-hit walk-off home run in Game 1, and the Dodgers took the Series in five. Home run heroics had been the hallmark of the 1913 Series, too.
Of our three anniversary World Series, none was a competitive classic. Across a century’s span, the losing clubs in these Series won a total of two games. Yet like all postseason series, this year’s commemorated classics provided heroes and goats, thrills and pratfalls, exultation and lamentation. Wait till next year! Which in this space will mean the Miracle Braves of 1914, Yogi’s rollercoaster ride in 1964, and the Sidelight Series of 1989, when tragedy took center stage.
To this year’s World Series program I contributed a sidebar on the perenially debated home-field advantage. Coming upon a doubtful point, I looked for someone who would know. “As has long been my custom,” I write in the sidebar, “when presented a puzzle beyond my understanding, I consulted with old friend and collaborator Pete Palmer.”
Pete and I have not worked together on a book or web idea in some time, so it was a pleasure to reconnect even in this minor way. This morning the thought occurred to me that we might not have collaborated on all those projects had it not been for SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, which, if you are not already a member, I urge you to consider joining (http://sabr.org).
I take the liberty of publishing Pete’s contribution, and my own, to the question posed separately to each of us: “Why I Joined SABR.”
I joined pretty early; I think I was #27. If I had realized that Cooperstown was only a four-hour drive, I would have been at the kickoff meeting [on August 10, 1971].
Bob Davids was familiar with me since we both contributed to The Sporting News, and the fact that the editors decided to pretty much dispense with fan contributions encouraged Bob to start SABR in the first place. The three main reasons I have enjoyed SABR were meeting the guys, reading the publications and participating in research projects that would have been very difficult to do on my own.
This often involved particularly checking newspapers across the country. As a group, we collected research on 1927 AL caught stealing, 1912 NL sacrifice hits allowed, 1880s AA runs batted in and 1897-1908 batter hit by pitch. John Schwartz, Bob Bailey, Joe Ditmar, Ralph Horton, Bob Richardson, Walt Wilson, Herb Goldman, Joe Simenec, Lyle Spatz and others were very helpful. I worked with Bob McConnell straightening out [John] Tattersall’s home run log before it was computerized, and have corresponded with Frank Williams for over thirty years. Recently, I helped Jonathan Frankel collect batter strikeout data for 1897-1909.
I probably never would have met John Thorn. Our collaboration produced The Hidden Game of Baseball and seven editions of Total Baseball. Dave Smith and I have been helping each other out for three decades. Gary Gillette and I have carried on to do five editions of the B&N ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. I am still busy at something I started as a hobby maybe 60 years ago.
I appreciate SABR recognizing my work.
SABR member Pete Palmer, part of the inaugural class of Henry Chadwick Award winners in 2010, has been a leading innovator in statistical analysis. His contributions to the game have been as particular as correcting Ty Cobb’s hit total and as grand as restating and evaluating all the game’s historical records through the prism of modern statistical measures. He was the first to recognize the mathematical relationship between runs and wins, and the one most responsible for the introduction of On Base Percentage into common parlance.
I joined SABR thirty years ago, in part to cover that year’s convention in Toronto, on assignment for The Sporting News. Cliff Kachline — at that time the historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame, later SABR’s first executive director, and posthumously, not long ago, a recipient of the society’s Henry Chadwick Award — urged me to join. With my interests in baseball’s history and statistics, he assured me, I would feel instantly at home and would wonder why I had waited so long to join.
He was spectacularly right.
At the convention’s opening reception, the first two individuals I met were Pete Palmer and Bob Carroll. I went on to create many books with each, and in some cases both of them, and they became lifelong friends.
I had a fantastic time at the convention, despite being a little star-struck at meeting so many individuals whose work I had read. Immediately upon returning to Albany, New York, I filed my story with TSN. (I vividly remember transmitting it via 300-baud cupped-phone modem from the Western Union office on State Street.)
I have been a member ever since. I continue to be amazed at how many accomplished men and women I have met in the ranks of this merry band of baseball sleuths. I have continued to describe SABR as baseball’s best-kept secret — puzzlingly so, because its benefits are many for the advanced fan, the aspiring professional, or simply those who cannot get enough good baseball talk and text.
The perception among baseball fans has been, I suspect, that SABR membership is for those who are conducting ground-breaking historical research or game-changing statistical analysis, but that is not so. At your first convention or regional meeting, you will be seized with newbie jitters, as I was, but you will instantly be made to feel at home. Look me up; I will be one of many longtime members who will be glad you joined us.
Ordinarily I would be content to let a reader’s response to an Our Game post be available via hyperlink at the bottom of the selection. But this response, by David Lawrence Reed, is so interesting that I thought it merited this heightened position. Mr. Reed is a SABR member from San Francisco who has written for the Baseball Research Journal (“Lawrence S. Ritter, the Last New York Giant,” 2004). Class, read and respond.
I recall reading an anecdote many years ago that addressed the issue of what a player should do as opposed to what he can do. Some of the members of New York’s famed Murderers’ Row were watching Joe Sewell take batting practice. The little infielder was spraying line drives to every field, the ball coming off his bat like “popcorn flying off a hot griddle,” according to the writer. One of the Yankees remarked that Sewell’s constant contact was a marvel, a remark to which Babe Ruth responded by saying, “Aw [insert colorful ballplayer language here], I could do that if I wanted to.”
Several of his teammates–who probably should have known better–scoffed and, in similarly colorful language, challenged him to put his money where his mouth was. Ruth is said to have shrugged, and when Sewell was done taking his hacks, the big outfielder grabbed his bat and headed for the cage. Stepping into the batter’s box, the Babe then choked up on his truncheon and yelled out to the pitcher to throw whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted.
Ruth proceeded to smash line drives all over Yankee Stadium, to left, right, and center, with the same consistency as Sewell had, but with more power–balls that had died on the outfield grass several feet beyond the infield for Joe now skittered and rolled deep into both gaps and down both lines for the Bambino.
He continued this exhibition for about five minutes, then returned to the dugout. He said, “I could hit .400 every year if that’s what I wanted to do.” One of his teammates then asked why he didn’t and the Babe replied, “Because that’s not what Colonel Ruppert pays me to do. He pays me to hit home runs.”
Ted Williams was in the same situation: he was not being paid by Tom Yawkey either to flare the ball to left or to confound the defense by bunting. He was paid to hit the ball deep as well as consistently. And while some, like Ty Cobb, saw Williams as merely stubborn, those who have read The Science of Hitting and My Turn at Bat know that this most cerebral of hitters, far from sticking to the status quo, worked hard to find a way to drive the ball to the opposite field while maintaining his power.
It wasn’t an easy technique to master and it took some time, but eventually Williams learned how to employ the inside-out swing, one which would enable him to drive the ball to the opposite field with the same oomph he imparted to the balls he hit to right. This would pay great dividends at the plate, especially during the 1957 season when Ted fell five hits shy of batting .400, and in 1958 when he won his sixth and final batting title.
As for current Red Sox players foiling the shift, I think the occasional bunt would be a splendid idea for someone like Jarrod Saltalamacchia–no one is going to complain much if a .273 hitter plumps up his average and gets on base by dropping one down. It might even spread the defense a little bit (especially given Miguel Cabrera’s current defensive constraints due to injury).
But with regard to Big Papi, one of the smartest hitters I’ve ever seen in half a century watching the Red Sox, this Boston fan is content to let him work things out for himself. With all due respect to Mr. Holway, one of baseball’s finest historians, and with due consideration for the rare game situation wherein a bunt might be as good as a blast, singles and doubles the opposite way are not what Mr. Henry pays David Ortiz to do.
This quickie is from longtime pal and esteemed baseball historian John B. Holway. It relates to the current American League Championship Series, and thus is more current than Our Game readers have come to expect. But baseball’s history begins not in 1839 or 1744 but with the conclusion of last night’s game. Holway and I co-wrote The Pitcher and worked together on Total Baseball‘s first edition. But John’s forays into baseball’s dimly understood past predates mine by eons. He has been researching baseball since 1944. Renowned for his work on the Negro Leagues, he has also written frequently about Ted Williams, whom he saw hit two home runs in the 1946 All-Star Game. The Williams Shift is relevant here.How do you give advice to David Ortiz?No, not with the bases loaded and four runs down.But I was shouting it to him almost every other time up this postseason.“BUNT!!!”They give him a 50-foot open target at third base. Even I could drop a bunt into it.I know David can. Because I saw him do it. About seven years ago in Tampa. You could almost see him shrug and chuckle, “Well, if they’re gonna give it to me…”–then he pushed a 250-foot bunt into left field and jogged to first while the left fielder loped over to stop the ball before it rolled to the fence. Then Papi trotted home on Manny Ramirez’s homer.I wonder if Boston could have beaten Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers in Game 1 if Ortiz had bunted every time they invited him to. He sure could have broken up two no-hitters fast.In 1946 Lou Boudreau pulled his Shift on Ted.Ty Cobb and everybody told Ted to hit to left: It would open up right field so he could drill singles and doubles into it again. But he wouldn’t do it.However, that fall he did win the pennant with an inside-the-park homer to left. And I saw him bunt to third with a swollen elbow in the World Series.Then he got stubborn again.Funny thing: Seven fielders were crowding into right field, but the wary pitchers were still pitching him outside; they were as stubborn as he was.It took Ted a year and a half to see the light, but finally the smartest hitter in history started hitting the ball where it was pitched, lifting homers over the Monster or glancing hits against it like Wade Boggs. Over the years he’d hit a couple over the Wall every season or dump a few flies on the grass in front of it.Yet Boudreau and others were even more stubborn than Ted. Lou didn’t call the Shift off until about 1950.In ‘58 I saw Ted beat Pete Runnels for the batting crown in the final series with three homers–to right, to center, and to left.
“The fundamental reason for the popularity of the game is the fact that it is a national safety valve. Voltaire says that there are no real pleasures without real needs. Now a young, ambitious and growing nation needs to ‘let off steam.’ Baseball furnishes the opportunity. Therefore, it is a real pleasure…. That is what baseball does for humanity. It serves the same purpose as a revolution in Central America or a thunderstorm on a hot day…. A tonic, an exercise, a safety-valve, baseball is second only to Death as a leveler. So long as it remains our national game, America will abide no monarchy, and anarchy will be too slow.” These oft-quoted lines were penned by Allen Sangree (1878-1924), perhaps for The New York World in 1907. I was unable to locate these fine words there but did come across them in the September 1907 number of Everybody’s Magazine (Volume 17, pp. 378-387). I had never seen the article in its entirety and figure probably you haven’t either, so here it is, complete with original illustrations. It’s a corker, as they said back in the day, offering an unequaled view of baseball’s idealized bleacher democracy. [I have altered one derogatory term so as not to give needless offense, entering a replacement in brackets below.]
FANS AND THEIR FRENZIES: The Wholesome Madness of Baseball
By ALLEN SANGREE
With photographs by Heyworth Campbell
THE visit of Clark Griffith and his New- York American Leaguers to the Federal Prison at Atlanta on the occasion of their southern practice trip this spring, furnished a telling illustration of the intensity of the American interest in baseball. I was among the newspaper correspondents that accompanied the party, and all through the corridors and workshops we marked the yearning with which the prisoners’ eyes followed the leaguers, some of them moving their lips as they tagged off the various diamond heroes filing by—Griffith, Chesbro, Elberfeld, and Jim McGuire. Dr. Nye, the Bertillon expert of the prison, explained that though conversation is forbidden and newspapers are excluded, the prisoners in some mysterious way manage to learn the baseball scores each day and even become familiar with the names and achievements of renowned players.
As we were passing through the barber shop, an employee made such excited gestures with a razor that Dr. Nye stopped and whispered: “That fellow has been in prison twenty-six years and his time expires at noon to-morrow.” Then, struck by a sudden idea, he suggested to Griffith that if he wanted one stanch rooter at the next day’s game he should write out a pass for the ex-murderer, forger, and counterfeiter.
Griffith, of course, made out the pass, and we looked for the released convict with some eagerness. There was no difficulty in noting his arrival. He came from the top row of the grand stand to a seat back of the visiting bench in three bounds, emitting yells of peculiar ferocity, and immediately began a vicious roast of the New York team : “Rubes!” “Lobsters!” “Yer can’t put ‘em over!” “Back to Hackensack!” “They bought the empire!” “Run, you ice-wagon!” He had every classic anathema, ancient and modern, at tongue’s tip, and he so rattled New York’s pitching tyro that the big leaguers were defeated.
“You’re a fine sort of a fan, you are,” jeered Griffith bitterly after the game. “Had my way, you’d get ten years more.”
Excepting for the loss of his voice, the ex-convict appeared to be rejuvenated as he sat there red-cheeked, throbbing with life, grinning happily. Not until Dr. Nye explained did he appreciate his blunder. “Cap’n,” he apologized in a wheezy whisper, “take my oath, I never even knowed who was playin’. Yes, sir,” he asserted earnestly, “that’s gospel. What I let go”— he tapped his chest—”has been inside o’ me twenty-six years, an’ it had t’ come out.” Dr. Nye nodded at the somewhat appeased Griffith with understanding sympathy: “It was either this or a spree for him, and the ball game’ll do him more good.”
Doubtless some thirty-third degree “fan” resents the use of the title for such an illogical crank as the ex-convict. It must, indeed, be admitted in all justice that, although lexicographers have not as yet devoted their acumen to the subject, there does exist a nice distinction among the terms “rooter,” “bug,” and “fan.” Any one may be a rooter if he attends a game only once in a lifetime and yells. A bug, too, need not be a steady patron; his chief requirement is ability to quote data and statistics dealing with averages, games, and players. But the fan— He is as far above the others as a mahatma above a coolie. To him baseball is sleep, meat, and drink. It becomes a fetish. Having passed through the stages of rooter and bug, the soul of a fan frequently achieves a Nirvana that enables him to express untold passion by a mere eye-glint. Again, he may elect to roar. He is the sublimation of baseball fervor, getting out of it all there is in it.
Now the bug finds difficulty in transforming himself into the gorgeous, glittering, butterfly fan. He is too small-minded, cranky, absorbed in details. He is the chap who writes letters to the papers: “It’s a wonder to me that you don’t get a cigar-store Indian to do baseball for you. He couldn’t make any more mistakes. Yesterday that asinine blockhead that calls himself a baseball expert said Dan McGann was born in Tennessee, instead of Kentucky. Day before he said Willie Keeler’s batting average was .321. It should have been .324. If you want to keep your circulation, better get an expert that can tell a base-hit from a catcher’s mask.”
Even as a child, irresponsible and uncritical, the rooter blithely pursues his untrammeled course, howling at anything and everything—he is only a laborer in the cult, not an artist. It was in complaint of such a one that the New York baseball editors received numerous caustic letters just after Ira Thomas made his first appearance in “fast company” with the Highlanders. Detroit, the visiting team, had scarcely gone to bat when the rooter arose and in a voice blatant as Roland’s trumpet, began to root for “ol’ Jim McGuire,” who at that precise moment was out in Michigan.
“That’s him! There he is, same ol’ Jim. God bless the old fella’! I knowed him down in Washington—used t’ eat at th’ same table with him. Well, sir, did yeh see that t’row to second? Great? W’y there ain’t another man on earth ‘at could do it! An’ say, jest t’ think—he’s been twenty-five year in th’ business. He’s th’ whole game, Jim is!”
This was really a serious offense, since “Big” Thomas is perhaps a foot and a half taller than McGuire and a score of years younger. Along about the seventh inning when the rhapsody grew wilder, a bug stepped down and touched the rooter’s shoulder: “Say, you, that isn’t McGuire ketchin'; it’s Thomas. And if it was McGuire he hasn’t been in the big league but twenty years; you said twenty-five.”
“Thomas?” questioned the other, not the least abashed. “What’s his first name?”
“Good boy, Ira! That’s th’ way! Make it a home! Holy Smoke, look at him run! Ain’t he th’ candy! What d’ I tell you—cleaned th’ bases! Thomas! Thomas! Thomas!”
Little wonder that the bugs were incensed at this cheap demonstration. But the row of fans behind—did they move a muscle? Hardly! In superb benevolence or perhaps pity, they silently regarded both bug and rooter; to them the incident was not even worth relating.
Of the nation’s fans, those to whom baseball has become synonymous with life and freedom, none has been so celebrated as “Hi-Hi” Dixwell, of Boston, and old ” Well-Well,” of New York. When the former died he was characterized as Boston’s “most unique citizen.” For a generation he had delighted and amused baseball patrons with his high-pitched, staccato “Hi-Hi,” emitted only upon the accomplishment of some especially meritorious play. It was considered something to boast of that one had been seated “right ‘long side of Hi-Hi,” and the ambitious novitiates in fandom were accustomed to wait for him to put his stamp of approval on a throw, hit, or catch before they joined in.
The popularity of old “Well-Well” with laymen is undeniable. Verse writers have long employed his name as synonymous with spring. Indeed, it is never reckoned a genuine opening at the Polo Grounds unless the long-drawn, sonorous bass notes, “Well, well, well!” caroming against Coogan’s Bluff, usher in the season. But old “Well- Well” has never been regarded as a criterion and his lack of judgment will prevent his ever ranking high among baseball mahatmas. Another count against him is that in later years he has “well-welled” for the enemy and the home club indifferently, a breach of ethics that the forty-second-degree fan, who is immovably loyal, will not overlook. [For more about “Old Well-Well,” see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/13/old-well-well/]
A more reliable and praiseworthy celebrity in the fan cult was “Detroit Andy,” who died about the same time as “Hi-Hi” Dixwell. Under his real name of Andrew Rudolph, he was just beginning to be successful in business when the baseball mania seized him with such relentless grip that he practically abandoned everything in order that he might be in the ball-park day and night. He attracted attention by his steadfast allegiance to the Tigers whether they were losing or winning, and his clever advice from the bleachers helped to win many a game. Pitcher Mullin in particular profited by “Andy’s” observations, so that when “Andy” bid for the score-card privilege, Detroit’s crack twirler helped him secure it. Rudolph was straightway in a delirium of joy. He slaved to get out the most attractive score-card on the circuit, even though he was losing $500 a year. The approach of ruin in nowise daunted his zeal. On the contrary, when half the Detroit club were crippled, this astonishing fan volunteered as assistant rubber, and after every game, though wearied from selling score-cards, he would pitch in and employ what strength he had left in massaging the kinks out of Tom, Dick, and Harry. When Andy came to die he was quite impoverished, yet, like Nathan Hale, he had only one regret—that he could no longer shout for the Tigers.
Though fans are bound by no constitution nor code, there is, nevertheless, a hard-and- fast understanding among them that a candidate for the title must prove himself worthy in some noticeable way. Mere attendance at every game in a season will not suffice; and many a zealous and faithful enthusiast, failing to realize this, has suffered under the lifelong stigma of rooter or bug. But, like success, fan fame often comes without any effort. DeWolf Hopper, for instance, became the high exalted ruler of fandom as a result of reciting “Casey at the Bat.” And not only that—he made a deal of money out of that baseball poem. Other actors of that period, notably Henry E. Dixey and Digby Bell, knew more about the game and patronized it more frequently than Hopper, but the public did not care to hear of them.
Consider what befell Mr. Dixey, who strove to clip away some of Hopper’s laurels. On a gala day in Boston he attended the game in a purple-painted barouche accompanied by a party gorgeously appareled. The comedian also had with him a favorite fox- terrier, which he loved like a child and would not have lost for at least a trifling fortune. In the ninth inning Bill Dahlen, playing short-stop for Chicago, smashed a terrific drive directly at Dixey’s carriage. It came with such velocity that the agile terrier had no time to escape. The ball hit him squarely on the head and he tumbled on the greensward a very dead dog. Next day every news paper in America told the story, describing the actor’s grief, his narrow escape, his devotion to the national game; and “Pop” Anson, Chicago’s captain, after vast mental labor, originated a historic bon mot. “It is,” he testified, “the only case of a dog gone run that has ever come under my observation.” Yet even with this authoritative boost, Dixey’s baseball fame perished miserably at an early age.
Taking liberties with a venerable truth, one might say that some persons are born fans, others become fans, and a few have had the honor of being fans thrust upon them. Before the American League was established, half a dozen years ago, there was but one object of devotion and therefore there was less chance than now to gain publicity among all the millions who patronize professional baseball. But with the shifting of famous players from the National to the American League, citizens were called upon to select a favorite, and a distressing upheaval followed. Husbands and wives parted; lifelong friendships were destroyed; children abandoned their parents. In Philadelphia and Boston nearly all the illustrious fans attached themselves to the American League. Chicago and St. Louis made an even division. But New York, the cradle of baseball, remained loyal to the Giants and the National League. For a time it seemed that the invaders [today’s Yankees] never would attach any but rooters and bugs, and then, suddenly, in a single game, two deserving fanatics won the degree.
It was the historic contest in the American League when New York lost the pennant to Boston on account of Pitcher Jack Chesbro’s anointing the pellet too lavishly. Jimmy Williams fielded a grounder and had he made his throw accurately, the game would have been won by Griffith’s team. But as a result of the ball’s being wet, he hurled it wild and Boston put the “pie over the counter.” In this awful moment a Fulton Market fish dealer named Edward Leach stood up like thousands of others in agonized contortions, a cigar butt in his mouth. In the painful excitement he gasped and down went cigar, ashes, and all. Those who have experienced this calamity say that the immediate results are harrowing. But Leach, recognizing the psychological hour, bore the agony without a groan. “It was nothing,” he declared, “to losing the pennant.” Next day the papers printed his picture and the order of Elks raised him to high estate. For the rest of his life he will be pointed out as a fan.
It was also in this game that Lawyer Wallace, a university graduate and an able barrister, first won general recognition. He had been casually mentioned during the season as the “Yanks’ singing fan,” his hobby being to take position behind the home bench and lead the grand stand in song. For this occasion the lawyer arranged a parody on Auld Lang Syne:
We’re here because we’re here because
We’re here because we’re here.
Hardly a masterpiece, but the words and melody were so simple that the whole arena joined in, and if song could have availed, Boston would have been defeated. Lawyer Wallace always occupies the same seat. He not only sings but coaches the home club so cleverly as to be of real service. Pitcher Mullin, of Detroit, admits that Wallace has caused him to lose several important games by his continuous avalanche of song and speech. It required a certain amount of thought and craftiness to dim the luster of Leach and Wallace. But a manufacturer of safes in Harlem, one Edward Everett Bell, evolved an effective idea. Bell had been for many seasons a steady patron of the Polo Grounds, though by reason of the fame there of actors, statesmen, and society notables he had small renown. He was determined to succeed with the new league even at a financial loss and began by presenting the Yankees with a safe wherein the players might stow their jewelry while on the field. It proved such a trump card that Bell’s name went the circuit of the league and now he basks in deathless fame.
Few of the gentler sex have had the desire to follow the game closely and fewer still the hardihood to work upward through the degrees of rooter and bug to fandom. In fact, the records mention but two—Helen Dauvr[a]y, who arrived at full honors when she married that Achilles of the “diamond,” John Ward, and Mrs. Charles Wilson, of New York. Wherever the Giants are known, Mrs. Wilson and her son “Buster,” mascot of the team, are also known. They are accompanied by the husband and father, Charles Wilson, an extensive real-estate operator, and this trio of fans has traveled the country over, in training and championship trips, missing only two games at the Polo Grounds in three years. They have been photographed, caricatured, and “roasted” for their extreme fanaticism, all of which merely amuses Mrs. Wilson, because, as she told the writer, “Except for baseball I should not be alive to-day.”
“Four years ago,” runs her story, “I was quite ill, threatened with consumption. At the same time Mr. Wilson suffered a heavy financial loss, and with eight children to rear, things looked desperately blue for us. We were not in a position to take a sea voyage, and no other sort of diversion appealed to us, until one day I happened to see the following verses:
Let’s get a bag of peanuts and be boys again and shout
For the men who lam the leather and line three-baggers out:
Let’s go out and root and holler and forget that we have cares,
And that still the world has markets that are worked by bulls and bears.
Every year they tell us that baseball’s out of date,
But each spring it’s back in fashion when they line up to the plate;
When the good old, glad old feeling comes again to file its claim—-
When a man can turn from trouble and go out to see the game.
“We forthwith resolved to turn from our troubles in this way. The result of our experiment sounds like a patent-medicine testimonial, but it is true that I recovered my health, Mr. Wilson his cheerfulness, and soon after everything prospered.”
It is unfortunate that she who was Miss Alice Roosevelt did not continue her patronage last year of the Washington club and thus set the fashion for women fans. Instead, Mrs. Longworth attended only enough to get the name of rooter. A little more persistence and see what would have happened! Throughout the length and breadth of this broad land you could not have found a nagging matron nor a maid with nervous prostration. “For,” says a philosopher, “health contributes most to cheerfulness, and to remain healthy one must have the proper amount of daily exercise. . . . When people can get no exercise at all, as is the case with countless numbers who are condemned to a sedentary life, there is a glaring and fatal disproportion between outward inactivity and inward tumult. For this ceaseless internal motion requires some external counterpart. . . . Even trees must be shaken by the wind, if they are to thrive.” Fans, bugs, and rooters are shaken and therefore thrive by baseball. The game furnishes the required “external counter part.” Why, even watching the scores will stir the blood, galvanize the heart, and rid one of distemper, a truth of which there was strange evidence at Foreshaw Ranch, near Hutchinson, Kansas, last summer. In the midst of the harvesting season all hands quit work to see the Joplin and Hutchinson teams fight for supremacy. The owner faced ruin if the crop was not garnered immediately, and he could get no other workers. In this extremity the boss thought of building a huge score-board so that the men might harvest and still read from the most distant fence corners. A telegraph wire was run from town, a skilled operator received and posted the scores, inning by inning, and we have the word of a truthful Missouri sporting editor that “Mr. Foreshaw’s ranch was harvested in jig time.”
The fundamental reason for the popularity of the game is the fact that it is a national safety-valve. Voltaire says that there are no real pleasures without real needs. Now a young, ambitious, and growing nation needs to “let off steam.” Baseball furnishes the opportunity. Therefore, it is a real pleasure.
But the outsider comprehends nothing of this. “Baseball,” he argues loftily, “is a game for people whose minds are vacant, whose imagination is dull, who, of necessity, seek diversion because they have not enough soul leavening to be company for themselves. They remind me of the Southern [African American] who loves to crowd with twenty score of his kind in a small space and ‘be sociable.’ Briefly, I think baseball is supported by persons intellectually poor and somewhat vulgar.”
In the face of what occurred at the opening game at the Polo Grounds this year, the enthusiast hardly knows how to gainsay this aspersion. Commissioner Bingham having unexpectedly withdrawn all police protection, a whole army of fanatics—estimated at 15,000—charged on the field just when New York was on the point of overhauling Philadelphia. What did that throng care for victory or defeat! Who was John McGraw pleading that he might finish the game, when 15,000 mortal dynamos surcharged with pent-up emotion, energy, and democratic enthusiasm were bent upon expressing themselves! This way and that swept the multitude—fans, bugs, and rooters—pommeling one another with cushions, jubilating, yelling, making a sieve of the welkin—physically and mentally getting everything “off the system.” That is what baseball does for humanity. It serves the same purpose as a revolution in Central America or a thunder storm on a hot day.
In commenting upon Commissioner Bingham’s threat to close up the baseball parks in New York if the managements did not provide their own police protection, two metropolitan editorial writers alluded to baseball as a “harmless” sport. What a weak characterization of the exhaust-valve of a great nation’s spirit! Do you suppose either of those editorial pundits ever saw Louis Mann, the German character actor, “explode” at a ball game, casting to the winds all thought of propriety or criticism? Could they know the brain-storm surging within David B. Hill from the only outward sign visible—a nervous tapping of the fingers? Would they understand why Senator Winthrop Murray Crane, ex-Governor of Massachusetts, insists on his guests at the Dalton farm playing baseball, making the game the principal feature of his hospitality?
A sport for the empty-headed? By no means. One of the country’s pioneer fans was the late Arthur Pue Gorman, who played professional ball with the old Washington Nationals. He lauded the game as a national benefaction and declared that it had added years to his life. It is related of the Maryland statesman that while watching a thrilling game in Baltimore some exuberant spectator unintentionally landed on him such a mighty fist-blow that Mr. Gorman “took the count.” The offender was seized and thrown down, and though he was screaming apologies, he would have been roughly handled had not Mr. Gorman himself interfered. “Never mind, never mind,” he said; “I might have done the same thing, I was so excited.”
And then, how about Justice White, of the United States Supreme Court! Would you call his a vacant mind? For years this eminent American plodded, in company with his associate Justice McKenna and scores of statesmen, to win the title of fan. But baseball crowds are so democratic that the mere enthusiasm of a national dignitary “gets him nothing.” He must convincingly prove that he grasps the game’s transcendent purpose and understands its democracy. There are no honorary titles to fandom even for a president or a king.
Jealously, therefore, the great jurist awaited his hour, and although it came most unexpectedly, he had the acumen to discern it. One day he was sitting beside an explosive rooter, who was a total stranger to him. Just as Hickman rapped a two-bagger in right field, scoring a couple of runs, the rooter gave Justice White a hard thwack on the shoulder.
“Peach! Great!” he yelled. “Wasn’t that a corker?”
“Nice hit,” agreed the justice, wincing under the blow, “but he should have taken third base; he had plenty of time.”
The “rooter’s” face broke into grins of admiration. “Say, that’s what he could. Say, you know this game — you do. You must be a fan! What’s your name?”
“Mine’s Dorgan. Well, White, ol’ horse, you certainly know baseball. He’d ought t’ reached third!”
Next day the justice was talking with three senators on Pennsylvania Avenue when the rooter and a friend passed. Another thump on the back and: “Say, White, it was a corker, eh? But you was right. The papers claim Hickman ought t’ went to third. Well, s’long.”
Instead of administering a rebuke, the justice, much to his companions’ amazement, returned this familiarity with nod and smile.
Among the myriad prominent persons who make a hobby of baseball—statesmen, physicians, clergymen, actors, and financiers—Senator Crane has a niche all to himself. When Governor of Massachusetts he bought a farm near Dalton ostensibly for raising crops, but the gentlemen of his council on their first visit soon discovered that potatoes and beans were of secondary importance.
“I have an idea, my friends,” said the governor, “that before we start wrangling over perplexing questions it would be a wise thing to play a game of baseball. If any one has a grouch let him take it out on the ball and above all things yell yourselves hoarse.”
He led his astonished council to a choice bit of meadow where was a perfect diamond with a grand stand behind the home plate. Then, to the further amazement of his guests, he arrayed his farm employees—Swiss gardener, Irish hostler, English groom, Danish teamster—against the members of the council, who were thus put upon their mettle. Togged out in old clothes, they puffed, panted, and perspired, ever goaded by their chief, who was in fine training. “Run, you Indian!” “Put it on him!” “Take a lead!” “Come on home!”
Only after full nine innings had been played did the governor let up. All ranklings, jealousies, and bitterness having been worked off on the diamond, there resulted a most satisfactory conference. Another zealot is ex-Congressman Wadsworth, of Geneseo N. Y,, whose son, “Jimmy,” Speaker of the New York Assembly, played first base on the Yale team. He held the same position on the Geneseo Valley Club, which was organized and backed by the elder Wadsworth and has for years cleaned up everything in the valley. Mr. Wadsworth apparently takes keener interest in this ball club than in cross-country riding, at which he is an adept. Two years ago the judges at the Madison Square bench show waited fretfully for the Geneseo pack of hunting dogs to be brought into the ring. Stewards scurried about seeking them, and friends who had come to see the pack take first prize also searched the building for the master, who was finally found in a far corner demonstrating to a reporter how the Geneseo shortstop checked a liner by throwing his glove in the air and then making a double play.
Like Senator Crane and Mr. Wadsworth, the astute and blithe E. H. Harriman prefers to vent his feelings in semi-privacy, and the team that he and his seventeen-year-old son conduct near Tuxedo is said to be a “ripper.” Mr. Harriman does not play himself, but he knows the fine points of the game and has long since passed the stage of rooter.
When the Chicago and All America clubs completed their round-the-world Spalding tour in 1889, many distinguished fans of that period, including Chauncey M. Depew, Mark Twain, Daniel Dougherty, Henry E. Howland, and Erastus W[i]man, joined in royally banqueting the athletes at Delmonico’s. In declaring that “civilization is marked, and has been in all ages, by an interest in the manly arts, and among those baseball is supreme,” it was believed that Mr. Depew had summed up the case for baseball. But the champions of cricket, football, polo, or boxing might justly dispute this. A better characterization would be: Baseball is chess with athletics, a constant changing of situation, a continuous excitement. These features, coupled with the fact that nearly every man has at some time been a player, the game’s honesty, its democracy, and—the umpire, unite to furnish a diversion that fills a real need.
A tonic, an exercise, a safety-valve, baseball is second only to Death as a leveler. So long as it remains our national game, America will abide no monarchy, and anarchy will be too slow.
George Boziwick contributed this splendid article to the journal Base Ball, which could neither accommodate nor print in color all his wonderful accompanying illustrations. Here at last is the piece the way it might ideally have been published; it is reprinted through courtesy of the journal’s publisher, McFarland and Company. Boziwick is Chief of the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. He is also a composer, performer, and co-founder of the Red Skies Music Ensemble, created with the mission to make archives and special collections come alive through research and performance.
Katie Casey was base ball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev’ry sou Katie blew.
On a Saturday, her young beau
Called to see if she’d like to go,
To see a show But Miss Kate said “no,
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was Katie’s well known reply, but in 1908, a woman at the ballpark rooting and cheering was neither a common sight, nor was it fully accepted. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” advertises just the opposite: that a woman’s place was indeed in the grandstand at the ballpark and not just safe at home.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”
At the turn of the 20th century, as more women gained access to higher education, participation in the general workforce, and political activism, an “emergent ideal” of the “New Woman” began to take hold that “imbued a women’s activity in the public domain with a new sense of female self, a woman who was independent, athletic, sexual, and modern.” According to the song’s second verse, the fictional Katie Casey had all those qualities, and expressed them fully through her passion for the game of baseball.
Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names;
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along good and strong. When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the gang sing this song:
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” made its appearance at a time in the spring and summer of 1908 when everyone was talking about baseball’s hotly contested pennant race—a three-way National League extravaganza between John McGraw’s mighty New York Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates with their star Honus Wagner, and the reigning world champion Chicago Cubs. All this excitement “surely” inspired vaudevillian Jack Norworth to write his “sensational baseball song,” as it was billed by the publisher and appeared on the sheet music. But the story behind “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” waited some fifty years before the song’s lyricist explained to the press how his famous words came to be written. By that time the song’s composer, Albert Von Tilzer, dead for two years, was unable to corroborate.
Norworth recounted that in the spring of 1908 he was riding a New York City elevated subway train when he spotted a sign that called out “Ball Game Today – Polo Grounds.” Norworth claimed he had never been to an actual game but that he needed a song for his act at the Amphion Theater in Brooklyn. According to Norworth, he thought the time was right for a baseball song and an idea struck him that he “thought was pretty good.” Before the subway ride was finished, baseball’s biggest female fan and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had come to life. He brought the lyrics to composer Albert Von Tilzer, who set them to music.
Later that fall, when the first sound recordings of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” were issued, the National Recording Company reviewed the Edison cylinder recording sung by Edward Meeker in its September 1908 catalog.
The base-ball hit of the season – a home run at least. Katie Casey is a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool base-ball ‘fan,’ and can give her big brothers pointers on ‘rooting’ for the home team. She’d rather munch peanuts on the bleacheries than caramels at a matinee – which is saying a good deal for a girl. Meeker must have taken Katie to a game or two, judging from the interest he takes in singing about her. The tune is a jolly, infectious one and you can get every word.
The focus of the Edison recording review is clearly on the character of Katie Casey and the song’s verse, not simply a trip to the ballpark with its chorus of “peanuts and Cracker Jack,” as we know it today.That musical “branding” would come long after female fans had melded into the crowds coming through the turnstiles, and the awareness of gender in the song’s forgotten verses had long since disappeared from memory.
To increase the song’s reach and visibility, Albert Von Tilzer had his publishing house, the York Music Company, commission a set of hand-painted glass lantern slides that were customarily used to accompany singalongs led by “song pluggers” between acts or reels in vaudeville and movie houses. These “illustrated song slides” were manufactured by master lantern-slide-maker DeWitt C. Wheeler, who shot them onsite at the Polo Grounds in May 1908. Using actors or models to depict the fictional Katie Casey and her beau, these slides undoubtedly encouraged the acceptance of women at games. They portrayed Katie Casey not as someone to sit idly taking in the game, but a woman who was fully engaged in the activity, surrounded by men. 
The presence of women at the ballpark in 1908 was not new, but it was still considered unusual. The increase in female attendance altered the informal, exclusive social club atmosphere, and elicited considerable resentment from many men. Despite this, ballclub owners eagerly exploited the idea of women at games, as it was commonly thought that their presence purified the game’s nastier elements and would increase attendance by men who simply wanted an opportunity to be where women were. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” certainly promoted the idea of women attending games. The song was indeed “infectious,” and you could “get every word.” But while the public may have been receptive to that idea in a song, in reality getting every word would take some time.
Ring Lardner’s book You Know Me Al, published in 1916, eight years after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” offers some evidence that the perception of baseball as an exclusively male domain was gradually yielding to the idea of women as knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans. Lardner’s fictitious ballplayer Jack Keefe describes his new wife and her love of baseball, as he writes to his friend Al: “Florence knows a lot about baseball for a girl. You would be surprised to hear her talk. She says I am the best pitcher in the league and she has saw them all.”
“Take me out with the crowd”
In the decades prior to the turn of the 20th century, the importance of recreational activities such as baseball was embraced by an emerging philosophy that young people would benefit from spending their leisure time pursuing the social, psychological, and physical benefits of organized outdoor activities. A growing number of social activists on both sides of the Atlantic realized that team sports had inherent values that, once instilled on the field of play, were readily transferable to the everyday lives of young men entering adulthood as productive citizens in the professional workforce. By 1908, baseball’s popularity had found resonance in both the playground movement of the 1890s and the subsequent Progressive Era that flourished under the watchful eye of Theodore Roosevelt, a great promoter of strenuous outdoor activity. Even the urban landscape saw a sharpening focus on the need for team-based outdoor activities for young people. Organizations such as the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL), founded in New York City in 1903, began to take root. The efforts of the PSAL were enormously successful in its outreach to the youth of New York City. Baseball as both a participatory and spectator sport was taking hold. By 1906 there were 106 PSAL baseball teams for boys throughout the New York City public school system. That year they held their final baseball contest in front of an audience of 1,500 enthusiastic spectators at the Polo Grounds, home to the New York Giants.
With the construction of new ballparks, the establishment of a stable and competitive American League, and the reintroduction in 1903 of an annual World Series, baseball was becoming an enduring commodity to a fan base already acclimated to a game that they themselves often played as children. Also, in 1908, the report of the Mills Commission on the origins of baseball had just been released. Despite the fact that the commission had determined on questionable evidence that baseball was a uniquely American game invented in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839 by Civil War veteran Abner Doubleday, America’s pastime was now official, and in the minds of many, as American as apple pie. Even though Jack Norworth’s recounting of the song’s creation came 50 years after the fact, he may have been prophetic in claiming that he thought it was time for a baseball song. Regardless, he could not have realized that his baseball song would attain recognition as a signifier for the passion, the values, and the inclusiveness that Americans found in their national game. “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack”
According to Norworth, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had a modest reception, but almost immediately other performers began incorporating his song into their acts and its popularity grew. There are at least thirty known variants of the sheet-music cover of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” issued by the publisher in 1908. Clearly the song was gaining in popularity, and so too was Norworth. His story about the origins of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” may or may not have been accurate, but looking closely at his activities at the time of the song’s writing provides evidence for what I believe to be the real story that Norworth never told about his “sensational base ball song.” By late 1906, Norworth (then married to actress Louise Dresser) had become infatuated with a fellow vaudevillian, Trixie Friganza. Norworth and Friganza began a heated affair while working together during 1907. By October the affair had become public, and Dresser announced to the press that Norworth was seeking a divorce so that he and Friganza could marry.
Even as Friganza sang her popular number “No Wedding Bells for Me” from the show The Orchid, neither she nor Norworth would have predicted that by the summer of 1908, their romance would suddenly falter, but it did. On June 15, the day of his divorce from Louise Dresser, Norworth began starring in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 and on June 21, in Long Branch, New Jersey, he unexpectedly married his Follies partner, vaudeville superstar Nora Bayes. Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes were Broadway’s most sensational couple. They worked and wrote songs together, including the baseball song “Let’s Get the Umpire’s Goat,” and their best-known song, “Shine On Harvest Moon.” Although there are no extant recordings of Bayes or Norworth singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” both are represented on individual covers of the sheet music. As part of their act, Bayes and Norworth held song-request contests that often included by popular demand performances of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
The lack of a Norworth/Bayes recording of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is not surprising given the fact that as part of his marital agreement with Bayes, Norworth severed his collaboration with composer Albert Von Tilzer and wrote songs exclusively with his new wife. From then on, many of the songs Norworth and Bayes either co-wrote or performed together favored entertaining Irish or other ethnic parodies. This was a world in which Norworth’s fictional Katie Casey of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” chose not to participate. She was more than willing to pass up a show for something more exciting, something American. She wanted baseball, and according to the song’s lyrics, her identity with the game was a proven fact.
“I don’t care if I never get back”
Who was the fictional Katie Casey in Jack Norworth’s song? By her name, she was likely Irish American. In 1908 she would have been at least second generation, already well assimilated to American culture and in her case, baseball. Assimilation for her and other Irish meant Americanizing without eradicating one’s cultural and religious “Irishness,” despite the fact that many Irish immigrants consciously turned their backs on a homeland that was still reeling from the effects of a catastrophic famine, poverty, and massive emigration. In their adopted homeland, the Irish would create their own infrastructure of community and culture, manifested in the building of Catholic schools and hospitals, and in the formation of service and fraternal organizations.
In Ireland, many young women found themselves without adequate means of marital support or inheritance, making emigration their only route of survival. These circumstances made the first generation of single Irish female immigrants more likely to answer the call for live-in domestic servants as a means of gaining a sure foothold in America. The growing demand for domestics in well-to-do Protestant households during the Victorian era was easily filled by young single Irish Catholic women often referred to ubiquitously as Kates, Katies, Noras, or Bridgets by their employers, who barely tolerated their “Hibernian” temperaments or their peculiar religious devotions. For the young Irish immigrant servant, the benefits of domestic employment went well beyond that of a steady income. Full-time residence in a prosperous middle class Protestant home afforded the Irish domestic a view of American life from the inside out. This “lace curtain” perspective greatly accelerated the Americanization process. Women were able to save money not otherwise spent on room and board and outfit themselves with the trappings and persona of upward mobility. This swift process of acculturation guaranteed that subsequent generations would soon begin filling the growing ranks of teachers or nurses, professions that mirrored the dominance, assertiveness, and control that Irish mothers and daughters often had over their households, husbands, and families. With independence and mobility as byproducts of her Irish cultural, social, and religious upbringing, Katie Casey was likely to be single, working, and self-sufficient. Her desire to get to the ballgame and assimilate to the rooting crowd is recognizable as part of the very cloth of her Irish American feminine identity.
Joining in the process of ethnic identity and assimilation, the Tin Pan Alley music industry manufactured its own form of entertainment that catered to enthusiastic Irish audiences, offering up song parodies and satires of the Irish experience from the beautiful and sentimental view of the homeland, to caricatures in the New World of cops, hard drinkers, and politicians. Songs about ethnic stereotyping, cultural identity, and the Americanization of young women were plentiful both in song and in the visual-art form of the sheet-music cover, particularly in the creation of the famous Gibson girl, the idealized American female image made famous by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. While Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes were writing entertaining songs and being lauded as the most celebrated couple on the Broadway stage, Norworth’s “sensational baseball song” began playing to a very different kind of audience, thanks to his affair with the almost Mrs. Norworth, Trixie Friganza.
Friganza had been cited in the local papers as a suffragist who marched for her rights in the very year that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was written. Her suffrage activities at the time were supported publicly by her employers, George M. Cohan and Sam Harris, in whose production of The American Idea Friganza was costarring with actress Stella Hammerstein. It is my belief that Friganza’s relationship with Norworth and her activities on behalf of women’s rights were the catalysts for Norworth’s inspiration and were fictionalized in Katie Casey’s explicit and affirming response to her beau to take her to the ballgame. This opinion is supported by the fact that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was officially registered for copyright on May 2, 1908, likely coinciding with the peak of Norworth’s affair with Friganza and their near marriage.
Another indicator of Friganza’s likely identity as the inspiration behind the fictional Katie Casey is the fact that out of all the known covers of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” released by the publisher, she appears twice in two different poses. Like Casey, Friganza (whose real name was Delia O’Callahan) was known to be outspoken and independent, drawing large crowds to both the theater and the suffrage rallies at which she was often a key speaker.
As an independent young woman and knowledgeable fan, Katie Casey was perfectly capable and qualified in leading the rooting charge, or telling the umpire, in a voice “good and strong,” that his call was wrong. The baseball park was her proving ground. Her boisterous behavior, although in 1908 it may have been considered inappropriate to her gender, provided the necessary lyric—the verse that she needed in order to participate in the chorus of assimilation and solidarity to “root, root, root for the home team.”
This same desire for solidarity and assimilation was already being observed in the behaviors of immigrant groups of young lower-class women in the crowded factory workrooms of New York and other urban centers. The image of the modest sequestered young woman at work was far from reality. Since these women, largely adolescent, had little or no opportunities for advancement in that milieu, the women’s work group became the dominant form of socialization. This gave rise to an adolescent counterculture that allowed them to thrive in the bleak, deafening atmosphere in which they spent their long days. These young girls were observed to be a cohesive, boisterous group, using the workspace to experiment with profanity, slang, and other careless or loud behaviors. This was part of a young working girl’s rite of passage. As social historian Leslie Tentler reminds us, “initiation into the heady world of adolescent independence was necessary for an urban working-class girl in the early twentieth century, because it was the adolescent peer group, and not parents, that provided suitors and ultimately, mates.”
These were the Katie Caseys of the factories who eventually took to the streets in search of better working conditions and higher pay. The tune that these women were singing was also an “infectious” one, and society would have to “get every word.” Women wanted empowerment, and Katie Casey’s fictionalized declaration for a female presence in the grandstand was a reverberation of these workers’ demands for equality. Once they reached their own chorus of assimilation, they too could never go back.
Indeed, these ladies did not go back. They eventually went on strike. The uprising of the 20,000 began in New York on November 23, 1909, and lasted for many weeks. Newspaper reports described in detail the worker’s strikes, including an account of one woman’s determined behavior on the field of battle: a real baseball-inspired story.
A striker [by the name of] Lena, threw an egg at the foreman of her factory and missed. The foreman made scornful remarks about her throwing abilities. Lena again began to throw eggs but this time, she did not miss. In a moment Grossman [her foreman] looked like an animated omelet. He rushed at the line and the pair clinched, half of the omelet being transferred to Lena.
With each successive worker’s march or suffrage parade, a growing number of groups and organizations both male and female were becoming affiliated with the broad cause of empowerment for women. No longer was it just for the shop girls, clerks, or garment workers. Nor was it simply Society’s latest fashionable cause. However, many began to realize that “if suffrage was made fashionable, victory would be assured.” The best way to ensure this victory was to sharpen the focus of empowerment on a single issue that would create a unified chorus of assimilation. That chorus became the “franchise” or the right to vote. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” employed a parallel platform, conveying the single message that empowerment, solidarity, and equality, not dominance, was bringing men and women together at the ballpark to root “good and strong” for the team. Since this inclusive support and focus on a single issue was the thing that would virtually guarantee the success of the suffrage movement, why not the same formula of success for the message of a baseball song?
“Let me root, root, root for the home team”
While Trixie Friganza may have given Jack Norworth an idea, actress Stella Hammerstein personified it. Hammerstein, and indeed all of Broadway, went out to the ballgames in 1908 where the New York Giants were baseball’s biggest attraction. The Giants players (some of whom also played the vaudeville stage) fraternized regularly with the acting crowd of Broadway. George M. Cohan even had his own amateur baseball team.The unique message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was significant enough for Cohan himself to introduce his own baseball song, “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.” While both the Cohan and Norworth songs were advertised in the same May 2, 1908, issue of Variety, Cohan’s was registered for copyright on May 8, six days after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Lantern slides for Cohan’s song followed one month after those of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” They were shot (also by DeWitt C. Wheeler) at the American League ballpark in upper Manhattan. The trade publications advertised both songs as sensational hits, and in the case of Cohan’s song, the “novelty summer waltz song and a home run hit.” Not only were the titles nearly identical, there was an unmistakable similarity in the opening phrases of both choruses. Although the trade publications remarked on the peculiar similarities of the two song titles, neither publisher seemed to have made an issue over the similarity of the refrains. In his later interviews, Norworth was quick to point out that he knew he had the better song, but there is no evidence that he ever challenged the powerful “Yankee Doodle Boy.” The two songs could not have been more different in tone, message, and prosody. Cohan’s refrain is passive, like a lovely afternoon at the ballpark, whereas “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has you on your feet with its opening octave jump. Norworth has no reservations about Katie Casey’s qualifications as a diehard and knowledgeable fan of the game, even leading the rooters in the song’s “infectious” chorus. Contrast that with Cohan’s opening verse, in which he advises the rooters around him that undignified behavior should be put aside so that an appropriate place might be made for a woman, who then could gently and lovingly be taught the rules of baseball when you “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.”
Coney Island’s all right,
It’s a fine place at night,
But the place that’s the money to me,
Is the park where they play,
Classy ball every day,
Talk of sport,
It’s the big Jubilee!
At the shout of “Play Ball”
I’m just daffy that’s all,
As I sit with my queen like a king,
With her score card in hand,
Mamie looks more than grand,
To the rooters around me I sing:
Take you girl to the ball game,
Any old afternoon.
That’s the spot to propose to Mame,
The spot for a sunshiny spoon.
Make a fan of your steady girl,
If you lose her I’ll take all the blame.
In the stand, It’s just grand,
As she squeezes your hand,
At the base ball game.
Though Cohan’s song is typical of the genre of songs that would follow, he did two important things that allowed the message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to go forward. He publicly approved the suffrage activities of Trixie Friganza (represented in the fictional Katie Casey, who independently chooses to go to a ballgame instead of a show). And, he published his own song, whose title is the necessary signifier of approval that gives currency and validation to Norworth’s message of enfranchisement. Taking your girl to a ballgame had now become fashionable.
As a result, both songs helped unleash a great swath of copycat songs from publishing houses across New York’s Tin Pan Alley and beyond, many of them about taking your girl to a ballgame, and many (like those of Norworth and Cohan) composed in a simple waltz meter of three-four. One of these songs, “I’ve Been Making a Grand Stand Play for You,” offers the following opening lyric:
Way down front,
hand in hand,
In the baseball grandstand,
Is my girl and myself ev’ry day;
She’s a regular fan,
Like a regular man,
Know just what to do, what to say.
While these copycat songs certainly contributed to the positive message put in motion by “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” they did not convey the same anthem of equality and empowerment offered by Katie Casey. Cohan uses the ballpark as a romanticized teachable moment for his girl’s benefit, who is presumed to know nothing about baseball. The message of these songs is to inculcate your best girl into the rituals of baseball as a male-oriented pursuit in which she could now participate if she just played along by a new set of rules where a home run, a hit, or a grandstand play were creating a new language of courtship, love, and romance.
“If they don’t win it’s a shame”
The message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” stands alone when set in relief against these easily forgotten songs. It is the only song that asserts the unique message that a woman’s presence and participation at the ballpark gives momentum towards a relationship of equality with those around her. That relationship is legitimized in the stands when (as told in the second verse) Katie Casey leads her fellow fans in the song’s final chorus. No other baseball song places a woman in a position of leadership, which more than fulfills her need and desire to be part of the franchise, which, in this case, was the rooting crowd.
Thus the question often asked by many baseball fans can now be answered: “Why do we sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ when we are already at the game?” The answer is hidden in plain sight in the song’s second verse that we never sing. The very first time that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was ever sung at the ballpark was when Katie Casey sang it. What was once fiction has, over time, become reality. Katie Casey by her actions establishes both the progressive momentum of participation for the “new woman” and, at the same time, effectively sets the song on its future course of greatness. Someday a woman will indeed be able to lead the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the ballpark, and the momentum to achieve that had just been put in place.
The momentum to sustain Katie Casey’s victory in the grandstand was generated by continued performances of the song—not at the ballpark or in movie houses or vaudeville theaters but in millions of parlors across the country. As was the continued custom, mothers taught music to their children. In the process they became eager consumers of sheet music, sharing the delights of songs such as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” around the family piano. These re-creations of the ballpark experience at home singalongs and other social gatherings sustained interest in the song’s “jolly, infectious” chorus and its resonant message. Over time and across generations, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” would fulfill its message of inclusive empowerment, ensuring its continued popularity and eventual crowning as baseball’s popular anthem.
“For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out”
Jack Norworth himself helped to keep his song in proper step with the changing times. Women had won the right to vote in 1920, and in 1927 Norworth revised the verses of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” He modernized the song’s language and changed Katie Casey’s name to Nelly Kelly.
Nelly Kelly loved baseball games,
Knew the players, knew all their names,
You could see her there ev’ry day,
Shout “Hurray” when they’d play.
Her boy friend by the name of Joe,
Said “To Coney Isle, dear, let’s go,”
Then Nelly started to fret and pout,
And to him I heard her shout.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had another reason to gain a new lease on life: 1927 was the year that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. With baseball’s popularity soaring, perhaps Norworth was hoping that younger audiences eager for baseball would make an old song new again. More likely, with a fresh copyright on his baseball song, Norworth was rooting for his royalty checks to continue for at least another half-century.
Sometime after the 1949 release of the movie “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” when electronic organs were being introduced into many ballparks, the song gradually found its own opportunities for integration into the baseball experience. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, the song’s chorus was catching on with organists, who began playing it with some regularity as part of the pregame entertainment. Over time, the omission of the opening verse eliminated the song’s critical narrative from our collective memory.
By the late 1960s and early ’70s, many organists gave the song an increased presence at the ballpark; and while Norworth certainly envisioned hundreds of people singing the song during intermissions in theaters and movie houses, he could not possibly have imagined that his simple chorus of “root, root, root for the home team” would be given additional momentum by someone not in the theatrical world, but rather a baseball impresario who had a flair for the ridiculous and whose simple idea would propel Norworth’s tune into baseball immortality.
Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, like his father before him, always looked for opportunities to inject some crowd-pleasing novelty entertainment into his games. In 1977, after hearing White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray singing the tune badly to himself in the broadcast booth as organist Nancy Faust played the song, Veeck persuaded Caray to turn on the microphone and lead the crowd in singing the chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch of every game. That grand experiment was not only a hit, a home run, and a grandstand play with the fans; it has become iconic, sung today in all major league ballparks across the country during the game’s customary intermission. The song’s chorus, originally resonant for Katie Casey, now resonates with the sustained message that baseball is for everyone, regardless of class, gender, or generation. This inclusiveness has allowed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to achieve a lasting and cherished position of popularity, alongside “Happy Birthday” and the “Star Spangled Banner.
“At the old ball game”
When you can get away to the carefree atmosphere of the ballpark, the experience of singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch creates a magic of participation and belonging as memorable as the ballgame itself. Jack Norworth’s “sensational base ball song” unites players and fans, young and old, male and female, who still seek that common bond and restless urge, like generations before them and the fictional Katie Casey, to be part of the rooting crowd. Knowing what we now know about “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” imagine that tangible moment that Katie Casey must have felt back in 1908, walking into the ballpark for the first time, taking in the atmosphere and thinking to herself, “I don’t care if I never get back.”
This article was derived from an exhibit curated by George Boziwick at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts celebrating the 100th anniversary of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in 2008. A paper version of this article was presented at the 2009 Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. A lecture/performance version of this article was presented by the Red Skies Music Ensemble in 2012 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. George Boziwick would like to thank Jacqueline Z. Davis, the Dorothy and Louis B. Cullman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and staff member Tema Hecht. He also thanks Trudy Williams, co-founder of the Red Skies Music Ensemble for her contributions, and gives special thanks to Stephanie Doba.