Fans and Their Frenzies: The Wholesome Madness of Baseball
“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.