August 26th, 2014

Baseball of the Bygone Days, by Jimmy Wood, Part 2

The Umpire, 1870s trade card

The Umpire, 1870s trade card

Now for the second installment of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.

Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of  1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.

The fundamental rules of baseball have not changed much since they first were drawn by the Knicker­bocker club—the first baseball or­ganization—in 1845. But there have been many radical departures from the customs of other days.

One is the treatment of umpires. In the early part of my baseball career—from 1859 to 1869—an um­pire was highly honored. After each game the players would give three cheers for each other and then, as a grand finale, they would bellow forth with three more—and sometimes nine—for the umpire.

Arbitrators in the early days wore chosen from among the crowd. In most cases, at least up to 1865, the umpire often was one of the dis­tinguished men in the city. The clubs vied with each other in trying to se­cure the most prominent personages.

The old time umpires always were accorded the utmost courtesy by the players. They were given easy chairs placed near the home plate, provided with fans on hot days and their absolute comfort was upper­most in the minds of the players. Af­ter each of our games in the early ’60s, sandwiches, beer, cakes, and other refreshments were  served, by the home team. The umpires al­ways received the choicest bits of food and the largest glass of beer— in case he cared for such beverage. If he didn’t, he needed but to ex­press his desire in the thirst-quench­ing line before the game started— and he got it.

The playing of baseball games on skates on the ice during the winter of 1864 really brought about the rule which permits players to over-run first base. Prior to that time the runners had to stop at first base the same as they must stop now at the other sacks. If they over-ran the bag they could be touched out.

Baseball had taken such a firm hold upon the people between 1860 and 1864 that they were not con­tent to play it only during the sum­mer. They played it all during the winter in the enclosed field in Wil­liamsburg, known as the Union grounds. The players wore skates, but played the game under the same rules as governed it in the summer.

Baseball on Ice, Haney's Book of Reference

Baseball on Ice, Haney’s Book of Reference

Players, however, found it im­possible to stop at bases after skat­ing out a hit. Many of them were injured by sliding into the base, their skates tripping them and sending them to the icy surface. To pre­vent further accidents the captains decided to permit players to over-skate the bags without penalty of being touched out if they turned to the right on their way back to base.

When summer baseball was re­sumed it was decided that the rule made for skater-players should be extended to the regular diamond, so far as first base only, and it was in­corporated in the statute books, at the next annual meeting, and has been there since.

Base hits were not counted until 1868. Then Henry Chadwick, figuring that it would stimulate base-running, decided that hits should be counted the same as runs. The first game in which hits were tabulated was in  the game on August 4, 1868, between the Eckfords and the Mutuals, of New York. Chadwick offered a bat to the player making the most safe hits—and that bat, suitably engraved, is my most treasured possession to­day. I won it by making four clean drives.

From 1876 until the days of Patsy Tebeau and his Cleveland Spiders, in the ’90s, it always was the custom for the visiting team to have the last turn at bat. That was courtesy. But Tebeau changed all that. He discovered that there was no league rule compelling the visitors to take last bats and at the same time he decided that it was a distinct ad­vantage for his club to have the last crack at the ball on its home grounds. Whereupon, Tebeau curtly refused visiting teams the “final outs” and later the other clubs had to follow in the wake of Tebeau.

In the early ’60s, when speed was the main dependence of a pitcher, the moundsmen would spend hours every day trying to perfect their de­livery. But it remained for Joe Leggett, owner and manager of the Ex­celsiors of Brooklyn, to originate the strangest plan ever known to help a pitcher develop his speed.

It was in the winter of 1859 that Leggett signed James P. Creighton to pitch for his team. Creighton, at that time, ranked as one of the greatest hurlers in the game. In 1858, pitching for the Niagaras, he had per­formed splendidly and followed this up with some sterling performances among the 1859 Stars.

Joe Leggett (left)

Joe Leggett (left)

When Leggett signed up Creighton, he said:

“Jimmy, speed is the thing. You’ve got a lot of it, but I want you to have more when the next season opens. Therefore, I want you to get an iron ball, the same size as a base­ball, and pitch it for at least a half hour each day during the winter. That will develop your muscles and your speed as well.”

And all through that winter Jimmy Creighton followed his manager’s orders. When spring came and he began throwing a baseball, about one-twentieth as heavy as the iron ball, his speed was blinding, and he flash­ed the greatest pitching ever seen up to that time.

Ever since the game began the pitcher has been the target for re­forms. Always the tendency has been to make things harder for him and easier for the batter. The foul strike rule alone seems to have been intro­duced as a means of helping the pitch­er.

But the pitchers of the other days, by a bit of subterfuge, caused the elimination of the rule that forced them to pitch underhand exclusively. The more proficient a pitcher became in the underhand era, the greater the handicaps that were placed upon them by lengthening the pitching distance, making smaller the size of the box or barring him from taking a step in mak­ing the delivery.

Protests by the pitchers during the ’60s and early ’70s, however, brought about a change in the rules, which permitted pitchers to throw balls from a waist-high angle as well as un­derhand. The pitchers, who were quite keen about throwing with a side-arm delivery, quickly took advantage of this rule, and worked a little trick. They elevated their trousers to a point where the “waist line” was on a level with their chest and side-arm pitching was possible. Finally, in 1884 the ruling powers in baseball re­moved all restrictions as to pitching delivery and the moundsman since then have been delivering the ball in a way that suits them best.

Part 3 tomorrow.

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