Baseball Reporting

Jack Lang

Jack Lang

When Total Baseball made its debut in 1989, the critical response was universally and lavishly favorable. One dissenting voice was that of Jack Lang, recently retired from the press box after 42 years of covering the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, and the Mets. He continued, however, in the role he cherished, that of paterfamilias of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He served as secretary-treasurer from 1966-88, and then in 1989 he was named executive secretary, a job created for him. How, he asked me somewhat belligerently, could you compile a baseball book of that size with no mention of the role of the press? I countered by saying that even though the book ran to 2294 pages, some worthy topics had to be left for future editions, and I invited him to tackle this one himself.

Below, from the second edition of Total Baseball, is Jack’s contribution. Because of the internet, and bloggers, and the declining appeal of newsprint (if not news itself), this is already something of a period piece. Somebody ought to update it–maybe you.

If baseball really was invented by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1839, we have only the findings of the Mills Commission to support the theory. That commission, formed in 1905, relied heavily on the rambling recollections of an old mining engineer named Abner Graves to reach the conclusion that Doubleday indeed “devised the first scheme for playing baseball.” Graves’s testimonies were later found to be chock full of inaccuracies.

There can be no dispute, however, as to when the art of writing about baseball began. In the mid-1850s William Trotter Porter gave a decided lift to the game with extensive coverage in his publication Spirit of the Times. Until Porter’s reports began appearing regularly, baseball in America was ignored in most publications.

John Rickards Betts of Tulane University, in his American Quarterly paper “Sporting Journalism in Nineteenth-Century America,” credits Porter with being the greatest “antebellum sports editor” in America. On December 10, 1831, he published the first copy of Spirit of the Times. It was, for a while, the country’s leading sports journal. But while it carried great reports on racing, prize fighting, and even cricket, it did not devote space to baseball until the 1850s.

William Trotter Porter

William Trotter Porter

When he did start reporting on baseball, Porter is credited with having given it the title of “the national game” and also with having printed the first box scores (although this claim is questionable) and “dope” stories. Shortly thereafter, Frank Queen and Harrison Trent founded the New York Clipper, which devoted even more space to baseball. One reason was the addition to the staff of Henry Chadwick, who had begun his career as a journalist in 1844 by contributing to the Long Island Star. Chadwick, who had played baseball briefly in his youth, was a devotee of the game and wrote of it voluminously.

Alfred H. Spink, in his book The National Game, published in 1910, credits William Cauldwell, editor of the New York Mercury, as being the first man to write about baseball for a daily newspaper. Spink’s authority for this assertion is a gentleman named William M. Rankin, one of the nation’s leading reporters on sports in the late 1880s. Rankin, who was the official scorer for the Mutual Club, also wrote extensively for such New York papers as the Times, Tribune, World, Mail, and Express. He was considered one of the game’s leading authorities. According to Rankin, Cauldwell was writing about baseball by 1853. But Cauldwell found the work of editing his newspaper and writing about baseball too exhausting, and he soon hired Chadwick to write on baseball for the Mercury. It was not long before Henry Chadwick became the leading baseball authority in America.

If weekly and daily publications were slow to catch on to the popularity of baseball, they caught up in the late 1880s. Magazines like The Police Gazette and Sporting Life devoted considerable space to the game. Soon editors of daily newspapers recognized the interest in baseball. James Gordon Bennett, one of the world’s most respected newspapermen, who was editor of the New York Herald, was one of the first to increase coverage of the game.

In time every newspaper in America devoted a full page to sports . . . focusing on baseball. Charles Dana of the New York Sun and Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World are recognized as pioneers in the creation of entire sports departments. By the 1890s, most newspapers in America had created a sports staff. It was in the final decade of the nineteenth century that sportswriting began to develop as a full-time job on the nation’s newspapers.

At the time of his death in 1908, Chadwick was clearly established as the nation’s leading baseball authority. Chadwick, who even in his youth had been honored with the nickname “Father Chadwick” for his role in the development of baseball, was such a busy writer that the history of his various affiliations is in conflict. He is credited in some publications as having worked for the Brooklyn Eagle in 1856 and the New York Clipper in 1857. In others, Chadwick is reported to have written for the Mercury before any of the others, or for both at the same time.

Beadle Dime Base-Ball Player, 1860

Dime Base-Ball Player, 1860

Whatever his affiliations, Chadwick was the most prolific of the early-day baseball writers, and eventually he abandoned daily reporting of the game to concentrate on weekly roundups and books about the game. Chadwick originated what is known today as The Baseball Guide, as published by The Sporting News. He wrote and edited the first baseball guide in 1860, the Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player. Later he edited the DeWitt’s Guide from 1869 to 1880 and, finally, Spalding’s Baseball Guide from 1881 until his death.

Chadwick’s involvement in the game was more than just writing of it. He was instrumental in changing several rules, is credited with having perfected the box score, and was most concerned about drinking, gambling, and rowdyism at ballparks. He led campaigns to clean up the game. Baseball officials of the day heeded his advice.

As early as 1868, Chadwick wrote the first hardcover book in America devoted strictly to baseball. Appropriately, it was titled: The Game of Base Ball.

Chadwick’s writings on the game led to honors that would be unheard of in the modern era. In 1894, the National League elected Henry an honorary member and two years later voted him a lifetime pension of $600 a year. If a major league today awarded a baseball writer a pension, it would result in an investigation.

Honors continued for Chadwick thirty years after his death. In 1938, one year before the Hall of Fame opened, Chadwick was elected to the Cooperstown shrine as one of the great contributors to the game along with Alexander Cartwright. It was the same year that Grover Cleveland Alexander was elected. Although baseball writers are now honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and scrolls in their honor are mounted in the Hall of Fame Library, Chadwick is the only former baseball writer with a bronze plaque in the main hall, alongside those of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Cy Young, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and others.

Another early-day baseball writer who earned great respect from the leaders of the game was Timothy H. Murnane, known as the Silver King. When Murnane died in 1917, he was so highly regarded that the American League paid for and erected a huge marble tombstone over his grave in Old Calvary Cemetery in Roslindale, Massachusetts. The tombstone cites Murnane as a “pioneer of baseball . . . champion of its integrity . . . gifted and fearless writer.”

Boston Referee

The Boston Referee, Tim Murnane’s sporting paper.

Murnane was a baseball player who turned to writing after his playing days were over. He founded the Boston Referee in 1885, and his writings attracted the editors of the Boston Globe, who in 1888 hired him as their baseball writer, a job he held until his death. In his thirty years as baseball editor of the Globe, he was one of the most influential writers in the country and even found time to serve as president of the New England League for twenty-four years.

Upon his death, it was learned that Murnane left only a small estate to his widow. Immediately, a benefit all-star game was scheduled between great players of the American League and the Boston Red Sox with all proceeds to go to Murnane’s widow. On September 17, 1917, precisely 17,119 Boston fans attended the game which included a pregame show featuring Ziegfield Follies stars Will Rogers and Fanny Brice. The all-star team included such names as Grover Cleveland Alexander, Walter Johnson, Johnny Evers, Wally Schang, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker. Heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan coached first base and Babe Ruth pitched the first six innings for Boston.

All appeared without pay. That was evidence of the esteem in which Murnane was held.

Until the creation of full-time sports staffs in the late 1890s, writing about baseball was, in many cities, a hit-and-miss affair. In many areas, the reports of games were turned in by club secretaries or part-time correspondents. It was often less than objective reporting. With the advent of full-time sports reporters and sports editors in the early 1890s, especially in New York, other major cities suddenly followed suit. This resulted in localized styles of writing and language familiar to the areas. John Rickards Betts describes it in his American Quarterly article on nineteenth-century journalism:

The most important developments in sporting journalism outside New York were taking place on the Chicago newspapers. Charles Seymour of the Herald, Finley Peter Dunne of the News and a reporter for the Times were creators of a novel style among baseball writers, a style based on picturesque jargon, lively humor and grotesque exaggeration.

Hugh Fullerton, who was one of the great turn-of-the-century baseball writers in Chicago, noted that “the style of reporting baseball changed all over the country.”

In New York and Boston the style of baseball writing emphasized expert knowledge of the game. In Chicago and other western cities, the style involved more humor and cynicism. Often the final score of the game was secondary. Reporters described games with a great flourish and seemed intent on capturing readers’ interest with their individual writing styles. Here is the way one Chicago Times writer reported a Chicago Cubs game on September 26, 1888:

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

The ninth inning of yesterday’s ball game was a marvel of beauty. To describe it one needs a big stretch of canvas, a white-wash brush, a pan of green paint, and an artist’s hand. Words are hardly expressive enough…. Mr. Schoeneck is a large secretion of fat around considerable bone and muscle, and he knocked the ball out of the diamond and puffed down to first base … immediately after which Mr. Buckley bunted the ball and went to first, his fatness moving to second.

The inning had not been particularly gorgeous up to this moment, but with the hitting of a fly by Mr. Hines it took on a resplendent and glorious aspect, for Mr. Van Altren [Van Haltren] got under the fly, gauged it with his blue eye, and muffed it beautifully. When the ball reached Capt. Anson it had lost much of its virulence and was bounding gently long, smiling the while. But if it had not been for a chunk of lava fresh from the earth it could not have had more fun with Capt. Anson, for it rollicked out of his hands and into them again and all over his person, blithely tapped him in the face, and danced away. Indeed, it was a beautiful error, that one of Anson’s–a regular sunset error flushed and radiant with shadings of purple and a mellow border.

Mr. Van Altren picked it up and looked about irresolutely. He was debating whether he should sacrifice skill to art, and being a young man of no high culture in this respect, he esteemed art as naught, but hurled the ball to the plate to catch Mr. Hines. But art was triumphant for all, for Mr. Van Altren’s irresolution had been fatal. The ball came to the plate a second after Mr. Hines crossed safe, and Mr. Raphael, Mr. M. Angelo, and Mr. Turner will have to take a seat near the door.

A reporter describing a game in that manner today would not be assigned to cover the next day’s game. But it was in that style that games were recorded around the turn of the century. A baseball writer, covering a game at three o’clock in the afternoon, had until three o’clock in the morning to write his story. This enabled many to write what some journalists later referred to as “fabulous narratives.” Writers were bent on influencing the readers with their imaginative use of the language in long, descriptive phrases. Space in newspapers was plentiful, and baseball writers frequently used two and three columns to describe a single game. It gave writers an opportunity to develop their own style in an effort to capture the imagination of the readers.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Chicago, where such writers as Sy Sanborn, Ring Lardner, Hugh Fullerton, and Charles Dryden were winning over readers with their often humorous accounts of baseball games. Lardner came out of South Bend, Indiana, and covered the Chicago Cubs for the Inter-Ocean, the Examiner and later the Tribune. Eventually he abandoned daily baseball writing and made his mark as an author of short stories, many with a baseball theme. You Know Me Al and “Alibi Ike” are two of his baseball classics.

Fullerton was considered the most remarkable forecaster of his day, and his predictions on the outcome of games were sought in every major league city. When he died at age seventy-two in 1946, he was hailed in his obituaries as “the game’s original dopester.” But for all the expertise and humor that he brought to his readers, Fullerton is best remembered in journalistic circles as the writer most responsible for exposing the Chicago White Sox for throwing the 1919 World Series.

Prior to the 1919 Series, the fearless forecaster had predicted an easy victory for the Sox against Cincinnati. But early in the Series Fullerton was convinced that the Sox were not giving it their best effort. In his summary of the Series after Chicago lost, Fullerton suggested as much. But he was not about to let go of it there. Fullerton went to New York, where he followed up leads that tied some of the White Sox to gamblers. The New York Evening World published a toned-down version of his theory, and Fullerton was criticized by members of his own craft. But his persistence continued until he convinced American League president Ban Johnson to investigate the matter. Using much of the information Fullerton supplied, Johnson brought the investigation to a head late in the 1920 season. The result was a trial in which eight players were found innocent. But the same eight were later banned from organized baseball for life by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the newly appointed commissioner of baseball. Fullerton’s investigative reporting was responsible for the findings of the commissioner.

Fullerton was a baseball purist, and his Ten Commandments of Sports were widely published. They read:

1. Thou shalt not quit.
2. Thou shalt not alibi.
3. Thou shalt not gloat over winning.
4. Thou shalt not sulk over losing.
5. Thou shalt not take unfair advantage.
6. Thou shalt not ask odds thou art not willing to give.
7. Thou shalt always be willing to give the benefit of doubt.
8. Thou shalt not underestimate an opponent or overestimate thyself.
9. Remember that the game is the thing and he who thinks otherwise is no true sportsman.
10. Honor the game thou playest; he who plays the game straight and hard wins even when he loses.

Grant;and Rice, Base-Ball Ballads

Grantland Rice, Base-Ball Ballads

It was common at the turn of the century for baseball writers to begin their stories with a few lines of verse. Grantland Rice, who came out of Nashville, where he had been sports editor of the Tennesseean, to join the staff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was perhaps the most widely known writer in this style. His poetic jingles were read throughout the American League and many attempted to copy his style.

Rice did not remain long in Cleveland. He longed for the South and returned there. But then he returned North to New York, where his syndicated column appeared throughout the country. Rice actually was better known for his football writing than he was for his baseball work.

Besides Rice, another leading baseball writer of the early twentieth century who frequently began his stories with a few lines of verse was Franklin Pierce Adams, who wrote under the byline of “F.P.A.” He wrote what is known as “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” during a New York Giants-Chicago Cubs series in 1908. Quoted to this day, it read in part:

Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double,
Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble,
Tinker to Evers to Chance.

That verse, as much as their actual records on the field, is credited with leading to the induction of the Chicago Cubs’ infield trio into the Hall of Fame.

Charles Dryden, born in 1857, moved about as much as any baseball writer in the late 1890s and into the 1900s. He covered the California League for the San Francisco Examiner and then moved to the New York American and on again to Philadelphia with the North American. But in 1905 he was offered what was then considered the highest salary paid a baseball writer and moved to the Chicago Examiner. The salary was reported to be $100 weekly.

It was in Chicago that Dryden gained fame with his nicknames for the baseball people he wrote about. He called Charles Comiskey, the White Sox owner, “the Old Roman.” He termed the light-hitting White Sox the “Hitless Wonders.” Chicago Cubs’ manager Frank Chance was dubbed “the Peerless Leader.” It was also Dryden who coined the phrase about the hapless Washington Senators: “Washington . . . first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.”

Dryden was a charter member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), which was formed officially in 1908. It was an association born of necessity when baseball writing in the early years of the twentieth century was attracting some of the nation’s outstanding young writers and baseball itself was dominating the sports pages. Only the baseball owners failed to recognize the importance of this feisty band of scribes. They were treated–or mistreated–as a necessary evil.

At the 1908 playoff game between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Giants at New York’s Polo Grounds, Hugh Fullerton arrived to find actor Louis Mann in his seat. This was not uncommon. Giants manager John McGraw loved to hobnob with Broadway actors and often told them to sit in the press box. When Fullerton asked Mann to vacate the seat, Mann refused. No Giants official would order him to move. At first Fullerton attempted to write his story sitting on Mann’s lap, but eventually he sat on a box in the aisle next to him and covered the entire game from that seat.

Baseball writers continued to suffer mistreatment during the Chicago Cubs-Detroit Tigers World Series that followed. The writers covering the Series were outraged at the treatment accorded them. In Chicago, out-of-town writers were placed in the back row of the grandstand. In Detroit, the writers were compelled to climb a ladder to the roof of the first base pavilion, where they were forced to write in the rain and snow that hampered the Series. Finally, unwilling to endure these conditions another year, the writers decided to organize. At the request of Jack Ryder of Cincinnati and Henry Edwards of Cleveland, Joseph S. Jackson, sports editor of the Detroit Free Press, arranged a meeting room in the Hotel Ponchartrain on the morning of the final game. That was October 14, 1908. Present at that first meeting, the founding fathers of the Baseball Writers Association of America, were: Tim Murnane and Paul Shannon, Boston; Charles Hughes, Hugh Keough, Malcolm McLean, Hugh Fullerton, Bill Phelon, and Sy Sanborn, Chicago; Ed Bang and Henry Edwards, Cleveland; Jack Ryder and Charles Zuber, Cincinnati; J.W. McConaughy and Sid Mercer, New York; William Weart, Philadelphia; George Moreland, Pittsburgh; Joseph Jackson and Joseph Smith, Detroit; James Crusinberry, Hal Lanigan, W.G. Murphy, and J.B. Sheridan, St. Louis; and Ed Grillo, Washington.

Joseph Jackson was appointed temporary chairman and Sy Sanborn, secretary. Tim Murnane was appointed treasurer, and he passed the hat to collect $1 dues from each of the founding fathers.

A more formal meeting was held in New York in December 1908 at the annual winter meetings of the two leagues. Fullerton, Edwards, and Weart, who had been appointed in Detroit to draw up a constitution, listed four items as the main objective of the BBWAA. They were:

1. To encourage a square deal in baseball.
2. To simplify the rules in scoring baseball games and promote uniformity in scoring.
3. To secure better facilities for reporting baseball games and better regulation of the scorers’ boxes during both championship seasons and World Series at the parks of the American and National League Clubs, hereinafter to be designated the major leagues.
4. To bring together into a closer bond of friendship the writers of baseball throughout the United States and Canada.

The organization was enthusiastically endorsed from the start by both leagues. Promise of full support was received by league presidents, who appointed the local representatives of chapters in each city to serve as custodians of the league press boxes.

Immediately conditions improved throughout baseball. No longer did writers have the problem of outsiders occupying seats in the press box. Interlopers were immediately escorted out by park security men upon orders of the local BBWAA representative. The writers had the backing of the league to police their own work area.

New York baseball writers, 1927

Baseball writers and sports figures, 1927

By 1910-11, the baseball writing fraternity was accepting into its ranks some of the bright young writers of that era–men who would go on to greater heights in the field of literature. Covering the Giants in New York that year were men like Grantland Rice, Damon Runyon, Heywood Broun, and Fred Lieb. Rice later became recognized as the dean of America’s sportswriters; Runyon became the chronicler of Broadway night life and the characters who inhabited the Great White Way, while Broun went on to the editorial side of newspapers and founded the Newspaper Guild of America. Lieb was a prolific writer who was one of baseball’s leading biographers.

Elsewhere in the country, other fine young writers were honing their skills covering baseball. Some of the greats who were regular beat writers in those days were Red Smith, Frank Graham, John Kieran, J. Roy Stockton, Warren Brown, John Carmichael, Shirley Povich, John Drebinger, and Tom Meany.

There was a coterie of writers in that era whose names were synonymous with baseball for the simple reason that they covered baseball from the first day of spring training until the final out of the World Series. A writer assigned to the Tigers or Cardinals or Pirates or any other club stayed with that team the entire season, traveled to the cities in each league, and made every road trip. Writers associated with one club were almost as well known as the players they wrote about.

Baseball coverage did not vary until after World War II. It was standard practice up to then for the writers on morning newspapers to wait until the end of the game and write on who won or lost, and how. The final score might not appear until well down into the story, but the reporter was writing up the details of the game. Writers for afternoon papers also often sat in the press box after the game and wrote their versions, with considerable editorial opinion and second-guessing. Talking to ballplayers after the game was not considered a necessity. Occasionally, but not always, writers did visit the clubhouses after games for some conversation and verification with ballplayers.

The style of writing changed after World War II. The need to know was of primary importance, and reporters for afternoon papers made it a habit to get down to the clubhouse after a game for what was then known as “the second-day angle.” The afternoon papers of the next day had to offer the readers something they had not learned in their morning paper.

Dick Young

Dick Young

But starting in 1946 and in the years that followed, a change in the style of covering a baseball game was evident–especially in New York. No longer did the writers on afternoon papers have the ballplayers to themselves after a game. Dick Young was an enterprising young baseball writer for the New York Daily News, a morning newspaper. Because of the multiple editions of his newspaper, he had the time to visit the clubhouse and “pick up quotes” or find out why certain plays had occurred.

Young changed the style of baseball reporting with his hustle, and ever since he arrived, the work of the morning newspaper reporter has not been the same. No beat reporter nowadays would dare turn in a story unless it had clubhouse quotes. Editors demand it.

Along with the enterprise of Dick Young came radio and the television age. Fans were now able to listen to and watch games at home. What they wanted in their papers the next day was inside stuff from the players and managers. For reporters working night games with deadlines approaching, the job of writing baseball was no longer the sinecure it had been in the first four decades of the century.

Picture the baseball writer of the 1930s. All games started around 3 PM. There was no need for a pregame story, since most newspapers did not go to press until around midnight. A baseball writer in that era was finished working around 6 or 7 PM and was free again until game time the next day.

Today’s baseball writer, what with virtually every game being played at night and early editions at all papers, finds himself working around the clock. The average writer covering baseball today, especially for a morning newspaper, will find himself writing three or four stories in a single day.

Night games and travel have also made it difficult for the modern-day writer. Before plane travel, all clubs moved from city to city by train, and the writers traveled with them. Trains left around midnight and arrived early the next morning in the team’s next city. At least there was a night of rest and time to fraternize with the ballplayers. Today, teams fly out right after a game, and writers find it impossible to catch the team plane. They most often travel alone and must handle their own luggage, an added chore the earlier-day writers did not encounter.

The result is that fewer writers remain on the baseball beat for any length of time. The travel, the long hours, and the night games have made it an arduous task. Before the age of television, it was quite common for a writer to remain on the beat for twenty to thirty years. Today, a writer feels “burned out” after just a few years.

The baseball beat writer’s job was always considered the glamour assignment on any sports staff. Baseball writers were envied for what was considered an easy lifestyle: spring training in some warm climate around the middle of February and then a ballgame every afternoon for six months followed by the World Series. From mid-October until mid-February, the baseball writer had a relative vacation, covering only signings, trades, and trivial matters.

The job of the baseball writer became even more difficult in the 1960s with the advent of the labor movement that created the Major League Baseball Players Association, the free agency that group won, and the proliferation of baseball players’ agents. Whereas baseball was an eight-month-a-year job for writers before the union was formed, it is now a year-round chore.

The job suddenly became more demanding, wearying, and less glamorous. One New York tabloid in the mid-1980s was forced to change beat writers four times in five years. The deadline pressures and arduous travel schedule were too much.

Despite the constant changes, the BBWAA retains the prestige it earned shortly after being founded in 1908. Much of this is due to the organization’s annual awards and its responsibility for voting on the Hall of Fame.

Baseball Hall of Fame Roster, 1937

Baseball Hall of Fame Roster, 1937

The major awards the BBWAA votes on each year are the Most Valuable Player, the Cy Young Award, the Rookie of the Year, the Manager of the Year, and the Hall of Fame, since the Cooperstown shrine’s creation in 1936.

The idea of a Most Valuable Player Award was first devised by the Chalmers Motor Company of Detroit in 1911. The company abandoned the award after four years. In 1922 the American League resurrected the award, but it was not until two years later that the National League followed suit. By 1929, however, both leagues had quit their sponsorship.

At the December 11, 1930, meeting of the Baseball Writers Association, the group voted to make the Most Valuable Player Award their official award. Three writers from each city in both the American and National Leagues were selected to vote. The first “official” winners selected by the BBWAA were announced in the fall of 1931. Since then, the BBWAA has voted on the award every year. In the late 1960s, the BBWAA copyrighted the award. In early years, The Sporting News awarded a trophy of sorts to the players selected by the BBWAA. At their 1944 meeting, the writers decided to make the award on  their own and renamed the MVP trophy the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Award. The commissioner died one month later, but his name remains on the award to this day.

In 1955, Ford C. Frick, then the baseball commissioner, had the feeling that pitchers were not getting their just recognition–this despite the fact that five American League and six National League pitchers had already won the award. Frick, a former baseball writer himself, suggested that a new award be created honoring the best pitcher in baseball each year. There was to be one award to cover both leagues. Frick suggested it be called the Cy Young Award.

The writers went along with Frick. But in 1956, the first year of the award, Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers not only won the Cy Young Award but also was recognized as the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

After voting a singular award for eleven years, the BBWAA voted in 1967 to award the Cy Young in each league. Frick had expressed strong objection to the dual awards, but fifteen months after his retirement, it was approved by then-commissioner Will Eckert.

Cy Young Award

Cy Young Award

In 1947, after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, the BBWAA decided to create a Rookie of the Year Award, naming Robinson as their first choice. The Chicago chapter of BBWAA had its own rookie award from 1940 to 1946 but dropped it when the entire association decided to sponsor an award for freshmen. At first, the writers voted for just one rookie in all of baseball. After Robinson was named in 1947 and Alvin Dark of the Boston Braves in 1948, the writers elected to choose a candidate from each league starting in 1949.

The Manager of the Year Award did not gain sanction from the BBWAA until 1983. Up to then, the Associated Press, the United Press International, and The Sporting News all had their own awards for managers. Often, three managers would be named. But the BBWAA Award is now considered the official Manager of the Year Award.

Of all the responsibilities of the Baseball Writers Association, none is taken more seriously than voting for the Hall of Fame. It is, perhaps, because more members participate and because of the honor accorded a player elected to Cooperstown. In the first election in 1936, 226 members voted. More than 450 members now vote in the annual January election.

The idea for a baseball Hall of Fame was first discussed in 1935 to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of baseball in 1939. The National Baseball Centennial Commission was formed. Ford Frick, then the National League president, was the moving force behind the creation of the Hall of Fame and the decision to name Cooperstown as the site for the museum. That same year, the Baseball Writers Association was asked by the Commission to vote for players to be elected to the Hall of Fame and inducted officially when the Hall opened in 1939.

The BBWAA has been charged with that responsibility ever since. Another group, known as the Veterans Committee, also votes on players, former executives, managers, and umpires.

Baseball, especially in recent years, has been the most written-about sport in America. No longer is it a sport covered solely by the beat writers for newspapers. It is a game that captures the imagination of authors, a fact born out by the Hall of Fame Library. By 1990, the library contained approximately 25,000 books about baseball.

It is a sport that has encouraged political columnists like George Will and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors like James Michener to publish books about the game. Statisticians like Bill James and Pete Palmer publish books annually with their own theories. The Elias Sports Bureau, statisticians for the major leagues, issue their own annual Elias Baseball Analyst edited by Seymour Siwoff and the Hirdt brothers, which tells you, among other things, that in 1989, only 29 percent of the fair balls Tony Pena hit to the outfield were pulled.

No sport in America is covered more extensively or comprehensively than baseball. It all begins with the game and the beat writers who cover it. Everyone else just wants to get in on the act.


After he won the 1986 Spink Award, Jack Lang asked me to show him where his Hall of Fame plaque was. Glad to see he had it right by the time he wrote this.

Not bad for a 1989 antique.

Thanks, Bob. Jack did a fine job, especially with the period after the founding of the BBWAA.

Fred Lieb and Hugh Fullerton both apparently believed the 1921 World Series was fixed. Lieb supposedly spoke to Cap Huston and Judge Landis about it without result. Is there any truth to this allegation, and if so, why didn’t they go public?

This controversy is well explained in “1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York,” by Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg. Fullerton believed that Mays had simply weakened in the eighth inning of Game 4 with a 3-1 lead, but Lieb believed that gamblers had been involved. Landis investigated the claim that Carl Mays had conspired with gambles to fix the game of October 9, but he found no direct evidence to confirm that assertion. Lieb told the story in his memoir “Baseball I have Known It.”

Right – thanks, John. My sources too. However, Lieb goes on to say in Baseball As I Have Known it that Huston and Miller Huggins both repeated this claim in later years, as does Lieb in his own book, The Story of the World Series (1949). What I read Lieb to be saying is ‘we’ll never know for sure, but there’s a damned good case to be made against Mays in this case.’ You read him to be saying Huston and Huggins were wrong and Landis’ investigation was air-tight? (Perhaps Landis had an interest in keeping the fix quiet, since another scandal might have finished him, and MLB, for good?)

I also read Spatz and Steinberg as less than certain the fix wasn’t real. Even if Mays was on the level, Roger Peckingpaugh and Mike McNally played terribly, and Peck was making noises all year about deserving to replace Miller Huggins as manager. Further, John McGraw co-owned a pool hall with Arnold Rothstein at the time. And Abe Attell was the producer of the bio-pic Babe Ruth shot in Ft. Lee that year. And Charlie Stoneham was convicted of securities fraud a year or two later.

Am I letting my imagination run away with me? The Giants management certainly had the connections to arrange such a fix, and at least a few Yankees not only played unusually poorly but made key errors that cost them the Series. Could be coincidence, of course, but then why was Lieb so convinced — or at least so equivocal. The furthest he goes against the fix is to say that Landis ruled it out.

To the original question, is it not odd that Fullerton, Lieb, et al didn’t so much as air the allegations about the fix? True or not, it would have made for juicy headlines and a long, highly-newsworthy trial.

You are indeed letting your imagination run away with you. Your facts are correct in isolation but do not aggregate to form a proof, IMHO.

Fair enough. Thanks, as always.

Great piece. I would only add that Jame Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald owned the property where the original Polo Grounds was located and leased it to the owners of the New York Metropolitans in 1880.

You are correct!

Pingback: Great Post: “Baseball Reporting”, from Total Baseball, 2nd Ed. | SABR Baseball and the Media Research Committee

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