Oddities of Bleacher “Bugs”

Ring Lardner

Ring Lardner

Earlier this week I posted an “In the Wake of the News” column by Ring Lardner from the Chicago Tribune. Here’s another by the master, from the Boston American of July 23, 1911.

Listen to Some of the Funny Mistakes the “Fans” Make

If reporters of baseball didn’t have to sit up in the press box they would probably like their jobs better. Not that said box is such a dull place, with all the repartee of the scribes, operators and “critics.” But it would be much more fun to listen to, and take part in, the conver­sations in the bleachers, where the real “bugs” sit.

Time was when we liked nothing better than to pay our two bits, rush for a point of vantage back of first or third base or out in the neighborhood of right of left field, invest a nickel in a sack of peanuts, another nickel in a score card, and then settle down to try to prove, by our comments and shouts, that we knew more about baseball than anyone around us.

That was when we spoke of “inshoots” and “outs” and “drops” and “outdrops”; wondered who that was hitting in place of So-and-So and thought ball players were just a little bit better than other people, because they wouldn’t pay any attention to us if we drummed up nerve enough to speak to them outside the park.

It was before we knew that there’s no such thing as an inshoot, that “outs,” “drops” and “outdrops” are merely “curve balls”; before we could identify a substitute batter or a new pitcher by just glancing for an instant at his left ear, or his walk, or noting the way his hair was brushed in the back; before we were absolutely positive that the players are just common human beings and that some of them are really no better than ourselves.

But it was lots more joy in those days. There may be a certain kind of pleasure in brushing majestically past the pass-gate man, strutting along the rear aisle of the stand in the hope that someone will know you are a baseball writer, speaking to a player or two and getting answered, finding your own particular seat in the press box and proceeding to enlighten the absent public regarding the important events on the field, in your own, bright, breezy style. But what fun was that compared with scraping up the necessary quarter, or half dollar, and knowing you are going to SEE a game, not report it?

The man who is on intimate terms with the ball players, who calls at their hotel and takes them out in his machine, goes to the station with them to see them off, gets letters from them occasionally, and knows they are just people, isn’t the real “fan” or “bug,” even if he does have to pay to get into the park.

The Fan, from Ade's Fables in Slang

From Ade’s Fables in Slang

The real article is the man who knows most of the players by sight, as they appear on the field, but wouldn’t know more than one or two of them if he saw them on the street, struggles hard to keep an accurate score and makes a mistake on every other play, or doesn’t attempt to score at all, disputes every statement made by his neigh­bors in the bleachers whether he knows anything about said statement or not, heaps imprecations on the umpire and the manager, thinks something is a bonehead play when it really is good, clever baseball, talks fluently about Mathewson’s “inshoot,” believes that Hank O’Day has it in for the home team and is purposely making bad decisions, and says, “Bransfield is going to bat for Moore” when “Walsh is sent in to hit for Chalmers.”

He doesn’t know it all, but he’s happy. He is perfectly satisfied when the folks around him believe what he says, and sometimes he almost gets to believing it himself. He’s having a thoroughly enjoy­able afternoon, if his team wins. If it doesn’t, he knows just why and can tell his wife, his brother or his pal, that evening, how the tables could have been turned if only Manager Tenney had used a little judgment.

His imagination is a wonderful thing. Without it he would be unable to make any sort of an impression on his fellows. He must talk unhesitantly, as if he had all the facts, and never stammer or back up when his assertions are questioned.

Pat Moran

Pat Moran

Pat Moran is catching for the Phillies. Everybody knows Pat. He is getting a chance to work because President Lynch has set down Charley Dooin for a “bad ride.” A tall foul is hit. Pat gets under it but makes a square muff.

“He’s a rotten catcher,” says a nearby fan.

“He’s a mighty good catcher when he’s right,” replies our friend.

“Why isn’t he right?” queries the nearby one, sarcastically. “He’s had time enough to get in shape, hasn’t he?”

“No ball player can keep in shape and drink the way Pat does,” is the come-back. “I was downtown last night and I saw the whole Philadelphia bunch. Pat was certainly pouring in the strong stuff. He’s a regular reservoir.”

This remark is greeted with silence because no one has nerve enough to come out with a positive denial of the tale. As a matter of fact, Pat never touches the “strong stuff,” and if he bunched all his annual drinking into one night, he’d still be thirsty. But that doesn’t make any difference with our friend. He has scored a point by seeming to know why Pat dropped the foul ball.

Charley Herzog is on first base. He starts for second with the pitch. Kaiser, at bat, takes a healthy swing and fouls one over the third base seats. Charley crosses second, but is called back.

Our friend is in a rage.

“He had it stole,” he roars, “and that bonehead Kaiser went and spoiled it by fouling off that ball. It was a bad ball, too. They must have chloroformed Tenney when they handed him that guy.”

If you’d tell the angered one that Kaiser and Herzog were trying to work the hit and run, and that Kaiser would have been “called” if he hadn’t swung, you would be laughed at or treated with con­temptuous silence. It never happens, on a hit-and-run play, where the pitch is fouled, that some one doesn’t say “He had it stole,” and storm at the batter.

Fans, Charles Dana Gibson

Fans, Charles Dana Gibson

The Rustlers are at bat in the last half of the ninth. The score is 5 to 3 against them. Jones singles, and Spratt, batting for Mattern, sends a double to right. “Buster” Brown, coaching at third, makes Jones stop there. There is a pretty good chance for him to beat Schulte’s throw to the plate. There is also a small chance that Schulte’s throw will beat him. Coacher Brown’s act raises a storm of protest.

“You BONEHEAD. He could have walked in. Get somebody out there that knows something.”

And just because Brown DOES know something, he has held Jones at third. What he knows is that a 5 to 4 defeat is just as bad as a 5 to 3 beating, that Jones’s run isn’t worth six cents if Spratt doesn’t score, too, and that Jones’s run is almost sure to be scored if Spratt’s, the needed one, is.

Sweeney fans, Tenney fouls out and Hoffman takes Herzog’s long fly. The fan goes home convinced that “Buster” Brown has an ivory dome. If he stopped to think, he would realize that Jones’s record of runs scored was the only thing that possibly could be affected by the act of Mr. Brown, and that there was just a chance that Schulte’s throw would have hastened the end.

The argument that Schulte might have thrown wild and thus allowed Spratt also to score doesn’t hold water, for good outfielders aren’t taking any chances of overthrowing in cases like that. They are just getting the ball back into the diamond, so that some one can prevent liberties on the bases.

Here’s one that actually did happen. It was at the Detroit game on the Huntington Avenue grounds on the twelfth day of June. With one out, Nunamaker singled through Bush. Hall sent a grounder to O’Leary, who tried to nail the catcher at second, but was too late. Hooper popped a fly which Bush gathered in.

Gardner hit a slow one over second. O’Leary picked up the ball, but saw that he had no chance to throw out Gardner. He bluffed to peg to Delehanty, who was playing first, and then uncorked a throw to Moriarty. Nunamaker had reached third and wandered a few feet toward home. He tried desperately to get back, but it was too late, and Moriarty tagged him for the third out.

Almost simultaneously the following storms broke from two real fans:

“Well, what do you think of that stone-covered, blankety-blank Irish Donovan letting him get caught like that?”

“Well, that fat-headed bum of a Dutch Engle. Who told him he could coach?”

Gibson, There Were Fans in Those DaysBill Carrigan was the coacher, and Bill has no strings attached to Mr. Nunamaker’s feet. Nor had he done anything to deserve being called a stone-covered Irish Donovan or a bum of a Dutch Engle.

However, Bill and “Buster” Brown and Pat Moran and all of them are still alive and happy, and the fans are even happier. They go out there to have a good time and they have it. Things are often done which don’t please them at all—things that would be done differently if they were in charge. But, believe us, they wouldn’t have half as much fun if they were in charge, or if they got in through the pass gate.


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