On Twitter last week (on May 2, to be precise) I posted: “On this day in 1876 Chicago’s Ross Barnes hits first MLB homer, off Cherokee Fisher at Cincinnati.” In response I was asked, by Michael Mengel: “As I expect you well know, Barnes was best player in NA. Why doesn’t MLB recognize NA as a ML (better than UA)?” To which I tweeted, “MLB Special Records Committee Ruling of 1968-69 defined major leagues as: NL, AA, UA, PL, AL, FL.” To which Mr. Mengel replied, quite reasonably: “Thanks for the reply. Do you know their reasons for excluding the NA? Is a formal report of the committee available online?“
Well, no … until I go on to provide it below. In 1968–69 MLB’s Special Baseball Records Committee (SBRC) ruled on a number of disputed points, including the major-league status of the NA and later rival leagues. MLB was henceforth defined as having commenced with the first game of the National League, played on April 22 between the Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics. The SBRC also ruled on how walks were to be counted in the record books for the years 1876 (when they were originally counted as outs) and 1887 (when they were counted as hits).
The SBRC decision on this point was reversed by my predecessor as MLB’s official historian, Jerome Holtzman, in 2001, with a position paper that I published in the seventh edition of Total Baseball, which was MLB’s official encyclopedia. I wrote:
Following the long-standing directive of the Special Baseball Records Committee, we [Total Baseball] did not count walks as hits, the practice which had been the sole basis of Anson’s fourth batting championship. Note that only for this year, in which walks were aberrationally recorded as hits, and 1876, when they were aberrationally recorded as outs, did we overturn the scoring practice of the time in favor of a modern reinterpretation of who was the batting leader. However, when Jerome Holtzman, MLB’s official historian, ruled to reverse the Special Records Committee, we saw reason in his stance and went along.
Today Holtzman’s edict is observed largely in the breach, but I still believe his reasoning was correct. So, without further ado, the two central documents, heretofore unavailable on the web. First, without my editorial annotation, the SBRC rulings of 1968-69, as published in the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia (ICI/Macmillan, 1969).
Decisions of the Special Baseball Records Committee
In 1887 eleven men had batting averages higher than .400. It is an astonishing feat, until one learns that bases on balls were counted as hits in the official averages that year. There are other such records based on definitions which were either incomplete or inconsistent with the rest of baseball history. It was because of these factors that it became necessary to draw up a code of rules governing record-keeping procedures. A group was formed for this purpose and was called the Special Baseball Records Committee.
It should be noted that the committee’s concern was not with laying future ground rules, which is the duty of the Baseball Rules Committee, but rather to establish the rules governing record-keeping procedures that mostly concern past play.
David Grote. director of public relations for the National League, and Robert Holbrook. executive assistant to the president of the American League, served as co-chairmen of the Special Baseball Records Committee.
Other members included Jack Lang, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Joseph Reichler, director of public relations of the office of the Commissioner of Baseball, and Lee Allen, historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Committee met twice in 1968. At the first meeting, which took place in St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 5, they voted on the issues in question. The committee met again in New York City on November 14, and reviewed their decisions after they were given an opportunity to see what changes had resulted in the records after much of the research was completed. In addition to these meetings, the Committee is continually informed of all errors found in the official records.
Most of the important issues concerned the period before 1920. a time that was somewhat chaotic in baseball for record-keeping procedures. The following is a list of the decisions on seventeen issues as voted by the Committee:
1. The following leagues are defined as “major”:
National League, 1876 to the present
American League, 1901 to the present
American Association, 1882-91
Union Association, 1884
Players’ League, 1890
Federal League, 1914-15
The National Association, 1871-1875, shall not be considered as a “major league” due to its erratic schedule and procedures, but it will continue to be recognized as the first professional baseball league.
2. Major league baseball shall have one set of records, starting in 1876, without any arbitrary division into nineteenth- and twentieth-century data.
3. There shall be no change in rules used in past years governing the minimum appearance necessary for recognition as a league leader for averages (batting average, slugging average, fielding average, earned run average, and pitchers’ winning percentage).
4. For all-time single season records, no asterisk or official sign shall be used to indicate the number of games scheduled.
5. Performances in all tie games of five or more innings shall be included in the official averages. (Before 1885 this was not done.)
6. Several games in the National League in 1877, 1879, and 1899 that were subsequently declared “unofficial” for varying reasons, shall now be counted as “official.”
7. All appearances by a player in an official game shall be counted as a game played. (Before 1912 many pinch hitters, pinch runners, and substitutes who did not bat were not credited with a game played.)
8. Bases on balls shall always be treated as neither a time at bat nor a hit for the batter. (In 1887 bases on balls were scored as hits and in 1876 bases on balls were scored as outs.)
9. A distinction shall be made in the definition of stolen bases. Before 1898 stolen bases were credited any time a runner advanced an extra base on a hit or out. Since these bases advanced cannot be separated from bases stolen, according to the modern definition, there shall be two sets of records, one starting with 1898 and the other before 1898.
10. Bases on balls, wild pitches, passed balls, balks, and hit batsmen shall not be counted as errors. (These items were frequently scored as errors before 1889.)
11. A pitcher shall not be credited with an assist on a strike-out. (Before 1889 pitchers were usually awarded an assist on a strike-out.)
12. Scoring rules governing won and lost decisions by a pitcher did not become official until 1950. It was decided that all pitching decisions during the period 1920—49 shall stand as they are in the official records, but that for the period 1876—1919 the 1950 ruling shall be in effect. The reason for this was that since 1920 the official scorer did exist, and he had the explicit authority to award the victory based on common practice, which was very close to the rule adopted in 1950. In the pre-1920 period, however, there was no official scoring rule or common practice for wins by a pitcher and for many years no official scorer.
13. The present definition on earned runs, as was established in 1969 by the Baseball Scoring Rules Committee, shall be effective from that date on in defining earned runs. Prior to that date, the 1917—68 definition of earned runs shall be applied to the years 1876—1911, and to the American League in 1912. (Before 1912 there was a period when there was no official compilation of earned runs, and a time where bases on balls, hit batsmen, and wild pitches were considered errors in the computation of earned runs.)
14. Fractional innings pitched shall be used in the calculation of earned run averages.
15. The earned run average of a pitcher who allowed one or more earned runs during a season without retiring a batter shall be “infinity.”
16. 1894 shall be considered the starting date for exempting a man from a time at bat for a sacrifice bunt hit. Before 1894 a batter was credited with a sacrifice hit and charged with a time at bat every time he advanced a runner on any type of out.
17. Sudden Death Home Runs. Before 1920, when the team batting last won the game in the ninth or in an extra inning, the ruling was that the team could not win by more than one run. If a man hit an outside-the-park home run, which, under present rules, would have resulted in a victory by more than one run, he was given credit for a lesser hit and only the winning run counted. The committee originally voted that before 1920 any ball hit outside the park in a sudden death situation should be counted as a home run. However, after the committee had a further opportunity to review their ruling and polled their colleagues on the issue, they reversed their decision on May 5, 1969. Because the reversal of the committee’s decision occurred when a good portion of this encyclopedia had already gone to the printer, it was possible to include the necessary changes for only eight of the 37 cases where a home run was originally credited to a player. Appearing first are the eight instances where all records were retained in accordance with the scoring procedures in effect at the time:
|June 17,1884||Roger Connor||N.Y.||N.L.||Bos.||Single|
|Sept. 6, 1884||Hardy Richardson||Buf.||N.L.||Bos.||Triple|
|July 30, 1885||Tommy McCarthy||Bos.||N.L.||Det.||Double|
|Aug. 20, 1885||Paul Hines||Pro.||N.L.||Bos.||Single|
|July 7, 1892||Buck Ewing||N.Y.||N.L.||St. L.||Single|
|May 13, 1893||Lou Bierbauer||Pit.||N.L.||Lou.||Single|
|Aug. 9, 1893||George Van Haltren||Pit.||N.L.||Chi.||Double|
|July 8, 1918||Babe Ruth||Bos.||A.L.||Cle.||Triple|
The following are the 29 cases where the records were changed from a lesser hit to a home run. The information shown in the last column under hit indicates the type of hit for which the player was originally credited:
|April 21, 1885||Fred Mann||Pit.||A.A.||Lou.||Double|
|June 5,1890||Sam Thompson||Phi.||N.L.||Bkn.||Single|
|July 30, 1890||Al McCauley||Phi.||N.L.||Chi.||Triple|
|June 17,1890||Mike Griffin||N.Y.||P.L.||Phi.||Double|
|May 7, 1891||King Kelly||Cin.||A.A.||Bos.||Single|
|Sept. 13, 1891||George Wood||Phi.||A.A.||Mil.||Double|
|Aug. 27, 1895||Bill Lange||Chi.||N.L.||Was.||Single|
|Sept. 2, 1895||Mike Tiernan||N.Y.||N.L.||Cle.||Triple|
|Sept. 27, 1895||Duke Farrell||N.Y.||N.L.||Bal.||Triple|
|July 27, 1896||Charlie Irwin||Cin.||N.L.||Cle.||Triple|
|June 4, 1897||Parke Wilson||N.Y.||N.L.||Lou.||Double|
|July 15, 1899||Jimmy Collins||Bos.||N.L.||Pit.||Single|
|July 24, 1899||Ginger Beaumont||Pit.||N.L.||Phi.||Triple|
|July 24, 1900||Jimmy Collins||Bos.||N.L.||St.L.||Single|
|July 27, 1900||Chick Stahl||Bos.||N.L.||Pit.||Single|
|May 17, 1901||Bill Coughlin||Was.||A.L.||Phi.||Single|
|Sept. 1, 1902||Ed Gremminger||Bos.||N.L.||Cin.||Double|
|June 26, 1903||Pat Moran||Bos.||N.L.||Chi.||Triple|
|Sept. 10, 1904||Roger Bresnahan||N.Y.||N.L.||Phi.||Double|
|May 5, 1906||Sherry Magee||Phi.||N.L.||Bkn.||Triple|
|June 2, 1906||Tim Jordan||Bkn.||N.L.||Bos.||Double|
|May 25, 1908||Joe Tinker||Chi.||N.L.||N.Y.||Double|
|Sept. 28, 1908||Cy Seymour||N.Y.||N.L.||Phi.||Single|
|April 23, 1910||Doc Crandall||N.Y.||N.L.||Bkn.||Single|
|Aug. 24, 1911||Tex Erwin||Bkn.||N.L.||Chi.||Triple|
|June 17,1914||Sherry Magee||Phi.||N.L.||St.L.||Double|
|April 19, 1917||Ping Bodie||Phi.||A.L.||Bos.||Triple|
|July 18, 1918||Frank Baker||N.Y.||A.L.||Det.||Single|
|April 19, 1918||Irish Meusel||Phi.||N.L.||Bos.||Triple|
Next, Jerome Holtzman’s adjustment of 2001, likewise presented verbatim and without comment.
An Important Change to the Official Record of Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball is pleased to announce that, beginning with this seventh edition of Total Baseball, all batting averages are recorded as they were at the time they were reported, and not in accordance with the decision of a 1968 Special Baseball Records Committee. For the sake of conformity, the committee ruled that the 1887 batting averages be recalculated and that walks not be counted as base hits (as they were that year) or as outs (as they were in 1876).
John Thorn, the eminent editor of Total Baseball, has described it as an attempt to normalize baseball’s “gloriously messy” statistical history and bring the abnormal 1887 season in line with modern statistics. It was the only season when walks were considered hits and hence skewed the averages upwards.
For example, there were eleven .400 hitters, all properly listed in the 1888 Spalding and Reach guides, the official statistical compendiums of the time. (An arithmetic check has revealed that Paul Radford, the eleventh and final such batsman, in fact batted “only” .397.) The acknowledged batting champions were Tip O’Neill, at .492, for the St. Louis Browns of the old American Association, and Cap Anson, .421, for the Chicago National League entry. (As with Radford, an arithmetic correction reduces O’Neill’s average to .485, still the all-time record).
The special committee, in deciding walks were not hits, took 50 hits away from O’Neill, dropping his average to .435. Anson, stripped of 60 hits, fell to .347 and lost his batting title, fairly won. Worse, he no longer qualified for the 3,000 Hit Club of which he was the first member.
Revisionist history is admirable when new and undisputed evidence is brought forth. But this was an abomination, an absolute falsehood and twisting of the known facts for the singular purpose of regulating history to conform to previous and subsequent standards. It was a grievous corruption. If a walk was a hit in 1887 it should stand as a hit forevermore.
The committee was formed by General William Eckert, baseball’s fourth commissioner. Eckert always had good intentions but was ill-equipped and didn’t have a schoolboy’s knowledge of the game. The day after he took office in 1965, during his first press unveiling, it was painfully apparent he was unaware the Los Angeles Dodgers had been transplanted from Brooklyn.
The committee was co-chaired by Dave Grote, public relations director of the National League and Robert Holbrook, his American League counterpart. Neither was qualified to rule on such matters. The other members were Jack Lang, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America; Joseph Reichler, director of public relations of the Commissioner’s Office; and Lee Allen, the historian of the Hall of Fame.
Why the committee was formed remains a puzzle. The general belief is that it was at the request of the Macmillan Company, which was preparing a new encyclopedia, trumpeted as better and more complete than any of its predecessors. It went on sale the next year.
To heighten the launch, the committee mostly reviewed statistics accumulated in the period before 1920, “a time that was somewhat chaotic for record-keeping procedures.” Perhaps the encyclopedia’s editors were eager to find previously published errors; adjustments would strengthen the authenticity and value of the new enterprise.
The only established historians on the committee were Joe Reichler, who had been the national baseball writer for the Associated Press, subsequently elected to the writers wing of the Hall of Fame; and the distinguished Lee Allen, widely respected, the author of a half dozen noteworthy books, including delightful histories of the American and National Leagues.
Reichler knew his stuff. A stickler for accuracy at any cost, he had edited an earlier encyclopedia, published in 1962 by Ronald Press. Allen was a compulsive researcher and known for his fascinating player anecdotes of the late 19th and early 20th century. He also wrote a wonderful weekly column, “Cooperstown Corner,” for The Sporting News and was not concerned with current events. They agreed to the changes. However, a year before he died, Allen admitted to historian David Voigt that “past records ought not to be tampered with.”
The change in record-keeping procedure that commences with publication of this edition of Total Baseball should not be interpreted as a blanket damning of Macmillan’s The Baseball Encyclopedia. In mid-life, it became known, fondly, as the “Big Mac,” and was the final statistical authority, an enormous aid to sportswriters, book-writers, researchers, and super-fans. There were 10 editions. Sales may have approached a million copies.
Nor is this a total condemnation of Eckert’s Special Baseball Records Committee. The committee voted on 17 thorny issues and responded with good reason, with two exceptions: the 1876 scoring of walks as an at bat (if a player drew four walks he was 0 for 4), a practice that has also been restored in this edition; and the 1887 statistical butchery. A listing of the significant 1887 batting averages restored to their proper dimension follows.
Trying something new, and old, beginning this week: a review of baseball events from the past. This week’s offerings, like the others to come, will run from Friday through the following Thursday (in the present instance, May 1 through May 7). I’ll relate what happened, why I think it’s interesting, and where you might find out a bit more if you’re so inclined. Sometimes I’ll link to a story from the burgeoning Our Game archive, other times I’ll link to a SABR biographical profile or a Baseball Prospectus story. And as always there will be pictures, lots of pictures. I am indebted, of course, to the efforts of SABR researchers and that splendid reference source, Jim Charlton’s Baseball Chronology.
1883: New York wins the first MLB game played in Manhattan, defeating Philadelphia‚ 7-5‚ at the original Polo Grounds, located at 110th street between 5th and 6th Avenues. The grounds were leased from James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald; the field had actually been used by the Westchester Polo Association, and thus the name, even as the site and the ball club moved uptown. The National League entry of 1876 had played its home games in Brooklyn, at that time a separate city (which in part accounts for the fierce rivalry between the two over the ensuing decades). Among those in attendance for the opener: former President U.S. Grant. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/02/26/our-baseball-presidents/.
1920: In Boston‚ Brooklyn’s Leon Cadore and the Braves’ Joe Oeschger duel 26 innings to a 1-1 tie in the longest game ever played in MLB. Oeschger shuts out the Dodgers for the last 21 innings‚ topping Art Nehf’s 20 scoreless frames in a row on August 1‚ 1918. He gives up 9 hits‚ and Cadore allows 12‚ in the 3-hour‚ 50-minute battle. The Dodgers lose to the Phils at home in 13 innings the next day‚ then return to Boston for a Monday game where they lose again in 19.
1991: 44-year-old Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan hurls the record seventh no-hitter of his amazing career‚ defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in Arlington by a score of 3-0. Ryan strikes out 16 batters in the process‚ marking the 209th time he has fanned 10 or more in a game. Today we are amazed that Bartolo Colon, at age 41, takes a regular turn in the rotation, let alone pitches well.
1876: Chicago’s Ross Barnes hits the first NL HR‚ an inside-the-park drive off Cherokee Fisher against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati. Barnes would win the first batting championship too, with a mark of .404—but in this year walks count as outs, so if we computed his batting average by the modern standard, it would be .429.
1939: After carrying out the scorecard to the umpires‚ Lou Gehrig voluntarily benches himself “for the good of the team.” He is batting .143 with one RBI. His consecutive-game string stops at 2‚130. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/07/02/lou-gehrig-75-years-after-the-speech/.
1995: Hideo Nomo hurls 5 innings for the Dodgers in a 13-inning‚ 4-3 loss to the Giants‚ becoming the first Japanese player to appear in the major leagues since Masanori Murakami in 1964.
1927: In the first matchup of pitching brothers in ML history‚ Brooklyn’s Jess Barnes defeats his brother Virgil‚ 7-6. Great trivia question for many years was: Name the pitching-brother tandem with the most victories. Today one might leap to the Niekros or the Perrys, but the answer used to be the Mathewsons (Christy with 373, his brother Henry with none).
1995: David Bell makes his big-league debut at 3B in the Indians 14-7 win over the Tigers. His appearance makes the Bells–with his father Buddy and his grandfather Gus–the second three-generation family in ML history (The Boones are the first). But the Hairstons are the largest three-generation baseball family. Sam, who played in the Negro Leagues as well as MLB, is the father of MLB players Jerry Hairston, Sr. and Johnny Hairston, and the grandfather of Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Scott Hairston. A son, Sammy Hairston Jr., and three grandsons, Johnny Hairston Jr., Jeff Hairston, and Jason Hairston played in the minor leagues.
1869: The Cincinnati Red Stockings‚ baseball’s first admittedly all-professional team‚ play their first game of the year‚ defeating the Great Westerns 45-9. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/12/01/baseballs-wright-brothers-and-the-cincinnati-red-stockings/
1966: Willie Mays hits a National League record 512th home run, topping another Giant‚ Mel Ott as the Giants beat the Dodgers 6-1. At the time Mays retires, his 660 homers are third all-time to Babe Ruth’s 714 and Hank Aaron’s 713.
1904: Boston’s Cy Young pitches a 3-0 perfect game against the Philadelphia Athletics and Rube Waddell. Young stretches his hitless inning skein to 18; it will extend to 25-1/3 innings over three games, running from April 25 through May 11. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/11/28/cy-young-remembers-his-greatest-day/
1925: Ty Cobb is 6-for-6‚ including 3 HRs‚ in Detroit’s 14-8 win over the Browns. Before game, he had told writers that there was nothing much to hitting home runs like Babe Ruth if one swung for the fences. On the following day, he hit two more homers‚ giving him five round trippers in 2 games‚ tying Cap Anson’s 1884 feat, later matched by Stan Musial in a doubleheader.
1915: Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth clouts his first big-league homer, off Jack Warhop of the Yanks in the third inning at the Polo Grounds. Ruth loses the game in the 13th‚ 4-3‚ as Cy Pieh is the winner. For more, see: http://research.sabr.org/journals/ruth-makes-warhop
1962: Mickey Mantle hits homers right- and left-handed for the ninth time‚ in the second game of a doubleheader‚ as the Yankees win 8-0 over the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium. The shutout is Jim Bouton’s first win the majors.
1998: In one of the finest pitching efforts ever‚ Chicago Cub rookie righthander Kerry Wood fans 20 Houston Astros in a 2-0‚ one-hit victory to tie Roger Clemens’ mark for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. Wood does not walk a batter ‚ allowing only an infield single. For more, see: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=23059
1891: King Kelly’s drive over the fence in Boston gives Cincinnati (AA) a 10-9 win in the 14th inning. Since Kelly’s blast came in the bottom of the last frame with the score tied and a man on base‚ he is only credited with a triple. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/04/24/buck-ewing-and-king-kelly/
1929: Yankee southpaw Tom Zachary wins a 6-5 game in relief at St. Louis‚ the first of his 12 wins without a loss for the year‚ a record. Two years earlier, pitching for the Washington Senators, Zachary had taken a hand in another record: Babe Ruth’s 60th home run.
1957: Gil McDougald of the Yankees hits a wicked line drive that strikes Cleveland’s Herb Score in the right eye. Score‚ with a broken nose and lacerations‚ is carried off the field on a stretcher. Bob Lemon relieves and wins the game‚ 2-1. Score will return the following year but his pitching will not be the same.
See you here next Friday, with some old news for May 8-14.
Here is a snappy offering by friend Brian Campf, prompted by his discovery of a new baseball image of one of my favorite players, Jimmy Claxton, who passed for Native American briefly with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in 1916. He thus became the first black in Organized Baseball since Bill Galloway appeared in five games in the Canadian League 1899, and the last until Jackie Robinson signed with Montreal on October 23, 1945. Once his race was suspected , Claxton was shuffled off the roster, but a few days before, he had happened to be present when the Zee-Nut Candy photographers came to the park to secure images for their trading card series. Claxton’s card in the 1916 set is a highly desirable item. One of these rare cards was sold at auction by Sotheby’s for $7,200 in June 2005. Brian offers many interesting images at http://www.sportingoregon.com [cut and paste the link]. I encourage you to take a look at his site. By the way, an outstanding biography of Claxton, by Tom Hawthorn, may be read profitably here: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/43c05f0c [cut and paste the link]. For now, though let’s focus on the freshly found image below, and Brian’s writeup.
Southpaw pitcher Jimmy Claxton was both the first African American to play in Organized Baseball in the 20th century–he pitched two games for the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks in 1916–and the first black player to appear on an American baseball card. He sits in the front row, far right of this postcard (below) of the 1914 Hubbard Giants baseball team from Portland, Oregon.
Composed solely of African Americans, the Portland Giants played from 1910 to 1915. In 1914 alone they used the name Hubbard Giants after Lew Hubbard, who managed the team. The postcard can be dated to 1914 because of their Hubbard Giants jerseys and the use of that team name on the postcard. Claxton played for the Giants during both 1914 and 1915 before signing with the Sellwood club (also located in Portland).
The caption of a Hubbard Giants team photo in the Oregon Daily Journal (different from the photo on the postcard shown here) lists a 1914 roster of P. Smith, Goins, Harper, Williams, H. Smith, St. Clair, Hubbard (manager), Lewis, Brown, Harris, Couver (captain), Claxton, Henry, and Vernon. The Oregonian‘s 1914 coverage adds another name, pitcher Elliston.
The St. Helens Mist adds one more player, Hooker, and in the only box score of the team I have seen lists the players from a June 28, 1914 game numbered by position: (1) Henry, p; (2) H. Smith, c; (3) Vernon, 1b; (4) Harper, 2b; (5) Williams, 3b; (6) Conver [Couver], ss; (7) Harris, lf; (8) Hubbard, cf; (9) Hooker, rf.
My best guess after comparing the Oregon Daily Journal photo with the postcard is that the players in the postcard are as follows, left to right. Top row: P. Smith, Goins, St. Clair, Lewis, Vernon, Harper, Couver. Bottom row: Williams, Harris, H. Smith, Hubbard, Unknown, Brown, Claxton.
The Hubbard Giants numbered their 1914 uniforms with the dice game craps in mind, the Oregonian reported on April 2, 1914. The previous day they had bought 12 new uniforms with eight inch square numbers on the back of each jersey. Nobody wanted to wear number 12 for fear of bad luck, so one uniform bore the number 13. Pitchers wore 7 and catchers 11, referring to successful rolls in craps.
1. Oregonian, June 14, 1914; May 16, June 14, June 20, July 26, 1915.
2. Oregon Daily Journal, May 31, 1914.
3. Oregonian, May 31, June 14, June 28, September 6, 1914; March 9 1915.
4. St. Helens Mist, July 3, 1914.
This article by David Block, that incomparable scholar of the early game and its bibliography, appeared in Base Ball, Volume 2, Number 1 (Spring 2008). While most students of early baseball know that John Newbery’s Little Pretty Pocket-book represents our earliest printed mention of the game by that name, few know the story behind its publication. Although its initial publication date is everywhere cited as 1744, no specimen of this popular book for children survives until we get to the tenth edition, in 1760. But here I must stop and hand you over to the author of the great Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (Nebraska, 2005).
A game called baseball arose from the primeval playing fields of southern England during the earliest decades of the 18th century. This we can deduce from a smattering of clues that have trickled down from the 1740s and 1750s. While these tidbits generally reveal little about the pastime’s makeup during that era, one specimen rises vividly above the rest: the “base-ball” page from John Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-book.
Many readers of this journal will be familiar with A Little Pretty Pocket-book’s contribution to our slender understanding of early baseball. The iconic children’s book, first published in 1744, has long been recognized as providing an important benchmark for tracking the game’s evolution. Its employment of the term “base-ball” is the earliest known, and its primitive woodcut and accompanying snippet of verse offer our first fragmentary insights into how the game was played.
The Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin’d Post,
And then Home with Joy.
These few simple lines capture baseball’s essence. Their mentions of a boy striking a ball, flying to the “next destin’d post,” and then returning to “home” suggest that by the 1740s the incipient game was already recognizable. Augmented by the woodcut — in which a striker, a pitcher, and three posts or bases are pictured — it is no wonder that Newbery’s baseball page is treasured by those of us with an abiding interest in the pastime’s early history. Yet despite our long familiarity with it (the historian Robert W. Henderson first alerted us to the book’s importance in his 1937 essay, “How Baseball Began”), in many ways it remains an enigma. The goal of this article is to take a closer look at A Little Pretty Pocket-book and, the author hopes, persuade it to give up a few more of its secrets.
To the kiddies of mid-18th-century England, A Little Pretty Pocket-book must have seemed like a sneak preview of paradise. Never before had any of them encountered a book that illuminated such a cornucopia of pastimes and amusements for their enjoyment. Everything was there: from kite-flying to hopscotch, from leapfrog to “blindman’s buff,” as the book has it. John Newbery’s startling invitation to play games and have fun was an almost total turnabout from the snarling admonitions against frivolous behavior that had snapped at the heels of young folk for centuries. And while A Little Pretty Pocket-book did not forsake all responsibility for tutoring children to be upright and virtuous (after all, it included letters from Jack the Giant-Killer to Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly promising them a whipping if they misbehaved), the book clearly relegated traditional moral instruction to a secondary role.
Among the pastimes offered for the delight of A Little Pretty Pocket-book’s young readers were five constituents of the extended baseball family. In addition to baseball itself, these included the games of cricket, stool-ball, trap-ball, and tip-cat. The latter four were widely played amusements of the era, and it is no surprise that Newbery would elect to feature them in his book. Far less obvious is why he included the relatively new game of baseball, given the likelihood that many of his potential readers in the mid-18th century would not have been familiar with it. His selection of it suggests that he may well have gained an intimate acquaintance with the pastime during his own childhood, raising the tantalizing premise that baseball’s first steps could have been taken on terrain very close to Newbery’s own upbringing.
That would be in Berkshire County, England, where in 1713 Newbery was born on a farm near the small village of Waltham St Lawrence. Having had no formal education, but motivated by curiosity and ambition, he left home at the age of 16 to become apprenticed to a printer in the nearby city of Reading, about fifty miles west of London. When his master died a few years later, Newbery took over the business and married the widow — not an unusual arrangement for the times. By the early 1740s he was publishing a newspaper in Reading and beginning to produce occasional book titles for an adult readership. It was also during those years that he began experimenting with other commercial ventures, including the one that was to become his most profitable lifelong source of wealth, the sale of patent medicines. In 1746 he signed a contract to be the exclusive marketer of Dr. James’ Fever Powder, a concoction that was to become widely popular in Britain. Meanwhile, Newbery came to realize that his expanding enterprises were outgrowing the limited market opportunities available in Reading, and in the late summer of 1743 he began to shift his base of operations to London.
It was also in the 1740s that the constrained and stuffy world of children’s-book publishing was beginning to undergo a major change. The influences of the Age of Reason and, in particular, the progressive educational ideas of the philosopher John Locke began seeping into juvenile literature, and a trickle of new titles appeared with the revolutionary premise that books might entertain as well as educate. Moral instruction itself, though still an essential component of the genre, no longer threatened children with the throes of hellfire as the penalty for their naughtiness.
Newbery was always on the lookout for another good business opportunity, and he quickly recognized the potential of this new type of juvenile literature. A Little Pretty Pocket-book was his first entrant in the field, and its great success led him to produce many more children’s titles before his death in 1767. The Pocket-book has been hailed as “the first true children’s book” or, more commonly, “the first book intended primarily for children’s enjoyment.” Evidently it was neither. Preceding it in the early 1740s were Thomas Boreman’s series of “Gigantick Histories,” and Mary Cooper’s two titles, The Child’s New Plaything and Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book. The essayist Mary Thwaite, in her introduction to the 1966 facsimile edition of A Little Pretty Pocket-book, conceded that the Tommy Thumb book “rivalled the Pocket-book in importance in the chronicle of children’s literature.”
But if Newbery wasn’t the very first to see the wisdom in producing books for children’s entertainment, he was certainly the first to go for the fences with the idea. One key to his success was his marketing skill, and particularly his adroitness at “puffing” his works. He carried over to his juvenile publishing venture the same creative persuasion he employed in hawking his assortment of patent medicines. His earliest display of this talent is expressed in the following advertisement that, according to all Newbery sources, first appeared in the June 18, 1744, issue of the Penny London Morning Advertiser:
This Day is publish’d,
According to Act of Parliament
(Neatly bound and gilt.)
A Little pretty POCKET-BOOK,
intended for the Instruction and Amusement of little Master Tommy and pretty Miss Polly; with an agreeable Letter to each from Jack the Giant-Killer; as also a Ball and Pincushion, the Use of which will infallibly make Tommy a good Boy, and Polly a good Girl. To the whole is prefix’d, A Lecture on Education, humbly address’d to all Parents, Guardians, Governesses, &cc., wherein Rules are laid down for making their Children strong, hardy, healthy, virtuous, wise and happy.
Children, like tender OZIERS, take the Bow,
And as they first are fashioned, always grow.
Just as the Twig is bent the Tree’s inclin’d.
’Tis Education forms the vulgar Mind.
Printed for J. Newbery, at the Bible and Crown, near Devereux-Court, without Temple-Bar.
Price of the Book alone 6 d. with a Ball or Pincushion 8 d.
There are many things to be observed about this ad, not the least being its deftness at appealing to both of its target audiences: the parents who might consider purchasing A Little Pretty Pocket-book for their children, and the little kiddies themselves. Notable among Newbery’s inducements to the latter is his optional offer to bundle a ball or pincushion with the book. This revolutionary notion of attaching a toy anticipates by 250 years the Klutz Book series of today.
Scholars who have written about Newbery’s works have assumed that the ball and pincushion were two separate items, the former intended for boys and the latter for girls. A careful reading of the book, however, reveals the objects were one and the same: a soft, red-and-black-colored ball that allowed for the insertion of pins. The “letters” from Jack the Giant-Killer published in A Little Pretty Pocket-book, and addressed to Tommy and Polly respectively, prescribed a common purpose for the ball/pincushion whether its recipient was a boy or a girl. The child was directed to hang the toy up by a string that came attached to it. Then, using 10 pins that were also supplied, the child was instructed to stick a pin in the red half of the ball/pincushion whenever he/she did something good, and a pin in the black half for every bad act. If the child managed to accumulate all 10 pins in the red side, Jack the Giant-Killer pledged (ostensibly) to send the child a penny. Conversely, 10 pins in the black side would result in Jack sending a rod with which the child was to be “whipt.” The publishers of the modern Klutz Books evidently had the good sense not to adopt this darker aspect of Newbery’s innovation.
No one knows how many individual ball/pincushion premiums were sold in tandem with copies of A Little Pretty Pocket-book over the course of the book’s long publishing history in the 18th century. One thing that is certain, though, is that few or none of the toys have survived. The only institution to claim ownership of an original specimen is the Morgan Library in New York. Its example of the ball/pincushion, however, is white on one side with an embroidered design on the other, not at all like the red and black object described in all known editions of the Pocket-book. Moreover, the library’s records cannot document the provenance of its copy, having no information earlier than 1991 when the toy was received as a gift.
To book and baseball historians alike, the most significant contribution of Newbery’s June 1744 advertisement for A Little Pretty Pocket-book may well be its opening phrase: “This day is publish’d….” Here, it would seem, is proof of the exact moment in history when this landmark children’s book first rolled off the presses. Such evidence is vital in establishing the book’s origins, for no actual copies of A Little Pretty Pocket-book from 1744 have survived. In fact, no actual copies of any of the book’s first nine editions are known to exist, which makes, by default, the British Library’s single incomplete copy of the 1760 tenth edition the earliest surviving example. And of all the thousands of copies of the book printed in England in the 18th century, fewer than 10 remain. Why this near extinction? In all likelihood, it is the unfortunate byproduct of two parallel phenomena. On the one hand, the little darlings who were lucky enough to get their hands on the book probably loved their copies to death. And if an original owner didn’t leave the book in tatters, his or her next-youngest sibling or cousin would have finished the job. Parents, all the while, would have had little interest in the book, at best valuing it as a diversion for their kids, but not as something they would bother preserving for posterity (not unlike those ill-fated shoeboxes of baseball cards of more recent memory).
But while the books themselves are gone, we still have Newbery’s helpful advertisement from 1744 to mark the starting point of baseball’s recorded history. Right? Well, not so fast. It seems that even this seemingly safe assumption turns out not to be airtight. Writing in 1973, Newbery’s foremost bibliographer, Sydney Roscoe, offered a cautionary word about relying upon newspaper ads to fix a book’s publication date:
…the unsupported evidence of a newspaper advertisement cannot, as a rule, be relied on for dating purposes…. It may well be that A Little Pretty Pocket-book did bear the date 1744 and did appear in (or near to) June of that year; but the evidence of the advertisements is not sufficient to prove it; it might have been published a year or two before, or even in 1745 or later.
Reading these lines prompted me to see if there was anything further to be discovered about Pocket-book’s publication date. On a recent trip to England I consulted with the longtime archivist of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, a 600-year-old organization that has been registering the publication of individual books for most of its existence. Disappointingly, no entry for A Little Pretty Pocket-book appears in the company’s records, most likely because children’s books in the 1740s were deemed too unimportant for such formality. Thwarted here, my next step was to examine newspapers from the era, especially issues of The Reading Mercury; or Weekly Post, the paper that Newbery owned and operated during those years. I found several ads for Pocket-book in the Mercury, with the earliest appearing on May 28, 1744. This ad, like the one that would appear three weeks later in the Penny London Morning Advertiser, began with the phrase “this Day is publish’d,” confirming that the use of those four words was not a literal announcement of the book’s publishing date.
Moving my search to the many London daily newspapers of the era, I came across a quantity of additional advertisements for A Little Pretty Pocket-book, most with the same “this day is publish’d” lead-in. These were scattered over a period of months and years, with the earliest ones clustered in mid-May 1744. The first three of these appeared on May 18 of that year, and four more showed up the following day. I found none earlier than May 18, despite spending a couple of days with microfilm archives and electronic newspaper databases. Clearly, this concentration of advertisements in mid-May 1744 does not in itself reliably pinpoint when A Little Pretty Pocket-book first rolled off the presses, nor even when it first was sold. It does imply strongly, however, that those two days in May marked the beginning of Newbery’s marketing push for the book, and suggests that his production of it very possibly occurred in the immediate weeks beforehand.
My combing of the newspapers also produced several interesting testimonials to the wonderments of A Little Pretty Pocket-book. One of them was dated June 14, 1744, and addressed “to the unknown author of the Little Pretty Pocket-book.” It rambled on and on with flowery praises such as: “here the paths of virtue are painted so as to please and engage, the child is captivated and led into a habit of doing well and made imperceptibly, as it were, both wise and virtuous.” Two more such letters were published on July 16 in Newbery’s own paper, the Mercury. One accurately describes how the book presents “brief descriptions in verse … of the several plays or games with which children usually divert themselves, each game being represented by a small copper plate print, with a suitable moral or rule of life subjoined.” This same writer observed that although “the author has modestly concealed himself … his performance … will undoubtedly meet with the approbation of all who would rather make learning a pleasure to those under their care, than weary themselves and their children with fruitless severities and correction.” While those who wrote testimonials were on the mark with their recognition of Newbery’s educational innovations, none of them, unfortunately, was prescient enough to praise the Pocket-book for its foresighted presentation of baseball.
At least one modern scholar has raised the cynical hypothesis that Newbery himself may have written the newspaper testimonials praising his book, doing so as part of his campaign to puff it to the public. But a more fundamental question is whether Newbery actually wrote A Little Pretty Pocket-book itself. As noted by the two testimonial writers quoted above, the book was issued anonymously. While no hard evidence of the author’s identity has ever been produced, a clear consensus among those who have written about Newbery maintain that he is, by far, the most likely candidate. The style of the book parallels the whimsical approach he displayed in most of the works he is known to have written, especially in the many humorous title pages that introduce all of his many children’s books.
If the advertisements identified above give us more confidence that A Little Pretty Pocket-book was indeed first published in 1744, then the matter of when baseball first appeared in print should now be resolved. Yes, perhaps. But it seems that one small element of doubt still remains. While we know for certain that the 1760 10th edition of Pocket-book included the famous “base-ball” page, as did all subsequent surviving editions of the book, how can we know that it appeared in each of those earlier nine editions that are now extinct? We can’t rule out the small possibility that Newbery tinkered with the book between 1744 and 1760, and that the baseball content was not part of its original makeup. The caveat here is that when we celebrate the iconic year of 1744 for giving us the earliest reference to baseball, we must do so with a small asterisk.
A couple of other little baseball mysteries attach to A Little Pretty Pocket-book, one being that of the missing bat, and the other of the missing ball. The book’s illustration of baseball depicts three boys standing next to three posts or bases. One of the players is seen raising his hands out to his sides, while a second player appears ready to toss a ball. None of them, quite plainly, is holding a bat. What does this mean? Did the artist simply overlook the necessity of drawing a bat, or was a bat not actually part of the game in 1744? To pursue these questions, I examined every known early reference to the game of baseball from both England and the United States. What I found was somewhat surprising. Of the nine instances in the 18th century where the term “baseball” appeared in either a handwritten manuscript or in a printed book, only once was there mention of a bat being part of the game. That came in a description of “English base-ball” from a German book published in 1796, in which an odd-shaped, two-foot-long bat was depicted.
Turning next to early-19th-century baseball references from both countries, I continued to find little evidence of bat usage. In fact, after 1796 it was not until 1834, when the American author Robin Carver mentioned the use of a bat in describing “base, or goal ball” in The Book of Sports, that the terms “baseball” and “bat” were again definitively linked with each other. This is not to suggest that American baseball was batless prior to 1834. Obviously, that was not the case. Ballplayers from that era, reminiscing about their experiences many years afterwards, recalled using a bat during those early decades. Moreover, young players standing with bat in hand feature prominently in woodcut illustrations of baseball-like games found in children’s books of the early 1800s.
But the question of when a bat was first introduced to the pastime remains a mystery. It is certainly possible, if not probable, that, at its outset, the game of baseball did not employ a bat, and that a bare hand was used to strike the pitched ball. The innovation of utilizing a bat may not have come about until the latter part of the 18th century. Notwithstanding the evidence of the 1796 German book, the variety of baseball that evolved in England may never have fully embraced the bat, since none of the 19th-century references to the game there mention anything about using such an implement. On the other hand, despite the absence of concrete evidence, it is quite likely that use of a bat became an integral part of the game in the United States well before the end of the 18th century. This divergence in how the pastime developed may be explained by its different social underpinnings in the two countries; in England, baseball became a pastime primarily for girls and young women, while in America it became the near-exclusive province of boys and men. The faster, larger-scaled, and, perhaps, rougher version of the sport that accompanied the adoption of the bat may well have edged beyond what was considered acceptable behavior for young English ladies of that era.
Then there is the matter of the missing ball, which is a puzzling result of A Little Pretty Pocket-book’s adventures in North America. With the great popularity of Newbery’s books in Britain, it was only a matter of time before they would begin to show up in the American colonies. As early as 1750, advertisements for his juvenile works were appearing in newspapers on the eastern seaboard. Surprisingly, these first ads did not include A Little Pretty Pocket-book, despite it being among Newbery’s most successful titles. The first known reference to Pocket-book in the future United States did not materialize until 1762, when it appeared in an advertisement by New York bookseller Hugh Gaine. But rather than importing and reselling copies produced by Newbery in England, Gaine apparently decided to cut costs by producing his own pirated edition of the children’s classic. No copies of Gaine’s edition have survived, leaving us unable to determine whether it exactly replicated Newbery’s content. From his advertisement, however, we know that Gaine abbreviated the book’s title to A Little Pretty Book, but otherwise retained all the verbosity about Master Tommy, Miss Polly, and Jack the Giant-Killer in the subtitle. The printer William Spotswood of Philadelphia appears to have introduced another such unauthorized edition of A Little Pretty Pocket-book in 1786, although, like Gaine’s, no copies are known to have survived.
Producing pirated copies of English books seems to have been a common practice of publishers in the American colonies and the young United States. Isaiah Thomas’s familiar edition of A Little Pretty Pocket-book also falls into this category. Thomas was a prolific book publisher in Worcester, Massachusetts, and in 1787 produced a version of Newbery’s juvenile gem that remains by far the most “common” of all 18th-century editions of this work, with as many as fifty copies still in existence. Thomas, who later founded the American Antiquarian Society, retained the original ninety or so pages of Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-book, but added to it another 35 pages consisting of “rules for behaviour.” Likely these were a concession to the strict Puritan ethic that carried considerable weight in 18th-century New England, though it is somewhat doubtful that Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly would have welcomed their inclusion.
Thomas made several slight changes to A Little Pretty Pocket-book’s baseball page, one of which is significant. In Newbery’s original editions, one of the players in the woodcut illustration is shown getting ready to pitch a ball. In Thomas’s Worcester edition that same player’s hand is empty. The ball had disappeared! This is peculiar because, in most other ways, the woodcuts in the two versions of the book are nearly identical. Thomas took care in copying many details of the Newbery image, such as the clothes of the boys and the features of the houses in the background. But he removed the ball. What does it mean? Was it a subliminal attempt to emasculate Newbery? Was it a protest against Newbery’s omission of a bat? We may never know the explanation for this oddity, but, then again, does anyone other than I really care?
From what we know, the pirated versions of Thomas, Gaine, and Spotswood comprised most of the copies of A Little Pretty Pocket-book that were sold in 18th-century America. Few booksellers seem to have imported Newbery’s originals for resale, and there is no evidence of any of them having done so earlier than 1772. Still, it is logical to assume that individual copies of the earlier editions printed in England crossed the ocean in the company of families emigrating to the colonies. Would these have marked the earliest landings on American shores of the term baseball? Not necessarily. In the Fall 2007 issue of this journal, I described a second book published by John Newbery, The Card, in which the term baseball also is referenced. Newbery’s publishing company issued The Card in 1755, and its survival rate greatly exceeds that of A Little Pretty Pocket-book, undoubtedly because as a book for adults it was not subject to the ravages of children. Thirty copies of the first edition of The Card still exist in American libraries, some of which reside in the collections of institutions that predate the American Revolution. It is quite possible that The Card preceded A Little Pretty Pocket-book as the earliest bearer of the word baseball to these shores. Then again, this honor may not have gone to any book at all. The author John Rowe Townsend, in describing the early importation of children’s stories and books to America, commented that “old tales and rhymes, needing no cargo space but people’s heads, crossed the ocean like stowaways with the early settlers in American colonies.” These words could well be applied to the innocent games and pastimes enjoyed by those same travelers.
Earlier I mentioned that it was likely during his youthful days in Waltham St Lawrence and Reading that John Newbery acquired his knowledge of baseball. As an exercise, I thought it might be interesting to link those Berkshire locales with other early geographic indicators of the game to plot the periphery of the English landscape in which the pastime, hypothetically, may have first been played. This territory comprises a crescent that curves a few miles beyond the western and southwestern reaches of the London metropolitan area, and encompasses parts of the counties of Berkshire and Surrey, along with tiny slivers of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire counties as well.
The northern tip of this crescent begins near Cookham, on the River Thames, where stood Cliveden, the 18th-century country estate of Frederick, Prince of Wales. In a 1748 letter, Lady Hervey famously described Frederick’s family engaged at baseball; although she witnessed this activity at Frederick’s London residence, it was at Cliveden where the family members spent the bulk of their time and where they possibly became familiar with the game. Nine miles southwest of Cookham is the tiny village of Harpsden near the town of Henley-on-Thames, located at the southeastern tip of Oxfordshire. This was the site of the childhood home of Jane Austen’s mother, Cassandra Leigh, through whom Jane likely learned about baseball (she employed the word in her novel Northanger Abbey). It was here that Cassandra Leigh’s younger Oxford cousin, also named Cassandra Leigh, would visit her often. Years later that same cousin, by then writing under her married name of Cassandra Cooke, produced the novel Battleridge in which she too mentioned baseball.
Ten miles south from Henley-on-Thames lies the city of Reading, where, as we have noted, John Newbery worked as a young man, and where too Jane Austen went to school for one and a half years. It was also where the author Mary Russell Mitford lived most of her years. Mitford, whose mother was a childhood friend of Austen, found multiple opportunities to use the term “baseball” in her early-19th-century writings.
Completing our tour of early baseball country, we venture 25 miles southeast of Reading to the county of Surrey, and to the village of Shere. This was the home of William Bray, the lifelong diarist whose reference to baseball in 1755 was the subject of my article in the previous issue of this journal. Joining him in having Surrey connections was John Kidgell, the author of the aforementioned, baseball-bearing 1755 book The Card.
The tight geographic concentration of these early baseball references is intriguing. While far from offering decisive proof that the pastime originated within the boundaries of this fertile crescent, it does suggest a target area for further exploration. I only hope the eager burghers of the region don’t set off prematurely to challenge their counterparts in Cooperstown and Pittsfield.
By all accounts, John Newbery was a super guy. He was loving to his children and generous to his friends, who included such literary luminaries as Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith. It is also obvious that he looked fondly upon the little masters and misses who were the target audience for his children’s books — an attitude that seems to have been genuine and not simply a device for ensnaring customers. He maintained a running dialogue with his youthful readers through his writings, conveying to them that he was always looking out for their well being, and revealing a personality that was fatherly and warmly humorous. In Britain, Newbery’s legacy is not widely celebrated, certainly not as much as those of many other literary figures. On my recent visit I asked many Brits what they knew of Newbery, and none but a few librarians were familiar with his name. No archives or libraries there have compiled a special collection of his works, nor have scholars taken a particular interest in him. The lone full biography on Newbery’s life was written in 1885, and only a few short books and a bibliography have been dedicated to him in the years since.
By contrast, his name is better known in the United States, principally because it is attached to the Newbery Medal, the award recognizing the most distinguished children’s book of the year. (Ironically, Newbery knew nothing of the United States, having died eight years before its founding.) But whether his contributions to literature are underappreciated in Britain or overblown in the States are matters of little importance to baseball historians. To us he was that farsighted young man who plucked the nascent pastime of baseball from his childhood memories and slid it into his pioneering opus of games and amusements. Without him we would not be able to gaze back in time at those first tentative steps of that toddler that was to become our National Pastime.
Author’s note: The details of John Newbery’s biography provided in this article are generally known, and have been drawn from a variety of sources, including the Thwaite, Roscoe, and Townsend books cited below.
1. Thwaite, M., ed. 1966. A Little Pretty Pocket-book. London (pp. 14–16).
2. Documents filed in a 1752 legal dispute give an indication of the size of Newbery’s press runs for A Little Pretty Pocket-book. An itemization of his stock on hand stated that he currently held one thousand copies of the book in his warehouse. Welsh, C. 1885. A Bookseller of the Last Century. New York (pp. 33, 293).
3. Roscoe, S. 1973. John Newbery and His Successors 1740–1814, a Bibliography. Wormley, Hertfordshire (p. 392).
4. Gutsmuths, J. 1796. Spiele zur Uebung und Erholung des Körpers und Geistes für die Jugend, ihre Erzieher und alle Freunde Unschuldiger Jugendfreuden. Schnepfenthal (p. 78).
5. Carver, R. 1834. The Book of Sports. Boston (pp. 37–38).
6. See, e.g., Pennsylvania Gazette: Dec. 11, 1750.
7. New York Mercury: Aug. 30, 1762.
8. Townsend, J. 1994. John Newbery and His Books. Metuchen, N.J./London (p. 150).
9. Lepel, M. 1821. Letters of Mary Lepel, Lady Hervey. London (pp. 139–140).
10. Austen, J. 1818. Northanger Abbey: and Persuasion. London.
11. Cooke, C. 1799. Battleridge. London.
Three decades ago, Pete Palmer and I wrote The Hidden Game of Baseball (Doubleday, 1984), aided greatly by the editing skills of our friend David Reuther. This month The Hidden Game has been reissued by the University of Chicago Press (440 pages, $22.50), in facsimile except for a new tabular appendix, a fine new foreword by Keith Law, and a thirty-years-after introduction that Pete and I wrote together; here it is.
The statistical side of baseball has always gripped me. I believed that in numbers one might uncover truths not visible to the naked eye, in the way that flying at night a pilot will learn things from the instrument panel that his senses can’t show him. In the summer of 1981, I was on assignment for The Sporting News. I went to my first convention of SABR—the Society for American Baseball Research—walked into a reception area, and met Pete Palmer. Pete, I quickly realized, was the best at what he did, which was to think hard about baseball and its numbers. Pete became my dear friend and more or less constant collaborator over the next 20 years.
But our first collaboration was not this book. With David Reuther, Pete and I developed an idea for a new sort of encyclopedia that would provide more revealing stats and tell better stories than the landmark books in the field at the time, which were known as ICI/Macmillan (1969) and Turkin/Thompson (first published in 1951). We called it “Complete Baseball,” I think, and we received a handsome bid for it, but the schedule demanded by the publisher was unworkable. So we walked away from what was at that time very big money and took much less to create The Hidden Game of Baseball, which came out in 1984. (The sort of encyclopedia we proposed did not come out until 1989, as Total Baseball).
We had no idea what impact Hidden Game might have, but our publisher certainly hoped we would enjoy some measure of the success Bill James was having with his first commercially published Baseball Abstract. Bill, of course, was one of the pioneers of what came be known as sabermetrics. He had been releasing his Abstracts annually, focusing on the season just past and the prospects for the next and including essays that articulated his inimitable take on baseball’s statistics and how they might be improved. Like Bill, we had been interested in developing measures that tied runs scored and allowed to player performance—we felt that those numbers were demonstrably related to the outcome of a game or a season. Bill’s best measure, modified over the years, was called Runs Created. Pete’s was Linear Weights, which you can read all about in this book.
I say “Pete’s” rather than “ours” because he was the statistician while I was the historian; he was the genius, I was the explainer. The conventional wisdom about Hidden Game has been that Pete did the numbers and I did the writing. That notion is more right than wrong, but Pete’s words are presented and reflected throughout the book and, oddly, so is some of my statistical noodling. As with any successful collaboration, presumed areas of specialty don’t stay sharply defined for long. Still, none of the innovative measures in Hidden Game may be called mine. I have never been a statistician, though I have been called one. All the same, Thorn & Palmer or Palmer & Thorn have endured as a pioneering sabermetric tandem because of Hidden Game and our subsequent work together.
The hidden game is the one played with statistics. It raises important questions about why we measure, what we think we are measuring, what we are truly measuring, and, most important, what the measurement means. Such questions informed our thinking throughout this book more than thirty years ago, and, even as Big Data and refined statistics sharpen our focus with each new season, sabermetricians today still cannot stray far from them. We were not the first to think unconventionally about baseball statistics, and we were careful to lay out their history from the 1840s on, and to credit those who had innovated in our field long before us. In the original acknowledgments, we even invoke Bernard of Chartres.
Bill James has remarked that a meeting of sabermetricians at, say, a SABR convention in the early 1980s could have been—and more or less was—held in a hotel room. We were barely a tributary, miles from the mainstream. The chapter titles we chose then reflect the windmills we felt compelled to tilt at. It was much harder back then to convince baseball professionals and beat writers that what we were saying held any water. And yet, now it’s hard to find a baseball professional who does not see the value of analyzing all the data that are available to us.
As general managers and managers came to understand that outs and runs are the currency of the game, as they always have been, they began to value on-base percentage, which measures not just the hits that a batter gets but all the ways he gets on base—and the hidden value of not using up an out and permitting another man to bat with a runner(s) on base. Keeping track of pitch counts was not merely a way to preserve your own pitchers’ arms—it was also a weapon: By having his batters work counts, a manager might force the hand of his opposing number and sooner get to the middle relievers, who are the soft underbelly of every pitching staff.
Today, the thinking in baseball has changed so much from thirty years ago that it is probable that we now overvalue walks where formerly they had been undervalued. Similarly, we scorn risky baserunning, when once it was the prime delight of players and fans. The charm of the grand old game is that it appears to be the same as it ever was, or at least the same as in President McKinley’s day, but of course it has changed radically. In terms of strategy the game is now hardly about baserunning and fielding at all, though recent sabermetric work in these areas may alter the balance yet again.
As much as things have changed, we do think this book can still boast of its own achievements and lasting contributions. Tying individual statistics to team accomplishment—restating batting, pitching, and fielding records in runs scored or saved—still seems worthwhile. Restoring baseball statistical thinking to the 1860s core of the game—securing or conserving outs—was good. Pete came up with the first “Unified Field Theory” of baseball: The Total Player Rating, with all players’ offensive and defensive contributions measured in runs above or below average, with league average performance defined as that which, when aggregated, would produce a .500 record for a team. This baseline troubled some of our colleagues, who contended that Hall of Fame players like Lloyd Waner or Tommy McCarthy could not possibly have been worse than league average over their long careers, as our calculations revealed. The current sabermetric standard is Wins Above Replacement, with some differing notions of what a replacement player (i.e., a somewhat below average one that any team might employ) might look like. Call us old fogies, but Pete and I still think a team of league-average players producing a league-average result (81-81 over the course of a modern season) sounds about right.
We have entertained offers over time to update and revise the original edition of this book, but we think it is better to leave it as it was, a stone along the road to a much greater understanding of how the game might best be played and who has played it best. (Pete has provided a list of the top 500 players of all time as of 2014, though, which appears as an appendix.) The updating, revising, and improving has been better left to the formerly tiny but now vast sabermetric community.
Still, how might we have approached Hidden Game differently—say, if we were to write it afresh today? When we wrote this book, play-by-play data were only beginning to be kept by the Elias Sports Bureau, and retrospective play-by-play had not yet been compiled by Retrosheet. We were compelled to develop our measures based on computer simulations and partial play-by-play. We would benefit from the work reflected at Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, MLB.com, SABR.org, and so many other websites. We could not ignore the advances of the digital age: live data capture through time-stamped video. PITCHf/x provides pitch trajectory, velocity, and location data, and FIELDf/x tracks all moving objects on the field: fielders, runners, umpires, balls. Our run values were the product of simulations; today those values may be tested against reams of play-by-play data, and they would be slightly different—not so different, however, as to alter any of our basic findings and tenets. More data bits may be available after a single game today than were available to us as of 1984 for all baseball history, but is our understanding of the game radically altered? Or is the way we play it substantially different? Unbalanced defensive alignments—shifting infielders around to compensate for hitters’ directional tendencies—are a novel reaction to data, for which in time there will be a counterreaction. Baseball is an entropic game.
Yet analytics are here to stay, and it is fair to say that the best constructed clubs—the ones that are in contention year after year—are not just the teams with the most money to lavish upon talent, but the teams that spend wisely and exhibit patience with their young players. It has been ever thus. The backlash against sabermetrics, present to some degree as soon as Bill James began to be widely read, is different from the one we experienced in the 1980s.
Most fans believe the game’s useful history begins with when they first started playing it or watching it. In my household, as my three sons grew up in the game, there was always talk at the dinner table about Ken Griffey Jr. and Greg Maddux and Mike Schmidt—and Babe Ruth and Cy Young and Ty Cobb, too. They were all part of the game. Indeed, they were all part of the family—more so than distant cousins and aunts and uncles. We talked about who was better than whom, what Cobb might do if he had to face Maddux, how many homers Ruth would hit today, what Griffey’s OPS might have been against 1920s pitching staffs, that sort of thing.
Baseball fans of earlier generations had fewer statistics at their disposal, but a simpler game perhaps had less need of them. Ultimately, the statistical fragments that were once saved in scrapbooks, or the new measures devised by ingenious fans, become relics that remind us at every moment that our youth was a wonderful if remote time.
Cory Schwartz of Major League Baseball Advanced Media has said: “I’m old enough to remember when we had to wait two days to find West Coast box scores in the newspaper, and wait until the Monday and Tuesday editions of USA Today.” Pete and I are older than that, and we recall some of the individuals who were tilling this field before us. We are in a bold new Age of Enlightenment, but fans and writers are not unanimous in believing that we are in a new Age of Enjoyment.
Stats contain and crystallize stories but are not stories in themselves. They are something of a fetish, an encapsulation of a thing once alive. A stat serves to recall and revivify the past, and sometimes to transform the future. As fans, Pete and I both follow baseball as closely as we ever did. But sabermetric writing lies more behind us than ahead, and not only because we are nearer to life’s ninth inning. Amid today’s mix of straight-on game account and metric analysis of who is better than whom, we miss the fun that made us come to love the game in the first place.
For this we could blame Bill James, and ourselves too. Early on, what interested us more than fiddling with formulas or lobbying for Dick Allen to enter the Hall of Fame was the web of illusion that stats created for fans and players alike, evading more interesting theoretical or philosophical questions. Read Hidden Game in that spirit, the one that spurred us thirty years ago, and we think you will be rewarded. Others may say better than Pete and I what Hidden Game has meant, but for us it may be simply that it continues to be sought and cited, all these years later. With this reissue, no longer will fans need to scour antiquarian book sites to luck upon a copy.
This is a guest column by my friend Ronald Auther, who joined the SABR community in 2014. He holds a B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts. He writes a blog on African American baseball called The Shadow Ball Express, focusing on western baseball, from St. Louis to the Pacific Coast. His research focuses on social dynamics and social construct developments in arts, entertainment, and sports. Here he tells the story of how the racism of the Pacific Coast League owners may have denied them a a place in major-league history, whether as a third major league or as an incubator of African-American talent.
In January 1914, J. Cal Ewing, owner of the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League, was building a new ballpark, Ewing Field. “If I were a player, working for McCredie,” he said, “and he asked me to go out and play against these colored fellows, I would refuse to do it for him.”
Walter “Judge” McCredie, manager of the Portland Beavers baseball team, had scheduled exhibition games against the Chicago American Giants, a celebrated black club. This series of games would take place along the West Coast, beginning in Santa Maria and Fresno in California and ending up in Portland, Oregon. Finding a venue to play in along the way north would present problems for McCredie. Ewing offered further: “There are two classes of players I bar from playing on my ball parks—colored tossers and bloomer girls. The league has no power to prevent these games between the Beavers and the Chicago Giants, but I am sure that nearly every director in the league would be opposed to these games.”
PCL president Allen T. Baum agreed with Ewing. “I have no jurisdiction in the matter, but my sentiments are strongly against it. I am sure there is not another manager in the league that would consider playing with the Chicago Giants.”
When the Chicago Defender headlined a story “Rube Foster’s Team Starving in Oregon,” it was undeniable that the Chicago American Giants had generated ill feelings during their stay. Their talents as baseball exponents captivated Portland’s Walt McCredie but the cool reception by the fans and the other PCL teams spoke volumes.
Fast-forward thirty years to 1944, and what a year it would be when the Pacific Coast League decided to make its move to become a third major league. There was the American League, the National League, and the minors, when Clarence “Pants” Rowland, general manger of the Los Angeles Angels, stated: “…we’ll simply have to get major league baseball when the war is over. This Pacific Coast area is the fastest growing in the nation.”
By December 1944, the PCL moved to boost the draft prices for its stars from $7,500 to $10,000. From there, league vowed to strengthen its territorial restrictions to prevent a postwar Major League Baseball invasion of the West Coast. Rowland’s showdown with the Big Show was placed on the back burner, for now . Waiting for a new commissioner that backed his play would be paramount to forming a new major league on the West Coast.
The PCL used the death of Commissioner K. M. Landis to leverage a new deal for the West Coast minor league. Landis had often been blamed for delaying the integration of African American players into the major leagues. That weight obviously could not be placed on the shoulders of one man alone. Landis and those who thought like him felt that by allowing integration, teams in the Negro Leagues would seek financial redress for monetary losses that might occur..
By September 1945, Ed Harris and C.C. Pittman of the High Marine Social Club made contact with Rowland, by phone and letter, presenting the concept of a full-fledged West Coast Negro League that would operate in every major market already established by the PCL, excluding Hollywood and Sacramento. The stage was being set for a baseball war between the races. Clarence Rowland hadn’t planned for this upstart new league of “professionals” to waylay his well-laid plans to create a major league from the existing Pacific Coast League, which had battled long and hard to be recognized by the American and National Leagues as more than just a “farm.” Rowland had in effect been notified that his battle to be the West Coast big league would be shared with men of color.
The first rule of starting a league would be to secure playing grounds. This was one of the main issues facing the new league, backed by Jesse Owens and Abe Saperstein. Ed Harris was the West Coast Baseball Association chairman, and front man when it came to securing almost everything from players and coaches to the fields they’d play on. To accommodate the crowds required to fund a league, Ed Harris along with Abe Saperstein would do their best to negotiate with owners of Pacific Coast League parks.
The schedule for six new teams would require some tweaking by the Pacific Coast League to accommodate these other ‘professionals’ that hadn’t been sanctioned by anyone to start a league on their own. Even if ball parks like Edmonds, Wrigley, Oaks, and Seals Stadium had dark days or down time, their owners were not required to rent these parks to African Americans, based on the unwritten covenants, conditions, and restrictions that had stood firm since the days of J. Cal Ewing. Rowland reneged on a promised meeting with Ed Harris and Dewey Portlock about the use of the Angels’ park.
Large investments had been made for the development of these Pacific Coast League ballparks by men like Yubi Separovich, Dick Edmonds, and Paul Fagan. For them, the demise of the West Coast Negro League was personal as well as business. By the 1940s, racism on the West Coast had peaked, based on the Great Migration fulfilling the promise of jobs in the war industries for tens of thousands of African Americans, raising their level of income and allowing them to better themselves in West.
Major league baseball had sent Rowland a clear message in July 1945, when it rejected the proposed increase in the price on a draftee to the majors.. He returned fire in December, when the PCL adopted a resolution stating, “Resolved that the Pacific Coast League now become [sic] a major league and to be such beginning with the 1946 season, but provided it must obtain approval of the commission of baseball, of the presidents of two major leagues, and the national association, and that it be accepted as a major league in organized baseball and remain therein.” 
A triumvirate of three—Clarence Rowland; Charles Graham, President of the San Francisco Seals; and Victor Ford Collins of the Hollywood Stars—was the committee selected to begin the negotiations and obtain the necessary approval and agreement . The National League and the American League club owners met in Chicago, on December 11, 1945, one week after Rowland made the announcement to go rogue by starting a West Coast Major league. They quickly voted to put the concept of another major league to rest. While in agreement that Rowland’s Pacific Coast League should be given the consideration of one day becoming a part of Major league baseball, President Ford Frick of the National League announced NL and AL owners’ denial on the basis that the PCL “did not have enough income or seating capacity.” Frick also commented that issuing major league status to the West before it was ready “would serve to weaken baseball,” by “not being able to supply big time baseball, but could hold high class players on the Coast, since the league’s promotion would exempt the clubs from the annual draft.”
Frick was a master of contradiction. It was another way of saying, ‘you’re good enough for us to farm your best players, but you’re not good enough to hold your own with the “bigs.’” While Rowland swallowed his pride and accepted the decision gracefully, the West Coast Baseball Association moved forward with its plan to create a stir.
The initial request by Ed Harris and C.C. Pittman to negotiate the use of Pacific Coast League baseball parks for West Coast Baseball Association games had been ignored. There was money to be made by PCL owners in renting out their fields. To band together and deny access to money required to fund the PCL’s advancement to big-league status illuminates the major leagues’ assessment of their business acumen. Abe Saperstein was a savvy negotiator when it came to gaining access to venues. In his letter to Yubi Separovich, one is given the sense that the unwritten policy of not renting parks on down time was part of the Pacific Coast League’s plan to disavow any and all knowledge that the West Coast Baseball Association even existed.
Jimmy Powers of the New York Daily News had written in 1933, “Another trouble with major league ball certainly would seem to be the color line drawn in the big leagues. There have been good baseball players who were Indians or part Indians, Mexicans, Cubans, etc. A Chinese Hawaiian tried out for the Giants a few years ago, and would have been able to make the team if he had been able to play a little better ball. But good colored ballplayers aren’t eligible; and so there must be a lot of possible fans in Harlem who don’t step over to the Stadium or the Polo Grounds to baseball games. It’s a trend of the times, this decline of baseball. We don’t know what could be done to arrest the trend, unless the big league chiefs could bring themselves to erase the color line, and baseball fans in every city or state burdened with the blue laws could be lined up to fight those laws.”
In 1945 the Pacific Coast League balked by unnecessarily delaying the game, a race game that was being played out on these West Coast baseball fields. The Pacific Coast League principals never saw the writing on the wall, that by year’s end Jackie Robinson would be signed by the Montreal Royals, pointing out the direction baseball was headed. The Pacific Coast League could have been the primary farm source, laying the groundwork for the majors’ intergration. That color line eventually vanished, and the Pacific Coast League never gained major league status. Instead, it was decimated by the 1958 move of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.
1. “Coast Magnates Draw Color Line”, The Morning Oregonian, January 24, 1914, Page 10.
3. Robert Petersen, Only The Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams, Oxford University Press, 1970, Page 147.
4. “Los Angeles Seeks Major League Ball,” The Montreal Gazette, January 14, 1944, Page 16.
5. “Minors Silent On Landis Successor,” The Montreal Gazette, December 6, 1944, Page 15.
6. “Seeking A New Deal,” Lawrence Journal World, March 1, 1945, Page 10.
7. “On The Level: Delegates Ignored,” The Oakland Tribune, November 1, 1945.
8. “Majors Rejects Minors Proposal That ‘AA’ Draft Price be Double,” The Montreal Gazette, July 24, 1945, Page 14.
9. “Coast Votes Major Status,” The Eugene Register Guard, December 12, 1945, Page 10.
10. “Pacific Coast Circuit Votes to Become A Major League,” The Spokesman Review, December 5, 1945, Page 11.
11. “Deny Pacific Coast Bid For Major League,” Lodi News-Sentinel, December 12, 1945, Page 9.
12. “More About Negro Ball Players”, The San Francisco Spokesman, March 3, 1933, Page 5.
This is an excerpt from an article in the Augusta Chronicle of Augusta, GA, dated November 12, 1946. Written by Westbrook Pegler, it was originally titled “Some Points About Incomes of Authors.” Although he is recalled today as a conservative columnist on political affairs, Pegler began as an iconoclastic sports reporter and columnist.
NEW YORK, Nov. 11.—Harrison Smith, a speaker at a book show, had something to say about the effect of big incomes on young writers. He thought the effect was not good.
At first, I was going to agree with him. Then I was going to disagree. But, I find that I do and I don’t. […]
Biographers are the worst liars in the world and often give us direct quotes from people who have been dead a hundred years or more. They make a lot of money, though, and, excusing that fictional make-believe with which they dress up their Henrys and Louies and Katherines, they are very good and worth every dollar they get, considering the time and reading they have to put in on a book and then the writing on top of all that. I know because, in collaboration with the late George Phyffe, of the old Evening World, I did not a mere biography but an autobiography of Babe Ruth back in 1922 [Pegler recalls the year incorrectly; it was 1920–ED.] After I had chased the Babe all over the western wheel with the Yankee club and had nailed him for only fifteen minutes one Sunday morning after mass in Chicago for the only personal touch we had to-go on, George and I sat in his apartment with Spalding guides and records and the envelopes out of the morgue and did 80,000 words in three days. I would wait for the Babe like a private detective in the hotel lobbies until all hours of the morning but he wouldn’t show up until about nine when he would come bustling in with a silly little cigar-box ukelele that he used to carry around for social evenings, get a little breakfast and barge in on Ping Bodie, his room-mate, to catch a little sleep before time to go to the ball-yard. Then nothing, of course, until night when he would disappear again. He did promise to talk to me on the train from St. Louis to Chicago, but instead he got into a game of hearts in a drawing-room that didn’t bust up until Englewood that Sunday morning. Then I got sore at the big baboon because, after all, he was getting $1,000 and 50 per cent of the gross, and he finally listened to reason and gave me that fifteen minutes. I asked him a few questions and when I asked Mrs. Ruth’s pet name for him he said “Babe.” Then Meusial [Meusel] stuck his face in the room and said they were waiting to play hearts some more and that was all there was to it.
Long afterward. I was talking with George Creel about the difficulty of ghosting autobiographies and George recalled that, back in 1915, he went way out to Kansas to interview Jess Willard for his life story and asked him what he had called a dog that he had had when he was a little boy. Jess said “Rover,” and that was about all George got, too. They just couldn’t give.
This must have been a very fine autobiography of Ruth, in the spots that I did, at least, if Harrison Smith’s theory has any merit because we were having a gaudy inflation just then and I was getting $50 a week. Phyffe was way up around $150 a week but he was like Charles Dickens, who made an awful lot of money, too. Max Perkins, of Scribners, a great editor whom you never heard of, probably, because he isn’t a celebrity, told me that Dickens used to write those long-winded jobs of his in “parts” or installments which were sold by themselves, not in magazines like our present day serials. He said that when the sales of the early installments of Martin Chuzzlewit were drooping, Dickens and his publishers held a story conference, such as we have in Hollywood now, and decided that the way to hop it up and stimulate business was to knock Americans. Dickens was very good at this and up she went.
The profit motive and wealth didn’t hurt Dickens’ delivery; Shakespeare got so rich that he retired and I have heard that when Tennyson was under contract for a guinea a word and wrote “Break, break, break on thy cold, grey stones, oh, seal” the publisher wanted to use ditto marks and dock him two Gns.
Pegler had more to say about his ghostwriting for Ruth a bit later, when Bob Considine’s book on the Babe appeared, as well as an execrable film. From the Reading (PA) Eagle of February 16, 1948:
I desire to supplement an important historical document, the life story of Babe Ruth, a Great American, which has been written for printing and moving pictures by Bob Considine.
The Babe came to New York from the Boston Red Sox in 1919 in a deal that was part of a disguised case of syndicate baseball. Harry Frazee, a theatrical fellow who came from Peoria, had acquired title to the Boston Red Sox and was selling down to the rich and extravagant angels of the New York club a bunch of ivory on the hook, including Ruth, who were to win several pennants.
The rich and extravagant New York promoters, T. L. Huston and Jake Ruppert, had advanced Frazee a lot of money toward the purchase of the Boston team. He wrecked the Boston team, or, more pleasantly put, he transferred the best of a great club to New York. A little later, an ignorant hillbilly who was pitching well for the Giants got sore at McGraw and solicited a bribe to go fishing. This would have hampered the Giants seriously because he was more or less reliably good for several victories in the time to be covered by the fishing trip. He was banished from organized baseball in perpetual disgrace. I took mischievous pleasure in pointing the parallel between the illicit and the licit, between the perfidy of the alcoholic ignoramus and the civic service to New York of the distinguished sportsmen who demolished the great Boston team and erected the great Yankees for sordid gain.
Ruth had hit an extraordinary number of home runs—19, as I recall—in the 1919 season. Would I be safe in saying that the previous record had been 12 by Cactus Cravath, of the Philadelphia Phillies?
In the early part of the 1920 season, perhaps about May, Fred Ferguson, then the manager of an affair called the United News, a news report known in the trade as the wine, women and song service, had one of his ideas. He left word all over town for Ruth to telephone him, but Ruth had never heard
In the early part of the 1920 season, perhaps about May, Fred Ferguson, then the manager of an affair called the United News, a news report known in the trade as the wine, women and song service, had one of his ideas. He left word all over town for Ruth to telephone him but Ruth had never heard of him. Afraid that someone else in the same business might have the same idea, Ferguson observed that the Yankees were playing in Philadelphia, and went down to proposition him. He found he Babe and a half-dozen other Yankees on their knees in a room playing a game that is played with dice. The hotel was the Aldine, strangely infested with elderly ladies, and sedate enough for umpires. It had the finest American-plan dining room in any league. I never could understand why the Aldine took a ball club on the American plan at whatever price. Ferguson observed that the only way he could hope to get close to the Babe was to get into the crap game.
The United Press-Scripps-Macrae concern, of which our wine, women and song service was a part, operated on a frugal budget, and gambling losses never were legitimate expenses. A refund of gambling gains incurred on assignment might have received the most careful and fair-minded consideration.
Ferguson went crazy and cleaned out the crap game and, with the prestige thus acquired, was able to impress the Babe with his importance and acumen. He made a contract assuring the Babe $1,000 for the season and $5 each for his home runs, and containing a reserve clause binding him to cover the World Series for us, in person.
Still further, Ruth was to authorize a weekly resume of the activities in both major leagues and an occasional prediction. And, by way of earning his $5 for each home run, he was to send us a wire after each game, telling us, in his own inimitable language, what the situation was at the time and what kind of ball it was.
He had hit about a dozen home runs without sending any such dispatches and I, as his spook, had imaginized the situations and the types of pitches. But Ferguson got petulant, for he is a bargainy fellow, wired the Babe demanding to know. And, furthermore, he demanded a telegram after each home run henceforth.
Two days later, from Detroit, we got a wire late at night, long after the little Babe Ruth essay on the day’s home run had cleared.
“Socked one today,” it read. “Fast ball. High outside. Babe.”
The Babe’s public was expanding and I was assigned to catch the Yankees in St. Louis, interview him exhaustively for his life story, and rush back to New York to put it into deathless prose. I waylaid him in the lobby every night and tried to mousetrap him. I wheedled with Ping Bodie, his roommate. But he never came home and just appeared at and disappeared from the ball park every day. On the Saturday night we went up to Chicago, but he played cards all night. On the Sunday morning he went to Mass and then played sandlot ball with a lot of kids until about noon. I then had 15 minutes with him and went back to New York, where George Buchanan Fife, of the Evening World, and I produced 80,000 words, some of them very good, in four days, turn and turn-about. We got nothing extra, but I believe the Babe got $500.
The Dodgers and the Indians played the World Series and Ferguson asked Ruth whether he was going to show up to cover the games. He wasn’t acting as though he intended to.
He wasn’t. He had an offer of $1,000 to go barnstorming and he defied Ferguson to sue him. So Sidney Whipple was assigned to go with him and the great essays on the strategy of the 1920 World Series by Babe Ruth were written from Perth Amboy, Camden, Scranton and such points and not a bit the worse for that.
I also had the honor of attending Mr. Ruth in his debut as a moving-picture actor that year in a drama called “Headin’ Home.” The girl was a nice, buxom blonde whose name unfortunately I do not recall. The villain, who was the pitcher for the opposition, was a skinny little Broadway fellow named Scher, who had done odds and ends as an actor. Ruth had bought some suits from a tailor named Scher and Scher said he would call it square if they would use his brother in the show. Mr. Scher, the actor, threw like an actor. Yet Ruth had to break his back striking out several times to make him look good and in the end he never got a chance to prove he could hit Mr. Scher because, for the great climax, they dubbed in one of his old home runs photographed during the season as thousands cheered.
There were no sound tracks and the actors, for something to say as they moved their lips, would mutter over and over “business, business, business” or “so-and-so-and-so-and-so.” This blonde lady had trouble not laughing at Mr. Ruth as he would grab her in a stiff-arm, self-conscious clinch and say, “Oh, Miss Business. Business, Business; I think you are so-and-so and so-and-so.”
Baltimore has not produced many great men. You may arrange the order as you like, but the list doesn’t amount to many more than Cardinal Gibbons, Joe Gans, Babe Ruth and a H.L. Mencken, the infidel.
Part 10: Ruth Winning Out by Using Natural Swing
Home Run King Tells How He Became Convinced That “Scientific” Game at the Bat Was Not Suited to His Ability.
“I am a natural hitter,” says Babe Ruth in the tenth chapter of his life story, and having come to this conclusion in the season of 1919 he tells how he dismissed “Scientific” hitting coaching and relied on his batting eye and physical strength to push ’em further than there were men to catch ’em. Interesting facts about his hitting record which brought him the home-run championship arc related here and he tells in an interesting manner of is sale to the Yankees by the Boston Red Sox.
NEW YORK, Thursday, Aug. 19.—I am a natural hitter. I found this out in the season of 1919, when I missed a lot of long blows by trying to play the “scientific” game at the bat. Instead of attempting to drive homers into left or center, I should have used my natural swing, which pushes the ball over toward right four times out of five.
Although l was getting a lot of distance, it never struck me that I could really depend upon soaking the ball clear out of the lot. That seemed such a big order that in my wildest dreams of being a home-run champion I never expected to be putting them over the fence as an almost daily stunt. Realizing that most of my swats were going very deep into right, the opposition right fielders began playing deep for me. What I should have done was to put more drive in my bat and sail the hits over their head, even though they played back against the fences. Instead, however, I tried to hit to center and right.
Of course, this wasn’t my natural way, as it required me to delay my swing until the ball was almost past me. The result was I knocked a lot of long flies and struck out more often than if I had batted in my old way. It seems likely that I would have had, perhaps, half a dozen more homers if I hadn’t been bunked by this new idea.
Becomes Home-Hun Champ.
Anyhow, fall time came along and I found myself the home-run champ. even when they weighed me against the old-time whiskered babies who used to sock at underhand pitching and were considered some bears.
After the close of the 1919 season I began to think over my future in the game. I was tied up to the Red Sox with a contract which certainly did not call for the salary that a man with a home-run record of 29 in a season deserved. I tried to open the deal for a raise, but couldn’t get Harry Frazee to see my side of it. In that case, there was only one thing to do—hold out—because I knew that two such sports as Colonel Ruppert and Colonel Huston of the Yankees would be after me, no matter what they had to pay Frazee to let me go. With Mrs. Ruth I went out to Los Angeles for the winter to keep in condition by mild training. So I wouldn’t lose my batting eye I stuck pretty close to golf and was on the course every day.
Things began to pop in the East, and there were rumors of all sorts. One day Frazee wouldn’t sell me, and the next day I’d hear that he wanted too much money. To an outsider it may have seemed that I was going to be kept out of the game or forced to play with the Red Sox for my old salary.
Sale Reported at Last.
At last the sale was reported at a price which figured more than my weight in gold. Of course, this was a mighty fine compliment to me, but when I try to pay my rent to the landlord in compliments upon his handsome red nose or something, he gives me the razz, not a receipt. I mean to say Frazee was getting this purchase price, not I, and I yearned for a little jack myself.
The Yanks agreed with me. When Miller Huggins came out to Los Angeles to sign me up, I was out on the golf course. Hug didn’t know me very well and he knew just enough about golf to wait for me at the nineteenth hole instead of butting in on my game, though I’m not any more temperamental at the old Scottish pastime than I am at the bat. We soon settled matters at the extra dry nineteenth over a couple of steins of roof beer, shook hands—and Babe Ruth became a Yank:
We drank to the success of my new club in true prohibition style.
Babe No Prima Donna.
Harry Frazee had said that I was too full of ego, or something like that, to be an asset any longer to the Red Sox. He may be right, because a stuck-up man is the last one to realize his ailment, but I honestly don’t think that was Frazee’s objection. I’ve never been a prima donna with any ball club. The fellows are all my friends and nobody ever feels it necessary to give way to me because I’m upstage, or anything like that. The best cure for temperament is a season with a hall club. If they gave a conceited guy the brown derby in front of thousands of fans, he’d never get over it. But I got one in Philly once, and it was about the greatest joke ever put across on me. I’ll tell you all about that later.
Here was the record for 1919 that the Yankees bought along with their 210 pounds of Ruth: 130 games, 432 times at bat, 139 hits, 75 extra-base hits, 29 home runs. 34 two-baggers, 12 three-baggers; scored more runs than any other player in the league, 103; struck out more times than any other batter in the league, 58 times; made 230 putouts, 2 errors and 26 assists as an outfielder for a fielding average of .992. My throwing arm had shown up as one of the best on the whole circuit of clubs, enabling me to get more assists than any other outer gardener in the American League.
I don’t write of these things in a bragging spirit, but just to give you a brief catalogue of the goods the Yankees got for their money. In view of this, and my 1920 record of home runs to date, you tell ’em whether Frazee saw the colonels coming.
After we got away for the spring training trip I found myself up against something that puzzled me a lot more than Walter Johnson’s speed or Eddie Cicotte’s snake hall. This was the sport writer. They asked me all kinds of things about my bat, and how I held it, and how I swung it; they wanted to look at my eyes, and one fellow got me to strip off my shirt to give my back muscles the once over. At first I thought they were kidding me. but it didn’t do me any good to find out they weren’t, because I talk the same way some people sing.
A fellow comes up and says: “Can you hit an in-curve farther than an out?” And, honest, I just don’t know what to answer. Usually I think of the reply after the paper’s gone to press, and even then I’m not sure I’m right. I’ll have to make a cellar campaign if I ever run for anything. I’m not even good enough for the front porch.
Pitchers Doing Their Best.
The last year I was with the Red Sox I think you’ll agree that I hit a good, fast stride. But this season the old batting-eye seems to be working better than ever, because that’s the only way I can account for my new record. The pitchers certainly haven’t gone back, and they’re doing their best to strike me out or walk me. They put all they’ve got on the ball and I’ve had to beat them with the lamps.
We must recognize that some of the twirlers are under a handicap this year on account of the rule against the use of resin, sand, paraffine or licorice on the hall. I know by long experience that a little pinch of resin is a great aid to a twirler with his curve ball. As to the emery ball, I should think the result is about the same, though accomplished in a different way.
The paraffine ball or “shine ball” as they called it last year, is something I never knew anything about. It certainly never gave me any trouble at the bat. So, if anyone can figure out just how much these new handcuffs on the pitcher have helped me this year, and how many of my homers this season are due to them, I’d be glad to know.
Part 10: Living Up to His Price Cost Ruth Anxious Time
Brown Derby Incident at Philadelphia and a Little “Runt of a Fan” in Florida Had Him Worried.
“Could I make good $130,000 worth?” This was the question facing Ruth when he started out with the Yankees after his sensational sale. In this chapter, No. 11, of his history Ruth tells how he lost the first game he played by fumbling a ball, failed to hit anything for several games, was awarded the brown derby at Philadelphia for being a false alarm and subjected to “razzing” from the bleachers.
He touches a bit on the psychology of a successful ball player in this chapter—good material both for fans and aspiring ball players. Incidentally he reveals that his total of home runs thus far this season is greater than the total polled by any entire club in the American League.
Tomorrow Ruth concludes his life story with a discussion of the kind of ball he likes to hit best and why and some further counsel to young ball players.
NEW YORK, Friday, Aug. 20.— Now I am a member of the Yankees.
It had cost Colonel Ruppert and Colonel Huston, owners of the club, $130,000 to release me from the Red Sox after my contract troubles up there and they were gambling with their money because nobody could know how confident I felt of knocking out more home runs in 1920 than I did in 1919. The price of ball players of reputation had been coming along like the rent of a New York flat ever since John McGraw paid $11,000 to bring Rube Marquard to the Giants in 1908. The Yankees were paying me a great salary and it was costing them a heavy premium for $150,000 worth of accident and life insurance so it was up to Babe Ruth to deliver in a big way in 1920 or go down in baseball history as the worst crate of lemons in the game.
The sale was the biggest sensation that baseball has served up in many years. It seemed to me that more columns of statistics and expert speculation were printed about this deal than about the League of Nations. Tris Speaker and Eddie Collins had been sold at $50,000 each when put on the market but my price was more than both of them had cost— enough more to pay off Joe Jackson’s purchase price of 1915.
Could I make good $130,000 worth? It was a big order, but if home runs were what they wanted for their money, I felt certain of delivering the goods because my eye was on the ball and I knew it. If I fell down I was sure I’d get the most classic razzing in this history of the game.
Gets Brown Derby.
About this razzing. I’d like to say that when I do get it, I take it as part of the game. They gave me the “Brown Derby” down In Philadelphia last April—the tan crown of ridicule. I had lost the first ball game of the schedule by muffing an easy fly and I hadn’t done a thing at the bat. So on the second day the jeering Philly fans dug up a brown derby of the vintage of 1898 with a wide curving brim and a crown about as high as a fried egg, and sent it out to me at the plate wrapped up in many folds of tissue paper inside a fancy gift box. On the level, I was sold 100 per cent on this idea. I really thought. “Babe, some of your old buddies are sending you something pretty nice just to show this crowd of raspberry pickers they still think you’re good.” Well, 1 stood there before that great big crowd with the boys of both hall clubs standing around me and opened that prize package. One of the fellows rushed out of the dugout with a knife to cut the string and when I got the lid off the box it seemed to be tilled with tissue paper. There were yards and yards of it, but I unrolled them like a girl going after a bunch of violets and found—the brown derby!
Those fans were all watching me to see what kind of a bird I really was. If I’d been sore about it, they would have ridden me out of the league. I took the hat and pulled it tight down on my head just as if it had been my cap. and that’s the way’ I went to the plate. I could hear the yell that went up from the stands, but it wasn’t for any goat that I’d lost: it wasn’t the razz.
But every ball player loses his nanny at least once. That happened to me down in Jacksonville during the training trip. There was a fellow in the stand who just wouldn’t let me alone. No mutter what I did I was “a great big stiff,” a “fatso alarm,” and a lot more things that are too hot to put down here. I stood it just as long as I could and then went over to the stand to get that bird. I was ready to knock his block off. And when I got to him, what did I find, a little, sawed-off runt of a man, about 10 cents’ worth of skin and bones. I couldn’t hit him, so there was nothing for me to do but grin at him and go back to the lot. I was told afterward that Ernie Shore was sitting in the bleachers that day and as soon as he saw me start across the field he knew that something was doing, so he climbed over the heads of all the people and got down to me. They said that the little fellow drew a knife, but I didn’t see it. Anyhow, he let up on me after that.
After the brown derby incident I wanted to make a home run in Philly, just to show ’em. But I was out of luck. It was about two weeks later, on May 1, that I got my first homer of the 1920 season off Pennock of the Red Sox at the Polo Grounds. Since then I have socked a homer against every club in the league and in every park on the circuit. So far I have slapped out three on my old home grounds at Fenway Park, Boston, but of course most of my roundtrip clouts this season have been made under Coogan’s Bluff, New York. Up to July 25 I had made 25 on the home lot. When August 7 rolled around I had collected a record of 41 home runs for the season. If you go to the trouble to take a high dive into statistics you’ll find that 41 home runs is more than any entire club, other than my own club, in the American League has knocked out this year.
Honestly, I’m mighty proud of this record. My hitting this year has scored about 116 runs, as I figure it, and we still have a spell to go before we’ll know who’s going to battle for the world’s championship. I think I have about 130 hits to my credit, for about 220 bases—I’m writing this early in August and the figures are going up all the time. A peculiar thing is that for all these homers and other extra base hits, I stand pretty well out of first place in the American League batting list. Just now Speaker, Sisler and Jackson top me, with averages above .400. while mine is only .393.
Back in 1911, Ty Cobb’s best year, he hit for an average of .420 with 248 hits and 288 bases. In 1919, when 1 broke the world’s home run record with 29, I hit 139 times for 284 bases and finished the season with an average of .322. But Cobb didn’t lead the league in home runs in 1911. Frank Baker of the Athletics was the homer champ that year with only nine.
So I like to think that a hitter today takes conditions as he finds them and makes his home runs against the best pitching the other clubs can serve and against a ball that stands as the official ball of the game. In Ned Williamson’s day, in 1884, he hit 27 home runs. But he got 25 of them on the old grounds on the Chicaco Lake Front, where the fence was close in. Thus, he only got two anywhere else. And Buck Freeman, another star walloper, who was knocking them over the fences in 1899, his beat year, is down in the records for twenty-five. I can’t find out how many games they played in nor how many times they went to bat, so this will have to be a comparison of home runs for the entire season. Gavvy Cravath came along with a later-day record when he smashed out twenty-five homers in 1915, hut he got most of them over his personal “home run” fence in short right field at the Phillies park. He also had a convenient outfield bleacher where a hit was a round trip.
But give them credit: everyone else had a chance to measure those fences or long drives and that these fellows were able to do it is to their credit. At the Polo Grounds I have got the right field stand measured just about right, but I have to clout the ball a terrible smack to lift it that far. In writing this story of my career I have been looking over a lot of old records and have just discovered that Frank Baker’s total of homers in the four straight years that he led the league was just exactly what I have done this season with more than a month to go—41. In less than two full seasons, 1919 and 1920, my grand slams mount up to seventy. Do you know that the home run leaders of the American league ran up a total of only 72 in eight full seasons, from 1908 to 1915, inclusive?
Part 12: 8 to 7 Cleveland Win Gave Babe His Thrill
All the Great Bambino Did Was Drive in Every One of Those Eight Runs—Don’t Smoke, Get Married, He Advises.
In this, the twelfth and final chapter of Babe Ruth’s striking chronicle of his history in balldom, the Bambino tells of a game at Cleveland last year which he recalls with more pleasure than any other he ever played. In it he poled out two home runs and a third hit, all of which drove in a total of eight runs, four of them in the last inning, enabling Boston to beat Cleveland 8 to 7 with Babe responsible for every winning run. He tells of the kind of ball he likes to hit best, discusses changes that have been made in pitching rules and why they are advantageous and concludes with, advice to young players to keep their eyes on the ball, their minds on the game—and get married.
NEW YORK. Saturday. Aug. 20 —Writing a story about yourself is very different from pitching a ball, because in writing the “windup” is the last thing of all. But I’ve given you my best delivery and tried to tell you all about myself that I think would interest you. Whether I’ve struck out as a “literary batsman,” or made a hit, is for you to say. But I know more about balls than I do about books. So here goes for the “windup.”
Some time ago a fellow asked me what was the best game of ball I ever played, the one I enjoyed most. Perhaps you’d like to hear about it. It was in Cleveland last year. In the first inning, with Fred Coumbe on the mound, there were two men on bases and I got a home run. That, as you see. brought in three runs. In another inning I got another run. At the end of the eighth inning the score was 7 to 4 against the Red Sox. But in the ninth inning, with three men on the bags and Uhle pitching, I poked out another home run, so the game closed 8 to 7 in favor of Boston. Lack of modesty compels me to say that I made every run for our side in that game, so of course I enjoyed it. .
Since we’re talking about this bird Ruth, I was playing in an exhibition game in Baltimore in April, 1918, and made six home runs in six times at hat. The game was really two games, played on two days, and on the first day I got four homers and the next I whammed out two.
I’m glad that I’ve played every position on the team, because I feel that I know more about the game and what to expect of the other fellows. Lots of times I hear men being roasted for not doing this or that, when I know, from my all-around experience, that they couldn’t have been expected to do it. It’s a pity some of our critics hadn’t learned the game from every position.
Infielding Days Over.
I guess my days up on the infield are over, although I have played first base even this year on the Polo Grounds. I’m an outfielder now, and. if you’ll notice it, you’ll always find me in the sunny field, whether it be right or left. The sun doesn’t bother me very much, and often I put on goggles if it gets too glary. But being in the outfield instead of on the mound gives me the chance to play every game.
Speaking again of homers, you haven’t an idea how many suggestions have been made by fans as to the way to get me in a hole so I wouldn’t have a chance to land one out. I heard about a letter that was sent to Wilbert Robinson, manager of the Brooklyn Nationals. It was while the Yanks were playing an exhibition series with the Dodgers last March. The fan wrote:
“Dear Robbie: One way to get the best of Ruth is to tell your pitchers to get him two and one, and then he’s a sucker.”
They tell me that Robbie showed the letter around the training: camp and said: “Yea; that’s all fine and dandy, but somebody’s got to tell mec how to get those first two strikes on him!”
Many times I’ve been asked what sort of a ball I like best. The answer ought to be perfectly plain to anyone who has ever stood at the plate—a straight, fast ball and a little below the waist and right up the groove. When you catch this ball your upward swing is at its greatest power and if you nail it at the balance point of your bat the leverage is there and the blow gets height and distance in the right proportions. If the ball comes shoulder high you will have to lift loo far to reach it and your wallop comes too late to do the best work. No pitcher I’ve ever met has been absolute “poison” to me. After the 1919 season some of the critics rummaged around for my weak spot and decided that I couldn’t hit left-handers. This was a joke to me because I’m a port-sider myself, and a man swinging from the south side of the plate has a better chance against a left than a right-hander, because he doesn’t get that sharp curve toward him which is the same as a big incurve to a right-handed batter. My 1920 home runs are about evenly distributed between righthanders and southpaws. They both throw a nine-ounce, cork-center, horsehide ball, and if it comes anywhere near the plate I don’t care whether the pitcher heaves it from the right side or left side or with his ears.
Tho abolition of the pitching tricks this year has been a good thing for baseball even though some pitchers who had lonrned to rely on resin and other stuff to make their curves take have suffered by it. After all are we out there to play the game fairly, relying on our skill and natural abilities and if you didn’t draw the line somewhere on those devices, somebody would be using a square hall or firing the pill out of a young cannon.
You may he sure that the fans approve the changes. They want to see hitting and fielding and if you doubt this, just read over the attendance figures of this, the greatest season in the history of baseball, with home runs and extra-base hits rattling like a hailstorm on a tin roof. If these tricks had gone on you could have taken the bat out of baseball.
I guess that’s about all from yours truly as to his share in baseball. Now I want to talk a minute or two to the youngsters who are coming up. Some of them are playing today on the sandlots. And some of them are going to be stars in the days to come. Take my advice and learn to play every position on the nine. If you think you’re a pretty good pitcher, see how good a shortstop you are, and then take a whack at the bags.That’s the way to learn the game. Above all, learn to keep your temper. Furget what I said about losing my own, because that never got me anywhere. I was foolish not to have had a better grip on it. If you are bat shy at the plate, I don’t know of any better way to cure it than to put on a mask and pad and catch a few innings every game, because when the batter swings and misses, you’ll get all the practice you need in keeping your eye on the ball. As a rule you needn’t fear getting hit by a ball you can see.
If you haven’t started to smoke don’t begin now. If you have, keep it down, especially during the playing season. I smoke a lot of cigars and I wish I didn’t, but I own a cigar factory, which I’ve got to keep busy. There isn’t any need to caution you about crooking your elbow. because the 18th amendment has fixed that for you.
And here’s another thing: get married. Pick a nice young girl who understands you—she’ll understand you a long time before you understand and appreciate her—and make a “home run.” Mrs. Ruth was only 16 when I married her and I was a youngster of 20. I wasn’t any kind of a champion then, except a champ picker, and I certainly was good at that. I had never known any girls while I was at Saint Mary’s and I didn’t think I’d have much use for them. A lot of wise kids think so, too, at the age of 20, but, boy, when it happens and gets you good, all bets are off.
Don’t think that because I played hookey once upon a time and made good in baseball that hookey is a good game for you to play. Go to school as long:as you can. There is plenty of time for baseball after 3 o’clock and during the summer vacations. I wish I had had more books—maybe I’d be a better author than I am.
And now I’m going to stop sure enough. I can’t promise to deliver a home run for you if you come out to see the Yanks play or if you read the box score far from the big league cities. I can only promise that I’ll be out there on the lot, trying all the time, swinging with all my power and “playing the game” with all my heart for the game’s sake with an unfailing remembrance of Old Saint Mary’s and Brother Matthias.
Tomorrow, in conclusion: How Babe Ruth’s 1920 autobiography came into being, and who wrote it with him.
Part 7: 500 Feet Babe Ruth’s Longest Home Run Hit
Caught One of Al Mammaux’s [sic] Fast Ones and Lost It Over Center Field Fence—Boston Park Is Tough One.
Babe has hit a home run out of every ball park in the American League.
In this, the seventh article of the series telling the story of his life, the Home Run King today tells of some of the longest hits he has made.
NEW YORK, Monday, Aug. 16.—There is no telling the exact length of the longest hit made in baseball. Out in St. Louis they still tell of a drive Cap Anson made with his Chicago White Stockings about 20 years ago which not only cleared the outer fence of the park, but sailed across the street and through the window of a German saloon where the ball was kept back of the bar for years as a curio.
I don’t know whether any of my drives have beaten this one or not, because, as I say, you can’t put a foot rule on the flight of a ball. But they gave me a silver cup on the day of the benefit for Tim Murnane’s family, September 27, 1917, at Fenway Park, Boston. The Red Sox, with whom I was then playing, went up against a team of American League stars, supposed to have been the greatest ball club ever assembled. We had a fungo contest as a side attraction, and Carl Mays, Duffy Lewis and I went in to see how far we could knock the ball.
When my turn came I tossed up a nice new ball and took a long swinging smack at it. Oh, the feel of that club as it met the horsehide square on the nose! I tell you. the ball sang on its way. The distance was measured as accurately as those things can be measured, at 435 feet. Remember, I didn’t have a pitcher against me to help with the speed of the ball. The ball was practically motionless in the air when I swung into it. It was a dead ball, starting from scratch with no bounce except what I gave it.
This was quite some ball game, by the way. Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Joe Jackson were the outfield, and each one played all the positions in the big outer pasture. In the five innings I pitched, the All-Stars got only three hits, but they had their eye on it, all right, for I got only one strike-out. Anyway, the Red Sox won 2 to 0, scoring those two runs by bundling some hits in the eighth inning.
He Fooled ’em.
They used to say that my home runs in Boston were freak blows. Some of the experts had it doped out that I had measured the right field wall with my eye and had developed a knack of putting the ball away on the same line every time. It is true that the right field wall is the home of my homers. Being a left-handed batter, I naturally pull them around on my right side by meeting the ball squarely as it comes to me. If I were to play for left field, or center, I’d have to wait till the ball came nearer to me before plugging it. This would be an unnatural system of hatting for any left-hander.
But I fooled them, Last year I proved that all right field walls look alike to me by pasting homers over every one throughout the American League circuit. Then I banged a few over the center field screens, and let them have a few in left field. At first, when my home run total over ten or 12, some of the fans thought I was a flash and called me a lucky stiff. They were sure that I’d hit a slump before the season ended. Anyhow they didn’t expect 29 home runs and a busted record from a pitcher playing his first year in the outfield. So, apparently there’s no constitutional amendment against a pitcher batting ’em out.
One day last summer I caught one squarely at the Polo Grounds and the feel of the blow was so nice and solid I knew I didn’t really have to run to get around. At that time the baseball writers agreed that this was the longest hit ever made in the Brush Stadium, as the ball went high over the right field stand, traveling fast. Old-timers recalled a hit by Joe Jackson over just about the same spot, but they said his ball wasn’t traveling so high or so fast when it disappeared behind the stand. Incidentally, because most of my hits have gone to right and close to the foul line, the American League officials decided this year to continue the white foul line clear up to the roof of the right stand at the Polo Grounds. In some of the parks on the circuit where the sloping roofs of the stands can be seen by the umpires, the foul lines have been striped across them. I know that two or three home runs made at the Polo Grounds this year really were fouls because they were going foul as they crossed the roof. In fact, one of my own hits which went for four bases would have been nothing but a strike if the umpire could have seen where it landed.
At Navin Field, Detroit, in the summer of 1919, I caught a ball on the hefty part of my bat and slammed it beyond the street wall, and at Sportsman’s Park, the home of the Browns in St. Louis, one of my hits which disappeared beyond the Grand Avenue bleachers, very close to center field, was said to be longer than the famed hit of Pop Anson, which had become baseball history many years before.
500 Feet in Florida.
There is one hit of mine which will not stay in the official records, but which I believe to be the longest clout ever made off a major league pitcher. At least, some of the veteran sport writers told me they never saw such a wallop. The Yanks were playing an exhibition game with the Brooklyn Nationals at Jacksonville, Fla., in April 1920. AI Mammaux [sic] was pitching for Brooklyn. In the first inning, the first ball he sent me was a nice fast one, a little lower than my waist, straight across the heart of the plate. It was the kind I murder, and I swung to kill it. The last time we saw the ball it was swinging its way over the ten-foot outfield fence of South-side park and going like a shot. That ball cleared the fence by at least 75 feet. Let’s say the total distance traveled was 500 feet: the fence was 429 feet from the plate. If such a hit had been made at the Polo Grounds I guess the ball would have come pretty close to the top of the green screen in the center field bleachers.
There was another blow this year, and the blow almost killed the White Sox. I think Dick Kerr was on the mound for Kid Gleason’s olio. Anyway. the pitcher served me one with a home-run ticket on it, and I punched the ticket for a round trip.
I knew by the ballyhoo that I had put it over the fence somewhere, but I was pretty close to second base before I got my eye on the ball again in time to see it drop over the wall close to the dividing line between center field and right. They say it landed on a soccer field and broke up a run or something:- ,
The 1919 season was a short one, you know. The schedule called for 140 games, of which I played only 130. Normally, the schedule reads 154 games, so you see I got my 29 official runs and my 31 actual ones on short rations. I felt sure I’d be able to beat that record this season, and now I have proved it, with a long time to go. I don’t make any promises, but at the rate I’m going now I think I see something: hanging up that looks mighty like a 45—if the pitchers behave.
And now, while we’re buzzing about records, I don’t remember that any other player has ever made a home run on every park in the circuit in one season. Fenway Park is said to be the most difficult in the league in which to make a home run, and some of the heaviest hitters in the game have always fallen short of the right and center field bleachers. I got nine home runs at Boston in 1919 and two or more on every other lot in the league except Washington, where I tallied only one. There were five in Detroit, four in New York, three in Chicago. three in St. Louis, two in Cleveland and two in Philadelphia. \
Part 8:Babe Gets Back Into Charmed .300 Circle
Hitting Fungoes in Winter Taught Him to Keep His Eye on the Ball and Started Him to Real Stardom.
In this, the eighth chapter of Babe Ruth’s personal history, the home-run champion takes you back to the time when he was one of the leading pitchers in the big leagues. This was the period in Ruth’s career that he decided a good batting eye had better staying powers in baseball than a good pitching arm and he made ready to get out of the box and become a slugging outfielder.
One of the things he learned and passes on to young players in the form of counsel that “punches” belong in the ball game and “not on the umpire’s nose.”
NEW YORK. Tuesday, Aug. 17.—The season of 1916 was my best as a pitcher. It was really only my second session in the big league and my third out of the old school lot, but when the averages were cat up at the end of the year, my name, like Abou Ben Adhem’s, led all the rest. You remember Abou—pitched for the Cloud-hoppers in the days when the second bounce was out.
This was the season of that rare World’s Series game in which Sherrod Smith of the Brooklyn Dodgers and I battled for 13 innings before a shuffle in the hailing order by Bill Carrigan shoved across a run for the Red Sox, winning the game. Smith pitched 12 scoreless innings that day. including ten consecutive runless sessions. Myers, the Dodgers’ center fielder, smacked one of my fast ones for a home run in the very first inning. He was the last man to circle the bases for Brooklyn that memorable day. I went 13 innings without being scored on, and we won the ball game, two to one. Smith gave six bases on balls, and I gave only half that number. He struck out two and I doubled his mark, with four to my credit. The Dodgers collected six hits and we had only one more than that.
In the league season, Carrigan pitched me in 44 games and I won 23 of them, being charged with the loss of 12. For the entire league schedule, I gave an average of 1.75 earned runs per game, topping Eddie Cicotte of the White Sox, the second man on the list, who gave 1.78. All told, during the year, 1,146 halters faced me, and of these I struck out 170. Myers of Philadelphia was the only pitcher who .struck out more than I did. He whiffed 182 batters, but he stood near the end of the list in pitching effectiveness, because he had allowed an average of 3.66 earned runs per game.
At bat, however, tho season of 1916 was the poorest of my major league career. My average was only .272. I had the swing, the position and the beef—everything but the batting eye, so all I could gather in were three home runs. As a pitcher I had reason to feel satisfied, but my poor showing at tho bat gave me a whole lot to worry about, because I knew I was just missing balls and bouquets by the width of a gnat’s eyelash. The pitchers were fooling me. and I guess the secret of it is I wasn’t keeping my eye on the ball. The power was in my swing all right, because when I hit them they sure did go, and I had three three-baggers and five doubles to prove it. But there was something wrong. Here I was. a young fellow with a minor league record as a fence-buster, up in the big time with about 210 pounds of physique, a big bunch of muscle and all the confidence of a cocksure kid—and I was either missing them altogether or sending up sky-rockets for easy outs. I had secured only 18 runs, and I had only 37 hits to show for a season’s work at the plate.
I had to find out about this, because l knew that the life of a pitcher in the big leagues was much shorter than that of a slugging outfielder. If I could get my eye on the ball again and hold it there, I was sure I could kiss the mound good-bye and turn myself out to pasture in one of the out-meadows and stay there for years. But my bat was the only thing that could win this for me. A batter’s eye ordinarily lasts longer than a pitcher’s arm unless he gets eye strain looking through the bottom of a glass. As I wasn’t hoisting ’em, or even using a straw, there was danger to either my eye or my elbow.
Spent Winter Practicing.
That winter I took my bat off in the corner and talked to it like a Dutch uncle. Whenever I got a chance during the winter I would go out in the lot and slam fungoes. It wasn’t the best sort of practice, because I wasn’t up against anything on the ball, but I learned to keep my eye on the darn thing. And, of course, I speeded up my wallop.
It must have done me some good, as I finished fifth in the individual batting list next year with an average of .325. I had pounded my way up again from 28th place in l1916. That 1916 record was certainly a bad slump, because in 1915 I had hit .315 for eighth place in the season’s batting honors. So they do come back sometimes, don’t they?
Altogether, 1917 was an encouraging year. As a pitcher I finished ninth, with an average of 2.02 earned runs per game. but I fielded .984 with only two errors, while the Red Sox finished the season with a club fielding average of .972. leading the league, safely ahead of the White Sox, who won the pennant and then beat McGraw’s Giants for the World’s championship.
That average of .325 with the bat, of which I have just written, included only two homers, three three-baggers and half a dozen two-sackers. I was hi bat 123 times for 40 hits and 11 runs in 52 games. You see, I still was unable to put. over the four-base clout as I wanted to, although I felt sure I had it in my eye and my bat. They weren’t knocking many homers that year. Ty Cobb, who led the league in batting with .383, got only seven, and George Sisler, who took an average of .353 in 135 games, had only two. Tris Speaker himself corralled only a pair. Bobby Veach, of Detroit, hung up eight and Wally Pipp of the Yanks, my present team-mate, had nine, the highest of all.
He Gets Revenge.
Here’s a funny thing: Eddie Cicotte and I were tied for second honors in the number of straight wins in 1917. We each had a winning streak of eight games. Now Reb Russell. a colleague of Cicotte’s on the White Sox, turned me back on May 18, when I was trying for a ninth straight win, and I didn’t get back at him till September 24, when the Rebel came along with a winning streak of seven straight behind him. I remembered how the Rebel had spotted my nice row of wins and up and threw him back when he was fighting for his eighth straight victory. It was a good-natured battle, and we’ve often talked it over. Of course, the White Sox pitchers had some wonderful winning fits in the 1917 season, and they had in have them in order to win the pennant. Cicotte had a second successful run of seven straight and he came back later with six in a ow. My eight wins were my first eight outs of the season, and it looked as though I was going to gallop down the line for a record of some kind. No such luck. Walter Johnson, the best of them all, won nine in a string. Some boy, that Walter, and I think he’s as good today as he ever was.
After this season had been hung out to cure in the record hooks, I discovered one thing which had been overlooked by most of the figurers. It i wasn’t so very important on the ball field, but it gave me a couple of laughs to learn that my average of games won during all my career in professional baseball was the highest in the league. It totaled 98 games pitched, of which I lost 32, for a mark of .673. Joe Wood, formerly of the Red Sox but then with Cleveland, was just a shade behind me with 57 games lost out of a total of 170 starts. His average was .672.
Of course, this sounds fine, but, as some other author has observed before me, “it don’t mean anything.”
I’ve always been sorry about a little trouble I had in our own park in 1917 with “Brick” Owens, the umpire. He had ordered me off the field in the first inning after a little argument and I forgot all about Brother Matthias and took a smash at him. it looked pretty bad for me, and I was afraid that Ban Johnson might ride me out of the league, because that sort of thing is all wrong. I knew it as well as anyone else. You bet I was relieved when Ban considered my youth and let me off with a fine of $100, which I paid in time to return to the game a week later.
There’s one moral I’d like to draw from this for the benefit of young players coming up, and that is. the punch belongs in the ball game, not on the umpire’s nose.
Part 9: 29 Scoreless Innings For Babe in Big Series
In this chapter, number nine of Babe Ruth’s life in the baseball world, he portrays some of the biggest games of his career as a pitcher and closes with him leaving the box to begin in earnest his climb toward the home run championship. This was two years ago. Even then Ruth was a .300 hitter and sharing the home run leadership of the league with Walker. Ruth pitched only 17 games the following year, but even then it had become “Babe Ruth, the outfielder” instead of “‘Pitcher Ruth.”
Ruth’s next story tells of how he overcame a tendency to try to be a “scientific hitter” and relied on his natural hitting ability alone.
NEW YORK. Wednesday, Aug. 18.— As far as we have gone I am still, strictly speaking, a pitcher. I have done some outfielding and am taking a turn on first, but I have not yet achieved my ambition to play every day and bat every day. And, as the life of a pitcher is measured on tables of figures, we can’t escape a few more fast and dizzy rounds of arithmetic.
Now, in 1916, I had pitched eight shut-out games, two two-hit games and three of three hits, in winning my leading position over the American League twirlers. In the preceding year, out of 32 games pitched, I turned in only one shut-out, one two-hit game and a three-hit contest in accumulating an average of 2.41 earned runs per game. This placed me far down in the pitching roster. But in 1917 I was getting more work in the outfield and consequently more exercise with the stick. So I didn’t mind finishing the season as No. 3 among the hurlers, because I stood fifth in the batting list and was reckoning on becoming a heavy hitter. This season I split a no-hit game against Washington with Ernie Shore, held Detroit to a one-hit session and let Washington down with only two bingles. There were seven shut-outs to my credit for the year including the one split with Shore, and there were two three-hit games. This was done in 41 starts.
The next season was the one in which I began to figure as a real first baseman and outfielder with 13 games at number one corner and 58 in the meadow. I pitched only 20 games, turning in a five-inning affair in which I got credit for a shut-out and also a three-hit game. My average of earned runs allowed per game was 2.22. At first base t made five errors and my fielding average was .955. In the outfield I was pretty bad, with seven errors chalked up against me and I stood about half way down the column with a percentage of .949. It made me pretty low in my mind to be way down there.
But the batting eye was getting on the ball at last. The home runs were beginning to rattle off the old ash and the newspapers started in taking notice of me as a slugger. I not only hit 11 that year, dividing honors with Walker of the Athletics, but I had 11 three-baggers too, and 26 two-base hits, scoring 50 of the 474 runs made by the Red Sox in winning their second pennant in three years.
We went out to Chicago to open the World’s Series on September 4, 1918, before the smallest crowd that ever saw a world championship game. The game had been postponed for a day on account of bad weather and the season having been shortened, the series somehow was not exciting the same enthusiasm as in normal years. But what a ball game that first one turned out to be! Vaughn was picked to work in the box for the Cubs and he was “right” that day. Both teams played absolutely flawless baseball. There wasn’t a single error on either side, but we forced over a run in the fourth inning which saved me from having to go into extra sessions and perhaps from taking a beating. We scored our run when Shean, the first man up in the fourth inning, took a walk. Whiteman. the only player in the whole game to get more than one hit, came along with his second and last single, sending Shean to second. Then came McInnis and he cracked a nice clean single to left field, bringing Shean across the pan.
Recalls Whiteman’s Catch.
We all won that ball game. but I think that Whiteman deserves most of the credit, for he might have been excused had he lost it on either of two tense occasions in left field. In the first inning Whiteman saved the game by a long run with the ball for a great catch, preventing a homer by Pick with the bases loaded. This made the third out and my string of scoreless World’s Series innings was saved. Again, in the sixth inning this time, this same Whiteman was forced to run with a long drive in order to track it down. But he did the trick and the two runners who were ready to score died on base. They gave me credit for nine scoreless innings in that great one to nothing shutout, but this fellow Whiteman, by his timely hit and two great catches, won the ball game three times over.
It was a hard game for Vaughn to lose—like betting your whole stack on four kings and losing to four aces. He would have won anything but a shut-out ball game, going as he was that day. For he gave us only five hits, struck out six men and passed only three. My record for that day was only four strikeouts, with six hits tallied against me and one base on balls. I have to thank a mighty fine ball club for my victory.
In the fourth game of the series I was feeling “right”‘ again, so they sent me in to see if I couldn’t turn the same trick once more. And this trip I breezed along for seven full innings without allowing a man to cross the plate, making a total of 29 consecutive sessions of shut-out ball that I had hurled in World Series games. They yanked me off the mound in the ninth inning. The eighth had been a woozy session for mo, with a pass to Killifer, a single toHendrix and a wild pilch which moved both boys along one peg. The Cubs put in McCabe on second to run for Ifendrix and Hollocher was out at first on a close play which allowed Killifer to score. As we were leading at the time with only two runs I was up against it for fair. And they tied the score on us when Mann slapped out a clean single to left, scoring McCahe. In our half of the eighth we regained the lead with one run, and I couldn’t find the plate for Zeider, who walked, making two on, nobody out and Wortman up.
Well, I might have gone aviating but for the fact that they took away my balloon and sent me out to left field, while Joe Bush went in to pitch. He held tho Bruins and we won the ball game.
Comes Through in Pinch.
I had on my socking clothes this day. After Whiteman’s merry performance with the pick handle in the first three games, Tyler wasn’t j taking any chances with him, so he passed him in the fourth. Shean had already been walked and was on second. McInnis slapped out a sharp blow, forcing Shean at third. And then I came up. I didn’t know whether Tyler was going to pitch to me or not. Remember, I had made 11 home runs and 11 three-baggers in the regular season and was reckoned rather vigorous with the stick. I’ll say this for Tyler, that his curves were a lot swifter than my batting eye. for he slipped over two strikes that I was all set to murder. Then he tried to coax me on three sour offerings, but I stood pat, willing to walk if he wouldn’t let me hit. It was a great situation. There were two on, I had two and three, and he had to pitch or fill the bases. He pitched. Right across the center of the pan it came. Bingo! The ball rattled off the outfield wall, scoring Whiteman and McInnis while I had plenty of time to stagger up to third. I died there. I
I was about to say good-bye to the mound, for this was tho last time I regarded myself as a regular pitcher. It is true that I hurled 17 games in the following season, 1919, but it was to be Babe Ruth, outfielder, after this. In 1919 I worked 133 innings, allowing 148 hits to 510 batters, and permitted 59 runs, of which 44 were earned, an average of 2.97 per game. I gave 58 passes and struck out 30 men, while my fielding mark as a pitcher last season had only one blemish. This gave me a fielding average as pitcher of .970.
In four whole seasons and two small fractions of seasons I pitched a total of 133 games for a grand hurling average of. .662. Once I had led the league as a moundsman and although I left the hill for good and all I did so in good standing and with a record of which I felt a little proud.
Tomorrow at Our Game:
Part 10: Ruth Winning Out by Using Natural Swing
Part 11: Living Up to His Price Cost Ruth Anxious Time
Part 12: 8 to 7 Cleveland Win Gave Babe His Thrill
Part 4: Babe’s Home Run-less Year Disappointed Him
Babe Ruth spent only part of his first year in professional baseball as a minor leaguer. Five months after leaving St. Mary’s Industrial School to join the Baltimore Internationals, he went to the Boston Red Sox. Miss Helen Woodford, a Texas girl, was attending school in Boston. Ruth met her and in October, 1914, they were married in Baltimore.
Babe did not find entirely clear sailing with the Boston team at first. After a month on the bench he was sent out to the Providence team, thus going back to the International League again. But in September of the same year he was recalled to Boston, and finished the season there.
In 1915 he pitched 25 games for the Boston Red Sox and won 18 of them.
This is the fourth article by Babe himself on his life history.
NEW YORK, Thursday. Aug. 12.— Although I had been quite a home run hitter on the old school lot, and could now and then poke out a long one against a league pitcher, still Jack Dunn saw me as a pitcher rather than a heavy slugger when the Orioles went out on the International circuit. I liked pitching well enough, but as a pitcher I could not bat in every game, and my whole idea was to play ball every day and bat every day to earn my $1,800. Bat, especially.
Somehow or other I never saw myself as a big pitcher, although the speed and the jumps were there in the old left arm. My idea of a wonderful time was knocking the ball where some one would have to climb the fence to get it. Jack Dunn saw something that I couldn’t see, because if you will look back on the Red Sox games in the World Series of 1916 against Brooklyn, and 1918 against the Cubs, you will find a total of 29 scoreless innings credited to me. And this was one inning more than any other pitcher had ever gone hitless [i.e., scoreless-ED.] in World Series work.
Some ball players may know when there is an ivory hunter in the grandstand, but I had no idea that anybody was watching me with the Orioles. If you had told me that some Class D league scout had his eye on me I might have believed it. But the surprise I got with the second boost, to $1,800, was nothing at all to the sensation Jack Dunn gave me a few days after that speech-making trip to St. Mary’s, when he told me that I was going to Boston. Perhaps he didn’t think I was such a good pitcher after all.
I could hardly believe that I made a big league club in my first year out. Only five months since I had been a school boy, sliding on a pond in a Baltimore industrial school. And the salary was less believable—$2,500 a year.
I was having much better luck in the game than Tom Padgett, a fine fellow and a good pitcher, who broke into baseball at school and was pitching for a small club in the Virginia League. Poor Tom would have made good, I am sure, if he hadn’t been killed in an accident. He was the only other St. Mary’s boy to get into professional baseball, but every year I look for some good ones to come along from the old school lot back in Baltimore.
Along about this time I began playing to the grandstand. Oh, there might have been from 15,000 to 20,000 others, but she’d have been the whole crowd among 20,000,000.
She Arrives on Scene
Did I say she? I believe I did—and I was writing about Miss Helen Woodford, a Texas girl so pretty that any time she failed to show up I was useless. She was attending a girls’ college in Boston and taking a special course in baseball at the open air school in Fenway Park. She evidently fell for Professor Ruth of the baseball faculty, because one day in October, in 1914, when Professor Ruth had a class in Baltimore, he up and married her. And he has been happy ever since.
Although this story is supposed to be about myself, I wouldn’t be fair to myself if I didn’t present my better 90 per cent. She knows baseball and can handle a temperamental batter as easily as she handles her own car. Whenever I am playing at home she is at the ball park and she has learned so much about the fine points of the game that she can anticipate a manager’s instructions and frequently calls a play before it is made.
During the season our home is in a New York apartment, but we have another place with trees and grass around it up in Sudbury, Mass. We spend most of our winters in Boston because I have a cigar factory up there which takes some management.
Off the field we drop baseball. We motor together in the evenings or go to the Broadway musical comedies, but when the weather is bad I sometimes sit at home and play the organ. No kidding. I do. She doesn’t call me Babe, she calls me Hon, and what I call her is—between us.
His First Stay Short.
But my story is back in the baseball season of 1914 and I must return to it. When I arrived in Boston it seemed to me that there was nothing more for me to win in the way of honors, and because I felt that way, the blow was all the harder when the Red Sox refused to take fire from my spirit and casually farmed me out to the Providence club of my old league, the International, after a month on the bench. It was pretty disappointing to a young fellow who thought he was coming along fine, but I remembered the advice of Brother Matthias to “play the game,” so I said nothing much and went to work for Providence.
On September 2 I was back in Boston and they gave me a chance to work. Altogether, I broke into the box score four times before the season ended. Two games I won, one I lost, and one I did not finish.
Boston did not have occasion to farm me out after that. It is true that I pitched only 22 innings and got no homers that year, but I had taken part in only four games and had done fairly well in one month of experience in the big game. I was waiting for 1915 to come around. Then I was sure I’d get my chance.
They started me 25 times in 1915.
I won 18 games and turned in seven defeats. This gave me a pitching average of .720. The home runs did not come so easily against the expert pitching of the old heads and cunning arms of the big league moundsmen as they had against the kids on the lot or the men who went up against the Orioles. I was able to collect only four homers, and they did not attract much attention, as a record of four home clouts in a season was nothing to print on 24-sheet posters. However, my batting average for the year put me In the so-called charmed circle of .300 hitters. The end of the season found me with an average of .315 and only once since then have I dropped below .300. This was in 1918, when my average fell to .272. Remember I was a pitcher and pitchers are supposed to be rotten hitters. They thought around the Boston club that I would have to blow up in one department or the other before the 1916 season got far under way, because it just isn’t done for a pitcher to win ball games and hit .300.
The season of 1916 was the least successful from a batting viewpoint that I have ever played In the big league. At pitching, however, I managed to pull through with a good showing. Altogether, there were 36 starts and 23 of them were entered in the “won” column. Thirteen games—unlucky number— I lost. My batting eye didn’t seem to be working that year, because I got only three homers throughout the season.
My pitching average for the season was .638. You will remember that we went into the World Series that fall, beating Brooklyn for the championship. People were saying at the time that the Dodgers were not really a championship club and did not deserve to represent the National League against us. I didn’t think so, though, and every ball I pitched in that series was sent over with all the respect due to the winner of a pennant and fighter for the highest honor. Everything in my head and arm I put on the ball to win. At that time I was too young to take chances in a World Series—and I am just that young today. Any man who becomes so cocksure of himself as to let himself grow careless any moment in a World Series or in any other game, is either too big or too small for his chosen profession, and I’ll say right here I’ve never met one too big.
In my first World Series game against Brooklyn in 1916 the old soup bone was working like a piece of steel machinery. I had everything on the ball that any pitcher could want—and that any hitter didn’t want. The result of it was that I pitched 13 scoreless innings in the series. They did hit me once or twice, but it did them no good, because not a man-Jack got around.
And that was the beginning of a record in scoreless innings that stands to my credit in the annals of baseball.
Part 5: You Want to Hit Homers, Here’s Recipe
Babe Ruth Describes [for Times’ Readers] Just How He Manufactures His Yell-Inspiring Blows.
The “batting eye” is the big thing in home run hitting.
Babe Ruth tells of the importance of keeping your eye on the ball, and how he stands at the plate, how he swings and all about how he knocks home runs, in this chapter of his life story.
In the next chapter Ruth discusses the intentional pass.
This is the fifth article on Babe’s life history.
NEW YORK, Friday, Aug. 13.—How do I hit home runs? I have been asked this question thousands of times since the close of the season of 1919, when I broke the world’s record with an official total of 29 home runs. Really, I got 31, but the other two went down in the score books as two-baggers. This is how it happened in each case: There was a man on second in the ninth inning who brought in a winning run, officially ending the game by the time I had reached second base. Both of these blows were made on our own preserve, Fenway Park, Boston. Both times my hits were long enough for me to have scored without getting out of breath. But I’m not crabbing about the loss of those two homers. They won ball games, and I was playing for the Red Sox and not for Babe Ruth.
I suppose, when you get down to it, there are several things that enable a man to hit home runs—batting eye, how he stands at the plate, how he swings, his strength and weight and his confidence. Let’s take them up in order.
No Use Guessing.
You stand there at the plate watching the pitcher wind up. You haven’t a way in the world of knowing what he is going to serve you, and it is not much use trying to guess, because a good hurler can disguise his windup so that you get a fast one when you think a curve hall is coming. The thing to do is keep your eye on the ball. And 1 never do go up to the plate that something inside me doesn’t whisper, “Keep your eye on the ball, Babe—keep your eye on it. Watch it come up.”
1 don’t mean to say that anybody can hit the ball all the time, even if he keeps his eye glued on it, but the fellow who has his lamp trimmed and keeps it on will make a whole lot more hits than the fellow who doesn’t. It’s easy enough to follow the ball half way from the box to the plate. After that is when the pitcher fools the hitter. That’s when most batters begin to lose the ball. They are not prepared to watch the break which comes just before the apple reaches them. I believe that one of the secrets of my hitting is that ability to keep my eye on the ball longer than any other batter, even until it starts to break. We all know that a real curve holds its course and does not jump until it is almost at the plate, and that is why a batter must watch so that he doesn’t swing where the ball ought to be but ain’t.
Just Like Golf. ‘
It is in this business of keeping your eye on the ball that golf and baseball run side by side for a little way. They also resemble each other in the feel of the home run and the feel of the long drive, but I will speak of that later.
In standing at the plate I again put myself in the position of the golfer; I address the pitcher. First of all, I get my feet in the position, the right one a little in advance of the left. My right leg is bent just a little at the knee, and as I stand this way the pitcher gets more view of my hack and my right hip than of my chest or side. The weight of my body is, at the beginning, on my left leg. When the ball comes up I shift my weight to my right foot, which steps out directly toward the pitcher as my bat, my arms and my whole body swing forward for the blow.
At the start of my swing I reach back with my bat as far as I can, almost turning my back on the pitcher. As my bat comes forward the movement with which I throw my weight against the ball often carries my right foot beyond the chalk line of the hatter’s box. The greatest power in the stroke comes when the bat is half way through the swing. I mean directly in front of my body, and that is where it meets the ball. There is something to be said for the bat, too, because it is the heaviest one used in either of the leagues. I have them made especially for me: they are of ash with a slender handle. They are 40 inches long and weigh about 54 ounces—some wagon tongue. Most bats weigh 38 or 40 ounces. The heavier the bat the longer the drive, that’s what I think. The wallop comes just at the balance point of the bat, and if you want to find out where that is take a bat in your hand and balance it. That is where every hatter should catch the ball, for there is the greatest leverage and the heaviest weight of the blow.
Free Swing Best.
A free and easy swing is the one I think connects most often with the ball. When I say free and easy don’t think l mean slow. I mean fast, with a great big F, and with every ounce of weight and strength that can be put into the swing. My elbows are always well away from my body when I poke at the ball: they are not stuck out, of course, but far enough out to give complete freedom.
We now come to the matters of strength and weight. The big boys have a natural advantage in this respect, but would you think that there was such a thing as being too muscular? There is. I know a batter in the American League who is not much better than an ordinary hitter, although he has a good eye, weight, stance and fine development. His trouble is that he is “muscle bound”—too strong to get a good easy swing at the ball.
Strength is absolutely necessary to hit home runs consistently. And as I am out for a home run every time I get up to bat, I always swing at the ball with all my might. I hit big or miss big. And when I miss I know it long before the umpire calls a strike on me, for every muscle in my back, shoulders and arms is groaning, “you missed it.” And believe me, it is no fun to miss a ball that hard. Once I put myself out of the game for a few days by a miss like that. We were playing the Athletics at the Polo Grounds on the 22nd of last April. During batting practice before the game I swung at a low curve ball with the hope of hoisting it over the elevated tracks, and all 1 punched my bat into was the air: result, a strained muscle in my right side. The pain of that wrench almost put me down, but I hobbled up to the bench like a fellow with a limp leg. Some of the boys rubbed me and gave me first aid and I went out to the plate again. There were more than 25,000 persons in the stands that day and I don’t believe very many of them knew I had hurt myself. But the pain was so great that I couldn’t swing my bat again, so I had to go to the clubhouse, where Doc Woods, the trainer, could get a good look at me. He got out his work basket and wound tape around me till I looked like an army rookie’s leg the first day he puts on spiral puttees. And I felt like a corset model, if that’s how they feel. The game started with yours truly in center field, but I wasn’t called on because the gentlemen from Philadelphia went out in 1-2-3 order. I tried to take my turn at bat with a man on second, but although the crowd was yelling “over the fence,” I only fouled the first two arid whiffed at the third. That whiff finished me, and I could hardly reach the bench. They x-rayed my side and found a sprained muscle along the eleventh rib so that I was out of the park for a day or two.
That’s how hard I hit ’em. My wrong swings as well as my hits have left their record. I never knew, it until one day I found a tangle of fine lines like tracery on a blue print on my chest and hack, showing where the muscles had been stretched to their limit under my hide when I had gone after the hall. I suppose that is bound to happen when n fellow of six feet two, weighing 210 pounds, puts it all into a swing.
What about confidence? Next to the batting eye, it’s the most important asset of a home run seeker. Let the pitchers think you are not afraid of them and they haven’t got so much on the ball as they think. And they haven’t anything on you. I am not afraid of any pitcher in baseball, and I am not ball shy. I got over my shyness when I was a kid in Saint Mary’s because I used to catch behind the bat there without any mask or body protector and not much of a glove on my hand. Foul tips meant nothing to catchers at Saint Mary’s. If you got beaned by one it was your own fault and you got no sympathy.
So, just to impress it on you, the batting eye’s the best thing to have. If you are a little fellow you’ll get lots of hits and if you’re big enough, you will get lots of home runs.
Part 6: Drawing Passes All Bunk, Says Babe Ruth
Fans Don’t Like It and Furthermore It’s Poor Sportsmanship, Declares Baseball’s Great Slugger.
Fans pay for action and Babe Ruth believes they should have it. To insure this he believes there should be baseball legislation that would eliminate the ”intentional pass.”
In this, the sixth article of the story of his life, Ruth discusses this question and tells of some of his own experiences in being given a base on balls when he might have won the ball game had he been given a chance to hit.
NEW YORK, Saturday. Aug. 14—There’s one thing in baseball that always gets my goat, and that’s the intentional pass.
It isn’t fair to the batter, it isn’t fair to his club. It’s a raw deal for the fans and it isn’t baseball. By “baseball” I mean good, square American sportsmanship, because baseball represents America in sport If we get down to unfair advantages in our national game we are putting out a mighty bad advertisement.
This year the rule makers gave us a new law which was intended to prevent pitchers from intentionally passing heavy hitters in order to get to the next batter for an out or, perhaps, a double play. But the rule hasn’t worked because the umpires, being human, cannot tell beyond a doubt whether the pitcher is merely wild or is heaving the ball wide with the clear intention of passing the slugger.
During this season, when it was seen that pitchers were continuing to pass the heavy hitters when there were men on bases, many other rules were suggested. Some of them will be considered, I suppose, when the big guns of the game meet next winter to make another try at cleaning up the game. But I don’t know—it seems to me that the whole thing will depend on the umpire’s ability to tell what’s in the pitcher’s bean. The best suggestion that I’ve heard is this: that all passes be for two bases instead of one. Get this situation: there are men on second and third and a heavy hitter is up. Under this season’s rule the pitcher is in an easy position, because all he’s got to do is to make a disgusted face as he sends each wide one up the lane to give the umpire the impression that he’s trying to cut a corner off the pan. The batter walks and the next man up, who may not be so strong with the old pick handle, pops to the infield. He may hit into a double play, perhaps retiring the side without a run. And there you are.
The heavy swatter has been about as useful as a pair of calked shoes to a dancer. If he’d had a chance to clout the ball he might have won the game. And that’s what the fans came there to see him try. Do you wonder they razz the twirlers every now and then?
Every time a batter faces a pitcher the natural odds are about seven to three against him. You can prove this by taking a look at the batting averages, which show that the hitter with a percentage of .300 for more than ten games is an exceptional man with the stick. Scouts go wild over .500 hitters. A team of .300 sluggers would be a good bet to win a pennant fielding with one arm tied. However you look at it the pitcher has it on the.batter by more than two to one. Why should he look for a bigger cinch than that: what more does he want?
Two Bases Different
The victim of the intentional pass hasn’t a Chinaman’s chance to hit. But if you give him two bases or if you advance all runners two bases instead of one, you’ve got your pitcher in a box; he’s got to pitch.
Just to show you how this pass business works. I was walked 101 times in the season of 1919. And this season, they’re doing even worse. Do you think the intentional pass rule is working overtime this year? Neither do I. In our recent series in St. Louis I came up with two men on bases, and the ball game was in my bat. I always feel like a home run, so I felt as though I could knock in three runs and the ball out into Grand Avenue. What happened? I walked. Three razzing sneers for the intentional pass rule! We lost the ball game.
Another incident: It was the ninth inning of a came with Washington at the Polo Grounds. We had two men out, two men on bases and a string of ten straight victories behind us. We were going so strong with the stick that the fans had begun to call us Murderers’ Row and Assassins Alley. I was full of home runs that day. In the.morning game I had put two over the right field wall and in this one I already had a home run to my credit. I felt like four for the day. Did I get another lick at the ball? I did not. If anything had come within reach I’d have taken a gambling swing at it. But all I got was four balls, so wide that I couldn’t have reached them with a telegraph pole. We lost the ball game and we broke our winning streak, which, by all rights, should have marched right on. Encore sneers.
A ball club goes into the open market and buys a heavy hitter, and they’re not cheap these days, with the idea of having him win ball games in pinches just like those I’ve described. You know the fans hold their breath when a slugger comes up to bat with the game on the bags. The fans want to see an honest test between the pitcher and the hitter. Even if the slugger belongs to the visiting team, the rooters would prefer to have him go down the line to a square conclusion with their pitcher. I have noticed this in every park on the circuit. The St. Louis fans themselves booed their pitcher for not pitching baseball, and one of the city’s newspapers came out with n headline which said “Pay a Dollar to See Babe Ruth Walk,” or something like that. When you’re playing the passing game you’re not playing the fans’ game.
Fans Show Their Feelings.
When Murderers’ Row started murdering the ball at the Polo Grounds this season, all the glorious old attendance records went blooey. Time after time the Yankees have drawn record-breaking crowds, both at home and on the road, because they were hitting home runs. In the ten games we played between July 17 and July 25 with Chicago. Boston and Cleveland, 264,000 fans paid to get into the ball park. This means an average of 26,400 at each game. Of course some of the crowds were larger than this last figure, because we had two Saturdays and two Sundays in that period. On Saturday, July 24. when we played Cleveland, there were 40,000 people packed in the stands and nearly half that many were turned away from the gates by the police. There wasn’t a seat left anywhere on the lot. A sport writer told me that he’d never been able to set within a block of the ball grounds that day if he hadn’t had a police card. The Giants never drew such crowds even in their World Series games, which had established the previous record under the Bluff. Do you think these mobs came out there to see Babe Ruth walk?
You know, I started out as a pitcher, so I have a pretty good idea of what is going on in the twirler’s mind when he finds himself up against a hefty slugger with a record back of him and the winning runs on the bases. Of course there’s a great temptation to walk the man, but after all, winning isn’t all there is to sport. Believing this, I never gave an intentional pass in all my life, even though the manager signaled for one from the bench. Any batter who thought he had more in his club than I had on the ball, was welcome to step right up and take a fair swing at fair pitching. He had a chance to win his ball game. And if he walked he knew it was because I could not find the plate. I was doing my best.
Of course, on every ball team there are men whose playing skill lies in the field, and who are carried along on that account, although their managers know them to be weak at the bat. With some of these fellows “waiting out a walk” is good business and has become a science. Little fellows particularly are hard for some pitchers to serve and they are likely to draw passes. As a rule they lead off with the idea of getting to first, no matter how. This is good, fair baseball, because if a pitcher cannot find the plate and puts a fast one over it, the batter deserves something for his judgment.
But have you ever noticed how often these weak hitters get in the hole with two strikes and one ball and have to swing at the next? The pitcher doesn’t seem to have so much trouble finding the plate against the boys who usually pop to the infield as he does against the home run getters.
Next year I hope, and I know you hope with me, that we will have an effective way to compel the moundsmen to play the game. I leave it to the fans whether the intentional pass was meant to be a part of the grand old ball game. Those loud boos whenever a slugger is passed are answer enough.
Tomorrow at Our Game:
Part 7: 500 Feet Babe Ruth’s Longest Home Run Hit
Part 8: Babe Gets Back into Charmed .300 Circle
Part 9: 29 Scoreless Innings for Babe in Big Series