Yesterday some Twitter pals and I were going around about all-time great baseball books, and inevitably Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al came up. (Miss Grundy, I hasten to note that the title bears no comma.) Friend Steven Goldman, MLB Editor for SBNation.com, asked for his pick, replied, “It’s not 100% a baseball book, but I spent a lot of time with the Library of America’s Ring Lardner compendium.” He had that right. The Black Sox Scandal would sour Lardner on baseball for life, though he would continue to write on the subject now and then, concluding in 1933 with Lose with a Smile.
“I got a letter the other day,” Lardner once said, “asking why I didn’t write about baseball no more, as I used to write about nothing else, you might say. Well, friends, I may as well admit that I have kind of lost interest in the old game. A couple of years ago a ballplayer named Babe Ruth, that was a pitcher by birth, was made into an outfielder on account of how he could bust them, and the masterminds that control baseball says to themselves that, If it is home runs that the public wants to see, why, leave us give them home runs!”
But today, with a tip of the hat to a new SABR publication titled The Miracle Braves: Boston’s Original Worst-toFirst World Series Champions, I am thinking about the impending centennial of baseball’s greatest upset. To buy the book, or–better yet–join SABR and get this and many other books free, see: http://sabr.org/latest/sabr-digital-library-miracle-braves-1914.
The Braves’ A. B. C.
Ring W. Lardner
Chicago Daily Tribune, September 4 and 5, 1914
A is for August, a month that is hot.
And some people like it, while others do not.
The Braves seemed to like it in spite of its heat,
For during its progress they couldn’t get beat.
B is for Brown, and he catches the pill
When Gowdy and Whaling are both of them ill.
They say he’s descended from old Mr. Brown
And was born on a farm or perhaps in some town.
C is for Catcher and also for Crutcher;
The former’s not much and the latter’s not mucher.
It’s for Collins, Cottrell and for Cocreham, too,
Whom I never heard of and neither did you.
D is for Dugey and Deal and Devore,
And also one other — a total of four;
The other is Davis, whom I never say,
But he once went to school with my brother-in-law.
E is for Evers, whom we’ve not forgotten.
He used to play ball for the Cubs, but was rotten.
He was canned from the beautiful job that’s now Hank’s,
And ever since then he’s been murmuring “Thanks.”
F is for Fred — Freddie Mitchell’s his name.
He seldom infrequently gets in the game.
He once was a catcher, but now he is through;
He merely tells others what they ought to do.
G is for Gilbert, and also for Gowdy.
The latter I know well enough to say “Howdy.”
The dope on young Gilbert is not to be had,
But possibly old Billy Gilbert’s his dad.
H is for Hess; old, antique Otto Hess,
Who’s seventy-seven years old, more or less.
He pitches left handed and hits the ball well
And hopes the French army will finish in disgrace.
I is for me, who am writing this thing,
I followed the Braves down to Georgia one spring.
But those whom I followed have all got the can,
With one lone exception — George Tyler’s the man.
J is for James, whom his teammates call Bill,
He pitches and puts lots of stuff on the pill.
A lucky young pitcher is William Bill James,
For he pitches but one out of every three games.
K is for Kick, which is part of the pastime
And often prevents its completion in fast time.
It’s also for Kale, which the Braves will all get
If they win this here race, which is not over yet.
L is for Lose, which I’m now telling you
Is something the Braves have forgot how to do.
It’s also for Last, which is where they were at
Before they went crazy as any old hat.
M is for Mann and Moran and Maranville,
Not one of whom comes from Decatur or Danville.
And neither Moran nor Maranville now can
When size is considered, be classed as a man.
N is for Nickerson, Brave secretary.
He once was a capable, clever, and very
Efficient and breezy baseball writing cuss,
And look at him now! There is still hope for us.
O is for Ouch! Which is frequently spoken
By persons whose knee-caps and knuckles are broken
By Boston men’s wallops, both liners and grounders,
In the game of baseball, which is glorified rounders.
P is for Pitcher Perdue, known as Hub,
Who was recently swapped to the St. Louis club,
And if the Braves cop, I do hope they’ll be fair
And cut in poor Hub for a full (loser’s) share.
Q is for Quinn, now a Federal hurler,
And quite a consid’rable sort of a twirler.
A job as a Boston Brave pitcher was his,
So he’s pulling for Boston to win (Yes he is!).
R is for Rudolph, once canned by the Giants,
And now he’s one-third of the triple alliance,
Consisting of Tyler, himself, and Bill James,
Whose purpose in life is to pitcher all the games.
S is for Strand, Smith, and Schmidt and I guess
That Stallings’ last name is begun with an S.
He’s boss of the Braves, and as such he’s a star,
For look what he’s got! And then see where they are!
T is for Tyler, left handed but sane.
He works like a horse, but he doesn’t complain.
He’s awfully chesty, so I have heard tell,
Because he’s a friend of R. W. L.
U is for Unies, and I will admit
That the Braves’ Uniforms don’t look pretty nor fit,
But as long as they’re winning their games, I suppose
We would love ‘em if they didn’t wear any clo’es.
V is for Verses, things written in rhyme,
I write clever verses when I have the time.
This verse I’m now writing might be very clever,
But I can’t be working on one verse forever.
W stands for both Whitted and Whaling.
The latter’s first catcher when Gowdy is ailing.
And when Mr. Stallings wants some one to hit it,
He sometimes most gen’rallly leaves it to Whitted.
X will now stand for X-cuse me, which I
Am anxious to say to young Connolly. Why?
Because I forgot him when I was at C,
And I don’t want him to be angry with me.
Y is for You, you brave Boston brigade!
You’re made of the stuff of which champions are made!
If you win the title, you ought to feel great,
(Until the Athletics have trimmed you four straight.)
Z is for Zowie! and Zowie’s the noise
That is made by the bats of the Connie Mack boys,
When the bats meet the ball, as they usually do,
(James, Rudolph, and Tyler, I’m sorry for you.)
[Zowie, as it turned out was the noise made by Stallings’ boys, who swept the mighty A’s in four games to win the lone world championship of the Boston Braves in the modern World Series. The next time the Braves won they would be in Milwaukee, in 1957, and then not again until they played in Atlanta (1995).
First, it’s not me thinking anything today except Wow … a great, memorable season of baseball. The ten things in today’s post are thought by Elliott Kalb, Senior Editorial Director of MLB Network, and the MLB Network Research Department. I received this research packet just moments ago, as I and a limited number of privileged recipients have done each morning throughout the season. These routinely brilliant packets are designed to be particularly useful to those of us thinking about the day ahead, making us appear especially brilliant. Today’s inbox delight is different–the 2014 regular season has passed into history, my turf. It is my privilege to share with a wider readership the sort of pleasure I get every day. Here’s Elliott:
1. Raise the Jolly Roger! Prior to the start of the 2014 season, two young dreamers (Ethan Kleinberg and Elliott Kalb) pooled all of their disposable income and put their last $20 on the Pirates to win the 2014 World Series!
2. The season where everyone is the same.
…No team won 100 games
…The only teams to win more than 90 games play either in Southern California (where special effects are instrumental in movie making) or the Nation’s Beltway (where special effects are instrumental in political maneuvering).
….Both Northern California teams (the Giants and Athletics) won exactly 88 games. The Giants spent 91 days in first place this summer (the last being on July 26). The Athletics spent 131 days in first place this summer (the last being on August 25).
3. Stat that may be of interest only to me… The Athletics went 11-21 since August 26. The other four teams that play in the state of California (the Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and Angels) went 77-48 in that span. The Padres went 17-15 in their final 32 games.
4. You can’t kill off the stats and values in baseball that people hold dear to them. Over the weekend, Derek Jeter (whose greatness cannot be quantified by advanced metrics) was feted by the media and fans and opponents alike. On Sunday, the Houston Astros (the Astros!) did everything possible to ensure their second baseman, Jose Altuve, could win a batting title! Also on Sunday, one of the biggest stories of the day concerned a Jordan Zimmermann no-hitter.
Wait a minute! Haven’t Brian Kenny and his believers been telling us that that batting titles, no-hitters, and intangibles that Jeter possesses are worthless?
Altuve also personally made sure his title wouldn’t be tainted by insisting he wanted to play instead of sitting on his average, with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow finally agreeing and reinserting him in the lineup 30 minutes before the game, shortly after an outcry on social media. “This is way better than just sitting on the bench and waiting for something,” said Altuve, who finished with the most hits by a second baseman since 1936.
Altuve said before the game that there was no conversation about the matter, and that a combination of interim manager Tom Lawless, Luhnow and others told him in a morning meeting he would not play.
Hey, Jeff Luhnow, and your team of statistical analysts in the Front Office: if you had any Brian Kenny-like convictions, you would disallow any mention of Altuve’s batting title in your 2015 Astros Media Guide. You would concentrate on Altuve’s .377 OBP.
Oh by the way, Altuve finished 13th in OBP. He walked just 36 times all year. But I guess, the Astros front office is now touting batting average!
And I love no-hitters, but Zimmermann threw one on the final day of the season against a team with their bags packed and the car engines running. The time of the game was 2:01. Congrats and job well done to home plate umpire Alan Porter, who sped things along in this one: there was one walk in the entire game.
5. It’s not hard to argue, however, that Victor Martinez had a much better year than Jose Altuve. Victor Martinez led the American League in OBP (.409). He walked 70 times and struck out just 42 times.
Victor Martinez: 317 total bases, 262 times on base
Jose Altuve: 299 total bases, 266 times on base
6. Dee Gordon had an amazing season, but his “hidden bases” will cost him in the eyes of fans and MVP voters.
Dee Gordon led the majors in infield hits (31).
Dee Gordon led the majors in stolen bases (64).
Dee Gordon led the majors in triples (12).
That tells me this guy took a ton of extra bases (that no one else would get) at first base (on the infield hits). He took a ton of extra bases at second base (steals) that no one else took. He took a lot of extra bases at third base (triples).
And is it any wonder that a player hitting behind him in the lineup led the majors in RBIs (Adrian Gonzalez)? Gonzalez drove in Gordon 24 times.
7. If you like the Oakland Athletics, do I have a football team for you to root for!
- Made the postseason in 2012, lost in Division Series
- Made the postseason in 2013, lost in Division Series
- Started 2014 with best record in MLB
- Made the postseason in 2011, lost in first round
- Made the postseason in 2012, lost in first round
- Made the postseason in 2013, lost in first round
- Started 2014 with best record (3-0) in NFL
Nothing that Josh Donaldson or Andy Dalton does matters in the regular season. Show me some postseason heroics, guys.
8. Are the Boston Red Sox really going to call in other Boston sports legends like Bobby Orr and Paul Pierce to honor Jeter? Paul Pierce, really? You can’t get Bill Russell on a plane, or Larry Bird? I’ll take Danny Ainge (who played some infield in the majors with the Blue Jays). I’ll take a current Celtic point guard Rajon Rondo. But to take Pierce—now a Wizard, most recently a Nets player—in honoring the one-team, one-team only Jeter…makes no sense.
9. The MLB Network Research Department has seen a ton of major league baseball in 2014…probably more than the recommended daily requirement should allow. We asked them their favorite notes or stats or things that impressed them over the year.
Ken Gold: The Astros employed a major league leading 1,646 defensive shifts. It accounted for saving 54 base hits.
No team scored 800 runs this season. The last time that happened in a full season was 1992. Compare it to 2000, when MLB teams AVERAGED 832 runs per team!!!
Nate Purinton: Four of the top 16 pitcher seasons in terms of strikeout to walk ratios occurred in 2014. Whether it’s the result of the batters’ approach or a bigger strike zone (as Tom Verducci has argued), pitchers are posting absurd strikeout to walk rates. And now a list, populated by impressive names such as Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Greg Maddux, is topped by Phil Hughes!
Marc Adelberg: The league ERA was 3.74 in 2014, the lowest since 1989, and it’s only fitting that there were three 1-0 games–including a no-hitter–on the day’s final season. 2014 finished with 69 1-0 games. There was a 1-0 game once every 35 games this year, or once every three days. That’s the highest rate since Gerry Ford was falling all over the White House.
Matt Baker: There were 833 pitches thrown this season at 100+ mph – 470 were thrown by Aroldis Chapman and 363 by all other pitchers combined (the next closest was Kelvin Herrera who had 108 pitches 100+ mph). Over 73% of all fastballs thrown by Chapman this season were 100+ mph (470 of 643 fastballs). His average fastball velocity was, to no surprise, 100.3 mph this season.
Keith Costas: For me it’s Adam Wainwright’s 12 scoreless starts, the most since mound was lowered in 1969, as it relates to his Cy Young candidacy. Obviously Kershaw is going to win the award, marking it the fourth season Wainwright will fall short in a Cy-Young-worthy season…
2009: finished third in an ultra-close race with Lincecum and Carpenter despite receiving the most first place votes
2010: became the first pitcher in over 20 years with 20-plus wins, 230-plus innings and a sub-2.50 ERA to NOT win the Cy Young Award, finishing second to unanimous winner Roy Halladay
2013: returned to form in his second season back from Tommy John Surgery to lead the Majors in innings, finishes second in Cy Young Voting to Kershaw
2014: does something that’s never been done since the mound was lowered (12 scoreless starts) and will have virtually no shot at winning his first Cy Young
The point is we tend to look to awards as one of the first indicators of how good a player’s peak was, and while Wainwright may well retire without a Cy Young on his mantle it’s clear he could have won it multiple times already if circumstances outside of his control had been altered ever so slightly.
Matt Salvatore: In a time when strikeouts are on the rise and home runs have decreased, one of my favorite notes from 2014 comes from Victor Martinez. Martinez finished the season with 32 HR and just 42 strikeouts. The last American League hitter to hit at least 30 homers while striking out fewer times than Martinez did this season was Don Mattingly back in 1987 when he hit 30 HR and struck out just 38 times. (Barry Bonds in ’04 and Sheffield in ’92 from the NL also did this).
Matt Orso: Nelson Cruz led MLB in home runs this season (40). He’s the only player this season to reach the 40 HR mark. That’s the first time since 1989 when just one player hit 40 home runs or more in a season. (Kevin Mitchell in 47 home runs for the 1989 Giants.) The last time someone led the major leagues with 40 home runs or fewer was Jesse Barfield (40 HR) in 1986.
Chris Bonetti: A little love for the Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles hit 25 more home runs than any other team in the majors this season (Rockies) and 34 more than the next closest American League team (Blue Jays).
… And Orioles Pitching: Since the trade deadline, the Baltimore starting pitchers have posted the best ERA of any American League team to qualify for the Postseason (3.00 ERA).
As far as my favorite off-beat, irrelevant stat/note of the season… This came through from Mike Hughes of Elias back on April 17:
The Phillies defeated the Braves 1-0 today after losing to Atlanta 1-0 last night. It’s the first time ever that these two teams have played back to back 1-0 games against each other (regardless of who wins); the Braves-Phillies rivalry dates back to 1883.
Elliott Kalb: Well, Chris… Here’s my head-scratching note from the season. The Boston Red Sox finished tied for ninth in the majors with 282 doubles this season. They led the majors in doubles (363) last year. They led the majors in doubles (339) in 2012. And in 2011 (352). And in 2010 (358). Did they move the wall back or something?
And speaking of doubles, I love that the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy broke the record for most doubles (46) as a catcher this season, surpassing Ivan Rodriguez. In my eyes, Lucroy’s accomplishment is totally authentic and meaningful. In a year where nobody hit 50 home runs or saved 50 games, Jonathan Lucroy led the majors with 53 doubles.
Dom Campana: I’ve got two things that stood out to me this season:
1. Yasiel Puig’s amazing month of May:
2. Puig’s 1.224 OPS in May was the best OPS any player had in a month in which they had at least 85 AB this season. His .776 OPS in all other months combined would have tied Luis Valbuena and Kole Calhoun for the 50th best mark among qualified hitters.
Marc Matcham: Kershaw’s 15 K, 0 BB no-hitter, mixed in with his 1.77 ERA, which gives him MLB’s ERA title for an unprecedented fourth straight season… As an Indians fan, it was great to witness breakout seasons from Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley… Cy Young and MVP worthy. From May 1 on, only Clayton Kershaw (1.78) and Felix Hernandez (2.08) had a better ERA than Kluber (2.13) and nobody had more strikeouts in that span than Kluber (234). But if I had to pick just one, I’d say it’s Jeter, and the way he finished his career at Yankee Stadium Thursday night. The walk-off, opposite field base hit was an instant classic. An amazing moment from a guy that represented everything that is great about the game.
10. For those too young to remember, this is the 20th anniversary of the 1994 postseason, which never took place. It’s hard to believe the bad feelings the nation had towards baseball then. It’s hard to believe we had a year without a World Series.
A hall of fame for fans may well be a great notion, with attendant creative and commercial possibilities, for it reflects the thinking behind that institution on Cooperstown’s Main Street, the Baseball Hall of Fame. Dedicated in 1939, baseball’s shrine was not the nation’s first Hall of Fame, despite the nearly universal impression that it was: Its inspiration was the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, created on a New York University campus in 1901 to honor men and women who had achieved greatness in any of 16 categories. Yet in the media age ushered in by radio and the talkies, missionaries and explorers were no longer our idols. Athletes were, but they couldn’t enter the Hall of Fame unless they bought a ticket. While Hilda Chester’s cowbell, which assaulted tender ears and sensibilities at Ebbets Field, or Freddy Schuman’s frying pan, which has had a similar effect at Yankee Stadium in recent years, might make it into a Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit, neither Hilda nor Freddy would ever be inducted. They have been denied the 21st century’s inalienable right to immortality, just as athletes once were. If in the metastasizing spread of celebrity there are halls of fame for policemen (Miami Beach), businessmen (Chicago), and clowns (Delavan, Wisc.), why not a shrine for fans?
When baseball arose as a game for spectators as well as players in the late 1850s, originally the watchers were non-playing members of the opposing clubs, sometimes their lady companions, a motley passel of players from other clubs, and the inevitable gamblers and rowdies. As the game grew and professional leagues were formed, the civic attachment grew in intensity, to the point that by 1897, The New York Times stated that “local patriotism is at the bottom of the business which baseball has come to be.”
Baseball devotees came to be known as “cranks.” While this term may first have been applied to Charles J. Guiteau, in 1881 the crazed assassin of President Garfield, it immediately drifted over to those afflicted by baseball madness. Sometimes printed as “krank,” the word derives from the German for “sick” as well as the British dialect meaning of “cranky”: feeble-minded. By the dawn of the 20th century, “fan” – whether short for “fanatic” or synecdoche for the flapping tongues of self-proclaimed experts – continued in this vein, labeling grownups who were crazy about a children’s game as, well, nuts. (Devotees of statistics were “figure filberts.”)
Discounting the certifiably lunatic – Thomas J. Murphy, who in 1883 shot Providence outfielder Cliff Carroll; Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who shot Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus in 1949; Cleveland druggist Charley Lupica, who in ’49 perched atop a flagpole until the Indians repeated as pennant winners (they didn’t, and he came down) – some of the game’s most famous fans, the ones most likely to be inducted one day into the Baseball Fan Hall of Fame, have been the sweetly demented or obnoxiously loud, the relentless narcissist or the disquietingly perky wallflower. Lolly Hopkins of Boston used a megaphone to rally her charges in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s; Mary Ott of St. Louis in the ’40s didn’t need one. Neither, at the turn of the last century, did the leather-lunged Arthur “Hi-Hi” Dixwell of Boston or the booming Frank Wood of the Polo Grounds, immortalized in the Zane Grey story titled with his nickname, “Old Well-Well.” (See: http://goo.gl/yPlm4B.)
Actors Digby Bell and DeWolf Hopper (the latter famous for his 10,000 recitations of “Casey at the Bat”) and songwriter Harry Ruby ingratiated themselves with the players and even donned uniforms during pregame drills, but they were celebrities who became fans rather than fans who became celebrities. This is probably a useful distinction, enabling us to whiz by Mark Twain, Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Jerry Seinfeld, Donald Sutherland, and Bill Murray. Ben Affleck has been such an egregious and ubiquitous Sox-sniffer that in September 2005, when artist Daniel Edwards exhibited an ironic “death mask” of Ted Williams’s cryogenically frozen and severed head at the First Street Gallery in New York, he titled the assemblage “The Ben Affleck 2004 World Series Collection presents The Ted Williams Memorial Display.”
The most affecting fan tale of late has been that of “Doris from Rego Park” (a working-class neighborhood in Queens), whose cough-wracked voice on WFAN inspired a fan base of its own. Doris Bauer loved the Mets in part because she had little else to root for. She struggled with neurofibromatosis and “social autism,” according to her brother Harold. Doris would set her alarm every morning for 1:00 a.m. to call into the sports-radio show and offer balanced, expert views of her beloved if frustrating team. As her brother told The New York Times, she never drove a car, dated, or married, living instead with her Holocaust-survivor parents until she succumbed to cancer in 2003 at 58.
For a century and a half, many people for whom “real life” was riddled with terror have derived comfort and satisfaction from the order, regularity, justice, and balance of baseball. Fans like Doris from Rego Park, gentle souls who found a home in baseball and a way to live in the world, deserve recognition, honor, maybe even a Hall of Fame. Talk radio made a star of Doris; blogs and other self-published baseball writings have done the same for others.
Fanship has changed in other ways, too, from how we root to – more dangerously for the genus fan and perhaps baseball and the larger culture – why we root, Red Sox Nation notwithstanding. Fantasy baseball has fostered attachment to and investment in the performance of players who belong to no earthly franchise, only to a team of one’s own devise. Where fans once dreamed of being players, today they dream of being general managers or owners.
The order below is faintheartedly alphabetical; rank ’em as ye will.
FANS OF FAME
Steve Bartman: his reach for a foul ball exceeded his grasp; it might have been caught by the Cubs left fielder.
Doris Bauer: the raspy-voiced “Doris from Rego Park” came to have a fan base all her own as a caller to WFAN.
Hilda Chester: with her shrill voice and cow bell, Hilda was Noise Incarnate; her favorite phrase was “Eatcha heart out, ya bum.”
Lib Dooley: daughter of Jack Dooley, who himself saw thousands of Boston games, she was a fixture at Fenway from 1944 to 2000.
Wild Bill Hagy: a Baltimore area cab driver who contorted his body to spell out “O-R-I-O-L-E-S,” notably atop the dugout in the1979 World Series
Barry Halper: he began collecting memorabilia as a boy in Newark in the 1940s, eventually amassing a collection nearly the equal of Cooperstown’s.
Nuf Ced McGreevey: a no-nonsense saloonkeeper whose love of the Red Sox is captured in a priceless collection at the Boston Public Library.
Dr. James Penniman: he tried to convince Connie Mack to adopt designated hitters for pitcher and catcher, and a game of four outs and seven innings..
Sam Siannis: the man behind the “Billy Goat Curse” bedeviling the Cubs, originating when he and his pet goat were barred from their box seats in the 1945 World Series.
Frank B. Wood: “Well, Well, Well,” he would boom whenever something went amiss at the Polo Grounds around 1900; became the protagonist of a Zane Grey story.
FIVE NEAR MISSES: Seymour R. Church, Arthur “Hi-Hi”Dixwell, Charles “Victory” Faust, Lolly Hopkins, Ernest Thayer
THE FAMED WHO WERE FANS
Louis Armstrong: Satchmo loved the game so much that he sponsored his own ball team, “Armstrong’s Secret 9,” in New Orleans in 1931.
DeWolf Hopper: the first to recite “Casey at the Bat,” in August 1888, he went on to record it on wax and in a motion picture.
Marianne Moore: Dodgers fan and, oh yes, poet (“Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese”), she somehow became a Yankees fan in 1958.
Stephen King: a Red Sox fan before he was famous and after, he put Tom Gordon into one of his books and with Stewart O’Nan wrote a paean to the 2004 season
Bill Murray: owned a few minor-league baseball teams; as for SNL’s Chico Escuela, beisbol been very, very good for him.
Richard Nixon: many presidents liked the game, from Wilson to Eisenhower to Reagan, but none knew the game as he did.
Harry Ruby: most fanatic of show-biz fans, the songwriter was allowed to play in four official minor-league games with Hollywood and L.A.
John L. Sullivan: the Great John L. was a competent ball-tosser who did not embarrass himself pitching in benefit games with pro clubs.
Mark Twain: Rumored to be the financial backer of the 1887 Hartford team; wrote baseball scene into A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Walt Whitman: briefly covered the game for the Brooklyn Eagle, mentioned it in Leaves of Grass, and in 1888 declared, “Base ball is our game, the American game.”
FIVE NEAR MISSES: Kevin Costner, Bing Crosby, Billy Crystal, William Frawley, Penny Marshall
Although I wrote this ten autumns ago, for the Woodstock Times, the point holds: that September and October are challenging months for baseball, as America’s other major sports kick into gear. In Nerdville, however,where I live much of the time, clocks are stopped whenever one may wish. Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. (By the way, this article has not appeared in print or online in the ten years since its appearance in our region’s weekly paper, so it will be new to you.)
If in spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, then the first chill evening of August sends his blood racing to the happy prospect of … football. Last weekend, in the heat of Olympic competition, ESPN.com conducted a poll of its cognoscenti, asking “What are you most interested in at this time of year?” Of 122,426 respondents, 19.3 percent cited the Athens Games, while 30.8 percent voted for baseball’s pennant races, building up a head of steam for September, the avid fan’s favorite month. The remaining 49.7 percent went for football: 27.8 percent for the college version, of which not a game had yet been played, and 21.9 percent for NFL preseason, in which the stars make cameo appearances and the games don’t count.
Maybe these numbers ought not to astound. Certain sports stir the soul, or species signals, at certain seasons. Anticipation can be delicious, and after a long winter’s nap baseball fans will awake in mid-February, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in sunny climes, and they will be in full throat for opening day. But their numbers will not approach those of football, which has challenged baseball’s position as our nation’s pastime for forty years now and by nearly all measures has surpassed it.
What accounts for a dormant sport creating more buzz than one in the heat of competition? Gambling, in the form of the hugely popular fantasy-football drafts, is part of the story. But baseball too has its season of fantasy machinations, as do basketball and hockey. While the start of hockey training camps and regular-season play inspire Canadians of all ages, it leaves those in the United States cold … or hot … anyway, the wrong temperature for welcoming the substantial joys of this great game. Nobody gets percolated about NBA basketball until after the New Year, and the early-season hype about college hoops is patently contrived or downright loony, from the weekly rankings to the painted faces.
Golf? Well, the plaid-pants set may be expected to get schmaltzy about Augusta, the only one of the four major tournaments that is played at the same course each year, but in America the Scotsman’s game knows no season, and there’s the rub. You can’t stir a reawakening of the spirit if you never sleep. Auto racing? Yes, there’s Daytona to kick off the new campaign, but this is a sport in which the human shares the spotlight with his ride (the same may be said of horseracing, but at least there is the wager). Tennis? We’ll get to that in a bit.
There’s no denying the pigskin’s grip but what is the source of its power, and what exactly does it stir within us … memory, sentiment, hormones? Although both baseball and football are stop-action games, conducive to forming enduring memories, baseball is the best game for this because the action is out in the open. Some of football’s best plays and players are obscured in huddled scrums. Additionally, we can remember playing baseball with some measure of proficiency from ages eight through twelve. Last, because baseball is the American game that has changed least over the centuries, it provides not only a tether to personal memory but also to that of a nation.
For sentiment, baseball has the edge over football because we can view the strain of effort, the joy of success, the agony of failure; baseball players have faces. Alone among sports, baseball is imbued with the notion of an Edenic past, when men were men and ballplayers were giants. No one today believes that George Mikan could compete with Shaq, or that Don Hutson was superior to Jerry Rice; yet Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, are the incomparables of old, much as in Homeric times, when Odysseus challenged the Phaeacians but acknowledged that he could not compete against the “men of old.”
But for schoolboy reruns and raging hormones, football is the champ. The psychosexual stage of development of baseball fans may be pegged earlier than that of football fans, especially the old boys, for whom the first hint of autumn recalls not helmeted exploits so much as a broader variety of conquests, imagined and real. (Here I issue a personal disclaimer: I have always loved football, but I also proudly admit to arrested development — I still care about all the things that obsessed me when I was twelve, from movies to comics and rock ’n’ roll to sports.)
The onset of football, shimmering in the heat rising from the asphalt of August, conveys none of the seasonal associations of baseball, rising with the spring, reaching full flower in the summer, and fading with the fall. Instead we have grafted onto football a powerful seasonal affiliation by connecting it not with the harvest but with the return to school and its strange autumnal rites (bonfires, perky cheerleaders in pleated skirts, pompoms, hated rivals, homecoming … fill in the rest). Yet this is an amazingly recent development, not even 150 years old. For thousands of years football was played in the spring, as all ancient ball games were, going back to the vernal mud of the Nile, 4400 years ago. The only exception would be funerary ball games, played to ease passage of the dead into the next life, such as the Egyptian game of seker-hamat (“batting the ball”).
People played ball games in the spring to promote and mimic fertility, in the relentless pursuit of protein and progeny. These games were often staged between two halves of a community, or wedded versus virgin, in the form of bloody combat with sticks and stones in fight for possession of an effigy of the king, whose actual death was required at the conclusion of the most primitive of such games. Other variants involved kicking the head of an enemy across the field so that symbolically his blood would assure good crops. This is how the ancient Persian game of polo started and it is the origin of pagan football, too, surely an even earlier game of ball because it required neither horse nor mallet. (Similarly, the oldest games that required a ball to be struck in the air employed only the hand; implements like bats and rackets came later.) As Christianity slowly registered its triumph over its ancient rival cults, a leather covered ball, a symbolic head, became a Shrove Tuesday object of contest as early as 470 AD, in Clermont, France.
Games of mock combat like primitive football (two sides, struggling over an object in the center that for victory had to be kicked or carried to a distant goal) continued to provide bunged shins and cracked heads for the participants, with the occasional fatality, but the trend in such games (lacrosse and shinny to name just two) was slowly but surely toward sublimation of homicidal instincts. Games of bat and ball developed in Europe in the second millennium were sublimated too, from male and female anatomy. In such games the ball is the talisman we lose and must recapture—like the female aspect it symbolizes, it is the ball that has the magic within it, not the bat.
In one of the earliest of airborne ball games, “cat and dog”—with the “dog” being the bat and the cat being the ball, or rather, proto-ball, because it was not round. This was a game for three players, two of whom wielded clubs called “dogs,” with which they defend a hole from the player who attempts to toss the “cat” into it. The “cat” was a six-inch piece of wood narrower at the ends than in the center–making it twirl in the air when struck. This whirligig-shaped piece of wood could be tossed to the bat by a playmate or, in such games as trap ball, catapulted up into the air from a spring-like device with a lever that could be depressed by the batter’s foot.
The games employing a cat ranged from Flanders Cat, or Kaat, which may have come to our neck of the woods via the Huguenots, to one ol’ cat, an English game that, in its three-hole version with a ball taking the place of the wooden cat, gave rise to baseball as we know it today sometime in the 1830s.
In fact, the distinction, if any, between Cat and Kaat began to interest me about a year ago, when I read on the web, at the splendidly named epodunk.com, that the name of the hamlet of Katsbaan “derives from Dutch for ‘tennis court.” (I told you we’d return to the subject of tennis, but this is not lawn tennis as it is played at Wimbledon or on the municipal courts; this is “real tennis,” the ancient game also called “royal tennis” or “court tennis.”) More poking around on the web revealed that in the Frisian lowlands the residents play to this day a tennis-like game with their hands rather than with rackets, which they call keatsen, a degeneration of the Dutch kaatsen.
In the cramped but rich archives of Kingston’s Senate House, I was introduced to a volume titled A Large Dictionary of English and Dutch (Groot Woordenboek der Engelsche en Nederduytsche Taalen). Devised by Englishman William Sewel, it was published in Amsterdam in 1754 by Jakob Ter Beek. In this marvelous guide to the low Dutch spoken by Henrik Hudson and his crew, I found that a kat was, perhaps not surprisingly, a cat, i.e., a small carnivorous mammal of the family Felidae, domesticated or not. A kaats, however, was not a cat at all but a term from tennis or its handball predecessor jeu de paume: it was the “chase,” a line or groove marking the second bound of a ball that a player has failed to return. The chase line forms the target for the player who wins the next point if his second bounce falls nearer to the base line than the chase already laid. Accordingly, kaatsen is defined in the 1754 dictionary as “to play at handball” while, reflecting the shifting usage, tennis, the Dutch word for to play at tennis, which had already come into being from the French tenez, was also defines as kaatsbal or kaatsen.
Stay with me now. When the Half Moon sailed in from the Hudson to a creek, or kil, either the Esopus, Rondout or Catskill, might not the winding groove of the stream have prompted the name Kaatskil for the creek and the mountains toward which it flowed? Tennis or handball have given us our name, not mountain lions or panthers, not Indian tribes who had no name for the mountain range but rather a name for each it of them as they paddled along the streams. Not Jacob Cats (1577-1660), the prolific poet whose wisdom the Dutch exalted.
Kaats. Tennis. Cut to the chase.
I am thinking about Hartford now, and Mr. Clemens, because on Wednesday, September 17, I will be part of a panel at the Mark Twain House, “Base Ball in Mark Twain’s Time.” [http://goo.gl/YQGWQz] Yes, he made the famous speech at Delmonico’s in 1889 honoring the returning World Tourists (in which he called baseball “the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of all the drive and push and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century”). And baseball certainly figures in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: an armor-plated runner sliding into a base, the novelist wrote, “was like an iron-clad coming into port.” But Mark Twain’s only extended passage on the national pastime from the 1870s, when he attended games of the Hartford Base Ball Club in the National League, is this one. It originated as part of a larger work that was to be called A Later Extract from Methuselah’s Diary, set aside and unpublished until 1962.
By way of explanation, the men in blue hose below were the author’s beloved Hartford Blue Stockings, while the men in carmine leggings were the Red Stockings of Boston. Note that the players of today are not like those of 300 years past, and that pitching dominates to excess. [Addition of paragraph breaks below is mine—jt]
Tenth Day–It taketh but short space to craze men of indifferent understanding with a new thing. Behold us now but two years gone that a certain ancient game, played with a ball, hath come up again, yet already are all mouths filled with the phrases that describe its parts and movement; insomuch, indeed, that the ears of the sober and such as would busy themselves with weightier matters are racked with the clack of the same till they do ache with anguish. If a man deceive his neighbor with a shrewd trick that doth advantage himself of his neighbor’s hurt, the vulgar say of the sufferer that he was Caught out on a Foul. If one accomplisheth a great and sudden triumph of any sort soever, ’tis said of him that he hath Made a Three-base Hit. If one fail utterly in an enterprise of pith and moment, you shall hear this said concerning him: [*]Hashbat-kakolath. Thus hath this vile deformity of speech entered with familiar insolence into the very warp and woof of the language, and made ugly that which before was shapely and beautiful.
[*] This not translatable into English; but it is about the equivalent to “Lo, he is whitewashed.”
To-day, by command of my father, was this game contested in the great court of his palace after the manner of the playing of it three centuries gone by. Nine men that had their calves clothed in red did strive against other nine that had blue hose upon their calves. Certain of those in blue stood at distances, one from another, stooping, each with his palms upon his knees, watching; these they called Basemen and Fielders—wherefore, God knoweth. It concerneth me not to know, neither to care. One with red legs stood wagging a club about his head, which from time to time he struck upon the ground, then wagged he it again.
Behind him bent one with blue legs that did spit much upon his hands, and was called a Catcher. Beside him bent one called Umpire, clothed in the common fashion of the time, who marked upon the ground with a stick, yet accomplished nothing by it that I could make out. Saith this one, Low Ball. Whereat one with blue legs did deliver a ball with vicious force straight at him that bore the club, but failed to bring him down, through some blemish of his aim.
At once did all that are called Basemen and Fielders spit upon their hands and stoop and watch again. He that bore the club did suffer the ball to be flung at him divers times, but did always bend in his body or bend it out and so save himself, whilst the others spat upon their hands, he at the same instant endeavoring to destroy the Umpire with his bludgeon, yet not succeeding, through grievous awkwardness. But in the fulness of time was he more fortunate, and did lay the Umpire dead, which mightily pleased me, yet fell himself, he failing to avoid the ball, which this time cracked his skull, to my deep gratitude and satisfaction.
Conceiving this to be the end, I did crave my father’s leave to go, and got it, though all beside me did remain, to see the rest disabled. Yet I had seen a sufficiency, and shall visit this sport no more, forasmuch as the successful hits come too laggingly, wherefore the game doth lack excitement. Moreover was Jebel there, windy with scorn of these modern players, and boastful of certain mighty Nines he knew three hundred years gone by—dead, now, and rotten, praise God, who doeth all things well.
[SOURCE: Bernard DeVoto, Mark Twain: Letters from the Earth. New York, Evanston and London: Harper & Row, 1962. pp. 70-71.]
Bob Mayer has written, “When I hear Sinatra’s ‘There Used To Be A Ballpark,’ which was his personal ode to Ebbets Field, I think of the Dodgers and Giants leaving town. At the time I was dumbfounded and pretty much in denial; when people asked me how I felt about it, I was close to speechless. Even today, [all these] years later, I’m at a loss for words to explain how I feel. The truth is … even this far removed from then, I have never been as passionate nor as caring about The Game as I once was.”
Thomas Wolfe wrote: “Is there anything that can evoke spring–the first fine days of April–better than the sound of the ball smacking into the pocket of the big mill, the sound of the bat as it hits the horsehide…? And is there anything that can tell more about an American summer than, say, the smell of the wooden bleachers in a small-town baseball park, that resinous, sultry, and exciting smell of old dry wood.”
W.P. Kinsella: “As I look around the empty park, almost Greek in its starkness, I feel an awesome inarticulate love for this very stadium and the game it represents. I am reminded of the story about the baseball fans of Milwaukee, and what they did on a warm fall afternoon, the day after it was announced that Milwaukee was to have a major-league team the next season. According to the story, 10,000 people went to County Stadium that afternoon and sat in the seats and smiled out at the empty playing field-sat in silence, in awe, in wonder, in anticipation, in joy–just knowing that soon the field would come alive with the chatter of infielders, bright as bird chirps.”
Humphrey Bogart: “A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz.”
Count me in with all these gents.
This is the sixth and final installment of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment, of six, may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.
Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of 1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.
The formation of the National League in 1876 was the direct outgrowth of crookedness which had existed in baseball some years previously, and which I was fortunate enough to uncover during the sensational Louisville-Chicago series in the summer of 1875.
Some historians have it that Hall, Craver and Devlin, the Louisville players, were expelled from baseball in 1877, but that is an error. They were barred from baseball two years earlier, due to the fact that I intercepted their telegrams, addressed to some of my Chicago players, in which they outlined how my team was to throw the ensuing series to the admittedly inferior Louisville club for the benefit of the gamblers.
[There is a swirl of confusion here, perhaps born of the Wood-Menke collaboration, with the latter trying to square up, unsuccessfully, the former’s recollection. (1) Hall and Craver did not join Louisville until 1877. (2) There had been a betting scandal at Louisville in 1876 in which George Bechtel was expelled and Jim Devlin exonerated. (3) Louisville did not have a professional club in the National Association of 1875, the last year that Wood managed the White Stockings. (4) Devlin indeed played mostly first base in 1875–but for Chicago, Jimmy Wood’s club! Attempting to untangle the web, I think it likely that there was indeed a gambling incident in 1875 which Wood foiled, but it involved Philadelphia (two franchises possibly, the Athletics and Centennials), not Louisville. Hall and Craver both played with the Athletics in 1875, and the man Wood recalls as Devlin might well have been Bechtel, who like Craver played for both the Athletics and the Centennials in that year. My conclusion: swap Bechtel for Devlin and Philadelphia for Louisville, and Wood’s story makes sense.–jt]
In the early days of baseball, especially during that period from 1869 to 1875, baseball was the real gambling sport in America. Hundreds of thousands of dollars often were bet on the outcome of big series. Gamblers circulated—without restraint—through the stands, offering bets. They would lay odds on any angle of the game; bet on the straight outcome, on the number of hits, the number of runs in each inning and the number of errors, etc.
Not only was there heavy plunging on the games in the parks, but thousands of dollars were wagered in the poolrooms in every city on the result of the different games.
And because of the tendency of the public to back their diamond favorites to the limit, the gamblers planned a huge clean-up in that Louisville-Chicago series, expecting the aid of the three Louisville players.
Craver, the Louisville catcher, and captain, was selected as the real go-between. He previously played on my Chicago team, but I suspicioned [sic] him of shady tactics and released him. Louisville later signed him. Craver told the gamblers that he needed the assistance of one or two of the other Louisville players to swing the big coup, and, with their sanction, enlisted the services of Hall, the center fielder, and Devlin, the first baseman of the Louisville club.
Shortly before Louisville came to Chicago to play that series, telegrams arrived for some of my players. They were not at the clubhouse at the time, and I thought probably the messages might contain some important news. So I opened them and in the reading of those messages there was unfolded before my eyes the monstrous plot to throw the ensuing Louisville-Chicago games to Louisville for the benefit of the gamblers.
There was nothing in those messages which led me to believe that my own boys were in the plot up to that time. The messages were more in the form of a proposal than anything else. But the way the proposition was worded meant that no reply from my players to whom the messages were addressed meant that they would enter the plot and would throw the game to the Louisville club.
Those messages promised my boys—that is those who were to be ringleaders in bringing about our defeat—a fabulous sum of money. And why shouldn’t they have been given a big amount had they entered into the compact? The gamblers behind the scheme had planned to bet every dollar they could get on the Louisville team. The odds were big—something like 5 to 1 that Chicago would win the series. It meant close to $1,000,000 for that outfit if it could swing the game to Louisville.
Well, I tucked those messages in my pocket and never said a word to any of the players. When the Louisville team arrived, I kept my players under cover. I didn’t want the Hall-Devlin-Craver crowd to meet my boys and to discover that the message never had been delivered.
It was my aim to give the gamblers what they had coming to them; to trap them with the very same trap they had laid for others. And that is just what happened.
Assuming that the game was fixed, the gamblers went ahead and bet every dollar they could muster on Louisville to win—and Louisville was beaten!
Not being absolutely sure that my players hadn’t been tampered with in person I called them together before the game began. I told them that there was a scheme afoot to have Chicago throw the game and the series to Louisville. And then I told my boys that the first imperfect play on the part of any one of them would mean not only his removal from the game but his expulsion from baseball.
And, to this day, I regard the playing of my Chicago team that afternoon, as the most perfect I have ever seen any club perform. Those boys played beyond themselves; not one of them dared to make an error of hand or head, fearing he would be tainted immediately with the suspicion of being a crook.
We won easily—and the terrific financial loss which the gamblers suffered that day cured many of them forever of the plunging fever.
Immediately after our series was over, I went to William. H. Hulbert, president of our club, and laid all the facts before him.
“This is the climax,” said Hulbert. “Baseball is a sport and should be kept a clean sport. Gambling should not enter into it. Unless we take some drastic steps now the game will be wrecked on the rocks of crookedness.”
And Hulbert, one of the finest sportsmen the game ever has produced, then went to the other club owners, made a formal complaint against Craver, Devlin and Hall and brought about their expulsion. The story of the frame-up was given wide publicity at the time and it served as a lesson to all other ball players.
Until that time, baseball had been controlled by an organization known as the National Association of Professional Baseball Players.
“It is not powerful enough and its scope is too limited,” said Hulbert. “A new ruling body is needed —one with absolute authority; one which can stamp out dishonesty and gambling in baseball.
And so Hulbert, working unceasingly during the winter of 1875 and the spring of 1876, brought about the formation of the National League—the same National League which has lived and prospered during 42 years of commingled peace and warfare.
Hulbert, in organizing the new circuit, made it a condition that “no club be a member of the National League unless it has a population of 75,000 or more. The National league circuit follows:
Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Louisville, in the west; Boston, Hartford, New York (Mutual team) and the Philadelphia Athletics in the east.
Hulbert was the unanimous selection for the presidency of the league. All he needed to do was to indicate his willingness to hold the office. But Hulbert didn’t want it to appear that he sought the honor as a reward for what he had done.
“I would suggest that in electing our first president, we dismiss the straight voting plan,” he said. “Let us write on separate slips of paper the names of each club president. Then drop them in a hat. The first name withdrawn shall be our president.”
The suggestion was accepted; the name of Morgan G. Bulkeley, of Hartford, Conn., was extracted and to him was accorded the honor of being the first chief executive of the National League.
My own baseball career ended with the close of the season of 1875. Daring 1874 I had lost a limb due to blood poisoning following a knife jab, ending my playing days. In 1875 I consented to manage the White Stockings, the team which 1 had organized in 1869-70, but I found during that 1875 season that the managerial end of the game was a bit too strenuous for a man in my condition, and I hung up my uniform when the last game was played —never to don it again.
Below, the fifth chapter of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment, of six, may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.
Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of 1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.
The first game of the memorable Chicago White Stockings-Cincinnati Red Stockings series was played in the latter part of September, 1870, in Cincinnati amid scenes unparalleled on any ball field.
The Red Stockings never had been beaten on their own grounds. The feat was considered impossible by other teams that had played there during 1869 and the early part of 1870. Those players had told us that if the visiting team had a chance for victory the umpires—Cincinnati products—would get busy in behalf of the Red Stockings; if the umpires couldn’t swing the trick alone, the crowds would menace the opposing players to a point where they would quit trying to win rather than risk the danger of being hit by missiles or mobbed by the crowds after the game.
I had considered all these things before I took any boys to Cincinnati. I told each one what he might expect from the crowd if we should happen to win. (But they were a brave, fearless lot, my boys, and they vowed — and kept that vow—that no show of hostility by the fans would effect their playing one iota.
I was determined that the umpire was not to be a Cincinnatian, making that condition emphatic from the outset. The Red Stockings demurred at first, but when they found that I meant exactly what I had said—and wouldn’t play the game unless we had an impartial umpire—they reluctantly agreed.
Just before the game began we made an announcement to the stands that we wanted some spectator to umpire the game for us—and that Cincinnati and Chicago residents were barred. From out of the stands, after a long delay, stepped a salesman named Milligan, from Philadelphia. He convinced us quickly that he was thoroughly conversant with the game, and he was named as umpire.
The game began, with the Cincinnati ball park crowded to its 10,000 capacity. At the outset, the Cincinnati gamblers were circulating through the stands waving huge rolls of bills. They offered odds of 20 to 1 against us at first, but these gradually sluffed down to 15 to 1, when the Red Stockings supporters saw how quickly their money was snapped up by the small band of rooters who went to Cincinnati with us.
We jumped into the lead in the early innings and held it throughout. Several times the Red Stockings tried to rally—but failed. They never caught up with us and we won, 6 to 3. During the first part of the game the crowd was orderly. It felt certain that the Red Stockings would overhaul us. But when the game had gone along seven innings, with the White Stockings still in the lead, the crowd got busy.
It hurled threats at our players and menaced our catcher and tried to frighten Umpire Milligan. The Red Stockings also tried to bulldoze Milligan. But he was of the sort who wouldn’t stand for it. He knew full well that if the Red Stockings were beaten on their own grounds, that he was in great danger of foul treatment by the thousands who had bet so heavily on their Cincinnati team.
But Milligan was of a heroic mold. He umpired that game fairly and squarely as he saw it. He played no favorites. And we accomplished, on that hot September afternoon, what had been considered impossible—the defeat of the Red Stockings on their home grounds.
Immediately after the game was over the crowd swarmed upon the field, intent upon wreaking vengeance upon us. I had anticipated this move and instructed my players for a quick get-away. When the last out was made we dashed for the exits and jumped into our carriages. As we ran across the field many of us were struck with stones and bottles. The frenzied Ohioans pursued us even after we had entered our hacks, pelting us with rocks until our horses had distanced them.
Our victory over the Red Stockings on Cincinnati soil was the greatest sensation to that time. And Chicago went wild with joy. When we got back home we were given a greeting unlike any ever accorded ball players before. We were the heroes j of the hour—and of the year.
Three weeks later we played the second—and the last game of the series. It was played in Chicago on a diamond in the Dexter Park Race Course. No other place in Chicago was considered big enough to accommodate the crowd that wanted to go to that game.
The day the game was played the crowds started for the park early in the morning. All forenoon and during the early part of the afternoon, carriages wended their way to the park and there was always outside the gate a mob howling for admission. Before the game began, 27,000 admissions, at $1 each, had been sold, with another 25,000 in a wild scramble for tickets.
And then the fence, unable to withstand the pressure of that surging mob, went down with a crash—and the mob swarmed in. Several attempts were made by the club officials to have that broken section of the fence fixed, but it was useless. The crowd, rushing in, swept everything before it, and the game began with the fence broken and the “free admissions” still coming.
The paid admissions for that game totaled 27,000; the “free admissions” went well beyond 25,000, making a 52,000 crowd within the park when the call “play ball” sounded — the greatest crowd that ever witnessed a professional baseball game.
Eleven hundred carriages—the popular form of locomotion in that period, also were inside the park.
Bob Ferguson of Brooklyn umpired that game. He was paid $100 and his expenses and was guaranteed every protection. He was chosen in a rather unusual way. About two weeks before the game was played, Harry Wright, manager of the Red Stockings, and myself, agreed that we would select the umpire in this way: Each would write three names on a slip of paper and mail it to the other. In case one candidate was named by both, he would be the umpire.
It was found that Ferguson had been named by both, whereupon he was appointed. The owners of the White Stockings wanted to pay Ferguson $300 and expenses, but the Red Stockings owners balked and all Ferguson got was $100 and expenses.
When the game began the betting was even. A vast sum of money was wagered on the outcome of that diamond battle. It seemed that every Chicago fan wanted to plunge his bankroll on our chances. The city, as a whole, had unbounded confidence in our ability. A big delegation of Cincinnati rooters and gamblers went to Chicago for that game and from the way they flourished $500 and $1,000 bills in the stands, it made it look as if they were commissioned to bet the entire wealth of the Ohio city on the chances of their ball club.
It was in that game, by the way, that the Reds introduced to Chicagoans fast fielding practise as a preliminary. Before that time no club ever had practised fast fielding in a game in Chicago. The efforts of our players were devoted only to increasing their hitting skill.
A mighty roar went up from the stands when Ferguson sounded his “play ball” and then the crowd settled back to watch the game.
Things broke badly for us in the early innings. An error or two on the part of my boys, mixed with several long hits by the Red Stockings, gave them a lead of five runs. Later on they increased it and when the seventh inning was ended the score stood 11 to 2 in favor of the Cincinnati club.
And then I rallied my boys.
“All together now,” I told them. “Here comes our ‘bloodied innings.’ Get out and get after that pitcher. We’ll win—we can’t lose.”
And the boys began playing with a new spirit. It always had been a peculiarity of my White Stockings to play their greatest ball, during the last two innings of the game, and all around the circuit the eight and ninth innings became known as the “bloodied innings” of the White Stockings.
It so happened in that game that the Red Stockings got last bats. The choice was decided by the flip of the coin—and I had lost. So we went to bat first in the eighth inning and hammered out five runs, holding the Red Stockings scoreless in their part of the inning.
With the score 11 to 2 against us at the end of the seventh, the Cincinnati rooters were rushing around the stands offering odds of from 25 to 100 to 1 against us. Strange as it may seem, they found many takers. Our backers still had confidence in us.
When we went to bat in our part of the ninth—the first half—with the score 11 to 7 against us, the Cincinnatians still were laying huge odds against us. And then, amid an ever-increasing roar of applause from the crowd, we “got” to that Cincinnati pitcher; rallied in a way that ranks among the greatest ninth inning finishes of all time. We smashed the bail to all parts of the lot, and when our side finally was retired, it was found that the tide of battle had shifted; that we, by scoring nine tallies in that final inning, had forged into the lead, 16 to 11.
The Red Stockings took their final bats and attempted gamely to overcome our lead—but their efforts were futile. They pushed across two and then went out, making the final score 16 to 13 in favor of the White Stockings.
And so ended the series—with Cincinnati and the major portion of the baseball world of that era aghast at our “impossible” performance — and with Chicago in a delirium of baseball fever from which it never has recovred—and never will.
(Note—The sixth and final chapter of “Baseball of the Bygone Days” will appear tomorrow.)
Chapter 6 tomorrow.
Now for the fourth chapter of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.
Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of 1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.
Somewhere along about Christmas in 1869, I noticed an advertisement in a New York paper which read something as follows:
“Ball players wanted to form, a team and represent Chicago and to defeat the Cincinnati Red Stockings.”
During the period of the late ’60s and early ’70s there was keen rivalry between Chicago and Cincinnati in a commercial way. Chicago wasn’t such a wonderfully large city then and it was doing everything possible to boom the town. And it was ealous of Cincinnati because of the great publicity Cincinnati had gained through the medium of its 1869 ball team, which had won 56 out of 57 games, the other resulting in a 17 to 17 tie with the Union team of Lansingburg.
And so Chicago decided that it must have a team to beat the Reds. Baseball wasn’t played to any great extent in the Illinois metropolis prior to that time. All the crack players were in the east. That is why the advertisement appeared in New York.
I answered the ad and in due time got a reply. It happened that I was among the first to write. The Chicago people told me they, under advice from Harry Wright, desired me to organize a club to beat the Red Stockings in 1870 and d__ the expense!
So I started to recruit my team. I figured the task would be easy, yet I found it the most difficult one of my life. Only a few of the many baseball stars that I approached cared to join a team that had as its ultimate purpose the beating of the Reds in a three-game series.
“It can’t be done,” most of the players answered me. “These Reds are unbeatable and we aren’t going to waste all of next spring and summer practising for it!”
Finally after much persuasion, I signed up a number of men who were real ball players but only after I had advanced them money out of my own pocket. The Chicago people hadn’t sent me any funds. Just as soon as some of those players had squandered their first advance money in drinking and gambling, they came for more, threatening to jump their contracts if we didn’t “”come through.” Finally, when my advances totaled beyond $1,200 and the players kept demanding more, I asked my father to go to Chicago and ascertain the financial responsibility of the Chicagoans.
Father wired back:
“Go the limit; Chicagoans will make good all your advances.”
When I got the message I hurried to Troy, N. Y., with Tom Foley, the representative of the Chicagoans, to get [Cherokee] Fisher and [Bill] Craver who had played in 1869 with the Troy Haymakers. Both were terrific hitters and I needed them, but I knew they would come high, as salaries went in those days. However, we signed up both men, contracting Fisher for $800 and Craver for $1,000. Then my team—eleven men—was complete.
Early in the spring of 1870 we arranged the details of our training trip to New Orleans. It was the second southern trip ever undertaken by a ball club. Foley, who was a champion billiardist and one of the Chicago backers and is still living in Chicago, accompanied us south.
During our first week in the Louisiana town we practiced among ourselves. Then we commenced to take on the teams in New Orleans. I began by scheduling the weakest first, working up gradually to the hardest. We defeated the weaker teams in New Orleans–and then we beat the strongest. In each succeeding game my club appeared stronger both in batting and in fielding. Toward the end of our season in New Orleans we played an all-star New Orleans nine and won with ease.
Then I made the proposition that our regular nine should play a double team of New Orleans men, giving them 18 players in the field. The game itself was rather amusing because the New Orleans captain had so many players under his command that he didn’t know where to play them all. However, he put one man behind the plate to assist the catcher, four extras in the outfield, giving him seven altogether, and the rest were sprinkled around the infield. making a total of eight infielders.
Pitted against such a collection we won almost as easily as we had in playing nine men. In our final game in New Orleans I allowed the rival team six outs per inning to our three —and once again we won.
We worked our way north gradually, as the teams do today, playing all the crack southern teams enroute and winning all of our games by overwhelming scores. We beat the Memphis team, champions of Tennessee, 157 to 1—and Foley was very angry because we had permitted the southerners to score their lone tally!
At last we reached Chicago— and we got a wild ovation. The town had gone crazy over baseball. Our wonderful showing in New Orleans and our clean sweep through the south had caused the Chicagoans to feel that our chief aim—to defeat the Red Stockings—was a certainty.
Our first real game in the north was against the crack Rockford (Ill.) team—the club on which Adrian Anson and A. G. Spalding got their start. The Rockford people backed their team heavily in the betting that preceded that game — but we swamped them. We scored 14 runs in the first inning and after the fifth inning were so far ahead that I gave my boys orders to take it easy, and by that additional victory set Chicago further aflame with baseball enthusiasm.
Then we started east to play out the schedule which was so arranged that the Cincinnati series did not come until the end of the season. Our success continued. My boys were wonderful batters and every additional contest they engaged in seemed to increase their hitting power.
In those days ability to hit was the main asset of a player. In his batting power lay his baseball value. Not much attention was paid to perfecting a team in fielding. It was figured that fielding would come naturally but that batting must be developed.
During the latter part of May two of my players took sick while we were on tour and I had to send them home. Shortly afterward two others joined the “hospital squad.” I filled in with amateurs, sent to me from Chicago, but I found quickly that they wouldn’t do.
So, along about June 4th when I found that my ailing quartet was not convalescing very rapidly, I cancelled all our remaining June and July games and stayed in Chicago.
Late in July when all the players were back in shape we resumed team playing practise. All during the time the four boys were sick I kept the others at batting practise for two hours a day and the expertness in the hitting line continued to increase. About August 4th we resumed our schedule and played out the season, winning all of our games from the resumption in August until the end.
And then came the grand climax of the year—the task for which we had been preparing ourselves; the battle with the Cincinnati Red Stockings.
As challengers we were compelled to play the first game of the series—a best two out of three affair—on the home diamond of the Reds; on the same field where they never had tasted defeat. Only once during the two years—1869 and 1870—had the Reds been beaten and that was suffered in foreign territory, the Atlantic of Brooklyn turning the trick, in 10 innings, 8 to 7.
It being necessary for the first game to be played in Cincinnati and the second in Chicago, the place for the third—if a third was necessary— was to be determined by the flip of a coin.
When we went to Cincinnati for that first game even our most loyal rooters were pessimistic. It was not that they lacked confidence in our ability, but because they feared we would be “jobbed” by some Cincinnati umpire, or menaced so by the rowdy crowds that we wouldn’t play our real game because of fear of violence if we should win.
But we did win and the story of that game, together with the second in Chicago, which was witnessed by a crowd beyond 50,000, shall form the next chapter in this recital.
(Note—Chapter Five, which begins tomorrow, tells of the two most bitterly contested ball games in baseball history. It tells of a game that drew 50,000 spectators—the biggest crowd that ever saw a professional baseball game in America.—Editor)
Chapter 5 tomorrow.
Now for the third installment of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.
And now my story shifts to a baseball club—the Eckfords—which swept through two seasons achieving 144 victories without suffering a single defeat [this claim is without merit—jt]; to a man— Joe Sprague—who pitched and won every one of those games for the Eckfords.
The records of both are without parallel in baseball history; accomplishments so remarkable that they never can be surpassed nor closely approached.
The Eckfords, as I stated in a previous article, represented Williamsburg, then a separate town, but now a part of Brooklyn. It was the first team I played on and I held down second base in every one of those games that we won while establishing our record mark.
Our winning streak began with the opening of the 1862 season and continued right through to the end of 1863. During that time we played —with one exception—every team of strength and importance in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Troy, Syracuse, Albany, Washington and the smaller cities. And we beat them all, not once, but as often as they cared to try conclusions with us.
The single exception was the Excelsior team of Brooklyn. We wanted to play them, issuing repeated challenges. But their Captain, Joe Leggett, refused for the sole reason that he had become angered during the summer of 1862 when our Captain, who was captain of a picked nine on which Leggett played, was presented with a souvenir ball. Leggett thought he was entitled to it and vowed afterward that so long as he was leader of the Excelsiors he never would permit them to play the Eckfords. He kept his word.
Joe Sprague, in my opinion, was the greatest pitcher of all time. When one calls to mind the fact that he pitched—and won—144 games in two seasons, pitching three times a week, it doesn’t leave much room for argument, does it?
Sprague, throwing an underhand ball, had terrific speed and wonderful control. But, most important of all, Sprague threw a curve ball—that was back in 1862—which means that Sprague, not Arthur Cummings of the Brooklyn Stars of 1863-64, or Bobby Mathews, of the Baltimores of 1866-67, was the original curve-ball pitcher.
In those days when Sprague pitched for our Eckford team a curve ball, as such, was unknown. But we always noticed that some of Sprague’s deliveries took a sharp twist, sometimes turning in and sometimes turning away from the batter. All of us used to remark about the peculiar gyrations of the ball that he threw. I was not until some years later, however, when curved balls became an established fact, that we recognized the delivery then called a curve, as the very same kind of ball that Sprague had thrown in 1862 and 1863 while pitching himself—and the Eckfords —to fame.
And yet the amazing accomplishments of both the Eckfords and Sprague never have found their way in the record books. No mention is made of them anywhere. There is one way that I can account for this failure to chronicle properly the greatest feat in the entire history of the game. And that is that the record was made in the days before any records were kept—in the era before tabulation began. It was not until along in 1864 and 1865 that Henry Chadwick put into operation his tabulating system and began preserving records.
The Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 have gained undying fame for having won 56 games, tying one and losing none in that season, but their record is insignificant in comparison with the 144 straight victories of the Eckfords of 1862-63. The Red Stockings’ record for two years, 1869-70, totals 79 victories, one tie and three defeats, and not one defeat, as some records show.
The Red Stockings were defeated two straight games in the Fall of 1870 by the Chicago White Stockings. a team which I organized, captained and managed. That team was recruited for the sole purpose of beating the arrogant Red Stockings —and it accomplished its object in the most sensational baseball series ever played. In a later article I shall deal with those two games, one which was witnessed by the greatest crowd—50,000—that ever saw a professional ball game in America.
Historians differ as to when and where the first game was played at which admission was charged. The real fact is that the first game of that kind was played on June 7, 1864, between two picked nines, one from Williamsburg and the other from New York. It was staged in the enclosed Union Ball Park in Brooklyn. The admission price was 10 cents.
It was W. H. Cammeyer, the owner of the Union Ball Grounds, who conceived the idea of charging admission. What a howl of protest went up from the populace. They termed it an outrage to charge to see the “national sport.” But Cammeyer was deaf to the clamor—and no one got into the grounds unless he first produced the dime.
In our free games the crowds ranged between 5,000 and 20,000. In that first game when admission was charged, the attendance was only a trifle above 1,000.
The fans gradually became used to the idea of paying admission before that season ended and when the season of 1865 began, the park owners determined upon a bolder stroke. They decided to charge 25 cents, whereupon a cry of “robbers” went up! But the price remained at 25 cents—until it was boosted in later years.
In the early summer of that year—1863—the club owners experienced a decided shock. A delegation of players went to them and issued the ultimatum:
“Give us part of the gate receipts , or we won’t play!”
“Why, that will throw you boys on the professional class.”
“Well, we’re willing,” was the answer.
The demands of the players who were exhibiting in parks where admission was charged, were reluctantly granted. Up to that time none of the players had received money. It had been considered an honor to participate in the big games and all the boys belonging to the various clubs had paid dues to purchase equipment and to provide traveling and incidental expenses.
The players then appointed one of their number—the extra man—to count tickets, the original agreement being that the players were to get 25 per cent of the gross income. This agreement continued for a short time only. Then the players demanded 35 per cent, again threatening a strike. When this demand was granted they later asked for—and got-—50 per cent. Before the demands during the following two years ended, the players, by use of threats of quitting the diamond, had forced the club owners to pay them 75 per cent of the gross receipts of each game, that sum being divided equally among the players.
Each winter the heads or the various clubs held their annual get-together meeting in New York with John Wil[d]ey, president of the Mutuals, a great fan of that era, acting as president. When the meeting of 1865 got under way the room was filled with parents of the youths from all over the United States who had been shaking down the club owners for a split of the receipts. They were furious.
Wiley [Wildey], the storm center of it all because of his position as partner with “Boss Bill Tweed,” was flayed unmercifully by those parents. They declared the practice of paying the ball players was a crime; that it would break the morals of the boys, that it killed the sport in the game arnd, all-in-all, it was very, very disgraceful.
“Enact laws at once barring players from accepting money or we shall refuse to permit our sons to play next year,” was the demand of the parents.
“We are perfectly willing to adopt such, a rule,” answered Wil[d]ey with a quaint smile, “but I fear, ladies and gentlemen, if we did, the players wouldn’t observe it. It seems to me that the days are over when baseball is purely a game for amateurs.”
And Wil[d]ey was right.
(End Chapter Three).
(Note—The next installment of “Baseball of the Bygone Days” appearing tomorrow will deal with the organization in the winter of 1869 and the spring of 1870 of the famous Chicago White Stockings, the team hired by Chicago business men at a cost of $50,000, the salaries alone being $18,000, for the purpose—which it accomplished— of beating the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Editor).
Chapter 4 tomorrow.