George Boziwick contributed this splendid article to the journal Base Ball, which could neither accommodate nor print in color all his wonderful accompanying illustrations. Here at last is the piece the way it might ideally have been published; it is reprinted through courtesy of the journal’s publisher, McFarland and Company. Boziwick is Chief of the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. He is also a composer, performer, and co-founder of the Red Skies Music Ensemble, created with the mission to make archives and special collections come alive through research and performance.
Katie Casey was base ball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev’ry sou Katie blew.
On a Saturday, her young beau
Called to see if she’d like to go,
To see a show But Miss Kate said “no,
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was Katie’s well known reply, but in 1908, a woman at the ballpark rooting and cheering was neither a common sight, nor was it fully accepted. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” advertises just the opposite: that a woman’s place was indeed in the grandstand at the ballpark and not just safe at home.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”
At the turn of the 20th century, as more women gained access to higher education, participation in the general workforce, and political activism, an “emergent ideal” of the “New Woman” began to take hold that “imbued a women’s activity in the public domain with a new sense of female self, a woman who was independent, athletic, sexual, and modern.” According to the song’s second verse, the fictional Katie Casey had all those qualities, and expressed them fully through her passion for the game of baseball.
Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names;
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along good and strong. When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the gang sing this song:
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” made its appearance at a time in the spring and summer of 1908 when everyone was talking about baseball’s hotly contested pennant race—a three-way National League extravaganza between John McGraw’s mighty New York Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates with their star Honus Wagner, and the reigning world champion Chicago Cubs. All this excitement “surely” inspired vaudevillian Jack Norworth to write his “sensational baseball song,” as it was billed by the publisher and appeared on the sheet music. But the story behind “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” waited some fifty years before the song’s lyricist explained to the press how his famous words came to be written. By that time the song’s composer, Albert Von Tilzer, dead for two years, was unable to corroborate.
Norworth recounted that in the spring of 1908 he was riding a New York City elevated subway train when he spotted a sign that called out “Ball Game Today – Polo Grounds.” Norworth claimed he had never been to an actual game but that he needed a song for his act at the Amphion Theater in Brooklyn. According to Norworth, he thought the time was right for a baseball song and an idea struck him that he “thought was pretty good.” Before the subway ride was finished, baseball’s biggest female fan and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had come to life. He brought the lyrics to composer Albert Von Tilzer, who set them to music.
Later that fall, when the first sound recordings of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” were issued, the National Recording Company reviewed the Edison cylinder recording sung by Edward Meeker in its September 1908 catalog.
The base-ball hit of the season – a home run at least. Katie Casey is a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool base-ball ‘fan,’ and can give her big brothers pointers on ‘rooting’ for the home team. She’d rather munch peanuts on the bleacheries than caramels at a matinee – which is saying a good deal for a girl. Meeker must have taken Katie to a game or two, judging from the interest he takes in singing about her. The tune is a jolly, infectious one and you can get every word.
The focus of the Edison recording review is clearly on the character of Katie Casey and the song’s verse, not simply a trip to the ballpark with its chorus of “peanuts and Cracker Jack,” as we know it today.That musical “branding” would come long after female fans had melded into the crowds coming through the turnstiles, and the awareness of gender in the song’s forgotten verses had long since disappeared from memory.
To increase the song’s reach and visibility, Albert Von Tilzer had his publishing house, the York Music Company, commission a set of hand-painted glass lantern slides that were customarily used to accompany singalongs led by “song pluggers” between acts or reels in vaudeville and movie houses. These “illustrated song slides” were manufactured by master lantern-slide-maker DeWitt C. Wheeler, who shot them onsite at the Polo Grounds in May 1908. Using actors or models to depict the fictional Katie Casey and her beau, these slides undoubtedly encouraged the acceptance of women at games. They portrayed Katie Casey not as someone to sit idly taking in the game, but a woman who was fully engaged in the activity, surrounded by men. 
The presence of women at the ballpark in 1908 was not new, but it was still considered unusual. The increase in female attendance altered the informal, exclusive social club atmosphere, and elicited considerable resentment from many men. Despite this, ballclub owners eagerly exploited the idea of women at games, as it was commonly thought that their presence purified the game’s nastier elements and would increase attendance by men who simply wanted an opportunity to be where women were. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” certainly promoted the idea of women attending games. The song was indeed “infectious,” and you could “get every word.” But while the public may have been receptive to that idea in a song, in reality getting every word would take some time.
Ring Lardner’s book You Know Me Al, published in 1916, eight years after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” offers some evidence that the perception of baseball as an exclusively male domain was gradually yielding to the idea of women as knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans. Lardner’s fictitious ballplayer Jack Keefe describes his new wife and her love of baseball, as he writes to his friend Al: “Florence knows a lot about baseball for a girl. You would be surprised to hear her talk. She says I am the best pitcher in the league and she has saw them all.”
“Take me out with the crowd”
In the decades prior to the turn of the 20th century, the importance of recreational activities such as baseball was embraced by an emerging philosophy that young people would benefit from spending their leisure time pursuing the social, psychological, and physical benefits of organized outdoor activities. A growing number of social activists on both sides of the Atlantic realized that team sports had inherent values that, once instilled on the field of play, were readily transferable to the everyday lives of young men entering adulthood as productive citizens in the professional workforce. By 1908, baseball’s popularity had found resonance in both the playground movement of the 1890s and the subsequent Progressive Era that flourished under the watchful eye of Theodore Roosevelt, a great promoter of strenuous outdoor activity. Even the urban landscape saw a sharpening focus on the need for team-based outdoor activities for young people. Organizations such as the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL), founded in New York City in 1903, began to take root. The efforts of the PSAL were enormously successful in its outreach to the youth of New York City. Baseball as both a participatory and spectator sport was taking hold. By 1906 there were 106 PSAL baseball teams for boys throughout the New York City public school system. That year they held their final baseball contest in front of an audience of 1,500 enthusiastic spectators at the Polo Grounds, home to the New York Giants.
With the construction of new ballparks, the establishment of a stable and competitive American League, and the reintroduction in 1903 of an annual World Series, baseball was becoming an enduring commodity to a fan base already acclimated to a game that they themselves often played as children. Also, in 1908, the report of the Mills Commission on the origins of baseball had just been released. Despite the fact that the commission had determined on questionable evidence that baseball was a uniquely American game invented in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839 by Civil War veteran Abner Doubleday, America’s pastime was now official, and in the minds of many, as American as apple pie. Even though Jack Norworth’s recounting of the song’s creation came 50 years after the fact, he may have been prophetic in claiming that he thought it was time for a baseball song. Regardless, he could not have realized that his baseball song would attain recognition as a signifier for the passion, the values, and the inclusiveness that Americans found in their national game. “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack”
According to Norworth, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had a modest reception, but almost immediately other performers began incorporating his song into their acts and its popularity grew. There are at least thirty known variants of the sheet-music cover of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” issued by the publisher in 1908. Clearly the song was gaining in popularity, and so too was Norworth. His story about the origins of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” may or may not have been accurate, but looking closely at his activities at the time of the song’s writing provides evidence for what I believe to be the real story that Norworth never told about his “sensational base ball song.” By late 1906, Norworth (then married to actress Louise Dresser) had become infatuated with a fellow vaudevillian, Trixie Friganza. Norworth and Friganza began a heated affair while working together during 1907. By October the affair had become public, and Dresser announced to the press that Norworth was seeking a divorce so that he and Friganza could marry.
Even as Friganza sang her popular number “No Wedding Bells for Me” from the show The Orchid, neither she nor Norworth would have predicted that by the summer of 1908, their romance would suddenly falter, but it did. On June 15, the day of his divorce from Louise Dresser, Norworth began starring in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 and on June 21, in Long Branch, New Jersey, he unexpectedly married his Follies partner, vaudeville superstar Nora Bayes. Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes were Broadway’s most sensational couple. They worked and wrote songs together, including the baseball song “Let’s Get the Umpire’s Goat,” and their best-known song, “Shine On Harvest Moon.” Although there are no extant recordings of Bayes or Norworth singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” both are represented on individual covers of the sheet music. As part of their act, Bayes and Norworth held song-request contests that often included by popular demand performances of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
The lack of a Norworth/Bayes recording of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is not surprising given the fact that as part of his marital agreement with Bayes, Norworth severed his collaboration with composer Albert Von Tilzer and wrote songs exclusively with his new wife. From then on, many of the songs Norworth and Bayes either co-wrote or performed together favored entertaining Irish or other ethnic parodies. This was a world in which Norworth’s fictional Katie Casey of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” chose not to participate. She was more than willing to pass up a show for something more exciting, something American. She wanted baseball, and according to the song’s lyrics, her identity with the game was a proven fact.
“I don’t care if I never get back”
Who was the fictional Katie Casey in Jack Norworth’s song? By her name, she was likely Irish American. In 1908 she would have been at least second generation, already well assimilated to American culture and in her case, baseball. Assimilation for her and other Irish meant Americanizing without eradicating one’s cultural and religious “Irishness,” despite the fact that many Irish immigrants consciously turned their backs on a homeland that was still reeling from the effects of a catastrophic famine, poverty, and massive emigration. In their adopted homeland, the Irish would create their own infrastructure of community and culture, manifested in the building of Catholic schools and hospitals, and in the formation of service and fraternal organizations.
In Ireland, many young women found themselves without adequate means of marital support or inheritance, making emigration their only route of survival. These circumstances made the first generation of single Irish female immigrants more likely to answer the call for live-in domestic servants as a means of gaining a sure foothold in America. The growing demand for domestics in well-to-do Protestant households during the Victorian era was easily filled by young single Irish Catholic women often referred to ubiquitously as Kates, Katies, Noras, or Bridgets by their employers, who barely tolerated their “Hibernian” temperaments or their peculiar religious devotions. For the young Irish immigrant servant, the benefits of domestic employment went well beyond that of a steady income. Full-time residence in a prosperous middle class Protestant home afforded the Irish domestic a view of American life from the inside out. This “lace curtain” perspective greatly accelerated the Americanization process. Women were able to save money not otherwise spent on room and board and outfit themselves with the trappings and persona of upward mobility. This swift process of acculturation guaranteed that subsequent generations would soon begin filling the growing ranks of teachers or nurses, professions that mirrored the dominance, assertiveness, and control that Irish mothers and daughters often had over their households, husbands, and families. With independence and mobility as byproducts of her Irish cultural, social, and religious upbringing, Katie Casey was likely to be single, working, and self-sufficient. Her desire to get to the ballgame and assimilate to the rooting crowd is recognizable as part of the very cloth of her Irish American feminine identity.
Joining in the process of ethnic identity and assimilation, the Tin Pan Alley music industry manufactured its own form of entertainment that catered to enthusiastic Irish audiences, offering up song parodies and satires of the Irish experience from the beautiful and sentimental view of the homeland, to caricatures in the New World of cops, hard drinkers, and politicians. Songs about ethnic stereotyping, cultural identity, and the Americanization of young women were plentiful both in song and in the visual-art form of the sheet-music cover, particularly in the creation of the famous Gibson girl, the idealized American female image made famous by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. While Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes were writing entertaining songs and being lauded as the most celebrated couple on the Broadway stage, Norworth’s “sensational baseball song” began playing to a very different kind of audience, thanks to his affair with the almost Mrs. Norworth, Trixie Friganza.
Friganza had been cited in the local papers as a suffragist who marched for her rights in the very year that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was written. Her suffrage activities at the time were supported publicly by her employers, George M. Cohan and Sam Harris, in whose production of The American Idea Friganza was costarring with actress Stella Hammerstein. It is my belief that Friganza’s relationship with Norworth and her activities on behalf of women’s rights were the catalysts for Norworth’s inspiration and were fictionalized in Katie Casey’s explicit and affirming response to her beau to take her to the ballgame. This opinion is supported by the fact that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was officially registered for copyright on May 2, 1908, likely coinciding with the peak of Norworth’s affair with Friganza and their near marriage.
Another indicator of Friganza’s likely identity as the inspiration behind the fictional Katie Casey is the fact that out of all the known covers of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” released by the publisher, she appears twice in two different poses. Like Casey, Friganza (whose real name was Delia O’Callahan) was known to be outspoken and independent, drawing large crowds to both the theater and the suffrage rallies at which she was often a key speaker.
As an independent young woman and knowledgeable fan, Katie Casey was perfectly capable and qualified in leading the rooting charge, or telling the umpire, in a voice “good and strong,” that his call was wrong. The baseball park was her proving ground. Her boisterous behavior, although in 1908 it may have been considered inappropriate to her gender, provided the necessary lyric—the verse that she needed in order to participate in the chorus of assimilation and solidarity to “root, root, root for the home team.”
This same desire for solidarity and assimilation was already being observed in the behaviors of immigrant groups of young lower-class women in the crowded factory workrooms of New York and other urban centers. The image of the modest sequestered young woman at work was far from reality. Since these women, largely adolescent, had little or no opportunities for advancement in that milieu, the women’s work group became the dominant form of socialization. This gave rise to an adolescent counterculture that allowed them to thrive in the bleak, deafening atmosphere in which they spent their long days. These young girls were observed to be a cohesive, boisterous group, using the workspace to experiment with profanity, slang, and other careless or loud behaviors. This was part of a young working girl’s rite of passage. As social historian Leslie Tentler reminds us, “initiation into the heady world of adolescent independence was necessary for an urban working-class girl in the early twentieth century, because it was the adolescent peer group, and not parents, that provided suitors and ultimately, mates.”
These were the Katie Caseys of the factories who eventually took to the streets in search of better working conditions and higher pay. The tune that these women were singing was also an “infectious” one, and society would have to “get every word.” Women wanted empowerment, and Katie Casey’s fictionalized declaration for a female presence in the grandstand was a reverberation of these workers’ demands for equality. Once they reached their own chorus of assimilation, they too could never go back.
Indeed, these ladies did not go back. They eventually went on strike. The uprising of the 20,000 began in New York on November 23, 1909, and lasted for many weeks. Newspaper reports described in detail the worker’s strikes, including an account of one woman’s determined behavior on the field of battle: a real baseball-inspired story.
A striker [by the name of] Lena, threw an egg at the foreman of her factory and missed. The foreman made scornful remarks about her throwing abilities. Lena again began to throw eggs but this time, she did not miss. In a moment Grossman [her foreman] looked like an animated omelet. He rushed at the line and the pair clinched, half of the omelet being transferred to Lena.
With each successive worker’s march or suffrage parade, a growing number of groups and organizations both male and female were becoming affiliated with the broad cause of empowerment for women. No longer was it just for the shop girls, clerks, or garment workers. Nor was it simply Society’s latest fashionable cause. However, many began to realize that “if suffrage was made fashionable, victory would be assured.” The best way to ensure this victory was to sharpen the focus of empowerment on a single issue that would create a unified chorus of assimilation. That chorus became the “franchise” or the right to vote. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” employed a parallel platform, conveying the single message that empowerment, solidarity, and equality, not dominance, was bringing men and women together at the ballpark to root “good and strong” for the team. Since this inclusive support and focus on a single issue was the thing that would virtually guarantee the success of the suffrage movement, why not the same formula of success for the message of a baseball song?
“Let me root, root, root for the home team”
While Trixie Friganza may have given Jack Norworth an idea, actress Stella Hammerstein personified it. Hammerstein, and indeed all of Broadway, went out to the ballgames in 1908 where the New York Giants were baseball’s biggest attraction. The Giants players (some of whom also played the vaudeville stage) fraternized regularly with the acting crowd of Broadway. George M. Cohan even had his own amateur baseball team.The unique message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was significant enough for Cohan himself to introduce his own baseball song, “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.” While both the Cohan and Norworth songs were advertised in the same May 2, 1908, issue of Variety, Cohan’s was registered for copyright on May 8, six days after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Lantern slides for Cohan’s song followed one month after those of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” They were shot (also by DeWitt C. Wheeler) at the American League ballpark in upper Manhattan. The trade publications advertised both songs as sensational hits, and in the case of Cohan’s song, the “novelty summer waltz song and a home run hit.” Not only were the titles nearly identical, there was an unmistakable similarity in the opening phrases of both choruses. Although the trade publications remarked on the peculiar similarities of the two song titles, neither publisher seemed to have made an issue over the similarity of the refrains. In his later interviews, Norworth was quick to point out that he knew he had the better song, but there is no evidence that he ever challenged the powerful “Yankee Doodle Boy.” The two songs could not have been more different in tone, message, and prosody. Cohan’s refrain is passive, like a lovely afternoon at the ballpark, whereas “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has you on your feet with its opening octave jump. Norworth has no reservations about Katie Casey’s qualifications as a diehard and knowledgeable fan of the game, even leading the rooters in the song’s “infectious” chorus. Contrast that with Cohan’s opening verse, in which he advises the rooters around him that undignified behavior should be put aside so that an appropriate place might be made for a woman, who then could gently and lovingly be taught the rules of baseball when you “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.”
Coney Island’s all right,
It’s a fine place at night,
But the place that’s the money to me,
Is the park where they play,
Classy ball every day,
Talk of sport,
It’s the big Jubilee!
At the shout of “Play Ball”
I’m just daffy that’s all,
As I sit with my queen like a king,
With her score card in hand,
Mamie looks more than grand,
To the rooters around me I sing:
Take you girl to the ball game,
Any old afternoon.
That’s the spot to propose to Mame,
The spot for a sunshiny spoon.
Make a fan of your steady girl,
If you lose her I’ll take all the blame.
In the stand, It’s just grand,
As she squeezes your hand,
At the base ball game.
Though Cohan’s song is typical of the genre of songs that would follow, he did two important things that allowed the message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to go forward. He publicly approved the suffrage activities of Trixie Friganza (represented in the fictional Katie Casey, who independently chooses to go to a ballgame instead of a show). And, he published his own song, whose title is the necessary signifier of approval that gives currency and validation to Norworth’s message of enfranchisement. Taking your girl to a ballgame had now become fashionable.
As a result, both songs helped unleash a great swath of copycat songs from publishing houses across New York’s Tin Pan Alley and beyond, many of them about taking your girl to a ballgame, and many (like those of Norworth and Cohan) composed in a simple waltz meter of three-four. One of these songs, “I’ve Been Making a Grand Stand Play for You,” offers the following opening lyric:
Way down front,
hand in hand,
In the baseball grandstand,
Is my girl and myself ev’ry day;
She’s a regular fan,
Like a regular man,
Know just what to do, what to say.
While these copycat songs certainly contributed to the positive message put in motion by “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” they did not convey the same anthem of equality and empowerment offered by Katie Casey. Cohan uses the ballpark as a romanticized teachable moment for his girl’s benefit, who is presumed to know nothing about baseball. The message of these songs is to inculcate your best girl into the rituals of baseball as a male-oriented pursuit in which she could now participate if she just played along by a new set of rules where a home run, a hit, or a grandstand play were creating a new language of courtship, love, and romance.
“If they don’t win it’s a shame”
The message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” stands alone when set in relief against these easily forgotten songs. It is the only song that asserts the unique message that a woman’s presence and participation at the ballpark gives momentum towards a relationship of equality with those around her. That relationship is legitimized in the stands when (as told in the second verse) Katie Casey leads her fellow fans in the song’s final chorus. No other baseball song places a woman in a position of leadership, which more than fulfills her need and desire to be part of the franchise, which, in this case, was the rooting crowd.
Thus the question often asked by many baseball fans can now be answered: “Why do we sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ when we are already at the game?” The answer is hidden in plain sight in the song’s second verse that we never sing. The very first time that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was ever sung at the ballpark was when Katie Casey sang it. What was once fiction has, over time, become reality. Katie Casey by her actions establishes both the progressive momentum of participation for the “new woman” and, at the same time, effectively sets the song on its future course of greatness. Someday a woman will indeed be able to lead the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the ballpark, and the momentum to achieve that had just been put in place.
The momentum to sustain Katie Casey’s victory in the grandstand was generated by continued performances of the song—not at the ballpark or in movie houses or vaudeville theaters but in millions of parlors across the country. As was the continued custom, mothers taught music to their children. In the process they became eager consumers of sheet music, sharing the delights of songs such as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” around the family piano. These re-creations of the ballpark experience at home singalongs and other social gatherings sustained interest in the song’s “jolly, infectious” chorus and its resonant message. Over time and across generations, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” would fulfill its message of inclusive empowerment, ensuring its continued popularity and eventual crowning as baseball’s popular anthem.
“For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out”
Jack Norworth himself helped to keep his song in proper step with the changing times. Women had won the right to vote in 1920, and in 1927 Norworth revised the verses of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” He modernized the song’s language and changed Katie Casey’s name to Nelly Kelly.
Nelly Kelly loved baseball games,
Knew the players, knew all their names,
You could see her there ev’ry day,
Shout “Hurray” when they’d play.
Her boy friend by the name of Joe,
Said “To Coney Isle, dear, let’s go,”
Then Nelly started to fret and pout,
And to him I heard her shout.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had another reason to gain a new lease on life: 1927 was the year that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. With baseball’s popularity soaring, perhaps Norworth was hoping that younger audiences eager for baseball would make an old song new again. More likely, with a fresh copyright on his baseball song, Norworth was rooting for his royalty checks to continue for at least another half-century.
Sometime after the 1949 release of the movie “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” when electronic organs were being introduced into many ballparks, the song gradually found its own opportunities for integration into the baseball experience. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, the song’s chorus was catching on with organists, who began playing it with some regularity as part of the pregame entertainment. Over time, the omission of the opening verse eliminated the song’s critical narrative from our collective memory.
By the late 1960s and early ’70s, many organists gave the song an increased presence at the ballpark; and while Norworth certainly envisioned hundreds of people singing the song during intermissions in theaters and movie houses, he could not possibly have imagined that his simple chorus of “root, root, root for the home team” would be given additional momentum by someone not in the theatrical world, but rather a baseball impresario who had a flair for the ridiculous and whose simple idea would propel Norworth’s tune into baseball immortality.
Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, like his father before him, always looked for opportunities to inject some crowd-pleasing novelty entertainment into his games. In 1977, after hearing White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray singing the tune badly to himself in the broadcast booth as organist Nancy Faust played the song, Veeck persuaded Caray to turn on the microphone and lead the crowd in singing the chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch of every game. That grand experiment was not only a hit, a home run, and a grandstand play with the fans; it has become iconic, sung today in all major league ballparks across the country during the game’s customary intermission. The song’s chorus, originally resonant for Katie Casey, now resonates with the sustained message that baseball is for everyone, regardless of class, gender, or generation. This inclusiveness has allowed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to achieve a lasting and cherished position of popularity, alongside “Happy Birthday” and the “Star Spangled Banner.
“At the old ball game”
When you can get away to the carefree atmosphere of the ballpark, the experience of singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch creates a magic of participation and belonging as memorable as the ballgame itself. Jack Norworth’s “sensational base ball song” unites players and fans, young and old, male and female, who still seek that common bond and restless urge, like generations before them and the fictional Katie Casey, to be part of the rooting crowd. Knowing what we now know about “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” imagine that tangible moment that Katie Casey must have felt back in 1908, walking into the ballpark for the first time, taking in the atmosphere and thinking to herself, “I don’t care if I never get back.”
This article was derived from an exhibit curated by George Boziwick at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts celebrating the 100th anniversary of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in 2008. A paper version of this article was presented at the 2009 Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. A lecture/performance version of this article was presented by the Red Skies Music Ensemble in 2012 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. George Boziwick would like to thank Jacqueline Z. Davis, the Dorothy and Louis B. Cullman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and staff member Tema Hecht. He also thanks Trudy Williams, co-founder of the Red Skies Music Ensemble for her contributions, and gives special thanks to Stephanie Doba.
Did you know that slugging average is older than the batting average, and was tossed aside in favor of it? And if so, do you know why? I did not, until I came upon Henry Chadwick’s “The True Test of Batting,” in The Ball Players’ Chronicle of September 19, 1867. (I was rummaging through old newspapers, looking for something else in another early baseball weekly; more on that soon.) Chadwick’s article is a genuine crossroads in the history of baseball statistics.
Bases on balls were still uncommon events, having been introduced for the 1864 season, and no one thought of them as batters’ achievements, nor would they for decades to come. So the need for an on base average was not evident. Chadwick had already posited a primitive version of the slugging percentage, with total bases divided by number of games; change the denominator from games to at bats and you have today’s slugging percentage—which, incidentally, was not accepted by the National League as an official statistic until 1923 and the American until 1946. Chadwick’s “total bases average” represented the game’s first attempt at a weighted average—a huge conceptual leap forward from, first, counting, and next, averaging. The weighted average is in fact the cornerstone of today’s statistical innovations.
Chadwick’s bias against the long ball was in large measure responsible for the game that evolved. What he valued most in the early days was the low scoring game marked by brilliant fielding. In the early annual guides, he listed all the “notable” games between significant teams—i.e., those in which the winner scored fewer than ten runs!
What I did not recognize until now was that the triumph of the batting average was not merely a product of Chadwick’s preference for the scientific style over the brutish slugging. It was his recognition that most runs were scored through some combination of errors (muffs), which were easily counted, and misplays, which were not. In the 1860s a single might easily become a tainted extra-base hit, indistinguishable in the box score from a legitimate one. So in discarding the old practice of crediting batters with only Outs (hit into or run into) and Runs, Chadwick held—and correctly, given the state of the early game—that times reached base on undeniably safe hits was a superior measure to the bases gathered on that hit. Here is his reasoning, with spelling unaltered but paragraph breaks added to what appeared originally as a single block of text.
The True Test of Batting
Up to the present year, and, in fact, up to the inaugural number of The Chronicle, the only recorded test of the skill of a batsman in a match was the number of outs and runs in the score of the game. In The Chronicle, however, the plan of estimating the batting by the number of times a batsman made his base by clean hits was introduced, and now this plan, varied by taking in the number of bases secured on hits, has become general, all the daily press reporting the game having accepted it.
Our plan of adding to the score of outs and runs the number of times—not the number of bases—bases are made on clean hits will be found the only fair and correct test of batting; and the reason is, that there can be no mistake about the question of a batsman’s making his first base, that is, whether by effective batting, or by errors in the field, such as muffing a ball, dropping a fly ball, or throwing badly to the bases, whereas a man may reach his second or third base, or even get home, through errors of judgment in the out-field in throwing the ball to the wrong man, or in not properly estimating the height of the ball, &c—errors which do not come under the same category as those by which a batsman makes his first base.
For instance, the first striker goes to the bat, and, by a sharp ground hit between short stop and third base, out of reach of both those fielders, easily secures his first. The second striker hits a ball, which is easily fielded by the short stop, and were he to throw it to first, the second striker would easily be put out, but as the point is to send it to second, to cut off the player forced from the first, striker No. 2 gets his first, not from his good hit, but from the ball having to go to second first.
Striker 3 now comes to the bat, and sends a high ball to third base, and the ball is dropped, whereupon B, the second striker, makes his second, and C, the third striker, his first. D now takes the bat, and, hitting a high ball to centre field, which ball gives a chance for a catch, runs for his second, sending C and B before him; the ball being badly judged, and, when fielded, thrown in badly, D runs for his third, and, without stopping, he risks a home run, and gets his run from another high ball.
Now, how stands the record of this play as ordinarily scored ? Why simply as follows: The man who made the best hit of the four strikers is put out at second by the poor batting of his successor, while B and C, who made their bases by poor batting, arc credited with one base each, while D gets four bases through the lack of skill of the out-fielder in judging a high ball, the result of the play being a credit for seven bases on hits and three runs, when, by a just estimate, only one man made his base by a hit, and he was the only one put out.
Now, this is the average result of the batting score in a match game. But again, in estimating bases on hits, any scorer will find that it is quite a difficult task to sift the chaff from the wheat after the first base has been made; that is, he will find that the second and third bases are made more by lack of judgment in the outer fielding, and by errors of play which are not exactly “muffs,” viz., balls handled but not stopped or picked up neatly, overthrows or miscatches; while in the in-field these errors seldom occur, the ball, generally speaking, cither being palpably muffed, thrown wildly, or not held when touched on the fly. In the scores the number of bases made on hits should be, of course, estimated, but as a general thing, and especially in recording the figures by the side of the outs and runs, the only estimate should be that of the number of times in a game on which bases arc made on clean hits, and not the number of bases made.
Chadwick prevailed, and Hits Per Game became the criterion for the Clipper batting championship and remained so until 1876, when the problem with using games as the denominator in the ratio at last became clear. If a team played several weak rivals who committed many errors, the number of at bats for each individual in the superior team’s lineup would increase. The more at bats one is granted in a game, the more hits one is likely to have. The batting average used in the 1860s is the same as that used today except in its denominator, with at bats replacing games. The suggestion for that may be credited to Hervie Alden Dobson’s letter to the Clipper of March 11, 1871.
The batting average, of course, makes no distinction between the single, the double, the triple, and the home run, treating all as the same unit—a base hit—just as its prototype, Runs Per Game, treated the run as its unvarying, indivisible unit. This objection was met in the 1860s with Chadwick’s Total Bases Average (per game), but, as one reads above, was rejected. Looking at some other data, Chadwick’s choice now seems more reasonable, less idiosyncratic.
In 1871, the first year of professional play and a mere four seasons after Chadwick’s article, only 41 percent of runs scored were earned. The fielding percentage of the National Association clubs was .833. (In 2012 the MLB fielding percentage was .983.) The number of errors per game in 1871 was 7.6 and the runs scored per game was 10.47. And these figures were for the best clubs in the country; Chadwick made his choice of batting average as the “true test of batting” while considering hundreds if not thousands of clubs in 1867, professional and amateur.
The number of runs scored per game has been remarkably consistent throughout baseball history. Here’s a chart I developed a few years back.
1871: 7.61 per game
1911: 3.66 per game
1961: 1.82 per game
2005: 1.22 per game
1871: 10.47 per game
1911: 9.03 per game
1961: 9.05 per game
2005: 9.18 per game
In effect, the relentless increase in home runs, doubles, strikeouts, and walks have balanced the decrease in errors and triples. Baseball is a game of delicate balance, and at the outset Father Chadwick was sensitive to its nature.
This is a guest column by David Block. While filming the Major League Baseball documentary “Base Ball Discovered” in England, he and director Sam Marchiano met Tricia St. John Barry, who responded to a BBC piece on the film crew being in country, looking at the roots of baseball. (For more about that film, see: http://goo.gl/5M9h9P.) She claimed to possess a volume of a previously unknown William Bray diary that contained one of the earliest-known references — and at that time the oldest extant original reference–to baseball. Until the MLB.com crew met her, the only known Bray diary volumes were held by Surrey History Centre, and dated from 1756-1832. The newly discovered journal, which covers Bray’s life from 1754-1755, contains this entry from Easter Monday, March 31st, 1755: “Went to Stoke church this morn.- After dinner, went to Miss Jeale’s to play at base ball with her the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford and H. Parsons. Drank tea and stayed til 8.”
Block’s landmark book on the subject, Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game, was the recipient of the 2006 SABR Seymour Medal, the 2006 NASSH award, and was named to the New York Times Reading List of sports books for 2005. David serves on MLB’s Origins Committee as well as on the editorial board of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, in which this article appeared in the Fall of 2007.
The Story of William Bray’s Diary
During the course of my recent trip to England, I had the pleasure of tagging along for several days with a video production team from MLB.com, which was over there collecting footage for a documentary film on the origins of baseball. I was serving as the project’s unofficial historian-in-tow, traveling through southern England with the filmmakers as they captured video images of various old bat-and-ball games that comprise baseball’s family tree.
One morning, as we drove away from a village in Kent—where the previous evening, in a pub yard, we had obtained images of a match of “bat and trap”—we abruptly smashed into a parked car. Our driver, an American, had not quite gotten the hang of driving on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately no one was hurt, but our rental van needed to be replaced, and there were insurance matters to be dealt with. Because these tasks required that two of the MLB.com people stay behind, one of them being producer Sam Marchiano, I was deputized to be her substitute producer and interviewer.
Because our cameraman and soundman were driving in a separate car, I was able to proceed with them to our next stop, a girls’ school in the town of Horsham in Sussex. Our mission there was to obtain footage of a game of rounders, and conduct interviews with the players, school officials, and the director of the National Rounders Association.
As I was making my directorial debut, we had another unexpected development. A second video production crew—dispatched by BBC news—showed up at the school. Apparently the network had received word that the MLB filmmakers were touring the English countryside in search of baseball’s origins, and determined that this was a newsworthy event. So the BBC crew began filming our MLB crew, which was in turn filming the game of rounders. The BBC reporter also conducted interviews with me, the rounders official, and several other people at the scene.
That evening, the story of the MLB.com film project appeared on BBC South’s 6 p.m. news program. It included clips of their interviews with us, and reported, among other things, that Jane Austen used the word baseball in her novel Northanger Abbey, first drafted in 1798. By the time of the BBC broadcast, the project members we had left behind in Kent had obtained a replacement van and had rejoined us in Horsham. As we were driving to cover a Little League baseball game (yes, American baseball is alive and well in Sussex!), Sam Marchiano’s cell phone rang. It was the BBC. It seems that immediately following their airing of the piece about us, they had received a telephone call. A woman from nearby Surrey had rung up their studio to report that she knew of a reference to baseball far earlier than Jane Austen’s. The caller said that she had an old diary in her possession, the work of a young man named William Bray, in which he wrote about playing baseball in the year 1755. Naturally, we were all excited by this news, as 18th century references to baseball are exceedingly rare, and for the MLB.com film project to be the catalyst for the discovery of a new one would be an unexpected coup. We immediately phoned the woman—her name is Tricia St. John Barry—and arranged to visit her home the following morning.
Her home, it turned out, was a 16th century cottage down a country lane near the Surrey-Sussex border. At 11 A.M. we approached her door in force: Our group consisted of me, the four-person MLB.com crew, fellow SABR member Larry McCray, and John Price, the head of the Sussex stool-ball association, who was our local host in Horsham. Tricia answered the door, but instead of the smiling welcome we were expecting, she was in a state of great agitation. She was mortified: She couldn’t find the diary! It had been in a Marks & Spencer bag next to her filing cabinet, she was certain of it, but it simply wasn’t there. She had been searching her house high and low all morning, but to no avail.
One look at her cottage and you could tell it would be easy to misplace something there. It was all a jumble, its small, ancient rooms filled with piles of books and papers. Tricia is a delightfully charming lady, but a tad disorganized, and it turned out she hadn’t actually seen the diary in several years. She had obtained it about twenty years ago, and was in the process of transcribing it, albeit very slowly. She had made photocopies of the whole thing, but, alas, she believed they were in the same bag as the diary. Still, she had no doubts whatsoever about its mention of baseball. She had first noticed the entry about fifteen years earlier and, knowing it to be an American game, had at that time taken it down the road to show it to some American neighbors.
So there we were—with a great story, but no diary. Tricia may be a little eccentric, but there was no reason to question her credibility, and we were all convinced that the diary was buried somewhere in her house. She insisted that it would come to light; it just might take a little time. So the MLB.com team went ahead and interviewed her, and shot footage of her house and garden. We trusted that it was just a matter of time before the diary would appear.
Shortly thereafter the MLB.com crew returned to New York, and I resumed my family vacation in England, hoping that Tricia would find the missing diary before I returned to the States myself. About a week later, while traveling in Northumberland, I received an email from her: “Eureka! I found it!” This was great news. I called Sam in New York to report the find, and she said she would try to line up a freelance cameraman
to accompany me to film the precious document. The next day I called Tricia to tell her I had received her message, and to arrange my next visit to her cottage. In the course of our conversation, one small detail became apparent. It seems Tricia hadn’t actually found the diary itself, but only the photocopies! True, this was better than nothing; but I had to bite my tongue to hide my disappointment. I consoled myself by knowing that at least I’d be able to return home with a copy of the 1755 reference—that is, if the photocopies hadn’t disappeared again before I returned to Tricia’s house.
Two days later, at a library in Cornwall, I had another chance to check my email. A new message from Tricia: “Eureka again! I really found it this time!” And she really had. So five days later, on my final day in the UK, my wife Barbara and I returned to Tricia’s cottage along with a cameraman. Also along for the big show was John Price of the stool-ball association, the BBC crew again (by now, they too had a stake in this discovery, and came to tape another spot for the evening news), and Julian Pooley, a Surrey archivist and historian who is the foremost expert on William Bray, the author of the diary.
As it happens, Bray was a notable historical figure of his day, a prominent 18th century lawyer and antiquarian who wrote a three-volume history of Surrey that is still the authoritative work on the subject. More importantly, Bray had a vast range of interests that spanned science, politics, literature, and the arts, and a lively curiosity in all of the new developments of his age. And he wrote about them diligently in the diaries and journals he kept. He lived to the age of 96 and his journals span almost all of his adult years. The bulk of these—beginning in 1756, when he turned 20 years of age—are located in the Surrey History Centre, and have been studied extensively because of their unusual insights into the goings-on of that era.
At some time in the past, a single volume of Bray’s diary—the one spanning the years 1754 and 1755—was separated from the others. Until recently, its very existence was unknown to scholars. It first surfaced 20 years ago when a neighbor of Tricia’s, knowing that she liked “old things,” gave her a call to see if she was interested in a stack of old papers. It seems this neighbor’s deceased ex-husband, who had once worked on the Bray estate, had stored a collection of old documents in a tea chest in a shed on their property. She was threatening to “dump them on the bonfire” unless Tricia wanted them. The William Bray diary was among this lot, and Tricia immediately recognized it as a treasure. It’s just taken her a bit of time to let the rest of the world know about it.
OK, now for the baseball part. William Bray doesn’t reveal anything about how the game was played; just that he played it and whom he played it with. His entry for Easter Monday, March 31, 1755, reads as follows:
Went to Stoke Ch(urch) this Morn.—After Dinner Went to Miss Seale’s to play at Base Ball, with her, the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Fluttor, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford, H. Parsons & Jolly. Drank tea and stayed till 8.
Despite its brevity, this early reference offers some tidbits of information that help inch forward our understanding of baseball at its infancy.
1. William Bray was 18 or 19 at the time of this entry (his birth year, 1736, is known, but not his precise birth date). From other writings in his diaries, we know that the companions he names as participants in this baseball game were all young adults like him, indicating that baseball was not simply a pastime for children in the 1750s.
2. Clearly, this baseball gathering involved both young ladies and young men, confirming the suggestion from other sources that the game in its earliest years was played by both sexes.
3. At this time, baseball was more of a social phenomenon than a sporting one. Bray’s diaries from these years suggest that he interacted with a circle of friends and acquaintances—men and women—numbering about twenty. They would gather at different homes and estates for various activities: card playing, dancing, lawn bowling, and the like. Baseball seems to have been among these pastimes—something that was played for social entertainment rather than serious competition.
I consider myself very fortunate to have found myself in the midst of this new, early baseball discovery. Curiously, earlier on my visit to the UK, while researching at the British Library, I had come across another reference to baseball from 1755. This one appears in a book entitled The Card, published in London by John Newbery, the pioneering children’s publisher. Newbery also wrote and published A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, the 1744 work that is believed to contain the earliest reference to baseball. The actual author of the 1755 book, The Card, was not Newbery but John Kidgell, a disreputable and scandal-surrounded churchman who eventually had to flee Britain to avoid arrest. The book is a sarcastic and not-so-very-funny satire directed at a fellow writer, and would be completely forgettable if not for its mention of baseball:
… the younger Part of the Family … retired to an interrupted Party at Base-Ball, (an infant Game, which as it advances in its Teens, improves into Fives, and in its State of Manhood, is called Tennis).
A literal reading of this passage would suggest that Kidgell regarded baseball to be a rather rudimentary activity when compared to the more “sophisticated” pastimes of fives (handball) and tennis. Yet, because virtually every sentence in The Card is written with pen in cheek, the author’s intention may have been to poke fun at this family’s choice of baseball by exaggerating the simplicity of the game.
One curious aspect about the presence of the word baseball in The Card is that it hasn’t been detected before. Unlike William Bray’s diary, which was hand-written and buried in a tea chest for many years, The Card is a published book that survives, in its original edition, in more than thirty American libraries. And a reprint facsimile edition, published in 1974, exists in more than one hundred libraries! So while this particular reference to early baseball has been hidden up until now, it seems to have been hidden in plain sight.
Whether you consider the unearthing of references to baseball from 1755 to be of considerable historical significance, or simply to be quaint bits of trivia, their rarity cannot be disputed. Fewer than ten mentions of baseball from the 18th century are known, and most of those date from later in the century. That two such discoveries surfaced within two weeks of each other is an extraordinary coincidence. Moreover, these two references quite possibly may be the earliest tangible mentions of the term baseball in existence. Two frequently cited earlier appearances of the term—in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book from 1744 and Lady Hervey’s letter of 1748—are, in fact, only presumed to have existed. Though published in 1744, no known copies of the first edition of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book have survived, nor, for that matter, have any copies of that book’s first nine editions. The earliest example we know of is a single copy of the 1760 10th edition residing in the British Library. And in the case of Lady Hervey’s 1748 letter describing the family of the Prince of Wales playing baseball, it’s known only because her collected letters were published in book form in 1821. But that original letter of Lady Hervey’s from 1748 cannot be located. So, if you want to lay your eyes on actual surviving evidence of the term baseball from the mid–18th century, give Tricia a call to arrange a look at William Bray’s diary, or find yourself a library copy of The Card. [In 2013 the author revealed an earlier find in a 1749 newspaper, detailed here: http://sabr.org/latest/new-discovery-sabr-member-david-block-confirms-baseball-was-played-royalty-england-1700s.]
My five-week odyssey to Britain culminated on that wonderful final day at Tricia’s house. We took new video images of her cottage, many shots of William Bray’s diary, and even went down the road to film the shed where Tricia had found the document 20 years earlier. After conducting interviews with Tricia and Julian Pooley, I switched sides of the camera and became the interviewee myself, with my wife Barbara, always a good sport, agreeing to toss me some questions. With any luck, some of the footage we took that day will survive the cutting room floor and make its way into the MLB.com documentary, due to be released this fall.
When you go over to Britain and start mucking around, you never know what you’re likely to find.
Above is the title of a story about not Alex Rodriguez, as you may have been entitled to think in this momentous week of PED suspensions, but Joe Jackson, more than five years before he received a lifetime banishment from the game of baseball. The subtitle of this story–which appeared in the special “Joe Jackson Number” of Baseball Magazine in March 1916–was “Joe Jackson and His Extraordinary Career—A Humble Beginning—His Sensational Rise—His Strong Points and Weaknesses as a Popular Star.” Its author is the great but heretofore largely neglected F.C. Lane, who received the Henry Chadwick Award from the Society for American Baseball Research last year (for more about Lane, see Rob Neyer’s profile at http://goo.gl/gakTby). I was honored last week to join Lane as a recipient of the “Chaddie.” Here is Lane’s article, prescient about Jackson and perhaps Rodriguez.
Joe Jackson will be known in after years as the man who might have been the greatest player the game has ever known. To sum up his talents is merely to describe in another way those qualities which should round out and complete the ideal player. In Jackson, nature combined the greatest gifts any one ball player has ever possessed but she denied him the heritage of early advantages and that well balanced judgment so essential to the full development of his extraordinary powers. Joe Jackson is the most striking example in history of what a player can accomplish on sheer ability.
The oddest character in baseball today is that brilliant but eccentric genius, Joe Jackson. Those who know him best are readiest to admit they know him least. So strange a medley of contradictory traits, of weaknesses and errors, sustained throughout by sheer natural ability no atom short of marvelous has never been seen elsewhere in that region of queer personalities and clay footed popular idols known as major league baseball. Jackson is unique unparalleled; dramatic in his rise to prominence, brilliant in his success, startling in his manifold failures. His is a character that has never been exploited, that probably never will be exploited until he has passed forever from the diamond and given the perplexed scribes a proper perspective of his mingled weaknesses and dazzling talents.
But the public is impatient. It doesn’t want to wait until a man is dead or gone from active life before it checks up its estimate of his worth. So we will endeavor, from an intimate knowledge of Joe Jackson’s early surroundings and a close association with him personally ever since he broke into the major leagues, to trace the broken corners of that character which has so impressed its distorted image on the public fancy.
We have interviewed numberless people about Joe Jackson, from Charles Somers and Charles Comiskey down. We have been in his native town and seen the mill where Jackson worked as a humble employee through the years of his youth and listened to the opinions of his boyhood friends. We have heard his mother tell about “Her Joe” and talked with four of his five brothers. We have discussed his case with his first manager and with most of his subsequent managers. And lastly, we have spent as much time with Joe personally as with any other player in the game. And the numberless stories and traditions of Joe and his many eccentricities, when traced to their source, reveal an absolute maze of contradictions most difficult to resolve to truth.
Joe himself has a warm, fervid imagination, which looks upon facts as hurdles to be surmounted by brief but frequent flights of fancy. If he had that education which is the proper endowment of an American he might become a great writer, for we would back his imagination against the world. But other sources of information are not thus hampered by an exotic growth of fiction and yet they throw rays of light the most diverse upon the character of the high strung Southerner.
Perhaps the best estimate of a man may be had by steering a median course between extreme opinions. When Birmingham was manager at Cleveland, while the sun still shown brightly upon Charles Somers’s fortunes, he told me that he would not trade Joe Jackson for Ty Cobb. “I consider Joe the greater asset to a club of the two,” said he.
Another warm admirer of Joe Jackson is Walter Johnson, the uncrowned king of American League pitchers. “I consider Jackson the greatest natural player I ever saw,” was Walter’s comment.
Pitted against these complimentary views are two others taken at random from an indefinite list. I recall overhearing a conversation between two fans at the Polo Grounds. Joe Jackson was standing near with his back toward the grandstand. He has a build almost exactly like that of Ty Cobb. One of the fans, noting this similarity, said: “Joe looks a good deal like Ty Cobb, doesn’t he?” “Yes,” retorted the other fan, ”he is a good deal like Ty Cobb—from the neck down.”
I was talking with an early acquaintance of Jackson’s at Greenville. Possibly the comments of this early acquaintance were tainted by jealousy or other unworthy motives, but at any rate he summed up the success of his fellow townsman in this manner: “Joe’s record is the best example I ever saw of what a man may accomplish in this world wholly without brains.”
This opinion we are bound to confess is extreme. Joe has brains, in fact he is remarkably keen-witted about many things. But we doubt if his brains ever helped him greatly in his baseball career. For his success is due solely to an extraordinary natural ability that has certainly never been surpassed and has probably never been equaled.
The last phrase of the above sentence will be deeply criticized. But let us see. Ty Cobb has dominated the past decade in baseball history and established the brightest record in baseball annals. Ty Cobb is universally admitted to be the greatest player of the present and except for the croaking of a few old-timers is equally admitted to be the greatest player of all time. Ty has a marvelous baseball brain, a brain that works even faster than his body, a brain that is worth a fortune to any man. But Cobb would never have established the records he has established if he had not possessed as an accompaniment of that brain a wealth of natural ability of the very first order. But let us see how he compares with Joe Jackson.
Ty is a wonderful batter. Most of his reputation rests upon his phenomenal work with the stick. And yet we will maintain that Joe Jackson is a better natural hitter than Ty Cobb by a considerable margin. Ty’s record in the minors was brief and meteoric. His entry into the majors was sensational, but he did not immediately show that speed and dash which has characterized all his efforts since that time. In short, as Ty matured he grew better, and this was so merely because Ty was gearing his brain to his speed and batting eye and making of himself that wonderful mental and physical machine which he is to-day. But Jackson, when he became a professional ball player, established a record which so far as we know has never been equalled. First with the Carolina Association, then with the South Atlantic League, next with the Southern League, and lastly with the American League, Joe Jackson led each league in batting in his very first season. Knowing little of the inner science of baseball, untutored, feeling friendless and alone in the great world far off from his little home circle, depending upon no one but himself, he leaped from height to height, growing better as he advanced, always showing a little better than the next best man could show. In the American League he found the greatest batting race of all history waged to its furious conclusion between Lajoie and Ty Cobb. Cobb’s average stood at .385, but Jackson topped it with .387. He took part in too few games to count as the batting leader, but he led the league, nevertheless. The next season Jackson, the natural prodigy, accomplished the impossible. He crossed the .400 mark, which had been deemed closed for all time to the batsman by the introduction of the foul strike rule. He hitfor .408 and forced the desperate Ty to the utmost limit of his strength and cunning to keep ahead of him.
This marvelous record Joe accomplished on sheer ability. Ty Cobb was wise in the arts of baseball, crafty, farsighted, lightning-brained. Joe Jackson had simply native gifts, which, in themselves, have never been equaled. It was as natural for him to hit a baseball as it was for his early forebears to hit a squirrel in the eye at a hundred yards. When Joe batted for .408 he did far better than did Ty Cobb with .420 to his credit, for Cobb, as every one knows, beats out many a lean hit by dazzling speed and quick wit and constantly harasses the pitcher and the infielders by the wealth of tricks of which he is master. But Joe stood silent and alone at the plate and banged out the best the pitchers could offer him to the tune of .408. Surely his like as a natural batter has never been known.
As a fielder Joe is like the image of Daniel’s vision, partly iron and partly clay. He has made stops that were seemingly impossible. I saw him once make that rarest of plays, a putout at first on a bouncing fly. He is a keen judge of distance, he has great natural speed, and his throwing arm is so extraordinary as to elicit from Walter Johnson the comment that it was the best he ever saw. Naturally, Joe might be the greatest outfielder in the world. In actual fact his performances in the field, like most of his performances, leave much to be desired.
Ty Cobb is a great outfielder, but his superiority to Jackson rests wholly upon brain and mental keenness. Joe certainly has as great natural gifts as Ty and his throwing arm is considerably better.
As a base runner Ty is a marvel. But his superiority rests entirely upon the mental basis. Jackson has an even better build for running. Just as tall, he is lither, more sinuous and lighter. Furthermore, even Ty will admit that in a straightaway race Jackson is just as fast as he. And his hook slide, the most important of the items in base running, is as near perfection as may be.
Joe Jackson combined in one frame natural ability to make him the greatest ball player the game has ever known. It is singularly unfortunate that these amazing talents are not combined with a better mental training and sounder judgment.
Joe Jackson’s records, those which appear outwardly, at least, are fairly well known. But to understand a man as he is we must follow him back into the obscurity of childhood and the seclusion of private life. The oldest of six brothers and two sisters, Joe was born on a plantation with an unpronounceable name, some twelve miles from Greenville, South Carolina. Here, in the literal backwoods, he spent the first few years of his life. The plantation belonged to an eccentric old fire-eater, whose dealings with his tenants were not always of an amicable nature. The Jacksons derived a meager living from the soil, for the plantation supported acres of cotton, some corn, and the customary lean cattle and razorback hogs of the poorer sections of the South. It was the land of corn whiskey and the black pall of illiteracy rested like a blight upon the inhabitants.
The incidents of such a childhood can be understood and appreciated only by one who has passed through them. Now, Greenville is a clean-kept city of some fifteen thousand people, which felt the quickening touch of northern enterprise. Around its environs, one after the other, long spacious structures were erected and dedicated to the manufacture of cotton, the heritage of the South. Eleven great factories dot the landscape in the environs of Greenville and in the suburbs are miniature mill villages with a combined population of some twenty thousand persons. It was to one of these mill villages which grew up around the great Brandon cotton manufactory that the elder Jackson journeyed, carrying with him his numerous family. The wage in the cotton mills, while small, was secure and looked welcome to a member of the poor white population of the country districts.
In the hot and stuffy rooms of the Brandon mill Joe Jackson toiled for six years, beginning when he was thirteen years old. The hours were from six to six, the work unwholesome, and in some cases dangerous. The surroundings, outside the mill, were of the factory town variety. Between the population of Greenville proper and the mill villages on the outskirts there was a great gulf fixed.
The Brandon mill, like many other business enterprises, promoted a baseball club for its employees. Upon its payroll of eight hundred names that of Joe Jackson was written big almost from the first. His mother told me that the men in the mill would come for Joe when he was but thirteen and want him to play on their teams. Though nothing but a boy, he possessed from the start that keen batting eye which has been his chiefest bid to fame. Joe did not start as an outfielder, either. He was a catcher.
“Joe has a scar on his forehead,”said his mother, “that he got in those early days. He was catching behind the plate and a great burly mill-hand was pitching to him. He threw one so swift and strong that Joe didn’t have strength enough to stop it. So it forced his hands back, drove into his mask and dented the mask into his forehead, leaving a deep cut. That was how he got that scar.”
The secretary of the Brandon Mills, Mr. J. C. Hatch, informed me that he was manager of the local mill team when Joe was a member. “He was a great natural batter even then,” said Mr. Hatch. “Of course he wasn’t a finished ball player by any means, and those of us who knew him never imagined that he would make much of a reputation outside the mill. But he developed rapidly, once he had the opportunity, and the whole country knows his record now.
“I well remember the first game Joe ever tried to pitch. So far as I know, it was the last game as well. He had a remarkably strong throwing arm, and some of us imagined that, with that whip of his, he ought to be a great pitcher. Perhaps he would have been, but one game cured him. He was pitching to one of the mill-hands here, and, like all amateur pitchers, burning over the ball with all the speed at his command. Unfortunately the ball hit this particular mill-hand on the arm and broke his arm. Joe decided that if he were that dangerous in the box he had better play some other position.
“Joe’s father worked in the mill most of these years, but finally got into some disagreement with the management and decided to go into business for himself as a butcher, supplying meat for the mill operatives. The business was a small one, but Joe occasionally helped him in the business when work at the mill was slack.
“I remember the elder Jackson as a man with abnormally long arms. I never heard that he was particularly athletic — simply one of the wiry type of South Carolina backwoodsmen. He died about two years ago. Joe seems to have been athletically inclined from the first. He certainly has an ideal build.”
Baseball instinct seldom runs in families, but Joe’s younger brother Dave showed much promise as a ball player. His family and friends apparently expected great things from Dave, and indeed he did become a professional ball player in a small way, but Dave met with so many accidents in the mill that he was practically debarred from any hopes of success on the diamond. He broke his right arm while employed in the mill on no fewer than five occasions, having become caught in the whirring machinery.
Once he was carried to the roof by a revolving belt, and not only his arm but one leg broken. The many fractures of his arm have bent it slightly and stiffened it so that he has some difficulty in catching a ball under certain circumstances. It would seem that a young man who has suffered so many mishaps would be incapacitated for almost any athletic work.
When Joe left the mill he had perhaps gone as high as he could ever expect to go, with a wage of $1.25 a day. His entry into the ranks of the professional ball player came in this wise.
In 1907 he was playing with a mill team at Greer, South Carolina. Against this team came a neighboring aggregation under the leadership of Thomas Stouch, later manager of the Greenville club. Stouch is the man who is really responsible for Jackson’s rise to fame—the man who gave him his first professional engagement, and who tipped off Connie Mack to the ability of his mill-hand star, and really introduced him into major league ranks.
But we will let Mr. Stouch tell the story of his first meeting with Jackson:
“I had been appointed manager of the Greenville club,” he says. “Naturally, while scouring around the country, I was on the outlook for new talent. I was playing second base on this particular occasion, when a tall, thin fellow stepped to the plate. He didn’t appear to have it in him, but he drove the ball on a line toward the very spot where I was standing; like a bullet out of a gun. Now I have had much baseball experience and
though getting a little old for active service, I still prided myself that I knew how a ball ought to be fielded. But that pellet caromed off my shins before I had time to make any effort to field it, and it hurt my shins, too, depend upon that. I thought to myself, ‘If this Rube hits them like that every time, he must be some whale. I guess he will bear watching.’ He did. That game, if I remember, he made three hits, two of them for extra bases, and they were all ringing smashes that left a trail of blue flame behind them when they shot through the air.
“I got into consultation with my pitcher and said to him, ‘Bill, you watch this young fellow and see if you can discover his weakness.’ We played five games in all at the burg, and every day Jackson walloped the ball as he had done at the first. The last day he drove one straight at Bill’s head. Bill looked at it for about a thousandth of a second, and then ducked as if he were dodging a shell from a Krupp mortar.
” ‘Did you discover his weakness?’ I asked Bill after the game was over. ‘No,’ replied Bill, ‘but he discovered mine, all right. I don’t want to buck my head against any of those wallops.’
“After the series I went and hunted up Jackson. ‘I am going to manage Greenville next year,’ I told him, ‘and I would like to have you play with me, if we can agree upon terms. ‘All right,’ said Joe; ’I would like to play with Greenville.’ ’How much are you getting now?’ I asked; ‘$35 a month in the mill,’ replied Joe. ‘Very well,’ said I, ‘how much do you want to play for me?’
” ‘Well,’ said Joe, ‘you see, I am getting along pretty well. I get $35 a month from the mill, but I get $2.50 a game on Saturdays for playing ball, so that gives me $45 a month in all. I wouldn’t want to give up my job unless I could see something in sight. I think I ought to be worth $65 a month to you.’
“‘Joe,’ I said, ‘if you will promise to let corn whiskey alone and stick to your business, I will pay you $75 a month.’
” ‘I will work my head off for $75,’ said Joe, and that was our bargain. ”What Joe did at Greenville next year —which was the season of 1908—is history now. He led the league, as, in fact, he has led every league he ever played with. And he developed so fast that I was determined to sell him into major league company.
“I am an intimate friend of Connie Mack and drifted down here, I hardly know how, when I grew too old to play baseball in fast company. So naturally my first thought was of Mack and the Athletics. I notified Mack of my find, and Mack promptly wired to bring him on.
“Jackson is, in many respects, a queer fish, as you know, and when I told him I was going to take him to the big leagues, he didn’t show the enthusiasm I expected he would. ‘I hardly know how I would like it in those big northern cities,’ he told me. ‘Oh, you will like it fine there,’ I said; and so I started north with Jackson. I don’t remember the exact town, but it was somewhere en route that Joe slipped off the train, unknown to me, and got the next train back home. I thought he had gone into another car—never even dreamed that he wasn’t on the train—until I got to Philadelphia. It was a mortifying position to be in, and I was anxious for fear something had happened to Joe, when we got a telegram. He had got someone to send it for him, and it read something like this, ‘Am unable to come to Philadelphia at this time.’
” ‘What does this mean?’ said Connie. And then I tried to explain the situation. ”When he understood it, Mack said to ‘Socks’ Seybold, ‘Go down to Greenville, and get this fellow’s brothers and sisters, and his whole family, to come back with you, if necessary, but bring him with you, and see that he doesn’t give you the slip on the way.’ So Joe came back a second time to Philadelphia.
“He took part, as I remember it, in one game, and did fairly well, though he muffed a fly. But the next two days it rained. Detroit was the next club in town, and around the lobby the fellows got to talking about Ty Cobb and comparing him with Joe. Joe listened to all that was said, and I never knew why he should be affected as he was. Perhaps it was for fear that he would not look very strong against the greatest player in the game. Perhaps it was for some other reason, but the next morning Joe caught the 6:15 train for Greenville.”
Joe’s connections with the Athletics continued from 1908 to 1910, and have been the theme of much comment. During these years he put in little enough time with the Athletics, but was farmed to other clubs and made a prodigious reputation with several minor leagues. He was with Savannah in 1909 and led the South Atlantic League with a batting average of .358. He was with New Orleans in 1910, and led the Southern League with .354.
“Charles Somers was owner of the New Orleans club. After several discouraging interviews with the eccentric Jackson, Mack rather soured on his purchase, as he is apt to do upon occasion. Somers had Briscoe Lord and offered cash to boot, so Mack said good-bye to his talented but unmanageable find. With Cleveland in the fall of 1910 Joe struck the record clip of .387, and bettered it the following year with .408 to his credit. He burned up the circuits like a whirlwind once he got fairly started.”
Joe’s backing and filling with the Athletics form an intricate chapter, and one that is extremely hard to understand. But to one who has known him and the little circle which was his whole horizon at the time, his conduct is more clearly grasped. Joe is confident—in a way perhaps overconfident—but he has lacked at all times that innate faith in himself which is the groundwork of success. Prosperity came too quickly to Joe, and he couldn’t grasp it all at once. The rise from the dust and smoke of the cotton mill to fame on the local diamond at Greenville was dazzling enough for his mental horizon. When it came to a regular position on a great metropolitan team in that strange world of the North, which was as a foreign land to him, it was a different proposition. Joe felt entirely out of place. He was homesick for the pines and cotton fields of his native South. He was entirely unused to city ways, and the routine of a big metropolitan hotel. It was a strange new world to Joe, and he felt the instinct to run away from it all, back to the world that he knew.
With success in other and larger cities culminating in New Orleans, Joe was ripened for entry into major league life at Cleveland. He had become used to customs which tallied not at all with his days of poverty when he was Shoeless Joe, the ignorant country lad, the poor mill-hand who played baseball for pastime or for $2.50 a game. He had become used to city ways, he had demonstrated what he could do, he had discovered that he had it in him to rival the greatest at his chosen profession, he had become acclimated, as it were, to a world that had been wholly foreign to his tastes and experiences.
His mother, anxious to shield her son from any vestige of blame, explained the seeming eccentricities of his conduct with the Athletics in the following way: “Joe has been accused of running away from Philadelphia,” she said, “and that would imply that Joe hasn’t courage. It is a great mistake. Joe is game, and he has always been game. He left Philadelphia because I sent for him. His wife was very sick and his uncle was not expected to live. Any man whose relatives were in that condition could not refuse to come to them when they sent for him. And I don’t see how anyone can criticize Joe for doing what any man with any self-respect could not help doing.”
Joe’s record has been a brilliant but tarnished one. He started out like the world-beater that he is. He took the whole minor league system by storm and vaulted at one leap to the very pinnacle of the American League. He contested for three years with Ty Cobb for the batting crown, and was beaten out only by the superior adroitness and address of his brilliant rival. For three years he made the fiery Georgian extend himself for every step of the way.
Then the dissipations which assail the ball player in the big cities of the circuits began to exert their fatal glamor on Joe. Or, rather, his strong constitution began to show the effects of these dissipations. Though still a wonderful ball player, the last two years have seen a substantial decline in Jackson’s once great record. It remains for the future to tell whether or not he will bring to Comiskey’s club that wonderful ability which is his by divine right.
Joe’s course in major league baseball has been the natural one. Unschooled and unlettered, he was cut off from many of the sources of amusement which appeal to the average man. To add to the various pitfalls with which the ball player has to contend in the course of his active duties, Joe had a fondness for the life behind the footlights. Last winter he was a member of a little troupe which toured the country, and this life did not prove beneficial to Joe in any way. His health was impaired, his finances became involved, and the season just closed was the poorest he has ever had.
Be it remembered, however, that Jackson’s poorest will rival most players’ best efforts. Part of the season he was laid up with genuine injuries received on the field of battle. Joe is physically game, and plays oftentimes when he should be on the shelf from injuries. “I have had him go into a game,” said Birmingham, ”when I would have preferred to let him stay out and get into better shape. Spike cuts, however severe, never bothered Joe, and I have seen him line a ball in from the deep outfield, though I knew his elbow was encased in bandages from injuries at the time. Joe is game, there is no mistaking that, and you can’t keep him off the field when he can possibly play.”
Joe is a shrewd observer. In a way he is extremely ambitious. Now that he has become accustomed to handling money in larger amounts than he ever saw it before, he has learned the easy lesson to take all he can get. The Federal League, at the time it was openly fishing for stars, attracted Jackson into its net, and I remember distinctly on a visit to see President Gilmore at the Biltmore Hotel, finding the genial head of the Federal League seated in the lobby in earnest consultation with Joe Jackson.
Now that the whole grand war has become history, it will not hurt anyone to reveal the inside story of the Joe Jackson deal. On the very day before the incident of which I speak I had talked with President Somers, of Cleveland, and questioned him as to rumors that Jackson was about to be traded. ”There is nothing in the story,” said Somers; “I need Jackson to build up my club.” But in the meantime Joe got it in his head that there were more plums in the orchard than he had yet plucked, and Somers, becoming convinced that he could not hold Jackson against the spirited bidding of the Federal League, sold him to one whom he knew could thus hold him, namely Charles Comiskey. The price the old Roman paid for Joe was $31,500 and three players, and the salary a substantial raise over Joe’s previous one. The criticism of the deal is a little story in itself, and we give elsewhere Mr. Comiskey’s version of the affair.
Jackson’s best year was 1911. He hit .408, made 233 hits, scored 126 runs and had a total of 41 stolen bases to his credit. The next year was nearly as good; he hit for .395, made 226 hits, scored 121 runs and stole 35 bases. Even last season, which was his poorest and which was largely broken up by injuries, indifferent playing and the glamor of the Federal League, he batted for .308.
Up to the present winter Joe has made his winter home at Brandon Mills. Here he bought a house, a much better house than any other in the mill village, which he gave to his father and mother. Here his mother and four of his brothers still reside.
Ambitious to succeed in other lines of business Joe opened a fine poolroom in Greenville, which should have proved a success with the enormous advertising of his name. But his partner in the enterprise apparently failed woefully as a manager, and the enterprise was a failure. A farm which Joe purchased near Greenville became also involved in financial mismanagement, and Joe, having learned the bitter lessons of experience, will need to make the most of his good salary and his prospects in the next five years.
Numberless efforts have been made by the various managers who have had Joe in hand to get him to overcome the handicaps of an early lack of advantages. Connie Mack offered to hire a tutor and companion for him, who would live with him and teach him the things he most needed to learn. Somers also tried to do the same thing, but to all these offers Joe turned a deaf ear. To Joe the vast domain of ”book” knowledge is indeed a sealed mystery.
In temperament Joe is as variable as the wind. High strung and impetuous, he has that proud, imperious disposition which goes so frequently with Southern birth. He is sensitive, easily hurt, quick to take offense. But he is popular with his fellow players and with those who know him, and, unlike many ball players, it is safe to say that he is unpopular nowhere.
Seven years ago when he was just entering upon his professional baseball career, Joe married a little Southern girl from the environs of Greenville who was but fifteen years old. Their winter home has usually been in Greenville, in the house he purchased and gave to his father and mother. This winter, however, Joe has resided in Cleveland.
Numberless anecdotes of Jackson, some of them accurate, some tinged with fiction, but all throwing some light on his complex character, have gone the rounds of the circuits. There isn’t a city which hasn’t witnessed some prodigious feat which has stamped Jackson as a real wizard of the diamond.
The holder of the title to the longest hit on record varies with the different diamonds on the circuit, and often with the memories of the older fans. But there is no doubt that the hugest wallop ever seen at the Polo Grounds caromed off Joe Jackson’s black bat. It was my good fortune to be seated in the press box almost exactly behind the catcher on that memorable occasion, and I well remember the particular wallop that won for Joe his high distinction. The pitcher threw low and wide. The ball was a ball beyond any doubt or criticism. In the first place, it was much below the knee, sweeping not very far above Joe’s ankle. Again it was not over the plate, but pretty close to Joe’s foot. He swung the bat like a golf stick, caught the ball fair on the nose and lifted it in a wide, sweeping arch clear over the roof of the grandstand half way up near a floating pennon on one of the flagstaffs for the most sensational home run ever made on that historic field.
Other exploits of Joe Jackson which illustrate his marvelous ability might be cited to the weariness of the reader, but this single instance of a typical Jackson wallop will serve.
The public has a warm spot in its rather complex heart for Joe Jackson. It recognizes in him a true product of American soil, a striking example of a man who has risen from the lowest round of the ladder through his own inherent ability. It also recognizes in his record the greatest natural talent which has ever rested upon one person’s shoulders—a sheer ability that has never been rivaled. And if Jackson is prodigal of his immense gifts, and has not made the best use of his amazing talents, perhaps, after all, it is but the working out of the universal law of compensation.
To some is given a natural batting eye; to others great speed of foot; to others mastery of the rudiments of base-sliding; to others fielding skill or a throwing arm. To Joe was given all these talents in their fullest measure. But, to offset them, lest one player should rise too far above his fellows, his matchless talents were united with a judgment not always adequate to the task of handling them to the best purpose, with a wayward temperament and an erratic ambition scarce fitted to develop his wonderful abilities to their fullest measure.
In appearance Joe Jackson is the ideal athlete. He is the greyhound of the diamond, even more than is Ty Cobb. Tall, lithe, easy-moving, graceful in every unconscious pose, a sculptor would choose Jackson from the field as the model of what an outfielder should be. There is every evidence of speed in his whole frame. Where he gets the strength for his amazing wallops is not so readily apparent. It is easy to estimate that the herculean shoulders of Sam Crawford would wallop the ball a mile, but Jackson has made some of the longest hits on record, and he is at all times a direful slugger, who hits any kind of pitching at any time and to any distance. The reason for this is that Jackson, though built for speed rather than strength, has tremendous power in his long, sinuous muscles, as is evident from his great throwing arm. Furthermore, he is so admirably geared that he can command the last ounce of strength in his whole system easily, without effort, wherever the occasion demands.Six feet tall, Jackson weighs 175 pounds. He is a flawless dresser. He possesses excellent taste. His clean-cut face and dark, curly hair are in keeping with his appearance. He is a striking figure in any company.
His faults, which are as obvious as his virtues, are what one would naturally expect. Jackson has traveled far on the road from the bottom of the ladder. The fact that he has not accomplished everything to be desired should certainly not be held against him. The entire lack of advantages in his early life, for which, of course, he was in no way responsible, has been his heaviest handicap. Coupled with this has been the lure of dissipation, against which fatal attraction Jackson has perhaps accomplished as much as any one else might have done placed in his shoes. It is hard for a young man fresh from a penniless life of comparative servitude in a Southern cotton mill to spring all at once into the limelight, to be feted and admired by the sharks that lurk for the unwary on the outskirts of every big, cosmopolitan city, and escape all damage from such environment. Jackson has not done so, as his declining record shows. But experience is the only school, and the lessons of one or two comparatively misspent seasons might be well earned in a renewal of ambition and brilliant service in the five or ten years that are left him.
I remember that Ed Walsh once told me that when he was fighting to make good with the White Sox, the main incentive in his work was that the shadow of the mines was on him. It was either make good or back to a life of drab, unhealthy toil in the coal fields for the man who afterward became the “spitball king.”
In Joe’s case an equally melancholy outlook is a prospective possibility. When I talked with some of his old associates at the Brandon Mills they said: ”Wait five years or so. Then Joe will go through all he has made in baseball and be broke once more. What will he do? Why, he will be back in the cotton mill working for $1.25 a day.” The statement was one perhaps of jealousy or envy, but there was a grain of truth in it all the same. Joe is not naturally a spendthrift. But he has been taken advantage of in various ways and on various occasions. His business partners have robbed him; he has been mulcted of his savings. For the sake of one of the greatest players who ever trod a diamond, the warm-hearted public will wish well by Joe. For the sake of the man who started without a solitary advantage in the world and who, combating more obstacles than the average man is ever called upon to meet, has risen to the sheer pinnacle of his profession, the public will wish a better fate than a continuation of the life of poverty and obscurity from which he sprung. The public is interested in Joe. He is a national character, a thoroughly likable—in many respects admirable—fellow of the best intentions, whose faults and weaknesses have hurt no one but himself. They are interested in and they wish all possible future success to the player who might have been—who might perhaps even yet become—the greatest player the game has ever known.
A young sportswriter and traveling secretary for the Reds, Gabe Paul would go on to make his name as a general manger with the Indians, Yankees, and Astros. In 1943 he interviewed Johnny Vander Meer for John Carmichael’s book, My Greatest Day in Baseball. At 23 Vander Meer accomplished a feat never before accomplished and not since repeated in big league baseball–he pitched two successive no-hit no-run games for Cincinnati in 1938. This year marks the 75th anniversary of that remarkable feat.
It would seem natural for me to name the second successive no-hitter I pitched in 1938 as my biggest day in baseball, and I’ll have to explain why it isn’t.
Those games were as much a surprise to me as to the baseball world. I wasn’t keyed up to their meaning then. Before the no-hitter against Boston on June 11 that year I was just a rookie that nobody but Bill McKechnie knew, and after the June 15 repeat of the performance against Brooklyn I was still just a novelty, a kid who had done a freakish thing.
To understand my feelings at the time you’ve got to understand that I came up to the Reds that year after an unsuccessful season at Syracuse in the International League. I had won only five and lost eleven for the Chiefs. Nobody thought I was good but Bill McKechnie, manager of the Reds, who told me, when I arrived at spring training in Florida, that he was counting on me to be a regular. He said he believed I could make it.
He gave me hope, and then on the way north that spring in an exhibition series with the Boston Red Sox Lefty Grove gave me some tips on what I was doing wrong. I’ll never be able to thank Lefty for his friendliness and smartness in putting his finger on my errors. McKechnie kept giving me great advice, too, all spring.
I’ll never forget the day that spring we were at Lynchburg, Va. I was pitching batting practice and after a little while McKechnie, on the bench, began to yell: “He’s got it! He’s got it! That boy is going to make it!”
That helped more than I can say, and I got off to a pretty good start in the season, pitching a shutout against the Giants at the Polo Grounds on May 20. I had my confidence. I felt I could do it. Then, all at once, came those consecutive no-hitters.
But they came too fast. I was more confused than thrilled. All the publicity, the attention, the interviews, the photographs, were too much for me. They swept me off my feet too far to let me have time to think about the games themselves. There were too many people around me.
As I look back at it now those days are the haziest period of my life–sort of like a dream.
I might have been dreaming then, but I awoke the next season, 1939, when I won five and lost nine. I was sick that spring and never did seem to regain my stride. My confidence went, too. I wasn’t much better in the spring of 1940. Bill McKechnie and Warren Giles talked to me about going to Indianapolis of the American Association to regain my confidence. I thought it was a swell idea. I knew that was what I needed. At the same time it made me realize just how quickly a fellow can fall from the pedestal.
My going to Indianapolis was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got off on the right foot there, won six and lost four, had an earned-run average of 2.40 and struck out 109 in 105 innings. That satisfied Giles and McKechnie, for they brought me back for the last stages of the 1940 pennant race.
The Reds were in first place. They were on their way to the pennant, but they hadn’t clinched it. I was given an opportunity to start a game and won it. Then we went to Philadelphia September 17, needing only two victories to clinch the pennant. We won on the 17th, then McKechnie gave me another chance to work, on September 18–the day that is my biggest.
I was up against Hugh Mulcahy, one of the smartest and most determined of pitchers and awfully tough when he was in form. We saw right off that he was in form when the game started. Joe Marty, whom the Phils had got from the Cubs, was on a rampage that day, too, getting three hits. And Mulcahy was leveling off with his bat, as well as with his arm. We could get hits, but we couldn’t get runs. Mulcahy would turn us back.
The Phils got me for two runs in the second inning, and it was the fifth before we got one run. I began to wonder if I was going to let the team down o the one game it needed to clinch the flag. It was life-and-death in my mind. I had to hang on to my “comeback.” I had to win.
We finally tied it in the seventh 2-2, but in the 10th we got one to give us what we thought was the game, but the Phils in their half got one off me to even it up again. It was true I had blanked them the seven innings between the second and the 10th, and the team was all the time telling me how good I was going, but there it was, we’d been ahead and I’d let the Phils tie us.
Was I really a comeback or not? could I clinch the flag or couldn’t I? I gave everything I had straight through the 11th and 12th innings and blanked them. But we didn’t score either and the scoreboard still showed 3-3.
I was up in the 13th at bat and I figured now was the time. All of Mulcahy’s pitches were good, but I kept swinging and somehow all at once whistled one into left center and I ran faster than I ever had before, I suppose. I got to second. They sacrificed me to third. Then Mike McCormick hit an infield ball and I was held at third, too risky to chance a run in. Mike beat it out.
Ival Goodman was up. Twice he cracked the ball and I tore for home, only to be called back because the drive went foul. Then he got one fair, a short fly to the outfield and I tagged up and when McKechnie on the coaching line said, “Run, Johnny, run!” to give me the exact moment the ball settled into the fielder’s glove, I sure ran. I took off in the hardest slide I ever made and looked up through the dust. The umpire was motioning “safe.”
We were ahead.
McKechnie, cool always, looked at me and figured how much running I’d done that inning, and told me to sit it out, he’d send in Joe Beggs to pitch the last half. Joe got them 1-2-3 and the flag was ours.
This is a guest column, penned by my friend and colleague, Richard Hershberger, who thinks and writes inventively about the early game. His recent articles in the journal Base Ball include one on Philadelphia Town Ball (2007), one on baseball and rounders (2009), “The New Marlboro.’ Match Base Ball Co.” of 1863, and two on, respectively, baseball in New York in 1821 and Philadelphia in 1831.
The annual convention of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) met on the evening of March 27, 1859. There were delegates from twenty-one of the twenty-five member clubs, as well as from nineteen clubs applying for membership. Among the applicants was the Tiger Club, and therein lies a minor mystery of baseball history.
Many clubs from this era are obscure today. Even specialists in early baseball history are unlikely to be conversant with the details of the Tiger club’s fellow applicants such as the Katydid or Esculapian clubs. But while these clubs are obscure, they aren’t mysterious. One could comb through newspaper accounts easily enough and find such details as where these clubs played and who were their officers, and find accounts of matches played against other clubs.
The Tigers, by contrast, are a cipher. There was, until recently, no known record of their existence apart from their membership in the NABBP. Not even their home city was known.
Furthermore, their name is unusual. The taxonomy of antebellum baseball club names is fantastically varied, but animal names are largely absent. In modern sports it is common to name teams after animals, particularly species holding traits a team might wish to emulate. This is a later pattern. The only prominent early club named after an animal was the Eagle Club of New York, and this was most likely chosen for its patriotic associations. So while “Tiger” is an unremarkable team name today, it is very unusual for 1859.
The mystery of the Tigers was solved when I examined the New York Sunday Mercury for 1858. The Sunday Mercury was one of the most important baseball newspapers before the Civil War. It is largely overlooked today, probably because the issues are scattered among various libraries. Researcher Robert Tholkes and I have undertaken to gather these scattered issues. (Unfortunately, the years 1855-1857 appear to be entirely lost.)
The issue for September 5, 1858 includes a brief notice solving the mystery of the Tiger Base Ball Club:
The members of the Light Guard have organized a new club, entitled the “Tiger Base Ball Club,” and will play at the Red House grounds, Harlem. Their dress consists of red pants, white shirt, with black patent leather body belt, and white cap trimmed with red cord.
The Light Guards were an example of the characteristic 19th century phenomenon of private military volunteerism. Vestiges of this remain today with formations such as the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. The Light Guard survives as part of the Old Guard of the City of New York.
The Light Guard was founded in 1827 as an independent company of the New York militia. The militia was reorganized in the 1850s, eliminating independent companies, instead requiring them to be part of regiments. The Light Guard first joined the 55th Regiment, which had been formed by French-American immigrants. It initially had six “French” and four “American” companies, including the Light Guard. This arrangement was short-lived, as the 55th soon reorganized as a fully French formation. The Light Guard needed to find a new regiment. In August of 1858 they voted unanimously to join the 71st Regiment, the “American Guard,” of the New York State Militia as Company A. This marriage of convenience would not be entirely happy.
The 71st Regiment was organized in 1850 with ties to the nativist “Know Nothing Party.” Their service included the riot of 1857 between the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys. The 71st was called out to assisting in putting down the riot, during which they captured an eight pound howitzer.
There were several sources of discontent between the 71st and its new Company A. The regiment retained its suspicion of foreigners. The Light Guard’s recent association with a French-American regiment did little to endear it. A rumor spread that the Light Guard included several members of foreign birth, resulting in a protest meeting by the other companies.
The regiment is put in a better light by its regarding itself as a “working” unit, with the ambition “to excel all others in their drill and efficiency as a military body,” while the Light Guards had a reputation more as a social company, being “too fond of pleasure trips, balls and dinner parties.” They might not have been placated by the advice that “We hope our friends of the 71st will not act hastily in the matter, but remember, in the first place, the ‘Light Guard’ is composed of gentlemen in every sense of that term, and when on parade, good soldiers.”
This concern was not baseless. The Light Guard’s soirees and outings and visits with other socially elite units were widely reported in the newspapers. Furthermore, the Light Guard never really tried to fit in with the rest of the regiment. They continued their tradition of company balls, always emphasizing the name “Light Guard” and overlooking their regimental affiliation. They also retained their own uniform: and a resplendent uniform it was, with epaulettes and sash and bearskin shako.
In the event, the regiment was called to three month duty in 1861, and fought at First Bull Run. While this was a rout of the Union forces, the 71st as part of Burnside’s Brigade reportedly performed its duty well. They mustered in for a second three month term in 1862, when they were deployed as part of the defenses of Washington, and again for 30 days as part of the emergency response to Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, where they skirmished with Confederate forces.
That an organization such as the Light Guards might form a baseball club in 1858 is seemingly unremarkable. New York City was in the grip of baseball fever. All sorts of organizations were branching out into baseball. Ball clubs were formed by everything from volunteer fire companies to literary societies. A militia company would seem to fit right in, but this is not the case. Baseball would be a frequent camp recreation during the war, but no other militia company is known to have organized a baseball club before the war. The Light Guard, in forming a baseball club, found another way to set itself apart from other companies, and it stayed aloof by not playing match games with other clubs, instead restricting itself to intramural play.
As for the “Tiger” name, this mystery is also explained. This was a common nickname among militia guard companies, including the New York Light Guards. While it was not a normal name for a baseball club, it was a natural choice for the Light Guards.
It is not known how long the Tiger Base Ball Club lasted. Clearly it was a going concern into 1859, but the only mention after that is as a member of the NABBP in 1860, where it is among the clubs not voting whether to adopt the fly game rule. It is not clear if it sent a delegate. There is no record of the Light Guards playing baseball while in the active army, or of the Tiger Club after the war. While no longer a mystery, they remain the most obscure member of the NABBP.
1. New York Sunday Mercury March 13, 1859.
3. Undated article from the New York Express, quoted in Lowen, George Edward, ed., History of the 71 st Regiment, N.G., N.Y. pp. 32-41; The Veterans Association 71 st Regiment, N.G.N.Y. 1919.
4. Ibid. p. 66.
5. Ibid. pp. 59-60, quoting the New York Express August 25, 1858 and New York Atlas August 29, 1858.
6. Reports of Col. Ambrose E. Burnside, http://www.civilwarhome.com/burside1stmanassas.htm
8. New York Sunday Mercury March 18, 1860.
This is the foreword I provided to Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the Nineteenth Century, a book published this week by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). I post it to Our Game for its own interest, but also to suggest that 19th-century baseball will hold considerable fascination for any fan of today’s game. My additional sly motive is to persuade those of you who are not yet SABR members that you consider joining; see http://sabr.org.
Modern baseball—the very mention of that hideous phrase will curl the lip of any real historian of the game, and ought to bring a sickly silence upon any who would consider a truncated set of great players, great seasons, great moments. And yet “modern baseball” has attained a broad currency among journalists, announcers, even advanced fans, for whom the term may signify different things. Some will hold that modern baseball begins with the turn of the century in 1901, for no other reason than the march of time. Others will say that modern baseball begins with the first World Series in 1903, ignoring the reality of postseason championships played under that and other names since 1884. Some will hold out for 1920, when Babe Ruth came to New York, hit 54 home runs, and single-handedly, in an instant, swept out the deadball era. The socially conscious fan will aver that until Jackie Robinson stepped on a big-league field on April 15, 1947, major league baseball was bush league. Others will point to the first year of expansion, 1961, as the dawn of the modern game.
Among those in this Baseball Babel, however, one truth is held in common: the national pastime of the 19th century was a morass of quaint custom, ill-considered rules, unmatchable records, and unconscionable exclusion. Major League Baseball’s record keepers, when they proclaim new “firsts” or search the archives to find an appealing nugget for broadcast chatter, dismiss the passé century without a moment’s misgiving.
This book, then, stands as something of a corrective. Its title, Inventing Baseball, is in part ironic, as the game was not invented but instead evolved. Yet it is a fine title, because baseball continued to change in so many fascinating ways, from the 1840s on, that an air of invention could be said to have characterized the entire era. Not only was baseball’s rise and flower unsteady and halting, its status as the nation’s game was by no means guaranteed by the creation of what only much later came to be called Major League Baseball. Baseball’s fate hung in the balance as the 20th century dawned, following upon a brutal decade of interleague warfare and suicidal cartel practices, and contemporary observers thought that college football or competitive bicycling might surpass it by the dawn of the new century.
Early baseball, however you define or pinpoint it in the years before 1901, was indeed different from the game we see on the field today, yet there can be no doubt that it was baseball. Players in the big-league parks of the 1880s, packed with thousands of paying spectators, knew they were playing the same game that had been staged for free at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken in the 1840s.
Take a football fan of today to a gridiron contest played by the rules of 1890 and he might fairly say that the game and its equipment were so different from the one he knew that it might not seem to be the same game at all. From the size of the players to the shape of the pigskin bladder, from the ban on passing to the restrictions on substitution to the point values accorded to field goals and touchdowns, football reinvented itself, from a low-scoring game of mass momentum and dangerous formations to one of quick strikes and long gains. The same might be said of basketball at the turn of the century—that with the center jump, lumpy ball, and brutal play at the rim, the low-scoring fracas seemed like football without the padding.
Yet baseball was always baseball, as Bruce Catton noted in American Heritage in 1959:
The neat green field looks greener and cleaner under the lights, the moving players are silhouetted more sharply, and the enduring visual fascination of the game—the immobile pattern of nine men, grouped according to ancient formula and then, suddenly, to the sound of a wooden bat whacking a round ball, breaking into swift ritualized movement, movement so standardized that even the tyro in the bleachers can tell when someone goes off in the wrong direction—this is as it was in the old days. A gaffer from the era of William McKinley, abruptly brought back to the second half of the twentieth century, would find very little in modern life that would not seem new, strange, and rather bewildering, but put in a good grandstand seat back of first base he would see nothing that was not completely familiar.
And that is precisely our point, we several authors of this project, to identify the hundred greatest games before the 20th century, some of them played decades before the idea of league play was even a glimmer in the eye of Harry Wright or William Hulbert. Undertaken by members of the 19th Century Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research, of whom I am proudly one, Inventing Baseball provides the intrepid reader with a peephole into a little known and unfairly neglected period of the game, populated not with old heroes, feats and tales but new ones … or, to paraphrase Satchel Paige—ones that ain’t never been heard of by this generation. Maybe the reader will know King Kelly or Albert Spalding or other men honored today with plaques in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but what of Doc Adams, or Jim Creighton, or Fleet Walker?
Until Bobby Thomson hit “the shot heard ’round the world” on October 3, 1951, most veteran baseball observers believed that another game involving Brooklyn—the victory by that city’s Atlantics over the Red Stockings of Cincinnati on June 14, 1870—was the greatest in the game’s history. Where it will rank for the reader as he considers the entire panoply of baseball’s epic contests cannot be guessed, but this writer, who thirty years ago wrote a book titled Baseball’s Ten Greatest Games and was constrained by its publisher from dipping into the 19th century, will find it hard not to include that game in his unconstrained top ten.
Roger Angell wrote an essay for the New Yorker some decades back in which Smokey Joe Wood, hero of the 1912 World Series, sat in the stands watching a dazzling pitching duel between Yale’s Ron Darling and St. John’s Frank Viola. “The Seamless Web” he called his piece, to signify that these three great pitchers, separated by seven decades, belonged to the same fraternity, were made from the same fabric, were part of it. The writers in Inventing Baseball know that Joe Wood was also part of a tradition into which he entered, one that went back to John Clarkson and Hoss Radbourn, to Asa Brainard, Frank Pidgeon and the legendary Creighton. They were heroes all, those who graced the game in its formative years. They lived and labored in a thrilling period of invention. They made the game we love.
And these men deserve to be recalled by all baseball fans of today in their greatest moments, in the glory of our times as well as theirs. To know that Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter are part of a seamless web with Roger Connor and John Ward makes the experience of today’s games richer than merely to compare our stars with those since 1901.
Some of the names and games in this book may seem obscure even to knowledgeable enthusiasts (as fans were called before that term was coined in the 1880s), but the story of baseball has been played out on fields other than those of the National League, and by others than those whose playing records may be found in the encyclopedias (because they played “major-league ball” in the years since 1871). The writers/selectors of these hundred games to follow will have their personal favorites, in some measure reflected by their decision to speak for the editor’s assignment of a particular game. But every game reported in this book had numerous advocates and may be commended to your attention.
Editor Bill Felber has charged his crew to select and depict games of historic significance as well as visceral thrills. It would have been easy to choose a hundred cliffhangers, but then we might have overlooked the game that was first to be played before a paid crowd, or the game that for a moment made Fort Wayne the capital of the baseball world, or another in which the forces of good and evil seemed to be pitted against each other (cast in the uniforms of, respectively, Boston and Baltimore) for the National League title of 1897.
I could go on, highlighting more personal favorites or piquant inclusions, but it is time to move on, to read about the first games, or some in the middle, or ones at the end. They are arranged chronologically rather than in any kind of ranking. However, one may dip into this book randomly, as if it were a box of Cracker Jack, and provide oneself with an individualized nonlinear experience.
This is the game we love, we who have compiled this book for you, and the years before 1900 form our favorite period. We may not convince archivists or reporters of Major League Baseball that the early game was as exciting as the one they are covering, but we hope to convince you.
What is the importance to Major League Baseball of a successful club in New York? That question has a present-day relevance in the age of revenue sharing, free agency, luxury tax, and cable sports channels. Money may not buy you happiness, but it is certainly an advantage when it comes to building a pennant contender. This eternal verity is on the minds of baseball’s owners today, as it was for Colonel Ruppert, owner of the Yankees. This interview was conducted three years after his purchase of the Yankees–with Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston (known as Captain or Cap)–and two years before he welcomed Babe Ruth into his fold and claimed his first flag. Originally published in Baseball Magazine in May 1918, it offers a fascinating conversation between the Yankees’ magnate and Connie Mack about a possible deal for Joe Bush, Wally Schang, and Amos Strunk. While this article may have little impact on the policies of the Steinbrenner family or Brian Cashman, it is timely because later this month the Colonel will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Those who wish to see the magnate in person may find him in the immense brewing establishment which the Ruppert genius has built in New York City. Through the marble corridor which leads out from the main entrance, past uniformed guards who greet you courteously, you gradually penetrate through one anteroom to another, as though you sought audience with the late Czar of Russia, when the Romanoffs still controlled one sixth the land surface of the globe. Everything is sumptuously neat, though the atmosphere suggests the yeasty fermentation that is continually going on in the monstrous copper cauldrons. You catch a glimpse of these burnished receptacles as you mount the smoothly gliding elevator to the office, and your guide informs you (to the grief of our prohibition friends be it said) that from those same cauldrons eight thousand barrels of beer go foaming daily, with a sudsy current of good cheer, to the huge thirsty city which lies all about you.
At last the order is given; you are admitted to the presence of the magnate himself as he sits, in solitary state, in a spacious room decorated very simply with massive bronze statuary, at a huge desk littered with papers. And it is here, with the distant purring hum of the brewery for an accompaniment, that he unfolds the dreams he has entertained for bearing the standards of the American League to victory in the greatest of cities.
Colonel Ruppert is in every sense a man of big business, quick of speech, decisive in his statements, yet courteous and discriminating in his treatment of the men who approach him in a continual stream on a thousand varied errands. “I was always interested in baseball,” he says. “In fact, in my younger years I played it in an amateur way. But up to the time when I became identified with the Yankees I was a strong National League rooter. The Polo Grounds are a feature of the big city quite as much as the Statue of Liberty or Brooklyn Bridge, and the team which has appealed the strongest to the local fans is the Giants, with all their long tradition of pennants won and famous diamond stars.
“It would be impossible for me to say when the idea of becoming an owner first came to me. Probably it was a gradual process. The first time the matter was brought to my attention in a concrete form, however, was when Charles Murphy was selling out his controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs. A gentleman who knew of my fondness for baseball ventured the suggestion that I purchase them. I told him that I had no desire to become an owner of a club in Chicago, or, for that matter, of any club outside of New York. In fact, the Cub transaction did not interest me at all, but it did bring the idea of some day becoming an owner prominently into my mind, and, no doubt, made the later acquisition of the Yankees an easier undertaking than it otherwise would have been.
“The first intimation I had that the Yankees were for sale was through an item to that effect in the newspapers. The idea instantly occurred to me that here was a prospect to become interested in a major-league club at home. About the same time, the matter was further impressed upon me by some of my good friends, who wished to see me get into a good thing. Through the papers I learned that Captain Huston was also mentioned as a possible purchaser, and I accordingly arranged a meeting with him. It was the first time I had ever met Captain Huston. We found that we agreed on all important items of the transaction and allowed it to be known that we might be possible purchasers of the franchise.
“The next act in the little drama occurred in a friendly club room where I met Ban Johnson and other members of the American League. We were treated royally by these good friends. I addressed them in an informal way and outlined our attitude. I told them that it seemed to Captain Huston and myself that there wasn’t much of a club to purchase, merely a few individual players of merit and a rather disorganized team. But I stated that we would be interested in acquiring the property, provided the other members of the American League assisted us in the construction of a winning club in New York. I emphasized the fact that we asked no charity, that we were able and willing to pay a liberal cash price for all assistance rendered to us, but that we felt we must depend upon the cooperation of our fellow magnates in building up a powerful club in the greatest city of the world, a club in which their interest would not be an entirely unselfish one since a strong team in New York meant better patronage for every other club in the circuit. My sentiments met with a most hearty approval from all present and I began to think that the lot of the big league owner was a close parallel to the proverbial bed of roses.
“After Captain Huston and myself had actually acquired possession of the Yankees, we were approached by several American League owners. One of them said, ‘I have one of the finest young shortstops in the country. He is yours for only $5,000.’ Another had a star young outfielder he was willing to dispose of for the slight consideration of $5,000. Still another had a promising pitcher fresh from the bush leagues who was also ours for the paltry sum of $5,000. And time revealed the fact that all these young phenoms were lemons. In fact, the only concrete evidence that the American League would give us its unqualified support finally simmered down to players Wally Pipp and Bunny High, for both of which men we paid the full market price.
“Now it requires no wizard of finance to see that the presence of the New York Giants in the line-up is an immense asset to the National League, and is recognized as such by the remaining club owners. But in the American League there seems to have been an entire lack of any concerted campaign to build up a club in New York which should rival the Giants on an even basis. This is, to my mind, a failure to appreciate facts at their face value, which has cost the American League a lot of prestige, and has caused every club owner in the circuit the loss of valuable revenue. In fact, this attitude of the American League is a thing I have never been able to fathom.
“Let me cite two concrete instances of this attitude. For several years I have had my eye on second baseman Del Pratt of St. Louis. I cannot say that he is a better player than our own Joe Gedeon, but he has played better ball and we wanted him. Well, how did I get him? I paid $15,000 in cash and gave away a number of good players for him. But what can you do? I needed this player, everyone knew I needed him. One thing was certain, I couldn’t come back empty-handed. I had to do something to build up the club after the loss of several valuable men to army service. And I got what I went after, though I had to pay out of all reason for him.
“This is a deal which actually went through. Let me cite another deal which I believe should have gone through, but didn’t. For some time I have had my eyes on pitcher Joe Bush and the outfielder Amos Strunk of the Athletics. Last year I asked Mack if it would be possible to interest him in a deal for these players. He said to me, ‘I have sold my last player.’ ‘All right,’ I said, ‘if you change your mind let me know.’ ‘I will,’ said he.
“Time went on and finally I received word that Mack would be willing to see me and talk things over. He didn’t want to be observed discussing things with me in Philadelphia, because he was afraid some newspaper man would see him and start the story of a sensational trade. Neither, for the matter of that, did he want to come to New York. So he suggested that we meet and talk it over at Trenton. Nobody ever goes to Trenton unless he has important business to negotiate. But I met him at Trenton and we adjourned to a small hotel where we, no doubt, were looked upon as a couple of gunmen discussing a future holdup game. ‘I can’t talk to you about Bush,’ began Mack, ‘because I already have given a certain club an option on Bush. But I can’t say that this club will go through with the option. If they fall down, I will let you know. However, for certain reasons, I have decided to let go of Strunk and Walter Schang and if you want these men I am willing to talk business. I want $25,000 for Schang.’
“ ‘Well, Mack,’ I said, ‘I’m not so particular about Schang. I don’t really need a catcher so much, anyway.’ ‘’Well,’ said Mack, ‘he can certainly hit. But I don’t know as Schang would be the man you need most on your club.’
“ ‘Not at that price,” I told him. ‘But I would make you an offer of $10,000 for Strunk.’
“ ‘I couldn’t consider it,’ said Mack. ‘I couldn’t even think of it. I must get $75,000 for these three men. I will sell them for that figure, but if I had to sell two of them separately, I would want more than $50,000 for them. I wouldn’t agree to let them go for $50,000, but there isn’t any hurry. Think it over and decide what you are willing to do.’
“ ‘I will do that, Mack,’ I said, ‘only be sure to let me know before you go through with this thing with any other club, for I certainly want Strunk and Bush anyway.’
“So we adjourned. Mack went back to Philadelphia, and I took the same train for Washington. But Mack sat in one end of the car, entirely oblivious of my presence at the other end.
“Well, you all know what happened. The Red Sox got Bush and Schang and Strunk in a sensational deal.
“When I made the offer of $10,000 for Strunk I was willing to go higher, and Mack has certainly done enough trading in his day to know that I would go higher. A man seldom makes his highest bid first.
“Captain Huston and myself have spent over $200,000 in strengthening the Yankees since we purchased the club. We paid $37,500 for Frank Baker; we paid $25,000 for Lee Magee, and we have got rid of a young fortune on other players who couldn’t deliver the goods. And we have had some of the most frightful luck I ever heard of. This may be a common alibi of the loser, but it has the substantiation of fact, in our case at least. For at one time we had no fewer than eleven men on the hospital list. Bill Donovan was the finest fellow in the world and I hated to let him go. But business won’t wait. He had been handicapped by the worst of luck, as I well realized, but after three years we didn’t seem to be advancing very fast and I felt that it was to the best interests of the club to make a change. Prior to that time I sent for Miller Huggins to come to my office and talk things over. I had never met him but I had followed his work and been impressed with his shrewdness in directing the Cardinal club and believed that he would get results with the Yankees. I still contend that my judgment was sound and am perfectly willing to abide by the decision of the season.
“I shall take personal credit for Miller Huggins’s appointment if he succeeds as I believe he will, and I shall also take full blame for his failure if he fails. It is true that he was suggested to me by several people as a prospective manager, but so were many other men. I listened to all the advice that was given me, but I had already made up my mind before I tried to secure him to lead my club.
“I do not begrudge the money I have lost so far in trying to build up a winner for the American League in New York. This is one city where the public demands a winner. New Yorkers will pay any reasonable amount for the best, but you can’t palm off inferior goods on them. I have got a lot of excitement out of this magnate business, and no doubt there is much more coming to me before I am through. But it’s all a part of the game and really not so unlike other business ventures, for whatever you consider as an investment has an element of risk and is, to a certain extent, a gamble. Baseball is a little bigger gamble than most, and the stakes are pretty high. But if I can get a winner in New York within the next year or two, I shan’t begrudge a nickel I put into the club, or a lot more that I shall probably send after what has already gone, before I am through.”
Thus briefly and to the point does Jacob Ruppert outline his experiences as a magnate up to date. He has no complaints to offer, no criticism of individuals. But in stating as he does that the establishment of a strong club in New York City is a vital concern of the American League, not merely the labor of an individual magnate, he strikes, to our mind, at the weakest point in the policy of the Amerian League since that organization rose from obscurity to a commanding place in professional baseball. No one can blame Ruppert or his associates. They have spent a fortune for players. But they do not seem to have met with quite that element of helpful cooperation which the most enlightened business foresight would warrant. The American League has made very few mistakes. But hasn’t it erred a trifle in its failure to estimate at its true worth the value to the league, as a whole, of a powerful club in the world’s new metropolis, New York City?
This is a guest column, penned by my longtime friend Fran Henry, whose trove of Henry Chadwick materials I examined with her kind permission more than two decades ago. How did she come by such wonderful stuff? She is a direct descendant of the man who long before his death in 1908 was called The Father of Baseball. This was not because anyone believed that he invented it–he always credited baseball’s parentage to rounders–but for his hugely successful labors, over half a century, to make baseball America’s national game. In the coming weeks and months Fran will create a special section of MLB’s Memory Lab project. It will create, through first-hand documents and artifacts, a highly personal portrait of a man most of us today know principally by his plaque in Cooperstown, awarded in the year before that institution opened its doors. Let Fran Henry tell of her most recent attic find:
It seems trite to rifle boxes filled decades ago, unearthing items packed even years before that, perhaps before World War II. Do people still possess attics and basements left untouched for so long that no one alive has seen their contents?
Yet I find myself poring through issues of The New York Clipper from the summer of 1892. They had been folded after being clipped of articles. Perhaps the missing columns concern baseball, stories no doubt written by my great-great-grandfather Henry Chadwick four generations ago when he was a journalist of sports, an arbiter of rules, inventor of the box score, and proselytizer of the game. I wonder if my grandmother, who would have been twelve during that summer, might have helped him to cut and to create scrapbooks, as she later helped him to tally scores and to type what he had written.
I discover a hefty pile of the papers, most marked with a blue or red pencil. I find pictures of Henry’s family, his wife and daughter, and then of my grandmother when she looked eager for adventure and a future. Here also are a few pieces of silver. Henry’s wife Jane must have given a ladle to her granddaughter as it was inscribed “To Avis from Granny.” I wonder if she gave it for a graduation, a wedding, a firstborn. It would not have been for my grandmother’s last child, my father, for her Granny had died three years before my father’s birth in 1918.
Looking further I find a cigar box with a label indicating my grandfather gave the contents to Henry in 1907. I pull out a feather-light carving in wood. Again I wonder what brought this gift to Grandpa Chadwick, as my grandmother always referred to him. In that year, he was 83 and would not live through another. Another item: a metal engraving of a season pass for a ball park.
The occasion for my discovery in 2013 is cleaning the basement of my parents’ home, a place built by my father in 1949 for his new family. My father, John Chadwick Worden, was Henry’s great grandson. Avicia Mortimer Eldridge Worden, my grandmother, was Henry’s third grandchild. Avis had looked after her grandparents as a young woman and had been born and lived within a mile of her grandparents’ summer home in Sag Harbor, New York.
Combing through boxes in 2013 recalled my distress of years before, in 1980, when I came home to Sag Harbor after my grandmother’s death to help my father clean her small cabin of all that she could not let go of, both treasures and trinkets, in her 98 years. I found my father searching corners and heaving nearly everything into the yard. He had no patience for sorting. This legacy had been a burden to his childhood. He remembered when a teenager in the 1930s his mother paying the storage bills for her family’s belongings while the two of them lacked food for the table. With such deprivation, I could understand his desire to pitch all of it. But I asked him to slow down. I found sheaves of poetry by Henry to his wife Jane, memorabilia from her grandparents’ homes in Brooklyn and Sag Harbor, and a few items of baseball lore. And then too my father must have kept a few of his mother’s boxes untouched, and here they were, shelved and forgotten.
In 1978 when I rescued my grandmother’s treasures from certain destruction, I did so because of stories Grandma told me. Avis had stayed the longest near the family home and she had inherited the personal keepsakes. From her, I knew that her grandfather had given his baseball material to Albert Spalding, who gave it to the New York Public Library for cataloging and safekeeping. I remember her saying that Henry was known as Father of Baseball, but not at the Baseball Hall of Fame, where he was enshrined as a sportswriter with the first inductees in 1938. My grandmother had sown a seed of distrust that the Baseball Hall of Fame would see Henry in a fair historical light. I had held onto my grandmother’s heirlooms for a few decades, not knowing what to do with them.
By 2000 I had constructed my own rough outline of Henry and Jane Chadwick’s life. I sold the collection to a private individual, trusting it would be the kernel of a museum exhibit. Now I wonder what my grandmother had hoped would become of all that she had saved. To be kind to her memory and to her admiration of “Grandpa Chadwick,” I must not box these mementos again and forget them. I must find a way to bring them out of the musty shadows.
–Fran Henry, July 2013
This article appears in this year’s All-Star Game Media Guide. In 2013, Citi Field hosts the All-Star Game, the first time the home of the Mets has held this honor since 1964, when the site was a brand-new Shea Stadium. Major League Baseball’s first Midsummer Classic was held in Chicago in 1933 (is there a soul alive who attended it?), yet 75 years before that, there had been another, already forgotten All-Star Game. Its location, within walking distance from Citi Field (see map below), is today unknown to all but a handful of baseball experts.
On July 20, 1858, nearly 10,000 fans gathered there to watch what may have been the most important game in all of baseball history. That is a bold assertion, so let me back it up. In 1858, competitive baseball was barely a decade old. Despite rumors of payments or favors to some key players, baseball was governed by the rules and practices of an amateur association formed only the year before. Although this body called itself the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), in truth the new game was an exceedingly local affair, little played outside what is today the New York metropolitan area.
Indeed, New York City at that time consisted only of Manhattan. Brooklyn was a separate city, and it as well as the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island were not to be unified as New York City for another 40 years. We cannot identify an individual (like Arch Ward in 1933) whose bright idea it was to set the best (“picked”) nine of New York against the best nine of rival city Brooklyn. But the idea won immediate backing from the NABBP. A neutral site was selected not far from Flushing, at the new Fashion Race Course, where a ballfield was laid out within the enclosed grandstand area. The Fashion Course had been the property of Samuel Willets; fans going to the the 2013 All-Star Game by elevated subway arrive at the Willets Point station.
The match (a series of three games with one each in July, August and, if necessary, September) was to be played for civic bragging rights. Once it became clear that to cover expenses admission would have to be charged—to that point all games could be attended for free—surpluses would be presented to the widows and orphans funds of the fire departments of the two cities.
Today, little is left of the city that was, let alone its favorite game. Shea Stadium and the House That Ruth Built are gone, as are Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, and several other sites of big-league games. A baseball-history tourist in New York walks in four dimensions rather than three, the fourth being that of stories and stats.
The Fashion Course began life as the National Race Course, in 1853. In that year, the Flushing Railroad established a station at what is today’s Corona stop on the Long Island Rail Road, at 45th Street and National Street (named for the original race course, a fact known to few). In 1856, ownership of the race course changed hands and the grounds were renamed for the horse Fashion, who in an intersectional race of 1842 had defeated a horse from the South named, oddly, Boston.
Then as now, the selection of players was a delicate matter. Several initial picks were not seen after the first game, as the cast of characters changed from game to game. The underdog New York stars–who in a prior exhibition contest had lost to Hoboken’s finest–won the first game by a score of 22-18; among the winners was future Hall of Famer Harry Wright. For the second game, played on August 17th, Brooklyn moved pitcher Matty O’Brien to third base. Frank Pidgeon, the Brooklyn shortstop in game one, became the pitcher, with Dickey Pearce of the Atlantics taking over at short. Brooklyn won easily, 29–8. New York’s pitcher Tom Van Cott, who had thrown 198 pitches in game one, came back to toss 270 in a losing cause. Pidgeon threw 290. (Wide balls would not count against the pitcher until 1864.)
For the third and deciding game, played on September 10th, Brooklyn was the heavy favorite, based on their easy triumph in the second game. Yet New York won handily, 29–18, with the Eagles’ Joe Gelston hitting a leadoff home run that was followed by six more runs before the side was retired. Of Pidgeon’s eventual 436 pitches (!), 87 came in this first inning alone.
Among the firsts in baseball history that the opening Fashion Course game might claim were: first All-Star contest, first paid admission, and first baseball game played in an enclosed park, although the first such grounds designed specifically for baseball would come four years later. In the third (rubber) game of the series, umpire Doc Adams of the Knickerbockers called three men out on non-swinging strikes, the first time that new rule was applied.
The Brooklyn men had not dishonored themselves, but they had not won the match, in which they were favored from the outset, and by stacking their lineup in the final game with six Atlantics and three Eckfords, the selection committee had bred bad blood with other clubs that had contributed players to the first two contests. It was made clear to the Excelsiors in particular that they were not in the same league with their rivals.
Next year, the National Association would ban professionalism. (“No person who receives compensation for his services as a player shall be competent to play in any match.”) The Excelsiors would skirt the rules of the game, however, by adding four outstanding players from the Star club of Brooklyn, most notably Jim Creighton, the greatest player of baseball’s primordial past.
How do we locate the site of the grandstand entrance of the Fashion Race Course? Streets have been rerouted and names have changed, but the lordly brick entrance to the race course was at 37th Avenue and 103rd Street, 1.5 miles from Citi Field.