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.
“Baseball is the American game,” I wrote in a 1988 book, The Game for All America. This is how I continued: “It has given our people rest and recreation, myths and memories, heroes and history and hope. It has mirrored our society, sometimes propelling it with models for democracy, community, commerce, and common humanity, sometimes lagging behind with equally instructive models of futility and resistance to change. And as our national game, baseball in no small measure defines us as Americans, connecting us with our countrymen across all barriers of generation, class, race, and creed.”
That essay was published again in 1995 as Our Game, which supplies the title for this blog. It remains in print as an ebook; you can look it up. But as we near our great national holiday, let’s look back a century ago, to May 17, 1913, when H. Addington Bruce published, in Outlook Magazine, a neglected tribute to baseball and America. Its title is “Baseball and the National Life.” Serendipitously, it opens with reference to baseball’s first all-star game, played 75 years before the major-league version debuted in 1933. I will have more to say about that next week, as we near the midsummer classic at Citi Field, a mere 1.5 miles from its forebear of 1858.
On July 20, 1858, there was played the first recorded game of baseball to which an admission fee was charged. The opposing teams were made up of carefully selected players representing New York and Brooklyn; the scene of the game was the old Fashion Race Course on Long Island; and some fifteen hundred people paid $750 to see New York win bv four runs. [The attendance figure was in fact nearly 10,000.--jt]
October 16, 1912, or little more than fifty years later, another New York team, playing in Boston, lost by a single run the last of a series of inter-league games for the title of “World’s Champions.” The newspapers of the country reported the game in the most minute detail, and incidentally announced that the eight games of the series had been attended by more than 250,000 persons, whose admission fees aggregated $490,833, or an average in excess of 30,000 spectators and average receipts of about $60,000 per game. Than these contrasting figures nothing could exhibit more impressively the tremendous growth in popularity of baseball in the comparatively short interval between the earliest and the latest championship game.
When, in the late summer of last year, the Boston “Red Sox” returned from a Western tour which virtually assured to them the championship of the American League, it has been estimated that nearly 100,000 people assembled in the streets of Boston to give them a welcome home. And later, when they played the New York “Giants” in the “World’s Series,” the course of every game was followed with the most eager attention not alone by the thousands in grand stand and “bleachers,” but by many, many thousands more standing in compact masses before the bulletin boards of city newspapers, or in little groups at the telegraph offices of remote and isolated villages. So widespread, in fact, was the interest that the day after the deciding game the newspapers were able to print this astonishing item of news from Washington:
Unprecedented procedure was permitted today in the Supreme Court of-the United States, when the Justices, sitting on the bench hearing the Government’s argument in the “bath-tub trust” case, received bulletins, inning by inning, of the “World’s Championship ” baseball game in Boston. The progress of the playing was closely watched by the members of the highest court in the land, especially by Associate Justice Day, who had requested the baseball bulletins during the luncheon recess from 2 to 2:30 p.m. The little slips giving the progress of the play went to him not only during the. luncheon recess, but when the Court resumed its sitting. They were passed along the bench from Justice to Justice.
Veritably baseball is something more than the great American game—it is an American institution having a significant place in the life of the people, and consequently worthy of close and careful analysis.
Fully to grasp its significance, however, it is necessary to study it, in the first place, as merely a game, and seek to determine wherein lie its peculiar qualities of fascination. As a game, as something that is “playable,” it of course must serve the ordinary ends of play. These, according to the best authorities on the physiology and psychology of play, are threefold: the expenditure of surplus nervous energy in a way that will not be harmful to the organism, but, on the contrary, will give needed exercise to growing muscles; the development of traits and abilities that will afterwards aid the player in the serious business of life; and the attainment of mental rest through pleasurable occupation.
Until recently it has been customary to emphasize one or another of these purposes and motives as affording the sole reason for play. But scientists are beginning to appreciate that all of them may be operant in determining the action of the play impulse, one motive being influential in one instance, the second in another, the third in yet another, or all three in combination. As between the three, though, the preparation motive would seem to be uppermost, at all events in the play of childhood and youth, children instinctively favoring those games which, although they are completely unconscious of the fact, tend most strongly to form and establish the characteristics that will be most serviceable to them in later years. Or, as stated by Professor Karl Groos, the first to dwell on this aspect of play:
Play is the agency employed to develop crude powers and prepare them for life’s uses, and from the biological standpoint we can say: From the moment when the intellectual development of a species becomes more useful in the struggle for existence than the most perfect instinct, will natural selection favor those individuals in whom the less elaborated faculties have more chance of being worked out by practice under the protection of parents—that is to say, those individuals that play.
Now, in all civilized countries of the modern world, and especially in countries of advanced economic development and of a form of government like that of the United States, success and progress depend chiefly on the presence of certain personal characteristics. Physical fitness, courage, honesty, patience, the spirit of initiative combined with due respect for lawful authority, soundness and quickness of judgment, self-confidence, self-control, cheeriness, fair-mindedness, and appreciation of the importance of social solidarity, of “team play”—these are traits requisite as never before for success in the life of an individual and of a nation. They are traits developed to some extent by all outdoor games played by groups of competitors. But it is safe to say that no other game —not even excepting football—develops them as does baseball.
One need attend only a few games, whether played by untrained school-boys or by the most expert professionals, to appreciate the great value of baseball as a developmental agent. Habits of sobriety and self-control are established in the players if only from the necessity of keeping in good condition in order to acquit one’s self creditably and hold a place on the team. Patience, dogged persistence, the pluck that refuses to acknowledge either weariness or defeat, are essential to the mastery of the fine points of batting, fielding, or pitching—a mastery which in turn brings with it a feeling of self-confidence that eventually will go far in helping its possessor to achieve success off as well as on the “diamond.” It takes courage of a high order to play infield positions, as, for example, they ought to be played when “stolen bases” are imminent; and, for that matter, it takes courage to “steal” them when the runner knows that he is likely to be “blocked off ” by some courageous infielder of the type of the two Wagners of “Pirate” and “Red Sox” fame.
So, too, courage, and plenty of it, is needed at the bat—courage not simply to face the swiftly moving ball, but to “crowd ” the “plate ” so as to handicap the pitcher in his efforts to perform successfully and expeditiously the work of elimination. I well remember, in connection with the “World’s Series” of 1911, the boldness in this respect displayed by the New York player Snodgrass, when batting against the pitching of the mighty Bender. Time after time Snodgrass stood so close to the “plate” as to draw vehement protests from his opponent, with whom, as an American League partisan, I heartily sympathized. But at the same time I could not withhold some slight measure of admiration for the courage of the batsman, typical of the spirit which, pervading the whole team, had no small share in winning for the “Giants” the National League honors in 1911 and again last year.
As an agent in the development of the “team spirit” baseball is no less notable. The term “sacrifice hit” eloquently expresses one phase of the game which must leave on all playing it an indelible impression of the importance in all affairs of life of unselfish co-operation. The extent, indeed, to which baseball tends to inculcate the lesson of subordination of self for the common good is well shown by a little story I heard not long ago regarding two professional baseball players. One was the short-stop, the other the second baseman, of a “major” league team, and consequently they were required by the duties of their positions to work more closely together than any other members of the team except the pitcher and catcher. One day, the story goes, they had a quarrel so bitter that for the remainder of the season they did hot address a word to each other when off the “diamond.” But, once the umpire had cried “Play ball!” their antagonism was temporarily dropped, and they fought the common foe in as complete accord as though they had been the best of friends. Surely a game that can develop such a social consciousness—and conscience—is a game of which any nation may be proud, and to which it may well feel indebted.
And, besides aiding powerfully in physical and moral development, baseball is also a splendid mind-builder. The ability to think, and to think quickly, is fostered by the duties of its every position as well as by the complicated problems that are constantly arising in its swiftly changing course of events. Time and again games have been won, or the way has been cleared to victory, by the quickness of a player or a manager in appreciating the possibilities of a critical situation and planning a definite plan of campaign to meet the emergency. It was thus, to give a single illustration, with the final game of last year’s “World’s Series.”
That game was won by the “Red Sox” by the score of three runs to two, an extra inning being necessary, as the score stood one to one in the ninth. The newspapers next day gave unenviable prominence to two New York fielders, to whose errors in the tenth inning the loss of the game was ascribed. Actually the turning-point came in the seventh inning, when New York led by one run to none for Boston.
From the start of the game Mathewson, the premier pitcher of the National League, had been disposing of the “Red Sox” batsmen with all his old-time skill. Bedient, his young rival, had been doing almost equally well, although New York had earned a run off him in the third inning. In Boston’s half of the seventh, with two men out and a man on first base, the manager of the “Red Sox”—who also, as it happened, was the man then on first base—made the move that undoubtedly saved the game for his team. It was Bedient’s turn to bat; but instead Manager Stahl sent to the “plate” a utility outfielder, Henriksen, who until that moment had not once been at bat in the series. Mathewson, utterly in the dark as to his weaknesses as a batsman, tried him with a variety of pitches. One proved so much to his liking that he drove it past third base for a hit that brought in the tying run. Stahl’s judgment, plus Henriksen’s ability to “make good,” had turned impending defeat into possible victory.
So incessant and so varied are the demands made on the ball-player’s intelligence that any one who really knows the game will be inclined to indorse unreservedly the published declaration of that most successful baseball-player and most successful business man, Mr. Albert G. Spalding:
I never struck anything in business that did not seem a simple matter when compared with complications I have faced on the baseball field. A young man playing baseball gets into the habit of quick thinking in most adverse circumstances and under the most merciless criticism in the world—the criticism from the “bleachers.” If that doesn’t train him, nothing can. Baseball in youth has the effect in later years of making him think and act a little quicker than the other fellow.
To-day this is even more the case than in the days when Mr. Spalding led his Boston and Chicago teams to victory, for with the passage of time the technique of the game has been improved to an extent that makes it more of a developmental agent than it was even ten years ago. Lacking the strength, skill, and experience of the professional player, the school-boy whose efforts are confined to the “diamond” of the vacant lot or public park plays the game under precisely the same rules as the professional, and with no less zest and earnestness, and profits correspondingly. To be sure, in playing it he does not dream for an instant that he is thereby helping to prepare himself for the important struggles of maturity. He plays it merely because he finds it “good fun”— merely because, in its variety and rapidity of action, in the comparative ease with which its fundamental principles may be learned, and in its essentially co-operative yet competitive character, it affords an intensely pleasurable occupation. It is, in truth, a game which makes an irresistible appeal to the instincts of youth precisely because it so admirably meets the principal objects of play—mental rest through enjoyment, exercise for the muscles, the healthy expenditure of surplus nervous energy, and practice and preparation for life’s work.
This, of course, does not explain its popularity with the non-playing American public of mature years, a popularity which seems to many the more surprising and reprehensible in view of the fact that to-day, when baseball games are drawing larger crowds than in all the previous history of the sport, the Nation is burdened to an appalling extent by economic and social evils. But in reality this phenomenon is neither so unusual nor so ominous as alarmists would have us believe. “Give us games!” was the cry of the Roman populace in time of disaster many centuries ago, and it has since been unconsciously echoed by many another people under the stress of some great crisis.
Baseball itself, it is worth noting, was a’ product of the period of anti-slavery agitation that preceded the crisis of the Civil War, having been invented in 1839 [the belief at that time--jt] , two years after the murder of the abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy, and one year after the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, in Philadelphia, by a mob of pro-slavery sympathizers; and its first rise into favor as a public spectacle was but a year or so before North and South met in their epochal conflict.
What this means is simply an instinctive resort to sport as a method of gaining momentary relief from the strain of an intolerable burden, and at the same time finding a harmless outlet for pent-up emotions which, unless thus gaining expression, might discharge themselves in a dangerous way. It also means, there is reason to believe, a continuance of the play impulse as an aid in the rational and efficient conduct of life. It is no mere coincidence that the great sport-loving peoples of the world—the Americans, the English, the Canadians, and the Australians [another antiquated notion--jt]—have been pre-eminent in the art of achieving progress by peaceful and orderly reform. There have been times, as in the case of the Civil War, when the issues involved have been such as to make absolutely necessary the arbitrament of arms. But evolution, not revolution, has been the rule in the development of these nations—these nations which above all others respond to the impulse to play.
Baseball, then, from the spectator’s standpoint, is to be regarded as a means of catharsis, or, perhaps better, as a safety-valve. And it performs this service the more readily because of the appeal it makes to the basic instincts, with resultant removal of the inhibitions that ordinarily cause tenseness arid restraint. For exactly the same reason it has a democratizing value no less important to the welfare of society than is its value as a developmental and tension-relieving agent. The spectator at a ball game is no longer a statesman, lawyer, broker, doctor, merchant, or artisan, but just a plain every-day man, with a heart full of fraternity and good will to all his fellow-men—except perhaps the umpire. The oftener he sits in grand stand or “bleachers,” the broader, kindlier, better man and citizen he must tend to become.
Finally, it is to be observed that the mere watching of a game of baseball, as of football, lacrosse, hockey, or any other game of swift action, has a certain beneficial physical effect. It is a psychological commonplace that pleasurable emotions, especially if they find expression in laughter, shouts, cheers, and other muscle-expanding noises, have a tonic value to the whole bodily system. So that it is quite possible to get exercise vicariously, as it were; and the more stimulating the spectacle that excites feelings of happiness and enjoyment, the greater will be the resultant good. Most decidedly baseball is a game well designed to render this excellent service.
Like every, virile, vigorous game, it has its defects. But its qualities far outweigh its shortcomings, and it must be accounted a happy day for America when the first players met on the first “diamond” laid out on American soil. The little red school-house has long been extolled as a prime factor in the Republic’s progress. I for one am firmly convinced that the lessons taught in it would have lacked much of their potency had it not been for the reinforcement they received from the lessons learned on the baseball field near by. Long may Uncle Sam play ball!
Ring Lardner published this jocular “obituary” for Christy Mathewson in the Chicago Tribune on July 22, 1916. Lardner’s standing column head in the Trib was the portentous “In the Wake of the News.” The “obituary” appeared alongside an account of Matty’s first game as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, a 6-4 loss in ten innings to the Phillies. Three years later the Black Sox Scandal would sour Lardner on baseball for life, though he would continue to write on the subject, concluding in 1933 with Lose with a Smile. Matty would require a more conventional obituary before that, succumbing on October 7, 1925 to tuberculosis brought on by gas poisoning in a World War I training exercise.
The baseball world was shocked yesterday by the news that Christy Mathewson, one of the game’s greatest exponents, had signed to manage the Cincinnati Reds at the age of thirty-seven years, the very prime of life. Mathewson is the seventh prominent baseballist to succumb to this disease in a space of twelve years.
It is the opinion of prominent physicians that “Matty,” as he was fondly known, hastened his own end by taking up golf, which undermines the intellect and, thereby, the general health. Those who were closest to him say that he has never been the same since he first sliced off the tee.
There is no argument for prohibition in the case of the deceased. He was always abstemious. He took the best possible care of himself. Before being bitten by the golf bacillus, his favorite amusements were chess, checkers, poker, and auction bridge, at all of which athletic sports he excelled. He smoked, but never to excess. He usually retired before midnight and was careful as to his victuals.
Ciristopher Mathewson was bom in New York State or somewhere, in or about 1879. He received a common school education and then entered Bucknell College, where he took a P.P.D. degree, Doctor of Pitching and Punting. He pitched more or less professional ball down in Virginia for a time and his work attracted the attention of major-league scouts and a scout from Cincinnati. Cincinnati acquired him and, the directors of the club taking a hand, traded him to New York for Amos Rusie, which was a regular Cincinnati trade, as Rusie was through.
One of Matty’s first managers at New York was Horace Fogel, who saw at a glance that he could never be a successful pitcher and tried to make a first baseman out of him. Unfortunately for many a National League batsman, Horace’s career as manager was brief, brevity being the soul of wit. The next manager of the Giants got a crazy notion in his head that Matty might be able, with careful handling, to become an average pitcher. This manager’s judgment was proven pretty fair, for Matty, with the aid of great support, pitched his team to victory in quite a few games for a matter of sixteen years. Perhaps his greatest achievement was his three shutout victories over the Athletics in the World Series of 1905. If he had been pitching against this year’s Athletics he could have done it left-handed, but it was some trick in those days.
Mathewson had been spending recent winters in California and the climate may have gone to his head.
He leaves a wife and one son, Christopher, Jr.
My eyes are very misty
As I pen these lines to Christy;
O, my heart is full of heaviness today.
May the flowers ne’er wither, Matty,
On your grave at Cincinnati,
Which you’ve chosen for your final fade-away.
I was delighted to speak yesterday at the site of the Brooklyn Dodger offices at 215 Montague Street. Chevrolet sponsored a four-stop baseball tour for media types who would be driven (or themselves drive) an electric-powered Chevy Volt to each site after the starting point of the MLB Fan Cave. Not knowing that I would be speaking outdoors in full sun for the second stop on the trail, I had prepared a 15-minute talk that stayed in my pocket. Sunstroke made for poor public relations, I figured. I winged it, but this is the talk I would have offered. Portions of it are based on an article that Jules Tygiel and I published in SPORT Magazine in June 1988.
It happened right here, on Montague Street. This is where the national pastime at last began to live up to its name.
The team is gone, the building is gone—even the address is gone, as is the bank that presented the plaque—but the echoes linger, and the spirit remains. Here, on August 28, 1945, Jackie Robinson, shortstop of the Kansas City Monarchs, first met Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. After a dramatic, challenging interview that has become the stuff of legend, the two signed an agreement that would begin to remove from baseball its historic stain. Each year Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day on April 15 to mark the anniversary of his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, but here we stand on no less hallowed ground.
Today little is left of the city that was, let alone its favorite game. In New York the only constant through four centuries has been relentless, roaring change—hills flattened, ponds filled, streams diverted, buildings demolished, neighborhoods dismantled, all in the name of progress. 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 must walk in four dimensions rather than three, the fourth being that of memory–aided by stories and statistics and nostalgic collectibles. Because it is harder to collect buildings than baseball cards, however, few edifices remain that might bear mute testimony to the game that was.
Baseball is a game of ghostly presences, always just one step away from revival. MLB’s Fan Cave, the hippest of baseball landmarks (which marked the first stop on today’s tour), sits one block away from the old Grand Central Hotel site, where on February 2, 1876 the National League was founded. Walking distance from where we stand, at the corner of Clinton and Livingston Streets—No. 133—is an improbable survivor of baseball’s earliest days, the clubhouse of the Brooklyn Excelsiors, the most famous team in the land in 1860.
But let’s focus on 215 Montague Street. A ten-story structure, tall for the 19th century, stood here until the 1960s, when it was replaced by a four-story building, since anchored by a succession of banks. The Dodgers’ office was located on the fourth floor. It housed all the executives, major league and minor league, and their staffs. Fans who wanted to purchase advance tickets could buy them here. The Dodgers started using this location in 1938, and when Branch Rickey came along four years later this building would begin to take on national significance, if at first secretly.
Rickey, who had long wished to integrate baseball, knew that St. Louis, where he had been the general manager for decades, was an impossible venue for his great experiment. “St. Louis never permitted Negro patrons in the grandstand,” Rickey once wrote.
Robinson’s appearance here on August 28 was by no means the first step Rickey had taken toward fulfilling his vision of an integrated national pastime. And Rickey knew that Sam Jethroe or Monte Irvin, not Robinson, was the most talented player in the Negro Leagues at that time. So why did Rickey choose him? Strength of character and a collegiate background have been the conventional explanations, but behind the scenes there was more at work.
From the moment he had arrived in Brooklyn in 1942, determined to end baseball’s Jim Crow traditions, Rickey had feared that premature disclosure of his intentions might doom his bold design. No blacks had appeared in the major leagues since 1884. During the ensuing half-century all-black teams and leagues featuring legendary figures like pitcher Satchel Paige and catcher Josh Gibson had performed on the periphery of Organized Baseball. Baseball executives, led by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, had strictly policed the color line, barring blacks from both major and minor leagues. Rickey therefore moved slowly and secretly to explore the issue and cover up his attempts to scout black players during his first three years in Brooklyn. He informed the Dodger owners of his plans but took few others into his confidence.
In the spring of 1945, as Rickey prepared to accelerate his scouting efforts, advocates of integration, emboldened by the recent death of Commissioner Landis, escalated their campaign to desegregate baseball. On April 6, black sportswriter Joe Bostic appeared at the Dodgers’ training camp with Negro League stars Terris McDuffie and Dave “Showboat” Thomas and forced Rickey to hold tryouts for the two players. Ten days later black journalist Wendell Smith engineered an unsuccessful audition with the Red Sox for Robinson and two other black athletes.
In the face of this heightened activity, Rickey created an elaborate smokescreen to obscure his scouting of black players. In May 1945 he announced the formation of a new franchise, the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, and a new Negro League, the United States League. He named fabled Negro Leagues star Oscar Charleston as the club’s manager and undercover scout. Rickey then dispatched his best talent hunters to observe black ballplayers, ostensibly for the Brown Dodgers, but in reality for the Brooklyn National League club.
The popular “frontier” image of Jackie Robinson as a lone gunman facing down a hostile mob has always dominated the story of the integration of baseball. But while Robinson was the linchpin in Branch Rickey’s strategy, in October 1945 Rickey intended to announce the signing of not just Jackie Robinson, but of several other Negro League stars. Political pressure, however, forced Rickey’s hand, thrusting Robinson into the spotlight all alone.
The agreement that Jackie Robinson signed right here on August 28, 1945 was a tightly guarded secret. It bound him to the Brooklyn organization but stipulated that he was to be signed to a player’s contract with the top farm club at Montreal before November 1. Rickey impressed upon Robinson the need to maintain silence. He could tell the momentous news to his family and fiancee, but no one else.
After his meeting with Rickey, Robinson returned briefly to the Kansas City Monarchs. With the Dodger offer securing his future and the relentless bus trips of the Negro League schedule wearing him down, he left the Monarchs before season’s end and returned home to Pasadena, California. In late September he hooked up with Chet Brewer’s Kansas City Royals, a postseason barnstorming team which toured the Pacific Coast, competing against other Negro League teams and major- and minor-league all-star squads.
Rickey worked with publicist Arthur Mann to pen an article for Look Magazine, timed to release at the time of Robinson’s signing with Montreal. It never ran, but I located it in the Rickey papers at the Library of Congress. “The Negro and Baseball,” as it was titled, departs radically from the common picture of the Robinson legend. “Determined not to be charged with merely nibbling at the problem,” wrote Mann, “Rickey went all out and brought in two more Negro players,” and “consigned them, with Robinson, to the Dodgers’ top farm club, the Montreal Royals.” Mann named pitcher Don Newcombe and, surprisingly, outfielder Sam Jethroe as Robinson’s future teammates. Whether the recruitment of additional blacks had always been Rickey’s intention or whether he had reached his decision after meeting with Robinson in August is unclear. But by late September, when he provided information to Mann for his article, Rickey had clearly decided to bring in other Negro League stars.
At the same time, Rickey decided to postpone publication of the Look article. In a remarkable letter sent from the World Series in Chicago on October 7, Rickey informed Mann:
We just can’t go now with the article. The thing isn’t dead,-not at all. It is more alive than ever and that is the reason we can’t go with any publicity at this time. There is more involved in the situation than I had contemplated. Other players are in it and it may be that I can’t clear these players until after the December meetings, possibly not until after the first of the year. You must simply sit in the boat….
There is a November 1 deadline on Robinson,-you know that. I am undertaking to extend that date until January 1st so as to give me time to sign plenty of players and make one break on the complete story. Also, quite obviously it might not be good to sign Robinson with other and possibly better players unsigned.
In a mad scramble to sign Robinson before the November 1 deadline and before he departed to the Caribbean for a barnstorming trip, the Montreal Royals secured his signature on a contract on October 23. Newcombe, Campanella, John Wright, and Roy Partlow all joined the Dodger organization the following spring. Jethroe became a victim of the “deliberate speed” of baseball integration and did not reach the majors until 1950.
For Robinson, who had always occupied center stage in Rickey’s thinking, the early announcement intensified the pressures and enhanced the legend. The success or failure of integration rested disproportionately on his capable shoulders. He became the lightning rod for supporter and opponent alike, attracting the responsibility, the scorn and ultimately the acclaim for his historic achievement.
For Rickey the signing was the culmination of a decades-old dream. For Robinson, there would be triumph and tragedy ahead, but his breaking of the color bar started right here.
Baseball fever, catch it. When I am not thinking about the game, it can pop up insistently, reasserting its central position in my life. Let me tell you what happened to me just the other day.
I spent this past weekend in Wisconsin, at a reunion of the Beloit College class of 1968 (as well as many others ranging, in five-year intervals, from 1948 to 2003). I had been invited to give a talk, in the building where I had taken all of the courses that would run through my later life.
I had drafted most of the speech at home but left the finishing touches for my arrival on campus late Thursday afternoon. I checked into the Beloit Inn, tired from my flight to O’Hare and the drive from there to Beloit, just across the Illinois line. I unpacked and within an hour or so had added a few bits, mostly biographical. I figured my fellow Beloiters might wish to know how the mouthy kid they may have remembered came to devote four decades to documenting a children’s game. I wrote this:
And after my Beloit years—as an English Lit major influenced by such titans of yore as Bink Noll, Bernie Morrissey, and Bob Ray—and a doctoral stint at Washington University in St. Louis, I came back to baseball. Or maybe I had never left it. As the chronically awful New York Mets marched toward an improbable championship in 1969, I found myself increasingly distracted from my dissertation on 17th century poet George Herbert, from which I turned away with more delight than guilt.
The path was a twisty one, from flipping baseball cards against the stoop in the Bronx in 1953 to serving as MLB’s official historian 60 years later … and yet with the benefit of hindsight I can make it out as practically linear. It is good to be an old boy, continuing to care about so many of the same things that animated one’s youth.
Completing the speech, I thought to have an early dinner, minus the search for exotic cuisine. The hotel shared space with a steak joint (Merrill and Houston’s, named for an iron works founded in 1858) so I walked in—only to have my jaw drop. Perhaps four feet from my face was a gorgeous, seven-foot long, wood-type broadside printed in colors, promoting an upcoming event: the First Wisconsin Base Ball Tournament, commencing at Beloit on September 3, 1867. I knew nothing about this tournament (although I do now, from some rapid newspaper research in neighboring Janesville’s Gazette) and I certainly had not seen this ghostly vestige.
The entry to the restaurant was dim and I could not back away enough to get a clear image with my cellphone camera, but I managed a shot for reference value, at least. I figured I would follow up.
The waitress told me that she thought the poster was an original, on loan from the Beloit Historical Society (BHS), which had provided the nostalgically decorated steakhouse with a few three-dimensional objects as well as scores of photographic facsimiles. I raced through a very good dinner so that I could get back to my room and check the web; I needed to know if the BHS had a physical location and contact information. I located a BHS newsletter—“Confluence,” from Fall 2004—that noted the broadside’s acquisition but provided no particulars.
At noon the following day, as the BHS opened its doors, I called. Dwight Alton—the Facilities Manager and a professional photographer to boot—told me that he was certain the restaurant’s version was a copy and that the Society possessed the only original. It was on display at one of the Society’s buildings—the Lincoln Center, an archive and exhibition space so named because it formerly housed the Lincoln Junior High School. If I wished, I could see the original broadside that afternoon.
Beloit College alumni activities had just begun to percolate, but this choice was easy. The archives were in West Beloit, only a mile and a half from the hotel. Dwight even offered to shoot a high-resolution image that he would transfer to a thumb drive.
At the door I was greeted not only by Dwight but also by Paul Kerr, the Executive Director. He told me that the broadside had resided undisturbed for a century in the attic of an elderly woman from South Beloit and that it had been there since long before her time. It arrived at the BHS in crumpled and bent form, folded over several times—yet it remained intact. Conservation efforts had restored it to a nearly pristine state, and because the broadside had slumbered in the dark all those years, the colors had seemed to lose none of their vibrancy. Dwight Alton’s photograph appears here courtesy of the Beloit Historical Society, its size and resolution somewhat reduced for the web.
Paul asked me if I believed the broadside was important or had monetary value. I assured him of both, and that the artistic value alone would incite appeal. We both recognized, however, that such thoughts were academic, because as a nonprofit organization dating to 1910, the BHS would never test the auction waters with an item of such strong Beloit relevance.
In a way, that’s too bad; I think I have an idea of what price this might fetch and I’ll never have that notion validated. The Society’s acquisition, casually displayed in facsimile for restaurant patrons who rush by it on their way to dinner, is the oldest surviving baseball broadside in existence.