This essay first appeared in a wonderfully valuable book, Base Ball Founders: The Clubs, Players and Cities of the Northeast That Established the Game. Published by McFarland in 2013, it was edited by Peter Morris, Bill Ryczek, Jan Finkel, Leonard Levin, and Richard Malatzky–friends and colleagues all. This is one of my three contributions to that volume.
Recent study has revealed the claim of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York to pioneer status, as well as that of Alexander Cartwright to be the game’s inventor, to be suspect if not altogether baseless. I have taken up the latter claim at length in Baseball in the Garden of Eden and will not do so here, except to reiterate my view that baseball was not invented but instead evolved. All the same, however, it had many fathers—prime among them William Rufus Wheaton, Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, and Louis F. Wadsworth—each of whom may be credited with specific innovations that were previously credited to Cartwright.
Adams played ball as early as 1839, the year he came to New York after earning his M.D. at Harvard. As he declared to an interviewer in 1896, when he was 81:
I was always interested in athletics while in college and afterward and soon after going to New York I began to play base ball just for exercise, with a number of other young medical men. Before that [i.e., before 1839] there had been a club called the New York Base Ball Club, but it had no very definite organization and did not last long. Some of the younger members of that club got together and formed the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, September 24, 1845 [actually September 23]…. About a month after the organization of this club, several of us medical fellows joined it, myself among the number.
Wheaton testified to an interviewer in 1887, when he was 73, that he had written the rules for that New York Base Ball Club in 1837. And Wadsworth, who in 1857 gave to baseball the key features of nine innings and nine men to the side, began to play baseball with the Gotham Club, successor to the New Yorks, in 1852 or 1853.
While the Knickerbocker was the most enduringly influential of the baseball clubs that sprang up prior to the Civil War, it was not the first to play the game, or the first to be organized, or the first to play a “match game” (one contested be tween two distinct clubs), or the first to play by written rules that we might regard as governing the “New York Game.” This regional variant, in which we may detect the seeds of baseball as we know it today, was distinct from the Massachusetts or New England Game, also called round ball or, with justice, simply “base ball,” a descriptive name that applies, in my view, to all games of bat and ball with bases that are run in the round—and thus not only to the New York Game but also to the versions played in Massachusetts, Philadelphia, and elsewhere.
If the Knickerbockers were not the first to play the New York Game, what clubs preceded them? Perhaps it was the Gymnastics and the Sons of Diagoras, clubs associated with Columbia College who played a game of “Bace” in 1805, which the former won by a score of 41–34. Perhaps it was the unnamed clubs that contested at Jones’ Retreat in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1823. It may have been the men of the Eagle Ball Club, organized in 1840 to play by rules similar if not identical to those of the KBBC. Or it may have been the Magnolia Ball Club or the New York Club, each of which played baseball among themselves at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken in the autumn of 1843 and, like Doc Adams’ medical fellows, had played in New York City before then.
So, it must be said, had many other men who would become Knickerbockers. They were playing ball at Madison Square and Murray Hill in the early 1840s. Charles A. Peverelly, in his Book of American Pastimes (1866), wrote:
At a preliminary meeting, it was suggested that as it was apparent they would soon be driven from Murray Hill, some suitable place should be obtained in New Jersey, where their stay could be permanent; accordingly, a day or two afterwards, enough to make a game assembled at Barclay street ferry, crossed over, marched up the road, prospecting for ground on each side, until they reached the Elysian Fields, where they “settled.” Thus it occurred that a party of gentlemen formed an organization, combining together health, recreation, and social enjoyment, which was the nucleus of the now great American game of Base Ball so popular in all parts of the United States, than which there is none more manly or more health-giving.
The Knickerbocker party of course did not wander about northern New Jersey looking for a place to play. They had been preceded by other clubs, both baseball and cricket, in selecting the Elysian Fields; proprietor Edwin Augustus Stevens (in conjunction with his brothers) had already donated the use of his grounds to the New York Cricket Club and the New York Yacht Club, and had offered liberal lease terms to the Magnolia and New York baseball clubs.
In this support of sport, Stevens was of course encouraging traffic to the Elysian Fields: he controlled the ferries as well as the resort, which included the Beacon Course, a horse-racing track opened in 1834. By encouraging play (and gambling) on his turf and along his waters he created a longstanding model for “traction magnates” to own baseball clubs. Of less interest to scholars have been the naming precedents from clubs in sports that captured the public fancy earlier than baseball, but these provide archaeological hints at how baseball developed within pre-established models.
Both the Knickerbocker and New York names were attached to boating clubs in the early years of the century. Rowing was America’s first modern sport, in that competitions were marked by record- keeping, prizes, and wagers, yet also provided spectator interest for those with no pecuniary interest. The first boat club to be organized in the United States was named the Knickerbocker, in 1811. As reported in the New-York Mirror of July 15, 1837, by boating veteran “Jacob Faithful,” who borrowed his nom de plume from an 1834 novel by Frederick Marryat:
This club suffered a suspension during the war [that of 1812], and for many years subsequently the boat which bore its name was hung up in the New-York Museum, as a model of the finest race-boat ever launched in this port. Subsequent attempts to revive the association fell through; and though many exertions to form new ones were made, yet the first effort that succeeded in establishing the clubs upon their present footing—viz., building their own boats, wearing a regular uniform, and observing rigid navy discipline, was made in the year 1830, by the owners of the barge Sea- drift, a club consisting of one hundred persons, which could boast of one no less distinguished in aquatick and sporting matters than Robert L. Stevens for its first president, with Ogden Hoffman, Charles L. Livingston, Robert Emmet, John Stevens, and other good men and true for his successors. To this club the rudder of the old Knickerbocker was bequeathed, with the archives thereto pertaining: nor was anything spared by the members, during the first years of their existence as a club, to give spirit to its doings.
Baseball historians, take note. Jacob Faithful was attempting to counter a recent assertion in the New York Evening Star that the Wave Club had been the first “to introduce the amusement.” The new organization of 1830 referenced above was named the “New York Boat Club.” The Knickerbocker Boat Club—whose very existence had already, by 1837, been cast into oblivion—did not disappear immediately after the War of 1812. It was still conducting boat races and theatrical benefits in 1820. For its celebrated race of November 1820 against the British-born boat builder John Chambers’ American Star, the Knickerbocker Club’s John Baptis built a replacement for his dry-docked Knickerbocker rowboat of 1811 and called it the New York. The New York was characterized in the press as “having the real Knickerbocker [i.e., American] stamp.”
Boat racing was nothing short of a craze in the 1820s and ’30s, as recalled by Colonel Thomas Picton in Spirit of the Times, July 7, 1883:
After them [the New York and American Star] came the Atalanta, manned by dry-goods clerks; the Seadrift, by bakers; the Neptune, by Fulton Market butchers; the Fairy, by law students; the Columbia and the Halcyon, by city collegians; the Water Witch, by engine runners; the Red Rover, by Ninth Ward firemen, and so on to the end of a miraculous chapter, utterly exhausting the catalogue of seagods, nereids and hamadryads, deified in pagan mythology. Boat-builders toiled night and day in the production of racing novelties, and one fair of the American Institute, appropriately held at Castle Garden, was almost entirely consecrated to specimens of their art, painted in all the colors of the rainbow, and in others, emanating from overtaxed imaginations, any man inventing a previously-unknown hue being tolerably certain of immediate canonization.
To my eyes, the boating craze, with its attachment of clubs to specific occupations and classes, parallels intriguingly the baseball craze of the 1850s and ’60s.
The New York Cricket Club that has come down in history was organized at McCarty’s Hotel (the Colonnade) in Hoboken on October 11, 1843, as an American- based answer to the St. George Cricket Club, which filled its playing ranks with English nationals. The first 12 members of the NYCC were drawn from the staff of William T. Porter’s Spirit of the Times, with elected members coming from the sporting set that swirled about that weekly journal, including Edward Clark, a lawyer; William Tylee Ranney, a celebrated painter who lived in Hoboken; and James F. Cuppaidge, an accountant who played as “Cuyp the bowler.” Some have speculated on a connection between the New York Cricket Club and the New York Base Ball Club, founded in the same year, but firm evidence has not yet emerged. Picton, the NYCC secretary, wrote in the Clipper: “The New York, with commendable foresight … established their grounds at Hoboken, to the rear of the Elysian Fields. For a couple of years they played upon a section of the domain of Mr. Edwin A. Stevens but subsequently they removed to a more spacious and accessible locality [the Fox Hill Cricket Ground], just beyond the upper end of the old race track [the Beacon, which closed after the 1845 season].”
The NYCC continued until 1873, but it had stood on the shoulders of earlier cricket clubs bearing the same name. A club of that name had formed in 1837, the same year as the Gotham or New York Base Ball Club, as referenced in the Wheaton reminiscences below. In 1838 it played a match with the Long Island Cricket Club for $500. One year later it played an anniversary match at its grounds on 42nd Street, near the Bloomingdale Road (today’s Broadway). Coexisting with the St. George Cricket Club for a while, ultimately the NYCC merged with it under the latter’s name, a move that inspired Porter to a nationalistic response in 1843.
According to Chadwick, a “New York Cricket Club” had been founded in 1808 at the Old Shakespeare in Nassau Street; it lasted but one year. But another one predated that by at least six years, meeting at the Bunch of Grapes, at No. 11 Nassau (corner of Cedar and Pine) in 1802. A bit of newspaper digging for this essay has revealed an even earlier New York Cricket Club, going back to 1788.
A New York Sporting Club for the preservation of game within city limits had been created in 1806. Members of the Hoboken Turtle Club—New York’s first club, founded at Fraunces Tavern at the corner of Broad and Pearl streets in 1796—were called to order in June 1820 for “Spoon Exercise.” In sum, the notion of a New York Club devoted to baseball did not arise from nothing.
Accordingly, a series of questions confronts us. If baseball was played by organized clubs prior to the Knickerbockers, which of these might lay fair claim to being the true first—that is, first to organize, first to draft rules for play, and first not only to play a match game but also to endure long enough to influence the game’s development? Reflect that the Knickerbockers are credited with playing the first match game, on June 19, 1846 … yet history has not accorded an equivalent laurel to their opponents, the New Yorks, who defeated the “pioneers” by a score of 23–1. If the Knicks could not defeat them on the field, however, they were more successful in eradicating them from the historical record, dismissing the victors as unfairly advantaged “cricketers” or, even worse, “disorganized,” a slap at any purposeful aggregation in the rising age of system.
Peverelly offered this capsule portrait of the New York Nine: “It appears that this was not an organized club, but merely a party of gentlemen who played together frequently, and styled themselves the New York Club.” Henry Chadwick, who may have fed Peverelly his line, had written in the Beadle Guide in 1860,”we shall not be far wrong if we award to the [Knickerbockers] the honor of being the pioneer of the present game of Base Ball.”
In fact, the New York Club not only preceded the Knickerbocker in every innovation cited above, but was also its progenitor. The process by which they became two separate clubs may not have been an altogether amicable split. The understanding of veteran baseball players at the turn of the 20th century was exceedingly hazy as to who had been a Knickerbocker and who a member of the New Yorks. A widely syndicated article by Albert G. Spalding (it appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal on April 1, 1905) announced the formation of an investigative body to examine the origins of baseball; this has come to be known as the Mills Commission. (This article was read by Abner Graves, who responded to the editor of the newspaper and lifted Abner Doubleday to inventor status.) Extracting from the materials he had received from Chadwick, Spalding named 11 men as Knickerbocker Base Ball Club founders, including: “Colonel James Lee, Dr. Ransom, Abraham Tucker, James Fisher, W. Vail, Alexander J. Cartwright, William R. Wheaton, Duncan F. Curry, E. R. Dupignac, Jr., William H. Tucker, and Daniel L. Adams.” The first four of these played with the New York or Gotham club, as did Wheaton and Tucker. The last named, Adams, did not join the Knickerbocker until one month after its founding.
Known as the New York or Gotham or Washington from the 1830s through the 1860s, these clubs were lineally the same, and appear to have gone by several names at the same time. The murky relationship between the original Gothams of 1837, the Washingtons, the New Yorks, the Knickerbockers, and the later Gothams may be summarized below.
Because they regarded themselves as the first organized club, the Gotham Club was also called the Washington. A matter of custom, this practice was said to denote that they were, like the father of our country, first. Another explanation, personally alluring but not yet proved, is that the Gotham’s alternative name referred to its origins with the influential merchant class—mostly butchers and produce brokers—of Washington Market, founded in 1812. Some of these men organized in 1818 as New York City’s first target company (for archery and riflery), which they named the Washington Market Chowder Club. It survived all the way through the Mexican War into the next decade. The Tribune reported on November 29, 1850:
Washington Market Chowder Club. A company bearing the above name, composed, we understand of the butchers of Washington Market, passed our office yesterday morning on a target excursion, accompanied by Dodsworth’s Band. They were very numerous, and fine looking body of men. And it would be indeed surprising that any company composed of butchers should be anything else than fine looking; that occupation embraces the most robust and hardy men in the city.
Many in the meat trade went on to become political wheeler-dealers and sporting men (not sportsmen), from Bill “the Butcher” Poole—whose father had been a Washington Market butcher before him, with his stand occupying the same place—to James McCloud, the butcher and pool-seller who facilitated the Louisville game-fixing scandal of 1877.
The weekly New York Illustrated offered a colorful capsule of the Washington Market in 1870:
Flour, meal, butter, eggs, cheese, meats, poultry, fish, cram the tall warehouses and rude sheds, teeming at the water’s edge, to their fullest capacity. Fruit-famed, vegetable-renowned Jersey pours four-fifths of its products into this lap of distributive commerce; the river- hugging counties above contribute their share, and car- loads come trundling in from the West to feed this perpetually hungry maw of the Empire City. The concentration of this great and stirring trade is to be met with at Washington Market. This vast wooden structure, with its numerous outbuildings and sheds, is an irregular and unsightly one, but presents a most novel and interesting scene within and without. The sheds are mainly devoted to smaller stands and smaller sales. Women with baskets of fish and tubs of tripe on their heads, lusty butcher-boys lugging halves and quarters of beef or mutton into their carts, pedlars of every description, etc., tend to amuse and bewilder at the same time. Some of the produce dealers and brokers, who occupy the little box-like shanties facing the market from the river, do a business almost as large as any of the neighboring merchants boasting their five-story warehouses.
At some point in the early 1840s the Gotham club was renamed the New York Ball Club, retaining most if not all of its Gotham members. The New Yorks then spun off the Knickerbockers, as Wheaton relates in the 1887 interview offered verbatim below. The Gotham, meanwhile, continued to play ball among themselves from 1845 to 1849, just as the Knickerbocker and Eagle clubs appear to have done. In 1850 those Gotham and New York members who had not attached to the Knickerbockers in Hoboken reconstituted themselves as, yet again, the Washingtons, playing at the Red House Grounds (“a most comfortable ‘asylum for distressed husbands,’” offered Spirit of the Times) at Second Avenue and 105th Street in New York.
In 1851 this Washington Base Ball Club challenged the Knickerbockers to match games that have been preserved in the historical record. In 1852 the club reverted to its old name of Gothams, “consolidating with” the Washingtons.
1. For a full discussion of these three individuals, see the present writer’s Baseball in the Garden of Eden (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011).
2. His degree from Yale is reported in an untitled article in the Connecticut Courant, August 24, 1835, 3. His medical degree is reported in “Harvard University,” The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, September 26, 1838, 127. His work as an attending physician in New York is reported in “New York Dispensary,” The New-York Spectator, February 27, 1840, 1.
3. “Dr. D. L. Adams; Memoirs of the Father of Base Ball; He Resides in New Haven and Retains an Interest in the Game,” The Sporting News, February 29, 1896, 3.
4. “How Baseball Began: A Member of the Gotham Club of Fifty Years Ago Tells About It,” anonymous journalist interviews William Rufus Wheaton, San Francisco Examiner, November 27, 1887, 14.
5. “City Intelligence,” New York Herald, March 2, 1857, 8; Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, 51–53.
6. New-York Evening Post, April 13, 1805, 3.
7. National Advocate, April 25, 1823, 2.
8. Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, 80–81.
9. Charles A. Peverelly, The Book of American Pastimes (New York: Published by the Author, 1866), 340.
10. Col. Thomas Picton, “Among the Cricketers,” Fun and Fancy in Old New York: Reminiscences of a Man About Town, ed.William L. Slout (San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 2007), 140.
11. New-York Mirror, July 15, 1837, 23.
14. Commercial Advertiser [from New-York Gazette of that morning], November 13, 1820, 2.
15. Cuyp Obituary, New York Herald, July 13, 1871. Also Picton, “The New York Cricket Club,” Fun and Fancy in Old New York, 133–143.
16. Picton, “Among the Cricketers,” Fun and Fancy in Old New York, 140.
17. Spirit of the Times, March 16, 1844, 37.
18. New-York Gazette, March 3, 1803.
19. New-York Morning Post, September 19, 1788. Also New-York Daily Gazette, April 20, 1789.
20. American Citizen, March 7, 1806.
21. Peverelly, The Book of American Pastimes, 342–343.
22. Henry Chadwick, Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player: A Compendium of the Game, etc. (New York: Irwin P. Beadle and Co., 1860), 6.
23. “The Military Spirit in New York. The Target Companies on Thanksgiving Day,” New York Weekly Herald, December 14, 1850, 397; also The Subterranean, October 25, 1845, 2.
24. New York Illustrated (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1870), 40–41.
25. Peverelly, The Book of American Pastimes, 346.
[Second part, of three, tomorrow.]
Peter Morris asked on Facebook: Does the name of the cat ball games derive from catapult, kaetzen, or something else? Are they of American, English, or other origin? I answered: Cat and dog was the primal ball game in England; the Scots say it was the progenitor of cricket. But those Scots will say things. Deriving from ancient fertility rites, the cat (a wooden spindle) represented the female principle–and the dog (a stick), the male–just as in cricket or baseball, where the ball is is a female symbol and the bat a male one. Kaat in Dutch means “ball.” An old Dutch hamlet five miles from my hometown of Catskill (Kaatskill, Kaaterskill) is named Kaatsbaan (Ballcourt), given its name because Indians played lacrosse here when the settlers came in. But I do go on.
Let’s try something new that could be fun and maybe even useful. I get a lot of questions about baseball, which may be unsurprising to you. I have been pleased to provide answers, lately on Twitter, and almost always on the fly–“pants pressed while u wait.” Sometimes I need to take a bit of a spin through my archives. And if I don’t know an answer or can’t quickly locate it in my files, I know who will; it is good to have so many clever colleagues in SABR, that “College of Baseball Knowledge.” I like posting odd facts and seldom seen images, too, as my Twitter followers and Facebook friends will have noticed.
Starting today, I will add a hashtag of #AskTheHistorian to such posts (and to my @thorn_john Twitter avatar). The intent is to encourage more questions and comments, and especially more dialogue. I like to talk baseball, and I suspect you do too.
Cramped replies on Twitter are sometimes unsatisfying; now and then I’d like to say a bit more. On such occasions I’ll expand upon my tweets with “The Rest of the Story” at Our Game, or ask that we move into a private conversation in email. Realtime chats might be down the road a bit.
What does this mean to my fellow tweeps, who have already posed such interesting questions? Keep ’em coming. To those who like this idea and would like to join in, I ask only that you genuinely wish to know something you don’t know already. The very best sort of question is, I think, “Where might I go to find this, on the web or in an archive?” or “Who is the expert in this field, and how might I reach him or her?”
Here’s just a sampling of the questions that have come my way in recent days:
Where did the lone survivor of the USS Maine baseball team come from?
Do you think Maury Wills belongs in the HOF?
Who had the lowest RBI/AB ratio ever?
What was Amos Rusie’s influence on the game?
Is this picture of Christy Mathewson really from 1911, as it is labeled?
What was the starting time of the first game played in New York by its NL club?
Did Babe Ruth truly save baseball after the Black Sox Scandal?
Do we know what the rationale was for walks being counted as hits in 1887?
Is Cool Papa Bell in this picture of the 1945 Kansas City Monarchs?
With the Chicago White Stockings playing ball in 1870, does that make the Cubs the oldest continuous major league franchise, or do the Atlanta Braves hold that record? Or the Cincinnati Reds?
Before going on MLB Network’s High Heat with Brian Kenny today I rummaged through a piece I wrote eight years ago that focused on the death of the triple. I noted the startling consistency of runs per game (measured by the totals of both teams) over more than a century–until 2014–and, similarly, the ratio of hits to runs, which also has undergone a tectonic-plate shift. I have, for your possible interest, updated my numbers to 2014. I also provide figures from the nadir of the deadball era (1908), the Year of the Hitter (1930), the Year of the Pitcher (1968), and the first year of Major League Baseball (1876). This table provides a handy guide, I believe, not only to how many runs were scored or how few, but how. The devil is in the detail.
Something is happening today that certainly bears watching, and may require action. I am reminded of the frog set in a pot of water which is then, unbothered, brought to a boil.
While run scoring is not yet as minimal as in 1908, we will not wish to test that rock. Let the numbers speak. Sabermetrics need not enter here.
1876: 0.15 per game
1908: 0.21 per game
1911: 0.40 per game
1930: 1.27 per game
1961: 1.90 per game
1968: 1.23 per game
2005: 2.06 per game
2014: 1.72 per game
1876: 0.70 per game
1908: 0.80 per game
1911: 1.06 per game
1930: 1.04 per game
1961: 0.53 per game
1968: 0.43 per game
2005: 0.37 per game
2014: 0.35 per game
1876: 2.43 per game
1908: 2.03 per game
1911: 2.61 per game
1930: 3.85 per game
1961: 2.78 per game
1968: 2.38 per game
2005: 3.65 per game
2014: 3.35 per game
1876: 17.25 per game
1908: 12.45 per game
1911: 13.59 per game
1930: 14.58 per game
1961: 12.31 per game
1968: 11.78 per game
2005: 12.02 per game
2014: 11.70 per game
1876: 12.01 per game
1908: 3.41 per game
1911: 3.66 per game
1930: 2.46 per game
1961: 1.82 per game
1968: 1.70 per game
2005: 1.22 per game
2014: 1.20 per game
1876: 1.29 per game
1908: 4.71 per game
1911: 6.34 per game
1930: 6.20 per game
1961: 6.92 per game
1968: 5.63 per game
2005: 6.26 per game
2014: 5.77 per game
1876: 2.27 per game
1908: 7.30 per game
1911: 7.98 per game
1930: 6.43 per game
1961: 10.45 per game
1968: 11.78 per game
2005: 12.61 per game
2014: 15.41 per game
1876: 11.79 per game
1908: 6.77 per game
1911: 9.03 per game
1930: 11.10 per game
1961: 9.05 per game
1968: 6.84 per game
2005: 9.18 per game
2014: 8.13 per game
This piece, like its predecessor, “I Dreamed I Saw Babe Ruth Last Night,” is from 2006. See: http://goo.gl/rJoorV. I was going to ask him, “What was the real story behind the famous called shot?” I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, but he laid it out plain for me anyway. Will we hear more from the Babe, or other fascinating figures from baseball’s past? I sure hope so. Once upon a distant time I did get a visit from Abner Doubleday. I will try to locate the audio cassette, but my office is a bit of a Granny’s Attic of trash and treasures, diamonds and dust.
As I suspected he might, George Herman Ruth paid me another nocturnal visit after Barry Bonds hit home run number 715 and consigned him to third place on the all-time list. I had questions ready for him, but he knew what he wanted to say and would brook no interruption from this mere mortal.
“You know, this Barry Bonds thing didn’t bother me a bit. Not before he hit 715, not now. Henry Aaron already had my record, and I didn’t exactly disappear after he passed me, did I? There will be others to come, too, maybe Alex Rodriguez or this Pujols kid. Folks are missing the point here: Henry wasn’t really chasing me, no more than Barry’s now chasing him. Barry is being chased — by Father Time, like I was.
“I was through as a ballplayer by 1934, when I thought I was 40 (later on somebody dug up my birth certificate and it turned out I was I was born a year later). I had 708 home runs by the end of that season, my last with the Yankees, and that was enough for me; the home run record had been mine since mid-1921, when I hit my 139th to pass Roger Connor. Oh, I could still hit better than most — I probably could have socked 800 home runs if that designated-hitter rule had been around, and I could have hit for a batting average of .600 if all I wanted was to be a dinky singles hitter like Cobb — but I couldn’t cover ground in the outfield any more. I wanted to stay in baseball more than I ever wanted anything in my life. But in 1935 there was no job for me, unless I agreed to play. That’s why I took to the field that one last time for the Boston Braves: I thought the deal was that if I brought the fans to the ballpark by playing every now and then, they’d name me the manager soon enough. Didn’t work out that way, though and, I’ve got to admit, it embittered me. I would sit by the phone, waiting for the call that never came.
“I hit six home runs in that spring of 1935, before I walked away. The final three came in the same game, at Pittsburgh in late May. I really caught that last one, number 714, sent it clear over the roof at Forbes Field, and no one had ever done that. Guy Bush was on the mound for the Pirates, the same pitcher that we’d just clobbered when he pitched for the Cubs in the last World Series I played in. Now I didn’t much like anyone on that Cubs team, the way they shortchanged Mark Koenig, who used to be our shortstop, and the way they razzed me. So when I hit this ball over the roof in Pittsburgh, it kinda tickled me that I hit it off Bush. In fact, I hit my second home run that day off him too, cause he was just a relief pitcher, on the skids in 1935 like I was. But as I hobbled around third base, I looked over there at him and he kind of looked at me. He tipped his cap, sort of to say, ‘I’ve seen everything now, Babe.’ I looked back at him and saluted and smiled. Let bygones be bygones, I say. I’ve got nothing against Bush, nor against Charlie Root, the Cubs pitcher when I called the shot.
“Aw, everybody knows that game — October 1, the third game of the 1932 World Series. But right now I want to settle all arguments: I didn’t exactly point to any one spot, like the flagpole. Anyway, I didn’t mean to. I just sorta waved at the whole fence, but that was foolish enough. All I wanted to do was give that thing a ride … outta the park … anywhere.
“I’d had a lot of trouble in ’32, and we weren’t any cinches to win that pennant, either, because Lefty Grove was trying to keep the Athletics up there for their fourth straight flag, and sometime in June I pulled a muscle in my right leg chasing a fly ball. I was on the bench about three weeks, and when I started to play again, I had to wear a rubber bandage from my hip to my knee. You know, the ol’ Babe wasn’t getting any younger and Jimmie Foxx was ahead of me in homers. I was eleven behind him early in September and never did catch up. I wouldn’t get one good ball a series to swing at. I remember one whole week when I’ll bet I was walked four times in every game. Believe me, Barry Bonds wasn’t the first one they pitched around.
“Anyway, we got into Chicago for the third game — we’d taken the first two in New York. They were in front of their home folks, and I guess they’d thought they better act tough: that’s where those Cubs decided to really get on us. Then in the very first inning I got a hold of one with two on and parked it in the stands for a three-run lead and that shut ’em up pretty well. But they came back with some runs and we were tied 4-4 going into the fifth frame.
“I told Hartnett, ‘If that bum, Root, throws me in here, I’ll hit it over the fence again.’ Gabby, didn’t answer, but those other guys were standing up in the dugout, cocky because they’d got four runs back and everybody hollering. So I just changed my mind. I took two strikes and after each one I held up my finger and said, ‘That’s one’ and ‘that’s two.’ Gabby could hear me. That’s when I waved to the fence.
“No, I didn’t point to any spot, but as long as I’d called the first two strikes on myself, I hadda go through with it. It was damned foolishness, sure, but I just felt like doing it, and I felt pretty sure Root would put one close enough for me to cut at, because I was showing him up.
“Gosh, that was a great feeling … getting a hold of that ball and I knew it was going someplace … yessir, you can feel it in your hands when you’ve laid wood on one. How that mob howled. Me? I just laughed … laughed to myself going around the bases and thinking, ‘You lucky bum … you lucky, lucky bum.’
“Yeah, it was silly. I was a blankety-blank fool. But I got away with it and after Lou Gehrig homered, behind me, their backs were broken. That was a day to talk about. In batting practice before the game, I had whacked out homer after homer. I hollered to some fans , ‘I’d play for half my salary if I could hit in this dump all the time.’ You see, Yankee Stadium wasn’t a slugger’s park for me or for Gehrig — we weren’t dead-pull hitters. I’ll tell you, I cried when they took me out of the Polo Grounds after 1922. That was some park. I’d hit only 9 home runs at Fenway my last year with the Red Sox, in 1919, with 20 more on the road, but when the Polo Grounds became my home park, I hit 29 of my 54 there, and 32 of 59 the next year.
“I hit my 60 home runs in 1927 — only 28 in Yankee Stadium — before many of the parks had been changed so as to favor the home-run hitter. I hit them into the same parks where, only a decade before, ten or twelve homers were good enough to win the league title. They said they livened up the ball for me, and some of the writers called it the jack-rabbit ball. Well, if they put some of the jack in it around the 1927 period, they put the entire rabbit into it in 1961 and at the same time shortened a lot of fences. And most of these new parks they’ve built recently are smaller than the ones they replaced, so I wasn’t surprised one bit when McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds blew past Roger Maris’s 61.
“But make no mistake about San Francisco. This new park may be better for hitters than Candlestick was (Willie Mays sure caught a bad break when the Giants moved there, just as fortune smiled on Aaron when the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta). But Pac Bell is still tough — no one except Barry consistently hits the long ball there.
“As to the lifetime mark, Henry has held it for 32 years now, since 1974. I held it for 53 years. If Barry wants to hit 756, he should copy what Henry and I did: we extended our careers by shifting leagues. I hit my last six in the National League, and Henry hit his last 20 in the American League.
“Take my advice, Barry. You cover the outfield now about as well as I did in 1935, which ain’t sayin’ much. And gee, it’s lonesome in the outfield. It’s hard to keep awake with nothing much to do, and then have to accelerate like a racecar when a ball is hit in your direction. Do what Henry did and what I wished I coulda done: become a DH.
“And I have just the place for you: Yankee Stadium. Wear the pinstripes — not next year but this summer. Waive your no-trade clause and reward the Giants by letting them get a prospect or two in a trade to New York. While you’re at it, get a two-year extension of your current contract from the Yankees, whose corner outfielders may not come back healthy this year.
“Do this, Barry, and you’ll win the World Series, which you’ve always wanted to do.”
And then I woke up.
I wrote this on May 10, 2006, as Barry Bonds was nearing Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714. Hadn’t given it a thought in the nearly eight years since until this morning. I was surprised and pleased to still like it. Maybe you will too.
I dreamed I saw Babe Ruth last night
Alive as you and me,
Says I “But Babe, you’re so long dead!”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.
Barry Bonds is at this writing closing in on Babe Ruth’s longtime record of 714 home runs, the last signpost on the rocky road to his ultimate destination, Henry Aaron’s mark of 755. By declaring that Major League Baseball would not commemorate Bonds’ 715th, whenever it came, as that would only create a new entrant into second place, Commissioner Bud Selig was not being unfair, but he may have been engaging in early-warning damage control. If performance-enhancing drugs are determined to have fueled the Giant star’s assault on the record books, the Commissioner will be sure to authorize a rather subdued celebration if and when he hits No. 756.
Last night as I drifted off to sleep, my mind was spinning about the journalists’ umbrage, the fans’ moralistic contempt, and the startling level of venom that follows Barry from one city to the next, as if Hitler were playing left field for San Francisco. What would the Babe feel about all this, I wondered? What would he say to Barry, and to you?
And in an instant, there he was, ready to reveal all without so much as a question from me.
“Hot as hell, ain’t it, kid? Hot for everybody in baseball, hot for the game itself. Sometimes I look down on all this hubbub and wonder whether anyone can come out of this all right. Me? I’m past reckoning with, but if I all I am today is that number, 714, then I sure made a mistake in the way I lived my life. Henry Aaron didn’t take anything away from me when he hit more home runs. He just achieved something great that was all his own, and he did it under terrible pressures that I never had to face. See, I’d had the home run record ever since 1921, when I hit my 139th, so 714 meant nothing to me except that it was the first ball to fly out of Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and the last I would hit as a big leaguer. Playing ball was a nonstop joyride for me, even with the fusses now and then with Judge Landis or Miller Huggins. My heartaches came earlier and later than my baseball days, that’s why I hate to see Barry trudging forward, having no fun when this should be the greatest time of his life.
“Looking back on my boyhood, I honestly don’t remember being aware of the difference between right and wrong. I was a bad kid. My parents tossed me into an orphanage in Baltimore — St. Mary’s Industrial Home — when I was seven and they never came to visit, not one Sunday in twelve years. Well, I guess I was just too big and ugly for anyone to come see me. It wasn’t until I signed a baseball contract with the Orioles that I left St. Mary’s, at age nineteen. Mind you, I’m not complaining about the school or the way the Xavierian Brothers treated me. Brother Matthias was the man who introduced me to baseball and gave me my life’s calling — though it wasn’t much compared to his, that’s for certain. What I became, what I had, what I left behind me — all this I owe to the game of baseball, without which I would have come out of St. Mary’s a tailor, and a pretty bad one, at that.
“Barry, you seem to have led a charmed life early, but maybe your troubles were just waiting for you to reach the top so that the tumble would be more bruising. I don’t know what you did that made you become so great a home run hitter in your late years, when all the rest of us players would be winding down. Life may begin at forty for people in other lines of work, but that’s where it ends, more or less, for the baseball player. For me, I knew it was time to quit when it started to feel as if all the baselines ran uphill. Maybe what you did to stay in peak condition wrinkled somebody’s nose, maybe it upset the Commissioner or broke some rule, or maybe you even broke the law. I did the same, in my own day and in my own way, so I’m not one to judge. We had a thing called the Volstead Act and I broke it every day until it was repealed. I’ll tell you, Barry, I admire your God-given ability, your work habits and conditioning (these were not exactly priorities for me), your dedication to being the best, and not letting the bastards get you down.
“When I was a ballplayer, if I made a home run every time I came to bat, the fans would think I was all right. If I didn’t, they thought they could call me anything they liked. They had vile mouths then, those bums in the stands, even worse than today’s boo-birds, and I charged in after them more than once I’m sorry to say.
“Barry, don’t ever forget two things I’m going to tell you. One, don’t believe everything that’s written about you. Two, don’t pick up too many checks. Even with today’s big paychecks, a guy could go broke. Oh, and I guess there’s a third thing: scallions. Flaxseed oil may be great stuff, but scallions are the sure cure for any batting slump.
“To the fans I would say baseball was, is, and always will be to me the best game in the world. It’s bigger than the players, the owners, and the fans. As I once said of Ty Cobb, who later became my friendly golf partner, you might say about Barry Bonds—that he is a *****. But he sure can hit. God Almighty, that man can hit. Give him his due.
“I’ve heard people say that the trouble with the world is that we haven’t enough great leaders. I think we haven’t enough great followers. I have stood side by side with great thinkers — surgeons, engineers, economists, men who deserve a great following — and have heard the crowd cheer me instead. If there’s a mess in baseball right now, you fans don’t exactly have clean hands. You wanted home runs from all spots up and down the lineup, and you cheered as the ballparks became smaller and the ballplayers grew larger. Didn’t some Boston writer once say, ‘Beware of what you want … you just might get it?’
“I honestly don’t know anybody who wanted to live more than I did. It was a driving wish that was always with me in those days after I left baseball, a wish that only a person who has been close to death can know and understand. It was hell to get older. But now I see that I get to live forever. Every home run recalls my name. I hope it will for Barry too, and Henry Aaron, and Maris, McGwire, Sosa, and more.”
And then Babe faded from view. I had more questions for him, about his own life, his legendary feats, how he thought he would fare as a player today, what his stats would look like. And I really wanted to know what he thought about baseball’s future, as a national pastime and an increasingly international one.
Maybe he’ll check in again after Bonds hits No. 715.
Thorn’s the name and baseball’s the game, certainly at this blog, now nearing 300 entries. But I confess to having written rather a lot about pro football, too, over the past 35 years, and loving the game. On this Super Bowl Sunday, I am thinking that some of you–even the most diehard of baseball fans, who see this day as a welcome milepost on the road to spring training–may enjoy knowing the origins of the Super Bowl, more distant than 1967. This essay appeared in The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book (Grand Central Publishing, 2012; http://goo.gl/87smeb).
Throughout the 1920s the National Football League was a single entity, without subordinate divisions or conferences. In this the NFL modeled itself on the rise of professional baseball’s league structure, going back to 1871, when the championship was decided by the best record in the league season. Baseball did not have a postseason championship contest until an upstart league in its third campaign, the American Association, challenged the National League to meet in a World Series in 1884.
In the NFL’s first decade, the number of clubs in a given season ranged from a high of 22 in 1926 to a low of 10 only three years later, with no requirement that clubs contending for the championship play an equal number of games. In 1928, for example, the Providence Steam Roller (8–1–2) was named the champion despite having played five fewer games than the Frankford Yellow Jackets (11–3–2). The NFL awarded its championship to the club with the highest winning percentage, disregarding ties—which were plentiful, as were the disputed titles.
But these were not the only issues threatening the continued existence of the NFL. After a brief flurry of prosperity in the wake of the Red Grange tour of 1925, which prompted the formation of a rival American Football League for the following season, pro football sank back into a morass of low-scoring thumb-twiddlers played largely by fly-by-night franchises in second-tier cities. In 1931, half of the league’s teams averaged less than seven points per game.
A relaxing of the substitution rules for 1932, allowing a replaced player to return in a subsequent quarter, failed to boost scoring. In 1932, NFL games averaged only 16.4 points for both teams. Of the 14 games played by the champion Chicago Bears that season, six ended in ties. By this time the league had franchises in New York, Brooklyn, and Boston, and two in Chicago—as well as that hardy ex-urban outlier, Green Bay—but it also had clubs in Staten Island and Portsmouth, Ohio. Along the way, franchises had failed in major cities such as Philadelphia, St. Louis, Detroit, and Cleveland, not to mention Akron, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Louisville, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Newark, Providence, and Toledo.
With the Depression settling in, it seemed that the prospects for professional football were growing dimmer with each passing year. The number of league clubs declined in each year between 1929 and 1932, until only eight teams lined up for play. Competitive imbalance left two-thirds of the NFL’s clubs to play out the string before the frost was on the punkin. The league had neither parity nor a plan for achieving it: the first draft of collegiate players would not come until 1936.
What saved the NFL was a series of happy accidents in the season finales of 1932 and 1933; the first was a playoff game to break a tie for the pennant, while the next was the league’s first championship game, the direct ancestor of our great national festival, the Super Bowl. Rules innovations born of desperation opened up the stodgy old game to the dormant capabilities of the forward pass; innovative play calling and increased scoring came to the rescue just as the lights were about to be shut off.
Coming into the 1932 season the Green Bay Packers, who had won the last three championships, were once again counted as the favorite. However, a midseason tie with the Bears and upset losses to the New York Giants and Portsmouth Spartans left them on the outside looking in despite their record, going into the final weekend, of 10–2–1. Portsmouth had already completed its schedule at 6–1–4, but the 5–1–6 Bears still had one more game to play and, with a win over the defending champions, could pull into a tie.
On December 11 the punchless Bears struggled to a 0–0 tie with the Packers through three snowy quarters in Chicago. In the final period, however, the Bears put up nine points to create the NFL’s first deadlocked season. Had the league compiled its standings then as it does now, and has since 1974—counting each tie as half a win and half a loss—the title would have gone to Green Bay with ten-and-one-half “wins” to Chicago’s nine and Portsmouth’s eight. But in 1932 ties were non-events.
The NFL had no policy for dealing with a season-ending tie for first place; in fact the league didn’t even handle scheduling—that was up to the teams themselves. The Bears and Spartans agreed to hold a showdown game at Chicago on December 18. But Sunday’s snow showed no sign of letting up as the days wore on and paralyzing cold gripped the city. It would be impossible to host the game at Wrigley Field even for the hardiest fans.
This was not to be a postseason championship game, but an additional regular-season game that would be counted in the standings. Whichever team lost would slip to third place behind the Packers!
George Halas, recalling a charity game that the Bears and Cardinals had played only two years before, suggested that the contest be moved indoors to Chicago Stadium. The Spartans, hoping for a change in the weather, waited to commit but on Friday finally relented.
This indoor facility, built in 1929 to host civic events, hockey games, boxing matches, and circuses, was not meant for football, at 45 yards wide and 80 yards long. Rounded corners further cut into the athletes’ space. With two half-moon end zones, the normal playing surface of 100 yards would somehow have to be shoehorned into 60. Bob Carroll observed:
A circus was scheduled into the stadium a few days later so a six-inch layer of dirt covered the floor. Apparently the dirt was recycled from an earlier circus; several of the players who appeared in the game insisted that years later they still had the smell of elephant manure in their nostrils.
Here necessity proved the mother of invention, as it had for the 1930 exhibition game. The ball was kicked off from the 10-yard line. Only one set of goalposts was used, and that was placed at the goal line, not at the end line. When a team crossed midfield, it immediately was set back twenty yards. Because the 12-foot-high hockey dasher boards surrounded the whole field only a few feet from the sidelines, the ball was moved in ten yards after each out-of-bounds play instead of starting the next play right at the edge, as was the normal practice. The offensive team sacrificed a down each time the ball was thus moved. College football, whose rules the NFL almost universally adopted, had legalized this use of “hash marks” a year earlier, but this was its first use in the pro game. Another special rule dictated that touchbacks were brought out to only the ten. Field goals were banned.
Portsmouth had been led all season by quarterback Dutch Clark, but he could not play in the playoff game because, anticipating a December 11 end to the NFL season, he had committed himself to coach basketball at his alma mater, Colorado College, which would permit no delay. Tailback Glenn Presnell picked up the slack, losing a certain touchdown on a fourth-and-goal play from the six-yard line when he slipped on the suspect turf.
The Bears were led by the veteran Red Grange, no longer elusive after injuries to his knees but still a heady runner, and Bronko Nagurski, a 238-pound fullback who trampled would-be tacklers with his head down and his knees pumping, as well as a fearsome linebacker. Although the Spartans had the best of play through three quarters and might well have jumped out on top had field goals been permitted, the score was—yet again in this dismal season for scoring—tied at 0–0. The 12,000 fans that had left their hearths for this indoor novelty game began to wonder why.
Then Chicago halfback Dick Nesbitt intercepted an Ace Gutowsky pass and returned it ten yards before being knocked out of bounds at the Portsmouth seven. The ball was brought into the field ten yards, costing the Bears a down. On second down, Nagurski burst through the line for six yards. On his next try, he lost a yard. Fourth and two! Nagurski faked a plunge into the line, retreated a few steps, and fired a jump pass to Grange for the go-ahead touchdown.
NFL rules allowed a forward pass only if it was thrown five or more yards behind the line of scrimmage. The Spartans protested that Nagurski had not stepped back far enough. The officials disagreed. The Bears added the conversion and, a few moments later, a safety.
Who emerged as the champion of this struggling eight-team league was not the central fact about this game. At their meeting in Pittsburgh in February 1933, NFL owners adopted three rules changes inspired by the playoff confines: (1) the ball was to be moved 10 yards in from the sideline after going out of bounds, without costing the offensive team a down, and hashmarks were placed on the field; (2) goalposts were moved from the end line to the goal line to increase scoring; and (3) a forward pass was allowed from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage, since the previous rule was observed largely in the breach.
These changes began to thaw the game from its defensive deep freeze, increasing scoring and cutting the number of ties in half. George Preston Marshall, owner of the Boston Braves (now the Washington Redskins), seeing that the playoff game of 1932 had won unprecedented coverage for the NFL, urged his fellow magnates to reorganize the league (restored to ten teams for 1933) into Eastern and Western Divisions, with a postseason championship game.
Soon wide-sweeping runs and passes would provide the points that power, endurance, and off-tackle runs had not; the tricky blocking schemes of the single wing soon would seem dowdy compared to the passing plays possible out of the T formation. The forward pass itself was not new. It had entered the game with the collegiate rule changes of 1906, designed to blunt the impact of mass-momentum plays and reduce injury. Brad Robinson, playing for St. Louis University coach Eddie Cochems, is said to have thrown the first legal pass in a September 5, 1906 game against Carroll College at Waukesha, Wisconsin. Notre Dame quarterback Gus Dorais, who is sometimes credited with this innovation himself, entered football lore with his passing exploits against Army in 1913, completing 14 of his 17 heaves of the oblate spheroid, many to end Knute Rockne, in an 35-13 upset victory.
The 1933 championship game, between the defending titlist Bears and the New York Giants, building upon the new rules, pointed the way to the NFL’s future. A razzle-dazzle display rarely if ever equaled since, it retains its status as one of the most exciting football games ever played.
Before the season the Giants, who ran a single-wing offense as did every other NFL club except the Bears, brought in triple-threat quarterback Harry Newman from the University of Michigan. From the dissolved Staten Island Stapletons, they added sturdy halfback Ken Strong. The Giants finished the regular season 11–3, first in the new Eastern Division. Newman, center Mel Hein, and end Red Badgro were named first team All-NFL. The daring Newman led the league in passes completed (53), passing yards (973), and touchdown passes (11), despite completing under 40 percent of his attempts. (The league average that year barely topped 35 percent; Sammy Baugh’s standard of accuracy was still a few years off.) Newman also led his team in rushing.
The Bears went 10–2–1 and won the Western Division, led again by Grange and Nagurski and a T-formation backfield in which everyone was a threat to throw the ball. Halfback Keith Molesworth, for example, threw more passes than quarterback Carl Brumbaugh. Speedy left end Bill Hewitt, who had caught passes from Harry Newman at Michigan, threw three touchdown passes off end-around plays. The Bears and Giants split their regular-season contests and looked to be evenly matched for the championship game, played on December 17 before 26,000 fans at Wrigley Field.
Expectations of a high-powered offensive display were foiled at the outset as the teams retreated to caveman football, each running the ball three times and punting on its first two possessions. Despite the liberalized passing rule, in 1933 it still borders on heresy to throw the ball inside your own 40-yard line. So teams will run and punt, run and punt—often kicking away on early downs—until a break comes along.
At last it did. Keith Molesworth, the Bears’ diminutive halfback, lofted a punt to Newman, who found a crack straight up the center and scooted to midfield. On third down, four yards to go, with the ball still at the left hashmark, the Giants lined up unbalanced to the right, with the left tackle Len Grant standing to the right of center Hein. Next came a surprise the Giants had cooked up especially for this game: in a simultaneous shift, left end Badgro pulled back from the line, wingback Dale Burnett stepped up alongside right end Ray Flaherty, and Newman moved in behind center, just as a T quarterback would. Thus Burnett became the right end, Flaherty was no longer an eligible receiver, Badgro became a back, and the left end was … Hein! This center-eligible play very nearly providedthe game’s first score, as Hein took a flip from Newman that traveled no more than six inches in the air and hid the ball under his jersey as he jogged downfield. But then he got nervous and began really to run. Hein was tackled short of the goal line, and instead Chicago broke out on top with a couple of Jack Manders field goals. In the second period Newman found Badgro for a ten-yard touchdown and the Giants led at the half, 7–6.
The game warmed up in the second half, as the Giants recorded another touchdown and Manders added a third field goal. Nagurski dusted off his jump pass from the indoor playoff completed a touchdown to Bill Karr. The score was still 16-14, Bears, when the third quarter came to an end with the Giants on the Chicago eight yard line. In this period alone, Newman completed 9 of 10 passes for 131 yards. To appreciate the magnitude of this aerial display, consider that for the entire season, fourteen games, he passed for only 69 yards per contest—and established a new pro record at that!
It is dawning upon those in attendance that this is a different sort of football.
On the first play of the final period, with the ball spotted at the right hashmark, the Giants lined up unbalanced to the right, a formation that seemed to indicate either a pass or an inside run. Yet, at the snap, Strong looped behind Newman, took a short pitch, and motored toward the left end. The play was slow to develop, however, and the right side of the Bear line closed off the outside. About to swallow a loss, Strong heaved an overhand lateral back across the field. Newman juggled the ball, then scrambled right, dodging tacklers while giving up ground to the 15. As the Bears focused their energies on corralling Newman, Strong drifted unaccompanied into the left portion of the end zone and waved for the ball. Newman heaved it nearly 50 yards across the field to Strong, who stumbled into the end zone. This sandlot hocus-pocus is pure inspiration, though in later years it will find its way into the Giants’ playbook (it will never work again). Strong provided the extra point, and the Giants went ahead 21-16.
The fans could scarcely believe what they were seeing.
Then, with most of the final period left to play, the Giants turned conservative in an effort to protect their lead. Time wound down until Strong shanked a punt that gave the Bears the ball barely inside New York territory. With less than two minutes remaining, Brumbaugh took the snap, faked a handoff to Grange, then slapped the ball into Nagurski’s belly. Bronko lowered his head, but instead of proceeding through the hole, he straightened up, leapt, and lobbed the ball to Hewitt some 10 yards downfield. Hewitt takes two steps, with Burnett on his heels. But before Hewitt could be thrown down he lateraled to Karr, who raced into the end zone. After the kick, the Bears led 23–21 with one minute to play.
Strong returned the kickoff to the Giants’ 40; a long field goal will win the game. Newman tried the center-eligible play that had bedeviled the Bears in the first period. It did not work.
Time for just one more desperation play. Returning to the single wing, Newman faked to Strong while Badgro and Flaherty ran patterns to the left side of the field. Then he flipped a little pass off to the right to halfback Burnett, who ran straight at Grange, playing some 20 yards off the line of scrimmage in a 1930s version of the “prevent” defense. Trailing alongside Burnett is Hein, undefended and ready to receive a lateral the moment Grange makes a move for Burnett. But Red looked in Burnett’s eyes, sensed his own dilemma and, with the instincts of a truly exceptional player, made what George Halas in years to come would describe as “the greatest defensive play I ever saw.” Grange tackled Burnett around the chest, pinning his arms so he could not flip the ball to Hein. Grange didn’t even try to bring Burnett down; he was content to lock him in a bear hug as Hein pled for the ball and time ran out. Whew!
The Bears have won the first NFL championship game, but the real victor is the league itself, which has shown the nation the brand of ball the pros can play. The college coaches will derisively call it basketball, but soon they will imitate it. The future of football has been glimpsed on this day.
Baseball, as with any other course of life, has had its share of death, degradation, and disappointment. For utter horror, however, the story of Marty Bergen, star catcher of the Boston Beaneaters, is unmatched in the annals of the sport. From the New York Clipper of January 27, 1900, below.
Bergen’s Terrible Act.
Martin Bergen, who, in a fit of temporary insanity, killed his wife and two children, and then committed suicide in his home at North Brookfield, Mass., Jan. 19, was one of the greatest, if not the best catcher of the present day. He was for several years a member of the Boston team. He lived with his family on a small farm, which he purchased a few years ago, and where he spent his Winters. His actions for some time past caused many persons to believe that he was a victim of mental derangement. In fact, his conduct during the past season fully confirmed this theory. He was of a moody disposition, and at times acted in a very eccentric manner. When in one of these spells he would imagine his fellow players were working against him, and would go for days without speaking to any of them. He caused much unpleasantness on the team last Summer, but was such a valuable man that the management patiently bore with him. His idiosyncrasies were also shown at home. His wife, who was formerly Miss Harriet Gaines, of Pittsfield, whom he married about seven years ago, tried in vain to humor him. The catcher evidently arose early on the fatal morning, and was making preparations for a fire in the kitchen stove. His wife and children were asleep in an adjoining room. Without lighting the fire he went into the bedroom and with an axe struck his wife blow upon blow, on the head. Evidently she had raised partly to defend herself, and was half out of bed when struck again, and dropped dead.
The three year old son, Joseph, who had arisen and started across the room, was struck a blow upon the head and killed. His daughter, Florence, six years old, ran into the kitchen, and her father followed her there and killed her, too. Then Bergen obtained a razor, stood before a mirror, and drew the blade across his throat, almost severing his head from the body. Not long after the tragedy Michael Bergen, father of the catcher, knocked at the door, but got no answer. He returned to his home, and again visited his son’s farm about noon. The curtains were still drawn, and finding the door unlocked the aged man entered, and beheld the horrible spectacle. He aroused the neighborhood.
When Bergen some years ago was playing with the Kansas City team, of the Western League, he acted queerly. He would leave his team without permission, and repeated this action after he became a member of the Boston team. He would leave the latter periodically without saying a word to anyone, and then return to duty when fancy led him back. This eccentric behavior was attributed to homesickness. Always in returning he would walk into the grounds fifteen or twenty minutes before the game began, nod in a friendly way to the gatekeeper and to anyone near the gate, and proceed to the dressing room, whence he would go upon the field ready to play. Finally he fancied the play-ers did not like him and complained to Manager Selee, that they tried to avoid him. When the Bostons were on their way to Cincinnati, last July, he left the team at Washington, his absence not being noticed until the trained had started. He returned to his home at North Brookfield and took no notice of the summons of Mr. Selee to join the team at once. Clarke did the catching on that trip, and had anything happened to him the team would have been badly crippled. Bergen then visited President Soden, of the Boston Club, and stated his grievance to him, but the latter informed the player that it was all nonsense to think that the players had any but the most kindly feeling toward him.
When the team returned to Boston in August, Bergen resumed his place on the nine, and received one of the greatest demonstrations ever witnessed on a ball field. The other players declared they would not put on their uniforms unless Bergen apologized, but diplomacy was used and the matter was smoothed over. From that time, however, the harmony essential to pennant winning was lost, and the Bostons finished second in the championship race. His fellow players feared him. Captain Duffy more than once said that he was afraid Bergen would attack him with a bat. The eccentric catcher had said in the dressing room that after the season ended he would like to take a bat and drub some of the men severely.
Bergen was born Oct. 25, 1871, at West Brookfield, and stood 5 ft. 11 in. in height, and weighed, when in playing condition, about 170 lb. It was Manager Louis Bacon who started him on his professional career, which eventually landed him with one of the greatest ball teams the country had ever produced, and he soon showed himself well able to travel in the company he was with. Manager Bacon was handling the Salem team, of the New England League, in 1892, and was in need of a catcher, when Bergen applied for a chance to show what he could do. Bacon put him behind the bat, and the newcomer acquitted himself so well that he caught in almost every game the team played from that time until the end of the season, participating in all of fifty-nine championship contests.
He began the season of 1893 with the Wilkes Barre team, of the Eastern League, was shortly afterwards sold to the Pittsburg Club, of the National League and American Association, but he was not given a fair chance to demonstrate his work behind the bat, nor did he participate in enough championship games to get into the official averages. In 1894 he sought an engagement nearer home, and easily found one with the Lewiston Club, of the New England League. That season he participated in ninety-eight championship contests, and ranked thirteenth in the official batting averages of that organization. Notwithstanding his excellent work that season there was no particular effort made by any of the New England League clubs to sign him for the following season, but he was highly recommended to James H. Manning, of the Kansas City team, of the Western League, who signed him for the season of 1895, and during that campaign he participated in one hundred and thirteen championship games, and ranked sixteenth in the official batting averages of that organization. On the Boston’s last Western trip that Fall, Pitcher Charley Nichols made a flying trip to his home at Kansas City, and not only saw Bergen catch in two games, but pitched to him himself, and reported to Manager Selee, of the Boston team, the advisability of obtaining his release without delay. Nichols said that Bergen was abundantly able to hold his delivery.
It is seldom that Manager Manning recommends a player, and when he does it means that the man is of sterling worth. He recommended Bergen unhesitatingly, and in the latter part of September, 1895, Bergen signed a Boston contract, the latter club giving [shortstop Frank] Connaughton and $1,000 to Kansas City for his release. Although not in the best of form during the season of 1896, he participated in sixty-two championship games with the Boston team, and gave every evidence of becoming one of the greatest catchers in the professional ranks. He had been Boston’s mainstay behind the bat ever since. In 1897 he participated in eighty-three championship contests, in all of which he played behind the bat. Warner, of the New Yorks, and Wilson, of the Louisvilles, were the only other two men who caught in more championship games than did Bergen. During the season of 1898 he caught in one hundred and nineteen championship games, a greater number than any other catcher in the major league. Last season he participated in seventy-one championship contests, all of which he played behind the bat. He handled himself gracefully behind the bat, threw with wonderful speed and accuracy, and was when he felt like it a close student of the game.
Connie Mack, manager of the Milwaukee team, and William Hamilton, the centre fielder of the Bostons, were the only professional players present at the funeral of Bergen Jan. 28. The reason given for the non-appearance of other members of the Boston team was that it was expected the funeral would take place on Sunday. Only one floral token was received, and that came from a newspaper friend. The pall bearers were young men who had played with Bergen before he acquired fame on the diamond and three of the present generation of youngsters. The ceremony at the church was very brief and a few words suitable to the occasion were spoken.
When Sol White was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, he had no known descendants. I concluded an earlier column in this space [http://goo.gl/PoQZDl], about the dedication of Sol White’s grave marker, with: “While no family came to Sol’s aid in his last years, his burial record listed his marital state as “separated” … so further research may yet reveal whether he was survived at death by his wife or any children.” Talking about this state of affairs on that day with baseball historian Jim Overmyer, I was hoping that he would pick up the baton. He did [http://goo.gl/Hhg1V8], finding a Marian Ewell who may have been Sol White’s daughter. Stating the need for continued research, he concluded his story with these words: “Stay tuned.” Here Jim Overmyer buttons up the tale.
When “Our Game” reported last summer on the quest to find out more about the life of black baseball lifer Sol White, a player, manager and journalist who left many words on early blackball, but practically no information about himself, the search for surviving family had hit a wall. A likely daughter, Marian White Ewell, Sol’s only child who lived to adulthood, was recorded as having died in Pittsburgh in 1992. Solid information about her family was sorely lacking. When White was inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, no living relatives could be found to accept his plaque from Commissioner Selig.
But recent Internet sleuthing and that move that seals many a deal, a phone call, has solved the White family mystery. Recently the genealogical website Ancestry.com added another set of records to its voluminous collection, Pennsylvania death certificates from 1906 through 1963. White’s estranged wife Florence, born in 1887, had passed in 1962, and her death certificate was in the collection. Other than to offer another confirmation that she was Marian Ewell’s mother, the certificate didn’t do anything directly to advance the search for living White descendants. Except, that is, for the notation that Florence’s burial was in the Merion Memorial Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, a Philadelphia suburb
If Florence White was buried in Merion, perhaps it was in a family plot, and if so, perhaps her daughter was interred there, also. A call to the cemetery office was answered by an extreme helpful fellow who after a short search was able to find that Marian, as well as her husband Charles, was buried there, also. This, of course, still brought the search no closer to Sol White’s living relatives, unless the next question, the jackpot one, got the right answer.
The question was, “Is there anyone recorded as next of kin for Marian Ewell?” The answer was yes, a nephew, William E. Edmondson of Bethel Park, PA, a Pittsburgh suburb. Mr. Edmondson, when telephoned, proved to be a friendly retired educator, more than happy to tell what he knew. Marian and Charles Ewell had no children, and when Charles died in 1969 the Edmondson family looked after Marian, even after they moved from near Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in 1980. (It turned out that Marian never left Philadelphia — the Pittsburgh listing of her place of death in the Social Security Death Index, a database that shows when a recipient received his or her last check, was instead the city in which Mr. Edmondson reported her passing to the Social Security Administration when he got home from the funeral).
He remembered her well, as his family’s “favorite aunt,” and recalled her saying many times that her father “was a baseball player.” The details of Sol White’s Hall-worthy career were news to him, but he was interested in hearing them.
Mr. Edmondson is related to Charles Ewell’s side of the family, so he and his several children and grandchildren are not direct descendants of Sol White. It’s pretty clear that Marian Ewell was the last of those.
You might ask just why so much effort was spent on this search. The black journalist Alvin Moses linked White with fellow Hall of Famer John Henry Lloyd in a 1936 column that implored fans “to make sure that their old age won’t be spent among folk who’ll never try to understand them and might be cruel to them.” Lloyd never had that problem, spending his post-baseball years as a community icon in his adopted home of Atlantic City, NJ. The city built a community baseball stadium and named it after him in 1948, and his name is still remembered among the older generations of the city’s African American community.
But exactly what Moses was afraid of happened to Sol White. He spent his last years warehoused in a New York state mental hospital. He was buried in an unmarked grave until the Society for American Baseball Research’s Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project provided a headstone in May 2014. It’s hoped that the people at the Central Islip State Hospital weren’t cruel to Sol, but they definitely didn’t understand what he had done. The folks who have spent the last six months searching for Sol White have tried to make his life history as whole as possible, to honor his memory.
This fine article by Rob Edelman appeared in Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game (2013, Volume 7). I have edited this journal continuously since its debut in the Spring of 2007, except for one issue headed by Peter Morris. Edelman, with his delightful interest in the extensions of baseball into popular culture and media, has been perhaps our most prolific contributor. He is the author of Great Baseball Films and Baseball on the Web. His books also include Meet the Mertzes, a double-biography of I Love Lucy’s Vivian Vance and fabled baseball fan William Frawley, coauthored with Rob’s wife, Audrey Kupferberg. His byline has appeared in Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond, Total Baseball, Baseball in the Classroom: Teaching America’s National Pastime, and dozens of other books. He has been a juror at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s annual film festival. He is a lecturer at the University at Albany, where he teaches courses in film history.
ABSTRACT: Eadweard Muybridge is a pivotal figure in the evolution of moving image technology in that he was the first to employ photography in a comprehensive study of the dynamics of motion. Beginning in 1884 and working at the University of Pennsylvania, Muybridge took thousands of images of humans and animals in motion, with each subject consecutively photographed by 12 cameras. Some were college baseball players; as a result, Muybridge created split-second-long moving images of ballplayers pitching, batting, catching, throwing, and running.
Aficionados of 19th century photography, early motion pictures—and baseball—surely will be captivated by certain still photos and moving images that populate the internet. Google the words “Muybridge” and “baseball,” and you will come up with websites featuring photographic images, dating from the 1880s, that undoubtedly galled those who embraced the era’s Victorian reserve. These images are of young males sans clothing, and who are depicted pitching, batting, catching, throwing, running and picking up a ball, and catching and dropping a ball.
The “Muybridge” in question is Eadweard Muybridge, a seminal figure in the history of the moving image in that he was the first to employ photography in a comprehensive study of the dynamics of motion. Simply put, Muybridge made a series of still photographs of his subjects. He then laid them out in chronological order to produce what in essence were moving images, which could be studied to determine the nature of motion. In so doing, Muybridge was creating a kind of motion picture several years before the actual invention of motion picture technology.
Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge in 1830 in Kingston upon Thames, England. He came to the United States in the early 1850s, worked in the publishing and book-selling industries, and returned home at decade’s end. While in England, he became intrigued by still photography and soon came back to the United States. He eventually settled in California and, by 1867, he was calling himself “Eadweard Muybridge” and describing himself as an “artist-photographer.” In subsequent years, he took countless landscape photos; one of his most successful projects was a series, titled Scenery of the Yosemite Valley, which was published in 1868.
A prime assignment for Muybridge came in 1872 when Leland Stanford, the railroad tycoon and former governor of California, hired him to photograph a horse while trotting. It was Stanford’s belief that, when a horse trots, all four of his hooves are off the ground and in the air in certain moments: a hypothesis that only could be conclusively proven by capturing images that otherwise are imperceptible to the naked eye. Stanford had in fact placed a $25,000 bet that this was true, and hired Muybridge to help him win the wager. Muybridge’s initial photographs—the first-ever lateral images of a trotting horse—were inconclusive, but a different set he made soon afterward convinced Stanford that his theory was correct.
By this time, Muybridge no longer was content merely to photograph scenery or other still images. He became fascinated by the possibilities of serial photography, of creating groups of still images which gave the appearance of movement when placed side-by-side or in a circular fashion. With the financial support of Stanford, he began a series of experiments in which he photographed animals in motion. This project was stalled when he was arrested, tried, and acquitted for the 1874 murder of Major Harry Larkyns, who was having an affair with his wife, Flora. However, Muybridge returned to his experimentation in earnest three years later.
His accomplishments at this juncture included the development of a camera shutter that allowed him to photograph each image in a fraction of a second. He also lined up 12 still cameras, each with an electromagnetic shutter, to consecutively photograph trotting horses in sequence—and then repeated the experiment, only this time with twice as many cameras. The resulting images, which illustrated the horses’ movements in exacting detail, were extensively printed in a range of periodicals—and brought Muybridge international acclaim. Furthermore, he concocted what came to be known as the zoopraxiscope: a device that may be the first-ever projector of images in motion. The zoopraxiscope projected onto a lighted screen a succession of still images that were affixed to slides, which then were placed on spinning glass disks. Each image depicted the subject in motion in split-second intervals, resulting in a repetitive moving image.
And then, beginning in 1884 and working at the University of Pennsylvania, Muybridge took between 20,000 and 100,000 photographs—accounts of the exact number differ greatly—of humans and animals in motion. He enhanced his image-making methodology by employing the newly available dry plate (or gelatin) technology, which simplified the photographic process. Representative images from this landmark effort were printed in Animal Locomotion (the complete title is Animal Locomotion: An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements) published in 1887 “under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania.” Each subject was photographed by 12 cameras, and it is noted in the prospectus for Animal Locomotion that “the complete movement” of each was “accomplished in about one and a half seconds.” Additionally, the images “are reproduced from the original negatives by the photo-gelatine [sic] process of printing, without any attempt having been made to improve their pictorial effect, either in outline or detail; or to conceal their imperfections.”
Of the 781 images in Animal Locomotion, 16 relate to baseball. Their plate numbers are 273–288. The first is labeled “Base-ball; pitching.” Five are “Base-ball; batting.” One is “Base-ball; batting (low ball).” One is “Base-ball; catching.” Five are “Base-ball; catching and throwing.” One is “Base-ball; throwing.” One is: “Base-ball; running and picking up ball.” The final plate is “Base-ball; error.”
All the models are identified only by three different numbers: 25, 26, and 30. According to the prospectus, the “greater number of [human models] engaged in walking, running, jumping, and other athletic games are students or graduates of The University of Pennsylvania—young men aged from eighteen to twenty-four—each one of whom has a well-earned record in the particular feat selected for illustration.” With this in mind, the most likely “baseball models” are in fact ballplayers. The most noteworthy is Thomas Love Latta (1865–1961), a catcher and captain of the varsity nine. The other two are Robert Edward Glendinning (1867–1936) and Morris Hacker Jr. (1866–1947).
Other sports are featured in the volume, with models rowing, kicking a football, tossing a spear, playing lawn tennis, performing a somersault, and swinging a different kind of bat—this one used to play cricket. Two men box, while two others fence. Other types of physical activities are featured, with models walking, climbing up and down, turning, curtsying, hopping, dancing, sitting, kneeling, or performing such simple tasks as emptying a basin of water, dropping and lifting a handkerchief, getting into and out of a hammock, making a bed, feeding a dog, and washing, wringing, and ironing clothes.
Physically disabled individuals are photographed. Blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, farmers, miners, and bricklayers are shown plying their trades. A wide range of animals and birds are presented in motion, from baboons and buffalo to dogs and deer to goats and gnus to hawks, vultures, cockatoos, pigeons, eagles, storks. Not surprisingly, a great number of horses—saddled and unsaddled, with and without riders—are represented.
It was noted in an article printed in 1886 in The Pennsylvanian, the university’s student publication, that “all the prominent University athletes, men and women in the various operations of every-day life, and almost every representative animal in the Zoological Garden, have been caught by the camera in every conceivable posture and active motion.” But clearly, the images of athletes were the most appealing. As proof that ballplayers held the same fascination in the 1880s as they do today, the paper added that
… the part most interesting to University men is the delineation of the athletic sports, foot-ball and base-ball, running, jumping, vaulting and wrestling. Nearly every well-known University athlete of the past two or three years has served as a model in the nude, many of them showing magnificent physiques, and exhibiting exquisitely the play of every muscle. The facial expressions in successive intervals of some feat of skill and strength, is a study in itself.
Of the images taken of a ballplayer catching and dropping a ball, The Pennsylvanian quoted Muybridge: “See how curiously … and yet how perfectly, this plate illustrates the occurrence of an error in catching.” The publication continued, “True enough. In the successive pictures the ball is muffed, strikes the player’s thigh, runs up under his arm and across his back, while he is looking eagerly on the wrong side for it.”
At the very least, Animal Locomotion served to redefine the movement of living things, not to mention the manner in which this movement was recreated in paintings and sculpture. And then, at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, visitors paid an admission fee to view Muybridge’s moving images. He also offered talks on his work and published a monograph, the complete title of which is Descriptive Zoopraxography; or, The Science of Animal Locomotion Made Popular, which was available “as a memento of a series of lectures given by the author under the auspices of the United States Government Bureau of Education at the World’s Columbian Exposition, in Zoopraxographical Hall, 1893.” In its preface, it is noted that the zoopraxiscope “is set in motion, and a reproduction of the original movements of life is distinctly visible to the audience…. By this method of analysis and synthesis the eye is taught how to observe and to distinguish the difference between a true and a false impression of animal movements.” But animals are not the sole living creatures featured in Descriptive Zoopraxography.
The reproduced images are drawings, rather than photographs. One is of a ballplayer swinging a bat. For the sake of propriety, this hitter is clothed. Muybridge eventually returned to England, where he passed away in Kingston upon Thames in 1904—just as the motion picture was beginning to advance beyond its baby steps. Nonetheless, his place in the history of moving image technology is secure. For after all, before such pioneers as Thomas A. Edison, W.K.L. Dickson, and Auguste and Louis Lumière, there is Eadweard Muybridge. Before the earliest baseball films—the 50-foot-long The Ball Game, 1898 (http://goo.gl/OrlJns), for example, or Casey at the Bat, 1899 (http://goo.gl/r9Z2su), which runs the same length—there are Muybridge’s ever-so-brief moving images that are labeled “Base-ball; pitching,” “Base-ball; batting” (http://goo.gl/xvwAv9), “Base-ball; catching and throwing” (http://goo.gl/AVMGsf), and “Base-ball; error” (http://goo.gl/1wAt49).