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Fame & Fandom

Hilda Chester

Hilda Chester

A hall of fame for fans may well be a great notion, with attendant creative and commercial possibilities, for it reflects the thinking behind that institution on Cooperstown’s Main Street, the Baseball Hall of Fame. Dedicated in 1939, baseball’s shrine was not the nation’s first Hall of Fame, despite the nearly universal impression that it was: Its inspiration was the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, created on a New York University campus in 1901 to honor men and women who had achieved greatness in any of 16 categories. Yet in the media age ushered in by radio and the talkies, missionaries and explorers were no longer our idols. Athletes were, but they couldn’t enter the Hall of Fame unless they bought a ticket. While Hilda Chester’s cowbell, which assaulted tender ears and sensibilities at Ebbets Field, or Freddy Schuman’s frying pan, which has had a similar effect at Yankee Stadium in recent years, might make it into a Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit, neither Hilda nor Freddy would ever be inducted. They have been denied the 21st century’s inalienable right to immortality, just as athletes once were. If in the metastasizing spread of celebrity there are halls of fame for policemen (Miami Beach), businessmen (Chicago), and clowns (Delavan, Wisc.), why not a shrine for fans?

When baseball arose as a game for spectators as well as players in the late 1850s, originally the watchers were non-playing members of the opposing clubs, sometimes their lady companions, a motley passel of players from other clubs, and the inevitable gamblers and rowdies. As the game grew and professional leagues were formed, the civic attachment grew in intensity, to the point that by 1897, The New York Times stated that “local patriotism is at the bottom of the business which baseball has come to be.”

Lolly Hopkins

Lolly Hopkins

Baseball devotees came to be known as “cranks.” While this term may first have been applied to Charles J. Guiteau, in 1881 the crazed assassin of President Garfield, it immediately drifted over to those afflicted by baseball madness. Sometimes printed as “krank,” the word derives from the German for “sick” as well as the British dialect meaning of “cranky”: feeble-minded. By the dawn of the 20th century, “fan” – whether short for “fanatic” or synecdoche for the flapping tongues of self-proclaimed experts – continued in this vein, labeling grownups who were crazy about a children’s game as, well, nuts. (Devotees of statistics were “figure filberts.”)

Discounting the certifiably lunatic – Thomas J. Murphy, who in 1883 shot Providence outfielder Cliff Carroll; Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who shot Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus in 1949; Cleveland druggist Charley Lupica, who in ’49 perched atop a flagpole until the Indians repeated as pennant winners (they didn’t, and he came down) – some of the game’s most famous fans, the ones most likely to be inducted one day into the Baseball Fan Hall of Fame, have been the sweetly demented or obnoxiously loud, the relentless narcissist or the disquietingly perky wallflower. Lolly Hopkins of Boston used a megaphone to rally her charges in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s; Mary Ott of St. Louis in the ’40s didn’t need one. Neither, at the turn of the last century, did the leather-lunged Arthur “Hi-Hi” Dixwell of Boston or the booming Frank Wood of the Polo Grounds, immortalized in the Zane Grey story titled with his nickname, “Old Well-Well.” (See: http://goo.gl/yPlm4B.)

DeWolf Hopper

DeWolf Hopper

Actors Digby Bell and DeWolf Hopper (the latter famous for his 10,000 recitations of “Casey at the Bat”) and songwriter Harry Ruby ingratiated themselves with the players and even donned uniforms during pregame drills, but they were celebrities who became fans rather than fans who became celebrities. This is probably a useful distinction, enabling us to whiz by Mark Twain, Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Jerry Seinfeld, Donald Sutherland, and Bill Murray. Ben Affleck has been such an egregious and ubiquitous Sox-sniffer that in September 2005, when artist Daniel Edwards exhibited an ironic “death mask” of Ted Williams’s cryogenically frozen and severed head at the First Street Gallery in New York, he titled the assemblage “The Ben Affleck 2004 World Series Collection presents The Ted Williams Memorial Display.”

The most affecting fan tale of late has been that of “Doris from Rego Park” (a working-class neighborhood in Queens), whose cough-wracked voice on WFAN inspired a fan base of its own. Doris Bauer loved the Mets in part because she had little else to root for. She struggled with neurofibromatosis and “social autism,” according to her brother Harold. Doris would set her alarm every morning for 1:00 a.m. to call into the sports-radio show and offer balanced, expert views of her beloved if frustrating team. As her brother told The New York Times, she never drove a car, dated, or married, living instead with her Holocaust-survivor parents until she succumbed to cancer in 2003 at 58.

For a century and a half, many people for whom “real life” was riddled with terror have derived comfort and satisfaction from the order, regularity, justice, and balance of baseball. Fans like Doris from Rego Park, gentle souls who found a home in baseball and a way to live in the world, deserve recognition, honor, maybe even a Hall of Fame. Talk radio made a star of Doris; blogs and other self-published baseball writings have done the same for others.

Boston Red Sox royal rooters, 1912

Boston’s Royal Rooters, 1912 World Series

Fanship has changed in other ways, too, from how we root to – more dangerously for the genus fan and perhaps baseball and the larger culture – why we root, Red Sox Nation notwithstanding. Fantasy baseball has fostered attachment to and investment in the performance of players who belong to no earthly franchise, only to a team of one’s own devise. Where fans once dreamed of being players, today they dream of being general managers or owners.

TOP TENS

The order below is faintheartedly alphabetical; rank ’em as ye will. 

FANS OF FAME

Steve Bartman: his reach for a foul ball exceeded his grasp; it might have been caught by the Cubs left fielder.

Doris Bauer: the raspy-voiced “Doris from Rego Park” came to have a fan base all her own as a caller to WFAN.

Hilda Chester: with her shrill voice and cow bell, Hilda was Noise Incarnate; her favorite phrase was “Eatcha heart out, ya bum.”

Lib Dooley: daughter of Jack Dooley, who himself saw thousands of Boston games, she was a fixture at Fenway from 1944 to 2000.

Wild Bill Hagy: a Baltimore area cab driver who contorted his body to spell out “O-R-I-O-L-E-S,” notably atop the dugout in the1979 World Series

Barry Halper: he began collecting memorabilia as a boy in Newark in the 1940s, eventually amassing a collection nearly the equal of Cooperstown’s.

Nuf Ced McGreevey: a no-nonsense saloonkeeper whose love of the Red Sox is captured in a priceless collection at the Boston Public Library.

Dr. James Penniman: he tried to convince Connie Mack to adopt designated hitters for pitcher and catcher, and a game of four outs and seven innings..

Sam Siannis: the man behind the “Billy Goat Curse” bedeviling the Cubs, originating when he and his pet goat were barred from their box seats in the 1945 World Series.

Frank B. Wood: “Well, Well, Well,” he would boom whenever something went amiss at the Polo Grounds around 1900; became the protagonist of a Zane Grey story.

FIVE NEAR MISSES: Seymour R. Church, Arthur “Hi-Hi”Dixwell, Charles “Victory” Faust, Lolly Hopkins, Ernest Thayer

THE FAMED WHO WERE FANS

Louis Armstrong: Satchmo loved the game so much that he sponsored his own ball team, “Armstrong’s Secret 9,” in New Orleans in 1931.

DeWolf Hopper: the first to recite “Casey at the Bat,” in August 1888, he went on to record it on wax and in a motion picture.

Marianne Moore: Dodgers fan and, oh yes, poet (“Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese”), she somehow became a Yankees fan in 1958.

Stephen King: a Red Sox fan before he was famous and after, he put Tom Gordon into one of his books and with Stewart O’Nan wrote a paean to the 2004 season

Bill Murray: owned a few minor-league baseball teams; as for SNL’s Chico Escuela, beisbol been very, very good for him.

Richard Nixon: many presidents liked the game, from Wilson to Eisenhower to Reagan, but none knew the game as he did.

Harry Ruby: most fanatic of show-biz fans, the songwriter was allowed to play in four official minor-league games with Hollywood and L.A.

John L. Sullivan: the Great John L. was a competent ball-tosser who did not embarrass himself pitching in benefit games with pro clubs.

Mark Twain: Rumored to be the financial backer of the 1887 Hartford team; wrote baseball scene into A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Walt Whitman: briefly covered the game for the Brooklyn Eagle, mentioned it in Leaves of Grass, and in 1888 declared, “Base ball is our game, the American game.”

FIVE NEAR MISSES: Kevin Costner, Bing Crosby, Billy Crystal, William Frawley, Penny Marshall

Cats kill pigs kin

Popular Magazine,  Nov 7 1924

Popular Magazine, Nov 7 1924

Although I wrote this ten autumns ago, for the Woodstock Times, the point holds: that September and October are challenging months for baseball, as America’s other major sports kick into gear. In Nerdville, however,where I live much of the time, clocks are stopped whenever one may wish. Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. (By the way, this article has not appeared in print or online in the ten years since its appearance in our region’s weekly paper, so it will be new to you.)

If in spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, then the first chill evening of August sends his blood racing to the happy prospect of … football. Last weekend, in the heat of Olympic competition, ESPN.com conducted a poll of its cognoscenti, asking “What are you most interested in at this time of year?” Of 122,426 respondents, 19.3 percent cited the Athens Games, while 30.8 percent voted for baseball’s pennant races, building up a head of steam for September, the avid fan’s favorite month. The remaining 49.7 percent went for football: 27.8 percent for the college version, of which not a game had yet been played, and 21.9 percent for NFL preseason, in which the stars make cameo appearances and the games don’t count.

Maybe these numbers ought not to astound. Certain sports stir the soul, or species signals, at certain seasons. Anticipation can be delicious, and after a long winter’s nap baseball fans will awake in mid-February, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in sunny climes, and they will be in full throat for opening day. But their numbers will not approach those of football, which has challenged baseball’s position as our nation’s pastime for forty years now and by nearly all measures has surpassed it.1937-38 O-Pee-Chee Wrapper

What accounts for a dormant sport creating more buzz than one in the heat of competition? Gambling, in the form of the hugely popular fantasy-football drafts, is part of the story. But baseball too has its season of fantasy machinations, as do basketball and hockey. While the start of hockey training camps and regular-season play inspire Canadians of all ages, it leaves those in the United States cold … or hot … anyway, the wrong temperature for welcoming the substantial joys of this great game. Nobody gets percolated about NBA basketball until after the New Year, and the early-season hype about college hoops is patently contrived or downright loony, from the weekly rankings to the painted faces.

Golf? Well, the plaid-pants set may be expected to get schmaltzy about Augusta, the only one of the four major tournaments that is played at the same course each year, but in America the Scotsman’s game knows no season, and there’s the rub. You can’t stir a reawakening of the spirit if you never sleep. Auto racing? Yes, there’s Daytona to kick off the new campaign, but this is a sport in which the human shares the spotlight with his ride (the same may be said of horseracing, but at least there is the wager). Tennis? We’ll get to that in a bit.

There’s no denying the pigskin’s grip but what is the source of its power, and what exactly does it stir within us … memory, sentiment, hormones? Although both baseball and football are stop-action games, conducive to forming enduring memories, baseball is the best game for this because the action is out in the open. Some of football’s best plays and players are obscured in huddled scrums. Additionally, we can remember playing baseball with some measure of proficiency from ages eight through twelve. Last, because baseball is the American game that has changed least over the centuries, it provides not only a tether to personal memory but also to that of a nation.

George Mikan was Clark Kent.

George Mikan was Clark Kent.

For sentiment, baseball has the edge over football because we can view the strain of effort, the joy of success, the agony of failure; baseball players have faces. Alone among sports, baseball is imbued with the notion of an Edenic past, when men were men and ballplayers were giants. No one today believes that George Mikan could compete with Shaq, or that Don Hutson was superior to Jerry Rice; yet Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, are the incomparables of old, much as in Homeric times, when Odysseus challenged the Phaeacians but acknowledged that he could not compete against the “men of old.”

But for schoolboy reruns and raging hormones, football is the champ. The psychosexual stage of development of baseball fans may be pegged earlier than that of football fans, especially the old boys, for whom the first hint of autumn recalls not helmeted exploits so much as a broader variety of conquests, imagined and real. (Here I issue a personal disclaimer: I have always loved football, but I also proudly admit to arrested development — I still care about all the things that obsessed me when I was twelve, from movies to comics and rock ’n’ roll to sports.)

The onset of football, shimmering in the heat rising from the asphalt of August, conveys none of the seasonal associations of baseball, rising with the spring, reaching full flower in the summer, and fading with the fall. Instead we have grafted onto football a powerful seasonal affiliation by connecting it not with the harvest but with the return to school and its strange autumnal rites (bonfires, perky cheerleaders in pleated skirts, pompoms, hated rivals, homecoming … fill in the rest). Yet this is an amazingly recent development, not even 150 years old. For thousands of years football was played in the spring, as all ancient ball games were, going back to the vernal mud of the Nile, 4400 years ago. The only exception would be funerary ball games, played to ease passage of the dead into the next life, such as the Egyptian game of seker-hamat (“batting the ball”).

People played ball games in the spring to promote and mimic fertility, in the relentless pursuit of protein and progeny. These games were often staged between two halves of a community, or wedded versus virgin, in the form of bloody combat with sticks and stones in fight for possession of an effigy of the king, whose actual death was required at the conclusion of the most primitive of such games. Other variants involved kicking the head of an enemy across the field so that symbolically his blood would assure good crops. This is how the ancient Persian game of polo started and it is the origin of pagan football, too, surely an even earlier game of ball because it required neither horse nor mallet. (Similarly, the oldest games that required a ball to be struck in the air employed only the hand; implements like bats and rackets came later.) As Christianity slowly registered its triumph over its ancient rival cults, a leather covered ball, a symbolic head, became a Shrove Tuesday object of contest as early as 470 AD, in Clermont, France.

Medieval Bat and Ball (Strutt 1802)

Medieval Bat and Ball (Strutt 1802)

Games of mock combat like primitive football (two sides, struggling over an object in the center that for victory had to be kicked or carried to a distant goal) continued to provide bunged shins and cracked heads for the participants, with the occasional fatality, but the trend in such games (lacrosse and shinny to name just two) was slowly but surely toward sublimation of homicidal instincts. Games of bat and ball developed in Europe in the second millennium were sublimated too, from male and female anatomy. In such games the ball is the talisman we lose and must recapture—like the female aspect it symbolizes, it is the ball that has the magic within it, not the bat.

In one of the earliest of airborne ball games, “cat and dog”—with the “dog” being the bat and the cat being the ball, or rather, proto-ball, because it was not round. This was a game for three players, two of whom wielded clubs called “dogs,” with which they defend a hole from the player who attempts to toss the “cat” into it. The “cat” was a six-inch piece of wood narrower at the ends than in the center–making it twirl in the air when struck. This whirligig-shaped piece of wood could be tossed to the bat by a playmate or, in such games as trap ball, catapulted up into the air from a spring-like device with a lever that could be depressed by the batter’s foot.

The games employing a cat ranged from Flanders Cat, or Kaat, which may have come to our neck of the woods via the Huguenots, to one ol’ cat, an English game that, in its three-hole version with a ball taking the place of the wooden cat, gave rise to baseball as we know it today sometime in the 1830s.

The Game of Tennis, New York Clipper, November 13, 1858.

The Game of Tennis, New York Clipper, November 13, 1858.

In fact, the distinction, if any, between Cat and Kaat began to interest me about a year ago, when I read on the web, at the splendidly named epodunk.com, that the name of the hamlet of Katsbaan “derives from Dutch for ‘tennis court.” (I told you we’d return to the subject of tennis, but this is not lawn tennis as it is played at Wimbledon or on the municipal courts; this is “real tennis,” the ancient game also called “royal tennis” or “court tennis.”) More poking around on the web revealed that in the Frisian lowlands the residents play to this day a tennis-like game with their hands rather than with rackets, which they call keatsen, a degeneration of the Dutch kaatsen.

A Large Dictionary of English and Dutch

A Large Dictionary of English and Dutch

In the cramped but rich archives of Kingston’s Senate House, I was introduced to a volume titled A Large Dictionary of English and Dutch (Groot Woordenboek der Engelsche en Nederduytsche Taalen). Devised by Englishman William Sewel, it was published in Amsterdam in 1754 by Jakob Ter Beek. In this marvelous guide to the low Dutch spoken by Henrik Hudson and his crew, I found that a kat was, perhaps not surprisingly, a cat, i.e., a small carnivorous mammal of the family Felidae, domesticated or not. A kaats, however, was not a cat at all but a term from tennis or its handball predecessor jeu de paume: it was the “chase,” a line or groove marking the second bound of a ball that a player has failed to return. The chase line forms the target for the player who wins the next point if his second bounce falls nearer to the base line than the chase already laid. Accordingly, kaatsen is defined in the 1754 dictionary as “to play at handball” while, reflecting the shifting usage, tennis, the Dutch word for to play at tennis, which had already come into being from the French tenez, was also defines as kaatsbal or kaatsen.

Stay with me now. When the Half Moon sailed in from the Hudson to a creek, or kil, either the Esopus, Rondout or Catskill, might not the winding groove of the stream have prompted the name Kaatskil for the creek and the mountains toward which it flowed? Tennis or handball have given us our name, not mountain lions or panthers, not Indian tribes who had no name for the mountain range but rather a name for each it of them as they paddled along the streams. Not Jacob Cats (1577-1660), the prolific poet whose wisdom the Dutch exalted.

Kaats. Tennis. Cut to the chase.

Mark Twain on Baseball

Mark Twain in his Hartford years

Mark Twain in his Hartford years

I am thinking about Hartford now, and Mr. Clemens, because on Wednesday, September 17, I will be part of a panel at the Mark Twain House, “Base Ball in Mark Twain’s Time.” [http://goo.gl/YQGWQz] Yes, he made the famous speech at Delmonico’s in 1889 honoring the returning World Tourists (in which he called baseball “the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of all the drive and push and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century”). And baseball certainly figures in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: an armor-plated runner sliding into a base, the novelist wrote, “was like an iron-clad coming into port.” But Mark Twain’s only extended passage on the national pastime from the 1870s, when he attended games of the Hartford Base Ball Club in the National League, is this one. It originated as part of a larger work that was to be called A Later Extract from Methuselah’s Diary, set aside and unpublished until 1962. 

By way of explanation, the men in blue hose below were the author’s beloved Hartford Blue Stockings, while the men in carmine leggings were the Red Stockings of Boston. Note that the players of today are not like those of 300 years past, and that pitching dominates to excess. [Addition of paragraph breaks below is mine—jt]

Baseball in Armor Plate

Baseball in armor plate

Tenth Day–It taketh but short space to craze men of indifferent understanding with a new thing. Behold us now but two years gone that a certain ancient game, played with a ball, hath come up again, yet already are all mouths filled with the phrases that describe its parts and movement; insomuch, indeed, that the ears of the sober and such as would busy themselves with weightier matters are racked with the clack of the same till they do ache with anguish. If a man deceive his neighbor with a shrewd trick that doth advantage himself of his neighbor’s hurt, the vulgar say of the sufferer that he was Caught out on a Foul. If one accomplisheth a great and sudden triumph of any sort soever, ’tis said of him that he hath Made a Three-base Hit. If one fail utterly in an enterprise of pith and moment, you shall hear this said concerning him: [*]Hashbat-kakolath. Thus hath this vile deformity of speech entered with familiar insolence into the very warp and woof of the language, and made ugly that which before was shapely and beautiful.

[*] This not translatable into English; but it is about the equivalent to “Lo, he is whitewashed.”

To-day, by command of my father, was this game contested in the great court of his palace after the manner of the playing of it three centuries gone by. Nine men that had their calves clothed in red did strive against other nine that had blue hose upon their calves. Certain of those in blue stood at distances, one from another, stooping, each with his palms upon his knees, watching; these they called Basemen and Fielders—wherefore, God knoweth. It concerneth me not to know, neither to care. One with red legs stood wagging a club about his head, which from time to time he struck upon the ground, then wagged he it again.

Behind him bent one with blue legs that did spit much upon his hands, and was called a Catcher. Beside him bent one called Umpire, clothed in the common fashion of the time, who marked upon the ground with a stick, yet accomplished nothing by it that I could make out. Saith this one, Low Ball. Whereat one with blue legs did deliver a ball with vicious force straight at him that bore the club, but failed to bring him down, through some blemish of his aim.

hartford_bb_1877

Hartford Base Ball Grounds, 1876

At once did all that are called Basemen and Fielders spit upon their hands and stoop and watch again. He that bore the club did suffer the ball to be flung at him divers times, but did always bend in his body or bend it out and so save himself, whilst the others spat upon their hands, he at the same instant endeavoring to destroy the Umpire with his bludgeon, yet not succeeding, through grievous awkwardness. But in the fulness of time was he more fortunate, and did lay the Umpire dead, which mightily pleased me, yet fell himself, he failing to avoid the ball, which this time cracked his skull, to my deep gratitude and satisfaction.

Conceiving this to be the end, I did crave my father’s leave to go, and got it, though all beside me did remain, to see the rest disabled. Yet I had seen a sufficiency, and shall visit this sport no more, forasmuch as the successful hits come too laggingly, wherefore the game doth lack excitement. Moreover was Jebel there, windy with scorn of these modern players, and boastful of certain mighty Nines he knew three hundred years gone by—dead, now, and rotten, praise God, who doeth all things well.

[SOURCE: Bernard DeVoto, Mark Twain: Letters from the Earth.  New York, Evanston and London: Harper & Row, 1962. pp. 70-71.]

Picture Portfolio No. 7: Lost Ballparks

Bob Mayer has written, “When I hear Sinatra’s ‘There Used To Be A Ballpark,’ which was his personal ode to Ebbets Field, I think of the Dodgers and Giants leaving town.  At the time I was dumbfounded and pretty much in denial; when people asked me how I felt about it, I was close to speechless. Even today, [all these] years later, I’m at a loss for words to explain how I feel.  The truth is … even this far removed from then, I have never been as passionate nor as caring about The Game as I once was.”

Thomas Wolfe wrote: “Is there anything that can evoke spring–the first fine days of April–better than the sound of the ball smacking into the pocket of the big mill, the sound of the bat as it hits the horsehide…? And is there anything that can tell more about an American summer than, say, the smell of the wooden bleachers in a small-town baseball park, that resinous, sultry, and exciting smell of old dry wood.”

W.P. Kinsella: “As I look around the empty park, almost Greek in its starkness, I feel an awesome inarticulate love for this very stadium and the game it represents. I am reminded of the story about the baseball fans of Milwaukee, and what they did on a warm fall afternoon, the day after it was announced that Milwaukee was to have a major-league team the next season. According to the story, 10,000 people went to County Stadium that afternoon and sat in the seats and smiled out at the empty playing field-sat in silence, in awe, in wonder, in anticipation, in joy–just knowing that soon the field would come alive with the chatter of infielders, bright as bird chirps.”

Humphrey Bogart: “A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz.”

Count me in with all these gents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baseball of the Bygone Days, by Jimmy Wood, Part 6

Chicago 1871,Wood at center

Chicago 1871,Wood at center

This is the sixth and final installment of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment, of six, may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.

Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of  1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.

The formation of the National League in 1876 was the direct outgrowth of crookedness which had existed in baseball some years previously, and which I was fortunate enough to uncover during the sensational Louisville-Chicago series in the summer of 1875.

Some historians have it that Hall, Craver and Devlin, the Louisville players, were expelled from baseball in 1877, but that is an error. They were barred from baseball two years earlier, due to the fact that I intercepted their telegrams, addressed to some of my Chicago players, in which they outlined how my team was to throw the ensuing series to the admittedly inferior Louisville club for the benefit of the gamblers.

[There is a swirl of confusion here, perhaps born of the Wood-Menke collaboration, with the latter trying to square up, unsuccessfully, the former's recollection. (1) Hall and Craver did not join Louisville until 1877. (2) There had been a betting scandal at Louisville in 1876 in which George Bechtel was expelled and Jim Devlin exonerated. (3) Louisville did not have a professional club in the National Association of 1875, the last year that Wood managed the White Stockings. (4) Devlin indeed played mostly first base in 1875--but for Chicago, Jimmy Wood's club! Attempting to untangle the web, I think it likely that there was indeed a gambling incident in 1875 which Wood foiled, but it involved Philadelphia (two franchises possibly, the Athletics and Centennials), not Louisville. Hall and Craver both played with the Athletics in 1875, and the man Wood recalls as Devlin might well have been Bechtel, who like Craver played for both the Athletics and the Centennials in that year.  My conclusion: swap Bechtel for Devlin and Philadelphia for Louisville, and Wood's story makes sense.--jt]

In the early days of baseball, especially during that period from 1869 to 1875, baseball was the real gambling sport in America. Hundreds of thousands of dollars often were bet on the outcome of big series. Gamblers circulated—without restraint—through the stands, offering bets. They would lay odds on any angle  of the game; bet on the straight outcome, on the number of hits, the number of runs in each inning and the number of errors, etc.

Not only was there heavy plung­ing on the games in the parks, but thousands of dollars were wagered in the poolrooms in every city on the result of the different games.

And because of the tendency of the public to back their diamond favorites to the limit, the gamblers planned a huge clean-up in that Louisville-Chicago series, expecting the aid of the three Louisville play­ers.

Craver, the Louisville catcher, and captain, was selected as the real go-between. He previously played on my Chicago team, but I suspicioned [sic] him of shady tactics and released him. Louisville later sign­ed him. Craver told the gamblers that he needed the assistance of one or two of the other Louisville play­ers to swing the big coup, and, with their sanction, enlisted the services of Hall, the center fielder, and Dev­lin, the first baseman of the Louis­ville club.

Louisville 1876 with Devlin, Bechtel

Louisville 1876 with Devlin, Bechtel

Shortly before Louisville came to Chicago to play that series, tele­grams arrived for some of my play­ers. They were not at the club­house at the time, and I thought pro­bably the messages might contain some important news. So I opened them and in the reading of those messages there was unfolded before my eyes the monstrous plot to throw the ensuing Louisville-Chicago games to Louisville for the benefit of the gamblers.

There was nothing in those mes­sages which led me to believe that my own boys were in the plot up to that time. The messages were more in the form of a proposal than any­thing else. But the way the propo­sition was worded meant that no reply from my players to whom the messages were addressed meant that they would enter the plot and would throw the game to the Louisville club.

Those messages promised my boys—that is those who were to be ringleaders in bringing about our defeat—a fabulous sum of money. And why shouldn’t they have been given a big amount had they en­tered into the compact? The gamblers behind the scheme had planned to bet every dollar they could get on the Louisville team. The odds were big—something like 5 to 1 that Chicago would win the series. It meant close to $1,000,000 for that outfit if it could swing the game to Louisville.

Well, I tucked those messages in my pocket and never said a word to any of the players. When the Louis­ville team arrived, I kept my players under cover. I didn’t want the Hall-Devlin-Craver crowd to meet my boys and to discover that the message never had been delivered.

Harwood and Sons, 1875

Harwood and Sons, 1875

It was my aim to give the gam­blers what they had coming to them; to trap them with the very same trap they had laid for others. And that is just what happened.

Assuming that the game was fixed, the gamblers went ahead and bet every dollar they could muster on Louisville to win—and Louisville was beaten!

Not being absolutely sure that my players hadn’t been tampered with in person I called them together before the game began. I told them that there was a scheme afoot to have Chicago throw the game and the series to Louisville. And then I told my boys that the first imperfect play on the part of any one of them would mean not only his removal from the game but his expulsion from baseball.

And, to this day, I regard the playing of my Chicago team that af­ternoon, as the most perfect I have ever seen any club perform. Those boys played beyond themselves; not one of them dared to make an er­ror of hand or head, fearing he would be tainted immediately with the suspicion of being a crook.

We won easily—and the terrific financial loss which the gamblers suf­fered that day cured many of them forever of the plunging fever.

Immediately after our series was over, I went to William. H. Hulbert, president of our club, and laid all the facts before him.

William A. Hulbert

William A. Hulbert

“This is the climax,” said Hulbert. “Baseball is a sport and should be kept a clean sport. Gambling should not enter into it. Unless we take some drastic steps now the game will be wrecked on the rocks of crookedness.”

And Hulbert, one of the finest sportsmen the game ever has pro­duced, then went to the other club owners, made a formal complaint against Craver, Devlin and Hall and brought about their expulsion. The story of the frame-up was given wide publicity at the time and it served as a lesson to all other ball play­ers.

Until that time, baseball had been controlled by an organization known as the National Association of Professional Baseball Players.

“It is not powerful enough and its scope is too limited,” said Hul­bert. “A new ruling body is needed —one with absolute authority; one which can stamp out dishonesty and gambling in baseball.

And so Hulbert, working unceas­ingly during the winter of 1875 and the spring of 1876, brought about the formation of the National League—the same National League which has lived and prospered dur­ing 42 years of commingled peace and warfare.

Hulbert, in organizing the new circuit, made it a condition that “no club be a member of the National League unless it has a population of 75,000 or more. The National league circuit follows:

Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Louisville, in the west; Boston, Hartford, New York (Mutual team) and the Philadelphia Athletics in the east.

Hulbert was the unanimous selec­tion for the presidency of the league. All he needed to do was to indicate his willingness to hold the office. But Hulbert didn’t want it to appear that he sought the honor as a reward for what he had done.

Morgan G. Bulkeley

Morgan G. Bulkeley

“I would suggest that in electing our first president, we dismiss the straight voting plan,” he said. “Let us write on separate slips of paper the names of each club president. Then drop them in a hat. The first name withdrawn shall be our presi­dent.”

The suggestion was accepted; the name of Morgan G. Bulkeley, of Hart­ford, Conn., was extracted and to him was accorded the honor of being the first chief executive of the Na­tional League.

My own baseball career ended with the close of the season of 1875. Daring 1874 I had lost a limb due to blood poisoning following a knife jab, ending my playing days. In 1875 I consented to manage the White Stockings, the team which 1 had organized in 1869-70, but I found during that 1875 season that the managerial end of the game was a bit too strenuous for a man in my condition, and I hung up my uni­form when the last game was played —never to don it again.

(END.)

 

 

 

Baseball of the Bygone Days, by Jimmy Wood, Part 5

Harry Wright, Ars Longa rendition

Harry Wright, Ars Longa rendition

Below, the fifth chapter of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment, of six, may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.

Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of  1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.

The first game of the memorable Chicago White Stockings-Cincinnati Red Stockings series was played in the latter part of September, 1870, in Cincinnati amid scenes unparalleled on any ball field.

The Red Stockings never had been beaten on their own grounds. The feat was considered impossible by other teams that had played there during 1869 and the early part of 1870. Those players had told us that if the visiting team had a chance for victory the umpires—Cincinnati products—would get busy in behalf of the Red Stockings; if the umpires couldn’t swing the trick alone, the crowds would menace the opposing players to a point where they would quit trying to win rather than risk the danger of being hit by missiles or mobbed by the crowds after the game.

I had considered all these things before I took any boys to Cincinnati. I told each one what he might expect from the crowd if we should happen to win. (But they were a brave, fearless lot, my boys, and they vowed — and kept that vow—that no show of hostility by the fans would effect their playing one iota.

I was determined that the umpire was not to be a Cincinnatian, making thacondition emphatic from the out­set. The Red Stockings demurred at first, but when they found that I meant exactly what I had said—and wouldn’t play the game unless we had an impartial umpire—they reluctantly agreed.

Just before the game began we made an announcement to the stands that we wanted some spectator to umpire the game for us—and that Cincinnati and Chicago residents were barred. From out of the stands, after a long delay, stepped a salesman named Milligan, from Philadelphia. He convinced us quickly that he was thoroughly conversant with the game, and he was named as umpire.

 Cincinnati Ballpark (Union Grounds)

Cincinnati Ballpark (Union Grounds)

The game began, with the Cincinnati ball park crowded to its 10,000 capacity. At the outset, the Cincinnati gamblers were circulating through the stands waving huge rolls of bills. They offered odds of 20 to 1 against us at first, but these gradually sluffed down to 15 to 1, when the Red Stockings supporters saw how quickly their money was snapped up by the small band of rooters who went to Cincinnati with us.

We jumped into the lead in the early innings and held it throughout. Several times the Red Stockings tried to rally—but failed. They never caught up with us and we won, 6 to 3. During the first part of the game the crowd was orderly. It felt cer­tain that the Red Stockings would overhaul us. But when the game had gone along seven innings, with the White Stockings still in the lead, the crowd got busy.

It hurled threats at our players and menaced our catcher and tried to frighten Umpire Milligan. The Red Stockings also tried to bulldoze Milligan. But he was of the sort who wouldn’t stand for it. He knew full well that if the Red Stockings were beaten on their own grounds, that he was in great danger of foul treatment by the thousands who had bet so heavily on their Cincinnati team.

But Milligan was of a heroic mold. He umpired that game fairly and squarely as he saw it. He played no favorites. And we accomplished, on that hot September afternoon, what had been considered impossible—the defeat of the Red Stockings on their home grounds.

Immediately after the game was over the crowd swarmed upon the field, intent upon wreaking vengeance upon us. I had anticipated this move and instructed my players for a quick get-away. When the last out was made we dashed for the exits and jumped into our carriages. As we ran across the field many of us were struck with stones and bottles. The frenzied Ohioans pursued us even after we had entered our hacks, pelting us with rocks until our horses had distanced them.

Our victory over the Red Stockings on Cincinnati soil was the greatest sensation to that time. And Chicago went wild with joy. When we got back home we were given a greeting unlike any ever accorded ball players before. We were the heroes j of the hour—and of the year.

Three weeks later we played the second—and the last game of the series. It was played in Chicago on a diamond in the Dexter Park Race Course. No other place in Chicago was considered big enough to accommodate the crowd that wanted to go to that game.

Dexter Park 1870

Dexter Park 1870

The day the game was played the crowds started for the park early in the morning. All forenoon and during the early part of the afternoon, carriages wended their way to the park and there was always outside the gate a mob howling for admission. Before the game began, 27,000 admis­sions, at $1 each, had been sold, with another 25,000 in a wild scramble for tickets.

And then the fence, unable to withstand the pressure of that surg­ing mob, went down with a crash—and the mob swarmed in. Several attempts were made by the club offic­ials to have that broken section of the fence fixed, but it was useless. The crowd, rushing in, swept everything before it, and the game began with the fence broken and the “free ad­missions” still coming.

The paid admissions for that game totaled 27,000; the “free admissions” went well beyond 25,000, making a 52,000 crowd within the park when the call “play ball” sounded — the greatest crowd that ever witnessed a professional baseball game.

Eleven hundred carriages—the popular form of locomotion in that period, also were inside the park.

Umpire Bob Ferguson

Umpire Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson of Brooklyn umpired that game. He was paid $100 and his expenses and was guaranteed every protection. He was chosen in a rath­er unusual way. About two weeks before the game was played, Harry Wright, manager of the Red Stock­ings, and myself, agreed that we would select the umpire in this way: Each would write three names on a slip of paper and mail it to the other. In case one candidate was named by both, he would be the umpire.

It was found that Ferguson had been named by both, whereupon he was appointed. The owners of the White Stockings wanted to pay Fergu­son $300 and expenses, but the Red Stockings owners balked and all Fer­guson got was $100 and expenses.

When the game began the betting was even. A vast sum of money was wagered on the outcome of that dia­mond battle. It seemed that every Chicago fan wanted to plunge his bankroll on our chances. The city, as a whole, had unbounded confidence in our ability. A big delegation of Cincinnati rooters and gamblers went to Chicago for that game and from the way they flourished $500 and $1,000 bills in the stands, it made it look as if they were commissioned to bet the entire wealth of the Ohio city on the chances of their ball club.

It was in that game, by the way, that the Reds introduced to Chicagoans fast fielding practise as a prelim­inary. Before that time no club ever had practised fast fielding in a game in Chicago. The efforts of our play­ers were devoted only to increasing their hitting skill.

A mighty roar went up from the stands when Ferguson sounded his “play ball” and then the crowd settled back to watch the game.

Things broke badly for us in the early innings. An error or two on the part of my boys, mixed with several long hits by the Red Stockings, gave them a lead of five runs. Later on they increased it and when the seventh inning was ended the score stood 11 to 2 in favor of the Cincinnati club.

And then I rallied my boys.

“All together now,” I told them. “Here comes our ‘bloodied innings.’ Get out and get after that pitcher. We’ll win—we can’t lose.”

And the boys began playing with a new spirit. It always had been a peculiarity of my White Stockings to play their greatest ball, during the last two innings of the game, and all around the circuit the eight and ninth innings became known as the “blood­ied innings” of the White Stockings.

It so happened in that game that the Red Stockings got last bats. The choice was decided by the flip of the coin—and I had lost. So we went to bat first in the eighth inning and ham­mered out five runs, holding the Red Stockings scoreless in their part of the inning.

With the score 11 to 2 against us at the end of the seventh, the Cincinnati rooters were rushing around the stands offering odds of from 25 to 100 to 1 against us. Strange as it may seem, they found many takers. Our backers still had confidence in us.

Red Stockings at Cleveland, October 1870, one week before their game in Chicago

Red Stockings at Cleveland, October 1870, one week before their game in Chicago

When we went to bat in our part of the ninth—the first half—with the score 11 to 7 against us, the Cincinnatians still were laying huge odds against us. And then, amid an ever-increasing roar of applause from the crowd, we “got” to that Cincinnati pitcher; rallied in a way that ranks among the greatest ninth inning fin­ishes of all time. We smashed the bail to all parts of the lot, and when our side finally was retired, it was found that the tide of battle had shift­ed; that we, by scoring nine tallies in that final inning, had forged into the lead, 16 to 11.

The Red Stockings took their final bats and attempted gamely to over­come our lead—but their efforts were futile. They pushed across two and then went out, making the final score 16 to 13 in favor of the White Stockings.

And so ended the series—with Cin­cinnati and the major portion of the baseball world of that era aghast at our “impossible” performance — and with Chicago in a delirium of baseball fever from which it never has recovred—and never will.

(Note—The sixth and final chapter of “Baseball of the Bygone Days” will appear tomorrow.)

Chapter 6 tomorrow.

Baseball of the Bygone Days, by Jimmy Wood, Part 4

Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869

Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869

Now for the fourth chapter of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.

Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of  1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.

Somewhere along about Christmas in 1869, I noticed an advertisement in a New York paper which read something as follows:

“Ball players wanted to form, a team and represent Chicago and to defeat the Cincinnati Red Stockings.”

During the period of the late ’60s and early ’70s there was keen rivalry between Chicago and Cincinnati in a commercial way. Chicago wasn’t such a wonderfully large city then and it was doing everything possible to boom the town. And it was ealous of Cincinnati because of the great pub­licity Cincinnati had gained through the medium of its 1869 ball team, which had won 56 out of 57 games, the other resulting in a 17 to 17 tie with the Union team of Lansingburg.

The Chicago Plan for 1870, from New York Clipper

The Chicago Plan for 1870, from New York Clipper

And so Chicago decided that it must have a team to beat the Reds. Baseball wasn’t played to any great extent in the Illinois metropolis prior to that time. All the crack players were in the east. That is why the advertisement appeared in New York.

I answered the ad and in due time got a reply. It happened that I was among the first to write. The Chicago people told me they, under advice from Harry Wright, desired me to organize a club to beat the Red Stockings in 1870 and d__ the expense!

So I started to recruit my team. I figured the task would be easy, yet I found it the most difficult one of my life. Only a few of the many baseball stars that I approached cared to join a team that had as its ultimate purpose the beating of the Reds in a three-game series.

“It can’t be done,” most of the players answered me. “These Reds are unbeatable and we aren’t going to waste all of next spring and summer practising for it!”

Finally after much persuasion, I signed up a number of men who were real ball players but only after I had advanced them money out of my own pocket. The Chicago people hadn’t sent me any funds. Just as soon as some of those players had squandered their first advance money in drinking and gambling, they came for more, threatening to jump their contracts if we didn’t “”come through.” Finally, when my advances totaled beyond $1,200 and the players kept demand­ing more, I asked my father to go to Chicago and ascertain the financial responsibility of the Chicagoans.

Father wired back:

“Go the limit; Chicagoans will make good all your advances.”

Tom Foley

Tom Foley

When I got the message I hurried to Troy, N. Y., with Tom Foley, the representative of the Chicagoans, to get [Cherokee] Fisher and [Bill] Craver who had played in 1869 with the Troy Haymakers. Both were terrific hitters and I needed them, but I knew they would come high, as salaries went in those days. However, we signed up both men, contracting Fisher for $800 and Craver for $1,000. Then my team—eleven men—was complete.

Early in the spring of 1870 we arranged the details of our training trip to New Orleans. It was the sec­ond southern trip ever undertaken by a ball club. Foley, who was a cham­pion billiardist and one of the Chi­cago backers and is still living in Chicago, accompanied us south.

During our first week in the Louis­iana town we practiced among our­selves. Then we commenced to take on the teams in New Orleans. I be­gan by scheduling the weakest first, working up gradually to the hardest. We defeated the weaker teams in New Orleans–and then we beat the strongest. In each succeeding game my club appeared stronger both in batting and in fielding. Toward the end of our season in New Orleans we played an all-star New Orleans nine and won with ease.

Then I made the proposition that our regular nine should play a double team of New Orleans men, giving them 18 players in the field. The game itself was rather amusing be­cause the New Orleans captain had so many players under his command that he didn’t know where to play them all. However, he put one man behind the plate to assist the catch­er, four extras in the outfield, giving him seven altogether, and the rest were sprinkled around the infield. making a total of eight infielders.

Pitted against such a collection we won almost as easily as we had in playing nine men. In our final game in New Orleans I allowed the rival team six outs per inning to our three —and once again we won.

We worked our way north gradu­ally, as the teams do today, playing all the crack southern teams enroute and winning all of our games by overwhelming scores. We beat the Mem­phis team, champions of Tennessee, 157 to 1—and Foley was very angry because we had permitted the south­erners to score their lone tally!

At last we reached Chicago— and we got a wild ovation. The town had gone crazy over baseball. Our wonderful showing in New Orleans and our clean sweep through the south had caused the Chicagoans to feel that our chief aim—to defeat the Red Stockings—was a certainty.

Our first real game in the north was against the crack Rockford (Ill.) team—the club on which Adrian An­son and A. G. Spalding got their start. The Rockford people backed their team heavily in the betting that pre­ceded that game — but we swamped them. We scored 14 runs in the first inning and after the fifth inning were so far ahead that I gave my boys orders to take it easy, and by that additional victory set Chicago further aflame with baseball enthusiasm.

Bill Craver, Ars Longa rendition

Bill Craver, Ars Longa rendition

Then we started east to play out the schedule which was so arranged that the Cincinnati series did not come until the end of the season. Our success continued. My boys were wonderful batters and every addi­tional contest they engaged in seemed to increase their hitting power.

In those days ability to hit was the main asset of a player. In his batting power lay his baseball value. Not much attention was paid to per­fecting a team in fielding. It was fig­ured that fielding would come natur­ally but that batting must be devel­oped.

During the latter part of May two of my players took sick while we were on tour and I had to send them home. Shortly afterward two others joined the “hospital squad.” I filled in with amateurs, sent to me from Chicago, but I found quickly that they wouldn’t do.

So, along about June 4th when I found that my ailing quartet was not convalescing very rapidly, I cancel­led all our remaining June and July games and stayed in Chicago.

Late in July when all the players were back in shape we resumed team playing practise. All during the time the four boys were sick I kept the others at batting practise for two hours a day and the expertness in the hitting line continued to increase. About August 4th we resumed our schedule and played out the season, winning all of our games from the re­sumption in August until the end.

And then came the grand climax of the year—the task for which we had been preparing ourselves; the battle with the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

1870 Chicago White Stockings, with Jimmy Wood at center

1870 Chicago White Stockings, with Jimmy Wood at center

As challengers we were compelled to play the first game of the series—a best two out of three affair—on the home diamond of the Reds; on the same field where they never had tast­ed defeat. Only once during the two years—1869 and 1870—had the Reds been beaten and that was suffered in foreign territory, the Atlantic of Brooklyn turning the trick, in 10 in­nings, 8 to 7.

It being necessary for the first game to be played in Cincinnati and the second in Chicago, the place for the third—if a third was necessary— was to be determined by the flip of a coin.

When we went to Cincinnati for that first game even our most loyal rooters were pessimistic. It was not that they lacked confidence in our ability, but because they feared we would be “jobbed” by some Cincinnati umpire, or menaced so by the rowdy crowds that we wouldn’t play our real game because of fear of violence if we should win.

But we did win and the story of that game, together with the second in Chicago, which was witnessed by a crowd beyond 50,000, shall form the next chapter in this recital.

(Note—Chapter Five, which begins tomorrow, tells of the two most bit­terly contested ball games in baseball history. It tells of a game that drew 50,000 spectators—the biggest crowd that ever saw a professional baseball game in America.—Editor)

Chapter 5 tomorrow.

Baseball of the Bygone Days, by Jimmy Wood, Part 3

Eckford BBC trophy balls

Eckford BBC trophy balls

Now for the third installment of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.

Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of  1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.

And now my story shifts to a baseball club—the Eckfords—which swept through two seasons achieving 144 victories without suffering a single defeat [this claim is without merit—jt]; to a man— Joe Sprague—who pitched and won ev­ery one of those games for the Eckfords.

The records of both are without parallel in baseball history; accom­plishments so remarkable that they never can be surpassed nor closely approached.

The Eckfords, as I stated in a previous article, represented Wil­liamsburg, then a separate town, but now a part of Brooklyn. It was the first team I played on and I held down second base in every one of those games that we won while establishing our record mark.

Our winning streak began with the opening of the 1862 season and continued right through to the end of 1863. During that time we played —with one exception—every team of strength and importance in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Troy, Syracuse, Albany, Washington and the smaller cities. And we beat them all, not once, but as often as they cared to try conclusions with us.

The single exception was the Ex­celsior team of Brooklyn. We want­ed to play them, issuing repeated challenges. But their Captain, Joe Leggett, refused for the sole reason that he had become angered during the summer of 1862 when our Cap­tain, who was captain of a picked nine on which Leggett played, was presented with a souvenir ball. Leg­gett thought he was entitled to it and vowed afterward that so long as he was leader of the Excelsiors he never would permit them to play the Eckfords. He kept his word.

Joe Sprague, in my opinion, was the greatest pitcher of all time. When one calls to mind the fact that he pitched—and won—144 games in two seasons, pitching three times a week, it doesn’t leave much room for argument, does it?

Sprague, throwing an underhand ball, had terrific speed and wonderful control. But, most important of all, Sprague threw a curve ball—that was back in 1862—which means that Sprague, not Arthur Cummings of the Brooklyn Stars of 1863-64, or Bobby Mathews, of the Baltimores of 1866-67, was the original curve-ball pitcher.

In those days when Sprague pitched for our Eckford team a curve ball, as such, was unknown. But we always noticed that some of Sprague’s deliveries took a sharp twist, sometimes turning in and sometimes turning away from the batter. All of us used to remark about the peculiar gyrations of the ball that he threw. I was not until some years later, however, when curved balls became an established fact, that we recognized the delivery then called a curve, as the very same kind of ball that Sprague had thrown in 1862 and 1863 while pitching himself—and the Eckfords —to fame.

And yet the amazing accomplishments of both the Eckfords and Sprague never have found their way in the record books. No men­tion is made of them anywhere. There is one way that I can account for this failure to chronicle properly the greatest feat in the entire his­tory of the game. And that is that the record was made in the days before any records were kept—in the era before tabulation began. It was not until along in 1864 and 1865 that Henry Chadwick put into oper­ation his tabulating system and be­gan preserving records.

1868 Cincinnati Red Stockings

1868 Cincinnati Red Stockings

The Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 have gained undying fame for having won 56 games, tying one and losing none in that season, but their record is insignificant in comparison with the 144 straight victories of the Eckfords of 1862-63. The Red Stockings’ record for two years, 1869-70, totals 79 victories, one tie and three defeats, and not one de­feat, as some records show.

The Red Stockings were defeated two straight games in the Fall of 1870 by the Chicago White Stock­ings. a team which I organized, cap­tained and managed. That team was recruited for the sole purpose of beating the arrogant Red Stockings —and it accomplished its object in the most sensational baseball series ever played. In a later article I shall deal with those two games, one which was witnessed by the greatest crowd—50,000—that ever saw a profes­sional ball game in America.

Historians differ as to when and where the first game was played at which admission was charged. The real fact is that the first game of that kind was played on June 7, 1864, between two picked nines, one from Williamsburg and the oth­er from New York. It was staged in the enclosed Union Ball Park in Brooklyn. The admission price was 10 cents.

Union Grounds, 1865

Union Grounds, 1865

It was W. H. Cammeyer, the owner of the Union Ball Grounds, who conceived the idea of charging admission. What a howl of protest went up from the populace. They termed it an outrage to charge to see the “national sport.” But Cammeyer was deaf to the clamor—and no one got into the grounds unless he first produced the dime.

In our free games the crowds ranged between 5,000 and 20,000. In that first game when admission was charged, the attendance was only a trifle above 1,000.

The fans gradually became used to the idea of paying admission before that season ended and when the season of 1865 began, the park own­ers determined upon a bolder stroke. They decided to charge 25 cents, whereupon a cry of “robbers” went up! But the price remained at 25 cents—until it was boosted in later years.

In the early summer of that year—1863—the club owners exper­ienced a decided shock. A delega­tion of players went to them and is­sued the ultimatum:

“Give us part of the gate receipts , or we won’t play!”

“Why, that will throw you boys on the professional class.”

“Well, we’re willing,” was the answer.

The demands of the players who were exhibiting in parks where admission was charged, were reluct­antly granted. Up to that time none of the players had received money. It had been considered an honor to participate in the big games and all the boys belonging to the various clubs had paid dues to purchase equipment and to provide traveling and incidental expenses.

Officers of the National Association, John Wildey at center, Leslie's, December 21, 1866

Officers of the National Association, John Wildey at center, Leslie’s, December 21, 1866

The players then appointed one of their number—the extra man—to count tickets, the original agreement being that the players were to get 25 per cent of the gross income. This agreement continued for a short time only. Then the players demand­ed 35 per cent, again threatening a strike. When this demand was granted they later asked for—and got-—50 per cent. Before the de­mands during the following two years ended, the players, by use of threats of quitting the diamond, had forced the club owners to pay them 75 per cent of the gross receipts of each game, that sum being divided equally among the players.

Each winter the heads or the va­rious clubs held their annual get-together meeting in New York with John Wil[d]ey, president of the Mutuals, a great fan of that era, acting as president. When the meeting of 1865 got under way the room was filled with parents of the youths from all over the United States who had been shaking down the club owners for a split of the receipts. They were furious.

Wiley [Wildey], the storm center of it all because of his position as partner with “Boss Bill Tweed,” was flayed unmercifully by those parents. They declared the practice of paying the ball players was a crime; that it would break the morals of the boys, that it killed the sport in the game arnd, all-in-all, it was very, very disgraceful.

“Enact laws at once barring players from accepting money or we shall refuse to permit our sons to play next year,” was the demand of the parents.

“We are perfectly willing to adopt such, a rule,” answered Wil[d]ey with a quaint smile, “but I fear, ladies and gentlemen, if we did, the players wouldn’t observe it. It seems to me that the days are over when baseball is purely a game for amateurs.”

And Wil[d]ey was right.

(End Chapter Three).

(Note—The next installment of “Baseball of the Bygone Days” appearing tomorrow will deal with the organization in the winter of 1869 and the spring of 1870 of the famous Chicago White Stockings, the team hired by Chicago business men at a cost of $50,000, the salaries alone being $18,000, for the purpose—which it accomplished— of beating the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Editor).

Chapter 4 tomorrow.

 

 

 

Baseball of the Bygone Days, by Jimmy Wood, Part 2

The Umpire, 1870s trade card

The Umpire, 1870s trade card

Now for the second installment of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.

Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of  1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.

The fundamental rules of baseball have not changed much since they first were drawn by the Knicker­bocker club—the first baseball or­ganization—in 1845. But there have been many radical departures from the customs of other days.

One is the treatment of umpires. In the early part of my baseball career—from 1859 to 1869—an um­pire was highly honored. After each game the players would give three cheers for each other and then, as a grand finale, they would bellow forth with three more—and sometimes nine—for the umpire.

Arbitrators in the early days wore chosen from among the crowd. In most cases, at least up to 1865, the umpire often was one of the dis­tinguished men in the city. The clubs vied with each other in trying to se­cure the most prominent personages.

The old time umpires always were accorded the utmost courtesy by the players. They were given easy chairs placed near the home plate, provided with fans on hot days and their absolute comfort was upper­most in the minds of the players. Af­ter each of our games in the early ’60s, sandwiches, beer, cakes, and other refreshments were  served, by the home team. The umpires al­ways received the choicest bits of food and the largest glass of beer— in case he cared for such beverage. If he didn’t, he needed but to ex­press his desire in the thirst-quench­ing line before the game started— and he got it.

The playing of baseball games on skates on the ice during the winter of 1864 really brought about the rule which permits players to over-run first base. Prior to that time the runners had to stop at first base the same as they must stop now at the other sacks. If they over-ran the bag they could be touched out.

Baseball had taken such a firm hold upon the people between 1860 and 1864 that they were not con­tent to play it only during the sum­mer. They played it all during the winter in the enclosed field in Wil­liamsburg, known as the Union grounds. The players wore skates, but played the game under the same rules as governed it in the summer.

Baseball on Ice, Haney's Book of Reference

Baseball on Ice, Haney’s Book of Reference

Players, however, found it im­possible to stop at bases after skat­ing out a hit. Many of them were injured by sliding into the base, their skates tripping them and sending them to the icy surface. To pre­vent further accidents the captains decided to permit players to over-skate the bags without penalty of being touched out if they turned to the right on their way back to base.

When summer baseball was re­sumed it was decided that the rule made for skater-players should be extended to the regular diamond, so far as first base only, and it was in­corporated in the statute books, at the next annual meeting, and has been there since.

Base hits were not counted until 1868. Then Henry Chadwick, figuring that it would stimulate base-running, decided that hits should be counted the same as runs. The first game in which hits were tabulated was in  the game on August 4, 1868, between the Eckfords and the Mutuals, of New York. Chadwick offered a bat to the player making the most safe hits—and that bat, suitably engraved, is my most treasured possession to­day. I won it by making four clean drives.

From 1876 until the days of Patsy Tebeau and his Cleveland Spiders, in the ’90s, it always was the custom for the visiting team to have the last turn at bat. That was courtesy. But Tebeau changed all that. He discovered that there was no league rule compelling the visitors to take last bats and at the same time he decided that it was a distinct ad­vantage for his club to have the last crack at the ball on its home grounds. Whereupon, Tebeau curtly refused visiting teams the “final outs” and later the other clubs had to follow in the wake of Tebeau.

In the early ’60s, when speed was the main dependence of a pitcher, the moundsmen would spend hours every day trying to perfect their de­livery. But it remained for Joe Leggett, owner and manager of the Ex­celsiors of Brooklyn, to originate the strangest plan ever known to help a pitcher develop his speed.

It was in the winter of 1859 that Leggett signed James P. Creighton to pitch for his team. Creighton, at that time, ranked as one of the greatest hurlers in the game. In 1858, pitching for the Niagaras, he had per­formed splendidly and followed this up with some sterling performances among the 1859 Stars.

Joe Leggett (left)

Joe Leggett (left)

When Leggett signed up Creighton, he said:

“Jimmy, speed is the thing. You’ve got a lot of it, but I want you to have more when the next season opens. Therefore, I want you to get an iron ball, the same size as a base­ball, and pitch it for at least a half hour each day during the winter. That will develop your muscles and your speed as well.”

And all through that winter Jimmy Creighton followed his manager’s orders. When spring came and he began throwing a baseball, about one-twentieth as heavy as the iron ball, his speed was blinding, and he flash­ed the greatest pitching ever seen up to that time.

Ever since the game began the pitcher has been the target for re­forms. Always the tendency has been to make things harder for him and easier for the batter. The foul strike rule alone seems to have been intro­duced as a means of helping the pitch­er.

But the pitchers of the other days, by a bit of subterfuge, caused the elimination of the rule that forced them to pitch underhand exclusively. The more proficient a pitcher became in the underhand era, the greater the handicaps that were placed upon them by lengthening the pitching distance, making smaller the size of the box or barring him from taking a step in mak­ing the delivery.

Protests by the pitchers during the ’60s and early ’70s, however, brought about a change in the rules, which permitted pitchers to throw balls from a waist-high angle as well as un­derhand. The pitchers, who were quite keen about throwing with a side-arm delivery, quickly took advantage of this rule, and worked a little trick. They elevated their trousers to a point where the “waist line” was on a level with their chest and side-arm pitching was possible. Finally, in 1884 the ruling powers in baseball re­moved all restrictions as to pitching delivery and the moundsman since then have been delivering the ball in a way that suits them best.

Part 3 tomorrow.

Baseball of the Bygone Days: A Memoir by Jimmy Wood

Jimmy Wood, 1871

Jimmy Wood, 1871

When The Baseball Encyclopedia first came out in 1969, and even twenty years later when Total Baseball followed, Jimmy Wood was a mystery man. We weren’t sure where he was born; Canada and England were both reasonable guesses; today we think Wood was born to English immigrants on December 1, 1842, most likely in Canada. Moreover, we suspected that the death date both encyclopedias listed was wrong, but even as late as Total Baseball‘s seventh edition in 2001, SABR’s Biographical Research Committee offered us a death date of November 30, 1886, which we continued to list. Personally I had long known this was wrong because I had uncovered correspondence between Wood and A.G. Mills from 1926, inviting Wood to take part in the celebrations surrounding the fiftieth anniversary of the National League. In 2004 baseball’s great detective, Peter Morris, wrote to me and some others: “I’ve found an intriguing candidate.  A James Wood, 84, died in New Orleans on November 30, 1927.  I have no proof that this is the player and there was no obit or death notice in the Times-Picayune, but it’s intriguing for several reasons:  [1] Our player’s son had died in New Orleans four years earlier; [2] there was no James Wood of appropriate age in New Orleans on the 1920 census; [3] our ballplayer’s granddaughter told Lee Allen that he died in 1926 or 1927 (although she thought it was in NYC).”

Two years later, the Biographical Research Committee reported in its newsletter:

Jimmy Wood Found. 

James Leon “Jimmy” Wood has long been one of our most interesting missing players. He was very prominent in the National Association as both a player and manager. In 1874, he decided to do a little home surgery when he lanced an abscess on his leg with a pocket knife. An infection led doctors to amputate his right leg. Wood was written up as a mystery in Lee Allen’s column in the Sporting News on April 20, 1963. Wood moved to Florida and did well investing in citrus groves. His daughter Carrie married William Chase Temple. Temple moved to Pittsburgh and became extremely wealthy and it was he who established the Temple Cup. Wood’s granddaughter, Dorothy Temple, married major league pitcher Del Mason. It sounds like it would be an easy task to find Jimmy Wood, but that was not the case. Allen’s column suggested that he died in Brooklyn in 1926 or 1927. We could never find any proof of that in Brooklyn. It turns out that the date was about right; the location was just 3000 miles off. In our long and fruitless search for Wood we had tracked him to Quebec, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, and Pennsylvania without finding a death certificate. Peter Morris was able to find a death certificate in California showing that he died November 3, 1927 in San Francisco. The birth matches what he have and his body was sent to New Orleans for burial next to his son. This is a great find. Wood was on our Top 20 Most Wanted list so Peter wins the Find of the Month award.

William Chase Temple

William Chase Temple

So who was Jimmy Wood, and why was he worth a search that lasted nearly fifty years? He began play with the Brooklyn Eckfords in 1859, was wooed by other clubs and left  in 1865 (but returned in 1868). In 1869, his last season with the Eckfords, a reporter for the New York Tribune wrote that Wood

has no superior. His play is a rare combination of shrewdness, courage and activity. He covers the great part of the in-field and has been known to put out men on all three bases, although the second was his position. His stopping and throwing are superb. He faces every ball that comes near him, never flinching, no matter how hot it may come. He is also very efficient at the bat, generally getting his bases on clean hits.

Jimmy Wood reached the pinnacle of his career as the star second baseman and manager of Chicago’s first White Stockings club back in 1870. Even after losing a leg in 1874, when Chicago reentered the National Association after a two-year hiatus prompted by the Great Fire of October 8, 1871, he continued to manage the club through the 1875 season. Not only did Wood not die in 1886, he was lively enough to pen a six-part memoir which ran in many newspapers in mid-August 1916. Never before published in total, its serialization commences today at Our Game. Five more parts will follow, daily. [Editorial note: Wood's reminiscences are more trustworthy for the years of his maturity, from the late 1850s on, than for earlier periods in which Frank Menke, his ghost, may have "helped" his recollection.]

Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of  1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.

Henry Chadwick has been called “The Father of Baseball,” but that, in a certain sense, is a misnomer. Chadwick did not originate the great na­tional game. Baseball, in a crude way, was played some years before Chadwick became involved in it.

But to that grand, lovable sports­man must go the full credit for revolutionizing baseball; for bringing it from a state of chaos and crudity to the rank of the dominating sport of  America. It was Chadwick, the genius, who saw in the game of 60 or 70 years ago its wonderful scientific possibilities and who worked unceasingly through the years to standardize the sport; to lift it to its present crest.

There always has been consider­able dispute as to where baseball really had its origin. One story has it that many years ago, a boy had a bundle of twine and amused himself by throwing it against a barn, catching it on the rebound. Eventually, another boy joined him. Later a few more youths wanted to play in the game. A new “ball” made of twine and sewed to prevent unraveling was put into play. One of the boys suggested that it would be greater sport to hit the ball, with a club. An axe handle was used.

And so, in this way, according to many historians, baseball became a game.

Abner Doubleday by Mathew Brady

Abner Doubleday by Mathew Brady

Back in 1839 Abner Doubleday, of Cooperstown, N. Y., who later became a Major General in the Unit­ed States Army, designed the base­ball diamond then called a “square.” The original lines laid out by Dou­bleday are the same as the baseball diamond of today. Along in 1845 Alexander J. Cartwright, of New York, also brought out a baseball “square” exactly the same as Doubleday’s. The Cartwright supporters claim that his “square” was the first made, but the Doubleday people have submitted what they declare is indisputable proof that Doubleday outlined the diamond six years earl­ier.

The    Knickerbockers, of New York, was the first baseball club in history. It was organized in 1845. The first real baseball game played was in Hoboken, N. J., on June 19, 1846 between the    Knickerbockers and another club, known as the “New York Nine.” The latter was victorious, the score being 21 to 1 in its favor, the game lasting only four innings. The rules for that first game, made in 1845, and for all games up to 1857,  provided that victory should go to the team first scoring 21 runs, irrespective of innings played.

Among the rules laid down bv the Knickerbockers of 1845 which have endured through all the succeeding 71 years are these:

(1) A baseball knocked outside of the boundary lines of first and third base shall be considered a foul.

(2)  If three balls are struck at and missed, the last being caught, it is a hand out (strikeout); if not caught, it is considered fair and the striker is privileged to run to the base.

(3) A running player who prevents an adversary, from catching or getting the ball before making the base is a hand out (out).

(4) Three hands out, side is out.

(5) If two men are out the scoring of a player on a hit on which the batter is put out before reaching first does not count.

(6) Players must bat in regular turn.

The next recognized contest was not played until five years later when the Knickerbockers accepted the challenge of a team composed of New York men who called their club the “Washingtons,” and the Knickerbockers introduced uniforms in that game which was played in Hoboken, June 3, 1851. The reason given for the use of the uniforms was that the Knickerbockers had found in their game five years before that trousers impeded their movements and that the wearing of linen shirts was a handicap.

The Knickerbockers won that second “big league” game 21 to 11 in eight innings. Two weeks later the same teams—Knickerbockers and Washingtons—played a 10-inning contest in Hoboken, the Knicker­bockers winning out 22 to 20.

The Washingtons, immediately after this second defeat, changed their name to the Gothams and the following year issued another chal­lenge to the Knickerbockers. It was accepted and the game was played in New York on June 27, 1852. It went 16 innings before the Gothams scored their 21 to 16 victory.

A year later—on July 5, 1853 to be exact—the Knickerbockers competed again, the Knickerbockers achieving victory of 21 to 12. The first tabular box score in baseball was compiled during the game. It was published July 16, 1853 in the New York Clipper. It follows, just as it appeared, without notation as to positions, and without errors, hits, assists, etc., which were not counted until a later period. [Note that the brothers "Faucet" are in fact Van Cott; "Miebuhr" is Niebuhr; and "Parison" is Parisen.]

Clipper Box Score July 19, 1853

Clipper Box Score July 19, 1853

It was just about that time that the people in New York began to take a real interest in the new game. Its devotees began to increase. A club, called the Eagles, was organized early in 1853, to be followed later in the summer by the formation of the Empire. The following year the Excelsiors, of Brooklyn, came into existence, to be followed in 1855 by Putnams of Williamsburg and the
Eckfords, also of Williamsburg and the Atlantics, of Jamaica, N. Y., in 1856.

It was in 1857, however, that baseball began to gain its real impetus. Until then there was no governing organization. The games were played in a haphazard way, some under the rules laid down in 1845, others partly under those laws but mainly under regulations made by the captains of both sides before a game began.

But in January, 1857, those who had been instrumental in forming the first Knickerbockers team, called together a “Baseball Convention.” Representatives from 25 clubs attended, and it was at that meeting that baseball was voted “America’s National Game.” And it was at that conference and later ones that Henry Chadwick was among the dominat­ing spirits.

With one major and two minor exceptions, the rules of 1845 were approved at that Conference. The one important change was to do away with the rule awarding a victory to the club first scoring 21 runs. Objections had been made to that rule due to the fact that many of the games had taken all afternoon and part of the evening before one or the other clubs scored 21 tallies.

The new rule accorded victory to the club scoring the most runs in nine innings but permitted the rival captains to play 5 inning games if they desired. In cases where 5 in­ning games were played and the score was tied at the end of the fifth inning, the game then went to nine innings, even though one club took the lead in the sixth, seventh or eighth. If the score was tied again in the ninth, the game continued as it does today—until one side or the other took the lead after a full in­ning of play.

Eckford trophy balls

Eckford trophy balls

After baseball became a, stand­ardized sport in 1858 it gained devotees by the hundreds. Teams sprang up everywhere. Its popular­ity spread beyond the confines of New York and reached all the big cities along the Atlantic seacoast, as well as many of the inland towns in New York state. The baseball colony increased by leaps and bounds.

It was in 1859, when I was 16 years old, that I really began my baseball career with the Eckfords. I began playing as a second baseman and continued there [i.e., at second base] barring one year until I finished my active diamond career in 1875.

(Note—The second chapter of “Baseball of Bygone Days” will ap­pear in these columns tomorrow. It will tell how royally umpires of the past era were treated; how the rule came about permitting players to | overrun the first bag; of a pitcher who hurled an iron ball all winter to develop speed, of many other in­teresting incidents of the past. Ed­itor).

Part Two follows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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