Mark Ruckhaus interviewed me some time back, and the story runs in the current issue of “The Inside Game: The Official Newsletter of SABR’s Deadball Era Committee.” I think it may be of passing interest to readers of Our Game, as it touches on baseball’s history as well as my own. I reprint this with the kind permission of the newsletters’s editor and SABR. Mark Ruckhaus kicks things off.
As it’s probably been with nearly everyone, there are numerous forks in the road where, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we can look back and ask, “How did I get here?” I asked Thorn about what might have been.
John: “Oh, like everyone on the periphery of the game, I would have preferred to have been a player — a shortstop, a center fielder, maybe. Or a writer of serial installments like Dickens, who held a nation in his grip while he decided what to do with Little Nell. Or a teacher. Or an archaeologist. But maybe I have been a little of each.”
Mark: As far as Baseball in the Garden of Eden is concerned, seeing that the Garden of Eden is, essentially, chapter one in the story of Creationism and your story is most definitely one of evolution, at least as it applies to baseball, was the choice of title deliberate?
John: “Of course. While the story of baseball’s ‘birth’ and rise may be one of evolution, the Garden of Eden exists in the minds of fans and is memorialized in Cooperstown. Baseball is a game in which no matter how admirable the players of today and how compelling their accomplishments, we believe in our hearts, ‘Well, it wasn’t as good as the Babe woulda done.’”
Mark: Speculative question, if you don’t mind … And that is, have we pretty much unearthed all the major baseball history there is? Or, might there be another Lucy (the ape-like hominid found in Ethiopia about 40 years ago) hiding under the floorboards of someone’s attic somewhere, something that could turn what we know about baseball on its head? It could include anything from a 19th century or Deadball Era Allan Roth up to people we haven’t heard about before. What would surprise you?
John: “I think the historical spelunking of the past 15 years has been sensational, and the sabermetric revolution, begun perhaps 35 years ago, is still gathering steam. I have been privileged to be in both camps, off and on, and it is perhaps unsurprising if I feel that little truly great work remains. I may feel that way because I am old, and because I have been at this awhile. But my feelings are irrelevant; my brain tells me that we will come to understand the present moment in the game better with each passing year, and that while fewer historical ‘finds’ may lie at out our feet, greater perspective on history is always available. David Laurila [Ruckhaus note: Laurila writes for Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America among others) once asked me, in the lobby of a SABR convention hotel, ‘What was the greatest unanswered baseball question that remained?’ I replied, ‘Why does it feel so good to play catch?’ Get at the to and fro of play — and of life itself — and there will be a discovery that dwarfs the others.”
Mark: Regarding baseball’s birth and development, it seemed that the Civil War spread the New York version of the game around the country at the expense of other local versions, likely equally as popular in their own areas. More speculation … How might baseball have developed without the Civil War? For that matter, how might it have developed had the Players League succeeded, which it almost did?
John: “I think the variant regional games of baseball, along with cricket, were all poised to fail of expansion by 1860. The hoary explanation that the Civil War, with its prisoners and veterans returning home having learned the ‘new game’ in the camps, has been pretty well exploded. If the Players League had succeeded I think nothing substantial would have been gained on the field of play or in the game’s organization, as capitalists were the vital force behind that league as much as they were in the [National League] and [American Association]. I cannot point to a single development in the game that, had it not occurred, would have rendered the game indisputably different. Baseball’s history and rules do not comprise a house of cards in which the addition or removal of a card might prove fatal to the whole.”
Mark: There was a confluence of two events that may well have upset that house of cards and sent baseball in a different direction. And that was the Federal League case that Judge Landis delayed his opinion on long enough for the league to go out of business combined with the Black Sox scandal. In the end, Landis becomes Commissioner, probably as repayment for what looked like the favor he did for MLB and the Terrapins take their case to the Supreme Court where, in not one of their finest hours, they upheld MLB’s anti-trust exemption. What’s your take on that period in baseball history?
John: “When baseball had its first boom in the 1880s, as the effects of the Depression of 1873 finally began to dissipate, the newfound optimism inspired the launch of two new leagues (American Association in 1882, Union Association in 1884). The reasons for the launch of the Players’ League (1890) were different, of course. Baseball’s next boom came after the Peace Agreement between the NL and AL in 1903, inspiring magnates to build new stadiums and a bunch of minor-league owners (Federal League, 1913) to have big-league aspirations, just as Ban Johnson had dreamed in 1900-01. The uncontrolled wild-west aspect of baseball in the 1910s gave rise to the Commissioner system and is highly interesting to the historian for all the swings in financial circumstances, the effect of our entry into WW I, and with Babe Ruth, the dawn of a new style of play. These are all truisms, but I mention them to indicate that my great interest in both the 1880s and 1910s is for largely the same reasons.”
Mark: More toward the era we write about here, in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, you mentioned, “When I first began writing baseball, I was enamored of the Deadball Era.” What was it about the era that you were enamored with?
John: “How rough, unpolished … experimental … it was. I loved that many things we today take for granted were novelties then. Gloria Swanson’s character Norma Desmond, in Sunset Boulevard, defended her silent-film days by saying that they did not feel the lack of words: ‘We had faces then.’ Well, Deadball players did not lack the home run.”
Mark: Though a lot has been written about Deadball, little seems to have been written about the style of play among the black teams of the era. After all, it was the blacks who brought the running game to MLB in the ’50s. Were they playing the white style of game in the aughts and teens or were they doing things differently and, if so, what were they?
John: “The minstrel tradition of showmanship was present in professional black baseball from the start — parades beforehand, sleight of hand and staged ‘bits’ during the game. The theatrical tradition — remember, baseball practitioners are called ‘players’ for a reason — continued into the Deadball Era, with less vigor and overt showmanship. But a daring style of play, shared with white baseball in the early years of the 20th century, persisted in the black game even after it, too, produced home run sluggers who might make a plodding base-to-base approach seem like superior strategy. When integration came in the late 1940s, African Americans brought their game of speed mixed with power to the formerly all-white major leagues and produced the beautiful game of our youth.”
Mark: You mentioned your enjoyment of the Deadball Era. Whether in that era or anywhere, is/are there any character or characters that seem to grab your attention and that you find fascinating above the others? If you don’t mind and, for the sake of discussion, mine would likely be Rube Waddell. The greats of the game back then could have survived in the current era as they had the talent and brains to “figure it out.” There are others, like George McBride and Bill Bergen, who would likely never have seen the light of day on an A-ball roster let alone MLB as there’s no market for good field/no-hit players at any position anymore. But Rube is an odd duck who might have been totally lost and ridiculed in the current day. Something just popped into my head. And you mentioned that those who participated in baseball were called “players” for a reason. Was Waddell more of a player/actor than a ballplayer — that he knew exactly what he was doing? Another one, and for a far different reason, is Honus Wagner. Immensely talented and his 1908 season is one of the most dominant ever, even in his 20s and 30s always looked like someone’s grandfather. Maybe it’s the black and white photos or maybe it’s the big schnozz. But he always looked much older than his years.
John: “I like Wagner, and I like Cobb, and I like Matty, too, especially because his life has been outstripped by the legend. Baseball writers felt they needed a Christian Gentleman, so they went to the Frank Merriwell stories for their model. Rube Waddell was the anti-Matty, the last of a line of heroes of the old sort. But he was no play-actor. He was a bit demented but, like all those shortchanged by God in one area, gifted in another. He is a great favorite of mine. I have a longish essay on this subject (that was recently posted) at narrative.ly (to be precise: http://narrative.ly/stories/very-respectable-adventures-gentleman-matty-and-dime-novel-frank/), and I will quote a passage from it:
If Mathewson was not truly a prince among men — and he had his moments, from punching out a lemonade vendor to “high-hatting” his teammates — the press was only too glad to fit him into that role, which had been vacant in the game to that time. Baseball had certainly been well represented in the lower archetypes — knave, fool, sot, rogue, libertine — but a prince was something new.
Dime-novel heroes were red-blooded, not blue; a nobleman on the frontier was a dude, a figure of fun. Sportswriters did not need to look to Elizabethan drama or Classical legend for inspiration. Why bother, when the dime novelists of the day were mining those age-old conventions already? Whether creating fictional heroes, after the manner of James Fenimore Cooper and Sir Walter Scott, or stretching the truth of real-life figures like John Paul Jones, Davy Crockett, or Buffalo Bill, the writers of the early dime novel were giving the people a national history unfettered from mere fact. With Deadwood Dick, Jesse James, Nick Carter, Jack Lightfoot, and of course Frank Merriwell, they were providing America with a usable past, just as Parson Weems had aimed to do with his tale of George Washington and the cherry tree.”
Mark: More toward the present, you were coauthor with Pete Palmer in The Hidden Game of Baseball and the Total Baseball books, both of which gave people a different and more detailed look at statistics, as Bill James did. In your opinion, have the sabermetrics become too dominating in the game with people paying too much attention to the numbers and might it be akin to people going to a dance and counting 1-2-3-4 to make sure they get the steps right rather than listening to the music?
John: “I don’t think that hyper-analysis or rote recitation of stats constitute the problem, if there is one. My complaint in recent years has been how lousy the sabermetric writing is, with material that would make for a snappy table instead making for indigestible prose. There is also a mind-numbing tendency among younger writers especially to use stats as bludgeons in their battle to convince readers that, say, Dwight Evans is a superior player to Tommy McCarthy. Certainly by now I am more attracted to story than to stats, but I have abandoned neither my interest in statistical analysis nor my belief that it ought to serve the story rather than be the story.”
Mark: I read in an interview you did with Bleacher Report a few years ago that, in or around 2010, former Commissioner Bud Selig might have written a letter, noted on the web site Hauls of Shame, that he still believed the Creationism version of baseball — that Doubleday created baseball out of whole cloth. As MLB Historian, did you straighten him out just a bit and has he come over to the Evolutionary side? In a deeper aspect, is the Creationism vs. Evolution in baseball a microcosm of the real world Creationism vs. Evolution argument? I mean, even showing them the history and irrefutable proof we have, at least so far, are there people who are still entrenched in their baseball creationist ways?
John: “It has not been part of my job description to challenge folklore but instead to embrace it as being more powerful and enduring than fact. And it’s fun. If people wish to credit Abner Doubleday with the invention of baseball, they are free to do so; it is, on the whole, harmless and does not impede the progress of historical investigation. Commissioner Selig and I share the belief that Abner Doubleday is baseball’s ‘Father’ to those who feel the need for such a figure; some folks find a depersonalized evolutionary tale excessively dull. There are those who believe in Santa Claus, or Dracula, or Bigfoot. To them I say, mazel tov. The world spins anyhow.”
Mark: But the Commissioner believing in baseball Creationism might be akin to the Pope espousing evolution, wouldn’t it?
John: “Your proposition is silly. An understanding of history, on the one hand, and faith, on the other, have no rational intersection.”
Mark: It was Mark Twain who said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Is that how folklore marches on and is so powerful?
John: “Lying and folklore are kissing cousins, to the extent a ‘needful lie’ will, over time, become history — and then successfully resist attempts to revise it. I have great respect for the enduring strength of myth (which is a highly constructed sort of lying). I wrote in Eden: ‘It is said in folklore circles that when a custom is too old for its origins to be remembered, a story is often devised to rationalize what would otherwise be baffling. Such has been the case with baseball.’”
Mark: Is the Hall of Fame relevant? After all, its foundation in Cooperstown is built on a lie as Doubleday never invented baseball and may not even have been in Cooperstown in 1839. And, considering it’s become the Hall of the Very Good, most of it likely due to the Frankie Frisch-led Veterans’ Committee, does the HOF have the meaning it should? If not, what would you do to change it?
John: “The Hall may have been founded on sand, but its foundation has stiffened with age, and it has a venerable past all its own. It’s not going anywhere, let alone away, and I think the electors have done an amazingly good job when one views the entire span of inductions since 1936. One may disagree with this inclusion or that one, but there are very few figures of great magnitude on the outside looking in (Marvin Miller is a notable exception to this view, I recognize). Me, I wouldn’t change a thing. Let the Hall tinker with its own procedures, and trust to their good sense and instinct for self-preservation.”
Mark: In your position as MLB Historian and remembering the famous Santayana quote and realizing that many in this country have either forgotten the past or don’t particularly care about it, how do you go about “spreading the word,” so to speak, and getting people, especially youngsters (as they’re baseball’s next customers) interested in that aspect of the game?
John: “The best outreach mechanisms have been via the web. ‘Our Game’ is astonishingly well attended for so nerdy a blog. I have nearly 10,000 followers [now greater–jt] on Twitter and as many friends as I might wish on Facebook. I am active on both — no recipes, no cats, just history.”
Well, last week was the week that was … and in this column, so is next week. The past is present, especially in baseball, reflected in current events and providing background and context that illuminates the shadows. Speed up the game? Well, we have heard about that since the 1850s, when called strikes were introduced to deter batters from delaying the game by letting good pitches go by; and then a few years later, when the advent of called balls was designed to deter pitcher dallying. The proposed “20-second” rule, designed to have pitchers get on with the show, has been on the books since … 1901: “The umpire shall call a ball on the pitcher each time he delays the game by failing to deliver the ball to the batsman when in position for a longer period than 20 seconds.” Can things go too far in the name of speeding up the game? Read the entry below for June 27, 1911!
1886: African-American lefthander George Stovey makes his pitching debut with Jersey City of the Eastern League after being purchased from the Cuban Giants. On July 14, as the directors of the integrated International League were discussing the circuit’s troubled racial situation in Buffalo, the Newark Little Giants planned to pitch Stovey in an exhibition game against the NL’s Chicago White Stockings. The Toronto World reported that “Hackett intended putting Stovey in the box against the Chicagos, but Anson objected to his playing on ac¬count of his color.” Stovey did not pitch, but Newark won, 9-4. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/08/20/out-at-home-part-3/
1916: Cleveland players‚ in a game with the White Sox‚ wear numbers pinned to their sleeves‚ marking the first time players are identified by numbers corresponding to those on the scorecard. The practice is not broadly customary, however, until the late 1920s, after the Yankees affix numbers to the backs of their jerseys.
1944: More than 50‚000 pack the Polo Grounds to watch the Yankees‚ Dodgers and Giants play each other in a 6-inning round-robin contest to raise money for war bonds. Each team plays successive innings against the other two teams‚ then sits out an inning. The final score is Dodgers 5‚ Yankees 1‚ Giants‚ 0. This game was a precursor of the Mayor’s Trophy series, which began in 1946. The notion of a postseason city series dates to 1882.
1911: In the seventh inning at Boston‚ the A’s Stuffy McInnis steps into the batter’s box to lead off and hits Ed Karger’s warm-up pitch for an inside-the-park home run while the Red Sox are still taking their positions. Boston manager Patsy Donovan protests, but umpire Ben Egan upholds the homer on the basis of Ban Johnson’s new rule prohibiting warmup pitches. Intended to save time, the rule—which dictated that pitchers must throw as soon as the batter is in the box—is soon withdrawn.
1955: Boston’s young star 1B Harry Agganis dies of complications following a bout with pneumonia, age 26. The “Golden Greek” was hitting .313 this season in 25 games. His last appearance was in a May 15 doubleheader when he stroked five hits.
1958: In a bid for a perfect no-hitter‚ Billy Pierce of the White Sox retires 26 Washington Senators in a row before pinch-hitter Ed Fitzgerald doubles. Pierce then fans Albie Pearson to win‚ 3-0. Other perfect games lost with two outs in the ninth: Max Scherzer just last week; Armando Galarraga, Yusmeiro Petit and Yu Darvish (2013); Mike Mussina (2001); Ron Holman (1990): Dave Steib (1989); Ron Robinson (1988); Milt Wilcox (1983); Milt Pappas (1972); Tommy Bridges (1932); Hooks Wiltse (1908).
1999: Hack Wilson ups his RBI total for the 1930 season to 191, reflecting SABR research commenced in 1977. The Commissioner’s office also gives Babe Ruth six additional walks‚ raising his career-record total to 2‚062. “There is no doubt that Hack Wilson’s RBI total should be 191‚” Commissioner Bud Selig said. “I am sensitive to the historical significance that accompanies the correction of such a prestigious record‚ especially after so many years have passed‚ but it is important to get it right.” When 1980 research revealed that Ty Cobb’s hit total was inflated by a double entered 2-for-4 in 1910, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn declared a “statute of limitations” on historical investigation. For more, see: http://goo.gl/xqDoYl
1947: California wins the initial College World Series with an 8-7 victory over Yale. Cal freshman pitcher Jackie Jensen, who will later star in the majors, is staked to a 7-3 lead, but is relieved after a bout of wildness. Yale first sacker George Bush has no hits in the two games, but scores a run and makes 17 putouts with no errors.
1915: Recent University of Michigan graduate George Sisler makes his big-league debut as a pinch hitter. Sisler stays on to pitch the last three innings‚ giving up no runs‚ in the Browns 4-2 loss to the White Sox. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/01/07/george-sisler-remembers/
1990: Oakland’s Dave Stewart and the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela both throw no-hitters today‚ the first time this has happened since Hippo Vaughan and Fred Toney’s double no-hitter of May 2, 1917. Stewart blanks the Blue Jays 5-0‚ and a few hours later Valenzuela beats the Cardinals 6-0. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/02/04/thinking-about-football/
1905: At Brooklyn‚ the Giants score seven runs in the first three innings to coast to an 11-1 victory. Dan McGann paces the offense with a triple and homer‚ while Moonlight Graham‚ in his only game in the majors‚ takes over in right field as a late inning replacement. Graham will have no at-bats but will be made famous in W. P. Kinsella’s Field of Dreams.
1897: The Chicago Colts score in every inning to demolish Louisville 36-7 while setting the NL record for runs scored. Chicago amasses 32 hits good for 51 bases with Barry McCormick hitting 4 singles‚ a triple‚ and a homer.
1886: Sid Farrar’s grand slam gives the Phillies a 4-2 decision over the Whites. Farrar’s grandest contribution, however, was to father opera and film star Geraldine Farrar (1882-1967).
1998: Mark McGwire belts his 37th homer of the year‚ tying Reggie Jackson’s record for most homers before the All-Star break. The homer is a 472-ft upper deck shot off Kansas City’s Glendon Rusch.
1949: In Chicago‚ Ruth Ann Steinhagen is arraigned for shooting Eddie Waitkus. Waitkus‚ in a wheel chair‚ testifies at the hearing. A jury finds her criminally insane and by early afternoon she is on her way to Kankakee State mental hospital. The Waitkus shooting inspired Bernard Malamud’s novel, and the later film made from it, The Natural.
1905: Nap Lajoie is sidelined by blood poisoning from neglect of a spike wound. He will play in only 65 games‚ losing a chance to lead the AL in batting for the fifth straight year. The infection was thought to have been caused by the red stocking his club wore; in subsequent years, ballplayers would swap their colored hose for stirrups, worn over white sanitary stockings.
1945: Hank Greenberg‚ absent from the game for four years because of his early enlistment in the war effort, homers in his first game following his release from the Army.
1941: Despite the 95 degree weather‚ 52‚832 are on hand at Yankee Stadium to watch Joe DiMaggio lead a sweep of the Red Sox‚ 7-2 and 9-2. DiMaggio has two hits in the first game‚ off Mike Ryba‚ and one in the 2nd‚ off Jack Wilson‚ to tie Willie Keeler’s batting streak of 44 games. Fortunately for Joe, he gets his second-game hit early, as the contest is stopped after five frames.
1859: The first intercollegiate baseball match is played between Amherst and Williams colleges at Pittsfield‚ MA. Amherst wins the 26-inning game by a score of 73-32. Then why did the game take 26 innings, you ask? Because it was played under “Massachusetts Game Rules,” in whichan inning is one-out, side out. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/12/04/the-first-intercollegiate-ball-game-1859/
1963: In a classic pitching matchup in San Francisco, Juan Marichal prevails over Warren Spahn 1-0 in 16 innings. Both pitchers go all the way. Willie Mays’s homer off Spahn at 12:31 A.M., with one out in the bottom of the 16th, gives Marichal the edge.
1903: Seeing that George Davis is playing for the Giants‚ Ed Delahanty decides to jump to New York too. Leaving the Washington Senators in Detroit‚ he boards an eastbound train. He is put off the train for rowdy‚ and possibly drunken‚ behavior at Niagara Falls. When he tries to walk across the railroad bridge over the Niagara River‚ he falls to his death. Delahanty had a .346 lifetime batting average over 16 seasons.
1885: Against New York‚ Detroit right fielder Gene Moriarty injures himself chasing a foul fly in the sixth inning. He is replaced by 25-year-old Sam Thompson in his big-league debut. The future Hall of Famer was an RBI machine in the years before they were officially counted, three times driving in more runs that he played games.
Gary Hailey’s article continues from yesterday (http://goo.gl/hhR5N1).
THE WAR MOVES TO THE COURTROOM
On January 27, the Baltimore stockholders voted to authorize the club’s directors to spend up to $50,000 on “litigation in such form as they deem advisable” to protect the stockholders’ interests. They eventually filed suit in Washington on September 20, 1917.
After a year and a half of legal skirmishing, a jury was sworn in On March 25, 1919. The testimony summarized above was presented, the judge gave his instructions, and the jury retired to deliberate On April 12. Given the judge’s instructions to the jury–which, in essence, told the jury that O.B. had in fact violated the federal antitrust laws, and that the Baltimore club was entitled to recover for any damages it suffered as a result–the verdict came as no surprise. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and assessed damages at $80,000. The antitrust laws provide that guilty defendants pay three times the amount of the actual damages plus attorneys’ fees, so the final judgement was for $254,000.
Organized Baseball’s lawyers immediately appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. They attacked the trial court’s decision on a number of legal grounds, but focused most of their attention on a single key issue:
By far the most important question presented by the assignments of error is whether professional baseball is interstate commerce.
In his memoirs, George Wharton Pepper, O.B.’s top lawyer, described his appeal strategy.
I raised at every opportunity the objection that a spontaneous output of human activity is not in its nature commerce, that therefore Organized Baseball cannot be interstate commerce; and that, it not being commerce among the states, the federal statute could have no application….
… [T]he case came on for argument … on October 15th [, 1920]. I mention the date because of the coincidence that on the same day there was being played the final game in the [Dodgers vs. Indians] World Series of that year ….
. . . Counsel for the Federal League made the grave mistake of minimizing the real point in the case (the question, namely whether interstate commerce was involved) and sought to inflame the passions of the Court by a vehement attack upon the evils of [Organized Baseball], a few of which were real and many, as I thought, imaginary. I argued with much earnestness the proposition that personal effort not related to production is not a subject of commerce; that the attempt to secure all the skilled service needed for professional baseball is not an attempt to monopolize commerce or any part of it; and that Organized Baseball, not being commerce, and therefore not interstate commerce, does not come within the scope of the prohibitions of the Sherman [Antitrust] Act.
If the business of professional baseball was not interstate commerce, it was not subject to the Sherman Antitrust Act or any other federal regulation, even if all of the Baltimore club’s allegations of monopoly and conspiracy were found to be true.
On December 6, 1920, the Court of Appeals issued its decision, which was written by its Chief Justice, Constantine J. Smyth. Chief Justice Smyth first stated that interstate commerce “require[s] the transfer of something, whether it be persons, commodities, or intelligence” from one state to another. But, Smyth wrote,
A game of baseball is not susceptible of being transferred…. Not until [the players] come into contact with their opponents on the baseball field and the contest opens does the game come into existence. It is local in its beginning and in its end. Nothing is transferred in the process to those who patronize it. The exertions of skill and agility which they witness may excite in them pleasurable emotions, just as might a view of a beautiful picture or a masterly performance of some drama; but the game effects no exchange of things. . . .
It didn’t really matter that baseball players traveled across state lines, or that the players carried their bats, balls, gloves, and uniforms across state lines with them.
The players, it is true, travel from place to place in interstate commerce, but they are not the game ….
The transportation in interstate commerce of the players and the paraphernalia used by them was but an incident to the main purpose of the appellants, namely the production of the game. It was for it they were in business–not for the purpose of transferring players, balls, and uniforms. The production of the game was the dominant thing in their activities ….
. . . So, here, baseball is not commerce, though some of its incidents may be.
Suppose a law firm in the city of Washington sends its members to points in different states to try lawsuits; they would travel, and probably carry briefs and records, in interstate commerce. Could it be correctly said that the firm, in the trial of the lawsuits, was engaged in trade and commerce? Or, take the case of a lecture bureau, which employs persons to deliver lectures before Chautauqua gatherings at points in different states. It would be necessary for the lecturers to travel in interstate commerce, in order that they might fulfill their engagements; but would it not be an unreasonable stretch of the ordinary meaning of the words to say that the bureau was engaged in trade or commerce?
Chief Justice Smyth then cited with approval cases holding that those who produce theatrical exhibitions, practice medicine, or launder clothes are not engaged in commerce.
The Baltimore club tried to persuade the United States Supreme Court to reinstate the original verdict in its favor. But Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for a unanimous Court, upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals.
[E]xhibitions of base ball … are purely state affairs. It is true that, in order to attain for these exhibitions the great popularity that they have achieved, competitions must be arranged between clubs from different cities and States. But the fact that in order to give the exhibitions the League must induce free persons to cross state lines and must arrange and pay for their doing so is not enough to change the character of the business…. [T]he transport is a mere incident, not the essential thing. That to which it is incident, the exhibition, although made for money would not be called trade or commerce in the commonly accepted use of those words. As it is put by the defendants, personal effort, not related to production, is not a subject of commerce. That which in its consummation is not commerce does not become commerce among the States because the transportation that we have mentioned takes place. To repeat the illustrations given by the Court below, a firm of lawyers sending out a member to argue a case, or the Chautauqua lecture bureau sending out lecturers, does not engage in such commerce because the lawyer or lecturer goes to another State.
The Supreme Court’s decision was issued on May 29, 1922–almost seven years after the Baltimore Federals played their last game.
Given the legal doctrines of its day, the Federal Baseball case was correctly decided. The courts of that era applied the federal antitrust laws only to businesses that were primarily engaged in the production, sale, or transportation of tangible goods.
It is popularly believed that Organized Baseball was given immunity from the antitrust laws because baseball was a sport, not a business. That belief has grown out of a passage in the Court of Appeals opinion:
If a game of baseball, before a concourse of people who pay for the privilege of witnessing it, is trade or commerce, then the college teams who play football where an admission fee is charged, engage in an act of trade or commerce. But the act is not trade or commerce; it is sport. The fact that [Organized Baseball] produce[s] baseball games as a source of profit, large or small, cannot change the character of the games. They are still sport, not trade.
But a close reading of that language and the rest of Chief Justice Smyth’s opinion shows that the key to the decision was not the fact that baseball was a sport. The more crucial fact was that baseball–as well as the practice of law or medicine, the production of grand opera, and the other nonsporting activities cited in the opinion–was not commerce.
Antitrust doctrines have changed radically since Federal Baseball was decided in 1922. The cases that the Supreme Court relied upon in holding that baseball wasn’t interstate commerce have long ago been overruled. By 1960, the Supreme Court had held that doctors, theatrical producers, boxing promoters, and even the National Football League were subject to the federal antitrust laws.
But baseball has somehow retained its uniquely privileged status. In 1953 and again in 1972, in the celebrated Curt Flood case, the Supreme Court affirmed the holding of Federal Baseball. Justice Blackmun, in Flood vs. Kuhn, noted that baseball’s antitrust immunity was “an anomaly” and “an aberration.” But, he noted,
Remedial legislation has been introduced repeatedly in Congress but none has ever been enacted. The Court, accordingly, has concluded that Congress as yet has had no intention to subject baseball’s reserve system to the reach of the antitrust statutes….
…. If there is any inconsistency or illogic in all this, it is an inconsistency and illogic of long standing that is to be remedied by the Congress and not by this Court.
Is the Federal Baseball ruling of any consequence today? After all, the players’ union has managed to decimate the reserve clause through collective bargaining. Free agency, arbitration, limits on trades without consent–no longer is the major league player, in Curt Flood’s words, “a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of [his] wishes.”
But what about the owners? Al Davis and Robert Irsay could move away from Oakland and Baltimore because the antitrust laws prevent the other NFL owners from taking concerted action against such moves. What if Calvin Griffith, rather than selling the Twins, had decided to move them to Tampa–or back to Washington, D.C.–without American League approval? If the other owners simply refused to schedule any games with the Twins and Griffith sued them, would Federal Baseball still control?
Or what if the USFL owners decided to start a baseball league, too? (Perhaps they would play in the fall and winter.) If Organized Baseball threatened NBC that it would never again sell broadcast rights to that network if it televised the new league’s games, would the “USBL” win the antitrust suit that would undoubtedly follow?
Surely then Federal Baseball--a case decided over sixty [today ninety–ED.] years ago, long before television, jet airplanes, free agents, and night baseball–would finally be laid to rest. Of course, that was what Curt Flood’s lawyers thought would happen in 1972. Federal Baseball may be an anomaly and an aberration–but it may also outlive us all.
Gary Hailey’s article continues from yesterday (http://goo.gl/GyXEQI).
Baltimore officials did hear rumors that some Federal League owners were negotiating a settlement. At a November 9 league meeting in Indianapolis, Baltimore President Rasin asked Gilmore, Weeghman, and Sinclair point-blank if there was any truth in newspaper reports to that effect. All three denied that they were in communication with Organized Baseball, but Rasin suspected at the time that their denials “might not be frank.” In early December, Rasin saw more “newspaper talk” that O.B. and the Federal League were about to cut a deal. When he called Gilmore, Gilmore again assured him that there was no truth to the rumors.
On December 12, Gilmore ran into three National League officials in the lobby of New York City’s Biltmore Hotel. One of them asked Gilmore to “come around and take this matter up” at the National League owners’ meeting scheduled for the next day. Gilmore turned down the invitation. “Absolutely nothing doing,” he said. “We have gone too far and made too much progress on our New York invasion.”
The next day, the same men called Gilmore and asked him to “come over and fix this thing up.” Gilmore–hoping to hook his adversaries a little more firmly before reeling them in–feigned disinterest. “I told you the other day I would not have anything to do with it,” he said, “and I will not talk about it.”
Gilmore then turned to Harry Sinclair and said, in a voice loud enough for his caller to hear, “Harry, these people want [us] to come over and talk to them. Do you want to go?” Also intending the caller to hear him, Sinclair replied, “We might as well go and hear what they have to say.” The two of them went to National League President Tener’s office to discuss the situation.
Gilmore, Sinclair, and the National League representatives came to a tentative peace agreement. First, the NL agreed to make all blacklisted Federal League players eligible to play in O.B. and to let the Federal League owners sell their players’ contracts to the highest bidders. Next, the NL owners offered to buy the Brooklyn Federals’ park for $400,000, subject to the American League owners agreeing to kick in half of that sum. They also promised to approve the sale of the Chicago Cubs to Chicago Federals owner Charles E. Weeghman and put up $50,000 of the purchase price. The NL owners then agreed to buyout the Pittsburgh Federals for $50,000. Sinclair was a close friend of St. Louis Federals owner Phil Ball, and he assured the conferees that Ball would be satisfied if he could buy either the Cardinals or the Browns. The Buffalo and Kansas City clubs were no longer members in good standing of the Federal League–their owners had run out of money before the season ended, and the other teams had provided funds to pay their players in order to keep the league’s financial problems a secret–so there was little need to worry about them. There was apparently no discussion concerning the Newark franchise, even though owner Sinclair was present.
That left only the Baltimore club. Gilmore testified that he asked for $200,000 for Baltimore’s owners, but was laughed at. He later told Sinclair that he thought it was wise “to start high.” The meeting then broke up.
On December 16, 1915, Rasin received a telegram from Gilmore: “You and Hanlon be at Biltmore in morning. Important.” Rasin, Hanson, and Janney took the midnight train to New York, and went to Gilmore’s apartment at the Biltmore Hotel on the morning of December 17. Gilmore explained that he had summoned them to New York to tell them that the 1916 Federal League season was “all off.” Gilmore then told the stunned Baltimore officials about the tentative peace agreement of the 13th.
Janney and Rasin asked why Gilmore and the others had agreed to sell out, but Gilmore did not reply. They then asked what arrangements had been made concerning the Baltimore club’s interests. None, said Gilmore; however, he was sure that Baltimore would be “taken care of” before the settlement was made final.
Later, Sinclair, Weeghman, and representatives of other Federal League teams joined the meeting. They told the Baltimoreans that the opportunity to make peace had arisen suddenly and unexpectedly, and no one then present in New York felt he had authority to speak for Baltimore; however, like Gilmore, they were all sure that the National Commission would give due consideration to Baltimore’s claims.
The Baltimore officials were in no mood to take Gilmore’s advice and “accept the situation philosophically.” According to Janney, the discussion “grew rather bitter.” When Sinclair defended his and his allies’ actions, “quite a dispute arose” between him and Janney; “his words and mine,” Janney testified, “were not always of the smoothest.” Janney argued that the Federal League clubs should get some share of the proceeds of any agreement to dissolve the circuit, but Sinclair said he “would have none of that.”
Gilmore and his allies hoped to finalize the December 13 agreement at a meeting with American and National League club owners that evening at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. According to Gilmore, Comstock, and Ward, Rasin moved that a committee of three–Gilmore, Sinclair, and Weeghman–be authorized to represent all the Federal League clubs at that meeting. Rasin denied that he made such a motion.
THE WALDORF MEETING
The Waldorf meeting was called to order by National Commission president August Herrmann at 9:10 P.M., Friday, December 17, 1915. Among the thirty or so baseball men present at the meeting were American and National League presidents Johnson and Tener; Federal Leaguers Gilmore, Sinclair, Weeghman, and Rasin; American League owners Charles Comiskey (White Sox) and Colonel Jacob Ruppert (Yankees); and National League owners Charles Ebbets (Dodgers), James Gaffney (Braves), and Barney Dreyfuss (Pirates). A stenographer was present, and a transcript was produced.
The conferees quickly ratified those parts of the tentative peace agreement of December 13 that provided that the National League would put up $50,000 toward Weeghman’s purchase of the Cubs; that Organized Baseball would pay R.B. Ward’s heirs $20,000 a year for twenty years in exchange for the Brooklyn Federals’ stadium; that Organized Baseball would pay $50,000 to the owners of the Pittsburgh Federals; and that all Federal League players would be eligible to return to O.B.
Gilmore was asked if his committee was empowered to enter into a binding agreement on behalf of the Federal League.
Gilmore: I can say for the Federal League that the committee represented here tonight was appointed with full authority to discuss this proposition with you, and conclude any agreement that we might come to, and we are ready to open up the talk and see what can be done.
Herrmann: I understand, Mr. Gilmore, you state now that you have authority to act on behalf of the Federal League; that is, your committee?
Gilmore: We have full authority, Mr. Herrmann.
Rasin did not challenge Gilmore’s assertion. At about the time the meeting was beginning, a Baltimore Sun reporter went to the Biltmore to tell Janney that it looked as if Baltimore might be able to get a National League team. Janney hurried to the Waldorf, where Rasin also told him that Baltimore had a good chance of landing an established franchise if they asked for one. Herrmann then gave Janney the floor.
We feel just as I suppose everyone feels, that peace is the very best proposition in baseball and for baseball. We are all willing to concede that, and we hope it will come about. There is in the proposal which has been adopted, and which has been signed by certain parties–the situation in Baltimore is not touched upon, and it seems to me important in several aspects. In the first place, Baltimore has a population of seven hundred and fifty or eight hundred thousand people, including the suburbs ….
We are willing to purchase and pay for a franchise in the major leagues, if we can get it, and we want that to be the main keynote of our situation this evening ….
We are not venturing to suggest to you gentlemen just what franchise we think that would be. You could work that out probably better than ourselves, but that is our starting point, and that is what we would like to see, and which we lay before you.
Baltimore is not mentioned in the proposals that you have heretofore considered, and we think that, that is–we want to be taken up with every consideration, and … if you state or suggest that Baltimore would not pay the rest of the teams what the city does from which the franchise might be moved, we would be willing, and we will say that [we] will guarantee to pay as much as the city from which it is moved. In other words, the patronage there, we are willing to stand back of. We know it is there. We know that the people [will] attend the games, and we know we can produce the same revenue for a visiting team that has been produced by the city from which it will be moved ….
We represent a large body of representative citizens there, and we will see to it that suitable guarantees are given to back up every word that I have said. That is our position, gentlemen; and … we do not ask anything if we could be given the privilege of buying and locating a major league club in Baltimore, at a reasonable price, a franchise in … either one or the other of the two major leagues which you represent. We do not ask anybody to sacrifice anything or contribute to us. We are willing to stand in our own position and come forward and back our words with deeds and give you suitable guarantees.
Several of the major league owners present ridiculed the notion that Baltimore could support a major league franchise.
Comiskey: Well, what would you give for a franchise in Baltimore? Suppose we could blow life into McGraw and Kelley and Jennings and all those players that you had there that you could not support …. What would you give for those players if we would guarantee that they would play good ball in Baltimore for ten years, what would you pay for them and how loyally would you support them?
Janney: We would support them well.
Comiskey: What crowd would you draw?
Janney: We would draw sufficient to enable us to pay $250,000 for a franchise.
Comiskey: That is just the proper price for a minor league franchise …. Baltimore, a minor-league city, and not a hell of a good one at that.
Ebbets: That’s right.
Comiskey: As sure as you are sitting there now, and your friends will tell you. Charlie, show them what you have got in Baltimore. You are the best evidence in the world. Tell them what you drew in Baltimore ….
Ebbets: When [Ned Hanlon] quit Baltimore and came to Brooklyn, he said, “Baltimore is not a major league city.” We lost money in Baltimore operating the club with the same players that Mr. Comiskey speaks of.
Janney: There are very peculiar circumstances that brought that about.
Ebbets: Nothing peculiar about it; it is a minor league city, positively and absolutely, and will never be anything else.
Janney: That is your opinion.
Ebbets: Sure that is my opinion, because I had a piece of experience and lost money down there.
Janney: But money has been lost in other towns also in baseball.
Ebbets: Not in major league cities.
Janney: Yes, they have been lost in other towns that are major league cities.
Ebbets: It is one of the worst minor league towns in this country.
Janney: It will never be a minor league town because the people feel naturally–
Ebbets: You have too many colored population to start with. They are a cheap population when it gets down to paying their money at the gate.
Janney: They come across, I think, in good shape. This is perfectly futile, of course. It requires your consent and I am not going to try to convince you when you are so set in your ways.
Janney was right to call further discussion futile. Under both American and National League rules, the transfer of any franchise to Baltimore would require the unanimous consent of the league owners. From the statements of the owners at the meeting, it is clear that any motion to give Baltimore an existing team–Janney and Rasin had thought the Cardinals might be available–would have been met not with unanimous consent, but unanimous refusal.
The two sides agreed that a detailed settlement, including something for Baltimore, should be worked out by the National Commission and a Federal League committee of three. Gilmore proposed that himself, Sinclair, and Weeghman serve as that committee, and neither Janney nor Rasin objected.
There was then some discussion of the Federal League’s pending antitrust suit against Organized Baseball, which Judge Landis had still not decided. National League counsel John C. Toole felt that the suit should be withdrawn before any more negotiating was done:
[I]t seems to me that the very first thing that should be done, and that should be done very promptly, to show that the thing is moving along, is that both sides should agree that that action be discontinued, and prompt steps should be taken to discontinue it and get it out of the way. That ought to be done before you have any meeting of the [National] Commission with this committee.
Janney objected that Toole was putting the cart before the horse.
Janney: I think that should be part of the agreement ultimately reached, that the suit be discontinued. It would not certainly be any discourtesy to the Court for parties to a litigation to discuss its composition, and when they come to a composition, then to have the dismissal of the action as a part of the composition.
Toole: You are not settling that suit, that is the difficulty. If you were settling that litigation, that is another thing, but you are settling a multitude of things in no way involved in that, and reaching agreements on them and this decision has been in abeyance. He may decide it tomorrow, and all this go to nothing, and put you all in a very embarrassing position, although you do not, perhaps, get into contempt of court.
Janney: I think the most that could be done, so far as I can see, would be to wire our respective counsel to appear before the Court tomorrow and advise him that there are matters under discussion which may ultimately result in an agreement, and if this agreement is effective, it will involve the discontinuance of the action before him, and suggest it would be proper for him to delay rendering a decision in it until this could be seen, whether the composition was effected, and that would be perfectly compatible with every possible legal or courteous principle…. What we do here will be subject to the dismissal. It is not usual to dismiss the case and then compose it. You compose it and then dismiss it…. You do not dismiss your suit and then agree how to settle it. That is that whole settlement. You settle this thing, and then, with your settlement, go and dismiss it. I have no objection, of course, to notifying the attorneys and telling them to do everything that is necessary to be courteous and pleasing to the Court.
When the meeting was adjourned, Toole telegraphed Organized Baseball’s Chicago attorney:
Negotiations are pending, which if carried out will result in an agreement to withdraw the action brought by the Federal League. Please bring the matter to the attention of ]udge Landis, if you think it advisable, and secure his approval of situation. Communicate with attorneys for Federal League, who will be advised by their client.
The Federal League was dead, but Gilmore and his allies weren’t shedding any tears over its demise. Fearful that the league was doomed anyway, they decided to cut their losses rather than fight to the finish. Organized Baseball was happy to offer the Federal League a generous peace settlement. After all, there was still a chance that Judge Landis would issue a damaging verdict in the Federal League’s antitrust action. The rival league’s New York bluff also raised the specter of even more bitter competition for players and fans, with plenty of red ink to go around.
Ban Johnson would have preferred not to call a truce. The Federal League’s threat to put a team in New York may have fooled the National League, but the American League knew better: It had considered building a new stadium on the Lenox Avenue property years earlier, but found that it was absolutely impractical to locate a park there. Johnson was characteristically blunt in describing his feelings about the peace pact.
Q. Can you tell us without any lengthy answer why did you pay $50,000 for [the Pittsburgh park]?
A. That was a tentative agreement that the National League entered into, and we abided by their decision in the matter. I could not see any reason why Pittsburgh should be given
$50,000. As a matter of fact I did not want to give a five-cent piece to Pittsburgh.
Q. What you wanted to do was to knock them out?
A. Knock them out; that is it.
Q. Not to pay a cent?
A. Not a nickel.
Q. You were not as generous as Mr. Herrmann. Mr. Herrmann said yesterday he wanted to help them out.
A. I did not want to help them out. I am very frank in that regard.
The National Commission and the Federal League committee signed a peace treaty in Cincinnati On December 22. Before the agreement was concluded, Gilmore called Rasin to ask if Baltimore would accept $75,000, but Rasin said no. Another meeting to discuss Baltimore’s claims was held in Cincinnati on January 5, 1916, but no settlement was reached. A day or two later, Baltimore filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, but Assistant Attorney General Todd announced on January 11 that he had no reason to believe that Organized Baseball had violated the antitrust laws.
Gary Hailey’s article continues from yesterday (http://goo.gl/GyXEQI).
JOHNSON FIGHTS BACK
Walsh never wrote to American League president Ban Johnson, as Lichtenheim had suggested. But only two weeks after Lichtenheim had written to Walsh, Johnson made his opinions known. In a March 5, 1914, interview with a New York Evening Sun writer, Johnson “declared war” on the Federal League.
There can be no peace until the Federal League has been exterminated … [W]e will fight these pirates to the finish. There will be no quarter.
Yes, I’ve heard that peacemakers are at work, but they are wasting their time. The American League will tolerate no such interference ….
This Federal League movement is taken too seriously, why, the whole thing is a joke. They are holding a meeting once a week to keep from falling to pieces. Quote me as saying that the Federals have no money in Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh. They have no ball parks in any of their cities, except an amateur field in Kansas City and a ramshackle affair in Pittsburgh. There are some wooden bleachers put up on Hanlon’s Park in Baltimore, I believe.
We hear from day to day that the Feds have millions behind them. If that is true they ought to build half million dollar stadium[s] in a few weeks. But getting down to brass tacks, they have neither grounds nor players that amount to anything.
When the list of players is finally announced the baseball public will realize what a bluff these fellows have been putting up. They have many unknown players, taken offthe lots[,] and a bunch of Bush Leaguers with a sprinkling of big fellows. But the American League will lose not more than ten men ….
We are going to cut and slash right and left from now on. We intend to show up the four flushers and the bluffers in the proper light.
The Johnson interview appeared in print the day before fifty-odd major leaguers returned to New York on the “Lusitania” after an around-the-world trip. According to the plaintiff, Johnson’s tough talk was intended to frighten those players away from the Federal League as well as to destroy the new circuit’s credibility with the public.
THE 1914 SEASON
In spite of Organized Baseball’s opposition, the Federal League opened the 1914 season confident of success. Opening day attendance was high, with Baltimore’s home opener attracting a standing-room-only crowd of 19,000.
The 1914 pennant race was a close one: Indianapolis, led by outfielder Benny Kauff (who hit .370, stole 75 bases, and scored 120 runs) and pitcher Cy Falkenberg (a 25-game winner with a 2.22 ERA and 9 shutouts), edged Chicago by one and a half games, with Baltimore a close third. Still, total Federal. League attendance did not approach that of either the American or National League. The Chicago Federals led the league in attendance, but drew fewer fans than the sixth-place White Sox. The established leagues suffered as well; AL attendance fell from 3.5 million in 1913 to 2.75 million in 1914.
The players were not complaining about the competition between the rival leagues. The Federal League eventually signed 81 major leaguers and 140 minor leaguers to contracts, nearly all of them at much higher salaries. Other players used the threat of jumping to get more money from teams in O.B. Several players–including Ray Caldwell, Walter Johnson, “Reindeer Bill” Killefer, and Ivy Wingo–signed contracts with Federal League teams but were persuaded to jump back to their former clubs. Caldwell made $2400 in 1913, but the Yankees gave him a four-year contract paying $8000 annually to bring him back into the fold. Killefer’s and Wingo’s salaries also more than doubled while Johnson’s went from $7000 to $12,500.
Several times, disputes over who had rights to a player ended up in court. Organized Baseball did not take legal action against players who were reserved but not under contract, but it did go to court to restrain players who had signed contracts for the 1914 season from jumping leagues. Early that season, pitchers Dave Davenport and George “Chief’Johnson and outfielder Armando Marsans of the Cincinnati Reds jumped to Federal League clubs. A Missouri federal judge granted the Reds’ request for an injunction against Marsans, but a court in Illinois refused to issue a similar injunction against Johnson because the contract lacked “mutuality.” On similar grounds, a New York court denied a White Sox request for a court order to prevent first baseman Hal Chase from jumping to the Buffalo Federals.
The tables were turned in the Killefer case. Killefer’s 1913 Phillies salary was $3200. On January 8, 1914, he signed with the Chicago Federals for $5800; only twelve days later he signed a new Phillies contract for $6500. A federal appeals court refused to order Killefer to stand by the contract with Chicago on the grounds that the Federal League team, which had induced Killefer to ignore his reserve clause, came into court with “unclean hands.” George Wharton Pepper, who represented O.B. in that case as well as in the Baltimore Federal Club litigation, persuaded the court that while the reserve clause was not legally enforceable by Philadelphia, the Chicago Federals had no business luring Killefer away before the Phillies had a fair chance to sign him to a contract for the 1914 season.
On January 5, 1915, the Federal League took the legal offensive by filing an antitrust suit against Organized Baseball. The Chicago federal judge assigned to hear the case was none other than Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who had the reputation of being a committed trustbuster. The trial of that case ended on January 22, and the Federal League hoped for a quick decision from Judge Landis. But the future commissioner seemed to be in no hurry to act. In March, Brooklyn Federals owner R.B. Ward approached Ban Johnson and again asked O.B. to allow its rival to become a party to the National Agreement.
1915: THE WAR CONTINUES
The Federal League opened the 1915 season with high hopes. Over 27,000 fans were on hand for opening day in Newark, where oilman Harry Sinclair had moved the Indianapolis Federals. But attendance fell off rapidly and losses began to mount. By the end of the league’s second season, Brooklyn’s Ward had lost $800,000; the Kansas City and Buffalo clubs were insolvent. Baltimore lost $35,000 in 1914 and almost $30,000 in 1915.
According to President Gilmore, the league’s financial ills became apparent early in the season.
A. [I]t was probably in May that some of us realized that it was going to be a very poor season from a financial standpoint, and I know along about the middle of July we started to hold meetings to discuss the situation, because previous to that time I had been called to Buffalo, and I had been called to Kansas City, in an effort to induce other people to invest money. Their overhead was far in excess of their receipts, and they were all beginning to complain.
Q. When did you say you reached the conclusion that the Federal League was doomed?
A. Along about the middle of June or the first of July…. [M]y opinion was that we were fighting a hopeless task. There were two clubs that had practically given up the fight, Kansas City and Buffalo. I had already received an opinion from the other members of the organization that they would not continue with six clubs….
Q. You had no idea from June on that the Federal League would be able to prepare for the next season at all?
A. I did not see any opportunity at all, no sir.
Q. Were you absolutely convinced of that?
A. I felt satisfied in my own mind to the extent that I began to figure out some way that we could at least save the ball players, and save our own reputations.
“IT WAS ONE BIG BLUFF”
Gilmore approached Sinclair and Ward with an audacious plan. First, they rented a suite of Manhattan offices and purchased an option to buy some vacant land at 143rd Street and Lenox Avenue. They then asked Corry Comstock, a New York City engineer and architect who was also the vice-president of the Pittsburgh Federal club, to draw up plans for a grandiose, 55,000-seat stadium. Gilmore then announced to the press that the Federal League planned to “invade” New York in 1916.
The purpose of all this? According to Gilmore, “[i]t was one big bluff,” a trick to force O.B. into “coming around and making some kind of offer.”
Q. Your real purpose was to get Organized Baseball to buy you out?
A. To reimburse us for some of our expenditures, yes, sir.
Q. To buy you out. Did not they have enough ball parks for the American and National Leagues at that time?
A. I presume they did.
Q. You expected them to buy you out and get rid of you as an annoying competitor; is that the proposition?
A. I think so, yes, sir.
Q. You had statements and interviews in the papers about it [the N.Y. stadium]?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. You said you were going to build it?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And you had no idea of building it?
A. None at all. We did not know where the money was coming from unless some angel came along.
Q. You mean some devil; you were not associating with angels. Do you mean to tell this jury that you gave out interviews to the papers that you were going to build this stadium, employed an architect and manifested all of the different things that were necessary to accompany a real good faith act and had no idea of building a stadium at all?
A. It was one big bluff.
Q. That is the word you used for it?
A. Bluff, yes, sir.
Q. Might you not also characterize it as false pretense?
A. I do not know what you characterize it.
Q. Were you not engaging in false pretense?
A. We were trying to be protected to the best of our ability.
Comstock described the threatened invasion of New York by the Federal League as a “holdup”; he said there was “not a word of truth” in the announcement of the plans to build a stadium.
Gilmore and his co-conspirators did not tell the other Federal League owners about their scheme. According to Gilmore,
A. . .. [T]he bluff that we had formulated, the plan we had formulated, to put this thing through, was an absolute secret between Mr. R.B. Ward, Mr. Comstock, Mr. Sinclair and myself ….
Q. You were putting up a bluff on Baltimore?
A. Baltimore did not know one thing about the plan we were putting up in New York …. [W]e decided to keep it a secret from everybody. Mr. Weeghman [of Chicago] knew nothing about it. Mr. Ball of St. Louis knew nothing about it.
Gilmore’s machinations certainly fooled the Baltimore club. While he was trying to bluff O.B. into buying out the Federal League, Baltimore officials were naively making preparations for the 1916 season. Colonel Stuart S. Janney, a prominent Baltimore attorney who held stock in the team and served as its lawyer, testified that the club’s directors and stockholders had not expected to turn a profit overnight and were prepared to supply whatever additional financing was necessary for the 1916 season.
These preparations were encouraged by a series of letters Gilmore wrote to club officials in the fall of 1915, all of which contained some implication that the Federal League would be alive and well enough to operate in 1916. In an October 13 letter, Gilmore wrote:
[I] hope that your club is signing up some good talent for the coming year. I have wonderful faith in Baltimore as a Major League city, and know if you can get a fighting team there and keep it in the race, you will draw wonderful crowds and easily pay expenses.
On November 1, he wrote:
I also want to suggest that in view of your experience the last year that you make out a statement of the approximate cost to operate your club during the next season. In other words, I would like an idea of how much cheaper you think you can operate in 1916 than you could in 1915. This will be valuable information for our Board Members, and I want you to get it as accurately as possible.
On November 30, Gilmore forwarded to Baltimore club president Carroll W. Rasin a letter from a Williamsport, Pennsylvania fan recommending that the Federal League sign up for the 1916 season a local star who was a “natural-born hitter … fast on his feet; a sure catch and a ‘find.'” And on December 3, Gilmore wrote again to request the financial information that he had asked for in his November 1 letter.
Gary Hailey wrote this splendidly detailed story about the Federal League for The National Pastime, a publication I created for the Society for American Baseball Research in 1982. Gary submitted this story for the Spring 1985 number, for which I continued to serve as editor. It is my privilege to reprint it in this space, in serial form. While Dan Levitt has recently issued a marvelous book on the subject, The Outlaw League and the Battle That Forged Modern Baseball, it may be said that he owed a good deal to Hailey’s pioneering effort. A 1977 graduate of Harvard Law School, Hailey is a partner in the Washington, DC office of Venable LLP. He is also a father of four, a basketball referee, a biker, a voracious reader, and the author of a wildly popular music blog, www.2or3lines.blogspot.com.
THE COURT HOUSE
This is that theater the muse loves best.
All dramas ever dreamed are acted here.
The roles are done in earnest, none in jest.
Hero and dupe and villain all appear.
Here falsehood skulks behind an honest mask,
And witless truth lets fall a saving word,
As the blind goddess tends her patient task
And in the hush the shears of fate are heard.
Here the slow-shod avengers keep their date;
Here innocence uncoils her snow-white bloom;
From here the untrapped swindle walks elate,
And stolid murder goes to meet his doom.
O stage more stark than ever Shakespeare knew
What peacock playhouse will contend with you?
Wendell Philips Stafford, the composer of “The Court House,” was a federal judge in Washington, D.C., for almost twenty-seven years. One of the thousands of trials Judge Stafford presided over was a 1919 antitrust suit brought against Organized Baseball (O.B.) by the Baltimore club of the defunct Federal League–a suit that threatened to loosen O.B.’s monopolistic hold on the national pastime.
Antitrust litigation is rarely colorful or dramatic enough to be the stuff of poetry, and it is doubtful that Judge Stafford had Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore vs. National League in mind when he wrote his verse. But a reading of the testimony given in the two-week-long trial does bring to mind a number of the poem’s phrases. There were few if any heroes to be seen, but “dupe and villain” were well represented in Judge Stafford’s courtroom. Certainly “falsehood skulk[ing] behind an honest mask” was present in abundance at the trial, as well as “untrapped
But more than anything, the evidence presented by the Federal Baseball litigants tells the story of a “stolid murder”–the murder of O.B.’s last serious competitor, the short-lived Federal League.
THE FEDERAL LEAGUE WAR
Late nineteenth century professional baseball was plagued by wars between the established National League and a succession of upstart leagues. The American Association war of 1882, the Union Association war of 1884, the Players League war of 1890, the American League war of 1900–all these bitter conflicts resulted in huge losses for almost everyone involved, not to mention widespread public disenchantment with the professional game.
More than two decades of strife ended in 1903, when the National League and the American League signed a peace treaty. American League President Ban Johnson testified at the Federal Baseball trial that the purpose of the peace treaty was to restore “normal conditions” to professional baseball.
Q. Then your purpose was to eliminate competition between the two leagues for players?
A. … I don’t think we cared for competition at all.
Later that year, the two major leagues and several minor leagues adopted the “National Agreement,” which provided for mutual respect for player contracts, reserve lists, and territorial rights. It also established a “National Commission,” consisting of the major league presidents and a third man selected by them, to rule the sport.
Peace–or, to put it another way, the lack of competition between the two leagues–brought prosperity. Attendance and profits reached unprecedented heights, and the World Series added greatly to the public interest in the pennant races. That prosperity attracted the attention of potential rivals. In 1913, several wealthy businessmen organized the Federal League of Professional Baseball Clubs. Prior to the start of the 1914 season, Federal League President James Gilmore asked Ban Johnson if O.B. would allow the Federal League to operate under the National Agreement as a third major league. Johnson told Gilmore that “there was not room for three major leagues.”
The Federal League owners declared war. They quickly erected brand-new stadiums in the league’s eight cities: Baltimore, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. They also declared that the reserve clause in O.B.’s standard player contract was unenforceable, and began to sign up players under reserve by existing major and minor league clubs.
THE RESERVE CLAUSE
Lawyers for the Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore hoped to persuade the jury that the purpose of the “right of reservation,” a key feature of the National Agreement, was to enable O.B. “to eliminate the possibility of competition by establishing an absolute monopoly” over the supply of professional baseball players.
Much of the National Agreement and many of the rules and regulations issued by the National Commission dealt with the right of reservation, which National Commission chairman and Cincinnati Reds president August “Garry” Herrmann described as “absolutely necessary” to O.B. For example, Article 8, Section 1 of the National Agreement provided that: “[N]o non-reserve contract shall be entered into by any club operating under the National Agreement until permission to do so has been first obtained …. ” Article 6, Section 1 of that document stated that no club could “negotiate for the purchase or lease of the property”–that is, players–“of another club without first securing the consent of such club.” The title of a team to its “property” lapsed only when a team released a player or failed to include the player’s name on the reserve list it was required to submit at the end of each season.
The reserve clause itself, which was found in section 10 of the standard player’s contract, provided that:
In consideration of the compensation paid to the [player] by the [team], the [player] agrees and obligates himself to contract with and continue in the service of[the team] for the succeeding season at a salary to be determined by the parties of such contract.
What happened if the player and his team couldn’t agree on a salary for the succeeding season? According to Herrmann, the player was free to go elsewhere.
Q. And if he does not want to sign, what happens?
A. That ends it. He becomes a free agent.
Q. Could he go out and play for any other club in Organized Ball?
A. If he got employment, yes. There is no rule against it.
But on cross-examination, Herrmann admitted that the player would have a hard time finding a job with any other team.
Q. Could he get employment with any other club in Organized Baseball? ..
A. I do not imagine any other club would take him, because I have always felt, and we all feel, that reservation is absolutely necessary to keep the game alive.
Baltimore Federals director and stockholder Ned Hanlon, a veteran baseball man who had managed Baltimore and Brooklyn to five National League pennants before the turn of the century, described what happened if a player didn’t agree on contract terms with his team.
Q. At the end of a man’s term of employment, under the Organized Ball system, it is provided in these contracts that the club shall have a right to negotiate with him for employment for
another year, or another season, upon terms to be agreed upon. Suppose they could not agree on terms, on a salary, for instance, for the next year? What happened?
A. He could not play professional baseball. If they did not agree on terms, he could not go anywhere else, could not play anywhere else under professional baseball.
Q. How long could he be kept in that situation without employment?
A. For year after year.
Q. It would not prevent him from going to blacksmithing or plowing or anything like that, would it?
A. No, sir. If they put him on the reserve list, they could not agree on terms, and they did not see fit to sell him or exchange him to somebody else, they would reserve his reservation year after year, continuously. That is what it means.
The experience of former major leaguer Jimmy “Runt” Walsh supported Hanlon’s claim that the right of reservation could last forever. Walsh was a Phillies utilityman who decided to sign with the Baltimore Federals after Philadelphia sold his contract to Montreal after the 1913 season. After the Federal League folded, Walsh spent the 1916 season with Memphis. When he and that team could not agree on a salary for 1917, Walsh quit baseball and went to work at a Baltimore steel mill. Walsh had not played professionally since then, but he still heard from the Memphis club in following years.
Q. …They tendered you a contract at the end of the season of 1916 for the following year for $250 a month, and you would not accept that. Did they tender you another contract at the end of the year 1917?
A. I got a contract from them again this spring, yes, sir, this past spring, February, I think.
Q. At the end of each year they have been offering you contracts, have they?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Why do they do that? Do you understand why?
A. I do not understand the reason why, no, sir, with the exception that they still reserve me to their club.
Q. The object is to reserve you, so that you cannot make any other contract without their consent. That is the purpose of their offering you these contracts every year?
A. Yes, sir.
Connie Mack described the situation of holdouts like Walsh very graphically.
Q. Suppose you cannot come to an agreement with him?
A. I will tell you. If a player is at all reasonable we come to terms.
Q. But suppose you don’t think he is reasonable; suppose you can’t agree?
A. There are cases of that kind.
Q. What happens?
A. We just let him lay there.
Other rules of O.B. were intended to discourage players under reserve from jumping to “outlaw” organizations that were not parties to the National Agreement, such as the Federal League. Articles 22 and 23 provided that any player who signed a contract or even entered into negotiations with an outlaw team “shall be declared ineligible” for at least three years. Any National Agreement team that signed an ineligible player could be drummed out of O.B. Any playerwho even appeared in an exhibition game with an ineligible player was himself subject to blacklisting.
As several of the plaintiffs witnesses testified, players were reluctant to sign with the Federal League because they knew that they might be blacklisted for the remainder of their playing days. On November 12, 1913, Herrmann had told the annual meeting of minor league teams that “there will be no place in Organized Baseball” for players who did not respect their contractual obligations, including the reserve clause. According to Hanlon, his fellow director and part-owner of the Baltimore Federals, L. Edwin Goldman, and Baltimore’s player-manager, Otto “Dutch” Knabe, the team had to offer excessively large salaries and long-term, guaranteed contracts to attract players. Moreover, they alleged, most of the players who did take a chance with the new league were veterans who knew they were nearing the end of their playing days.
“Runt” Walsh’s testimony supported those witnesses’ statements. After the 1913 season, Walsh learned through the newspapers that the Phillies had sold his contract to Montreal of the International League. He had never been to Montreal and was not consulted whether he would care to go to Montreal, so he signed with Baltimore.
Walsh demanded a three-year contract without the usual provision that allowed a team to release a player on ten days’ notice. He wanted the security of a guaranteed, long-term contract because he believed there was little if any chance that he would be permitted to return to O.B. A letter he received from Montreal president Sam Lichtenheim after signing with Baltimore proved that Walsh’s concern was justified.
Dear [Mr. Walsh]:
…. I am very much surprised … you signed with the Federals….
… [I]fyou start to play with them, you are blacklisted from Organized Ball for three years, and if their league blows up I don’t know what you will do for three years.
… I don’t think you want to throw away three years of your future for the sake of a few hundred dollars advance money which you may have received, and which if it is not too much I may be willing to pay back for you ….
… So don’t be foolish and let these people blindfold you, which they have done with several players, and which players would be very glad to come back to Organized Ball but it is too late, because their clubs won’t take them back, but in your case I will take you back, if your terms are not too much, before you make this fatal jump, but once you have made the jump and played one game for them, I could not take you back if you were willing to play for me for $100.00 per month, as you must stay out of Organized Ball for three years, the same as any other player who plays one game for the Federal League.
Lichtenheim’s letter to Walsh was very helpful to the plaintiff’s case. The Montreal team president did not just threaten Walsh with blacklisting. He also encouraged Walsh to break his valid contract with Baltimore and generally libeled the new league.
[I]f the amount that they have advanced you is not too large, perhaps we could arrange to pay it back for you to them, when you report to us, and sign you to a contract, because … you know they will not go to the courts.
I am quite sure that Manager Knabe, or any of these other managers, would not do anything for you if you get hurt, or if you took sick, whereas in Organized Ball we have to take care of you, and I think you must know by now that this Federal League started out to be a Major League. I think you have already seen enough to know that they won’t even be as good a league as ours, as they have only obtained very few Major League players, and the big bulk of their players come from our league and lower leagues, and I am quite sure that you know the public will not look on them as a Major League.
Don’t you see that their whole trick is to get you signed to a contract so as to be taken over by Organized Ball, which will never be the case, but if they were taken over by Organized Ball, you would be in a worse position with them than you would be with us, because they would chop you down quickly, knowing that you could not go anywhere else.
Now just think this over and you will see that it is best to send them back their money, if they advanced you any money … and sign another contract with your real employers, who have always taken care of you, and who have made you what you are, and if you sign [a] contract with us we will protect your interests.
… [T]here is nothing to stop them throwing you out at any time, and cancelling your contract as soon as they know you cannot get back to Organized Ball for three years and which you know is the case. So I think you are much better off with Organized Ball, and which is the devil you do know, instead of Outlaw Ball, which is the devil you don’t know, and it must sound sensible to you, that Organized Ball, for whom you have worked for many years, can and will do more for you, than your new owners, who are only speculators, and who have started out to bluff the public right from the jump, because they have promised Major League Ball, which you know they will not have.
They also promised to have a club in Toronto, which they will not have, and I think you will find before you get through that they have made a great many other promises, which they will not carry out, whereas with Organized Ball we must carry them out, and if you know of any promise I ever made, of any kind, which I did not carry out, I will be glad to hear of it.
P.S. … [Y]ou must understand that you have a chance of being captain or manager here later on, whereas with them as soon as your usefulness as a player is finished, or you meet with an accident, which I hope you won’t, they would throw you on the street, and you could not work for them…. So don’t throw the substance away for the shadow, and get caught by these alluring offers which cannot materialise, and you know as well as I do that they cannot pay these salaries and take it at the gates by playing Minor League Ball, and you also know that they will play nothing but Minor League Ball, and will also have to play when we are away, in other words they will have to take our leavings, so I don’t see how your future is in any way secure with them…. [O]utlaws in business have never been successful, and without organization there cannot be any success, and if we were not organized your position as a player would not be secure, and I think they don’t know from week to week what cities they will play in and every week sees them change their cities, so you see they are only making a stab to be taken into Organized Ball, but they have guessed wrongly, and Organized Ball will never recognize them, and I think you know this already, and if you don’t know it you may write to President Ban Johnson or [National League President John K.] Tener, and get their reply and find out for yourself that what I tell you is correct.
This week begins with one of baseball’s big lies—that a baseball game between two distinct clubs (“the first match game”)—was played on June 19, 1846. The city of Hoboken will continue to celebrate this non-event, but in the wink-and-nod department it will have nothing on Cooperstown. The good folks at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum long ago acknowledged that the reason for their founding location in 1939 was based on a myth, and they go about their business knowing they have a fine history all their own. So does Hoboken have a great place in the history of baseball, and while it probably makes sense to continue to celebrate June 19 each year, it would also make sense not to make too much of the game played that day back in 1846.
1846: The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club (KBBC) plays today in a game that in later years will be labeled as “the first match game,” meaning the first game between two distinct clubs. On their playing grounds at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields, the “pioneer club” is thumped by the score of 23–1. As early as 1889, a writer for the New York Sunday Mercury observed the irony that baseball’s “first team” had no trouble in finding a rival club experienced enough to give it a thrashing. In later years, KBBC president Duncan Curry described the action: “An awful beating, you say, at our own game, but, you see the majority of the New York Club’s players were cricketers, and clever ones at that game, and their batting was the feature of their work.” Following Curry’s lead, another writer declared, “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.” In fact, the New Yorks or Gothams, or “New York Nine,” as have variably been called, preceded the Knickerbockers as the first organized baseball club. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/02/11/inventing-baseball/
1898: Entire books have been written about baseball and the blue laws, which in most municipalities forbade amusements of various sorts on Sundays. Baseball players, amateur or professional, who dared to play on the Sabbath were frequently fined or jailed. On this day, with Cleveland batting in the bottom of the eighth inning at Euclid Beach Park‚ the game ends abruptly when all of the Cleveland players are arrested for violating the Sunday blue law. Not coincidentally‚ the Spiders had just scored to go ahead 4-3‚ so the arrests assure Cleveland of a victory.
1951: Wally Yonamine‚ an American of Japanese descent (a Nisei) born in Hawaii‚ plays his first game with the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo. After one year with the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pioneer League (he hit .335), he goes to Japan. He will become the first American star in Japanese baseball‚ winning batting titles in 1954‚ 1956‚ and 1957.
1894: Denny Lyons scores the winning run in the ninth inning to lead Pittsburgh to a 7-6 win over Washington. Lyons gets into scoring position by running from first to third—across the pitcher’s mound—on a fielder’s choice. The lone umpire did not see the ploy‚ a common one in the era before two umpires became the requirement, first formalized in the Players’ League of 1890: “There shall be two umpires at every championship game; one shall stand behind the bat and the other shall stand in the field.” (Leave it to the players to understand the importance of having at least two umpires on the field of play.) The National League did not mandate two umpires until 1898.
1912: The Giants coast to a 14-2 lead through eight innings at Boston‚ then score seven more in the ninth for a 21-2 lead. They entrust the lead to rookie Ernie Shore, making his big-league debut. Although charged with only three earned runs in his inning of work, Shore allows eight hits‚ a walk‚ and ten runs. It is his only appearance in the National League, as the Giants send him to Indianapolis. He reemerges successfully with the Red Sox in 1914, and famously in an entry below.
2003: Florida beats Tampa Bay‚ 3-1‚ in eleven innings as rookie Miguel Cabrera hits a walkoff home run in his big-league debut. He is only the third player in history to perform the feat‚ joining Josh Bard (8/23/02) and Billy Parker (9/9/71).
1879: With Joe Start out with an injury‚ Providence quickly recruits Bill White of Brown University to play 1B. He goes 1-for-4 with no errors in his only big league game as the Grays beat Cleveland‚ 5-3. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/03/19/thinking-robinson-part-2/
1952: As a publicity stunt‚ Harrisburg of the Inter-State League signs a woman player‚ Eleanor Engle‚ but she does not get into a game. Afterwards, National Association president George Trautman bans her from minor-league baseball. Dorothy Mills writes in Chasing Baseball that Trautman’s ruling came with the support of Commissioner Ford Frick and extended to all of professional baseball, but for that to have happened MLB would have had to rule on this separately, and did not. Of course, a tacit MLB ban could have been enforced, as it was for African Americans between 1884 and 1947. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/03/28/picture-portfolio-no-3-women-in-baseball/
1964: On Father’s Day at Shea Stadium‚ in the opener of a twin bill, Jim Bunning fans 10 and pitches the first regular-season complete perfect game since Charlie Robertson’s on April 30‚ 1922. It is the first National League perfecto since 1880. In the nightcap the Mets don’t fare much better as 18-year-old rookie Rick Wise wins his first game and gives up just three hits in an 8-2 win. (More on Wise below.)
1898: Boston defeats Chicago 6-5 in 14 innings. Boston’s Ted Lewis, who would finish the season with a mark of 26-8, relieves Vic Willis with three runs in‚ two on‚ and one out in the first inning. He induces the Orphan batter to hit into a double play. Lewis‚ “The Pitching Professor” (he is the Harvard baseball coach) finally triumphs over Chicago in the longest and relief effort of the 19th century. For more, see: http://unhmagazine.unh.edu/sp12/historypage.html
1926: The Cardinals pick up 39-year-old Grover Alexander (3-3) on waivers from the Cubs to help in the pennant chase. Alexander will rejoin Bill Killefer‚ fired as Cubs manager last year‚ and now a Cardinal coach. “Old Pete” will be 9-7 down the stretch‚ but will reserve his real heroics for the World Series, in which he won Game 6 and saved Game 7, including his famous strikeout of Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/12/18/grover-cleveland-alexander-remembers-1926-world-series-game-7/
1947: Ewell Blackwell just misses pitching back-to-back no-hitters when Eddie Stanky of the Brooklyn Dodgers singles with one out in the ninth inning. Blackwell wins 4-0 on a two-hitter. The only men to have thrown two no-hitters in succession in MLB history was Johnny Vander Meer in 1938. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/07/31/johnny-vander-meer-remembers/
1915: Philadelphia Athletics lefty Bruno Haas marks his big-league debut by walking 16 New York batters and throwing three wild pitches. Somehow he is permitted to go all the way in a 15-7 loss. Haas will pitch in just five more games before ending up in the league that would become the NFL as a halfback with the Akron Pros, Cleveland Tigers and Dayton Triangles.
1917: In the memorable first of two games at Boston‚ Babe Ruth starts for the Red Sox against Washington and walks leadoff man Ray Morgan‚ griping to plate umpire Brick Owens after each pitch. After Owens calls ball four‚ Ruth punches the ump and is ejected. Ernie Shore hastily relieves and Sam Agnew takes over behind the plate for Pinch Thomas, who had also been tossed. Morgan is then caught stealing by Agnew‚ and Shore retires all 26 men he faces in a 4-0 win‚ getting credit in the books for a perfect game, an accomplishment that is taken away when MLB changes its definition of a perfect game in 1991 (Harvey Haddix also thus lost his perfecto).
1971: Phillie pitcher Rick Wise no-hits the Reds 4-0 and hits two home runs that drive in three of his team’s runs. Roger Freed drove in the other on a groundout.
1946: A bus careens off a Cascade Mountain Pass road‚ killing nine members of the Spokane (Western International League) club. Jack Lohrke‚ a young infielder‚ had not reboarded the bus after it stopped at a restaurant just before the accident. The restaurant owner called him as he was about to get on the bus‚ telling him there was a long distance phone call and that he had been sold to San Diego. He decided to return. He later exclaimed‚ “I guess it just wasn’t my turn‚ But how did the owner know we would stop in that town? And what if the call had come five minutes later?” The future Giant and Phil will hence be known as Lucky. For more, see: http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-jack-lohrke1-2009may01-story.html
1962: A marathon between the Tigers and Yankees concludes in the 22nd inning when defensive replacement Jack Reed’s home run—his only one in the majors—gives New York and Jim Bouton a 9-7 victory. Reed had replaced Joe Pepitone in the 13th. Tiger and Yankee relievers threw shutout ball for the last 17 innings, with Bouton contributing the final seven.
1992: Yankees pitcher Steve Howe is banned from baseball by Commissioner Fay Vincent after having pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to purchase a gram of cocaine. It is Howe’s seventh ban from the game on account of drug involvement, but this time it is permanent.
1953: White Sox manager Paul Richards uses five first basemen in beating the Yankees 4-2. He brings in Harry Dorish to face two batters‚ moving lefty pitcher Billy Pierce to first base. After his two batters, Dorish is replaced by Sam Mele, who goes to first base as Pierce returns to the mound to close out the game. The tactic of alternating to pitchers was so old that it was new—it had last been seen in the days before free substitution (pre-1891), when the reliever, or “change pitcher,” had to be one of the men on the field. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/01/20/the-first-relief-pitchers/
1968: San Francisco rookie Bobby Bonds becomes the second player to debut with a grand slam‚ as Ray Sadecki blanks the Dodgers 9-0. Bonds does it on his third at bat. The only other player to hit a grand slam in his first major league game was Bill Duggleby of the Philadelphia Nationals‚ who achieved the feat in 1898, in his very first at bat. For more, see: http://research.sabr.org/journals/from-a-researchers-notebook
1998: Chicago’s Sammy Sosa hits his 19th home run this month in the Cubs’ 6-4 loss to the Tigers‚ breaking Rudy York’s major league record. He will end the month with 20 round-trippers.
Most of you have read Shoeless Joe, a novel of magical realism by Bill Kinsella, whom I knew a little bit thirty years ago, before he finished that book and before I became a historian of the game we both so clearly love. Shoeless Joe is a novel about fathers and sons, the baseball of now and then, and guilt, and hope. It is about the transformative power of fable and dream.
Another fellow whose baseball novel about sin and redemption, The Natural, is, like Kinsella’s, more widely known through the film adapted from it, is Bernard Malamud, who once observed, “The whole history of baseball has the quality of mythology.” Yes indeed. This creates a problem no less for the novelist than for the historian. We crave realism not only from game accounts but also from imaginative renderings of an activity that itself is not real. Play, like play acting, is metaphoric action.
Like a novelist who ventures to write about theater or film, the writer tackling baseball always starts off at one remove from reality, and is always playing catch-up. Baseball is not about baseball, at least not entirely, even if you’re playing it. For those watching it or thinking about it or reading about it, this great game is about past glories, power transference, surrogated combat, and unconscious contests of generation and gender.
Yet another author, one who with The Great Gatsby may have written the best of all American novels, used baseball as a symbol of all that was good about our nation, so that he could depict how even this icon could be stained. My own book, too, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, deals with the game’s history and legend and good and evil—the title gives that away rather blatantly—but it is a work of history, not fiction. All the same, it raises issues that one may confront with Shoeless Joe and in one’s observations of what we uncertainly call “real life.” What is real, and what is made up? Can we shape or even alter the facts of history to make for a better story? Can our imaginations create a desired reality? If we do so, are we artists of our own lives, architects of legend, or mere liars, no matter how lofty our intentions might be?
Shoeless Joe’s ballpark in the cornfield speaks to us as a symbol of paradise lost, when rural innocents played ball for the love of the game, when distant fathers could toss a ball with sons perplexed by real life. But baseball’s idyllic past, like America’s and like our own, for each of us, is not history; it is a pretty story agreed upon. Not a lie, exactly, but a sustaining myth.
What might possibly join The Great Gatsby, Shoeless Joe, and my little book? Let’s look to the Jazz Age, the Black Sox Scandal, and the religion of baseball—complete with a creation myth, a fall from grace, an expulsion from paradise, and an eternal longing for a dimly recalled golden age.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald—an all-American boy from St. Paul, Minnesota—drifted east with his family’s shifting fortunes and in 1913 entered Princeton University. Graduating with the class of 1917, he went to New York, determined to become a writer. Two years later, after a despairing, impoverished return to bunk in his parents’ home, he linked up with Scribners, a prestigious house, to publish This Side of Paradise, his first novel. Appearing in 1920, it portrayed a generation that, drained of all illusion by the horrific casualties, was heedless in its pursuit of pleasure.
The novel was a great success and launched his magazine career, where the real money was back then. Short fiction in Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and other story papers often fetched $5,000—a handsome annual salary for a white collar worker and four times that of the common working man.
In 1922 Fitzgerald published a collection of stories titled Tales of the Jazz Age. This enduring term for the riotous 1920s was one that he himself coined. The Jazz Age was a normless bundle of contradiction—alcohol was prohibited by the Volstead Act yet in the cities was readily available, seemingly with greater demand than before it was banned. As the federal income tax, new in 1913, had begun to make America a nation of accountants, the Prohibition era made it a nation of lawbreakers.
Speakeasies offered gamblers and mobsters the opportunity not only to mix with athletes and entertainers, as they always had, but now with suburban businessmen and upper-class youth in search of thrills. New York, always regarded as a den of iniquity by those in the hinterlands, in the Jazz Age became a desired destination for all America: a place where anything goes, where elevator boys offer stock tips and bootleggers enter politics . . . and where the World Series can be fixed by a man such as Arnold Rothstein, the genius who invented Organized Crime and who is portrayed in The Great Gatsby as Meyer Wolfsheim. More about him in a moment.
Where everyday crime had previously been a localized activity, controlled by neighborhood thugs, now, with bootleg liquor, there was a deliverable product desired everywhere. Its transport impelled crime to organize along regional, national, and even international lines (liquor was not illegal in, say, Canada or Cuba or England). Of course there were two forms of crime that had gone national much earlier—gambling on sporting events and manipulating the stock market. The 1920s proved a golden age for both, with an escalating level of violence.
The Roaring ’20s offered jazz and speakeasies, the Teapot Dome scandal and bucket-shop brokers, Hollywood hoopla and network radio, Lucky Lindy and the Great White Way. It was also the golden age of sport, featuring such media titans as Red Grange (football), Bobby Jones (golf), Bill Tilden (tennis), Jack Dempsey (boxing) and, above all, baseball’s Babe Ruth. “He was a parade all by himself,” wrote Jimmy Cannon, “a burst of dazzle and jingle. Santa Claus drinking his whiskey straight and groaning with a bellyache caused by gluttony…. Babe Ruth made the music that his joyous years danced to in a continuous party….”
How did Ruth, who modeled his awesome batting swing on that of Shoeless Joe Jackson, come to be, in the Jazz Age, the game’s great hero and an American archetype? The age of appetite that made a hero of the Babe as the Big Bam, the larger-than-life Sultan of Swat, also made Arnold Rothstein into the character known as The Big Bankroll, immortalized not only as Meyer Wolfsheim in Gatsby but also as Nathan Detroit in the Damon Runyon story that became the musical Guys and Dolls. Ruth and Rothstein, more than any other tandem except the fictional Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, provide a key to understanding the Jazz Age.
In the first decade of the century baseball became the great repository of national ideals, the symbol of all that was good in American life. It became routine for the President to throw out the first ball of the season. Supreme Court Justices had inning-by-inning scores from the World Series relayed to their chambers. “Baseball,” opined a writer for American Magazine in 1913, “has given our public a fine lesson in commercial morals…. Someday all business will be reorganized and conducted by baseball standards.”
Leaders of recent immigrant groups advised their peoples to learn the national game if they wanted to become Americans, and foreign-language newspapers devoted space to educating their readers about America’s strange and wonderful game. As America was riddled with stock-market scandals, economic panics, race riots, and fixed elections, as its boys were sent off to die on foreign fields, baseball came to be seen as the last bastion of fair play and decency.
This was the mythology, anyway, the public spin. In fact baseball had arisen from a gambling culture in the 1840s and had become worthy of press mention and spectator attention only when its rules became sufficiently understood for ordinary people to place wagers on the outcome of games. Without the attachment of gambling, baseball would not have become an arena for steadily increasing levels of skill; it would have remained a game for boys, avoided by men except those desiring a rather leisurely field exercise. Yes, baseball connected an increasingly urban America with a romanticized rural past, more imagined than real, and this explains the nostalgia at the game’s core; but on the ground, conditions were always more harsh.
The first punished instance of game fixing is not the Black Sox Scandal but instead goes all the way back to 1865, during the amateur era of the game, when three players of the Brooklyn Eckfords confessed to “heaving” a contest to the rival Mutuals in return for payments from gamblers. The offending players confessed and were banished for some years but later reinstated. The second year of the National League, 1877, was blighted by an even larger scandal, in which four Louisville players tossed away what seemed a certain pennant by tanking a series of late season games.
Despite fines and bans and the inclusion of antigambling statutes in the league bylaws, gambling remained a large part of the game. There was an attempt to bribe players in the very first World Series between the American and National Leagues, in 1903, when Boston catcher Lou Criger was offered a bribe to “lay down.” Two years later, Philadelphia pitcher Rube Waddell allegedly received $17,000 to fabricate a tale of a sore arm resulting from a stumble over a teammate’s suitcase, thus rendering himself useless for the Series with the Giants. Other attempted (or successful!) fixes have been reported for the fall classics of 1914 and 1918. By and large, these squabbles and accusations were kept from the public; reporters acted like publicity agents, protecting the game and its players.
All this corruption came to a head in 1919. Even before the first pitch had been thrown in what became Cincinnati’s “improbable” World Series victory over the Chicago White Sox, rumors swirled that the fix was in. It took a year for the rumors to be revealed as true: in September 1920, a Chicago grand jury convened to investigate charges about the 1919 World Series. It turned out that eight Chicago players—immortalized ever after as the Black Sox—had conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The entire plotline of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal is too complex to detail here and now, but suffice it to say that the overall public response to the revelations was shock, dismay, and heartsick outrage.
Following the mysterious disappearance of their grand-jury confessions, the eight Black Sox won acquittal during their June 1921 conspiracy trial, as did two gambler defendants, David Zelcer and Carl Zork. But the newly appointed baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, in an extraordinary move aimed at restoring public confidence in the game, suspended all eight players for life. Landis knew from private sources that it had been the players who had approached the gamblers, not the other way around, but he preferred a version with more popular appeal—that a group of “foreign” gamblers (by which was meant Jewish)—had corrupted the innocent players.
Despite the romantic apologies made for Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver especially, all eight were, in my view, guilty enough to warrant their punishment, even though ballplayers had been throwing games left and right for decades. The principal gripe of men like Weaver and Fred McMullin may have been that they were left holding the bag without getting any of the swag. The other six pocketed some money, if not all that was promised, so what is there left to say, except that there may have been extenuating circumstances . . . Shoeless Joe’s naiveté and remorse, Eddie Cicotte’s backlash against owner Charlie Comiskey’s penury, Buck Weaver’s last-minute change of heart.
The suspicion at the time, that the outcome of the 1918 World Series had been fixed as well as that of 1919, testifies to the endemic level of corruption among the players, but it hardly serves to absolve the gamblers—Arnold Rothstein and his small-fry henchmen, whom he played off against each other to preserve deniability for himself when the plot unraveled. Rothstein, who pocketed hundreds of thousands in sure-thing bets arranged by his lieutenants, never met with the players face to face; he even appeared willingly before the Chicago grand jury to register his astonishment at being implicated. His testimony is worth quoting.
The whole thing started when (Abe) Attell and some other cheap gamblers decided to frame the Series and make a killing. The world knows I was asked in on the deal and my friends know how I turned it down felt. I don’t doubt that Attell used my name to put it over. That’s been done by smarter men than Abe. But I was not in on it, would not have gone into it under any circumstances and did not bet a cent on the Series after I found out what was underway.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the tale in Gatsby, at a luncheon Jay Gatsby introduces Nick Carraway to Meyer Wolfsheim, who displays his unusual cufflinks, made from human molars. Afterward Nick asks Gatsby:
“Who is he, anyhow, an actor?”
“Meyer Wolfsheim? No, he’s a gambler.” Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: “He’s the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919.”
“Fixed the World’s Series?” I repeated.
The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World’s Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely HAPPENED, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people—with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.
“How did he happen to do that?” I asked after a minute.
“He just saw the opportunity.”
“Why isn’t he in jail?”
“They can’t get him, old sport. He’s a smart man.”
That Wolfsheim and Rothstein are indeed the same person is further attested by an earlier conversation in that same luncheon setting, in which Fitzgerald alludes to a police scandal from 1912 that was still on everyone’s mind a decade later:
“This is a nice restaurant here,” said Mr. Wolfsheim, looking at the Presbyterian nymphs on the ceiling. “But I like across the street better!”
“Yes, highballs,” agreed Gatsby, and then to Mr. Wolfsheim: “It’s too hot over there.”
“Hot and small—yes,” said Mr. Wolfsheim, “but full of memories.”
“What place is that?” I asked.
“The old Metropole.
“The old Metropole,” brooded Mr. Wolfsheim gloomily. “Filled with faces dead and gone. Filled with friends gone now forever. I can’t forget so long as I live the night they shot Rosy Rosenthal there. It was six of us at the table, and Rosy had eat and drunk a lot all evening. When it was almost morning the waiter came up to him with a funny look and says somebody wants to speak to him outside. ‘All right,’ says Rosy, and begins to get up, and I pulled him down in his chair.
“‘Let the bastards come in here if they want you, Rosy, but don’t you, so help me, move outside this room.’
“It was four o’clock in the morning then, and if we’d of raised the blinds we’d of seen daylight.”
“Did he go?” I asked innocently.
“Sure he went.” Mr. Wolfsheim’s nose flashed at me indignantly. “He turned around in the door and says: ‘Don’t let that waiter take away my coffee!’ Then he went out on the sidewalk, and they shot him three times in his full belly and drove away.”
“Four of them were electrocuted,” I said, remembering.
“Five, with Becker.” His nostrils turned to me in an interested way.
Charles Becker was a New York City police officer who was executed for ordering the murder of Manhattan gambler Herman Rosenthal, who had complained to the press that the greed of Becker and his fellow corrupt cops were ruining his business; Rosy didn’t mind paying the usual protection money but the climbing percentages finally got to him. Two days after the story appeared, in July 1912, Rosenthal walked out of the Hotel Metropole at 147 West 43rd Street, just as Wolfsheim described. (By the way, the Hotel Metropole, where Rosenthal’s execution took place, still stands; it is today called the Casablanca Hotel and to soak in the atmosphere I recently stepped up to the front desk, where the Metropole bar once stood.) Rosenthal was gunned down by a crew of Jewish gangsters at Becker’s behest. Rothstein was the beneficiary of the murder, taking over Rosenthal’s business and acting thereafter less as a poolroom shark and horserace manipulator and more as the financier of Broadway shows—a pal of George M. Cohan and Flo Ziegfeld.
How did Rothstein come to be The Big Brain of organized crime? He approached it in a refined, businesslike manner. Lloyd Morris described Rothstein as “the J. P. Morgan of the underworld; its banker and master of strategy.” Gangster Meyer Lansky observed, “Rothstein had the most remarkable brain. He understood business instinctively and I’m sure that if he had been a legitimate financier he would have been just as rich as he became with his gambling and the other rackets he ran.” If business provided a model for Rothstein, his conduct of crime may later have provided a model for business.
By 1912, when he was thirty, Rothstein was a millionaire from the profits of his gambling parlors, poolrooms, and racetracks. One of these, the Oriental Park Racetrack and Casino in Havana, he co-owned with John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, and Charles Stoneham, a stock market swindler who parlayed his gains into ownership of the ball club. Even after Commissioner Landis ordered McGraw and Stoneham to divest their holdings in the racetrack, Rothstein continued to frequent Stoneham’s private box at the Polo Grounds. He also co-owned a billiard parlor with McGraw. Gamblers and ballplayers were still connected at the hip.
With gambling as his base, Rothstein had access to the cash and political protection needed to make big deals in many other spheres, notably bootlegging. He was among the first to purchase liquor in England, smuggle it to America by the boatload, and distribute it to the speakeasies. From this business he moved on to narcotics, by 1926 enlisting such celebrity thugs as Legs Diamond, Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, and Frank Costello. Two years later Rothstein was dead, felled by a gunshot after a high-stakes poker game in which it is said he welched on a bet. His accused murderer, George McManus, was acquitted (under dubious circumstances) at trial.
Arnold Rothstein was a loan shark, pool hustler, bookmaker, thief, fence of stolen property, political fixer, Wall Street swindler, labor racketeer, rumrunner, and mastermind of the modern drug trade. Today’s investment bankers, credit-card issuers, and lottery hawkers have been enriched by his legacy. He was the Babe Ruth of crime and, ironically, his henchman Abe Attell, with Black Sox winnings, partially financed Headin’ Home, the Hollywood movie Ruth made before the 1920 season. In a way this foray into show business led to the Babe’s epic sale from the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees.
In 1918 Ruth, who in previous years had become the best lefthanded pitcher in the American League, hit 11 homers as a part-time outfielder. This figure led the league. In spring training of 1919 he gave further hint of things to come when he hit six home runs in six at bats (with two intervening walks). Then in the regular season, now as an everyday player, he exploded for 29 home runs, along the way breaking the major league record of 27, set in 1884 by Ned Williamson, a right-handed batter who benefited from a left-field fence at his home park in Chicago that was only 180 feet distant. Ruth’s record-breaking 28th home run sailed over the right-field grandstand at the Polo Grounds, home at that time to both the Giants and the Yankees. It was reported in the New York Times of September 25, 1919 as the longest drive anyone in attendance had ever seen. “Several seasons ago Joe Jackson hit a home run over the top of the right field stand but the ball landed on the roof. Ruth’s bang yesterday cleared the stand by many yards and went over into the weeds in the next lot.”
Jacob Ruppert, owner of the Knickerbocker Brewery and the Yankees, could not help but notice. At season’s end the Times piled on praise for “the mastodonic mauler of the Boston Red Sox,” labeling him “the greatest batsman the game has ever known.” And when Ruth declared his intention not to play with the Red Sox in 1920 unless they doubled his $10,000 salary, the Yankees must have quivered with a sense of opportunity.
On his way from Boston to Hollywood, where he was set to star in the film Headin’ Home, Ruth declared, “I feel that I made a bad move last year when I signed a three years’ contract to play for $30,000.” Two months later, still out west, he added that he could easily make $10,000 a year through several different opportunities, hinting at the boxing ring as well as the movies. Heck, he had made $25,000 for a few weeks’ effort in Headin’ Home.
On January 5, 1920 it was announced that Ruth was now a Yankee, in exchange for $125,000 in cash and what later emerged as a loan to Boston owner Harry Frazee of $300,000—collateralized by, of all things, Fenway Park. Tris Speaker, Ruth’s teammate in 1915, on hearing the news that the Yankees had acquired Babe and planned to use him full time as an outfielder, is said to have opined, “Too bad about Ruth. If he had remained a pitcher, he might have lasted a long time and become famous.”
Ruth made his debut with the Yankees on April 14, 1920, but did not his first home run in pinstripes until May 1. By season’s end Ruth would add 53 more, for a total greater than any other team in baseball except the Phillies, who, playing in the bandbox Baker Bowl, totaled 64. In addition to his new home run record, Ruth scored 158 runs and drove in 137. He batted .376 and slugged an incredible .847. Did he like New York? Against the 9 home runs he had hit at home for Boston in 1919, the Babe now poled out 29. “I cried when they took me out of the Polo Grounds,” Ruth said after his last season there in 1922.
But on April 18, 1923, after an initial ten years in a makeshift wooden ballpark (on the site of the current Columbia Presbyterian Hospital) and ten more as second-class denizens of the Polo Grounds, the Yankees finally opened a home of their own. Fittingly, the Babe christened “The House That Ruth Built” by hitting a three-run homer to support Bob Shawkey’s fine pitching in a 4–1 win over, yes, Boston. The occasion drew the biggest crowd ever to see a major-league baseball game to that time: 74,217. At year’s end, after losing the World Series to their in-house rivals, the Giants, in both 1921 and 1922, the Yankees won the first of their many championships.
The baseball decade of the Jazz Age belonged to the Babe: he had made baseball over in his image by leaving a pile of black ink in the record books that forms an Everest, unsurpassed and seemingly unsurpassable. But poring over stats, even those as great as Ruth’s, can quickly glaze the eyes. It may be easier to grasp this simple fact: From 1920, his first year as a New York Yankee, through 1929, the Babe enjoyed the greatest ten-year stretch of any player in the whole history of baseball. After Ruth hit his 60th home run of the 1927 season, John Kieran of the New York Times wrote:
He’s the Prince of Ash and the King of Crash, and that’s not an idle jest.
He can hit that ball o’er the garden wall, high up and far away,
Beyond the aftermost picket lines where the fleet-foot fielders stray.
He’s the Bogey Man of the pitching clan and he clubs ’em soon and late;
He has manned his guns and hit home runs from here to the Golden Gate;
With vim and verve he has walloped the curve from Texas to Duluth,
Which is no small task, and I beg to ask: Was there ever a guy like Ruth?
Nor was there ever a guy like Rothstein, or Fitzgerald. With Ruth, they made the wild music that the Jazz Age danced to.
1. Cannon, New York Post, n.d.; from The Ultimate Baseball Book, Daniel Okrent and Harris Lewine, eds., Houghton Mifflin 1979, p. 143.
2. “In the Interpreter’s House,” The American Magazine, Volume 76 (1913), p. 97.
3. “Out-Door Sports,” New York Times, September 29, 1865, 8; also, “‘Hippodrome’ Tactics in Base Ball,” New York Clipper, November 11, 1865, 242.
4. “Cussed Crookedness,” Louisville Courier-Journal, November 3, 1877, per Dean Sullivan, ed., Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball 1825–1908, University of Nebraska Press , 1997, pp. 101–110.
5. Glenn Stout, Boston Herald, October 3, 1993, p. 6. “In 1923, he filed an affidavit in which he claimed that in 1903 he was approached by a Pittsburgh man before the Series and offered $12,000 to see to it that Pittsburgh won.”
6. Stephen S. Hall, “Scandals and Controversies,” Total Baseball, Warner Books, 1989 and later editions.
7. “Jewish Gamblers Corrupt American Baseball,” The Dearborn Independent, September 3, 1921. “A Cook County grand jury was called into session at Chicago and asked to investigate. When the grand jury had completed its labors, eight members of the Chicago American League team were under indictment for throwing the World Series of 1919, the previous year, to the Cincinnati Reds. And all along the line of investigation the names of Jews were plentifully sprinkled.”
8. David Pietrusza, Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, 2004, p. 182.
9. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Scribners, 1925, Chapter 4.
11. Pietrusza, p. 80.
12. Lloyd Morris, Postscript to Yesterday, Random House, 1947, p. 75.
13. Dennis Eisenberg et al., Meyer Lansky: Mogul of the Mob, Paddington Press, 1979, p. 108.
14. Pietrusza, p. 178.
15. “Ruth, Long Distance Gun,” New York Times, April 19, 1919; also, “Babe Ruth Aims Higher,” July 31, 1919.
16. “Ruth Stands Alone as a Heavy Hitter,” New York Times, October 12, 1919.
17. John J. Hallahan, “$20,000 Yearly the Figure Ruth Names,” Boston Daily Globe, October 25, 1919.
18. “Ruth Talks of Retiring,” New York Times, December 27, 1919.
19. Michael Gershman, Diamonds: the Evolution of the Ballpark, Houghton Mifflin, 1993, p. 104.
20. John F. Kieran, “Sports of the Times,” New York Times, October 2, 1927.
A few days ago, courtesy of a nameless headline writer at a newspaper in Bend, Oregon, baseball fans were apprised of yet another historic first: an amphibious pitcher. As you will see from an entry below, Pat Venditte is not the first ambidextrous hurler in MLB history: he was preceded by Tony Mullane, Larry Corcoran, Icebox Chamberlain, and Greg Harris. The Associated Press writer of the underlying story used the correct term for Venditte, who had just been called up to the Oakland A’s, but his story is already fish-wrap while the headline is assured of baseball immortality. Another of this week’s entries below, in which Phillies manager George Stallings is replaced by the club secretary, will resonate with fans of the Miami Marlins.
1880: Lee Richmond pitches the first perfect game in major-league history‚ leading Worcester to a 1-0 victory over Cleveland. Right fielder Lon Knight saves the no-hitter by throwing out Cleveland’s Bill Phillips at first base. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2015/05/13/j-lee-richmonds-remarkable-1879-season/
1888: Frank Pidgeon‚ captain of the Brooklyn Eckfords in the 1850s and the game’s greatest pitcher before Jim Creighton, is killed by a train in New York City while walking along the tracks. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/10/03/finding-frank-pidgeon/
1939: The Baseball Hall of Fame opens its doors to the public in the greatest gathering of members and future inductees ever. The Hall named its first five inductees in 1936—Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson–and added more worthies in each of the ensuing years. Twelve living honorees were present but in the accompanying photo Cobb, who arrived late, is absent.
1887: Sportswriter O. P. Caylor takes over as manager of the Mets. Caylor had managed Cincinnati in 1885 and 1886 while writing for the Cincinnati Enquirer; now he is editor of the National Baseball Daily Gazette, a short-lived paper.
1889: After the Colonels lose for the 19th time‚ Louisville owner-manager Mordecai Davidson tells the players he will fine them $25 if they lose the next game. Six players will refuse to play tomorrow against Baltimore. They had to be replaced by local amateurs for the next game, which, unsurprisingly, Louisville lost.
1962: Sandy Koufax hits his first of two big-league home runs‚ off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. It is the winning blow in the 2-1 win at Milwaukee.
1870: After a streak of 89 wins against top-rank clubs dating back to 1868, the Cincinnati Red Stockings lose 8-7 to the Atlantics of Brooklyn in what I believe to be the greatest game ever played. With the game tied at the end of the ninth inning, 5-5, Reds captain Harry Wright turns down the Atlantics’ offer of a draw, which would have rendered all bets moot. When the Reds scored twice in the eleventh, it appeared that victory would be theirs. But the Atlantics rallied for three runs and the game. A key play occurred when an exuberant Brooklyn spectator jumped on the back of Cal McVey as he was in the act of fielding a fairly hit ball, thereby permitting a run to score. After the game a telegram to Cincinnati is sent:
“The finest game ever played. Our boys did nobly but fortune was against us. Eleven innings played. Though beaten‚ not disgraced. (signed) A.B. Champion‚ Cincinnati Baseball Club.”
1957: With the bases loaded. Jim Gilliam swipes home with the winning run in the 10th inning to give the Dodgers a 2-1 win over the Cardinals.
1965: After pitching no-hit ball through 10 innings and fanning 18, Cincinnati’s Jim Maloney allows a leadoff home run to the Mets’ Johnny Lewis in the 11th inning and loses a heartbreaker, 1-0. He is the first pitcher since Harvey Haddix in 1959 to lose a no-hitter in extra innings.
1872: During the Athletics-Atlantics game‚ Tom Barlow bunts the ball and reaches first safely. The New York Clipper describes the play: “After the first two strikers had been retired‚ Barlow‚ amid much laughter and applause‚ ‘blocked’ a ball in front of the home plate and reached first base before the ball did.” Barlow would later, after an injury, become addicted to morphine. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/11/20/some-basball-tricks-the-unfair-means-by-which-some-games-were-won-in-the-1860s/
1895: Future novelist Zane Grey makes his minor league debut playing left field for Findlay‚ Ohio‚ against Wheeling (Tri State League). The Pennsylvania University athlete‚ playing under the name Zane‚ fails to get a hit‚ but walks and scores on a grand slam by brother Romer “Reddy” Grey, subsequently immortalized as one of three in “The Redheaded Outfield.” For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/13/old-well-well/
1902: Corsicana (Texas League) shows no mercy in beating Texarkana‚ 51-3. Due to a Sunday laws forbidding baseball‚ the game is shifted to a smaller park in Ennis. The team’s 53 hits include 21 home runs. Jay Justin “Nig” Clarke goes 8-for-8, with all of them home runs‚ collecting 16 RBIs and 32 total bases.
1857: The Tri-Mountain Baseball club is organized in Boston by Edward Saltzman‚ but not to play by the customary Massachusetts Game rules. Recently removed from New York, Saltzman had played on the Gotham Base Ball Club. Not finding any teams in Boston playing “The New York Game” he taught some friends the rules and formed the club. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/07/06/early-baseball-in-boston/
1884: Chicago’s Larry Corcoran pitches both left- and right-handed in a league game game against Buffalo. Trying to alleviate pain from an inflammation on his right index finger‚Corcoran alternates sides. Hit hard‚ he is lifted after four innings. Cincinnati’s Tony Mullane had preceded him in this stunt two years earlier.
1989: Rick Wolff‚ a former Harvard player and, at age 37, editor of Macmillan’s The Baseball Encyclopedia, writes an article on minor-league baseball for Sports Illustrated. The subject: his three-day stint playing second base for the South Bend White Sox (Midwest League). He goes 4-for-7 against the Burlington Braves.
1871: Civil War hero Abner Doubleday‚ now a Colonel in command of the 24th U.S. Infantry’s “Colored Regiment” at Fort McKavett‚ Texas addresses a request to General E.D. Townsend‚ Adjutant General‚ U.S. Army‚ Washington‚ D.C.: “I have the honor to apply for permission to purchase for the Regimental Library a few portraits of distinguished generals‚ Battle pictures‚ and some of Rogers groups of Statuary particularly those relative to the actions of the Colored population of the south. This being a colored regiment ornaments of this kind seem very appropriate. I would also like to purchase baseball implements for the amusement of the men and a Magic Lantern for the same purpose. The fund is ample and I think these expenditures would add to the happiness of the men.” This is the full extent of Doubleday’s documented relationship to baseball.
1880: In the second perfect game in six days, John Montgomery Ward pitches a classic in Providence against Buffalo‚ winning 5-0. Losing pitcher Pud Galvin makes the last out. Oddly, Galvin had pitched the first perfect game in professional baseball in 1876, outside the National League. For more, see: http://thisgameofgames.blogspot.com/2009/01/first-perfect-game.html
1978: Ron Guidry strikes out 18 batters—with 15 coming in the first six innings–in a four-hit shutout of the Angels‚ setting an AL record for lefthanders. The victory raises his record to 11-0, on the way to a record of 25-3, a Cy Young Award, and second place in the MVP balloting.
1898: After the players mutiny and refuse to play‚ Philadelphia deposes rookie manager George Stallings. His replacement, club secretary Bill Shettsline‚ finishes 15 games above .500 for the remaining 103 games in the season.
1919: At Boston‚ St. Louis Browns third baseman Jimmy Austin ends the game by nabbing Sox runner Wally Schang with the hidden ball trick. The Browns win‚ 3-2. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2015/06/09/the-oldest-trick-in-the-book/
1962: One day after the Cubs’ Lou Brock drove a home run into the left-center-field bleachers at the Polo Grounds, Hank Aaron does it too. Before this, only Joe Adcock of the Braves had accomplished the feat, in 1954.
The hidden-ball trick is defined as “a time- honored legal ruse in which a baseman conceals the ball and hopes that the base runner believes it has been returned to the pitcher. When the runner steps off the base, he is summarily tagged out with the hidden ball.” The dying art dates back to the early days of pro baseball. With the invaluable help of many others, author Bill Deane has spent decades compiling a list of 264 successful executions of the trick in the major leagues. This puts the rarity of the play roughly in the class of the no- hitter.
My old friend Bill and his publisher graciously permitted the use of the story below, which focuses on hidden-ball tricks up to 1920, in last year’s number of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game. It is extracted from Finding the Hidden-Ball Trick: The Colorful History of Baseball’s Oldest Ruse, by Bill Deane, recently published by Rowman & Littlefield (http://goo.gl/1B3lQV). Upon reading it in manuscript, I commented: “Bill Deane is a magician. Spinning out the story of baseball’s most ancient sleight of hand, he draws your attention to a game, a date, a perpetrator, and a victim. Yet all the while he is weaving his way—and yours—to a unique view of the game’s whole history. Devilishly ingenious, this is a gem of a book.”
Bill served as Senior Research Associate at the Baseball Hall of Fame from 1986–1994. He has authored hundreds of articles and seven books, including Baseball Myths (Scarecrow, 2012). He served as managing editor of Total Baseball, and has done consulting work for the likes of Roger Kahn, Bill James, and Topps Baseball Cards. In 1989, Deane won the SABR– Macmillan Baseball Research Award for his book, Award Voting. In 2003, Deane won the Utica-Cooperstown SABR chapter’s “Cliff Kachline Award.” Most recently, SABR named him as a 2015 recipient of its prestigious Henry Chadwick Award.
I first started “collecting” hidden-ball tricks in the 1980s. Employed as Senior Research Associate for the National Baseball Library from 1986–1994 and working on my own projects after hours, I spent hundreds of hours a year doing research for myself and others. Inevitably, I stumbled across interesting tidbits which had little or nothing to do with what I was working on, and I kept various lists based on these findings. Many of these feats, like three-pitch innings, and scoring from first base on a single, turned out to be not as uncommon as I thought. But the hidden-ball trick held up as a rare and remarkable event, roughly as uncommon as a no-hitter.
My project blossomed thanks to the internet and considerable help from others. To date, I have documented 264 successful executions of the HBT in the major leagues.
The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary defines the hidden-ball trick as “a time-honored legal ruse in which a baseman [I’d say “infielder”] conceals the ball and hopes that the baserunner believes it has been returned to the pitcher. When the runner steps off the base, he is summarily tagged out with the hidden ball.” SABR member Eric Sallee gives a good explanation of what is required for the play to be successful, saying “the sun, the moon, and the stars all have to be in alignment in order for it to work:
1. Play cannot be ‘dead,’ i.e., time is not ‘out’;
2. The pitcher cannot be touching or straddling the pitching rubber;
3. The umpire has to be alerted or paying attention;
4. A bonehead runner must be willing to take a lead off a bag before the pitcher toes the slab; and
5. The bonehead runner’s teammates and base coaches all have to be asleep, as well.”
The hidden-ball trick is almost as old as baseball itself. It has been said to date back to Harry and George Wright of the 1869 Red Stockings, but 19th century baseball expert Peter Morris scoffs at the notion of that team resorting to such deceptive ruses. Another source credits National Association utilityman Tom Barlow with the innovation. The earliest HBT I have documented occurred on May 20, 1872, in a Philadelphia–Baltimore NA game; it was described as an “old trick” as early as 1876. In any case, it dates back more than 140 years, and has happened to end games and to complete triple plays. It once resulted in two arrests, another time cost a Hall of Famer a managing job, and it even happened in a World Series. With TV monitors in the clubhouses and professional coaches at the bases, the play was still pulled off twice in 2013.
Following are accounts of 10 successful pre-1920 executions of the hidden-ball trick:
Date: June 17, 1884
Teams: Buffalo Bisons vs. Chicago White Stockings (NL)
Perpetrator: Buffalo first baseman Dan Brouthers
Victim: Billy Sunday, Chicago
According to The Sporting Life, “Brouthers, in one of the games with Chicago last week, worked a very old trick on Sunday. The latter had made a good base hit and was safe on first. The guileless Daniel had thrown the ball back to [pitcher Billy] Serad (in his mind), when Sunday slipped off the bag. Dan jerked the ball from under his arm and touched him out before the Chicago right fielder knew what happened. Any player stupid enough to be caught in that manner deserves a fine.” Buffalo won the game, 8–7 in 10 innings. Brouthers was on his way to the Hall of Fame; Sunday was on his way to a long career as an evangelist.
Date: September 28, 1893
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Giants (NL)
Perpetrator: Pittsburgh first baseman Jake Beckley
Victim: John Montgomery Ward, New York
According to the New York Sun, “It was in the ninth inning and Ward had made a single. Of course John was tickled to death and did not observe that the ball was passed to Beckley. [Mike “King”] Kelly was coaching at first and he, of course, did not see the renowned [pitcher Ad] Gumbert make an effort to get in a position to pitch, and Ward stepped from the bag. The instant he did so Beckley touched him out, and there were roars of laughter all around. John kicked, but he was out, and the umpire told him so. It was somewhat humiliating for the little manager, but it had to go.” For Ward, considered the most intelligent man in baseball in the nineteenth century, it was the second time in four months he had been caught on the trick. Kelly—like Ward and Beckley, a future Hall of Famer—was in the closing days of his colorful career; a year later, he would be dead.
Date: October 9, 1907
Teams: Detroit Tigers (AL) vs. Chicago Cubs (NL)
Perpetrators: Tigers second baseman Germany Schaefer and third baseman Bill Coughlin
Victim: Jimmy Slagle, Cubs
The hidden-ball trick has even been executed in the World Series, though most sources don’t account for it (The World Series has it as a pickoff, Tigers pitcher George Mullin to Coughlin). In the first inning of Game 2 of the 1907 Fall Classic, according to The Sporting Life, “Slagle was passed, stole second and got to third on [catcher Freddie] Payne’s wild throw, but was caught napping on the ‘hide-the-ball’ trick, Schaefer to Coughlin.” The 1908 edition of Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide said “Coughlin working that ancient and decrepit trick of the ‘hidden ball’ got ‘Rabbit’ Slagle as he stepped off the third sack.” According to author Stephen D. Boren, Schaefer caught a pop fly, then joined Coughlin in a conference with Mullin, during which Coughlin secreted the ball under his arm. After the tag, umpire Hank O’Day yelled, “You’re out. Where did the ball come from?”
Date: May 13, 1908
Teams: Detroit Tigers vs. Boston Red Sox (AL)
Perpetrator: Tigers third baseman Bill Coughlin
Victim: Amby McConnell, Red Sox
In the third inning, rookie McConnell hit a bases-clearing triple. As player-turned-sportwriter Tim Murnane wrote in the Boston Globe, “About the meanest thing known to baseball occurred at this point. With Cy Young coaching, the ball was fielded to Coughlin, who tucked it away under his arm, and McConnell, supposing the pitcher had it, moved off the base and was touched out. This is one trick as old as the game that should never be allowed to go in baseball…. Hiding the ball is an ancient trick, and long since barred from the game by custom. No Boston player has been allowed to attempt the trick since Harry Wright declared it was unsportsmanlike and an insult to the spectators.” The Detroit Times replied, “News of the barring of the play is fresh out this way. It has always been understood heretofore that the baserunner was supposed, with the assistance of his coacher, to take reasonable care of himself and not be caught napping against any such transparent stratagem.” It’s interesting that Murnane would take such umbrage at the play: back on September 20, 1875, he pulled it on Cincinnati’s Emmanuel Snyder to end a National Association exhibition game.
Coughlin is the all-time leader, with nine documented tricks (at three positions) in the majors. According to his 1943 obituary, “When only 3 years old, he picked up a revolver and pulled the trigger, the discharge tearing off the finger next to the thumb on his left hand. He attributed that accident to making it possible for him to execute the hidden ball trick, as he had a special mitt made for his hand.”
Date: September 22, 1910 (first game)
Teams: New York Giants vs. Chicago Cubs (NL)
Perpetrator: Giants first baseman Fred Merkle
Victim: Johnny Evers, Cubs
The Giants’ Fred Merkle is forever remembered for his September 23, 1908 “boner,” when he failed to advance to second base on an apparent game-winning hit, and was called out when Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers retrieved a ball and touched the base, forcing Merkle for the third out and nullifying the run. The game wound up a tie, replayed at the end of the season, and resulting in a Cubs victory to win the pennant by one game over the Giants.
Merkle could never live down that humiliation, but he did gain a measure of revenge. It happened in New York in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cubs. According to I.E. Sanborn of the Chicago Tribune, “A feature of the day not indicated in the tabulated summary occurred in the first game when J. Evers was made the victim of a mothball scented trick by none other than Fred Bone Merkle…Evers was on first with none out in the fifth inning, having just accepted his third straight pass from [Louis] Drucke. The hurler pegged across to first to drive him back. Merkle went through the time worn motion of bluffing to return the throw, but holding the ball. Evers yanked his foot off the bag. Merkle stabbed him and the umpire saw it. There was great joy among the bugs who dearly love the Trojan, we don’t think so. What made it all the more noteworthy is that tomorrow is the anniversary of ‘Merkle day’ at the Polo grounds. Just two years ago tomorrow Merkle gave Chicago it’s [sic] third pennant by forgetting to touch second.”
Date: July 14, 1912 (first game)
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Giants (NL)
Perpetrator: Cardinals third baseman Wally Smith
Victim: Fred Snodgrass, Giants
According to the New York Times, “Wally Smith pulled ‘the hidden ball trick’ at the expense of Fred Snodgrass in the sixth inning, and it probably saved the game for [pitcher] Bob Harmon…[Beals] Becker hit with Snodgrass on the ‘hit and run,’ whacking a single to right field, Snodgrass taking third base…. However Snodgrass forgot to follow the ball, Smith hiding it in his glove, and when Fred stepped off the bag, Wally tagged him. Umpire Bob Emslie, who was making base decisions, said that he did not see the play, but Umpire [Mal] Eason, who was working behind the bat, saw it and waved Snodgrass out.” It was a critical play, as the Cards won, 3–2. Interestingly, Snodgrass—who would become infamous for a fatal World Series error later this year—had been similarly tricked by the Cardinals two years before, with Emslie calling him out, but Cy Rigler overruling his fellow arbiter, nullifying the play.
Date: June 9, 1914
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies (NL)
Perpetrator: Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner
Victim: Beals Becker, Phillies
In the eighth inning, Wagner pulled the ruse on Becker, who had singled and been sacrificed to second. Wagner also pulled a decoy earlier in the same game, but it doesn’t quite qualify as an HBT. After Hans Lobert stole second in the first inning, according to the Pittsburgh Gazette Times, “Wagner tricked him into starting for third. Wagner then picked up the ball behind the bag and tagged Lobert trying to get back.” Despite Wagner’s theatrics—including his 3,000th career hit—the Phillies won, 3–1.
Date: May 1, 1915
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds (NL)
Perpetrator: Cardinals second baseman/manager Miller Huggins
Victim: Tommy Leach, Reds
In a play involving two stars near the end of their playing careers, Huggins nailed Leach, precipitating a fistfight between Reds manager Buck Herzog and umpire Cy Rigler that landed both of them in jail. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The fracas which eventuated in the arrest of the umpire and manager was imposed suddenly upon some 6000 fans in the seventh inning of a game which the Cardinals won from the Reds, 9–5…. Manager Herzog exploded when Tommy Leach, his veteran outfielder, was victimized on the hidden ball trick, a moth-eaten affair, by Manager Huggins. This play took place at second base. Hug held the ball until Leach wandered off second and then dove for his prey and landed him. Umpire [Bill] Hart, officiating on the bases, didn’t see the play. He appealed to Rigler, who was behind the plate. Rigler called Leach out. Then Herzog rushed at the umpire. Rigler promptly ordered Herzog out of the game. The Cincinnati manager went to the bench but returned and renewed his argument with Rigler. He tapped Rigler on the chest with his index finger…Rigler hit Herzog with his mask and then followed with blows from his fist. The pair clinched and fists were flying freely.” After the game, both men were arrested on peace disturbance charges, and each was fined $5.
Date: July 4, 1918 (second game)
Teams: Detroit Tigers vs. Chicago White Sox (AL)
Perpetrator: Tigers first baseman Ty Cobb
Victim: Joe Benz, White Sox
In the second game of a holiday doubleheader, Cobb (in one of his 14 career games at first base) was inspired by Bob Fisher’s trick the day before. According to the Detroit Free Press, “Cobb, having read in the papers of the old hidden ball trick used on Dode Paskert in St. Louis Wednesday, thought he’d try it and he made good, too. In the sixth inning [the White Sox’ Fred] McMullin was on third and [Otto] Jacobs on first with one out when Benz tapped to the pitcher. McMullin was run down and the ball was thrown to second later for a play on Jacobs. It got away from [Pep] Young and was recovered by Cobb, who tucked it under his arm, walked back to first base…and when Benz stepped off the bag, Ty stung him with the ball.”
Date: September 2, 1918 (second game)
Teams: Chicago White Sox vs. Detroit Tigers (AL)
Perpetrator: White Sox third baseman Babe Pinelli
Victim: George Harper, Tigers
According to the Toledo Blade, rookie Pinelli caught Harper with manager Hughie Jennings coaching. It was during the second game of this season-ending doubleheader at Detroit, and there was a feeling that this could be the last regular-season baseball game of the foreseeable future. The campaign was being cut short by World War I, and the game featured a squad of military airplanes exhibiting maneuvers above the field. According to the Detroit Free Press, “George Harper helped to make this game historic, by allowing Pinelli, the Sox recruit third sacker, to pull the hidden ball trick on him. It made Harper look bad…. In the inning in which Harper was nailed it looked like the Tigers must have a bat on their opponents, a double, two singles and a long fly that enabled two runners to advance a base, being bunched without a run resulting, and with only one man left.” The Detroit News wrote, “George also fell victim to the hidden ball trick in the second game. Harper watched the airplanes, after getting as far as third base, and Pinelli shoved the ball into his ribs.” Detroit still won, 7–3, but Harper announced afterward that he was thinking of enlisting in the Navy.
1. Dickson, P. 1999. The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary (pp. 244–245).
2. The Sporting Life, June 25, 1884.
3. New York Sun, Sept. 29, 1893.
4. Neft, D., and R. Cohen. 1990. The World Series (p. 20).
5. Boren, S. 1991. “Blunders on the Base Paths Part of World Series Lore,” Baseball Digest, October.
6. Detroit Times, May 16, 1908.
7. Chicago Tribune, Sept. 23, 1910.
8. New York Times, July 15, 1912.
9. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 2, 1915, sports p. 1.
10. Detroit Free Press, July 5, 1918.
11. Toledo Blade, April 20, 1925.
12. Detroit News, Sept. 3, 1918.