This quickie is from longtime pal and esteemed baseball historian John B. Holway. It relates to the current American League Championship Series, and thus is more current than Our Game readers have come to expect. But baseball’s history begins not in 1839 or 1744 but with the conclusion of last night’s game. Holway and I co-wrote The Pitcher and worked together on Total Baseball‘s first edition. But John’s forays into baseball’s dimly understood past predates mine by eons. He has been researching baseball since 1944. Renowned for his work on the Negro Leagues, he has also written frequently about Ted Williams, whom he saw hit two home runs in the 1946 All-Star Game. The Williams Shift is relevant here.How do you give advice to David Ortiz?No, not with the bases loaded and four runs down.But I was shouting it to him almost every other time up this postseason.“BUNT!!!”They give him a 50-foot open target at third base. Even I could drop a bunt into it.I know David can. Because I saw him do it. About seven years ago in Tampa. You could almost see him shrug and chuckle, “Well, if they’re gonna give it to me…”–then he pushed a 250-foot bunt into left field and jogged to first while the left fielder loped over to stop the ball before it rolled to the fence. Then Papi trotted home on Manny Ramirez’s homer.I wonder if Boston could have beaten Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers in Game 1 if Ortiz had bunted every time they invited him to. He sure could have broken up two no-hitters fast.In 1946 Lou Boudreau pulled his Shift on Ted.Ty Cobb and everybody told Ted to hit to left: It would open up right field so he could drill singles and doubles into it again. But he wouldn’t do it.However, that fall he did win the pennant with an inside-the-park homer to left. And I saw him bunt to third with a swollen elbow in the World Series.Then he got stubborn again.Funny thing: Seven fielders were crowding into right field, but the wary pitchers were still pitching him outside; they were as stubborn as he was.It took Ted a year and a half to see the light, but finally the smartest hitter in history started hitting the ball where it was pitched, lifting homers over the Monster or glancing hits against it like Wade Boggs. Over the years he’d hit a couple over the Wall every season or dump a few flies on the grass in front of it.Yet Boudreau and others were even more stubborn than Ted. Lou didn’t call the Shift off until about 1950.In ‘58 I saw Ted beat Pete Runnels for the batting crown in the final series with three homers–to right, to center, and to left.
“The fundamental reason for the popularity of the game is the fact that it is a national safety valve. Voltaire says that there are no real pleasures without real needs. Now a young, ambitious and growing nation needs to ‘let off steam.’ Baseball furnishes the opportunity. Therefore, it is a real pleasure…. That is what baseball does for humanity. It serves the same purpose as a revolution in Central America or a thunderstorm on a hot day…. A tonic, an exercise, a safety-valve, baseball is second only to Death as a leveler. So long as it remains our national game, America will abide no monarchy, and anarchy will be too slow.” These oft-quoted lines were penned by Allen Sangree (1878-1924), perhaps for The New York World in 1907. I was unable to locate these fine words there but did come across them in the September 1907 number of Everybody’s Magazine (Volume 17, pp. 378-387). I had never seen the article in its entirety and figure probably you haven’t either, so here it is, complete with original illustrations. It’s a corker, as they said back in the day, offering an unequaled view of baseball’s idealized bleacher democracy. [I have altered one derogatory term so as not to give needless offense, entering a replacement in brackets below.]
FANS AND THEIR FRENZIES: The Wholesome Madness of Baseball
By ALLEN SANGREE
With photographs by Heyworth Campbell
THE visit of Clark Griffith and his New- York American Leaguers to the Federal Prison at Atlanta on the occasion of their southern practice trip this spring, furnished a telling illustration of the intensity of the American interest in baseball. I was among the newspaper correspondents that accompanied the party, and all through the corridors and workshops we marked the yearning with which the prisoners’ eyes followed the leaguers, some of them moving their lips as they tagged off the various diamond heroes filing by—Griffith, Chesbro, Elberfeld, and Jim McGuire. Dr. Nye, the Bertillon expert of the prison, explained that though conversation is forbidden and newspapers are excluded, the prisoners in some mysterious way manage to learn the baseball scores each day and even become familiar with the names and achievements of renowned players.
As we were passing through the barber shop, an employee made such excited gestures with a razor that Dr. Nye stopped and whispered: “That fellow has been in prison twenty-six years and his time expires at noon to-morrow.” Then, struck by a sudden idea, he suggested to Griffith that if he wanted one stanch rooter at the next day’s game he should write out a pass for the ex-murderer, forger, and counterfeiter.
Griffith, of course, made out the pass, and we looked for the released convict with some eagerness. There was no difficulty in noting his arrival. He came from the top row of the grand stand to a seat back of the visiting bench in three bounds, emitting yells of peculiar ferocity, and immediately began a vicious roast of the New York team : “Rubes!” “Lobsters!” “Yer can’t put ‘em over!” “Back to Hackensack!” “They bought the empire!” “Run, you ice-wagon!” He had every classic anathema, ancient and modern, at tongue’s tip, and he so rattled New York’s pitching tyro that the big leaguers were defeated.
“You’re a fine sort of a fan, you are,” jeered Griffith bitterly after the game. “Had my way, you’d get ten years more.”
Excepting for the loss of his voice, the ex-convict appeared to be rejuvenated as he sat there red-cheeked, throbbing with life, grinning happily. Not until Dr. Nye explained did he appreciate his blunder. “Cap’n,” he apologized in a wheezy whisper, “take my oath, I never even knowed who was playin’. Yes, sir,” he asserted earnestly, “that’s gospel. What I let go”— he tapped his chest—”has been inside o’ me twenty-six years, an’ it had t’ come out.” Dr. Nye nodded at the somewhat appeased Griffith with understanding sympathy: “It was either this or a spree for him, and the ball game’ll do him more good.”
Doubtless some thirty-third degree “fan” resents the use of the title for such an illogical crank as the ex-convict. It must, indeed, be admitted in all justice that, although lexicographers have not as yet devoted their acumen to the subject, there does exist a nice distinction among the terms “rooter,” “bug,” and “fan.” Any one may be a rooter if he attends a game only once in a lifetime and yells. A bug, too, need not be a steady patron; his chief requirement is ability to quote data and statistics dealing with averages, games, and players. But the fan— He is as far above the others as a mahatma above a coolie. To him baseball is sleep, meat, and drink. It becomes a fetish. Having passed through the stages of rooter and bug, the soul of a fan frequently achieves a Nirvana that enables him to express untold passion by a mere eye-glint. Again, he may elect to roar. He is the sublimation of baseball fervor, getting out of it all there is in it.
Now the bug finds difficulty in transforming himself into the gorgeous, glittering, butterfly fan. He is too small-minded, cranky, absorbed in details. He is the chap who writes letters to the papers: “It’s a wonder to me that you don’t get a cigar-store Indian to do baseball for you. He couldn’t make any more mistakes. Yesterday that asinine blockhead that calls himself a baseball expert said Dan McGann was born in Tennessee, instead of Kentucky. Day before he said Willie Keeler’s batting average was .321. It should have been .324. If you want to keep your circulation, better get an expert that can tell a base-hit from a catcher’s mask.”
Even as a child, irresponsible and uncritical, the rooter blithely pursues his untrammeled course, howling at anything and everything—he is only a laborer in the cult, not an artist. It was in complaint of such a one that the New York baseball editors received numerous caustic letters just after Ira Thomas made his first appearance in “fast company” with the Highlanders. Detroit, the visiting team, had scarcely gone to bat when the rooter arose and in a voice blatant as Roland’s trumpet, began to root for “ol’ Jim McGuire,” who at that precise moment was out in Michigan.
“That’s him! There he is, same ol’ Jim. God bless the old fella’! I knowed him down in Washington—used t’ eat at th’ same table with him. Well, sir, did yeh see that t’row to second? Great? W’y there ain’t another man on earth ‘at could do it! An’ say, jest t’ think—he’s been twenty-five year in th’ business. He’s th’ whole game, Jim is!”
This was really a serious offense, since “Big” Thomas is perhaps a foot and a half taller than McGuire and a score of years younger. Along about the seventh inning when the rhapsody grew wilder, a bug stepped down and touched the rooter’s shoulder: “Say, you, that isn’t McGuire ketchin’; it’s Thomas. And if it was McGuire he hasn’t been in the big league but twenty years; you said twenty-five.”
“Thomas?” questioned the other, not the least abashed. “What’s his first name?”
“Good boy, Ira! That’s th’ way! Make it a home! Holy Smoke, look at him run! Ain’t he th’ candy! What d’ I tell you—cleaned th’ bases! Thomas! Thomas! Thomas!”
Little wonder that the bugs were incensed at this cheap demonstration. But the row of fans behind—did they move a muscle? Hardly! In superb benevolence or perhaps pity, they silently regarded both bug and rooter; to them the incident was not even worth relating.
Of the nation’s fans, those to whom baseball has become synonymous with life and freedom, none has been so celebrated as “Hi-Hi” Dixwell, of Boston, and old ” Well-Well,” of New York. When the former died he was characterized as Boston’s “most unique citizen.” For a generation he had delighted and amused baseball patrons with his high-pitched, staccato “Hi-Hi,” emitted only upon the accomplishment of some especially meritorious play. It was considered something to boast of that one had been seated “right ‘long side of Hi-Hi,” and the ambitious novitiates in fandom were accustomed to wait for him to put his stamp of approval on a throw, hit, or catch before they joined in.
The popularity of old “Well-Well” with laymen is undeniable. Verse writers have long employed his name as synonymous with spring. Indeed, it is never reckoned a genuine opening at the Polo Grounds unless the long-drawn, sonorous bass notes, “Well, well, well!” caroming against Coogan’s Bluff, usher in the season. But old “Well- Well” has never been regarded as a criterion and his lack of judgment will prevent his ever ranking high among baseball mahatmas. Another count against him is that in later years he has “well-welled” for the enemy and the home club indifferently, a breach of ethics that the forty-second-degree fan, who is immovably loyal, will not overlook. [For more about "Old Well-Well," see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/13/old-well-well/]
A more reliable and praiseworthy celebrity in the fan cult was “Detroit Andy,” who died about the same time as “Hi-Hi” Dixwell. Under his real name of Andrew Rudolph, he was just beginning to be successful in business when the baseball mania seized him with such relentless grip that he practically abandoned everything in order that he might be in the ball-park day and night. He attracted attention by his steadfast allegiance to the Tigers whether they were losing or winning, and his clever advice from the bleachers helped to win many a game. Pitcher Mullin in particular profited by “Andy’s” observations, so that when “Andy” bid for the score-card privilege, Detroit’s crack twirler helped him secure it. Rudolph was straightway in a delirium of joy. He slaved to get out the most attractive score-card on the circuit, even though he was losing $500 a year. The approach of ruin in nowise daunted his zeal. On the contrary, when half the Detroit club were crippled, this astonishing fan volunteered as assistant rubber, and after every game, though wearied from selling score-cards, he would pitch in and employ what strength he had left in massaging the kinks out of Tom, Dick, and Harry. When Andy came to die he was quite impoverished, yet, like Nathan Hale, he had only one regret—that he could no longer shout for the Tigers.
Though fans are bound by no constitution nor code, there is, nevertheless, a hard-and- fast understanding among them that a candidate for the title must prove himself worthy in some noticeable way. Mere attendance at every game in a season will not suffice; and many a zealous and faithful enthusiast, failing to realize this, has suffered under the lifelong stigma of rooter or bug. But, like success, fan fame often comes without any effort. DeWolf Hopper, for instance, became the high exalted ruler of fandom as a result of reciting “Casey at the Bat.” And not only that—he made a deal of money out of that baseball poem. Other actors of that period, notably Henry E. Dixey and Digby Bell, knew more about the game and patronized it more frequently than Hopper, but the public did not care to hear of them.
Consider what befell Mr. Dixey, who strove to clip away some of Hopper’s laurels. On a gala day in Boston he attended the game in a purple-painted barouche accompanied by a party gorgeously appareled. The comedian also had with him a favorite fox- terrier, which he loved like a child and would not have lost for at least a trifling fortune. In the ninth inning Bill Dahlen, playing short-stop for Chicago, smashed a terrific drive directly at Dixey’s carriage. It came with such velocity that the agile terrier had no time to escape. The ball hit him squarely on the head and he tumbled on the greensward a very dead dog. Next day every news paper in America told the story, describing the actor’s grief, his narrow escape, his devotion to the national game; and “Pop” Anson, Chicago’s captain, after vast mental labor, originated a historic bon mot. “It is,” he testified, “the only case of a dog gone run that has ever come under my observation.” Yet even with this authoritative boost, Dixey’s baseball fame perished miserably at an early age.
Taking liberties with a venerable truth, one might say that some persons are born fans, others become fans, and a few have had the honor of being fans thrust upon them. Before the American League was established, half a dozen years ago, there was but one object of devotion and therefore there was less chance than now to gain publicity among all the millions who patronize professional baseball. But with the shifting of famous players from the National to the American League, citizens were called upon to select a favorite, and a distressing upheaval followed. Husbands and wives parted; lifelong friendships were destroyed; children abandoned their parents. In Philadelphia and Boston nearly all the illustrious fans attached themselves to the American League. Chicago and St. Louis made an even division. But New York, the cradle of baseball, remained loyal to the Giants and the National League. For a time it seemed that the invaders [today's Yankees] never would attach any but rooters and bugs, and then, suddenly, in a single game, two deserving fanatics won the degree.
It was the historic contest in the American League when New York lost the pennant to Boston on account of Pitcher Jack Chesbro’s anointing the pellet too lavishly. Jimmy Williams fielded a grounder and had he made his throw accurately, the game would have been won by Griffith’s team. But as a result of the ball’s being wet, he hurled it wild and Boston put the “pie over the counter.” In this awful moment a Fulton Market fish dealer named Edward Leach stood up like thousands of others in agonized contortions, a cigar butt in his mouth. In the painful excitement he gasped and down went cigar, ashes, and all. Those who have experienced this calamity say that the immediate results are harrowing. But Leach, recognizing the psychological hour, bore the agony without a groan. “It was nothing,” he declared, “to losing the pennant.” Next day the papers printed his picture and the order of Elks raised him to high estate. For the rest of his life he will be pointed out as a fan.
It was also in this game that Lawyer Wallace, a university graduate and an able barrister, first won general recognition. He had been casually mentioned during the season as the “Yanks’ singing fan,” his hobby being to take position behind the home bench and lead the grand stand in song. For this occasion the lawyer arranged a parody on Auld Lang Syne:
We’re here because we’re here because
We’re here because we’re here.
Hardly a masterpiece, but the words and melody were so simple that the whole arena joined in, and if song could have availed, Boston would have been defeated. Lawyer Wallace always occupies the same seat. He not only sings but coaches the home club so cleverly as to be of real service. Pitcher Mullin, of Detroit, admits that Wallace has caused him to lose several important games by his continuous avalanche of song and speech. It required a certain amount of thought and craftiness to dim the luster of Leach and Wallace. But a manufacturer of safes in Harlem, one Edward Everett Bell, evolved an effective idea. Bell had been for many seasons a steady patron of the Polo Grounds, though by reason of the fame there of actors, statesmen, and society notables he had small renown. He was determined to succeed with the new league even at a financial loss and began by presenting the Yankees with a safe wherein the players might stow their jewelry while on the field. It proved such a trump card that Bell’s name went the circuit of the league and now he basks in deathless fame.
Few of the gentler sex have had the desire to follow the game closely and fewer still the hardihood to work upward through the degrees of rooter and bug to fandom. In fact, the records mention but two—Helen Dauvr[a]y, who arrived at full honors when she married that Achilles of the “diamond,” John Ward, and Mrs. Charles Wilson, of New York. Wherever the Giants are known, Mrs. Wilson and her son “Buster,” mascot of the team, are also known. They are accompanied by the husband and father, Charles Wilson, an extensive real-estate operator, and this trio of fans has traveled the country over, in training and championship trips, missing only two games at the Polo Grounds in three years. They have been photographed, caricatured, and “roasted” for their extreme fanaticism, all of which merely amuses Mrs. Wilson, because, as she told the writer, “Except for baseball I should not be alive to-day.”
“Four years ago,” runs her story, “I was quite ill, threatened with consumption. At the same time Mr. Wilson suffered a heavy financial loss, and with eight children to rear, things looked desperately blue for us. We were not in a position to take a sea voyage, and no other sort of diversion appealed to us, until one day I happened to see the following verses:
Let’s get a bag of peanuts and be boys again and shout
For the men who lam the leather and line three-baggers out:
Let’s go out and root and holler and forget that we have cares,
And that still the world has markets that are worked by bulls and bears.
Every year they tell us that baseball’s out of date,
But each spring it’s back in fashion when they line up to the plate;
When the good old, glad old feeling comes again to file its claim—-
When a man can turn from trouble and go out to see the game.
“We forthwith resolved to turn from our troubles in this way. The result of our experiment sounds like a patent-medicine testimonial, but it is true that I recovered my health, Mr. Wilson his cheerfulness, and soon after everything prospered.”
It is unfortunate that she who was Miss Alice Roosevelt did not continue her patronage last year of the Washington club and thus set the fashion for women fans. Instead, Mrs. Longworth attended only enough to get the name of rooter. A little more persistence and see what would have happened! Throughout the length and breadth of this broad land you could not have found a nagging matron nor a maid with nervous prostration. “For,” says a philosopher, “health contributes most to cheerfulness, and to remain healthy one must have the proper amount of daily exercise. . . . When people can get no exercise at all, as is the case with countless numbers who are condemned to a sedentary life, there is a glaring and fatal disproportion between outward inactivity and inward tumult. For this ceaseless internal motion requires some external counterpart. . . . Even trees must be shaken by the wind, if they are to thrive.” Fans, bugs, and rooters are shaken and therefore thrive by baseball. The game furnishes the required “external counter part.” Why, even watching the scores will stir the blood, galvanize the heart, and rid one of distemper, a truth of which there was strange evidence at Foreshaw Ranch, near Hutchinson, Kansas, last summer. In the midst of the harvesting season all hands quit work to see the Joplin and Hutchinson teams fight for supremacy. The owner faced ruin if the crop was not garnered immediately, and he could get no other workers. In this extremity the boss thought of building a huge score-board so that the men might harvest and still read from the most distant fence corners. A telegraph wire was run from town, a skilled operator received and posted the scores, inning by inning, and we have the word of a truthful Missouri sporting editor that “Mr. Foreshaw’s ranch was harvested in jig time.”
The fundamental reason for the popularity of the game is the fact that it is a national safety-valve. Voltaire says that there are no real pleasures without real needs. Now a young, ambitious, and growing nation needs to “let off steam.” Baseball furnishes the opportunity. Therefore, it is a real pleasure.
But the outsider comprehends nothing of this. “Baseball,” he argues loftily, “is a game for people whose minds are vacant, whose imagination is dull, who, of necessity, seek diversion because they have not enough soul leavening to be company for themselves. They remind me of the Southern [African American] who loves to crowd with twenty score of his kind in a small space and ‘be sociable.’ Briefly, I think baseball is supported by persons intellectually poor and somewhat vulgar.”
In the face of what occurred at the opening game at the Polo Grounds this year, the enthusiast hardly knows how to gainsay this aspersion. Commissioner Bingham having unexpectedly withdrawn all police protection, a whole army of fanatics—estimated at 15,000—charged on the field just when New York was on the point of overhauling Philadelphia. What did that throng care for victory or defeat! Who was John McGraw pleading that he might finish the game, when 15,000 mortal dynamos surcharged with pent-up emotion, energy, and democratic enthusiasm were bent upon expressing themselves! This way and that swept the multitude—fans, bugs, and rooters—pommeling one another with cushions, jubilating, yelling, making a sieve of the welkin—physically and mentally getting everything “off the system.” That is what baseball does for humanity. It serves the same purpose as a revolution in Central America or a thunder storm on a hot day.
In commenting upon Commissioner Bingham’s threat to close up the baseball parks in New York if the managements did not provide their own police protection, two metropolitan editorial writers alluded to baseball as a “harmless” sport. What a weak characterization of the exhaust-valve of a great nation’s spirit! Do you suppose either of those editorial pundits ever saw Louis Mann, the German character actor, “explode” at a ball game, casting to the winds all thought of propriety or criticism? Could they know the brain-storm surging within David B. Hill from the only outward sign visible—a nervous tapping of the fingers? Would they understand why Senator Winthrop Murray Crane, ex-Governor of Massachusetts, insists on his guests at the Dalton farm playing baseball, making the game the principal feature of his hospitality?
A sport for the empty-headed? By no means. One of the country’s pioneer fans was the late Arthur Pue Gorman, who played professional ball with the old Washington Nationals. He lauded the game as a national benefaction and declared that it had added years to his life. It is related of the Maryland statesman that while watching a thrilling game in Baltimore some exuberant spectator unintentionally landed on him such a mighty fist-blow that Mr. Gorman “took the count.” The offender was seized and thrown down, and though he was screaming apologies, he would have been roughly handled had not Mr. Gorman himself interfered. “Never mind, never mind,” he said; “I might have done the same thing, I was so excited.”
And then, how about Justice White, of the United States Supreme Court! Would you call his a vacant mind? For years this eminent American plodded, in company with his associate Justice McKenna and scores of statesmen, to win the title of fan. But baseball crowds are so democratic that the mere enthusiasm of a national dignitary “gets him nothing.” He must convincingly prove that he grasps the game’s transcendent purpose and understands its democracy. There are no honorary titles to fandom even for a president or a king.
Jealously, therefore, the great jurist awaited his hour, and although it came most unexpectedly, he had the acumen to discern it. One day he was sitting beside an explosive rooter, who was a total stranger to him. Just as Hickman rapped a two-bagger in right field, scoring a couple of runs, the rooter gave Justice White a hard thwack on the shoulder.
“Peach! Great!” he yelled. “Wasn’t that a corker?”
“Nice hit,” agreed the justice, wincing under the blow, “but he should have taken third base; he had plenty of time.”
The “rooter’s” face broke into grins of admiration. “Say, that’s what he could. Say, you know this game — you do. You must be a fan! What’s your name?”
“Mine’s Dorgan. Well, White, ol’ horse, you certainly know baseball. He’d ought t’ reached third!”
Next day the justice was talking with three senators on Pennsylvania Avenue when the rooter and a friend passed. Another thump on the back and: “Say, White, it was a corker, eh? But you was right. The papers claim Hickman ought t’ went to third. Well, s’long.”
Instead of administering a rebuke, the justice, much to his companions’ amazement, returned this familiarity with nod and smile.
Among the myriad prominent persons who make a hobby of baseball—statesmen, physicians, clergymen, actors, and financiers—Senator Crane has a niche all to himself. When Governor of Massachusetts he bought a farm near Dalton ostensibly for raising crops, but the gentlemen of his council on their first visit soon discovered that potatoes and beans were of secondary importance.
“I have an idea, my friends,” said the governor, “that before we start wrangling over perplexing questions it would be a wise thing to play a game of baseball. If any one has a grouch let him take it out on the ball and above all things yell yourselves hoarse.”
He led his astonished council to a choice bit of meadow where was a perfect diamond with a grand stand behind the home plate. Then, to the further amazement of his guests, he arrayed his farm employees—Swiss gardener, Irish hostler, English groom, Danish teamster—against the members of the council, who were thus put upon their mettle. Togged out in old clothes, they puffed, panted, and perspired, ever goaded by their chief, who was in fine training. “Run, you Indian!” “Put it on him!” “Take a lead!” “Come on home!”
Only after full nine innings had been played did the governor let up. All ranklings, jealousies, and bitterness having been worked off on the diamond, there resulted a most satisfactory conference. Another zealot is ex-Congressman Wadsworth, of Geneseo N. Y,, whose son, “Jimmy,” Speaker of the New York Assembly, played first base on the Yale team. He held the same position on the Geneseo Valley Club, which was organized and backed by the elder Wadsworth and has for years cleaned up everything in the valley. Mr. Wadsworth apparently takes keener interest in this ball club than in cross-country riding, at which he is an adept. Two years ago the judges at the Madison Square bench show waited fretfully for the Geneseo pack of hunting dogs to be brought into the ring. Stewards scurried about seeking them, and friends who had come to see the pack take first prize also searched the building for the master, who was finally found in a far corner demonstrating to a reporter how the Geneseo shortstop checked a liner by throwing his glove in the air and then making a double play.
Like Senator Crane and Mr. Wadsworth, the astute and blithe E. H. Harriman prefers to vent his feelings in semi-privacy, and the team that he and his seventeen-year-old son conduct near Tuxedo is said to be a “ripper.” Mr. Harriman does not play himself, but he knows the fine points of the game and has long since passed the stage of rooter.
When the Chicago and All America clubs completed their round-the-world Spalding tour in 1889, many distinguished fans of that period, including Chauncey M. Depew, Mark Twain, Daniel Dougherty, Henry E. Howland, and Erastus W[i]man, joined in royally banqueting the athletes at Delmonico’s. In declaring that “civilization is marked, and has been in all ages, by an interest in the manly arts, and among those baseball is supreme,” it was believed that Mr. Depew had summed up the case for baseball. But the champions of cricket, football, polo, or boxing might justly dispute this. A better characterization would be: Baseball is chess with athletics, a constant changing of situation, a continuous excitement. These features, coupled with the fact that nearly every man has at some time been a player, the game’s honesty, its democracy, and—the umpire, unite to furnish a diversion that fills a real need.
A tonic, an exercise, a safety-valve, baseball is second only to Death as a leveler. So long as it remains our national game, America will abide no monarchy, and anarchy will be too slow.
George Boziwick contributed this splendid article to the journal Base Ball, which could neither accommodate nor print in color all his wonderful accompanying illustrations. Here at last is the piece the way it might ideally have been published; it is reprinted through courtesy of the journal’s publisher, McFarland and Company. Boziwick is Chief of the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. He is also a composer, performer, and co-founder of the Red Skies Music Ensemble, created with the mission to make archives and special collections come alive through research and performance.
Katie Casey was base ball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev’ry sou Katie blew.
On a Saturday, her young beau
Called to see if she’d like to go,
To see a show But Miss Kate said “no,
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was Katie’s well known reply, but in 1908, a woman at the ballpark rooting and cheering was neither a common sight, nor was it fully accepted. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” advertises just the opposite: that a woman’s place was indeed in the grandstand at the ballpark and not just safe at home.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”
At the turn of the 20th century, as more women gained access to higher education, participation in the general workforce, and political activism, an “emergent ideal” of the “New Woman” began to take hold that “imbued a women’s activity in the public domain with a new sense of female self, a woman who was independent, athletic, sexual, and modern.” According to the song’s second verse, the fictional Katie Casey had all those qualities, and expressed them fully through her passion for the game of baseball.
Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names;
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along good and strong. When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the gang sing this song:
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” made its appearance at a time in the spring and summer of 1908 when everyone was talking about baseball’s hotly contested pennant race—a three-way National League extravaganza between John McGraw’s mighty New York Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates with their star Honus Wagner, and the reigning world champion Chicago Cubs. All this excitement “surely” inspired vaudevillian Jack Norworth to write his “sensational baseball song,” as it was billed by the publisher and appeared on the sheet music. But the story behind “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” waited some fifty years before the song’s lyricist explained to the press how his famous words came to be written. By that time the song’s composer, Albert Von Tilzer, dead for two years, was unable to corroborate.
Norworth recounted that in the spring of 1908 he was riding a New York City elevated subway train when he spotted a sign that called out “Ball Game Today – Polo Grounds.” Norworth claimed he had never been to an actual game but that he needed a song for his act at the Amphion Theater in Brooklyn. According to Norworth, he thought the time was right for a baseball song and an idea struck him that he “thought was pretty good.” Before the subway ride was finished, baseball’s biggest female fan and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had come to life. He brought the lyrics to composer Albert Von Tilzer, who set them to music.
Later that fall, when the first sound recordings of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” were issued, the National Recording Company reviewed the Edison cylinder recording sung by Edward Meeker in its September 1908 catalog.
The base-ball hit of the season – a home run at least. Katie Casey is a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool base-ball ‘fan,’ and can give her big brothers pointers on ‘rooting’ for the home team. She’d rather munch peanuts on the bleacheries than caramels at a matinee – which is saying a good deal for a girl. Meeker must have taken Katie to a game or two, judging from the interest he takes in singing about her. The tune is a jolly, infectious one and you can get every word.
The focus of the Edison recording review is clearly on the character of Katie Casey and the song’s verse, not simply a trip to the ballpark with its chorus of “peanuts and Cracker Jack,” as we know it today.That musical “branding” would come long after female fans had melded into the crowds coming through the turnstiles, and the awareness of gender in the song’s forgotten verses had long since disappeared from memory.
To increase the song’s reach and visibility, Albert Von Tilzer had his publishing house, the York Music Company, commission a set of hand-painted glass lantern slides that were customarily used to accompany singalongs led by “song pluggers” between acts or reels in vaudeville and movie houses. These “illustrated song slides” were manufactured by master lantern-slide-maker DeWitt C. Wheeler, who shot them onsite at the Polo Grounds in May 1908. Using actors or models to depict the fictional Katie Casey and her beau, these slides undoubtedly encouraged the acceptance of women at games. They portrayed Katie Casey not as someone to sit idly taking in the game, but a woman who was fully engaged in the activity, surrounded by men. 
The presence of women at the ballpark in 1908 was not new, but it was still considered unusual. The increase in female attendance altered the informal, exclusive social club atmosphere, and elicited considerable resentment from many men. Despite this, ballclub owners eagerly exploited the idea of women at games, as it was commonly thought that their presence purified the game’s nastier elements and would increase attendance by men who simply wanted an opportunity to be where women were. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” certainly promoted the idea of women attending games. The song was indeed “infectious,” and you could “get every word.” But while the public may have been receptive to that idea in a song, in reality getting every word would take some time.
Ring Lardner’s book You Know Me Al, published in 1916, eight years after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” offers some evidence that the perception of baseball as an exclusively male domain was gradually yielding to the idea of women as knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans. Lardner’s fictitious ballplayer Jack Keefe describes his new wife and her love of baseball, as he writes to his friend Al: “Florence knows a lot about baseball for a girl. You would be surprised to hear her talk. She says I am the best pitcher in the league and she has saw them all.”
“Take me out with the crowd”
In the decades prior to the turn of the 20th century, the importance of recreational activities such as baseball was embraced by an emerging philosophy that young people would benefit from spending their leisure time pursuing the social, psychological, and physical benefits of organized outdoor activities. A growing number of social activists on both sides of the Atlantic realized that team sports had inherent values that, once instilled on the field of play, were readily transferable to the everyday lives of young men entering adulthood as productive citizens in the professional workforce. By 1908, baseball’s popularity had found resonance in both the playground movement of the 1890s and the subsequent Progressive Era that flourished under the watchful eye of Theodore Roosevelt, a great promoter of strenuous outdoor activity. Even the urban landscape saw a sharpening focus on the need for team-based outdoor activities for young people. Organizations such as the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL), founded in New York City in 1903, began to take root. The efforts of the PSAL were enormously successful in its outreach to the youth of New York City. Baseball as both a participatory and spectator sport was taking hold. By 1906 there were 106 PSAL baseball teams for boys throughout the New York City public school system. That year they held their final baseball contest in front of an audience of 1,500 enthusiastic spectators at the Polo Grounds, home to the New York Giants.
With the construction of new ballparks, the establishment of a stable and competitive American League, and the reintroduction in 1903 of an annual World Series, baseball was becoming an enduring commodity to a fan base already acclimated to a game that they themselves often played as children. Also, in 1908, the report of the Mills Commission on the origins of baseball had just been released. Despite the fact that the commission had determined on questionable evidence that baseball was a uniquely American game invented in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839 by Civil War veteran Abner Doubleday, America’s pastime was now official, and in the minds of many, as American as apple pie. Even though Jack Norworth’s recounting of the song’s creation came 50 years after the fact, he may have been prophetic in claiming that he thought it was time for a baseball song. Regardless, he could not have realized that his baseball song would attain recognition as a signifier for the passion, the values, and the inclusiveness that Americans found in their national game. “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack”
According to Norworth, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had a modest reception, but almost immediately other performers began incorporating his song into their acts and its popularity grew. There are at least thirty known variants of the sheet-music cover of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” issued by the publisher in 1908. Clearly the song was gaining in popularity, and so too was Norworth. His story about the origins of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” may or may not have been accurate, but looking closely at his activities at the time of the song’s writing provides evidence for what I believe to be the real story that Norworth never told about his “sensational base ball song.” By late 1906, Norworth (then married to actress Louise Dresser) had become infatuated with a fellow vaudevillian, Trixie Friganza. Norworth and Friganza began a heated affair while working together during 1907. By October the affair had become public, and Dresser announced to the press that Norworth was seeking a divorce so that he and Friganza could marry.
Even as Friganza sang her popular number “No Wedding Bells for Me” from the show The Orchid, neither she nor Norworth would have predicted that by the summer of 1908, their romance would suddenly falter, but it did. On June 15, the day of his divorce from Louise Dresser, Norworth began starring in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 and on June 21, in Long Branch, New Jersey, he unexpectedly married his Follies partner, vaudeville superstar Nora Bayes. Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes were Broadway’s most sensational couple. They worked and wrote songs together, including the baseball song “Let’s Get the Umpire’s Goat,” and their best-known song, “Shine On Harvest Moon.” Although there are no extant recordings of Bayes or Norworth singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” both are represented on individual covers of the sheet music. As part of their act, Bayes and Norworth held song-request contests that often included by popular demand performances of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
The lack of a Norworth/Bayes recording of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is not surprising given the fact that as part of his marital agreement with Bayes, Norworth severed his collaboration with composer Albert Von Tilzer and wrote songs exclusively with his new wife. From then on, many of the songs Norworth and Bayes either co-wrote or performed together favored entertaining Irish or other ethnic parodies. This was a world in which Norworth’s fictional Katie Casey of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” chose not to participate. She was more than willing to pass up a show for something more exciting, something American. She wanted baseball, and according to the song’s lyrics, her identity with the game was a proven fact.
“I don’t care if I never get back”
Who was the fictional Katie Casey in Jack Norworth’s song? By her name, she was likely Irish American. In 1908 she would have been at least second generation, already well assimilated to American culture and in her case, baseball. Assimilation for her and other Irish meant Americanizing without eradicating one’s cultural and religious “Irishness,” despite the fact that many Irish immigrants consciously turned their backs on a homeland that was still reeling from the effects of a catastrophic famine, poverty, and massive emigration. In their adopted homeland, the Irish would create their own infrastructure of community and culture, manifested in the building of Catholic schools and hospitals, and in the formation of service and fraternal organizations.
In Ireland, many young women found themselves without adequate means of marital support or inheritance, making emigration their only route of survival. These circumstances made the first generation of single Irish female immigrants more likely to answer the call for live-in domestic servants as a means of gaining a sure foothold in America. The growing demand for domestics in well-to-do Protestant households during the Victorian era was easily filled by young single Irish Catholic women often referred to ubiquitously as Kates, Katies, Noras, or Bridgets by their employers, who barely tolerated their “Hibernian” temperaments or their peculiar religious devotions. For the young Irish immigrant servant, the benefits of domestic employment went well beyond that of a steady income. Full-time residence in a prosperous middle class Protestant home afforded the Irish domestic a view of American life from the inside out. This “lace curtain” perspective greatly accelerated the Americanization process. Women were able to save money not otherwise spent on room and board and outfit themselves with the trappings and persona of upward mobility. This swift process of acculturation guaranteed that subsequent generations would soon begin filling the growing ranks of teachers or nurses, professions that mirrored the dominance, assertiveness, and control that Irish mothers and daughters often had over their households, husbands, and families. With independence and mobility as byproducts of her Irish cultural, social, and religious upbringing, Katie Casey was likely to be single, working, and self-sufficient. Her desire to get to the ballgame and assimilate to the rooting crowd is recognizable as part of the very cloth of her Irish American feminine identity.
Joining in the process of ethnic identity and assimilation, the Tin Pan Alley music industry manufactured its own form of entertainment that catered to enthusiastic Irish audiences, offering up song parodies and satires of the Irish experience from the beautiful and sentimental view of the homeland, to caricatures in the New World of cops, hard drinkers, and politicians. Songs about ethnic stereotyping, cultural identity, and the Americanization of young women were plentiful both in song and in the visual-art form of the sheet-music cover, particularly in the creation of the famous Gibson girl, the idealized American female image made famous by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. While Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes were writing entertaining songs and being lauded as the most celebrated couple on the Broadway stage, Norworth’s “sensational baseball song” began playing to a very different kind of audience, thanks to his affair with the almost Mrs. Norworth, Trixie Friganza.
Friganza had been cited in the local papers as a suffragist who marched for her rights in the very year that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was written. Her suffrage activities at the time were supported publicly by her employers, George M. Cohan and Sam Harris, in whose production of The American Idea Friganza was costarring with actress Stella Hammerstein. It is my belief that Friganza’s relationship with Norworth and her activities on behalf of women’s rights were the catalysts for Norworth’s inspiration and were fictionalized in Katie Casey’s explicit and affirming response to her beau to take her to the ballgame. This opinion is supported by the fact that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was officially registered for copyright on May 2, 1908, likely coinciding with the peak of Norworth’s affair with Friganza and their near marriage.
Another indicator of Friganza’s likely identity as the inspiration behind the fictional Katie Casey is the fact that out of all the known covers of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” released by the publisher, she appears twice in two different poses. Like Casey, Friganza (whose real name was Delia O’Callahan) was known to be outspoken and independent, drawing large crowds to both the theater and the suffrage rallies at which she was often a key speaker.
As an independent young woman and knowledgeable fan, Katie Casey was perfectly capable and qualified in leading the rooting charge, or telling the umpire, in a voice “good and strong,” that his call was wrong. The baseball park was her proving ground. Her boisterous behavior, although in 1908 it may have been considered inappropriate to her gender, provided the necessary lyric—the verse that she needed in order to participate in the chorus of assimilation and solidarity to “root, root, root for the home team.”
This same desire for solidarity and assimilation was already being observed in the behaviors of immigrant groups of young lower-class women in the crowded factory workrooms of New York and other urban centers. The image of the modest sequestered young woman at work was far from reality. Since these women, largely adolescent, had little or no opportunities for advancement in that milieu, the women’s work group became the dominant form of socialization. This gave rise to an adolescent counterculture that allowed them to thrive in the bleak, deafening atmosphere in which they spent their long days. These young girls were observed to be a cohesive, boisterous group, using the workspace to experiment with profanity, slang, and other careless or loud behaviors. This was part of a young working girl’s rite of passage. As social historian Leslie Tentler reminds us, “initiation into the heady world of adolescent independence was necessary for an urban working-class girl in the early twentieth century, because it was the adolescent peer group, and not parents, that provided suitors and ultimately, mates.”
These were the Katie Caseys of the factories who eventually took to the streets in search of better working conditions and higher pay. The tune that these women were singing was also an “infectious” one, and society would have to “get every word.” Women wanted empowerment, and Katie Casey’s fictionalized declaration for a female presence in the grandstand was a reverberation of these workers’ demands for equality. Once they reached their own chorus of assimilation, they too could never go back.
Indeed, these ladies did not go back. They eventually went on strike. The uprising of the 20,000 began in New York on November 23, 1909, and lasted for many weeks. Newspaper reports described in detail the worker’s strikes, including an account of one woman’s determined behavior on the field of battle: a real baseball-inspired story.
A striker [by the name of] Lena, threw an egg at the foreman of her factory and missed. The foreman made scornful remarks about her throwing abilities. Lena again began to throw eggs but this time, she did not miss. In a moment Grossman [her foreman] looked like an animated omelet. He rushed at the line and the pair clinched, half of the omelet being transferred to Lena.
With each successive worker’s march or suffrage parade, a growing number of groups and organizations both male and female were becoming affiliated with the broad cause of empowerment for women. No longer was it just for the shop girls, clerks, or garment workers. Nor was it simply Society’s latest fashionable cause. However, many began to realize that “if suffrage was made fashionable, victory would be assured.” The best way to ensure this victory was to sharpen the focus of empowerment on a single issue that would create a unified chorus of assimilation. That chorus became the “franchise” or the right to vote. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” employed a parallel platform, conveying the single message that empowerment, solidarity, and equality, not dominance, was bringing men and women together at the ballpark to root “good and strong” for the team. Since this inclusive support and focus on a single issue was the thing that would virtually guarantee the success of the suffrage movement, why not the same formula of success for the message of a baseball song?
“Let me root, root, root for the home team”
While Trixie Friganza may have given Jack Norworth an idea, actress Stella Hammerstein personified it. Hammerstein, and indeed all of Broadway, went out to the ballgames in 1908 where the New York Giants were baseball’s biggest attraction. The Giants players (some of whom also played the vaudeville stage) fraternized regularly with the acting crowd of Broadway. George M. Cohan even had his own amateur baseball team.The unique message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was significant enough for Cohan himself to introduce his own baseball song, “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.” While both the Cohan and Norworth songs were advertised in the same May 2, 1908, issue of Variety, Cohan’s was registered for copyright on May 8, six days after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Lantern slides for Cohan’s song followed one month after those of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” They were shot (also by DeWitt C. Wheeler) at the American League ballpark in upper Manhattan. The trade publications advertised both songs as sensational hits, and in the case of Cohan’s song, the “novelty summer waltz song and a home run hit.” Not only were the titles nearly identical, there was an unmistakable similarity in the opening phrases of both choruses. Although the trade publications remarked on the peculiar similarities of the two song titles, neither publisher seemed to have made an issue over the similarity of the refrains. In his later interviews, Norworth was quick to point out that he knew he had the better song, but there is no evidence that he ever challenged the powerful “Yankee Doodle Boy.” The two songs could not have been more different in tone, message, and prosody. Cohan’s refrain is passive, like a lovely afternoon at the ballpark, whereas “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has you on your feet with its opening octave jump. Norworth has no reservations about Katie Casey’s qualifications as a diehard and knowledgeable fan of the game, even leading the rooters in the song’s “infectious” chorus. Contrast that with Cohan’s opening verse, in which he advises the rooters around him that undignified behavior should be put aside so that an appropriate place might be made for a woman, who then could gently and lovingly be taught the rules of baseball when you “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.”
Coney Island’s all right,
It’s a fine place at night,
But the place that’s the money to me,
Is the park where they play,
Classy ball every day,
Talk of sport,
It’s the big Jubilee!
At the shout of “Play Ball”
I’m just daffy that’s all,
As I sit with my queen like a king,
With her score card in hand,
Mamie looks more than grand,
To the rooters around me I sing:
Take you girl to the ball game,
Any old afternoon.
That’s the spot to propose to Mame,
The spot for a sunshiny spoon.
Make a fan of your steady girl,
If you lose her I’ll take all the blame.
In the stand, It’s just grand,
As she squeezes your hand,
At the base ball game.
Though Cohan’s song is typical of the genre of songs that would follow, he did two important things that allowed the message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to go forward. He publicly approved the suffrage activities of Trixie Friganza (represented in the fictional Katie Casey, who independently chooses to go to a ballgame instead of a show). And, he published his own song, whose title is the necessary signifier of approval that gives currency and validation to Norworth’s message of enfranchisement. Taking your girl to a ballgame had now become fashionable.
As a result, both songs helped unleash a great swath of copycat songs from publishing houses across New York’s Tin Pan Alley and beyond, many of them about taking your girl to a ballgame, and many (like those of Norworth and Cohan) composed in a simple waltz meter of three-four. One of these songs, “I’ve Been Making a Grand Stand Play for You,” offers the following opening lyric:
Way down front,
hand in hand,
In the baseball grandstand,
Is my girl and myself ev’ry day;
She’s a regular fan,
Like a regular man,
Know just what to do, what to say.
While these copycat songs certainly contributed to the positive message put in motion by “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” they did not convey the same anthem of equality and empowerment offered by Katie Casey. Cohan uses the ballpark as a romanticized teachable moment for his girl’s benefit, who is presumed to know nothing about baseball. The message of these songs is to inculcate your best girl into the rituals of baseball as a male-oriented pursuit in which she could now participate if she just played along by a new set of rules where a home run, a hit, or a grandstand play were creating a new language of courtship, love, and romance.
“If they don’t win it’s a shame”
The message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” stands alone when set in relief against these easily forgotten songs. It is the only song that asserts the unique message that a woman’s presence and participation at the ballpark gives momentum towards a relationship of equality with those around her. That relationship is legitimized in the stands when (as told in the second verse) Katie Casey leads her fellow fans in the song’s final chorus. No other baseball song places a woman in a position of leadership, which more than fulfills her need and desire to be part of the franchise, which, in this case, was the rooting crowd.
Thus the question often asked by many baseball fans can now be answered: “Why do we sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ when we are already at the game?” The answer is hidden in plain sight in the song’s second verse that we never sing. The very first time that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was ever sung at the ballpark was when Katie Casey sang it. What was once fiction has, over time, become reality. Katie Casey by her actions establishes both the progressive momentum of participation for the “new woman” and, at the same time, effectively sets the song on its future course of greatness. Someday a woman will indeed be able to lead the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the ballpark, and the momentum to achieve that had just been put in place.
The momentum to sustain Katie Casey’s victory in the grandstand was generated by continued performances of the song—not at the ballpark or in movie houses or vaudeville theaters but in millions of parlors across the country. As was the continued custom, mothers taught music to their children. In the process they became eager consumers of sheet music, sharing the delights of songs such as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” around the family piano. These re-creations of the ballpark experience at home singalongs and other social gatherings sustained interest in the song’s “jolly, infectious” chorus and its resonant message. Over time and across generations, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” would fulfill its message of inclusive empowerment, ensuring its continued popularity and eventual crowning as baseball’s popular anthem.
“For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out”
Jack Norworth himself helped to keep his song in proper step with the changing times. Women had won the right to vote in 1920, and in 1927 Norworth revised the verses of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” He modernized the song’s language and changed Katie Casey’s name to Nelly Kelly.
Nelly Kelly loved baseball games,
Knew the players, knew all their names,
You could see her there ev’ry day,
Shout “Hurray” when they’d play.
Her boy friend by the name of Joe,
Said “To Coney Isle, dear, let’s go,”
Then Nelly started to fret and pout,
And to him I heard her shout.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had another reason to gain a new lease on life: 1927 was the year that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. With baseball’s popularity soaring, perhaps Norworth was hoping that younger audiences eager for baseball would make an old song new again. More likely, with a fresh copyright on his baseball song, Norworth was rooting for his royalty checks to continue for at least another half-century.
Sometime after the 1949 release of the movie “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” when electronic organs were being introduced into many ballparks, the song gradually found its own opportunities for integration into the baseball experience. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, the song’s chorus was catching on with organists, who began playing it with some regularity as part of the pregame entertainment. Over time, the omission of the opening verse eliminated the song’s critical narrative from our collective memory.
By the late 1960s and early ’70s, many organists gave the song an increased presence at the ballpark; and while Norworth certainly envisioned hundreds of people singing the song during intermissions in theaters and movie houses, he could not possibly have imagined that his simple chorus of “root, root, root for the home team” would be given additional momentum by someone not in the theatrical world, but rather a baseball impresario who had a flair for the ridiculous and whose simple idea would propel Norworth’s tune into baseball immortality.
Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, like his father before him, always looked for opportunities to inject some crowd-pleasing novelty entertainment into his games. In 1977, after hearing White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray singing the tune badly to himself in the broadcast booth as organist Nancy Faust played the song, Veeck persuaded Caray to turn on the microphone and lead the crowd in singing the chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch of every game. That grand experiment was not only a hit, a home run, and a grandstand play with the fans; it has become iconic, sung today in all major league ballparks across the country during the game’s customary intermission. The song’s chorus, originally resonant for Katie Casey, now resonates with the sustained message that baseball is for everyone, regardless of class, gender, or generation. This inclusiveness has allowed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to achieve a lasting and cherished position of popularity, alongside “Happy Birthday” and the “Star Spangled Banner.
“At the old ball game”
When you can get away to the carefree atmosphere of the ballpark, the experience of singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch creates a magic of participation and belonging as memorable as the ballgame itself. Jack Norworth’s “sensational base ball song” unites players and fans, young and old, male and female, who still seek that common bond and restless urge, like generations before them and the fictional Katie Casey, to be part of the rooting crowd. Knowing what we now know about “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” imagine that tangible moment that Katie Casey must have felt back in 1908, walking into the ballpark for the first time, taking in the atmosphere and thinking to herself, “I don’t care if I never get back.”
This article was derived from an exhibit curated by George Boziwick at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts celebrating the 100th anniversary of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in 2008. A paper version of this article was presented at the 2009 Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. A lecture/performance version of this article was presented by the Red Skies Music Ensemble in 2012 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. George Boziwick would like to thank Jacqueline Z. Davis, the Dorothy and Louis B. Cullman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and staff member Tema Hecht. He also thanks Trudy Williams, co-founder of the Red Skies Music Ensemble for her contributions, and gives special thanks to Stephanie Doba.
Above is the title of a story about not Alex Rodriguez, as you may have been entitled to think in this momentous week of PED suspensions, but Joe Jackson, more than five years before he received a lifetime banishment from the game of baseball. The subtitle of this story–which appeared in the special “Joe Jackson Number” of Baseball Magazine in March 1916–was “Joe Jackson and His Extraordinary Career—A Humble Beginning—His Sensational Rise—His Strong Points and Weaknesses as a Popular Star.” Its author is the great but heretofore largely neglected F.C. Lane, who received the Henry Chadwick Award from the Society for American Baseball Research last year (for more about Lane, see Rob Neyer’s profile at http://goo.gl/gakTby). I was honored last week to join Lane as a recipient of the “Chaddie.” Here is Lane’s article, prescient about Jackson and perhaps Rodriguez.
Joe Jackson will be known in after years as the man who might have been the greatest player the game has ever known. To sum up his talents is merely to describe in another way those qualities which should round out and complete the ideal player. In Jackson, nature combined the greatest gifts any one ball player has ever possessed but she denied him the heritage of early advantages and that well balanced judgment so essential to the full development of his extraordinary powers. Joe Jackson is the most striking example in history of what a player can accomplish on sheer ability.
The oddest character in baseball today is that brilliant but eccentric genius, Joe Jackson. Those who know him best are readiest to admit they know him least. So strange a medley of contradictory traits, of weaknesses and errors, sustained throughout by sheer natural ability no atom short of marvelous has never been seen elsewhere in that region of queer personalities and clay footed popular idols known as major league baseball. Jackson is unique unparalleled; dramatic in his rise to prominence, brilliant in his success, startling in his manifold failures. His is a character that has never been exploited, that probably never will be exploited until he has passed forever from the diamond and given the perplexed scribes a proper perspective of his mingled weaknesses and dazzling talents.
But the public is impatient. It doesn’t want to wait until a man is dead or gone from active life before it checks up its estimate of his worth. So we will endeavor, from an intimate knowledge of Joe Jackson’s early surroundings and a close association with him personally ever since he broke into the major leagues, to trace the broken corners of that character which has so impressed its distorted image on the public fancy.
We have interviewed numberless people about Joe Jackson, from Charles Somers and Charles Comiskey down. We have been in his native town and seen the mill where Jackson worked as a humble employee through the years of his youth and listened to the opinions of his boyhood friends. We have heard his mother tell about “Her Joe” and talked with four of his five brothers. We have discussed his case with his first manager and with most of his subsequent managers. And lastly, we have spent as much time with Joe personally as with any other player in the game. And the numberless stories and traditions of Joe and his many eccentricities, when traced to their source, reveal an absolute maze of contradictions most difficult to resolve to truth.
Joe himself has a warm, fervid imagination, which looks upon facts as hurdles to be surmounted by brief but frequent flights of fancy. If he had that education which is the proper endowment of an American he might become a great writer, for we would back his imagination against the world. But other sources of information are not thus hampered by an exotic growth of fiction and yet they throw rays of light the most diverse upon the character of the high strung Southerner.
Perhaps the best estimate of a man may be had by steering a median course between extreme opinions. When Birmingham was manager at Cleveland, while the sun still shown brightly upon Charles Somers’s fortunes, he told me that he would not trade Joe Jackson for Ty Cobb. “I consider Joe the greater asset to a club of the two,” said he.
Another warm admirer of Joe Jackson is Walter Johnson, the uncrowned king of American League pitchers. “I consider Jackson the greatest natural player I ever saw,” was Walter’s comment.
Pitted against these complimentary views are two others taken at random from an indefinite list. I recall overhearing a conversation between two fans at the Polo Grounds. Joe Jackson was standing near with his back toward the grandstand. He has a build almost exactly like that of Ty Cobb. One of the fans, noting this similarity, said: “Joe looks a good deal like Ty Cobb, doesn’t he?” “Yes,” retorted the other fan, ”he is a good deal like Ty Cobb—from the neck down.”
I was talking with an early acquaintance of Jackson’s at Greenville. Possibly the comments of this early acquaintance were tainted by jealousy or other unworthy motives, but at any rate he summed up the success of his fellow townsman in this manner: “Joe’s record is the best example I ever saw of what a man may accomplish in this world wholly without brains.”
This opinion we are bound to confess is extreme. Joe has brains, in fact he is remarkably keen-witted about many things. But we doubt if his brains ever helped him greatly in his baseball career. For his success is due solely to an extraordinary natural ability that has certainly never been surpassed and has probably never been equaled.
The last phrase of the above sentence will be deeply criticized. But let us see. Ty Cobb has dominated the past decade in baseball history and established the brightest record in baseball annals. Ty Cobb is universally admitted to be the greatest player of the present and except for the croaking of a few old-timers is equally admitted to be the greatest player of all time. Ty has a marvelous baseball brain, a brain that works even faster than his body, a brain that is worth a fortune to any man. But Cobb would never have established the records he has established if he had not possessed as an accompaniment of that brain a wealth of natural ability of the very first order. But let us see how he compares with Joe Jackson.
Ty is a wonderful batter. Most of his reputation rests upon his phenomenal work with the stick. And yet we will maintain that Joe Jackson is a better natural hitter than Ty Cobb by a considerable margin. Ty’s record in the minors was brief and meteoric. His entry into the majors was sensational, but he did not immediately show that speed and dash which has characterized all his efforts since that time. In short, as Ty matured he grew better, and this was so merely because Ty was gearing his brain to his speed and batting eye and making of himself that wonderful mental and physical machine which he is to-day. But Jackson, when he became a professional ball player, established a record which so far as we know has never been equalled. First with the Carolina Association, then with the South Atlantic League, next with the Southern League, and lastly with the American League, Joe Jackson led each league in batting in his very first season. Knowing little of the inner science of baseball, untutored, feeling friendless and alone in the great world far off from his little home circle, depending upon no one but himself, he leaped from height to height, growing better as he advanced, always showing a little better than the next best man could show. In the American League he found the greatest batting race of all history waged to its furious conclusion between Lajoie and Ty Cobb. Cobb’s average stood at .385, but Jackson topped it with .387. He took part in too few games to count as the batting leader, but he led the league, nevertheless. The next season Jackson, the natural prodigy, accomplished the impossible. He crossed the .400 mark, which had been deemed closed for all time to the batsman by the introduction of the foul strike rule. He hitfor .408 and forced the desperate Ty to the utmost limit of his strength and cunning to keep ahead of him.
This marvelous record Joe accomplished on sheer ability. Ty Cobb was wise in the arts of baseball, crafty, farsighted, lightning-brained. Joe Jackson had simply native gifts, which, in themselves, have never been equaled. It was as natural for him to hit a baseball as it was for his early forebears to hit a squirrel in the eye at a hundred yards. When Joe batted for .408 he did far better than did Ty Cobb with .420 to his credit, for Cobb, as every one knows, beats out many a lean hit by dazzling speed and quick wit and constantly harasses the pitcher and the infielders by the wealth of tricks of which he is master. But Joe stood silent and alone at the plate and banged out the best the pitchers could offer him to the tune of .408. Surely his like as a natural batter has never been known.
As a fielder Joe is like the image of Daniel’s vision, partly iron and partly clay. He has made stops that were seemingly impossible. I saw him once make that rarest of plays, a putout at first on a bouncing fly. He is a keen judge of distance, he has great natural speed, and his throwing arm is so extraordinary as to elicit from Walter Johnson the comment that it was the best he ever saw. Naturally, Joe might be the greatest outfielder in the world. In actual fact his performances in the field, like most of his performances, leave much to be desired.
Ty Cobb is a great outfielder, but his superiority to Jackson rests wholly upon brain and mental keenness. Joe certainly has as great natural gifts as Ty and his throwing arm is considerably better.
As a base runner Ty is a marvel. But his superiority rests entirely upon the mental basis. Jackson has an even better build for running. Just as tall, he is lither, more sinuous and lighter. Furthermore, even Ty will admit that in a straightaway race Jackson is just as fast as he. And his hook slide, the most important of the items in base running, is as near perfection as may be.
Joe Jackson combined in one frame natural ability to make him the greatest ball player the game has ever known. It is singularly unfortunate that these amazing talents are not combined with a better mental training and sounder judgment.
Joe Jackson’s records, those which appear outwardly, at least, are fairly well known. But to understand a man as he is we must follow him back into the obscurity of childhood and the seclusion of private life. The oldest of six brothers and two sisters, Joe was born on a plantation with an unpronounceable name, some twelve miles from Greenville, South Carolina. Here, in the literal backwoods, he spent the first few years of his life. The plantation belonged to an eccentric old fire-eater, whose dealings with his tenants were not always of an amicable nature. The Jacksons derived a meager living from the soil, for the plantation supported acres of cotton, some corn, and the customary lean cattle and razorback hogs of the poorer sections of the South. It was the land of corn whiskey and the black pall of illiteracy rested like a blight upon the inhabitants.
The incidents of such a childhood can be understood and appreciated only by one who has passed through them. Now, Greenville is a clean-kept city of some fifteen thousand people, which felt the quickening touch of northern enterprise. Around its environs, one after the other, long spacious structures were erected and dedicated to the manufacture of cotton, the heritage of the South. Eleven great factories dot the landscape in the environs of Greenville and in the suburbs are miniature mill villages with a combined population of some twenty thousand persons. It was to one of these mill villages which grew up around the great Brandon cotton manufactory that the elder Jackson journeyed, carrying with him his numerous family. The wage in the cotton mills, while small, was secure and looked welcome to a member of the poor white population of the country districts.
In the hot and stuffy rooms of the Brandon mill Joe Jackson toiled for six years, beginning when he was thirteen years old. The hours were from six to six, the work unwholesome, and in some cases dangerous. The surroundings, outside the mill, were of the factory town variety. Between the population of Greenville proper and the mill villages on the outskirts there was a great gulf fixed.
The Brandon mill, like many other business enterprises, promoted a baseball club for its employees. Upon its payroll of eight hundred names that of Joe Jackson was written big almost from the first. His mother told me that the men in the mill would come for Joe when he was but thirteen and want him to play on their teams. Though nothing but a boy, he possessed from the start that keen batting eye which has been his chiefest bid to fame. Joe did not start as an outfielder, either. He was a catcher.
“Joe has a scar on his forehead,”said his mother, “that he got in those early days. He was catching behind the plate and a great burly mill-hand was pitching to him. He threw one so swift and strong that Joe didn’t have strength enough to stop it. So it forced his hands back, drove into his mask and dented the mask into his forehead, leaving a deep cut. That was how he got that scar.”
The secretary of the Brandon Mills, Mr. J. C. Hatch, informed me that he was manager of the local mill team when Joe was a member. “He was a great natural batter even then,” said Mr. Hatch. “Of course he wasn’t a finished ball player by any means, and those of us who knew him never imagined that he would make much of a reputation outside the mill. But he developed rapidly, once he had the opportunity, and the whole country knows his record now.
“I well remember the first game Joe ever tried to pitch. So far as I know, it was the last game as well. He had a remarkably strong throwing arm, and some of us imagined that, with that whip of his, he ought to be a great pitcher. Perhaps he would have been, but one game cured him. He was pitching to one of the mill-hands here, and, like all amateur pitchers, burning over the ball with all the speed at his command. Unfortunately the ball hit this particular mill-hand on the arm and broke his arm. Joe decided that if he were that dangerous in the box he had better play some other position.
“Joe’s father worked in the mill most of these years, but finally got into some disagreement with the management and decided to go into business for himself as a butcher, supplying meat for the mill operatives. The business was a small one, but Joe occasionally helped him in the business when work at the mill was slack.
“I remember the elder Jackson as a man with abnormally long arms. I never heard that he was particularly athletic — simply one of the wiry type of South Carolina backwoodsmen. He died about two years ago. Joe seems to have been athletically inclined from the first. He certainly has an ideal build.”
Baseball instinct seldom runs in families, but Joe’s younger brother Dave showed much promise as a ball player. His family and friends apparently expected great things from Dave, and indeed he did become a professional ball player in a small way, but Dave met with so many accidents in the mill that he was practically debarred from any hopes of success on the diamond. He broke his right arm while employed in the mill on no fewer than five occasions, having become caught in the whirring machinery.
Once he was carried to the roof by a revolving belt, and not only his arm but one leg broken. The many fractures of his arm have bent it slightly and stiffened it so that he has some difficulty in catching a ball under certain circumstances. It would seem that a young man who has suffered so many mishaps would be incapacitated for almost any athletic work.
When Joe left the mill he had perhaps gone as high as he could ever expect to go, with a wage of $1.25 a day. His entry into the ranks of the professional ball player came in this wise.
In 1907 he was playing with a mill team at Greer, South Carolina. Against this team came a neighboring aggregation under the leadership of Thomas Stouch, later manager of the Greenville club. Stouch is the man who is really responsible for Jackson’s rise to fame—the man who gave him his first professional engagement, and who tipped off Connie Mack to the ability of his mill-hand star, and really introduced him into major league ranks.
But we will let Mr. Stouch tell the story of his first meeting with Jackson:
“I had been appointed manager of the Greenville club,” he says. “Naturally, while scouring around the country, I was on the outlook for new talent. I was playing second base on this particular occasion, when a tall, thin fellow stepped to the plate. He didn’t appear to have it in him, but he drove the ball on a line toward the very spot where I was standing; like a bullet out of a gun. Now I have had much baseball experience and
though getting a little old for active service, I still prided myself that I knew how a ball ought to be fielded. But that pellet caromed off my shins before I had time to make any effort to field it, and it hurt my shins, too, depend upon that. I thought to myself, ‘If this Rube hits them like that every time, he must be some whale. I guess he will bear watching.’ He did. That game, if I remember, he made three hits, two of them for extra bases, and they were all ringing smashes that left a trail of blue flame behind them when they shot through the air.
“I got into consultation with my pitcher and said to him, ‘Bill, you watch this young fellow and see if you can discover his weakness.’ We played five games in all at the burg, and every day Jackson walloped the ball as he had done at the first. The last day he drove one straight at Bill’s head. Bill looked at it for about a thousandth of a second, and then ducked as if he were dodging a shell from a Krupp mortar.
” ‘Did you discover his weakness?’ I asked Bill after the game was over. ‘No,’ replied Bill, ‘but he discovered mine, all right. I don’t want to buck my head against any of those wallops.’
“After the series I went and hunted up Jackson. ‘I am going to manage Greenville next year,’ I told him, ‘and I would like to have you play with me, if we can agree upon terms. ‘All right,’ said Joe; ’I would like to play with Greenville.’ ’How much are you getting now?’ I asked; ‘$35 a month in the mill,’ replied Joe. ‘Very well,’ said I, ‘how much do you want to play for me?’
” ‘Well,’ said Joe, ‘you see, I am getting along pretty well. I get $35 a month from the mill, but I get $2.50 a game on Saturdays for playing ball, so that gives me $45 a month in all. I wouldn’t want to give up my job unless I could see something in sight. I think I ought to be worth $65 a month to you.’
“‘Joe,’ I said, ‘if you will promise to let corn whiskey alone and stick to your business, I will pay you $75 a month.’
” ‘I will work my head off for $75,’ said Joe, and that was our bargain. ”What Joe did at Greenville next year —which was the season of 1908—is history now. He led the league, as, in fact, he has led every league he ever played with. And he developed so fast that I was determined to sell him into major league company.
“I am an intimate friend of Connie Mack and drifted down here, I hardly know how, when I grew too old to play baseball in fast company. So naturally my first thought was of Mack and the Athletics. I notified Mack of my find, and Mack promptly wired to bring him on.
“Jackson is, in many respects, a queer fish, as you know, and when I told him I was going to take him to the big leagues, he didn’t show the enthusiasm I expected he would. ‘I hardly know how I would like it in those big northern cities,’ he told me. ‘Oh, you will like it fine there,’ I said; and so I started north with Jackson. I don’t remember the exact town, but it was somewhere en route that Joe slipped off the train, unknown to me, and got the next train back home. I thought he had gone into another car—never even dreamed that he wasn’t on the train—until I got to Philadelphia. It was a mortifying position to be in, and I was anxious for fear something had happened to Joe, when we got a telegram. He had got someone to send it for him, and it read something like this, ‘Am unable to come to Philadelphia at this time.’
” ‘What does this mean?’ said Connie. And then I tried to explain the situation. ”When he understood it, Mack said to ‘Socks’ Seybold, ‘Go down to Greenville, and get this fellow’s brothers and sisters, and his whole family, to come back with you, if necessary, but bring him with you, and see that he doesn’t give you the slip on the way.’ So Joe came back a second time to Philadelphia.
“He took part, as I remember it, in one game, and did fairly well, though he muffed a fly. But the next two days it rained. Detroit was the next club in town, and around the lobby the fellows got to talking about Ty Cobb and comparing him with Joe. Joe listened to all that was said, and I never knew why he should be affected as he was. Perhaps it was for fear that he would not look very strong against the greatest player in the game. Perhaps it was for some other reason, but the next morning Joe caught the 6:15 train for Greenville.”
Joe’s connections with the Athletics continued from 1908 to 1910, and have been the theme of much comment. During these years he put in little enough time with the Athletics, but was farmed to other clubs and made a prodigious reputation with several minor leagues. He was with Savannah in 1909 and led the South Atlantic League with a batting average of .358. He was with New Orleans in 1910, and led the Southern League with .354.
“Charles Somers was owner of the New Orleans club. After several discouraging interviews with the eccentric Jackson, Mack rather soured on his purchase, as he is apt to do upon occasion. Somers had Briscoe Lord and offered cash to boot, so Mack said good-bye to his talented but unmanageable find. With Cleveland in the fall of 1910 Joe struck the record clip of .387, and bettered it the following year with .408 to his credit. He burned up the circuits like a whirlwind once he got fairly started.”
Joe’s backing and filling with the Athletics form an intricate chapter, and one that is extremely hard to understand. But to one who has known him and the little circle which was his whole horizon at the time, his conduct is more clearly grasped. Joe is confident—in a way perhaps overconfident—but he has lacked at all times that innate faith in himself which is the groundwork of success. Prosperity came too quickly to Joe, and he couldn’t grasp it all at once. The rise from the dust and smoke of the cotton mill to fame on the local diamond at Greenville was dazzling enough for his mental horizon. When it came to a regular position on a great metropolitan team in that strange world of the North, which was as a foreign land to him, it was a different proposition. Joe felt entirely out of place. He was homesick for the pines and cotton fields of his native South. He was entirely unused to city ways, and the routine of a big metropolitan hotel. It was a strange new world to Joe, and he felt the instinct to run away from it all, back to the world that he knew.
With success in other and larger cities culminating in New Orleans, Joe was ripened for entry into major league life at Cleveland. He had become used to customs which tallied not at all with his days of poverty when he was Shoeless Joe, the ignorant country lad, the poor mill-hand who played baseball for pastime or for $2.50 a game. He had become used to city ways, he had demonstrated what he could do, he had discovered that he had it in him to rival the greatest at his chosen profession, he had become acclimated, as it were, to a world that had been wholly foreign to his tastes and experiences.
His mother, anxious to shield her son from any vestige of blame, explained the seeming eccentricities of his conduct with the Athletics in the following way: “Joe has been accused of running away from Philadelphia,” she said, “and that would imply that Joe hasn’t courage. It is a great mistake. Joe is game, and he has always been game. He left Philadelphia because I sent for him. His wife was very sick and his uncle was not expected to live. Any man whose relatives were in that condition could not refuse to come to them when they sent for him. And I don’t see how anyone can criticize Joe for doing what any man with any self-respect could not help doing.”
Joe’s record has been a brilliant but tarnished one. He started out like the world-beater that he is. He took the whole minor league system by storm and vaulted at one leap to the very pinnacle of the American League. He contested for three years with Ty Cobb for the batting crown, and was beaten out only by the superior adroitness and address of his brilliant rival. For three years he made the fiery Georgian extend himself for every step of the way.
Then the dissipations which assail the ball player in the big cities of the circuits began to exert their fatal glamor on Joe. Or, rather, his strong constitution began to show the effects of these dissipations. Though still a wonderful ball player, the last two years have seen a substantial decline in Jackson’s once great record. It remains for the future to tell whether or not he will bring to Comiskey’s club that wonderful ability which is his by divine right.
Joe’s course in major league baseball has been the natural one. Unschooled and unlettered, he was cut off from many of the sources of amusement which appeal to the average man. To add to the various pitfalls with which the ball player has to contend in the course of his active duties, Joe had a fondness for the life behind the footlights. Last winter he was a member of a little troupe which toured the country, and this life did not prove beneficial to Joe in any way. His health was impaired, his finances became involved, and the season just closed was the poorest he has ever had.
Be it remembered, however, that Jackson’s poorest will rival most players’ best efforts. Part of the season he was laid up with genuine injuries received on the field of battle. Joe is physically game, and plays oftentimes when he should be on the shelf from injuries. “I have had him go into a game,” said Birmingham, ”when I would have preferred to let him stay out and get into better shape. Spike cuts, however severe, never bothered Joe, and I have seen him line a ball in from the deep outfield, though I knew his elbow was encased in bandages from injuries at the time. Joe is game, there is no mistaking that, and you can’t keep him off the field when he can possibly play.”
Joe is a shrewd observer. In a way he is extremely ambitious. Now that he has become accustomed to handling money in larger amounts than he ever saw it before, he has learned the easy lesson to take all he can get. The Federal League, at the time it was openly fishing for stars, attracted Jackson into its net, and I remember distinctly on a visit to see President Gilmore at the Biltmore Hotel, finding the genial head of the Federal League seated in the lobby in earnest consultation with Joe Jackson.
Now that the whole grand war has become history, it will not hurt anyone to reveal the inside story of the Joe Jackson deal. On the very day before the incident of which I speak I had talked with President Somers, of Cleveland, and questioned him as to rumors that Jackson was about to be traded. ”There is nothing in the story,” said Somers; “I need Jackson to build up my club.” But in the meantime Joe got it in his head that there were more plums in the orchard than he had yet plucked, and Somers, becoming convinced that he could not hold Jackson against the spirited bidding of the Federal League, sold him to one whom he knew could thus hold him, namely Charles Comiskey. The price the old Roman paid for Joe was $31,500 and three players, and the salary a substantial raise over Joe’s previous one. The criticism of the deal is a little story in itself, and we give elsewhere Mr. Comiskey’s version of the affair.
Jackson’s best year was 1911. He hit .408, made 233 hits, scored 126 runs and had a total of 41 stolen bases to his credit. The next year was nearly as good; he hit for .395, made 226 hits, scored 121 runs and stole 35 bases. Even last season, which was his poorest and which was largely broken up by injuries, indifferent playing and the glamor of the Federal League, he batted for .308.
Up to the present winter Joe has made his winter home at Brandon Mills. Here he bought a house, a much better house than any other in the mill village, which he gave to his father and mother. Here his mother and four of his brothers still reside.
Ambitious to succeed in other lines of business Joe opened a fine poolroom in Greenville, which should have proved a success with the enormous advertising of his name. But his partner in the enterprise apparently failed woefully as a manager, and the enterprise was a failure. A farm which Joe purchased near Greenville became also involved in financial mismanagement, and Joe, having learned the bitter lessons of experience, will need to make the most of his good salary and his prospects in the next five years.
Numberless efforts have been made by the various managers who have had Joe in hand to get him to overcome the handicaps of an early lack of advantages. Connie Mack offered to hire a tutor and companion for him, who would live with him and teach him the things he most needed to learn. Somers also tried to do the same thing, but to all these offers Joe turned a deaf ear. To Joe the vast domain of ”book” knowledge is indeed a sealed mystery.
In temperament Joe is as variable as the wind. High strung and impetuous, he has that proud, imperious disposition which goes so frequently with Southern birth. He is sensitive, easily hurt, quick to take offense. But he is popular with his fellow players and with those who know him, and, unlike many ball players, it is safe to say that he is unpopular nowhere.
Seven years ago when he was just entering upon his professional baseball career, Joe married a little Southern girl from the environs of Greenville who was but fifteen years old. Their winter home has usually been in Greenville, in the house he purchased and gave to his father and mother. This winter, however, Joe has resided in Cleveland.
Numberless anecdotes of Jackson, some of them accurate, some tinged with fiction, but all throwing some light on his complex character, have gone the rounds of the circuits. There isn’t a city which hasn’t witnessed some prodigious feat which has stamped Jackson as a real wizard of the diamond.
The holder of the title to the longest hit on record varies with the different diamonds on the circuit, and often with the memories of the older fans. But there is no doubt that the hugest wallop ever seen at the Polo Grounds caromed off Joe Jackson’s black bat. It was my good fortune to be seated in the press box almost exactly behind the catcher on that memorable occasion, and I well remember the particular wallop that won for Joe his high distinction. The pitcher threw low and wide. The ball was a ball beyond any doubt or criticism. In the first place, it was much below the knee, sweeping not very far above Joe’s ankle. Again it was not over the plate, but pretty close to Joe’s foot. He swung the bat like a golf stick, caught the ball fair on the nose and lifted it in a wide, sweeping arch clear over the roof of the grandstand half way up near a floating pennon on one of the flagstaffs for the most sensational home run ever made on that historic field.
Other exploits of Joe Jackson which illustrate his marvelous ability might be cited to the weariness of the reader, but this single instance of a typical Jackson wallop will serve.
The public has a warm spot in its rather complex heart for Joe Jackson. It recognizes in him a true product of American soil, a striking example of a man who has risen from the lowest round of the ladder through his own inherent ability. It also recognizes in his record the greatest natural talent which has ever rested upon one person’s shoulders—a sheer ability that has never been rivaled. And if Jackson is prodigal of his immense gifts, and has not made the best use of his amazing talents, perhaps, after all, it is but the working out of the universal law of compensation.
To some is given a natural batting eye; to others great speed of foot; to others mastery of the rudiments of base-sliding; to others fielding skill or a throwing arm. To Joe was given all these talents in their fullest measure. But, to offset them, lest one player should rise too far above his fellows, his matchless talents were united with a judgment not always adequate to the task of handling them to the best purpose, with a wayward temperament and an erratic ambition scarce fitted to develop his wonderful abilities to their fullest measure.
In appearance Joe Jackson is the ideal athlete. He is the greyhound of the diamond, even more than is Ty Cobb. Tall, lithe, easy-moving, graceful in every unconscious pose, a sculptor would choose Jackson from the field as the model of what an outfielder should be. There is every evidence of speed in his whole frame. Where he gets the strength for his amazing wallops is not so readily apparent. It is easy to estimate that the herculean shoulders of Sam Crawford would wallop the ball a mile, but Jackson has made some of the longest hits on record, and he is at all times a direful slugger, who hits any kind of pitching at any time and to any distance. The reason for this is that Jackson, though built for speed rather than strength, has tremendous power in his long, sinuous muscles, as is evident from his great throwing arm. Furthermore, he is so admirably geared that he can command the last ounce of strength in his whole system easily, without effort, wherever the occasion demands.Six feet tall, Jackson weighs 175 pounds. He is a flawless dresser. He possesses excellent taste. His clean-cut face and dark, curly hair are in keeping with his appearance. He is a striking figure in any company.
His faults, which are as obvious as his virtues, are what one would naturally expect. Jackson has traveled far on the road from the bottom of the ladder. The fact that he has not accomplished everything to be desired should certainly not be held against him. The entire lack of advantages in his early life, for which, of course, he was in no way responsible, has been his heaviest handicap. Coupled with this has been the lure of dissipation, against which fatal attraction Jackson has perhaps accomplished as much as any one else might have done placed in his shoes. It is hard for a young man fresh from a penniless life of comparative servitude in a Southern cotton mill to spring all at once into the limelight, to be feted and admired by the sharks that lurk for the unwary on the outskirts of every big, cosmopolitan city, and escape all damage from such environment. Jackson has not done so, as his declining record shows. But experience is the only school, and the lessons of one or two comparatively misspent seasons might be well earned in a renewal of ambition and brilliant service in the five or ten years that are left him.
I remember that Ed Walsh once told me that when he was fighting to make good with the White Sox, the main incentive in his work was that the shadow of the mines was on him. It was either make good or back to a life of drab, unhealthy toil in the coal fields for the man who afterward became the “spitball king.”
In Joe’s case an equally melancholy outlook is a prospective possibility. When I talked with some of his old associates at the Brandon Mills they said: ”Wait five years or so. Then Joe will go through all he has made in baseball and be broke once more. What will he do? Why, he will be back in the cotton mill working for $1.25 a day.” The statement was one perhaps of jealousy or envy, but there was a grain of truth in it all the same. Joe is not naturally a spendthrift. But he has been taken advantage of in various ways and on various occasions. His business partners have robbed him; he has been mulcted of his savings. For the sake of one of the greatest players who ever trod a diamond, the warm-hearted public will wish well by Joe. For the sake of the man who started without a solitary advantage in the world and who, combating more obstacles than the average man is ever called upon to meet, has risen to the sheer pinnacle of his profession, the public will wish a better fate than a continuation of the life of poverty and obscurity from which he sprung. The public is interested in Joe. He is a national character, a thoroughly likable—in many respects admirable—fellow of the best intentions, whose faults and weaknesses have hurt no one but himself. They are interested in and they wish all possible future success to the player who might have been—who might perhaps even yet become—the greatest player the game has ever known.
A young sportswriter and traveling secretary for the Reds, Gabe Paul would go on to make his name as a general manger with the Indians, Yankees, and Astros. In 1943 he interviewed Johnny Vander Meer for John Carmichael’s book, My Greatest Day in Baseball. At 23 Vander Meer accomplished a feat never before accomplished and not since repeated in big league baseball–he pitched two successive no-hit no-run games for Cincinnati in 1938. This year marks the 75th anniversary of that remarkable feat.
It would seem natural for me to name the second successive no-hitter I pitched in 1938 as my biggest day in baseball, and I’ll have to explain why it isn’t.
Those games were as much a surprise to me as to the baseball world. I wasn’t keyed up to their meaning then. Before the no-hitter against Boston on June 11 that year I was just a rookie that nobody but Bill McKechnie knew, and after the June 15 repeat of the performance against Brooklyn I was still just a novelty, a kid who had done a freakish thing.
To understand my feelings at the time you’ve got to understand that I came up to the Reds that year after an unsuccessful season at Syracuse in the International League. I had won only five and lost eleven for the Chiefs. Nobody thought I was good but Bill McKechnie, manager of the Reds, who told me, when I arrived at spring training in Florida, that he was counting on me to be a regular. He said he believed I could make it.
He gave me hope, and then on the way north that spring in an exhibition series with the Boston Red Sox Lefty Grove gave me some tips on what I was doing wrong. I’ll never be able to thank Lefty for his friendliness and smartness in putting his finger on my errors. McKechnie kept giving me great advice, too, all spring.
I’ll never forget the day that spring we were at Lynchburg, Va. I was pitching batting practice and after a little while McKechnie, on the bench, began to yell: “He’s got it! He’s got it! That boy is going to make it!”
That helped more than I can say, and I got off to a pretty good start in the season, pitching a shutout against the Giants at the Polo Grounds on May 20. I had my confidence. I felt I could do it. Then, all at once, came those consecutive no-hitters.
But they came too fast. I was more confused than thrilled. All the publicity, the attention, the interviews, the photographs, were too much for me. They swept me off my feet too far to let me have time to think about the games themselves. There were too many people around me.
As I look back at it now those days are the haziest period of my life–sort of like a dream.
I might have been dreaming then, but I awoke the next season, 1939, when I won five and lost nine. I was sick that spring and never did seem to regain my stride. My confidence went, too. I wasn’t much better in the spring of 1940. Bill McKechnie and Warren Giles talked to me about going to Indianapolis of the American Association to regain my confidence. I thought it was a swell idea. I knew that was what I needed. At the same time it made me realize just how quickly a fellow can fall from the pedestal.
My going to Indianapolis was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got off on the right foot there, won six and lost four, had an earned-run average of 2.40 and struck out 109 in 105 innings. That satisfied Giles and McKechnie, for they brought me back for the last stages of the 1940 pennant race.
The Reds were in first place. They were on their way to the pennant, but they hadn’t clinched it. I was given an opportunity to start a game and won it. Then we went to Philadelphia September 17, needing only two victories to clinch the pennant. We won on the 17th, then McKechnie gave me another chance to work, on September 18–the day that is my biggest.
I was up against Hugh Mulcahy, one of the smartest and most determined of pitchers and awfully tough when he was in form. We saw right off that he was in form when the game started. Joe Marty, whom the Phils had got from the Cubs, was on a rampage that day, too, getting three hits. And Mulcahy was leveling off with his bat, as well as with his arm. We could get hits, but we couldn’t get runs. Mulcahy would turn us back.
The Phils got me for two runs in the second inning, and it was the fifth before we got one run. I began to wonder if I was going to let the team down o the one game it needed to clinch the flag. It was life-and-death in my mind. I had to hang on to my “comeback.” I had to win.
We finally tied it in the seventh 2-2, but in the 10th we got one to give us what we thought was the game, but the Phils in their half got one off me to even it up again. It was true I had blanked them the seven innings between the second and the 10th, and the team was all the time telling me how good I was going, but there it was, we’d been ahead and I’d let the Phils tie us.
Was I really a comeback or not? could I clinch the flag or couldn’t I? I gave everything I had straight through the 11th and 12th innings and blanked them. But we didn’t score either and the scoreboard still showed 3-3.
I was up in the 13th at bat and I figured now was the time. All of Mulcahy’s pitches were good, but I kept swinging and somehow all at once whistled one into left center and I ran faster than I ever had before, I suppose. I got to second. They sacrificed me to third. Then Mike McCormick hit an infield ball and I was held at third, too risky to chance a run in. Mike beat it out.
Ival Goodman was up. Twice he cracked the ball and I tore for home, only to be called back because the drive went foul. Then he got one fair, a short fly to the outfield and I tagged up and when McKechnie on the coaching line said, “Run, Johnny, run!” to give me the exact moment the ball settled into the fielder’s glove, I sure ran. I took off in the hardest slide I ever made and looked up through the dust. The umpire was motioning “safe.”
We were ahead.
McKechnie, cool always, looked at me and figured how much running I’d done that inning, and told me to sit it out, he’d send in Joe Beggs to pitch the last half. Joe got them 1-2-3 and the flag was ours.
What is the importance to Major League Baseball of a successful club in New York? That question has a present-day relevance in the age of revenue sharing, free agency, luxury tax, and cable sports channels. Money may not buy you happiness, but it is certainly an advantage when it comes to building a pennant contender. This eternal verity is on the minds of baseball’s owners today, as it was for Colonel Ruppert, owner of the Yankees. This interview was conducted three years after his purchase of the Yankees–with Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston (known as Captain or Cap)–and two years before he welcomed Babe Ruth into his fold and claimed his first flag. Originally published in Baseball Magazine in May 1918, it offers a fascinating conversation between the Yankees’ magnate and Connie Mack about a possible deal for Joe Bush, Wally Schang, and Amos Strunk. While this article may have little impact on the policies of the Steinbrenner family or Brian Cashman, it is timely because later this month the Colonel will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Those who wish to see the magnate in person may find him in the immense brewing establishment which the Ruppert genius has built in New York City. Through the marble corridor which leads out from the main entrance, past uniformed guards who greet you courteously, you gradually penetrate through one anteroom to another, as though you sought audience with the late Czar of Russia, when the Romanoffs still controlled one sixth the land surface of the globe. Everything is sumptuously neat, though the atmosphere suggests the yeasty fermentation that is continually going on in the monstrous copper cauldrons. You catch a glimpse of these burnished receptacles as you mount the smoothly gliding elevator to the office, and your guide informs you (to the grief of our prohibition friends be it said) that from those same cauldrons eight thousand barrels of beer go foaming daily, with a sudsy current of good cheer, to the huge thirsty city which lies all about you.
At last the order is given; you are admitted to the presence of the magnate himself as he sits, in solitary state, in a spacious room decorated very simply with massive bronze statuary, at a huge desk littered with papers. And it is here, with the distant purring hum of the brewery for an accompaniment, that he unfolds the dreams he has entertained for bearing the standards of the American League to victory in the greatest of cities.
Colonel Ruppert is in every sense a man of big business, quick of speech, decisive in his statements, yet courteous and discriminating in his treatment of the men who approach him in a continual stream on a thousand varied errands. “I was always interested in baseball,” he says. “In fact, in my younger years I played it in an amateur way. But up to the time when I became identified with the Yankees I was a strong National League rooter. The Polo Grounds are a feature of the big city quite as much as the Statue of Liberty or Brooklyn Bridge, and the team which has appealed the strongest to the local fans is the Giants, with all their long tradition of pennants won and famous diamond stars.
“It would be impossible for me to say when the idea of becoming an owner first came to me. Probably it was a gradual process. The first time the matter was brought to my attention in a concrete form, however, was when Charles Murphy was selling out his controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs. A gentleman who knew of my fondness for baseball ventured the suggestion that I purchase them. I told him that I had no desire to become an owner of a club in Chicago, or, for that matter, of any club outside of New York. In fact, the Cub transaction did not interest me at all, but it did bring the idea of some day becoming an owner prominently into my mind, and, no doubt, made the later acquisition of the Yankees an easier undertaking than it otherwise would have been.
“The first intimation I had that the Yankees were for sale was through an item to that effect in the newspapers. The idea instantly occurred to me that here was a prospect to become interested in a major-league club at home. About the same time, the matter was further impressed upon me by some of my good friends, who wished to see me get into a good thing. Through the papers I learned that Captain Huston was also mentioned as a possible purchaser, and I accordingly arranged a meeting with him. It was the first time I had ever met Captain Huston. We found that we agreed on all important items of the transaction and allowed it to be known that we might be possible purchasers of the franchise.
“The next act in the little drama occurred in a friendly club room where I met Ban Johnson and other members of the American League. We were treated royally by these good friends. I addressed them in an informal way and outlined our attitude. I told them that it seemed to Captain Huston and myself that there wasn’t much of a club to purchase, merely a few individual players of merit and a rather disorganized team. But I stated that we would be interested in acquiring the property, provided the other members of the American League assisted us in the construction of a winning club in New York. I emphasized the fact that we asked no charity, that we were able and willing to pay a liberal cash price for all assistance rendered to us, but that we felt we must depend upon the cooperation of our fellow magnates in building up a powerful club in the greatest city of the world, a club in which their interest would not be an entirely unselfish one since a strong team in New York meant better patronage for every other club in the circuit. My sentiments met with a most hearty approval from all present and I began to think that the lot of the big league owner was a close parallel to the proverbial bed of roses.
“After Captain Huston and myself had actually acquired possession of the Yankees, we were approached by several American League owners. One of them said, ‘I have one of the finest young shortstops in the country. He is yours for only $5,000.’ Another had a star young outfielder he was willing to dispose of for the slight consideration of $5,000. Still another had a promising pitcher fresh from the bush leagues who was also ours for the paltry sum of $5,000. And time revealed the fact that all these young phenoms were lemons. In fact, the only concrete evidence that the American League would give us its unqualified support finally simmered down to players Wally Pipp and Bunny High, for both of which men we paid the full market price.
“Now it requires no wizard of finance to see that the presence of the New York Giants in the line-up is an immense asset to the National League, and is recognized as such by the remaining club owners. But in the American League there seems to have been an entire lack of any concerted campaign to build up a club in New York which should rival the Giants on an even basis. This is, to my mind, a failure to appreciate facts at their face value, which has cost the American League a lot of prestige, and has caused every club owner in the circuit the loss of valuable revenue. In fact, this attitude of the American League is a thing I have never been able to fathom.
“Let me cite two concrete instances of this attitude. For several years I have had my eye on second baseman Del Pratt of St. Louis. I cannot say that he is a better player than our own Joe Gedeon, but he has played better ball and we wanted him. Well, how did I get him? I paid $15,000 in cash and gave away a number of good players for him. But what can you do? I needed this player, everyone knew I needed him. One thing was certain, I couldn’t come back empty-handed. I had to do something to build up the club after the loss of several valuable men to army service. And I got what I went after, though I had to pay out of all reason for him.
“This is a deal which actually went through. Let me cite another deal which I believe should have gone through, but didn’t. For some time I have had my eyes on pitcher Joe Bush and the outfielder Amos Strunk of the Athletics. Last year I asked Mack if it would be possible to interest him in a deal for these players. He said to me, ‘I have sold my last player.’ ‘All right,’ I said, ‘if you change your mind let me know.’ ‘I will,’ said he.
“Time went on and finally I received word that Mack would be willing to see me and talk things over. He didn’t want to be observed discussing things with me in Philadelphia, because he was afraid some newspaper man would see him and start the story of a sensational trade. Neither, for the matter of that, did he want to come to New York. So he suggested that we meet and talk it over at Trenton. Nobody ever goes to Trenton unless he has important business to negotiate. But I met him at Trenton and we adjourned to a small hotel where we, no doubt, were looked upon as a couple of gunmen discussing a future holdup game. ‘I can’t talk to you about Bush,’ began Mack, ‘because I already have given a certain club an option on Bush. But I can’t say that this club will go through with the option. If they fall down, I will let you know. However, for certain reasons, I have decided to let go of Strunk and Walter Schang and if you want these men I am willing to talk business. I want $25,000 for Schang.’
“ ‘Well, Mack,’ I said, ‘I’m not so particular about Schang. I don’t really need a catcher so much, anyway.’ ‘’Well,’ said Mack, ‘he can certainly hit. But I don’t know as Schang would be the man you need most on your club.’
“ ‘Not at that price,” I told him. ‘But I would make you an offer of $10,000 for Strunk.’
“ ‘I couldn’t consider it,’ said Mack. ‘I couldn’t even think of it. I must get $75,000 for these three men. I will sell them for that figure, but if I had to sell two of them separately, I would want more than $50,000 for them. I wouldn’t agree to let them go for $50,000, but there isn’t any hurry. Think it over and decide what you are willing to do.’
“ ‘I will do that, Mack,’ I said, ‘only be sure to let me know before you go through with this thing with any other club, for I certainly want Strunk and Bush anyway.’
“So we adjourned. Mack went back to Philadelphia, and I took the same train for Washington. But Mack sat in one end of the car, entirely oblivious of my presence at the other end.
“Well, you all know what happened. The Red Sox got Bush and Schang and Strunk in a sensational deal.
“When I made the offer of $10,000 for Strunk I was willing to go higher, and Mack has certainly done enough trading in his day to know that I would go higher. A man seldom makes his highest bid first.
“Captain Huston and myself have spent over $200,000 in strengthening the Yankees since we purchased the club. We paid $37,500 for Frank Baker; we paid $25,000 for Lee Magee, and we have got rid of a young fortune on other players who couldn’t deliver the goods. And we have had some of the most frightful luck I ever heard of. This may be a common alibi of the loser, but it has the substantiation of fact, in our case at least. For at one time we had no fewer than eleven men on the hospital list. Bill Donovan was the finest fellow in the world and I hated to let him go. But business won’t wait. He had been handicapped by the worst of luck, as I well realized, but after three years we didn’t seem to be advancing very fast and I felt that it was to the best interests of the club to make a change. Prior to that time I sent for Miller Huggins to come to my office and talk things over. I had never met him but I had followed his work and been impressed with his shrewdness in directing the Cardinal club and believed that he would get results with the Yankees. I still contend that my judgment was sound and am perfectly willing to abide by the decision of the season.
“I shall take personal credit for Miller Huggins’s appointment if he succeeds as I believe he will, and I shall also take full blame for his failure if he fails. It is true that he was suggested to me by several people as a prospective manager, but so were many other men. I listened to all the advice that was given me, but I had already made up my mind before I tried to secure him to lead my club.
“I do not begrudge the money I have lost so far in trying to build up a winner for the American League in New York. This is one city where the public demands a winner. New Yorkers will pay any reasonable amount for the best, but you can’t palm off inferior goods on them. I have got a lot of excitement out of this magnate business, and no doubt there is much more coming to me before I am through. But it’s all a part of the game and really not so unlike other business ventures, for whatever you consider as an investment has an element of risk and is, to a certain extent, a gamble. Baseball is a little bigger gamble than most, and the stakes are pretty high. But if I can get a winner in New York within the next year or two, I shan’t begrudge a nickel I put into the club, or a lot more that I shall probably send after what has already gone, before I am through.”
Thus briefly and to the point does Jacob Ruppert outline his experiences as a magnate up to date. He has no complaints to offer, no criticism of individuals. But in stating as he does that the establishment of a strong club in New York City is a vital concern of the American League, not merely the labor of an individual magnate, he strikes, to our mind, at the weakest point in the policy of the Amerian League since that organization rose from obscurity to a commanding place in professional baseball. No one can blame Ruppert or his associates. They have spent a fortune for players. But they do not seem to have met with quite that element of helpful cooperation which the most enlightened business foresight would warrant. The American League has made very few mistakes. But hasn’t it erred a trifle in its failure to estimate at its true worth the value to the league, as a whole, of a powerful club in the world’s new metropolis, New York City?
This article appears in this year’s All-Star Game Media Guide. In 2013, Citi Field hosts the All-Star Game, the first time the home of the Mets has held this honor since 1964, when the site was a brand-new Shea Stadium. Major League Baseball’s first Midsummer Classic was held in Chicago in 1933 (is there a soul alive who attended it?), yet 75 years before that, there had been another, already forgotten All-Star Game. Its location, within walking distance from Citi Field (see map below), is today unknown to all but a handful of baseball experts.
On July 20, 1858, nearly 10,000 fans gathered there to watch what may have been the most important game in all of baseball history. That is a bold assertion, so let me back it up. In 1858, competitive baseball was barely a decade old. Despite rumors of payments or favors to some key players, baseball was governed by the rules and practices of an amateur association formed only the year before. Although this body called itself the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), in truth the new game was an exceedingly local affair, little played outside what is today the New York metropolitan area.
Indeed, New York City at that time consisted only of Manhattan. Brooklyn was a separate city, and it as well as the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island were not to be unified as New York City for another 40 years. We cannot identify an individual (like Arch Ward in 1933) whose bright idea it was to set the best (“picked”) nine of New York against the best nine of rival city Brooklyn. But the idea won immediate backing from the NABBP. A neutral site was selected not far from Flushing, at the new Fashion Race Course, where a ballfield was laid out within the enclosed grandstand area. The Fashion Course had been the property of Samuel Willets; fans going to the the 2013 All-Star Game by elevated subway arrive at the Willets Point station.
The match (a series of three games with one each in July, August and, if necessary, September) was to be played for civic bragging rights. Once it became clear that to cover expenses admission would have to be charged—to that point all games could be attended for free—surpluses would be presented to the widows and orphans funds of the fire departments of the two cities.
Today, little is left of the city that was, let alone its favorite game. Shea Stadium and the House That Ruth Built are gone, as are Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, and several other sites of big-league games. A baseball-history tourist in New York walks in four dimensions rather than three, the fourth being that of stories and stats.
The Fashion Course began life as the National Race Course, in 1853. In that year, the Flushing Railroad established a station at what is today’s Corona stop on the Long Island Rail Road, at 45th Street and National Street (named for the original race course, a fact known to few). In 1856, ownership of the race course changed hands and the grounds were renamed for the horse Fashion, who in an intersectional race of 1842 had defeated a horse from the South named, oddly, Boston.
Then as now, the selection of players was a delicate matter. Several initial picks were not seen after the first game, as the cast of characters changed from game to game. The underdog New York stars–who in a prior exhibition contest had lost to Hoboken’s finest–won the first game by a score of 22-18; among the winners was future Hall of Famer Harry Wright. For the second game, played on August 17th, Brooklyn moved pitcher Matty O’Brien to third base. Frank Pidgeon, the Brooklyn shortstop in game one, became the pitcher, with Dickey Pearce of the Atlantics taking over at short. Brooklyn won easily, 29–8. New York’s pitcher Tom Van Cott, who had thrown 198 pitches in game one, came back to toss 270 in a losing cause. Pidgeon threw 290. (Wide balls would not count against the pitcher until 1864.)
For the third and deciding game, played on September 10th, Brooklyn was the heavy favorite, based on their easy triumph in the second game. Yet New York won handily, 29–18, with the Eagles’ Joe Gelston hitting a leadoff home run that was followed by six more runs before the side was retired. Of Pidgeon’s eventual 436 pitches (!), 87 came in this first inning alone.
Among the firsts in baseball history that the opening Fashion Course game might claim were: first All-Star contest, first paid admission, and first baseball game played in an enclosed park, although the first such grounds designed specifically for baseball would come four years later. In the third (rubber) game of the series, umpire Doc Adams of the Knickerbockers called three men out on non-swinging strikes, the first time that new rule was applied.
The Brooklyn men had not dishonored themselves, but they had not won the match, in which they were favored from the outset, and by stacking their lineup in the final game with six Atlantics and three Eckfords, the selection committee had bred bad blood with other clubs that had contributed players to the first two contests. It was made clear to the Excelsiors in particular that they were not in the same league with their rivals.
Next year, the National Association would ban professionalism. (“No person who receives compensation for his services as a player shall be competent to play in any match.”) The Excelsiors would skirt the rules of the game, however, by adding four outstanding players from the Star club of Brooklyn, most notably Jim Creighton, the greatest player of baseball’s primordial past.
How do we locate the site of the grandstand entrance of the Fashion Race Course? Streets have been rerouted and names have changed, but the lordly brick entrance to the race course was at 37th Avenue and 103rd Street, 1.5 miles from Citi Field.
Baseball is the American game,” I wrote in a 1988 book, The Game for All America. “ This is how I continued: “It has given our people rest and recreation, myths and memories, heroes and history and hope. It has mirrored our society, sometimes propelling it with models for democracy, community, commerce, and common humanity, sometimes lagging behind with equally instructive models of futility and resistance to change. And as our national game, baseball in no small measure defines us as Americans, connecting us with our countrymen across all barriers of generation, class, race, and creed.”
That essay was published again in 1995 as Our Game, which supplies the title for this blog. It remains in print as an ebook; you can look it up. But as we near our great national holiday, let’s look back a century ago, to May 17, 1913, when H. Addington Bruce published, in Outlook Magazine, a neglected tribute to baseball and America. Its title is “Baseball and the National Life.” Serendiptously, it opens with reference to baseball’s first all-star game, played 75 years before the major-league version debuted in 1933. I will have more to say about that next week, as we near the midsummer classic at Citi Field, a mere 1.5 miles from its forebear of 1858.
On July 20, 1858, there was played the first recorded game of baseball to which an admission fee was charged. The opposing teams were made up of carefully selected players representing New York and Brooklyn; the scene of the game was the old Fashion Race Course on Long Island; and some fifteen hundred people paid $750 to see New York win bv four runs. [The attendance figure was in fact nearly 10,000.--jt]
October 16, 1912, or little more than fifty years later, another New York team, playing in Boston, lost by a single run the last of a series of inter-league games for the title of ”World’s Champions.” The newspapers of the country reported the game in the most minute detail, and incidentally announced that the eight games of the series had been attended by more than 250,000 persons, whose admission fees aggregated $490,833, or an average in excess of 30,000 spectators and average receipts of about $60,000 per game. Than these contrasting figures nothing could exhibit more impressively the tremendous growth in popularity of baseball in the comparatively short interval between the earliest and the latest championship game.
When, in the late summer of last year, the Boston “Red Sox” returned from a Western tour which virtually assured to them the championship of the American League, it has been estimated that nearly 100,000 people assembled in the streets of Boston to give them a welcome home. And later, when they played the New York “Giants” in the “World’s Series,” the course of every game was followed with the most eager attention not alone by the thousands in grand stand and “bleachers,” but by many, many thousands more standing in compact masses before the bulletin boards of city newspapers, or in little groups at the telegraph offices of remote and isolated villages. So widespread, in fact, was the interest that the day after the deciding game the newspapers were able to print this astonishing item of news from Washington:
Unprecedented procedure was permitted today in the Supreme Court of-the United States, when the Justices, sitting on the bench hearing the Government’s argument in the “bath-tub trust” case, received bulletins, inning by inning, of the “World’s Championship ” baseball game in Boston. The progress of the playing was closely watched by the members of the highest court in the land, especially by Associate Justice Day, who had requested the baseball bulletins during the luncheon recess from 2 to 2:30 p.m. The little slips giving the progress of the play went to him not only during the. luncheon recess, but when the Court resumed its sitting. They were passed along the bench from Justice to Justice.
Veritably baseball is something more than the great American game—it is an American institution having a significant place in the life of the people, and consequently worthy of close and careful analysis.
Fully to grasp its significance, however, it is necessary to study it, in the first place, as merely a game, and seek to determine wherein lie its peculiar qualities of fascination. As a game, as something that is “playable,” it of course must serve the ordinary ends of play. These, according to the best authorities on the physiology and psychology of play, are threefold: the expenditure of surplus nervous energy in a way that will not be harmful to the organism, but, on the contrary, will give needed exercise to growing muscles; the development of traits and abilities that will afterwards aid the player in the serious business of life; and the attainment of mental rest through pleasurable occupation.
Until recently it has been customary to emphasize one or another of these purposes and motives as affording the sole reason for play. But scientists are beginning to appreciate that all of them may be operant in determining the action of the play impulse, one motive being influential in one instance, the second in another, the third in yet another, or all three in combination. As between the three, though, the preparation motive would seem to be uppermost, at all events in the play of childhood and youth, children instinctively favoring those games which, although they are completely unconscious of the fact, tend most strongly to form and establish the characteristics that will be most serviceable to them in later years. Or, as stated by Professor Karl Groos, the first to dwell on this aspect of play:
Play is the agency employed to develop crude powers and prepare them for life’s uses, and from the biological standpoint we can say: From the moment when the intellectual development of a species becomes more useful in the struggle for existence than the most perfect instinct, will natural selection favor those individuals in whom the less elaborated faculties have more chance of being worked out by practice under the protection of parents—that is to say, those individuals that play.
Now, in all civilized countries of the modern world, and especially in countries of advanced economic development and of a form of government like that of the United States, success and progress depend chiefly on the presence of certain personal characteristics. Physical fitness, courage, honesty, patience, the spirit of initiative combined with due respect for lawful authority, soundness and quickness of judgment, self-confidence, self-control, cheeriness, fair-mindedness, and appreciation of the importance of social solidarity, of “team play”—these are traits requisite as never before for success in the life of an individual and of a nation. They are traits developed to some extent by all outdoor games played by groups of competitors. But it is safe to say that no other game —not even excepting football—develops them as does baseball.
One need attend only a few games, whether played by untrained school-boys or by the most expert professionals, to appreciate the great value of baseball as a developmental agent. Habits of sobriety and self-control are established in the players if only from the necessity of keeping in good condition in order to acquit one’s self creditably and hold a place on the team. Patience, dogged persistence, the pluck that refuses to acknowledge either weariness or defeat, are essential to the mastery of the fine points of batting, fielding, or pitching—a mastery which in turn brings with it a feeling of self-confidence that eventually will go far in helping its possessor to achieve success off as well as on the “diamond.” It takes courage of a high order to play infield positions, as, for example, they ought to be played when “stolen bases” are imminent; and, for that matter, it takes courage to “steal” them when the runner knows that he is likely to be “blocked off ” by some courageous infielder of the type of the two Wagners of “Pirate” and “Red Sox” fame.
So, too, courage, and plenty of it, is needed at the bat—courage not simply to face the swiftly moving ball, but to “crowd ” the “plate ” so as to handicap the pitcher in his efforts to perform successfully and expeditiously the work of elimination. I well remember, in connection with the “World’s Series” of 1911, the boldness in this respect displayed by the New York player Snodgrass, when batting against the pitching of the mighty Bender. Time after time Snodgrass stood so close to the “plate” as to draw vehement protests from his opponent, with whom, as an American League partisan, I heartily sympathized. But at the same time I could not withhold some slight measure of admiration for the courage of the batsman, typical of the spirit which, pervading the whole team, had no small share in winning for the “Giants” the National League honors in 1911 and again last year.
As an agent in the development of the “team spirit” baseball is no less notable. The term “sacrifice hit” eloquently expresses one phase of the game which must leave on all playing it an indelible impression of the importance in all affairs of life of unselfish co-operation. The extent, indeed, to which baseball tends to inculcate the lesson of subordination of self for the common good is well shown by a little story I heard not long ago regarding two professional baseball players. One was the short-stop, the other the second baseman, of a “major” league team, and consequently they were required by the duties of their positions to work more closely together than any other members of the team except the pitcher and catcher. One day, the story goes, they had a quarrel so bitter that for the remainder of the season they did hot address a word to each other when off the “diamond.” But, once the umpire had cried “Play ball!” their antagonism was temporarily dropped, and they fought the common foe in as complete accord as though they had been the best of friends. Surely a game that can develop such a social consciousness—and conscience—is a game of which any nation may be proud, and to which it may well feel indebted.
And, besides aiding powerfully in physical and moral development, baseball is also a splendid mind-builder. The ability to think, and to think quickly, is fostered by the duties of its every position as well as by the complicated problems that are constantly arising in its swiftly changing course of events. Time and again games have been won, or the way has been cleared to victory, by the quickness of a player or a manager in appreciating the possibilities of a critical situation and planning a definite plan of campaign to meet the emergency. It was thus, to give a single illustration, with the final game of last year’s “World’s Series.”
That game was won by the “Red Sox” by the score of three runs to two, an extra inning being necessary, as the score stood one to one in the ninth. The newspapers next day gave unenviable prominence to two New York fielders, to whose errors in the tenth inning the loss of the game was ascribed. Actually the turning-point came in the seventh inning, when New York led by one run to none for Boston.
From the start of the game Mathewson, the premier pitcher of the National League, had been disposing of the “Red Sox” batsmen with all his old-time skill. Bedient, his young rival, had been doing almost equally well, although New York had earned a run off him in the third inning. In Boston’s half of the seventh, with two men out and a man on first base, the manager of the “Red Sox”—who also, as it happened, was the man then on first base—made the move that undoubtedly saved the game for his team. It was Bedient’s turn to bat; but instead Manager Stahl sent to the “plate” a utility outfielder, Henriksen, who until that moment had not once been at bat in the series. Mathewson, utterly in the dark as to his weaknesses as a batsman, tried him with a variety of pitches. One proved so much to his liking that he drove it past third base for a hit that brought in the tying run. Stahl’s judgment, plus Henriksen’s ability to “make good,” had turned impending defeat into possible victory.
So incessant and so varied are the demands made on the ball-player’s intelligence that any one who really knows the game will be inclined to indorse unreservedly the published declaration of that most successful baseball-player and most successful business man, Mr. Albert G. Spalding:
I never struck anything in business that did not seem a simple matter when compared with complications I have faced on the baseball field. A young man playing baseball gets into the habit of quick thinking in most adverse circumstances and under the most merciless criticism in the world—the criticism from the “bleachers.” If that doesn’t train him, nothing can. Baseball in youth has the effect in later years of making him think and act a little quicker than the other fellow.
To-day this is even more the case than in the days when Mr. Spalding led his Boston and Chicago teams to victory, for with the passage of time the technique of the game has been improved to an extent that makes it more of a developmental agent than it was even ten years ago. Lacking the strength, skill, and experience of the professional player, the school-boy whose efforts are confined to the “diamond” of the vacant lot or public park plays the game under precisely the same rules as the professional, and with no less zest and earnestness, and profits correspondingly. To be sure, in playing it he does not dream for an instant that he is thereby helping to prepare himself for the important struggles of maturity. He plays it merely because he finds it “good fun”— merely because, in its variety and rapidity of action, in the comparative ease with which its fundamental principles may be learned, and in its essentially co-operative yet competitive character, it affords an intensely pleasurable occupation. It is, in truth, a game which makes an irresistible appeal to the instincts of youth precisely because it so admirably meets the principal objects of play—mental rest through enjoyment, exercise for the muscles, the healthy expenditure of surplus nervous energy, and practice and preparation for life’s work.
This, of course, does not explain its popularity with the non-playing American public of mature years, a popularity which seems to many the more surprising and reprehensible in view of the fact that to-day, when baseball games are drawing larger crowds than in all the previous history of the sport, the Nation is burdened to an appalling extent by economic and social evils. But in reality this phenomenon is neither so unusual nor so ominous as alarmists would have us believe. “Give us games!” was the cry of the Roman populace in time of disaster many centuries ago, and it has since been unconsciously echoed by many another people under the stress of some great crisis.
Baseball itself, it is worth noting, was a’ product of the period of anti-slavery agitation that preceded the crisis of the Civil War, having been invented in 1839 [the belief at that time--jt] , two years after the murder of the abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy, and one year after the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, in Philadelphia, by a mob of pro-slavery sympathizers; and its first rise into favor as a public spectacle was but a year or so before North and South met in their epochal conflict.
What this means is simply an instinctive resort to sport as a method of gaining momentary relief from the strain of an intolerable burden, and at the same time finding a harmless outlet for pent-up emotions which, unless thus gaining expression, might discharge themselves in a dangerous way. It also means, there is reason to believe, a continuance of the play impulse as an aid in the rational and efficient conduct of life. It is no mere coincidence that the great sport-loving peoples of the world—the Americans, the English, the Canadians, and the Australians [another antiquated notion--jt]—have been pre-eminent in the art of achieving progress by peaceful and orderly reform. There have been times, as in the case of the Civil War, when the issues involved have been such as to make absolutely necessary the arbitrament of arms. But evolution, not revolution, has been the rule in the development of these nations—these nations which above all others respond to the impulse to play.
Baseball, then, from the spectator’s standpoint, is to be regarded as a means of catharsis, or, perhaps better, as a safety-valve. And it performs this service the more readily because of the appeal it makes to the basic instincts, with resultant removal of the inhibitions that ordinarily cause tenseness arid restraint. For exactly the same reason it has a democratizing value no less important to the welfare of society than is its value as a developmental and tension-relieving agent. The spectator at a ball game is no longer a statesman, lawyer, broker, doctor, merchant, or artisan, but just a plain every-day man, with a heart full of fraternity and good will to all his fellow-men—except perhaps the umpire. The oftener he sits in grand stand or “bleachers,” the broader, kindlier, better man and citizen he must tend to become.
Finally, it is to be observed that the mere watching of a game of baseball, as of football, lacrosse, hockey, or any other game of swift action, has a certain beneficial physical effect. It is a psychological commonplace that pleasurable emotions, especially if they find expression in laughter, shouts, cheers, and other muscle-expanding noises, have a tonic value to the whole bodily system. So that it is quite possible to get exercise vicariously, as it were; and the more stimulating the spectacle that excites feelings of happiness and enjoyment, the greater will be the resultant good. Most decidedly baseball is a game well designed to render this excellent service.
Like every, virile, vigorous game, it has its defects. But its qualities far outweigh its shortcomings, and it must be accounted a happy day for America when the first players met on the first “diamond” laid out on American soil. The little red school-house has long been extolled as a prime factor in the Republic’s progress. I for one am firmly convinced that the lessons taught in it would have lacked much of their potency had it not been for the reinforcement they received from the lessons learned on the baseball field near by. Long may Uncle Sam play ball!
Ring Lardner published this jocular “obituary” for Christy Mathewson in the Chicago Tribune on July 22, 1916. Lardner’s standing column head in the Trib was the portentous “In the Wake of the News.” The “obituary” appeared alongside an account of Matty’s first game as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, a 6-4 loss in ten innings to the Phillies. Three years later the Black Sox Scandal would sour Lardner on baseball for life, though he would continue to write on the subject, concluding in 1933 with Lose with a Smile. Matty would require a more conventional obituary before that, succumbing on October 7, 1925 to tuberculosis brought on by gas poisoning in a World War I training exercise.
The baseball world was shocked yesterday by the news that Christy Mathewson, one of the game’s greatest exponents, had signed to manage the Cincinnati Reds at the age of thirty-seven years, the very prime of life. Mathewson is the seventh prominent baseballist to succumb to this disease in a space of twelve years.
It is the opinion of prominent physicians that “Matty,” as he was fondly known, hastened his own end by taking up golf, which undermines the intellect and, thereby, the general health. Those who were closest to him say that he has never been the same since he first sliced off the tee.
There is no argument for prohibition in the case of the deceased. He was always abstemious. He took the best possible care of himself. Before being bitten by the golf bacillus, his favorite amusements were chess, checkers, poker, and auction bridge, at all of which athletic sports he excelled. He smoked, but never to excess. He usually retired before midnight and was careful as to his victuals.
Ciristopher Mathewson was bom in New York State or somewhere, in or about 1879. He received a common school education and then entered Bucknell College, where he took a P.P.D. degree, Doctor of Pitching and Punting. He pitched more or less professional ball down in Virginia for a time and his work attracted the attention of major-league scouts and a scout from Cincinnati. Cincinnati acquired him and, the directors of the club taking a hand, traded him to New York for Amos Rusie, which was a regular Cincinnati trade, as Rusie was through.
One of Matty’s first managers at New York was Horace Fogel, who saw at a glance that he could never be a successful pitcher and tried to make a first baseman out of him. Unfortunately for many a National League batsman, Horace’s career as manager was brief, brevity being the soul of wit. The next manager of the Giants got a crazy notion in his head that Matty might be able, with careful handling, to become an average pitcher. This manager’s judgment was proven pretty fair, for Matty, with the aid of great support, pitched his team to victory in quite a few games for a matter of sixteen years. Perhaps his greatest achievement was his three shutout victories over the Athletics in the World Series of 1905. If he had been pitching against this year’s Athletics he could have done it left-handed, but it was some trick in those days.
Mathewson had been spending recent winters in California and the climate may have gone to his head.
He leaves a wife and one son, Christopher, Jr.
My eyes are very misty
As I pen these lines to Christy;
O, my heart is full of heaviness today.
May the flowers ne’er wither, Matty,
On your grave at Cincinnati,
Which you’ve chosen for your final fade-away.
I was delighted to speak yesterday at the site of the Brooklyn Dodger offices at 215 Montague Street. Chevrolet sponsored a four-stop baseball tour for media types who would be driven (or themselves drive) an electric-powered Chevy Volt to each site after the starting point of the MLB Fan Cave. Not knowing that I would be speaking outdoors in full sun for the second stop on the trail, I had prepared a 15-minute talk that stayed in my pocket. Sunstroke made for poor public relations, I figured. I winged it, but this is the talk I would have offered. Portions of it are based on an article that Jules Tygiel and I published in SPORT Magazine in June 1988.
It happened right here, on Montague Street. This is where the national pastime at last began to live up to its name.
The team is gone, the building is gone—even the address is gone, as is the bank that presented the plaque—but the echoes linger, and the spirit remains. Here, on August 28, 1945, Jackie Robinson, shortstop of the Kansas City Monarchs, first met Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. After a dramatic, challenging interview that has become the stuff of legend, the two signed an agreement that would begin to remove from baseball its historic stain. Each year Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day on April 15 to mark the anniversary of his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, but here we stand on no less hallowed ground.
Today little is left of the city that was, let alone its favorite game. In New York the only constant through four centuries has been relentless, roaring change—hills flattened, ponds filled, streams diverted, buildings demolished, neighborhoods dismantled, all in the name of progress. Shea Stadium and the House That Ruth Built are gone, as are Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, and several other sites of big-league games. A baseball-history tourist in New York must walk in four dimensions rather than three, the fourth being that of memory–aided by stories and statistics and nostalgic collectibles. Because it is harder to collect buildings than baseball cards, however, few edifices remain that might bear mute testimony to the game that was.
Baseball is a game of ghostly presences, always just one step away from revival. MLB’s Fan Cave, the hippest of baseball landmarks (which marked the first stop on today’s tour), sits one block away from the old Grand Central Hotel site, where on February 2, 1876 the National League was founded. Walking distance from where we stand, at the corner of Clinton and Livingston Streets—No. 133—is an improbable survivor of baseball’s earliest days, the clubhouse of the Brooklyn Excelsiors, the most famous team in the land in 1860.
But let’s focus on 215 Montague Street. A ten-story structure, tall for the 19th century, stood here until the 1960s, when it was replaced by a four-story building, since anchored by a succession of banks. The Dodgers’ office was located on the fourth floor. It housed all the executives, major league and minor league, and their staffs. Fans who wanted to purchase advance tickets could buy them here. The Dodgers started using this location in 1938, and when Branch Rickey came along four years later this building would begin to take on national significance, if at first secretly.
Rickey, who had long wished to integrate baseball, knew that St. Louis, where he had been the general manager for decades, was an impossible venue for his great experiment. “St. Louis never permitted Negro patrons in the grandstand,” Rickey once wrote.
Robinson’s appearance here on August 28 was by no means the first step Rickey had taken toward fulfilling his vision of an integrated national pastime. And Rickey knew that Sam Jethroe or Monte Irvin, not Robinson, was the most talented player in the Negro Leagues at that time. So why did Rickey choose him? Strength of character and a collegiate background have been the conventional explanations, but behind the scenes there was more at work.
From the moment he had arrived in Brooklyn in 1942, determined to end baseball’s Jim Crow traditions, Rickey had feared that premature disclosure of his intentions might doom his bold design. No blacks had appeared in the major leagues since 1884. During the ensuing half-century all-black teams and leagues featuring legendary figures like pitcher Satchel Paige and catcher Josh Gibson had performed on the periphery of Organized Baseball. Baseball executives, led by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, had strictly policed the color line, barring blacks from both major and minor leagues. Rickey therefore moved slowly and secretly to explore the issue and cover up his attempts to scout black players during his first three years in Brooklyn. He informed the Dodger owners of his plans but took few others into his confidence.
In the spring of 1945, as Rickey prepared to accelerate his scouting efforts, advocates of integration, emboldened by the recent death of Commissioner Landis, escalated their campaign to desegregate baseball. On April 6, black sportswriter Joe Bostic appeared at the Dodgers’ training camp with Negro League stars Terris McDuffie and Dave “Showboat” Thomas and forced Rickey to hold tryouts for the two players. Ten days later black journalist Wendell Smith engineered an unsuccessful audition with the Red Sox for Robinson and two other black athletes.
In the face of this heightened activity, Rickey created an elaborate smokescreen to obscure his scouting of black players. In May 1945 he announced the formation of a new franchise, the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, and a new Negro League, the United States League. He named fabled Negro Leagues star Oscar Charleston as the club’s manager and undercover scout. Rickey then dispatched his best talent hunters to observe black ballplayers, ostensibly for the Brown Dodgers, but in reality for the Brooklyn National League club.
The popular “frontier” image of Jackie Robinson as a lone gunman facing down a hostile mob has always dominated the story of the integration of baseball. But while Robinson was the linchpin in Branch Rickey’s strategy, in October 1945 Rickey intended to announce the signing of not just Jackie Robinson, but of several other Negro League stars. Political pressure, however, forced Rickey’s hand, thrusting Robinson into the spotlight all alone.
The agreement that Jackie Robinson signed right here on August 28, 1945 was a tightly guarded secret. It bound him to the Brooklyn organization but stipulated that he was to be signed to a player’s contract with the top farm club at Montreal before November 1. Rickey impressed upon Robinson the need to maintain silence. He could tell the momentous news to his family and fiancee, but no one else.
After his meeting with Rickey, Robinson returned briefly to the Kansas City Monarchs. With the Dodger offer securing his future and the relentless bus trips of the Negro League schedule wearing him down, he left the Monarchs before season’s end and returned home to Pasadena, California. In late September he hooked up with Chet Brewer’s Kansas City Royals, a postseason barnstorming team which toured the Pacific Coast, competing against other Negro League teams and major- and minor-league all-star squads.
Rickey worked with publicist Arthur Mann to pen an article for Look Magazine, timed to release at the time of Robinson’s signing with Montreal. It never ran, but I located it in the Rickey papers at the Library of Congress. “The Negro and Baseball,” as it was titled, departs radically from the common picture of the Robinson legend. “Determined not to be charged with merely nibbling at the problem,” wrote Mann, “Rickey went all out and brought in two more Negro players,” and “consigned them, with Robinson, to the Dodgers’ top farm club, the Montreal Royals.” Mann named pitcher Don Newcombe and, surprisingly, outfielder Sam Jethroe as Robinson’s future teammates. Whether the recruitment of additional blacks had always been Rickey’s intention or whether he had reached his decision after meeting with Robinson in August is unclear. But by late September, when he provided information to Mann for his article, Rickey had clearly decided to bring in other Negro League stars.
At the same time, Rickey decided to postpone publication of the Look article. In a remarkable letter sent from the World Series in Chicago on October 7, Rickey informed Mann:
We just can’t go now with the article. The thing isn’t dead,-not at all. It is more alive than ever and that is the reason we can’t go with any publicity at this time. There is more involved in the situation than I had contemplated. Other players are in it and it may be that I can’t clear these players until after the December meetings, possibly not until after the first of the year. You must simply sit in the boat….
There is a November 1 deadline on Robinson,-you know that. I am undertaking to extend that date until January 1st so as to give me time to sign plenty of players and make one break on the complete story. Also, quite obviously it might not be good to sign Robinson with other and possibly better players unsigned.
In a mad scramble to sign Robinson before the November 1 deadline and before he departed to the Caribbean for a barnstorming trip, the Montreal Royals secured his signature on a contract on October 23. Newcombe, Campanella, John Wright, and Roy Partlow all joined the Dodger organization the following spring. Jethroe became a victim of the “deliberate speed” of baseball integration and did not reach the majors until 1950.
For Robinson, who had always occupied center stage in Rickey’s thinking, the early announcement intensified the pressures and enhanced the legend. The success or failure of integration rested disproportionately on his capable shoulders. He became the lightning rod for supporter and opponent alike, attracting the responsibility, the scorn and ultimately the acclaim for his historic achievement.
For Rickey the signing was the culmination of a decades-old dream. For Robinson, there would be triumph and tragedy ahead, but his breaking of the color bar started right here.