Let’s try something different here at Our Game. A favorite feature of many readers these past three years has been the copious illustration accompanying articles about the Grand Old Ball Game Game. Moreover, I have found that when I post a link to a new story on Twitter or Facebook the response is polite but generally muted–a seated ovation, if you will. Only a few posts have generated thousands of visitors on the very first day. On the other hand, when I post an image or a film clip directly to a social-media site, folks are really enthusiastic. Where did you get that? they ask. That’s amazing, they exclaim. Encore! they demand.
You get the picture. Or rather, now you will, untrammeled by that pesky erudition and bloviation. Or at least occasionally you will: a post of slimly captioned, themed images without an accompanying article. Until I hit upon the congenial format, let’s look at fifteen pictures per post. For this first foray, why don’t we start with the biggest name in all of baseball history, Babe Ruth.
Let’s resume our racehorse run through America’s baseball Presidents. When last we left our heroes, William McKinley had just promised to throw out the first pitch at the Washington home opener in April 1897 (http://goo.gl/ogDGrb). Although more than a hundred Senators and Congressmen showed up, and the club constructed a Presidential box complete with bunting, the honoree did not appear. Six months into his second term, an assassin’s bullet and ensuing medical malpractice brought us a new man in the White House: Theodore Roosevelt, who advocated a strenuous life and vigorous sport but detested baseball. His sons Kermit and Quentin played baseball but their exploits elicited little interest from Dad. Daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth said, “Father and all of us regarded baseball as a mollycoddle game. Tennis, football, lacrosse, boxing, polo, yes: they are violent, which appealed to us. But baseball? Father wouldn’t even watch it, not even at Harvard!”
All the same, Teddy was the first President to receive a gold lifetime pass to all professional baseball games (every President since has received one). In his final full year in office, 1908, he reluctantly welcomed three American League clubs to the White House–the hometown Senators, the New York Highlanders, and the Cleveland Naps. He then handed off to William Howard Taft, who had served him as Secretary of War and was his hand-picked successor. Taft was something of a fan and had played ball as a youth. It was his brother Charles P. Taft, however, who was truly bitten by the baseball bug–owning pieces of the Cubs and Phillies simultaneously, in contravention of baseball law, while his brother sat in the White House. President Taft’s enduring contribution took place on April 14, 1910, when he fulfilled the expectations placed on McKinley by throwing out the first pitch prior to Washington’s 3-0 victory over Philadelphia, behind the mighty arm of young Walter Johnson.
Woodrow Wilson‘s boyhood attachment to baseball was intense indeed, as discussed earlier this week (http://goo.gl/W2LJU4). As President, in 1917 he became the first to throw out the first pitch at a World Series opener. Prior to that he had attended many ballgames, eschewing the use of his golden pass and paying his own way.
Warren G. Harding was the first President to have owned a stake in a professional baseball club, the Marion Diggers of the Class D Ohio State League. He had played ball as a boy and may have fancied himself a prospective big leaguer. In September 1920, while campaigning for the Presidency, he took part in an exhibition game with the Chicago Cubs, throwing three pitches on behalf of the semipro Kerrigan Tailors.
Calvin Coolidge was not in the least bit sporty but his wife was. Grace Coolidge availed herself of the Presidential lifetime pass more than any First Lady before or since. When the Senators and old Walter Johnson finally went to the World Series in 1924, and then improbably won it when a ground ball hit a pebble and bounded over the head of Giants’ third baseman Freddie Lindstrom, all Washington went wild. It is said that even Silent Cal’s eyebrow twitched. He had attended three of the Senators’ four home games, establishing a new Presidential record.
Herbert Hoover was a huge baseball fan and took in as many regular-season games as any President. Perhaps the most memorable line attaching to Hoover and baseball spoke to the tenor of the times, as the failure of Prohibition made the Great Depression harder to bear.
I was not able to work up much enthusiasm over the ball game, and in the midst of it I was handed a note informing me of the sudden death of Senator Dwight Morrow. He had proved a great pillar of strength in the senate and his death was a great loss to the country and to me. I left the ballpark with the chant of the crowd ringing in my ears, “We Want Beer!”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been secretary of the baseball team at Groton. He loved the game but never played it well, even before his body betrayed his spirit. According to Gerald Bazer and Steven Culbertson in Prologue Magazine (Spring 2002), “as a young attorney in New York City, he almost lost his job because he would sneak off to Giants games at the Polo Grounds. As assistant secretary of the navy during the Wilson administration, he substituted for the President in throwing out the first ball for the 1917 season. As President, he made a record eight opening day appearances,” even though his physical infirmity made visits to the ballpark difficult. His great contribution to the game as President may have been his “green-light” letter that kept baseball going after America’s entrance into World War II. Writing to Commissioner Landis, who was prepared to shut down the game, FDR replied in part:
I honestly feel it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everyone will be working longer hours and harder than ever before. Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost.
Harry S. Truman was a lefty, and he threw like a ballplayer. And he was funny: “I couldn’t see well enough to play when I was a boy, so they gave me a special job–they made me an umpire.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower revealed, while he was President, that he played ball professionally, under the assumed name of “Wilson,” with Abilene in the Kansas State League. Researchers have long tried to identify him, without luck. This of course was a violation of amateur-eligibility rules, as Jim Thorpe learned to his chagrin after starring at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. (Because he had played summer ball with Rocky Point and Fayetteville in the East Carolina League in 1909-10–under his own name–he had to forfeit his medals.) Had Ike’s baseball fling become public knowledge while he was at West Point, he would have been unable to play for the Army football team. Like Truman, Ike has a great baseball quote to his everlasting credit. In later years he wrote:
A friend of mine and I went fishing and as we sat there in the warmth of a summer afternoon on a river bank we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he’d like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish.
John F. Kennedy liked football more than baseball, but in his sadly limited opportunities he threw out a mean first pitch. “Last year,” he once said, “more Americans went to symphonies than went to baseball games. This may be viewed as an alarming statistic, but I think that both baseball and the country will endure.”
Richard M. Nixon was–with the possible exception of Woodrow Wilson, as only recently revealed at Our Game–the most avid and astute baseball fan of all our Presidents. “I don’t know a lot about politics,” he once said, “but I know a lot about baseball.” In 1972 Nixon picked all-time All-Star teams from 1925 forward, by era. Twenty years later he revised his list to go up to 1991. Dick Young wrote, “This isn’t a guy that shows up at season openers to take bows and get his picture in the paper and has to have his secretary of state tell him where first base is. This man knows baseball.” Despite the cataclysmic circumstances of his departure from the White House, he was said afterward to have been offered the post of Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
Gerald Ford was an All American football player at Michigan and a solid baseball fan. About going to watch the Grand Rapids Chicks of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League he said, “I was single, practicing law. People said it was fun. Well, I went, and it sure was. The gals played hard and skillfully and put on a good show. Those ladies took it very seriously. They drew real well. Fans were very intense and partisan. They really had a flair. It was good competition.”
Jimmy Carter was an avid softball player but much of a baseball fan during his Presidency. Today he and wife Rosalynn are more or less fixtures at Atlanta Braves games.
Ronald Reagan was, before he threw out first pitches or welcomed Hall of Famers to the Rose Garden, a big-time baseball “player.” As an announcer broadcasting Cubs games for radio station WHO out of Des Moines, Iowa, he had the presence of mind to prolong an at bat via epically endless foul balls until his Western Union feed resumed.
There were several other stations broadcasting that game and I knew I’d lose my audience if I told them we’d lost our telegraph connections so I took a chance. I had [Billy] Jurges hit another foul. Then I had him foul one that only missed being a home run by a foot. I had him foul one back in the stands and took up some time describing the two lads that got in a fight over the ball. I kept on having him foul balls until I was setting a record for a ballplayer hitting successive foul balls and I was getting more than a little scared. Just then my operator started typing. When he passed me the paper I started to giggle–it said: “Jurges popped out on the first ball pitched.”
In 1952 Reagan portrayed Grover Cleveland Alexander in the the film The Winning Team, alongside Doris Day.
George H.W. Bush was a slick fielding first baseman with Andover and Yale, and he played in the 1947 College World Series. The photograph taken of him with Babe Ruth is a classic. Has there been a better player among all our Presidents? Only Eisenhower enters into the debate. Of the 1981 Cracker Jack Old Timers Game, then Vice President Bush recalled:
Milt Pappas grooved one and I hit it–I hadn’t swung a bat in God, how many years! I hit it crisp right through the middle for a single. People actually cheered and stuff when I got the single. It was more than fun.
Bill Clinton grew up a Cards fan, became a Cubs fan, appeared at baseball games with his typical gusto, and like Truman threw lefthanded with authority.
George W. Bush, growing up, never thought of being President. “I wanted to be Willie Mays,” he said. As managing general partner of the ownership group behind the Texas Rangers (1989-94), Bush attained the highest level in baseball’s professional ranks of any of our Presidents. He continues to make jokes at his own expense about trading Sammy Sosa before his talent emerged.
Barack Obama: Basketball was his game before attaining the White House and, along with golf, remains the game he likes to play. As a fan he has become more ecumenical in his appreciation of other sports, including baseball. Growing up in Hawaii, he attached to the Oakland A’s, but since moving to Illinois his favorite team has been the Chicago White Sox.
The other day I posted an article about Woodrow Wilson that attracted rather a lot of attention. While preparing that story I inevitably came upon a number of odd bits about our other Presidents and their ballplaying days and ways. The subject has been well covered by others, particularly in terms of first pitches and World Series victors’ visits to the White House. My friends Bill Mead and Paul Dickson wrote a fine book on the subject twenty years ago, Baseball: The Presidents’ Game. Because there’s no point to my doing indifferently what they have done well, I’ll provide here a racehorse run through Presidential baseball bits that may yet be unfamiliar; not every POTUS will get a nod. Some of these notes reflect recent research.
George Washington: First in war, first in peace, and first prez to play ball. General Washington was documented as playing wicket, a rival game to baseball, at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on May 4, 1778. [For more about wicket, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/07/17/the-old-time-game-of-wicket/ .] Revolutionary War soldier George Ewing wrote in a letter: “This day His Excellency [i.e., Washington] dined with G[eneral] Nox [Knox] and after dinner did us the honor to play at Wicket with us.” One year later, as scholar Thomas Altherr notes:
Commenting on George Washington’s character while observing him at camp at Fishkill in September, 1779, the newly-arrived secretary to the French legation, François, Comte de Barbé-Marbois, wrote, “To-day he sometimes throws and catches a ball for whole hours with his aides-de-camp.”
Washington the ball club came to be described by sportswriter Charlie Dryden in 1909 as “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” But we can’t blame that on Old George.
John Adams: At about the age of 10, as Adams wrote later in his diary, he was enamored “of making and sailing boats . . swimming, skating, flying kites and shooting marbles, bat and ball, football, . . . wrestling and sometimes boxing.” Was “bat and ball” the mysterious game known as batball, prohibited—along with wicket, cricket, baseball, football, cats, fives, and other games unnamed—in the famous 1791 ordinance of Pittsfield, Massachusetts? Or was it the distinct other game of “bat and ball,” as described by Brian Turner? [http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/11/27/the-bat-and-ball/] We cannot know.
Thomas Jefferson: We have no record of his having played ball, but he may have played enough to know he didn’t like it. From a letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, on 19 August 1785:
Give about two [hours] every day to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprize, and independance [sic] to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.
James Buchanan: In 1857, the first year of Buchanan’s term as President, the “Indian Peace Medal” received a new design that has become a monument of baseball history. These medals changed design many times. Early ones depicted George Washington shaking hands with a Native American against the backdrop of a tranquil farmstead on the obverse, and the heraldic eagle from the Great Seal of the United States on the reverse. After Jefferson, each administration’s medal had for its obverse a bust of the new president (except for William Henry Harrison, who died after barely three weeks in office) and a common reverse, a pair of hands shaking each other with crossed tomahawk and peace pipe above and the legend peace and prosperity in surround.
For President Buchanan in 1857, a new reverse to the medal was commissioned from engraver Joseph Willson, who created an emblematic design featuring an Indian chief in full headdress manning a plow, a farm and a church in the distance, a simple home with a woman standing in the doorway—and a baseball game being played in the foreground. This domesticated vignette was ringed by a bow, arrows in a quiver, a squaw, a peace pipe, and a grisly depiction of one brave scalping another. The message of the medal’s border was one of primitive violence without the calming hand of civilization; that of the vignette, the possible taming of the wild through American ways in religion, tilling the soil . . . and adoption of its favorite game. All that was lacking was a steaming apple pie. Although Willson died in the year that this medal was issued, his design for the reverse was reused for the Indian Peace Medal issued in the Lincoln years. No matter what some gentlemen were saying in New York at the “national” conventions of area clubs, the frontier game of baseball, in all its variety, was already perceived as the national game.
Abraham Lincoln: There are many stories about Lincoln and baseball, and some of them may even be true. (Not true is the deathbed scene invented by radio’s Bill Stern, in which Lincoln, with his last gasp, says to Abner Doubleday (who was in fact not there): “Keep baseball going. The country needs it.”) Lincoln is said to have played town ball in Springfield, Illinois in the 1830s. His friend James Gourley, who had known him since 1834, in later years recalled:
We played the old-fashioned game of town ball – jumped – ran – fought and danced. Lincoln played town ball – he hopped well – in 3 hops he would go 40.2 [feet?] on a dead level…. He was a good player – could catch a ball….
In America’s National Game, Albert Spalding included a tale of Lincoln being caught unawares in midgame when he learned of his nomination for President:
It is recorded that in the year 1860, when the Committee of the Chicago Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency, visited his home at Springfield, Illinois, to notify him formally of the event, the messenger sent to apprise him of the coming of the visitors found the great leader out on the commons, engaged in a game of Base Ball. Information of the arrival of the party was imparted to Mr. Lincoln on the ball field.
“Tell the gentlemen,” he said, “that I am glad to know of their coming; but they’ll have to wait a few minutes ’till I make another base hit.”
This tale seems to be too good to be true, but it is time to wink, nod, and move along.
Andrew Johnson: Growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, Young Johnson “spent many hours at games with boys of the neighborhood, his favorite being ‘Cat and Bass Ball and Bandy,’ the last the ‘choyst’ game of all.” On September 17, 1866, President Johnson is said to have watched, briefly from a carriage parked behind right field, a game between the Brooklyn Excelsiors and the Washington Nationals. In the following year, on August 26, Johnson arrived two hours late to a game between the Nationals and the visiting New York Mutuals, but he and his entourage stayed to the end as the Mutes won, 40-16.
Ulysses S. Grant: On May 1, 1883, the New York Gothams, later known as the Giants, played their first game in the National League. Among the 15,000 fans who came that day was former President Grant. At the Polo Grounds (at that time located just north of Central Park, at 110th Street; today the site is within the park), New York defeated the Boston Reds, 7-5, behind pitcher Mickey Welch.
Rutherford B. Hayes: Hayes had played ball while a student at Kenyon College in Ohio. On May 13, 1839 he had written to his brother, “Playing ball is all the fashion here now and it is presumed that I can beat you at that if not at chess.” The future President and his son kept a scrapbook of their favorite team as it toured the country in 1869—the famous unbeaten Cincinnati Red Stockings. In 1870 Hayes wrote his son:
MY DEAR BOY:–I see by the Journal you are playing base-ball and that you play well. I am pleased with this. I like to have my boys enjoy and practice all athletic sports and games, especially riding, rowing, hunting, and ball playing. But I am a little afraid, from [what] Uncle says, that overexertion and excitement in playing baseball will injure your hearing. Now, you are old enough to judge of this and to regulate your conduct accordingly. If you find there is any injury you ought to resolve to play only for a limited time—say an hour or an hour and a half on the same day. Uncle and Sarah [Jane Grant, visiting Columbus] with our whole family are well. We had General Sherman at our house Wednesday evening with a pleasant party.
James A. Garfield: As a professor at Ohio’s Hiram College in 1856-59, Garfield played wicket, a game which the Connecticut pioneers had brought to the Western Reserve at the turn of the 19th century. “In the street,” wrote F.M. Green in 1901, “in front of [Hiram College] President Hinsdale’s (which was then Mr. Garfield’s house), is the ground where we played wicket ball; Mr. Garfield was one of our best players.”
Chester Arthur: On April 4, 1883, Arthur became the first President to invite big-league ballplayers into the White House. Greeting the Cleveland Blues and their manager Frank Bancroft in the Cabinet Room, he remarked with his typical fatuity that “they looked good base ball players and that good ball players were good citizens.”
Grover Cleveland: The only President elected to two non-consecutive terms was not much of a fan, although he declared that when he had been sheriff and mayor of Buffalo, the Bisons’ star pitcher Pud Galvin had been his friend. In 1888 he had said to Cap Anson, visiting the White House, “What do you imagine the American people would think of me if I wasted my time going to the ball game?” King Kelly wrote of Cleveland: “The president’s hand was fat and soft. I squeezed it so hard he winced. Then George Gore did the same and [Oyster] Burns and [Abner] Dalrymple did likewise. The president’s right hand was almost double in size and he was glad when it was all over. He would rather shake hands with 1,000 people than a ball nine after that day. He impressed me as being a charming, courteous gentleman who has considerable backbone, and democratic enough to be a Democratic president of our glorious country.”
Benjamin Harrison: Harrison was the first seated President (unlike Grant above) to attend a major-league game. On June 6, 1892 he watched the Washington Senators lose to Cincinnati 7-4 in 11 innings. Harrison, however, had offered up his baseball bona fides not long after taking office. On April 5, 1889, the national news divulged that President Harrison was exhibiting conspicuously, on a mantelpiece in the White House, a large baseball scorecard. To a visitor this demonstrated conclusively that “the Administration was all right, for it endorsed the game of baseball.”
William McKinley: On April 16, 1897, shortly after taking office as the last of the 19th century’s Presidents, McKinley greeted the members of the Washington National League club at the White House. Manger Gus Schmelz recalled that five years earlier to the day, while governor of Ohio, McKinley had thrown the first ball into the diamond of the Columbus club, of which he [Schmelz] had been manager, and that the club had won the championship that season of the Western League (1892). McKinley was reported to have smiled and replied that he remembered the incident very well, indeed, and that if he saw his way clear he would repeat the performance at National Park on Thursday the 22nd for its NL opener against Brooklyn. He did not, however, so the Presidential honor of throwing out the first ball of the season would have to await the onset of William Howard Taft.
Part II to follow, beginning with Teddy Roosevelt.
Yes, it’s a provocative title but a startling new find has me believing it’s true. Like the protagonist in Robert Coover’s 1968 novel The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop., the 14-year-old Thomas Woodrow Wilson—known as Tommy—created a whole universe of players, statistics, and a pennant race, with or without the aid of dice. But unlike Waugh—who invented a table game using three dice, a “Stress Chart,” and an “Extraordinary Occurrences Chart”—the young Wilson did not create players or teams. He used only the cast of characters in the real-life National Association of 1871, which he surely read about in the sporting weeklies. And now, from deep in the archives of the Library of Congress, we have come upon Tommy Wilson’s complete handwritten record of that fantasy season. George Wright, Al Spalding, and Cap Anson cavort on an imaginary field, along with all the other worthies of that first year of professional league play.
How do we think of Woodrow Wilson today? Professorial, idealistic, sickly—the President of Princeton University, he became the nation’s 28th President in 1913. He promised us peace but took us into war “to make the world safe for democracy.” We recall his Fourteen Points and his belief in the League of Nations; some will reflect on his Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918. We think of his stroke in October 1919 that largely incapacitated him for the last year of his Presidency, when his second wife, Edith, whom he had married in 1915, sort of ran the White House; this scenario gave rise to the 25th Amendment, regarding the disability of a President.
But Tommy Wilson was not a sickly or especially bookish lad. Born December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia, he and his family moved to Augusta, Georgia one year later. In 1870, Wilson organized the Light Foot Club for “various secret, mysterious and adventurous purposes,” including a baseball team for which he played second base. (In 1873 he went on to Davidson College, where he played on the varsity baseball team.)
Wilson recorded the starting lineup of the Light Foot Base Ball Club in his copy of Elements of Physical Geography. These ninth-grade textbook doodlings have been preserved, along with a list of racehorses “arranged by age and speed.” One year later, before moving from Augusta to Columbia, South Carolina, he went from listmaker to perhaps the inventor of fantasy baseball. Here’s the previously untold story.
On October 29, 2013 Amber Paranick wrote to the Baseball Hall of Fame:
I’m a reference librarian at the Library of Congress and have, along with a colleague, discovered a rare item in the Woodrow Wilson Collection. It appears to be a hand-written newspaper, entitled “Professional Record” for 1871. As far as I can tell, a serial publication with this title was not in existence in 1871. Can I ask for your advice? Do you know of a publication with this title that related to baseball?…
Ms. Paranick supplied a scan of the first page of the “newspaper.” Jim Gates was unable to locate anything that matched it but suggested that she contact early-baseball experts Tom Shieber, Peter Mancuso, and myself. With their concurrence, I followed up.
Some quick internet sleuthing turned up evidence of the sale of a manuscript, much like the one described at Parke-Bernet Galleries (today’s Sotheby’s), on May 14, 1946. In its description of Lot 58, the auction house attributed the manuscript to Henry Chadwick, but while he did provide year-end summaries to the New York Clipper and other outlets, he is clearly not the author of this work. Not only is the name of the purported publisher, sporting goods merchant E.I. Horsman, misspelled–Horsman went on to win greater fame as a manufacturer of dolls and toys, and coined the term “Teddy Bear”–but so is the first word of the title (“Proffessional”). Tommy Wilson copied the Chadwick format and puffed up his own commercial prospects, including a 200,000 print run. From the catalog:
58. BASEBALL. HENRY CHADWICK. AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT of “Professional Baseball Record for 1871. Price 25cts. Published by E. I. Horseman.” Closely written on 17 small 4to pages.
A MOST INTERESTING AND UNIQUE ITEM BY “THE FATHER OF BASEBALL,” written while Chadwick was Chairman of the National Association of Base Ball Players. The manuscript is a record of a tour made by the teams in the season of 1871, and gives the names of the teams, where played, names of the players, and the results of the games, in all about 139 games, with the box score of each game, and with the batting and fielding records of the players. The teams included the Bostons of Boston; the Eckfords of Brooklyn; the Athletics of Philadelphia; Forest City of Cleveland, Olympics of Washington, etc.
The introduction to the manuscript reads: “All are familiar with New Championship Rules, and perusing these few Games all of which were for the Professional Championship of the Country it will be seen readily who are or ought to be Champions of the United States…” [Emphasis mine—JT.] The manuscript is written in a microscopic hand, and shows a number of corrections by the author.
Who purchased this manuscript back in 1946? I have no clue, but somehow it made its way to the Woodrow Wilson Collection at the Library of Congress.
Claire Dekle from the Library’s Preservation Department was able to procure images of the entire “Proffessional Record” for me, and then the real fun began. Wilson’s recording of detail was thorough in the extreme—not only in the presentation of box scores but also in the clubs’ year-end summaries, which split out earned runs scored and allowed and detail individual batting and fielding totals and averages in the manner of the day. (I offer low-resolution images here to permit reasonable download times.) This was the record of a magical mystery tour, played between the young Wilson’s ears.
What first alerted me to the utter fantasy of the statistics was chancing upon a game Wilson created for June 30, 1871 between the Forest City of Rockford, Illinois and the Olympics of Washington, DC. Not only does Anson hit a home run for Rockford (in the real 1871 season he hit none) but pitcher Cherokee Fisher tosses a no-hitter, in which the only opponents to reach first base do so through errors. This would be professional baseball’s first no-hitter, and nearly a perfect game … except that it never happened.
I believe Wilson commenced his work here in March-April of 1871. The National Association (NA) was formed on March 17 in a meeting at Collier’s Saloon in New York at Broadway and 13th Street. Of the ten clubs represented at that meeting, eight plunked down their $10 entrance fee. The Eckfords and Atlantics, however, who were thought certain to be original members, demurred, preferring to play independent of the new circuit. In the days that followed a surprising ninth club entered the NA: the Kekionga of Fort Wayne. In his proprietary league, Wilson includes all eleven clubs, and even some players who, as holdovers from their 1870 clubs, were thought to have renewed for 1871, but were released or quit.
Some nerdy highlights (abandon hope, all ye casual fans who enter here):
The actual 1871 NA champion Athletics of Philadelphia (21-7) finished in Wilsonia with a ho-hum record of 11-16, scoring 178 runs while allowing 176. Their top batter was Al Reach, with an AVG of 1 .00 runs per game while registering 3.6153 outs per game.
The Chicago White Stockings, who lost the NA flag in a final-game contest with the Athletics, fared well in Wilsonia, at 16-11. Their leading batsman was the otherwise obscure Ed Pinkham, at 1.1166 runs per game (the extra decimal places are Wilson’s not mine).
The Boston Red Stockings, third-place finishers in the real NA with a mark of 20-10, disappointed in Wilson’s World, at 10-15 while being outscored 209-176. George Wright, limited by injury to playing in only 16 real-life games, was healthy enough to play in all but three of Wilson’s imagined Boston games.
The Brooklyn Atlantics, who did not compete in the NA of 1871, won 16 and lost 6, outscoring their opponents 183-111. Among Wilson’s players were the perhaps mysterious Coffey, Munn, Bunting, and Carney. None of these men played on the Atlantic Club in the NA of 1872, although Horatio Munn (whose first name had gone undiscovered for more than a century) did appear in a single game in 1875. The other three did in fact open the 1871 season with the Atlantic nine of 1871, reconstituted as an independent. Left fielder Jack McDonald was their leading batsman, with a Runs Per Game Average of 1.1428. (Computing the Batting Average as we do today, using hits as th enumerator and at bats as the denominator rather than runs/games, did not come into practice until a few years later.)
The non-NA Eckfords went 12-15, being outscored 263-253. When they actually entered the circuit the following year, they registered a won-lost mark of 3-26. Among the obscure players Wilson included were Josh (Jim) Snyder, later of the 1872 Eckford, and Eddie Shelly, a former Union of Morrisania player who in fact joined the Eckfords in 1871 but never played for an NA club and thus is not in the encyclopedic record.
Wilson’s Forest City of Rockford went 15-12, scoring more runs than they allowed. In fact the club finished last in the NA at 4-21 and folded before season’s end. Anson, in his freshman year as a professional, went on to play four years with the Athletics before landing for good in Chicago.
Wilson’s Cleveland Forest City went 11-13, better than its actual mark of 10-19. Non-NA players who sent me scurrying to establish identities were substitutes Smith, Clark, and Hanna. Peter Morris wrote of the man who I suspect to be the last named: “The umpire of this noteworthy game was a man who was making his only appearance on a major league diamond. Identified in game accounts only as ‘Doc’ Hanna,’ his name still appears in some listings of major league umpires as ‘Dr. Hanna.’ In fact, the now-forgotten Leonard C. ‘Doc’ Hanna….” [http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bc8cc834] Smith is presumably A.J. “Pikey” Smith, former captain of the amateur Cleveland Forest City of the 1860s. Clark is presumably the president of the 1867 club.
As to the Kekionga Club of Fort Wayne, which I covered in depth in Baseball in the Garden of Eden, they were terrors in Tommy Wilson’s Eden, going 16-9 while shortstop Wally Goldsmith terrorized pitchers to the tune of 1.2608 runs per game. The unknown name (to me at least) on the fantasy roster was Chenowith, but he turned out to be Bill Chenoweth, who had played with the Pastimes of Baltimore in 1870, which provided later NA players George Popplein and Frank Williams (who played as Sellman with the Kekiongas in their only NA season).
Wilson’s Olympics of Washington (in the true NA, 15-15) went 11-16, being outscored 239-179. Their leading batsman was right fielder John Glenn, at 0.9565 R/G. He would become notorious in the game’s annals for allegedly attacking a twelve-year-old girl and then being shot by a policeman trying to protect him from a lynch mob.
The Unions of Lansingburgh (a.k.a. Troy Haymakers) went 11-14 for Woodrow Wilson, outscoring opponents 197-196. Esteban Bellan, baseball’s first player of Hispanic birth, had the top batting mark with 1.0400. In Wilson’s “newspaper” a Penfield plays for Troy, though he was not on the 1871 roster. He had played with the Haymakers in previous years. George Ewell appears as a sub though he too did not play with Troy in 1871, instead playing one game with Cleveland in 1871.
Wilson’s New York Mutuals went 11-13 and were outscored 167-152. Their leading hitter was third baseman Charley Smith, who had been a star with the great Atlantics clubs of the 1860s but left the Mutuals midway in 1871 after suffering a mental breakdown. Wilson’s “unknown” Mutual substitute is “McMahone.” Surely this is Billy McMahon, who played for the Mutes from 1859-70 and then opened a notorious Tenderloin saloon called at first “The Argyle Rooms” and later “The Haymarket” at Sixth Avenue and 30th Street.
I sort of fell into this subject on Facebook earlier today in response to a woodcut I posted of Amos Rusie’s drop ball. With his legendary fastball, I suggested, why would he ever need to throw a drop? Walter Johnson pitched almost his entire career throwing one pitch. When Walter Johnson came along in 1907, writers seeking to compliment the young fireballer called him “another Rusie.” As Mike Gershman wrote in Total Baseball, “Baseball paid Rusie the ultimate compliment in 1893 when it changed the rules because of him. The mound was moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches, and several authorities claim the change was intended to make Rusie’s heat less intimidating. (Rusie’s first catcher, Dick Buckley, padded his glove with a thin sheet of lead to help absorb the impact of Rusie’s hummer.) The Indianan led the league in strikeouts five years out of six and won 30 games or more four years in a row.”
In 1892 the pitching distance was truly only five feet shorter than that of today, because before the introduction of the slab, from which the 60’6″ distance is taken, the pitcher threw from a box, the front of which was 50 feet from the plate but the back line was five and a half feet further, creating an effective distance of 55’6″. In that last year of the old distance, which had been in force since 1880, the Hoosier Thunderbolt may have been, from the batter’s perspective, the fastest pitcher ever.
Let’s try a math exercise: Rusie’s 95 mph–my approximation; his pitches were never clocked, but Connie Mack said he was as fast as Johnson or Bob Feller–speedball of 1892, thrown from 55’6″ (the back-foot distance) would have arrived at the plate in 0.400 seconds. A modern pitcher throwing 95 mph from 60’6″ would reach the plate at 0.434 seconds. A modern pitcher throwing at 100 mph would reach home plate at 0.413 seconds. If Rusie threw routinely at 95 mph (as opposed to a peak mark like Aroldis Chapman’s 105) he was, from a batter’s viewpoint, the fastest ever, Q.E.D. (Yes, Chapman’s fastest-ever pitch arrived at the plate in 0.393 seconds, but that is a reliever’s apple to a starter’s orange.)
To such musing my friend Rod Nelson replied, “how long for the fastest fast-pitch softball to reach the plate?” This interested me because in men’s fast-pitch leagues the pitching distance is 46 feet, only one foot longer than baseball’s original pitching distance, first specified in 1857. Let’s say, I replied, that a pitcher could maintain a 95-mph pace, as above. (Eddie Feigner’s peak of 104 is an anomaly, like Chapman’s 105 above.) That 95 mph windmill pitch would arrive at the plate in 0.330 seconds (though the ball is bigger and theoretically easier to hit). Imagine Jim Creighton Of the Brooklyn Excelsiors of 1860 pitching, with a straight arm and no windup–let’s say for argument–an 80 mph fastball at the 45 foot distance (which was really a 50 foot distance from the back foot, and is thus calculated). His ball would have arrived at the plate in 0.426 seconds–faster to the plate than the modern pitcher at 95 mph.
This morning SABR announced the 2014 recipients of the Henry Chadwick Award, established “to honor the game’s great researchers—historians, statisticians, annalists, and archivists—for their invaluable contributions to making baseball the game that links America’s present with its past.” The five new Chaddie winners are Mark Armour, Marc Okkonen, Cory Schwartz, Ernie Lanigan, and John C. Tattersall, whose brief bio I wrote for the forthcoming Baseball Research Journal. As perhaps the least well known of the five (at least to those under the age of sixty), Tattersall deserves, in my opinion, something of a sneak preview. For snapshot profiles of all five honorees, see: http://sabr.org/latest/sabr-announces-2014-chadwick-award-recipients
John Tattersall (1910–1981) was a great authority on home runs and early baseball records. His scrapbooks of multiple box scores for nearly every game from 1876 to 1890 proved vital for three generations of baseball encyclopedia: Turkin-Thompson in 1951, ICI/Macmillan in 1969 (for which he was listed as “Consulting Editor”), and Total Baseball in 1989. Tattersall’s day-by-day records have been lost, but what has survived is a batting and fielding summary and a pitching summary for each club in each year.
Tattersall first gained national attention for his baseball research in 1953 when The Sporting News ran his story on the correction of Nap Lajoie’s 1901 batting average from .405 to .422. (In that same year he self-published The Home Run Parade, “a complete exposition of the home run production of all active major league baseball players.”) Lajoie had originally been credited with a .422 average, with 220 hits in 543 at bats. After a number of years, someone noticed that if you take these at bats and hits, the average comes out only to .405, so his average was changed. Turkin-Thompson gave Nap a mark of .409 in its first edition, in 1951. Later in the 1950s, Tattersall had his doubts and decided to go through his newspaper collection of box scores. He found 229 hits for Lajoie, not 220—the error had been in the figure for hits, not in the figure for batting average. Thus his average was restored to .422, which happened to be the highest in American League history. ICI/Macmillan research in this area came up with a .426 mark (232 for 544, based on newspaper accounts), which was his average as published in the 1969 Baseball Encyclopedia.
Tattersall also found disputed hits in Anson’s record for 1879; compiled pinch-hit, Hit by Pitcher, and Batters Facing Pitcher records where none had existed before, and established the home run log, which SABR purchased and maintains. The home run log was digitized and has been licensed for use by baseball-reference.com.
Tattersall was born in Holyoke, MA in 1910. He attended Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C., receiving a BS in 1933 and a Masters the next year.
His interest in baseball had been stimulated by visits to Ponce de Leon Park in Atlanta to see the Crackers play in 1922–23. He saw his first major league game in Boston on June 19, 1926, and remembered Pirate pitcher Vic Aldridge stealing the only base of his career. His interest in home runs developed from watching the Yankees and Babe Ruth, his particular favorite. He became fascinated by statistical research and stole time from his studies at Georgetown to do baseball research at the Library of Congress.
He went to work in the shipbuilding industry in 1935 in New York, later moving to Boston and then Philadelphia (with time out for work with the War Shipbuilding Administration in WWII). In Boston in 1941 he purchased from the Boston Transcript, which was going out of business, a large number of baseball scrapbooks and sports pages dating back to 1876 when the National League was founded with Boston as a charter member. He soon found himself in possession of a very large amount of material which, after years of cataloging and filing, gave him almost every box score in major league history.
After joining SABR in 1971, shortly after it was formed, Tattersall began organizing his home run material for publication. He supplied several interesting articles for the Baseball Research Journal and in 1975 published on his own Home Run Handbook, now scarce. The following year he published The First Season, a centennial reproduction by photocopy of all the box scores of the NL in its initial season of 1876. In 1977 he reconstructed the Early World Series, 1884-1890.
It was in 1977 that he retired as vice president of his shipbuilding company in Philadelphia and moved to Del Ray Beach, Florida. He passed away in Boca Raton on May 29, 1981.
Today many athletes earn far more from their endorsement deals than from their efforts on the playing field. As the table below demonstrates, Tiger Woods is the king of active player endorsements, last year raking in $65 million compared to his $13.1 million in prize money from golf tournaments. As a retired player, Michael Jordan is not counted, yet if former athletes were in the mix, Jordan would top everyone with his $80 million in royalties from his own brand. Yet for ratio of endorsement dollars to athletic ones, the king among sport’s top 100 earners is perhaps a surprise: Usain Bolt, who garnered only $200,000 on the track but $24 million off it. (Endorsement income is an estimate of product/service sponsorship deals, appearance fees, and licensing fees for the twelve months through June 2013, as tabulated by Forbes in its annual survey of the 100 highest-paid athletes.)
Many high-salaried athletes had negligible endorsement income (Floyd Mayweather, for example, earned $34 million in the ring and not a penny outside it). Among the 27 baseball players on the list, of prime interest to the readership here, no one gained more off the field than on it, and the highest earners via endorsements were Derek Jeter with $9 million and Ichiro Suzuki with $6 millon.
Athletes Who Earned More via Endorsement than Sport
Tiger Woods $65M to $13.1M
Roger Federer $45M to $7.7M
Phil Mickelson $44M to $4.7M
Lebron James $42M to $17.8M
David Beckham $42 M to $5.2M
Kobe Bryant $34M to $27.9M
Mahendra Singh Dhoni $28M to $3.5M
Usain Bolt $24M to $200K
Maria Sharapova $23M to $6M
Lionel Messi $21M to $20.3M
Derrick Rose $21M to $16.4M
Rafael Nadal $21M to $5.4M
Sachin Tendulkar $18M to $4M
Rory McIlroy $16M to $13.6M
Ernie Els $16M to $3.5M
Li Na $15M to $3.2M
Novak Djokovic $14 M to $12.9M
Dale Earnhardt $13M to $13M
Serena Williams $12M to $8.5M
You would not be wrong to think that athlete endorsements were few and far between until the pioneering efforts of Babe Ruth and his agent, Christy Walsh. But who was the first ballplayer to endorse a product and, presumably, be paid for the persuasive power of his celebrity? Authors Bernard Mullin, Stephen Hardy, and William Sutton suggest, in their 2007 book Sport Marketing: “According to Bert Sugar, the first recorded instance of a modern athlete’s leasing his name (to endorse a sports product) occurred on September 1, 1905, when Honus Wagner … of the Pittsburgh Pirates gave the J.F. Hillerich & Son Company permission to use his name on its Louisville Slugger bats for a consideration of $75.”
This is surely incorrect. A poster from 1874, featuring Hall of Famer George Wright of Boston promoting the Red Stockings Cigar, tops Honus with three decades to spare. A splendid lithograph from the firm of J.H. Bufford & Sons, the only example known to survive, has now emerged from a private collection to be placed at auction in the spring. That it is handsome you may judge; that it is important in the history of baseball and sport altogether—as the earliest tangible evidence in any sport of an athlete endorsing a commercial product—permit me to describe. There are three stories to tell here: that of the ballplayer, another of the lithographer, and the last about the cigar and its makers.
Before Babe Ruth rolled his own cigars or endorsed candy and tobacco products, before he became the baseball hero of the nation with 54 home runs in 1920, his first season with New York, there was another titan whose name was synonymous with the emerging national game: George Wright. Although he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame two years before that institution opened its doors to the public, George Wright is not a name that, like Ruth’s, shines as brightly as ever.
His stats are readily available for the years since the debut of the game’s first professional league in 1871, but he was already a legend by then. In the undefeated 1869 campaign of the Cincinnati Reds, in the 57 contests that came against National Association clubs, George Wright’s bat produced an average of five hits and ten total bases per game; he collected 49 home runs among his 304 hits and batted .629. To the argument that the opposition was frequently soft: In the club’s 19 games against fellow professionals (the Reds won all, of course), he hit 13 home runs and batted .587.
Selling his services to the highest bidder each year, he had played for the top club in the country in nearly every year since the end of the Civil War: the Unions of Morrisania; the Nationals of Washington, DC; the Cincinnati Red Stockings; the Boston Red Stockings; and the Providence Greys. Indeed, from 1866 through 1879 only three times was his club not the champion, and one of these years was 1871, when despite an outfield collision that limited him to half of his club’s scheduled games, he hit a resounding .413.
In the New York Evening Journal of 1911, four decades after Wright played his last game, Sam Crane declared, “There have been many great shortstops, but for all-round ability there has been none who ever played the position who has been able to force George Wright from the top-notch rung of the ladder of fame.” Crane, a second baseman who began his career in the National League as George was winding own his, wrote this at a time when Honus Wagner was at the height of his powers: “I have known them all and have seen them all play, but to George Wright I give the credit of being the best ever.”
He was so popular a figure in his Boston years that he became the first player to author (or, more probably, affix his name to) a book: Record of the Boston Base Ball Club, Since its Organization, With a Sketch of All its Players for 1871, ’72, ’73, and ’74, and Other Items of Interest. Rockwell and Churchill of Boston published the 52-page book in 1874, surely recognizing the value of attaching George Wright’s name. This was also the year in which George and his teammates, along with the Philadelphia Athletics, crossed the Atlantic to introduce America’s new game to England.
And 1874 was also the year when the fledgling firm of Nichols & Macdonald, Boston cigar makers, secured an image of George Wright for a 14– by 10–inch advertising poster. Produced for them by the venerable lithographer and job printer J.H. Bufford’s Sons of 490 Washington Street, it is a graphic and historic landmark. Wright’s image within the poster dates to 1871 or ’72, when Warren’s Photographic Studios of Boston issued it as a cabinet card. The address listed for Bufford in the city directory for 1875 is 666 Washington, so we may deduce the date of the poster as no later than 1874. The young cigar makers are not listed before 1874, so there we have the date of issuance with certainty.
The lithographic house of John Henry Bufford (1810–1870), and its successor entities run by his sons, went back to 1829, when he began as an apprentice of William S. Pendleton in Boston. He labored alongside Nathaniel Currier, who had started with Pendleton one year earlier. Bufford worked under his own name in New York from 1835 to about 1840, sometimes working under commission for George Endicott and for Currier (Currier and Ives would not form until 1852). He then returned to Boston where, from 1845, J.H. Bufford & Co. became a major lithographic establishment of the period. If Bufford is less highly regarded today than his contemporaries, it may be because where Currier early on tilted toward “framing prints,” Bufford continued as a multipurpose job printer who sometimes co-published works with other companies. Bufford ran the firm until his death in 1870, after which his sons—Frank Gale Bufford and John Henry Bufford, Jr.—took over operations, continuing until about 1910.
Starting as an apprentice, Bufford appreciated not only the practice of lithography but also the need to employ apprentices with artistic talents. Of these, none went on to greater fame than Winslow Homer, who trained with Bufford from 1855 to 1857. While with Bufford, he produced a group of undistinguished sheet music covers. In 1862, working on commission for Thomas & Eno, he produced his only image with baseball associations—a spectacular lithograph of “Union Pond, Williamsburgh, L.I.” This site became the Union Base Ball Grounds of Brooklyn, to which patrons were charged ten cents for their admission.
Testifying to the senior Bufford’s interest in sports are four magnificent lithographs produced under his aegis. The earliest is “The Eleven of New England: Cricket Match at Boston, September 18th, 1850.” Another is a beautifully detailed litho, with 250 recognizable portraits, of “The International Contest Between Heenan and Sayers at Farnborough, on the 17th, of April 1860.” A third is “Camp of the 37th Mass. Vol’s. near Brandy Station, Va.” with a detail showing soldiers playing wicket. And the last is well known to advanced baseball collectors: “The Base Ball Quadrille” of 1867, dedicated to the Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club of Boston—pioneers of the New York Game—and depicting its top player, Frank Prescott. After John H. Bufford’s death in 1870, his sons gave even more attention to sport—particularly baseball—by publishing trade cards, handheld-fan illustrations, and of course this momentous poster from 1874.
Messrs. Nichols and Macdonald were not the first to name a product for a baseball club—that distinction goes to Ohioan Fred Burrell, who manufactured a Red Stocking cigar in 1869 or ’70 to honor the unbeaten Cincinnati nine. A generic baseball player adorns the cigar-box label; its model may have been either Harry Wright or Charlie Gould, as they were the only two Red Stockings to sport a goatee. But the image is sufficiently indistinct to presume that neither was paid for the use of his likeness.
When the Cincinnati Red Stockings disbanded after the 1870 season, manager Harry Wright took the name and several key players— brother George, the aforementioned Gould, Dave Birdsall, and Cal McVey—and formed a club in Boston to compete in the new National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. Harry also brought the discarded nickname to Boston; the Red Stockings are today, in an unbroken line of descent, the Atlanta Braves.
David L. Nichols, as a career salesman and the older partner in the firm of Nichols and Macdonald, is probably the one who came up with the idea to create a Boston version of Burrell’s “Red Stockings Cigar” and to promote its sale through a highly recognizable George Wright. As Crane would recall in 1911, “he had a thick crop of dark curly hair, a small mustache and a dab on either cheek for a bluff at ‘siders’ … his prominent teeth would gleam and glisten in an array of white molars that would put our own Teddy Roosevelt and his famed dentistry establishment far in the shadow.”
Born in West Newbury, MA in 1836, Nichols fought in the Civil War with Company F of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry and with Company D & M of the 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. He was mustered out on September 3, 1865. Little more than two years later, on January 14, 1868, he married Mary M. Carter, daughter of Isaac Carter and Maria Manson Carter. Upon her husband’s death, Maria married again, in 1843, to Hugh Macdonald (also spelled as McDonald); in 1850 they produced Frederick William Macdonald. In short: David L. Nichols would join in cigar-making partnership with his brother-in-law, Frederick. So close were the two that they shared the same household in Cambridge, with Maria Macdonald, who had been widowed once more.
Nichols and Macdonald sold their Red Stocking cigar at 114 Broad Street in Boston in 1874 and 1875, but at some point in 1876 the firm failed. Nichols was reduced to becoming a seller of butter and cheese at Faneuil Hall Market. At 2 PM on October 9, 1878, wrote the Boston Journal of the following day, he took a room at the Carlton House, No. 5 Hanover Street,
stating that he wanted to sleep a couple of hours, and leaving orders to be called at 4 o’clock. An hour or so after he entered the room the report of a pistol shot was heard…. At 4 o’clock the occupant was found dead on the bed, with a bullet hole in his head. A new pistol was lying by his side on the bed, also a box of cartridges, one of the cartridges only having been removed. There were two or three letters in the room, left by deceased….
David L. Nichols’ widow continued to live in the Macdonald household until her death at age 78, in 1916. She was buried alongside her husband in West Newbury.
In 1884 Fred Macdonald, now married to Theresa A. Brown of Cambridge, reappears in the Boston city directory as a cigar manufacturer or seller at 15 Oliver. In that year a design patent taken out by Nichols and Macdonald in 1874 was transferred to Macdonald alone, though the Red Stocking (no longer plural) Cigar may actually have been revived in the previous year. (The Cambridge Chronicle reported September 15, 1883 that “Bailey’s Key West and Red Stocking Cigars are the best 10 cents cigar in town.”)
The Red Stocking brand’s identification with the national pastime was reinforced in 1886 by the issuance of sample cards that are among the greatest rarities in the hobby. Only three Red Stocking Cigar cards are known: Charlie Buffinton, John Morrill, and Hoss Radbourn.
For the rest of his life, Fred Macdonald was a success in the cigar-making line and so was his Red Stocking brand, by now a somewhat wistfully obsolete reference, as Boston’s National League ball club was no longer called by that name. A notice by Ren Mulford in the Cincinnati Post of May 18, 1905, testified that the brand was a nostalgic one: “The Red Stocking cigar is a Boston weed named for the Beaneaters.” The twentieth century label for the Red Stocking Cigar features the Bufford background of 1874 but replaces George Wright with an unidentified Boston NL player of the 1901–1905 period, given the lace front of the jersey; I think it’s Fred Tenney.
In 1889 another instance of player endorsement predating Honus Wagner was memorialized in a fine lithographic advertisement for E. and J. Burke’s ale and stout. According to Charles Zuber of the Cincinnati Times-Star:
There is only one case of record where ball players received a large remuneration for acting as models for an advertisement. Those players were Capt. Ewing and ‘Old Man’ Anson. It was before the Brotherhood War, when Ewing was in the very zenith of his glory. A certain ale manufacturing concern wanted a taking ad. for its goods and decided that a base ball picture was the best thing. So when the Chicagos came to New York this firm arranged for Ewing and Anson to sit in front of a tent on which the ad of the company was emblazoned. Barrels and cases of the product were placed in close proximity and Ewing and Anson, in their uniforms and each with a glass of ale poised graceful in his hands, were in the foreground. The ad made a big hit and Ewing and Anson received $300 and a case of ale each. It was quick and easy for them.
In 2008 this baseball advertising piece sold at auction for $188,000. What will the Red Stockings Cigar poster bring?
Circus clown Frank Oakley, born Frank Anderson but known as “Slivers,” was born in Sweden in 1871. His most famous act, the pantomime “Ball Game,” played on the baseball fan’s fantasy trope, “Kill the Umpire.” According to a Detroit writer of the day, quoted by John Pult in his fine essay “Chalk Face” [http://goo.gl/01k18z], Slivers, after setting up a diamond in the center ring of the big tent,” emerged as a catcher, with his ‘bird cage’ mask and heavily padded mitt. He popped his fist in the glove a few times and set up, crouching behind the plate. He feigned receiving a pitch, and then in the midst of the motion of tossing the horsehide back to his battery-mate he suddenly wheeled to argue the call with the imaginary ump, throwing off the mask, gesticulating wildly and jawing with his adversary. Later he took a turn at bat, and, after working the count full, ‘hit’ one in the gap, but was thrown out trying ‘to stretch a three-bagger into a home run.’ Another rhubarb with the umpire ensued. By all accounts, at this point the crowd watching Slivers was delirious. One circus memoir of the period references the need for extra medical personnel because so many in the audience were passing out from laughter. ‘The entire act was in pantomime,’ the writer states. ‘No one but Oakley was on the stage. But so realistic was every move and gesture, so convincing, that he never failed to carry the house.'”
For ball fans of a certain age, this recalls not only Max Patkin, Al Schacht, and Nick Altrock–who was termed “The ‘Slivers’ of the Diamond”–but also Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, film pantomimists who surely emulated Slivers as well. Barely ten years after his death, he was legendary. “Every Spring visit to the [Madison Square] Garden,” wrote George MacAdam in the New York Times in 1925, “brings back to me the memory of Slivers. To the generation of youngsters that now crowds the circus, Slivers isn’t even a name. But some dozen or so years ago he was the king of clowns. Never before, never since,, has the whirl ceased in all three rings while a clown ‘pulled his stunt'; Slivers had the huge arena to himself while he played his one-man game of baseball and thousands rocked with laughter.”
The passage below by Wyndham Martyn is from Pearson’s Magazine, July 1916, some three months after his suicide, also reported at length in the New York Times [http://goo.gl/vrlZ43]. It is an excerpt from his larger article, “Concerning Clowns.”
NONE among modern American clowns was so widely known or universally liked as Frank Oakley, better known to his public as “Slivers.” Less than three months ago he died by his own hand and the sorrow this deed created showed how deeply he had crept into the hearts of those who knew him.
Frank Oakley was born of English parents in Sweden and came here when a child. In 1898 he ran away from home. Boys of English stock when they forsake the parental dwelling either go to sea or follow the horse tents in the circuses. Slivers was attracted to the traveling show of John McMann where he became a groom. It was not long before Oscar Lowander, of a well-known circus family, discovered that Slivers had more talent than was needed by a horse masseur. In fact the boy was brimful of whimsicalities and promise. He jumped at the opportunity to be for a time the least of the troupe of clowns. He did not long remain the least among them. Probably no man in his profession ever made good in a shorter time. Fame and money were speedily his and older heads might have been turned by the reward his wit brought him. Not so with Slivers.Like Jules Turnour, he had a serious cast of countenance when not playing. He was very tall and slim—his nickname was gained from his build—and in ordinary life sparing of speech. Sometimes he fell into introspective moods and a certain habit of brooding melancholy. But these moods were never such as to make him anything but kindly to those about him. When his old friends came to see him for the last time as he lay in an undertaker’s room last March one of them pronounced a truth about him which could very well be called the most fitting epitaph. “He never made any one cry. He brought laughter to the hearts of a million people.”
Circus folk see a good deal of tragedy of which the public knows nothing. When an accident occurs the music must never stop, the clowns must keep on with their antics and the beautiful ladies on the prancing horses must keep on smiling and dancing. The public must never be permitted to feel other than light-hearted. Slivers had belonged to the “Big Top” long enough to have seen many such accidents. The miscalculation of a gymnast that meant broken limbs or death, the misstep of a rider that might mean a broken back, all these Slivers had seen and for all these he was prepared in so far as any man may be prepared for the death of those whom he likes and with whom he works. But he used to brood on these accidents and never weary talking of them.
A fellow clown, Dan Luby by name, met his death on the tan bark one night when he was doing his trick of jumping over four elephants. When his audience saw that he did not get up as usual they thought it merely another laugh-provoking stunt. And they shrieked with pleasure when the other clowns solemnly picked him up as though dead and carried him away. Slivers used to talk about this tragedy a great deal.”We picked him up,” he said, “and carried poor old Dan off, doing funny stuff every minute while the spectators roared with laughter. When we got Dan behind the scenes we cried over him. That’s two sides of a clown’s life all in a nutshell.”
Some few years ago his wife died, leaving him with a daughter named Verona, who is now in the care of a once famous bareback rider, Josie Dermott Robinson. It was thought by some that his death resulted from grief at his loss. But it was an even more pathetic thing than that.He became very much attached to a girl who is now serving a three-year sentence at Bedford Reformatory for the theft of the jewels that belonged to the dead Mrs. Oakley. To regain the gems that were to have come to his daughter when she grew up, he put the matter into the hands of the police. He was sorry almost directly be had done so but could not stay the prosecution. But he tried to procure her release, although in vain.
The girl went to serve her sentence and Slivers went back to his work and people watching him thought it was greater than ever. Yet all this time he was brooding over the imprisonment his charge had brought to the girl he realized he loved. A week before his death he went to Bedford. And there, before the superintendent of the institution and a friend, he asked her to marry him directly she was released.
The girl absolutely refused. She was impatient at the very suggestion. Then he broke down and cried so bitterly that she relented sufficiently to say she would think it over and let him know.
Slivers came back to New York rejoicing. Although the girl had been sentenced for a crime and deserved what punishment she received, he could not forgive himself for bringing the Bedford sentence upon her. He wanted her forgiveness and waited for it with terrible eagerness.
When the letter came it was from Mrs. Moore, the superintendent. And it was written not to him but to the friend he had taken to the institution. “I have had a long talk with her,” she wrote. “She has no interest in Slivers, neither has she a desire to marry him now or at any other time. I again advise you to disillusion him.”
So the man who used to be billed as “the college-bred king of grotesque fools,” the man who never made any one cry in his life, had about him when he lay dead a few blocks from Madison Square Garden where he had scored such great successes, a group of friends, not one of whom had dry eyes.
Today’s post is by guest columnist and old friend Bill Ryczek. He wrote Baseball’s First Inning: A History of the National Pastime through the Civil War (McFarland, 2009) which is part of an outstanding trilogy, alongside When Johnny Came Sliding Home and Blackguards and Red Stockings, covering baseball up to the early professional era. But Bill is not fixated on baseball’s olden days, or even on baseball. He has written books about the Yankees and Mets of the 1960s, as well the football Titans/Jets and the pre-merger AFL. Here he reflects on a singular day in baseball history which left home run hero Rocky Colavito with a pitching record of 1-0.
They played a lot more doubleheaders in the 1960s. There were two games most Sundays, and postponements created more twin bills late in the season. Playing fields of that era didn’t drain as well as current day facilities, and many more games were lost to rain. Owners didn’t mind scheduling two games in one day, for they often drew twice as many to a doubleheader as to a single game. While playing two games in a single day is now viewed as an almost unbearable endurance contest, for which reinforcements must be summoned from the minors, fifty years ago it was a weekly occurrence.
At the end of the summer, if there had been a rainy spring, a doubleheader was more than a weekly event. A rash of twin bills put a strain on pitching staffs, which generally numbered no more than ten, and fresh arms were not, as they are now, shuffled on and off the roster on a daily basis. Managers played the hands they were dealt. A couple of doubleheaders in a row created an “all hands on deck” situation under which starters relieved, relievers started, and starters who were knocked out in the first game of a twin bill might relieve in the second. And sometimes, in a dire emergency, a position player might be pressed into mound duty.
In a five-day period beginning Friday night, August 23, 1968, the Yankees were scheduled to play three doubleheaders, and a total of eight games, between Friday and Tuesday. The first three days of the sequence, against the league-leading Detroit Tigers, produced the most exciting weekend of Yankee baseball that summer.
The first leg of the marathon was a twi-night doubleheader on Friday evening. The opener was fairly uneventful, as the Yankees’ Stan Bahnsen beat the Tigers on a home run by Tom Tresh.
With no starter available, New York manager Ralph Houk turned to reliever Joe Verbanic to pitch the second game. Verbanic lasted five innings, and in the seventh, veteran forkballer Lindy McDaniel entered the game with the score tied, 3–3.
McDaniel had been a star reliever in the National League in the late 1950s and early 1960s before hurting his arm. For the first half of the 1968 season, he languished in the bullpen of the San Francisco Giants, pitching in just 12 games before a trade sent him to the Yankees in mid-July.
In New York, McDaniel re-discovered the magic of his early career. Prior to his appearance against the Tigers, he’d been in 14 games and posted 2 wins and 7 saves, after having just 11 saves during the past three and a half seasons. In his previous two outings, Lindy had retired nine men in a row. On this night, he set down 21 more in succession. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the Tigers’ John Hiller, who had entered the game in the eighth, was mowing down the Yankees with nearly the same degree of regularity.
The game went deep into overtime. Each inning, McDaniel set down three Tigers in a row. Unlike closers of today, who generally don’t pitch until the ninth inning, McDaniel was a closer who started early. He typically pitched two or three innings, and, as a former starter, could go longer if needed. After each perfect frame, McDaniel returned to the first base dugout, hoping the Yankees would get a run and end the game. They didn’t, and finally, in the 15th, Houk removed McDaniel for a pinch hitter. He had thrown just 59 pitches in seven innings of relief.
Dooley Womack took the mound in the 16th and was nearly as effective as McDaniel, pitching four scoreless innings, but still the Yankees could not score. At that time, American League rules decreed that no inning could start after 1:00 a.m., so when Andy Kosco popped to Tiger shortstop Ray Oyler at 1:07, the game was over. It went into the record books as a 19-inning tie that would have to be replayed in its entirety.
The makeup game was scheduled as the second game of a doubleheader on Sunday, and the Yankee ordeal became nine games in five days. The 19-inning game might as well have counted as two, so effectively the Yanks were playing 10 games in five days. That presented a problem for Houk, whose best relievers, McDaniel and Womack, had thrown 11 innings on the first night.
The Yankee manager prepared for the worst, and the worst was that a position player would have to take the mound and save the real pitchers for another day. Houk had two non-pitchers who he thought might be able to step up in an emergency. The first was backup shortstop Gene Michael, who had a strong arm and had pitched 16 games for Kinston of the Carolina League in 1963, plus a couple of games in the International League the following season. In 1966, after he batted just .152 for the Pirates, Michael was traded to the Dodgers, who sent him to the Fall Instructional League in an attempt to convert him back to pitching; the experiment failed. One of the reasons Michael was a shortstop was that he hadn’t pitched very well in the minors, posting an ERA of nearly 7.00 in ’63, but he might be able to struggle through a couple of innings in a pinch.
The other potential Yankee pitcher was outfielder Rocky Colavito, who had joined the team in mid-July after being released by the Dodgers. At one time, Colavito had been one of the top power hitters in the American League, but by 1968 he was at the end of his 14-year major league career.
For Colavito, joining the Yankees was the culmination of a dream. Rocky was a Bronx native who grew up watching Joe DiMaggio from Yankee Stadium’s center field bleachers and who had really wanted to play for the Bombers. When they offered him a bonus of just $3,000, however, and wanted him to be a pitcher, Colavito signed with the Indians, who offered $4,500 and the opportunity to play the outfield.
Throughout his career, there had been rumors that Colavito would be traded to the Yankees, but a deal was never consummated. He played in Yankee Stadium many times, of course, as a member of the Indians, Tigers, Athletics, and White Sox, and made headlines on numerous occasions. One of those instances occurred in 1961, when he raced in from right field and jumped into the stands behind third base to protect his father, who’d gotten into a fight with some Yankee fans. By the time Rocky arrived on the scene, the fracas had been brought under control by the stadium police, but it took four teammates, four policemen, three ushers and one umpire to keep the enraged Colavito away from the man who had attacked his father.
Colavito had always been known for his powerful throwing arm, and his rocket launches from the outfield were legendary. “If he short-hopped you,” said former Athletics catcher Doc Edwards, “all you could hope to do was stop it, because you weren’t going to catch it. It would come in like a ball on a billiard table, hitting your shin guards, then your chest and your lips.” Bill Bryan, another Kansas City backstop, said, “Rocky always liked to warm up with a catcher, because he liked to show his arm off.”
There is a vast difference, however, between throwing hard from the outfield and pitching to hitters during a game. “I’ve seen it happen so many times,” said Edwards, “a guy like him throwing from the flat ground, and then when they get out on the mound, they don’t throw as hard because they’re not used to it.”
In 1958, Indian manager Joe Gordon announced that he intended to use Colavito as a pitcher on occasion. He appeared only once, however, shutting out the Tigers and allowing no hits in three innings of relief.
On July 25, 1968, Houk had tested Colavito and Michael against Syracuse in an exhibition game. Colavito threw two hitless innings and Michael followed with two scoreless frames. Houk said he would use them in a regular season game if the right situation arose.
On Saturday, with only one game scheduled, the bullpen got a day of rest, as Mel Stottlemyre pitched a complete game and beat the Tigers, 2–1. The victory gave the Yankees 10 wins in 13 games and put them just two games below .500, the closest they had been to the breakeven point in nearly four months. After a last place finish in 1966 and ninth place in 1967, the old champions were stirring for the first time in several years. They were in sixth place, eighteen games out of first, but only six behind the third place Indians, and playing good ball.
On Sunday, veteran lefthander Steve Barber, who had been suffering from a sore elbow and the aftereffects of the flu, started the opening game of the doubleheader. He insisted he felt fine, but he didn’t look fine, struggling right from the start. The Tigers scored twice in the first inning and twice more in the third. During the Detroit uprising in the third, Colavito ran out to the right field bullpen to warm up. Barber managed to get out of the inning, however, and Rocky sat down. In the fourth, with one out, Barber walked the opposing pitcher, Pat Dobson, and Colavito started throwing once more. When two singles followed, the score was 5–0, and Houk went to the mound and signaled for Rocky.
When Colavito walked in from the bullpen, passing Andy Kosco in right field, the crowd of more than 30,000 roared. It looked like the Yankees were going to lose, but at least there would be some excitement at the Stadium. “I was wondering how hard he could really throw,” said Kosco, “and if the hitters could get around on him. It was a treat. It was very exciting.”
The first batter Colavito faced was his old teammate Al Kaline. His first pitch was a strike and the crowd roared again. The second pitch was a ball and they groaned. So it went, with the fans reacting on every pitch. Rocky got Kaline on a grounder to short and Willie Horton on a fly ball to retire the side. The crowd gave him a standing ovation as he walked to the dugout.
The fifth inning was a struggle. Colavito was wild, getting behind nearly every hitter. “It’s really tough when you haven’t been on the mound,” said catcher Jake Gibbs. “You don’t have pinpoint location. A regular pitcher sometimes has trouble with location, and a guy coming in from right field was really going to have trouble. I called mostly fastballs, because he had pretty good velocity. I’d call a fastball and put my glove in the middle of the plate. I wasn’t trying to hit any corners with him. I was hoping they’d pop up or ground out or something like that.”
Colavito didn’t take a windup; he just put his hands together, reared back and threw as hard as he could. “He had a good fastball,” said McDaniel, “and if you’re only going one or two innings, that’s all you need.” “My slider worked better in the bullpen,” Colavito said after the game, “than it did on the mound, but it was there.”
“Here I was a catcher,” Gibbs recalled, “and he was an outfielder. I thought I usually called a pretty good ballgame, but he ended up shaking me off a lot. I’d call for a fastball, and he wanted to throw a slider.” Despite two walks, Colavito got out of the fifth unscathed. In the bottom half of the inning, Bill Robinson singled in a run to make the score 5–1.
In the sixth, Colavito notched his first strikeout, getting shortstop Dick Tracewski on a called third strike. With two outs, Kaline doubled, the first major league hit off Rocky. The inning ended when Horton lined to Bobby Cox at third. Colavito had pitched two and two-thirds scoreless innings, but he had thrown 55 pitches on a 92-degree day and was getting tired, despite pitching on ten years’ rest.
In the bottom of the sixth, with two out and no one on base, Kosco hit a lazy fly ball to left field. Horton drifted to his left, but did not flip his sunglasses down. Suddenly, he lost the ball in the sun and shied away. The ball hit him on the shoulder and Kosco stood at second with a double. Tresh walked and Robinson followed with a three-run homer that made the score 5–4. Cox, the next batter, also hit the ball into the left field seats and the score was tied. Colavito walked, went to third on Horace Clarke’s single and scored on another hit by Gibbs, giving the Yankees a 6–5 lead.
With New York in front and Colavito out of gas, Houk brought in Womack to protect the lead. Dooley put the first two Tigers on base and fell behind Jim Price, three balls and one strike. Fate was with the Yankees on this day, however, and Price popped up an attempted bunt. Womack caught it on the fly and threw to Mickey Mantle at first for a double play. He got the third out and yielded to McDaniel in the eighth.
McDaniel retired the side in the eighth and got the first two batters in the ninth. The third batter, Don Wert, hit an easy ground ball to short. It looked as though the ball game would be over and Rocky Colavito would get his first major league win. Tresh bobbled the ball, however, and Wert reached first, bringing the dangerous Jim Northrup to the plate as a pinch hitter.
Northrup swung at McDaniel’s first pitch and grounded to Mantle, who stepped on the bag to end the ballgame. It had been quite a game, a script that Hollywood might have rejected as too improbable. Not only had Colavito been the winning pitcher; he had scored the deciding run. “That Houk had guts,” Yankee GM Lee MacPhail said after the game. For putting Colavito in, he was asked. “No,” MacPhail replied, “for taking him out.”
In the second game of the doubleheader, Colavito started in right field and hit a third inning home run off Mickey Lolich that tied the score at 3–3. Steve Hamilton came out of the bullpen to throw five shutout innings, and the Yankees went on to win 5–4, giving them 12 wins in 15 games and raising them up to the elusive .500 mark.
The following day, in the nightcap against the California Angels, Yankee starter Al Downing was hit hard, and was trailing 5–1 when he left for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning. Houk brought in Michael, his second secret weapon, who received the same enthusiastic reception that greeted Colavito the previous day. Michael pitched a scoreless seventh, but his luck ran out the following inning. An error and a flurry of base hits resulted in five unearned runs, and the Yankees lost 10–2. Still, Michael managed three strikeouts and fanned ex-Yankee Roger Repoz with the bases loaded. In two days, New York had gotten five and two thirds innings from an infielder and an outfielder, both of whom retired their toe plates with perfect 0.00 ERAs.
Colavito hit his 374th and final home run on September 24th. He wasn’t the player he’d been ten years earlier, but the Yankee fans loved him, cheering his every move. Kosco, who’d been the regular right fielder most of the year, found that the fans preferred Rocky. “Then, sometimes,” Kosco said, “I’d take Mantle’s place at first, and the fans would start yelling, ‘We want Mickey. We want Mickey.’ I was kind of between a rock and a hard place.”
The win over the Tigers was the last big moment of Colavito’s career, and he retired at the end of the season. He’d only been a Yankee for a couple of months, and he didn’t hit many home runs, but fans who were at the Stadium on August 25 would never forget the day Rocky pitched.
The 1880s trade card to the left came up on eBay this week. I placed a bid but do not hold out much hope of snagging it. More important, it cast light on an old mystery that I referenced fifteen years ago in Treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I wrote:
We have heard the stories all our lives, and we share them warmly with our children. But we come to the Baseball Hall of Fame to see, to see the instruments of glory, the stuff of legend, the tangible remains of departed heroes and forgotten fields. This is a museum like no other because it is about baseball, that singular American institution by which we mark our days. Not simply historical relics, these artifacts spur us to recall to life an image dormant in our brains for decades. They connect us not only to our own childhood and to our parents, but also to a national, collective past, one whose presence we sense but whose details have been lost.
Time stops in the Museum in the same way it does at a baseball game. At the museum it attaches itself to those things that make us halt in our tracks and reflect upon their essence and ours. Time doesn’t truly stop, of course; we do. We imagine that we bend time and somehow elude it through the pleasure of play and remembrance. (The Latin root of “elude” is ludere, to play.) Like Proust’s magical biscuit, the artifact recovers for us a lost bit of time. Look at Babe Ruth’s locker, forever open to display the Yankee uniform he last wore, and a shiver of unforeseen emotion comes over you.
This is the experience of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, an experience enriched by the stories embedded within the objects. But for many artifacts, it may have been so long since the tale was last told that hardly anyone remembers what it was. The descriptive lines that accompany each item on display at Cooperstown provide a key to its identity, but only rarely do they expand into a story. For that you had best be equipped with a lifelong experience of the game or, better yet, have an old-timer as your personal tour guide.
Which is where I come in, with a “memory” of King Kelly, whom I never saw play, as vivid as my recollection of Mickey Mantle, whom I did…. There was a time, in 1980 or so, when during one of my frequent research trips to the National Baseball Library I held in my hand an object that had a story to tell, but I was not yet wise enough to hear it. Looking back, I believe this incident provided the germ of the idea for this book.
At that time, long before its 1993 enlargement, the library was cramped for space and pressed for cataloging services. Some large boxes were filled with unrelated items of mixed provenance and scant documentation. In one such box, packed loosely among some truly notable curios (I recall Cy Young’s rookie contract from 1890 and Christy Mathewson’s from 1899) was a thin wooden stick, with irregular hand-hewn notches along part of its perhaps ten-inch length. With the unquestioning confidence that only comes with ignorance, I snorted at finding this insignificant piece of kindling, in a plastic bag without any indication that it had been cataloged as a gift to the Museum. “I know you’ll take anything here,” I laughingly announced to some library staffers, “but I thought at least it had to have something to do with baseball!”
All of us were puzzled by the stick, and none of us had an answer as to how it had entered into the collections or why it was being retained. I chalked this up to the early accessions policy of the Hall of Fame, which, like that of so many American museums and archives, was not overly discriminating. This endearing commitment, as baseball’s attic, to accept even the most humble offerings from fans everywhere is the magic that brings the multitudes to Cooperstown. I thought no more about the stick for the next five years, until I was reading through Henry Chadwick’s scrapbooks, on deposit at the New York Public Library … and then the stick became The Stick. There, in Volume 20, which was dominated by cricket stories, I came upon the following innocuous note:
Previous to 1746, the score was kept by notches on a short lath: hence the term notches for runs. The notching-knife gradually gave way to the pen, and the thin stick to a sheet of foolscap.
The fool’s cap should have been placed on my head. I had dismissed as inconsequential what was surely a scorer’s stick from a very early game of baseball, an artifact earlier than Doubleday or Cartwright, perhaps the most resonant of all items relating to the prehistory of the game as we know it.
I offer this story to illustrate the difficulty of hearing the stories the artifacts have to tell, particularly the ancient ones. Large objects like statues and trophies and paintings may wag comparatively small tales, while small items like pins and ribbons and newsprint may speak volumes. Generally, the more removed the object is from the event that inspired or employed it, the less interesting it is to the historian and the less rich its associations with other events in baseball and the world. What is most fascinating and what moves us most deeply is seldom the stuff that was created in order to be treasured by future generations, although commemorative pieces (like the gifts for Lou Gehrig on his farewell day, July 4, 1939) can be beautiful and meaningful, too. But in my view, the best artifacts are the ones that were meant to be tossed aside yet improbably survived….
To give an idea of how large a story one trinket may tell, and how rich in association it may prove, allow me to present a baseball pin no larger than a dime, along with a common nursery tale: “Three wise men of Gotham went to sea in a bowl,” went the Mother Goose rhyme; “if the bowl had been stronger, then my rhyme had been longer.” Mother Goose, or Songs for the Nursery, was first published in London in 1760, based upon English and French sources, including Charles Perrault’s Contes de ma mère l’oye (1697). Not a propitious beginning for a baseball story, is it? But look at the accompanying photograph, of a pin worn by members of the Gotham Base Ball Club of New York in the 1850s. Let’s track the story back even further, to 1460, when the “Foles of Gotham” were first mentioned in print, and a century later, when the absurd doings of the people of that village (seven miles from Nottingham, in England) were collected in a book, Merrie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham.
At that time the simplicity of the inhabitants was legendary. One absurdity attributed to them was the building of a thornbush round the cuckoo to secure eternal spring; another was an attempt to rid themselves of an eel by drowning it. But the archetypal tale of Gothamite behavior was when King John intended to establish a hunting lodge nearby. The villagers, fearful of the cost of supporting the court, feigned imbecility when the royal messengers arrived. Wherever the king’s men went, they saw the fools of Gotham engaged in some lunatic endeavor. When King John selected another spot for his lodge elsewhere, the “wise men” boasted, “We ween there are more fools pass through Gotham than remain in it.”
How did this tale come to resonate with the members of the Washington Base Ball Club, formed in 1850 as the second club after the Knickerbockers–or, as its members claimed, formed before the Knicks, in the 1830s–and two years later renamed after the proverbial wise fools? Gotham is understood today as Batman’s hometown, but it is also a common synonym for New York and has been so since our English cousins began to refer to those “fools” who sailed from the mother country (three men in a tub) to make their fortunes in New York as residents of the “New Gotham.” Washington Irving also applied the name of Gotham to New York in 1807, in some of his Salmagundi letters from Mustapha-Rub-a-Dub Keli Khan. (“Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub…”)
Proper businessmen scorned the young men who played baseball in the New York area around 1850 for acting like fools, trying to extend their youth beyond the time when men should give over childish things. So the Washington Base Ball Club, in a defiant stance against the British, cricket, and their elders’ puritanical attitudes toward play, renamed themselves the Gotham Base Ball Club and made up this little badge of honor for its members. This example, the only one known to survive, was issued to charter member Henry Mortimer Platt and was donated to the Hall in 1939 by his daughter.