This continues from yesterday’s post (below this one). Happily, a number of baseball films have been restored—and a case study of one such repair involves Headin’ Home.For years, this film existed in bits and pieces similar to the eight-minute excerpt found in the UCLA Film & Television Archive. A truncated, feature-length VHS tape with blurry visuals was available for purchase from Grapevine Video, a company that specializes in marketing public domain silent films. Meanwhile, Minnesota-based film archivists Ted Larson and Harold “Rusty” Casselton spent years piecing together, from a range of sources, a nearly complete 16mm print. This version, running 73 minutes, was screened at a number of venues, including New York’s Film Forum (on February 6, 1995, as part of the Bambino’s 100th birthday celebration); Cinefest (a festival of old films held each March in Syracuse, New York); and the Louisville Bat Museum, during the Society for American Baseball Research’s annual convention. The VHS tape shown at the SABR screening looked so pristine that some audience members assumed they were viewing a newly struck 16mm print.
Artistically speaking, Headin’ Home is not a silent screen classic on the order of King Vidor’s The Crowd, F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, or any number of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd comedies. But its historical value is unmistakable. For one thing, it offers a portrait of Ruth (whose on-screen character is known simply as “Babe”) at a time when his hardscrabble background and off-screen carousing was not yet public knowledge. Thus, he could be believably cast (as he is in Headin’ Home) as a clean-living, mother-loving, all-American boy who is the product of an idyllic small-town America. But there is another aspect to the film that resonates today. “I just remember thinking the first time I saw it that, when you think of Babe Ruth, you think of the image of a ballplayer who is older and heavier,” explained Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein. “But the film is a reminder that, when he [appeared in] it in 1920, he already was a national figure. He was young and thin, and he already was a superstar.”
The manner in which the Headin’ Home restoration came about is reflective of the manner in which “lost” films are found and refurbished. Casselton recalled that, in 1993, he
received a call from a friend in Arizona about a woman who had a nitrate feature in her front closet. She had inherited the film from her father, and he always told her that it was very special because it starred “Baby Ruth.” The Arizona print had no title and was brittle from age. The film was distributed on a states rights basis [meaning that it did not have national distribution; instead, regional distributors purchased licenses from its producer to screen the film], and this print had been edited to remove references of bootlegging and illegal drinking.
The film’s preservation was funded in conjunction with Goldstein and Collector’s Sportslook, a magazine. Once the monies were in place, Casselton and Larson rolled up their sleeves. Casselton continued:
I ended up tracking down a second nitrate print from a collector in Connecticut. The “Connecticut” print had an original main title and a total of nine other inserts that had been cut out of the “Arizona” print. It was, however, missing the last five minutes, and [there were] gaps throughout in the general continuity. I [was] aware of yet another source for material on the film. Many years ago, a company released in 16mm a very substantial print of the film. There certainly would be no use for that material except for the fact that it had one more scene that was still missing from the composite master. I tracked down the negative for that print, but the owner would not cooperate and make the scene available to be incorporated into the restoration print. The scene is near the end of the film, when Babe goes home to visit his sweetheart. The girl’s father now accepts Babe and they leave the room. At this point the print cuts and what is missing is a scene with Babe and the father in the basement with a still having a good old time. I guess this leaves the current print as a restoration project in progress. Someday, it will be completed.
Years later, in April 2006, a 35mm restoration of Headin’ Home—this one running 50 minutes—was screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as part of “Baseball and American Culture,” a 12-film series organized by Dr. Carl E. Prince, former chairman of the history department at New York University, and Charles Silver, a curator in MOMA’s Department of Film.This version was described in the New York Times as “a rare, freshly restored silent.” According to the New York Daily News, it was restored by Silver “to 35mm format from multiple reels. ‘Charles is a wizard,’ says Prince. ‘[The film] hasn’t been seen in over 80 years. It’s about home, mother and apple pie—it’s just wonderful.’”
Prince’s words are surprising … and misleading. It was as if the Grapevine Video version of Headin’ Home never existed—let alone the Larson-Casselton restoration.
Regarding the manner in which the print screened at the Museum of Modern Art came into being, Peter Williamson, MOMA’s preservation officer, reported that the Museum “copied a nitrate print of HH—it was in terrible shape, so it took much longer than usual to repair just so we could get it through the printer. I don’t know where the nitrate came from, but I suspect it is the source for all the various releases over the years.”
As for the length of the MOMA print, Williamson added,
Running time for a silent film depends on the projector. If it can only run at sound speed, the action might look too fast, but put it on a variable speed projector and slow it down so people move naturally, then the same length of film will take longer to project. An hour of sound speed film could run 75 minutes if you slow it down to 17 or 18 fps [frames per second]. Whatever the running time, we got five very full reels of film. Is it complete? Well, the AFI [American Film Institute] catalog says it could be five reels, or it could be six reels. One person thought there was a jump in continuity, so we could be missing a reel, but who knows?
One never can tell where or when a nitrate print of a vintage film may turn up. “A man came by here a few years ago with an original nitrate print of Babe Ruth in ‘Heading Home’ [sic],” recalled Janice Allen of Cinema Arts, Inc., a specialist in film restoration. (Allen also oversees John E. Allen, the motion picture stock footage library.) “We cleaned it and I think [I] looked at it with him on our scanner.” Allen reported that the print was sold “by an auction house in Chicago, it went for about $35,000 for five or six reels, not bad.”
Of the other early baseball features that exist, perhaps the most intriguing (beyond Headin’ Home) is One Touch of Nature—if only because it features John McGraw. For years, researchers could view a complete print of this title in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress. An 18-minute excerpt is on the Reel Baseball DVD, along with the Larson-Casselton Headin’ Home restoration, a 55-minute version of The Busher, and the previously mentioned short subjects and baseball film fragments. (One of the films that Jessica Rosner wished she could have included in Reel Baseball is a remake of The Pinch Hitter [1925, Associated Exhibitors]; but alas, this version, starring Glenn Hunter, is no longer in existence.)
If such films as Right Off the Bat, Somewhere in Georgia, and The Pinch Hitter remake remain “lost,” one-sheet posters, insert posters, lobby cards, stills, press materials, and other production items are extant—and often are found in auction catalogs and special collections in libraries and archives. One example: In August 2002, Hunt Auctions offered what it described as a “rare 1915 Mike Donlin ‘Right Off The Bat’ movie poster.” The 28-by-42-inch piece was a “color lithographic poster featuring Donlin standing alongside [a] woman under [a] tree with foliage in [the] background. Retains beautiful original color with only light original vertical and horizontal folds backed on linen. Titling at bottom includes mention of the other star of the film, John J. McGraww….” The estimated price for the poster was $3,500-$4,500. The sale price was $5,000.
Somewhere in Georgia was the first and only production of the Sunbeam Motion Picture Corporation, and was distributed on a states rights basis. In its June 2009 catalog, Lelands.com listed what it labeled “a never seen before item that will probably never [be] seen again.” Up for bidding was a lot consisting of two Sunbeam Motion Picture Corporation stock certificates (dated 1916 and 1917); a Sunbeam brochure; several letters, one of which described the selling of screening rights to the film in New England; and a set of eight double-sided 8-by-10 inch Somewhere in Georgia lobby cards. Seven featured Ty Cobb. Lelands offered the entire lot for a $10,000 reserve.
Also in 2009, Robert Edward Auctions put up for bidding a large (10.5-by-13.5-inch) publicity photo, taken in 1920, of Babe Ruth striking a batting pose on the Polo Grounds turf. The still is not related to Headin’ Home because the Bambino is in his Yankees uniform. But his face is covered in white pancake makeup, and the photo more than likely was taken in conjunction with Play Ball with Babe Ruth (1920, Universal), a short instructional film. As noted in the Robert Edward Auctions catalog, “We can only speculate, based on the size and unrivaled quality of the print, that this was produced for promotional theater display or as a special presentation piece for those involved with the film in some significant manner.” The starting bid was $2,500. The sale price: $8,813.
Occasionally, Headin’ Home-related memorabilia surfaces. On two occasions, in 2006 and 2009, Heritage Auction Galleries offered what it described as a “1920 Babe Ruth Signed Tex Rickard ‘Headin’ Home’ Card.” (Rickard then was famed as a boxing promoter and it was through him that Headin’ Home was booked into Madison Square Garden, where it made its world premiere.) On the front of the cigarette-sized card is a black-and-white photo of the Bambino gripping a bat. “BABE RUTH IN ‘HEADIN’ HOME” is printed in white near the bottom—and the card is autographed by the Sultan of Swat. The following is printed on the back: “Here he is BABE RUTH / Colossus of the swat / The home run king in a gripping base ball storm ‘HEADIN HOME’ / Sidney Lust’s LEADER THEATER / First showing in Washington. One week only / Starting Sunday, May 9 at 3 P.M.” In 2006, the card sold for $5,676.25. Three years later, it was re-auctioned. This time, the winning bid was $8,962.50.
In 2004, Heritage also auctioned two similar cards, albeit unsigned, featuring Ruth in different poses. However, these cards were from the New York premiere. The following is printed on the backs of each: “COMPLIMENTS OF TEX RICKARD PRESENTING THE FIRST SHOWING IN THE WORLD OF BABE RUTH IN ‘HEADIN’ HOME’ A DELIGHTFUL 6-ACT PHOTO PLAY AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN 8 DAYS STARTING SUNDAY EVENING, SEPT. 19TH” One sold for $1,075.50. The price of the other was $2,031.50.
The Babe Comes Home may be a missing film, but quite a few lobby cards, one-sheet posters, and insert posters have turned up across the years—and are worth top-dollar. Sometimes, such material is unearthed in the most unusual locations. For instance, two 14-by-36-inch movie poster inserts from the film were discovered in 2006 in the interior wall of a home that was being renovated. They featured an image of the Bambino at bat and head shots of Ruth and co-star Anna Q. Nilsson bursting out of a baseball. Both were offered for bidding respectively in 2006 and 2007 by Robert Edward Auctions. It was noted in the 2007 auction catalog that the posters “were among a significant group of 1920s movie posters which had been used as insulation in the walls of the home during its construction. What makes this discovery all the more significant is the fact that the existence of the insert was completely unknown.”
A smattering of materials related to the early one- and two-reelers also exist—and occasionally, their origins are cloaked in mystery. For example, in 2004, Robert Edward Auctions sold a set of five lobby cards from Spring Fever, a Honus Wagner short that the auction house reported as being released in 1919. Wagner appears in three of the five; on them, he is identified as “Hans Wagner.” “Filmgraphs” is cited as the film’s releasing company; however, it should be noted that the company name is an addition, a photographed overlay. The cards were part of the Hall of Famer’s estate and were put up for auction by his granddaughter, Leslie Blair Wagner.
To be sure, Spring Fever is a curio—and not just because it features Wagner in a rare screen appearance. As described in the auction catalog,
In Spring Fever Honus Wagner teaches a young boy the skill of batting. Incredibly, the young boy in the film was Moses Horowitz [sic], who later became very well known as Moe Howard, of the Three Stooges. The cast of Spring Fever also included Moe’s brother, Shemp Howard. Now really, we must pause for a moment, to contemplate the fact that the great Honus Wagner actually starred in a movie with two future members of the Three Stooges, long before this comedy team’s formal debut.
The opening bid for the set was $500. The sale price: $1,495. (Moe’s and Shemp’s birthname was in fact Horwitz, rather than Horowitz; meanwhile, Shemp later appeared opposite Dizzy and Paul Dean in Dizzy & Daffy [1934, Warner Bros.], a two-reel comedy in which he plays a half-blind hurler who quips, “The only Dean I ever heard of is Gunga.”)
The whereabouts of any existing print of Spring Fever, the actual year in which it was made, and the possibility that it originally was released under a different title remain unanswered questions—as is the breadth of Wagner’s screen career. Apparently, late in life—he passed away in 1975, at age 77—Moe Howard claimed to have appeared with Wagner in 12 short films. All supposedly were made in the early 1920s, a “fact” that is casually noted in a number of Three Stooges histories. “Besides stage work,” according to The Three Stooges Scrapbook, authored by Jeff and Greg Lenburg and Moe’s daughter, Joan Howard Maurer, “Moe also appeared in 12 two-reel shorts with baseball great Hans Wagner.” However, as noted on a post on the Three Stooges.net Forum, made by “BeAStooge” on November 4, 2005, “In the early ’90s at one of the Philadelphia [Three Stooges] Conventions, Joan Howard told me she did not know where the Lenburgs got that information; as co-author, it did not come from her, and she was not aware of anything in her father’s papers that may have sourced the information.” Then in The Three Stooges, Amalgamated Morons to American Icons: An Illustrated History, Michael Fleming reported that a “series of twelve two-reel silent sports comedies [were] filmed outside Pittsburgh. The result: it’s a good thing Wagner could hit a curveball. He won five batting titles for Pittsburgh but was not Oscar material. ‘I think,’ said Moe, ‘that perhaps they made banjo picks out of the [films].’” No detailed production information is cited in either book, and no record of their existence is found in the standard film history sources. (For the record, Wagner in fact copped eight batting crowns.)
The Wagner/Three Stooges connection remains an enigma to Three Stooges experts. “It has been written in the past that Moe and Shemp starred with Honus Wagner in the Spring Fever short and that Moe starred with him in 12 shorts,” explained Wil Huddleston of C3 Entertainment, which owns The Three Stooges brand and sponsors the team’s official website. “As to which ones, I am not sure. Unfortunately, I do not have any way of confirming this because we do not have those shorts available to us.”
Regarding Spring Fever, other sources—for example, the first edition of Total Baseball and Arthur D. Hittner’s Honus Wagner: The Life of Baseball’s “Flying Dutchman”—report that Wagner made the film in 1909 for the Vitagraph Studios. According to Total Baseball, “the movie showed Honus Wagner teaching a little boy the art of batting.” Hittner noted that the film “featured the famous ballplayer delivering batting tips to a young boy, played by Moses Horwitz.” Lending this credence is the fact that Horwitz/Howard was born in 1897; by 1919, he no longer was a “little” or “young” boy. Furthermore, the Vitagraph studio was located in Brooklyn—and the Horwitz brothers were born and raised in Brooklyn.
As listed in The American Film Institute Catalog, Film Beginnings, 1893-1910,Vitagraph released over 175 short films in 1909. None is titled Spring Fever, and most are long lost. So perhaps the Spring Fever lobby cards are connected to the film’s retitling for re-release. Adding to the confusion is another 1919 short with the same title, this one a Harold Lloyd comedy. But the existence of the lobby cards is proof positive that Wagner did appear in a movie that at one time was marketed under the title Spring Fever.
If the Spring Fever lobby cards and other original artworks are too pricey for those wishing to collect baseball film memorabilia, inexpensive reproductions (particularly of lobby cards and posters) are available from a range of venues. An additional source for vintage images is the display advertising found in newspaper archives. For instance, a nifty line drawing of a very recognizable Babe Ruth adorns an advertisement for the Madison Square Garden premiere of Headin’ Home that appeared in the New York Times on September 19, 1920. In the ad, the film is hyped as “A Delightful Photoplay of Youth and Happiness.”
Such ads do not just appear in “big city” papers. A head-to-toe shot of Charles Ray, garbed in a baseball uniform, dominates the display ads for The Busher printed in the Sandusky (Ohio) Star Journal and Sandusky Register in late August and early September, 1919. A non-baseball-oriented ad featuring a headshot of Ray, toplining The Pinch Hitter, appears in the June 27, 1920 Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal-Gazette; at this juncture, Ray was a major film star, and such an image was deemed sufficient to attract ticketbuyers. Simple, no-frills ads for Right Off the Bat, Somewhere in Georgia, and One Touch of Nature respectively appear in theJanuary 22, 1916 issue of the Janesville (Wisconsin) Daily Gazette, the September 16, 1917 Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun, and the January 2, 1918 Freeport (Illinois) Journal-Standard. Similar ads for The Busher appear in the June 29, 1919 Lowell Sun and August 27, 1920 Charleston (Virginia) Daily Mail.
While such visuals may fascinate collectors, fans, and historians, the question remains: Will material from Right Off the Bat, Somewhere in Georgia, The Babe Comes Home, and the missing shorter films ever be unearthed? One never can tell.
For one thing, prints or even negatives may be languishing in foreign film archives. In 2008, a cache of eight American newsreels, trailers, promotional films, and documentaries was uncovered in Australia’s National Film and Sound Archives. One was Screen Snapshots (1925, Columbia), one in a series of documentary short subjects produced between 1924 and 1958, in which film stars are pictured playing baseball. The following year, while vacationing in New Zealand, Brian Meacham, a film preservationist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, visited the country’s film archive and inadvertently came upon dozens of long-lost U.S.-made features, short films, and trailers dating from 1898 to the 1920s. The highlights included Upstream, a 1927 feature directed by John Ford; Maytime, a 1923 Clara Bow drama; and the earliest surviving film directed by and starring Mabel Normand. The films, some of them shrunken or in varying degrees of decay, are set to be preserved and eventually screened.
Not surprisingly, Babe Ruth was one of the most frequently photographed sports heroes of his era. Moving images of the Bambino on the ballfield, waving his bat as he waits for a pitch and then smashing dingers and waddling around the bases abound in Ken Burns’ Baseball. So are shots of him chopping wood, kibitzing with kids, playing with his young daughter and some puppies, and standing on a window ledge while autographing baseballs and tossing them to the masses below. There even is footage of a pre-1920 Ruth, in his pre-New York days. One of the most endearing (culled from John E. Allen) dates from 1919 and features the Babe, in a Red Sox uniform, playfully emerging from behind a door and joking with a woman.
But not all Babe Ruth footage has been found and archived; far from it. One of the more impressive recent discoveries came in 2011, when it was announced that eight reels of 16mm film had been unearthed in an Illinois cellar. The footage included three-and-a-half minutes of the Bambino and Lou Gehrig, reportedly taken with a home movie camera in Sioux City, Iowa, on October 18, 1927, during a barnstorming tour. The New York Times reported that this discovery “might be unlike any other, showing Ruth in his prime and shot from close range, sitting atop a pony while wearing a child’s cowboy hat and muttering into a home movie camera, as a boyish Lou Gehrig, who never had children and was known for his dignified demeanor, held children and framed his smile with big dimples.” An unnamed antiques dealer bought the lot in an estate sale. He, in turn, sold the reels to R.C. Raycraft, an Illinois antiques dealer and producer of law enforcement videos.
Another recent Babe Ruth discovery consists of eight seconds of the Bambino patrolling right field in the House That Ruth Built, along with additional seconds in which he expresses his opinion to an umpire after striking out and summarily heads away from home plate, with Lou Gehrig on deck. This footage, which reportedly dates from 1928, also includes views of the ball yard. It was taken from the first
-base stands in Yankee Stadium and was discovered in a home movie collection in New Hampshire. The outfield footage reportedly is the only one of its kind. No known footage exists of Ruth tossing pitches in a Boston Red Sox uniform.
Additional recent finds include what reportedly is a 1924 instructional film featuring Ruth, Walter Johnson, and Ty Cobb and a kinescope of the television broadcast of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series pitting the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates (which ended with Bill Mazeroski’s legendary game-winning dinger). The latter was discovered in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar.
Despite the unearthing of these gems, what remains lost is unimaginable and incalculable. Granted, one easily can compile a list of all early baseball-related films and newsreels and determine which are missing. But it would not be possible to verify all the baseball-related footage, taken by amateur cinematographers, of everything from major and minor league teams and games to regional semi-pro nines to youngsters pitching and catching in schoolyards.
That being said, other similar discoveries invariably will be made in the future. One never knows if—or when— fragments or complete prints of Right Off the Bat or Somewhere in Georgia might be discovered resting unobtrusively in a corner in an archive in Europe, South America, or Australia, or covered in decades’ worth of nitrate dust in grandma’s attic.
Audrey Kupferberg; John Thorn; Janice Allen of Cinema Arts, Inc. and John E. Allen; Tim Wiles of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum; Peter Williamson and Charles Silver of the Museum of Modern Art; Bruce Goldstein of Film Forum; John Scheinfeld; Jessica Rosner; the late Harold “Rusty” Casselton; Wil Huddleston of C3 Entertainment.
Once again I am pleased to give Our Game over to one of my friends and esteemed colleagues, Rob Edelman. In two parts, this accomplished film historian will share with the readers of Our Game a splendid essay he contributed to the Fall 2011 edition of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game. Edelman is the author of Great Baseball Films and Baseball on the Web. His film/television-related books include Meet the Mertzes, a double-biography of I Love Lucy’s Vivian Vance and fabled baseball fan William Frawley, and Matthau: A Life—both co-authored with his wife, Audrey Kupferberg. He is a film commentator on WAMC (Northeast) Public Radio and a Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide. His byline has appeared in Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond, Total Baseball, The Total Baseball Catalog, Baseball in the Classroom: Teaching America’s National Pastime, The Political Companion to American Film, and dozens of other books. He authored an essay on early baseball films for the DVD Reel Baseball: Baseball Films from the Silent Era, 1899-1926, and has been a juror at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s annual film festival. He is a lecturer at the University at Albany, where he teaches courses in film history.
Lost (and Found) Baseball
A gloomy fact of film history is that more than half the movies made during the silent film era (pre-1927) are lost—vanished into the mists with the passing generations.
One of the culprits is the evolution of film technology. For decades, prints and master materials of films were generated on nitrocellulose film stock, which deteriorates over time. Across the years, archivists have recovered “lost” films in rotting film cans that were hidden away under piles of boxes in grandma’s attic or deep in the bowels of motion picture studio storage facilities. When a can was pried open—if it could be pried open—all that remained was its contents in various stages of corrosion. The chemically deteriorating celluloid may have become sticky, or even solidified into a mass, or was coated in varying amounts of nitrate dust. Some images still could be seen and identified while those on other frames simply had dissolved.
Beyond the issues relating to the longevity of film stock, another practical reality of motion pictures comes into play here. One can view a film as a reflection of history or a mirror of the era and culture that produced it. One also can view a film as a work of art. However, an unavoidable fact of the film industry is that a moving image (whether it was made by a major Hollywood studio, a poverty-row studio, an independent outfit, or a producer of newsreels) is a product, no different from an automobile churned out in Detroit or a keg of beer from Milwaukee. Unless they are home movies shot by amateur camerapersons or non-narrative films, moving images are made strictly for commercial purposes, to be marketed to the public with the expectation that they will turn a profit. Furthermore, in the pre-television/pre-VHS/pre-DVD era, a film that had completed its theatrical play was the equivalent of yesterday’s newspaper. Simply put, it was old news. Beyond the reissue of a popular hit, there were no existing venues in which films could be repackaged and resold. So they often were discarded—tossed into a dumpster along with last night’s stale fish and rotting vegetables.
Some enterprising souls—for example, the powers who worked for Walt Disney—realized that, even theatrically, a film did not have to be the equivalent of a Gone with the Wind to be recycled every few years and marketed to new audiences. This was logical, particularly with regard to the children’s films produced by Disney. Every few years, a fresh generation of kids was ripe for introduction to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Snow White. As a result, before it became stylish (not to mention profitable), Disney took extra-special care to preserve its product.
That studio was not the first to grasp the concept of remarketing its product. In 1925, Eastman Kodak established the Kodascope Library, which rented 16mm versions of popular films to institutions and private collectors for noncommercial screenings. Kodascope features generally were edited down to between four and five reels (with one full reel lasting approximately eleven minutes) and were sepia or amber-tinted, while short films usually were unedited. While in business, the Kodascope Library marketed more than 700 films. Many exist to this day, and are coveted by film collectors.
To be sure, a handful of baseball-related feature-length films were produced before 1920. Those that are considered “lost” include Right Off the Bat (1915, Arrow), starring Mike Donlin; Somewhere in Georgia (1916, Sunbeam), featuring Ty Cobb; and Casey at the Bat (1916, Triangle), with DeWolf Hopper—not to be confused with a 1922 DeForest Phonofilm which utilizes the sound-on-film technology developed by Theodore Case and features a hammy Hopper reciting the poem that earned him immortality. Of the early non-baseball films in which ballplayer-turned-actor Donlin appeared, prints exist only for Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1917, States Rights); copies of Jack Spurlock, Prodigal (1918, Fox), Brave and Bold (1918, Fox), and The Unchastened Woman (1918, Rialto De Luxe-George Kleine System) all have vanished.
Other missing features peripherally deal with ballplayers and ballgames. The titles listed under the headings “Baseball” and “Baseball players” in the subject index of The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1911-1920 are: The Grandee’s Ring (1915, Interstate); Little Sunset (1915, Bosworth-Paramount), which, at four reels, straddles the line between short and feature and includes in its cast “members of the Pacific Coast League’s Venice team”; The Stolen Voice (1915, William A. Brady); The Varmint (1917, Morosco-Paramount); The Final Close-Up (1919, Famous Players-Lasky); Better Times (1919, Brentwood); The Greater Victory (1919, B.P.O.E.-Arrow); and Muggsy (1919, Triangle). Feature-length documentaries whose status is classified as “unknown” include The Giants-White Sox World Tour (1914, Eclectic Film Co.), a six-reel record of the New York Giants-Chicago White Sox 1913-1914 trip around the world, which includes moving images of John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, Charles Comiskey, Germany Schaefer, Hans Lobert, and others; and The Baseball Revue of 1917 (1917, States Rights), five reels in length, which features footage of a couple dozen ballplayers from Grover Cleveland Alexander and Home Run Baker to Ed Walsh, Smoky Joe Wood, and Heinie Zimmerman.
Meanwhile, prints of varying lengths and quality exist for such baseball features as The Pinch Hitter (1917, Triangle) and The Busher (1919, Famous Players-Lasky), both starring Charles Ray; One Touch of Nature (1917, Edison), featuring John Drew Bennett and John McGraw; and Headin’ Home (1920, Yankee Photo Corp./States Rights), Babe Ruth’s first non-fiction film. (Of all the “lost” silent-era features, perhaps the most coveted is The Babe Comes Home [1927, First National], also starring the Bambino.) The Pinch Hitter is one of the few baseball titles marketed by the Kodascope Library. But it is an abridged version. According to the aforementioned American Film Institute Catalog, the film runs 4,768 feet. In the third edition of the Descriptive Catalogue of Kodascope Library Motion Pictures, published in 1928, the film is listed as being “3960 feet standard length—on 4 reels.”
Of the one- and two-reelers produced prior to 1920 that are labeled as “missing,” some of the more fascinating feature big-name big leaguers. Such a list begins with two films starring Rube Waddell: Rube Waddell and the Champions Playing Ball with the Boston Team (1902, Lubin) and Game of Base Ball (1903, Lubin). Other titles include Hal Chase’s Home Run (1911, Kalem); The Baseball Bug (1911, Thanhouser), featuring Chief Bender, Jack Coombs, Cy Morgan, and Rube Oldring; Baseball’s Peerless Leader (1913, Pathé), with Frank Chance; Breaking Into the Big League (1913, Kalem), featuring Christy Mathewson and John McGraw; The Universal Boy (1914, Independent Motion Picture Company), also with McGraw; and Home Run Baker’s Double (1914, Kalem). One unusual title is Baseball: An Analysis of Motion (1919, Educational), described on the Silent Era website as “a slow-motion study of baseball players.” The titles of quite a few others begin with the word “baseball”: The Baseball Fan (1908, Essanay); Baseball, That’s All! (1910, Méliès); The Baseball Star from Bingville (1911, Essanay); Baseball and Bloomers (1911, Thanhouser); The Baseball Umpire (1913, Majestic); Baseball, A Grand Old Game (1914, Biograph); Baseball and Trouble (1914, Lubin); The Baseball Fans of Fanville (1914, Universal); and Baseball at Mudville (1917, Selig Polyscope). The status of all the films in the Universal-produced “Baseball Bill” comedy series remains unknown; the films starred Billy Mason and first were released in 1916. Other missing titles include everything from Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1910, Essanay); Slide, Kelly, Slide (1910, Essanay); and Spit-Ball Sadie (1915, Pathé), also known as Lonesome Luke Becomes a Pitcher; to The Fable of the Kid Who Shifted His Ideals to Golf and Finally Became a Baseball Fan and Took the Only Known Cure (1916, Essanay).
Savvy baseball historians may list their most sought-after “lost” films—or, for that matter, images that likely never even were recorded. One is Tim Wiles, Director of Research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, co
-author of Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and die -hard Chicago Cubs fan. While researching his book, Wiles learned of the existence of the 1910 Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which was made by G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, one of the movies’ first cowboy heroes, and tells of a baseball nut who manages to forget his wife at the ballpark. According to Wiles,
While the film does not survive, there was a review of it in one of the early film publications—Moving Picture World. We ran the review as an illustration [in] the book. Also … we report that Anderson filmed part of a 1908 White Sox-Highlanders game at Chicago’s South Side park. Would love to see that, but beyond that, according to David Kiehn’s book on Broncho Billy, Anderson also signed a contract, presumably with the NL and AL, to film the World Series for 1908, ’09, and ’10. How would you like to watch the Cubs’ last World Series in 1908, Cobb’s Tigers, Wagner’s Pirates, and Connie Mack’s A’s play in the World Series? I sure would. To my knowledge, none of that footage survives.
Meanwhile, a relatively small number of pre-1920 baseball shorts and film oddities are known to exist—some in their entirety, others in fragments. Included here are one- and two-reelers and footage shot for early newsreels or by individuals with home movie cameras. The vast majority of the baseball footage housed in the UCLA Film & Television Archive is post-1920—and post-silent film era. Early moving images in this collection include shots of “Mr. and Mrs. Babe Ruth handing out shoes to children,” found on a 20-minute Hearst newsreel dated 1919-1920, and two minutes and 25 seconds of “unedited silent newsreel footage” from 1921 featuring the Bambino, Miller Huggins, Tris Speaker, and others. (UCLA also is home to an eight-minute excerpt from Headin’ Home, with picture quality that is described as “fuzzy and jumpy,” and two reels of Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman.)
A small number of baseball-related shorts—including His Last Game (1909, Independent Motion Picture Company) and Homerun Hawkins (circa 1920)—are listed in the Catalog of Holdings: The American Film Institute Collection and the United Artists Collection at The Library of Congress. One of the clips found in the “American Memory” section of the Library’s website is the earliest known baseball footage: The Ball Game (1898, Edison), which runs scant seconds and consists of an amateur team from Newark, New Jersey, battling a rival nine. One of the more intriguing extant baseball-related films is The Selig-Tribune, No. 21 (1916, Selig Polyscope), a one-reel newsreel that includes footage of members of the Chicago Cubs. Meanwhile, Casey at the Bat (1899, Edison)—also known as Casey at the Bat or The Fate of a “Rotten” Umpire—along with How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game (1906, Edison); His Last Game; The Ball Player and the Bandit (1912, Broncho); Hearts and Diamonds (1914, Vitagraph); and an undated one-minute “Kinogram” featuring Babe Ruth are among the baseball shorts selected by film historian Jessica Rosner and included in Reel Baseball: Baseball Films from the Silent Era, 1899-1926, a DVD released by Kino International in 2007.
A representative sample of existing early baseball footage may be found in Baseball (1994), Ken Burns’ high-profile documentary. The section that covers 1900-1910 includes snippets of everything from small-town nines and bloomer-clad girls playing ball in fields and young boys doing the same on urban streets to major events and personalities. Unsurprisingly, the Baseball segment spotlighting 1910-1920 includes even more footage: male and female factory workers manufacturing baseballs and sewing gloves; players exercising, warming up, and batting; masses of fans populating stands and walking across ballfields; and athletes in baseball jerseys mingling with men in military uniforms during World War I. The Philadelphia Athletics are seen taking batting practice and there is the façade of the newly opened Comiskey Park as well as footage of some of the era’s top names: Grover Cleveland Alexander; Ban Johnson; Connie Mack’s famed $100,000 Infield (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, Home Run Baker); and Ty Cobb warming up, at bat, sliding—and on horseback. The 1919 Black Sox scandal is well represented, with a bit of in-game World Series footage and shots of players warming up, fans in the stands, and images of some of its key figures (Eddie Cicotte, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, Kenesaw Mountain Landis).
In the closing credits of each section of Baseball, “newsreel sources” are cited. They range from the Library of Congress, the Oregon Historical Society, the University of South Carolina News Film Library, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive to commercial and other private sources such as John E. Allen and Streamline Archives. The small amount of extant pre-1920 footage is further underscored upon perusing the Allen web site. Of the 458 records found under “baseball” on the site’s search engine, a handful are dated 1920 or earlier. They include 56 seconds of footage of the 1913 opening of Ebbets Field; several seconds’ worth of a couple of small-town ball
Quite a bit of this footage may be found in Baseball. Nevertheless, the majority of images from this era included in the documentary are still photos. For example, the 1912 World Series, pitting the New York Giants against the Boston Red Sox, is recalled in detail via words and stills. But there are no moving images. Such also is the case with the 1916 World Series between the Bosox and Brooklyn Superbas.
Early extant baseball footage also may be found in other films. One example is We Believe (2009, No Small Plans Productions), a Chicago Cubs documentary. According to John Scheinfeld, the film’s director,
When making We Believe, we found two sequences of actual game footage shot in 1909 involving the Chicago Cubs. The first, running approximately two minutes, was shot in Pittsburgh with the Cubs in town to take on the Pirates. The second, longer sequence, running approximately four minutes, was shot at the West Side Grounds on September 16, 1909. Cubs vs. New York Giants. It was the day President Taft visited Chicago and he and his entourage are seen in the stands. Then the camera cuts to another angle from behind home plate facing the first base line. There are several pans of the Chicago Tribune marquee on the outfield walls. Then, most interestingly, the camera was moved on top of the grandstand, shooting down at the home plate-to-first base-line. We found the footage … the Library of Congress. Actually, it was a bit of a happy accident as we were looking for one thing and came across this footage spliced at the end of a reel of raw film. I don’t know anything about the Pittsburgh footage, but we learned that a local Chicago film studio shot much of President Taft’s visit to the city, including his going to the ballpark…. It’s pretty spectacular and we felt fortunate to have found it.
Part 2 appears in this space tomorrow.
Continuing yesterday’s lexicographic musings, I offer this, located moments ago on page 13 of the Trenton Evening Times of November 13, 1915. For students of the old ball game, or old ballgame, this subject has been one of enduring vexation. The author is, yet again, Old Anon.
Is it baseball? No. Clarence, this is not foolish question NO. 2,473. It is asked in all seriousness, and the question affords opportunity for much controversy in the councils of the Hot Stove League.
So far as the great majority of those able and brilliant men who write baseball dope for the daily press are concerned, the issue was decided long ago. Baseball is baseball. If there is a sporting writer on a daily paper in the United States or Canada who holds that baseball isn’t baseball, the writer isn’t aware of his identity.
Most of the up-to-date dictionaries of the American language uphold the contention of the baseball writers that baseball is baseball. Backed up by such good authority as this, the matter should be considered as setttled, perhaps. But it isn’t. A small but influential minority continue to adhere to the old notion that baseball isn’t baseball at all, but base ball. That is, that it is not one word, but two.
Of the publications devoted largely or exclusively to the great American pastime, Sporting News of St. Louis and the Baseball Magazine refer to the game as baseball. On the contrary, Sporting Life of Philadelphia, one of the recognized journalistic authorities on baseball, never makes use of the compound word. If by any chance some ignorant compositor should call it “baseball,” and the Sporting Life proofreader permitted it to get by, we fancy there would be a great commotion in the editorial office of our valued Quaker City contemporary.
Nor is Sporting Life alone in standing pat on the old form. Most of the leading baseball annuals, including Spalding’s and Reach’s, make two words of base ball. They seem determined to stick to their guns in spite of Ellen Highwater [in our less squeamish age, this odd individual would be rendered as "hell and high water"--jt] and with them it will probably be “base ball” until the end of time.
In the early days of the game “base ball” was universal. After a time, as the game increased in popularity, many publications adopted the hyphenated form, and it became “base-ball.” At a still later period along in the ’80s, as nearly as can be discovered—the newspapers began to drop the hyphen, and “baseball” came into use.
With all regard for those publications which adhere to the old form, the writer can see no valid reason for its continuation, common useage [sic] has set the stamp of approval upon the simple form of ”baseball” unhyphenated, one and indivisible.
While looking for something else–ain’t that always the way?–I came across this highly amusing (to me, anyway) article in the Philadelphia Inquirer of February 4, 1906. Its author is that most prolific of scribes, Old Anon, although there are clues that it might be Joe Vila. It seems I am drifting into an imitative antique style … so here is the genuine article. I vow to read some prose by Joe Campbell (“the Chaucer of Base Ball”), extolled below.
Base ball is one of the livest languages in the world to-day. Compared to it golf, horse racing, circus and railroad are expressionless, and the only one of the undictionaried languages that approaches it in richness of expression, in terseness, and point, is scat, which, however, is more limited.
The men who write and talk base ball stop at nothing. They follow Prof. Brander Matthews’ theory that the best language is that which conveys the meaning most clearly, and they adapt from English, French, German, Chinese, and other languages, and when these fail to fit the occasion they invent a word. Every one who knows base ball knows exactly what they mean—no matter what they say or write, and regardless of the fact that N. Webster might scratch his head a week trying to think what they meant.
The foundations of base ball language were laid by Charles Seymour, of Chicago, and since then such well known persons as Tacky Tom Parrott, Pietro Gladiator Browning, Chicken Wolf, Dad Clarke among the ball players, and O. P. Caylor, Ren Mulford, Len Washburn, and the lamented Joe Campbell have added richness to the vocabulary. Even the “Jones flew, Smith biffed, Brown skied” school of afternoon literateurs occasionally have added something to the language of the game by coining an apt word.
Once upon a time there was one of those gems of purest ray serene, hidden down in the deep, dark caves of ocean—or to be less poetic, at Quincy, Ill., who made language while you waited. I remember an extract from his classic report of a base ball game between Quincy and Omaha, which read something like this, writes Hugh S. Fullerton.
“The glass armed toy soldiers who represent the Gem City in the reckless rush for the base ball pennant were fed to the pigs yesterday by the cadaverous Indian grave robbers from Omaha. They stood around with gaping eyes like a hen on a hot nail, while the basilisk eyed cattle drivers from the west ran bases till their tongues were long with thirst. Hickey had more errors than ‘Coin’s Financial School.’ The Omahogs were bad enough—but the home team couldn’t have fallen out of a boat and hit the water.”
Joe Campbell, of Washington, really was the Shakespeare of base ball. He wrote classic, and probably was the best story writer of the “Jem Mace told the writer” school that ever happened. He would have said “Rameses II told the writer” if old Ram had been in the sporting game.
Campbell really was a wonder. He was one of the cleverest dramatic critics in the country, a Shakespearean scholar, and perhaps the most intimate friend Sir Henry Irving had in America, a deep student of stage history, a Hebrew and Sanskrit scholar, besides writing the base ball of the century.
One evening Campbell and I were sitting in his office in Washington, and he was bemoaning because (so he said) the editors of his paper would not permit him to write slang.
“They hold me down to straight away English,” he lamented. “If I try to be a bit picturesque, there is a kick.”
Without speaking I reached over and pulled the paper out of his typewriter. The last sentence he had written read this way:
“And Amie Rusie made a Svengali pass in front of Charley Reilly’s lamps, and he carved three nicks in the weather.”
Among the players who have helped make the language of the game Tacks Parrott stands in the front. Tacks got so that he couldn’t talk anything but base ball, and, if he strayed away from a crowd of fans and wandered into districts where base ball was merely incidental, he was lost until he could find an interpreter.
Homer Davenport, the cartoonist, who used to umpire up in the old Northwest League, hails from Portland and Tacky Tom came from the same town. When In Chicago Davenport lived with his uncle, Judge Smith, and one day while St. Louis was playing in Chicago, Davenport met Parrott and invited him down to the house to dine. On the way Davenport remarked:
“Tom, don’t talk base ball to the judge. He is a great lover of amateur sports, but he hates the professional, and besides, he don t understand base ball talk.” Parrott promised. Shortly after Parrott had been introduced to Judge Smith Davenport stepped out of the room for a moment and while he was returning he heard the following conversation:
“Ah, Mr. Parrott you are from Portland? What brings you east?
“I’m lobbing ‘em across for the Browns.”
“Ahh, yes. I see. Are you successful?”
“Successful. Well, you ought to see the old whip unlimbered. It’s zip, zip, zip across their old cazoozaahms, and to the bench.”
Then Davenport rescued the judge.
* * *
Lennie Washburn, who met death in a railway accident in Chicago, was past master of the art of comparison in base ball. One day Williamson slashed a hot one past third. The grass was a bit high and the ball instead of bounding, buzzed the ground and skimmed along through the grass, and the next morning Washburn wrote:
“It sounded like the hired man eating celery.”
But the funniest base ball writer that ever wrote didn’t intend to be. He was one of the editorial writers, or something that way, of the New York Herald, whose health failed so they gave him the job of reporting base ball. He came to the Polo Grounds in a frock coat and silk hat, and sat upstairs, in lonely grandeur, while an assistant kept the score. He wrote base ball just as an editorial writer thinks a base ball writer writes. And the rest of us, remembering poor old O. P. Caylor’s wonderful descriptions, read and hugged ourselves with glee. Here is a sample extracted from one of his reports:
* * *
The most expressive word in base ball is “bazzazzaz,” which was invented by Matty Kilroy. Sometimes Matty was at a loss for a word to express something, so he invented “bazzazzaz” and applied it universally. It means a good drive, a fast curve, a batsman’s leg, a base runner’s foot—or anything else. It is to base ball what “zug” and “schlag” are to German. ["Bazzazzaz Balk" was also the name Kilroy gave to his deadly pickoff move to first. H.L. Mencken's father, a cigar manufacturer, was such a baseball fan that he produced a popular cigar named the Kilroy during the pitcher's top years in Baltimore, including 1886 when he fanned 513 batters (not a typo!). The senior Mencken hired Oriole catcher Sam Trott to sell it. But I do run on.]
Let’s leave to one side for now Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, the man who invented the position in 1849 or 1850 and whose story I have frequently told, including in Baseball in the Garden of Eden. For Adams, who began his play with the Knickerbockers in 1845, let his own words suffice for now, from an interview published in The Sporting News on February 29, 1896: ”I used to play shortstop,” he reminisced, “and I believe I was the first one to occupy that place, as it had formerly been left uncovered.” But when Adams first went out to short, it was not to bolster the infield but to assist in relays from the outfield. The early Knickerbocker ball was so light that it could not be thrown even two hundred feet, thus the need for a short fielder to send the ball in to the pitcher’s point.
For more about Adams, see my biographical profile of him at: http://goo.gl/1MVN3. But the men who made the position modern, by bringing it into the infield and then widening its responsibilities, were Dickey Pearce and George Wright, the two great shortstops of baseball’s early professional era.
The portraits offered below were part of a fascinating series on “The Fifty Greatest Ball Players in History” that ran in the New York Evening Journal in 1911-12. What makes these portraits so interesting today is that the author, veteran sportswriter Sam Crane, was himself a major-league second baseman who formed a keystone tandem with Pearce back in 1877 and frequently opposed Wright. The latter was one of the first men installed in the Hall of Fame, while Pearce has an outstanding claim to induction, inasmuch as he was the first to play shortstop as an infielder—not restricting his scope to short fly balls and relaying throws from the outfield, as was the practice in Adams’ day. Now, without further ado, Sam Crane:
In the days of the old games between the Mutuals of New York and the Atlantics of Brooklyn in the late sixties and early seventies, when the fans of those days were even more partisan than now when the Giants and Superbas cross bats [Crane wrote this piece before the Brooklyn team re-adopted its old name of Dodgers], there was one player who was more feared by the New Yorkers than any other on the Atlantic team, and that was Dickey Pearce.
The little fellow was not bigger than a good-sized cruller, the only food product at the time that seemed to be available by fair means or foul in those days, but little, fat, pudgy Dickey Pearce was about the whole show in the Atlantic team and did more, possibly, in his own way to win games for the famous old Atlantic club than any other player on the old team.
At any rate, every lover of baseball in Brooklyn thought so at the time, and it is a matter of baseball history over in the neighborhood of the Union Grounds and Capitoline Grounds that Dickey Pearce’s short, pudgy legs brought in more tallies for the Atlantics than all the slugging sprinters there were on the team.
And why? Simply because Dickey knew how to get on first base.
He was not a slugger like many of his fellow players, but he had so studied the science of batting as it was in vogue at the time that his “fair foul” hits often counted much more than the home-run wallop of his bigger and stronger teammates.
Dickey Pearce was the originator of the present bunt. And that was the hit that transformed batting in his day. It was not known as the bunt at that time, and Dickey himself had no idea that he was making baseball history. But he had the baseball instinct, and that was that a player had to get on first base before he became a factor in the run getting. He appreciated the fact that unless he could reach first there was no possibility of his spikes denting the plate.
When Dickey first began to play baseball, the score was kept by cutting notches on a pine stick and every notch meant a tally. A fence rail instead of a pine stick did just as well, and the fence rail in Dickey’s day was the official press box. Anyhow, what those notches figured up meant the road to victory for his side, and no player was more frequent than little Dickey in crossing over the plate and shouting gleefully, “Tally Pearce one.”
Dickey played on the many open lots around Brooklyn for many years before he got his first chance on a real team. He was considered too small.
But like all little men, Dickey was cocky. He saw the big fellows play, and as he peeked through the knotholes in the fences of the Union and Capitoline grounds for two innings and then “flashed” his ten pennies to get into the enclosure when the gates were opened to the kids after the second inning, as was the custom at the time, Dickey came to the conclusion that he could play as well as any of the stars. But how to “mingle” was the great question.
The first start he got was to carry water to the players, and when he got that job, he was the envy of all of his fellows.
Finally he was allowed to carry the bat of one of his idols, and from that advancement he was allowed to chase balls in the outfield while the “big fellows” were at practice. Then on one long-to-be-remembered day he wasasked to bat against one of the pitchers, who was out alone for practice, and he made a base hit. The pitcher took notice of him and told his captain these was a promising youngster that would bear watching.
The regular nine was shy of one player one day in a “match,” and Dickey was selected to take his place. The ambitious youngster was put in at right field, a position at the time that was considered only fit for the “scrubs.” Any old player could play right field. But my bold Dickey was there with both feet—not in fielding, possibly, for nothing came his way—but at bat the youngster was in his element. He was a hard man to pitch to, as all midgets have been, since, from Davy Force to Billy Keeler, and Dickey showed up some of the regular members in getting to first and getting around the bases.
That accidental chance to play made Dickey Pearce. He was put on the regular team and placed at shortstop, for the reason that he was considered to be too short-legged to cover ground in the outfield. It was a fortunate selection, for Dickey took to shortstop like a duck to water, and in the first game he played in that position, he showed such ability that none of the old-timers on the team had a chance to beat him out of the job. And none did that that for years and years. Dickey Pearce’s name at shortstop for the Atlantics was stereotyped, and the scorecards always had his name in that position as long as he played baseball with that club, and that was for many years.
In fact, Pearce was a close rival of the great and only George Wright for the supremacy in the position.
Against the Mutuals in the games the Atlantics played with their New York opponents, and when partisanship was at the highest pitch, Dickey Pearce was always a star. When he went to bat, it was more than two to one that the little bit of a “sawed-off” would get his first.
Dickey Pearce’s first chance to shine as a star of national reputation was when he played with the Atlantics against the Red Stockings of Cincinnati when the latter famous team lost its first game after an uninterrupted string of victories for a season and a half. In that great and historical game, Pearce’s work, both as shortstop and at the bat, was the feature of the victor’s game. In the eleventh inning it was Dickey Pearce who started the rally that enabled the Atlantics to win out 8-7.
Pearce was the first player to work the “fair foul,” a ball that was hit by chopping down at the ball, making it hit on fair ground and then bounding off into foul ground. It is a hit that is foul now under the present rules, but in those days there was no rule that prevented it from being perfectly fair. I have seen both Dickey Pearce and Ross Barnes get three bases by working this foxy bit of batting.
I have heard of home runs being made on the same hit, but I never saw it done, and I doubt if Dickey ever did, simply because I do not imagine that his short legs could ever carry him the distance, but many is the game little Dickey sewed up by the shrewd stab.
There were lots of objections and protests made in those days on that hit, but no rules could be found to prevent it, and until the rules were altered, Dickey always was high up in the existing batting records.
Pearce, by reason of that “fair foul,” has been credited with originating the now famous bunt, but as Dickey worked it the hit was never intended to be worked as we understand it now.
I am inclined to give John M. Ward the credit of discovering the bunt as now played. But that is a story for a future article.
Dickey Pearce made such a big reputation with the Atlantics that he was in demand by the best clubs in the country, and finally he cast his fortunes with the old Mutuals, of New York, his old rivals. Over in Brooklyn he was somewhat of a renegade at the time, but that was the dawn of professionalism that had been more or less under disguise at the time, but Dickey’s fine work with the crack New York team enabled him to retain his reputation and popularity, and he was a star until he was obliged to quit on account of age bedimming his former grand abilities.
Dickey kept in touch with the game for a long time after he got out of active participation in it as a player. He still continued to retain his popularity with players young and old, by whom he was considered an oracle.
When the Players’ League was formed, in 1890, Dickey was given the position of grounds keeper of the Brotherhood Grounds (the present Polo Grounds) and helped Buck Ewing to lay out the field. And as Dickey laid it out then, it stands today. Of course grounds keeper Murphy has made improvements since, with all the money that since has come into the local club’s coffers, but Pearce has to be given the credit for putting the field in the condition that allowed of the present model field of the country.
Dickey did not die overburdened with wealth, but he was well cared for until he passed away, a little over a year ago. He had a daughter who became prominent on the stage, and she saw that he wanted for nothing in his declining years.
The last time I saw Dickey Pearce was at one of the “old-timers’ ” reunions at Paddock’s Island in Boston Harbor, three years ago, and the veteran was there, the recipient of all the love and respect that was his due. It was veneration, because we all appreciated what he had done for baseball.
As honest as the day.
Baseball was bettered by Dickey Pearce’s connection with it.
* * *
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. [Note that Crane wrote this at a time when Honus Wagner was at the height of his powers.]
The game has gone along for over forty years, too, since George first blossomed out as a star, and I have in mind when I give him this lofty record all of those grand players who have shone so brilliantly in the past and present. There have been shortstops and shortstops. The Dickey Pearces, Davy Forces, Bob Fergusons, Jack Glasscocks, Ed Williamsons, Herman Longs, Jack Nelsons, Johnny Wards, and other old-time luminants, who have come and gone, leaving reputations and records a mile long.
The Tinkers, Doolans, Elberfelds, McBrides, Brashes [Brains?], Bridwells, Barrys, and Turners of the present are also all in my mind, who are thought by the fans of today to be preeminent. I have known them all and have seen them all play, but to George Wright I give the credit of being the best ever.
It is difficult to make the admirers of the “speed boys” of today think that any of the old-time ball players could approach the players of the present for stops, ground covering, and throwing, but while I acknowledge that there are more fast players today, still there were individuals in the earlier days of the sport who excelled the best who are now exploiting the game.
The game is faster now and has progressed simply because there are more speedy players now than in the past.
George Wright is a brother of Harry Wright, that noble old veteran around whom my first article on famous ballplayers was written. The fame of the Wright brothers was countrywide forty years ago, and George was the real player of the two. George’s reputation as the greatest player of his time has not been dimmed in the least.
He was born in upper New York City, Yorkville, in the fifties [actually 1847], and with his elder brother, Henry, naturally took to baseball after learning the rudiments of cricket, taught him by his father, Sam Wright, the old professional cricketer. Baseball was born in George Wright. He was consequently a natural ballplayer. He first came into prominence in the national game with the Unions, of Morrisania, with which club he played shortstop, the position he always occupied afterward in his long and brilliant baseball career. I do not remember that he ever played any other position. It therefore became second nature to him, and the many, many plays he was called on to perform that brought victory after victory to his teams year after year at critical stages were from intuition, although at times they often took on the look of being uncanny.
George Wright was probably as quick thinking a player as ever wore a uniform. His wits were always about him. He was invariably upon his mental tiptoes, and whenever he would pull off one of those grand, unexpected plays that were so dazzlingly surprising as to dumfound his opponents, 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.
In a game between the Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics in 1873, when the Quakers had three men on base and none out, George caught a fly ball in his cap, tossed the ball to the pitcher, thereby putting the ball in play again, according to the rules of that time, and a triple play resulted, but it was not allowed.
But it was in such critical times that George showed his great nerve and quick thinking abilities. He was always ready to grasp a point of play and never hesitated, no matter how many chances there were to take by missing the anticipated point.
From New York George went to Cincinnati in 1868 [actually 1869] and joined the Cincinnati Red Stockings, of which his brother Harry was manager. George was the all-around star of that famous bunch of champions. He led the club in batting and run getting, and these departments of play at that time were of the most importance.
In the fifty-seven games the Red Stockings played George took part in fifty-two. He made 339 runs, 59 of which were homers. His batting average was .518, showing that he made a fraction over a base hit every two times he was at bat.
Wonder if Ty Cobb could have done any better with the underhand pitching in vogue in those days?
George went to Boston in 1871 with his brother, Harry, as manager, and in the Hub George more than lived up to the reputation he had made in Cincinnati. He was the star of the Boston Red Stockings until 1879, when he went to Providence to manage the Providence Grays, the team that won the championship that year, although by a very close call. That wound up his active career on the diamond.
In 1874 George was a member of the Boston club that accompanied the Athletics to England, and while the introduction of baseball to our English cousins was not a pronounced success, still the ballplayers taught the Britishers some few points about their own game—cricket. It was always eighteen ball-players against eleven cricketers, but the Americans were never defeated at the English game, and George Wright was the crack batter of the American eighteen.
George was the first shortstop to play a deep field. He played forty years ago just as far back of the line as the players in the same position do today. It was George’s strong throwing arm and deadly accuracy that allowed of his playing so deep, and he of course saw the advantage there was to be gained in covering ground by playing deep. He was the first to grasp that idea.
George Wright was about 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed about 160 in his prime. I remember him; he had a thick crop of dark curly hair, a small mustache and a dab on either cheek for a bluff at “siders” [Burnsides, today known as sideburns]. He was slightly bowlegged, and I never knew a bowlegged ballplayer who was not a crackerjack—a la Hans Wagner.
George Wright is a millionaire, having gained wealth and prominence in the sporting-goods business in Boston. He started in a small way in 1872, the year after he went to Boston to play ball.
George is one of the Hub’s most respected citizens and still keeps in touch with the national game that he has done so much to build up. He is the proud father of Beals Wright, the champion tennis player.
With Stewart Culin’s classic summary of games gone by we commence at OUR GAME a cascade of stories and source documents relating to baseball’s origins. These will besprinkled in as extras alongside my posts of the by now customary sort. Most of the forthcoming “Origins Reports” will discuss or illuminate the nineteenth century game, but this article is cited in the very first entry of Early Baseball Milestones for the year 2500 B.C. and thus bears additional relevance to the Baseball Origins Committee, which I chair for Major League Baseball. Quoting from Early Baseball Milestones: “Writing in 1891, Stewart Culin reported ‘the discovery by Mr. Flinders-Petrie of wooden ‘tip cats’ among the remains of Rahun, in the Fayoom, Egypt (circa 2500 B.C).’ Culin infers that these short wooden objects, pointed on each end, were used in an ancient form of the game later know as Cat.” This article is also a personal favorite because of its Game 36 below, “Pictures,” which I believe to be the origin of baseball card flipping, that beloved pastime of my boyhood. Last but not least, Culin provides wonderful insight into the teen gangs of the day, especially in Philadelphia.
Street Games of Brooklyn, by Stewart Culin
SOURCE: American Journal of Folklore 4, 1891. pp. 221-237.
The games of which I shall give an account are all boys’ games or games in which both boys and girls participate, and were all described to me by a lad of ten years, residing in the city of Brooklyn, N. Y., as games in which he himself had taken part. They are all games played in the streets, and some of them may be recognized as having been modified to suit the circumstances of city life, where paved streets and iron lampposts and telegraph poles take the place of the village common, fringed with forest trees, and Nature, trampled on and suppressed, most vividly reasserts herself in the shouts of the children whose games I shall attempt to describe.
Marbles and tops and kindred sports, which have their set times for advent and disappearance, together with the special amusements of girls, I have left as deserving more extended consideration than can be given them in this article, where I shall confine myself to the outdoor games of boys as played in the city of Brooklyn.
“Who shall be it?” is the first question asked when children assemble to play games. Counting out is the general procedure, but among boys in Brooklyn the method referred to by Mr. Bolton, as conducted by boys in New England under the name of “Handholders,” is more in favor. It is the custom in Brooklyn when boys are discussing some game for one to cry out, “Pick her up!” another, “Handholders!” others, “First knock!” “Second knock!” and so on. The first boy picks up a stone and gives it to the one who cried “Handholders!” and goes free. The subsequent procedure is known to everybody. In ball games, and in many games in which sides are chosen, one of the leaders will toss a bat to the other, and they will then grasp it hand over band until the one who has “last grasp” is adjudged to have won the first choice. “Counting out” is almost the invariable custom among girls in Brooklyn, and the boys, possibly for that reason, affect to think lightly of it, although they do occasionally resort to it. I have made a collection of the current rhymes, but as they are all given by Mr. Bolton, in his admirable work on the subject, I need not make further reference to them.
And now for the games. Many of them have, no doubt, often been described before, and the writer makes no claims to originality either in his materials or comments. He has only attempted to arrange the games in groups, so that their relations, one to another, may be apparent, and the scientific value of these specimens of childlore, which has not, even in our highly developed civilization, ceased to be folklore, may become somewhat revealed.
In its simplest form, one player, who is “it” attempts to tag, or touch, one of the other players, and when successful runs away, so as not to be tagged in his turn. The game is sometimes rendered more complicated by certain places which are called “hunks” or “homes” being agreed upon, where the players may find refuge when closely pursued. One of these forms is known as:
2. WOOD TAG
In this game, the one who is “it” tries to tag any player who is not touching wood, any object of wood being, regarded as a “home” or “hunk.” Otherwise the game is the same as simple tag. Tag is sometimes varied by increasing the difficulties of the pursuit, as in the two following games:
3. FRENCH TAG
In this game bounds are agreed upon, within which are numerous fences, high stoops, etc. Those who are pursued run up the steps and jump the fences to avoid being tagged, and the first caught becomes “it” as in the simplest form of the game. Any one who is seen to go outside the bounds is at once declared to be “it” by the pursuer.
4. FENCE TAG
Bounds are chosen along a fence. “It” gives the other players a chance to get over the fence, and chases them until he tags one of them, who becomes “it” for the next game. The players jump over the fence and back again, as they are pursued, but are only allowed to cross the fence within the bounds.
5. SQUAT TAG
This game is played within boundaries, and the one who is “it” may chase any of the other players. when closely pursued, they may escape being tagged by squatting down. This immunity is only granted to each individual a certain number of times, usually ten, as may be agreed upon, and after his “squats” are exhausted be may be tagged as in the ordinary game.
6. CROSS TAG
The player who is “it” selects one of the others whom he will chase. The pursued is given a short start, and, while both are running another player will try to cross between them. If successful, he becomes the object of pursuit, and this is continued until one of the players is tagged. He becomes “it,” and the game is continued.
7. LAST TAG
When a company of children are about dispersing to their homes after their play, one will start up the cry of “Last tag” and endeavor to touch one of the others, and retreat into the house. Each will then try to tag and run, until at last there will be two left, and one of them, getting the advantage, will tag the other, and escape to the refuge of his own doorway. From this point of vantage he will exultingly cry, “Last tag, last tag!” Whereupon the second boy will reply, and the following colloquy will ensue:–
Second Boy: “N****r’s always last tag!“
First Boy: “Fools always say so!“
Second Boy: “Up a tree and down a tree, You’re the biggest fool I see.“
Children will frequently exclaim, “You can’t tag me, for I have my fingers crossed,” or “I have my legs crossed,” positions which they regard as giving them immunity from the consequences, whatever these may be, of being tagged.
The three following are games of pursuit:
Two equal sides are chosen, and each player is provided with a piece of chalk. The “hares” are given three minutes’ start, and on their way (they can run wherever they like) they must make a straight mark [----] upon the pavement. The “hounds” who follow them must cross the chalk marks made by the “hares.” The chase is continued until the “hares” are caught.
9. ARROW CHASE
On a cold morning when boys wish to play some game in order to keep warm, “arrow chase” is proposed. Sides are equally chosen, and a large boundary agreed upon. The side that starts first is provided with chalk, with which the players mark arrows upon the pavement, pointing in the direction of their course. The others follow when five minutes have elapsed, tracking the pursued by the arrow marks until all are caught.
10. RING RELIEVO
The two best runners “count out” to see which shall have the first choice, and this done, these two alternately choose a boy for his side until all are chosen. A course is then determined on, and one side is given a start, which, if the course is around a city block, is usually a quarter of the way round. The start given, the chase commences, and when one of the pursued is captured, he is brought back to the starting-place, where be is placed within a ring marked with chalk or coal upon the pavement. If he succeeds in pulling in one of his opponents while they are putting him in the ring, he becomes free. Or one of his own men will watch his chance to relieve him by running and putting one foot in the ring. The game continues until all players of the side that had the start are made captives.
11. PRISONER’S BASE
Two even sides are chosen, and go upon opposite sides of the street. Bounds are agreed upon about two hundred feet apart, between which the game is played. One of the players starts the game by running into the middle of the street, and another from the opposite side will try to capture him. While the first is running back, one from his side will endeavor to capture his pursuer, and this is continued, any player having the right to take those who ran out before him, and being protected from their attack. The prisoners solicit the players on their own side to rescue them, which they may do by touching them, although the rescuers themselves run great chance of being caught. The side wins that makes captives of their opponents.
In the three following games, the one who is “it” tries to catch the others, who, as they are caught, must join “it” in capturing the remainder.
12. BLACK TOM
The boy who is “it” stands in the middle of the street, and the others on the pavement on one side. When “it” cries, “Black Tom” three times, the other players run across, and may be caught, in which case they must join the one who is “it” in capturing their comrades. “It” may call “Yellow Tom” or “Blue Tom,” or whatever he chooses; but if any one makes a false start, he is considered caught, or if one of the captured should cry, “Black Tom” three times, and any player of the other side should start, be is considered caught. The first one caught is “it” for the next game.
The boy who is ‘it” is called the “Red Rover,” and stands in the middle of the street, while the others form a line on the pavement on one side. The Red Rover calls any boy he wants by name, and that boy must then run to the opposite sidewalk. If he is caught as he runs across, he must help the Red Rover to catch the others. When the Red Rover catches a prisoner, he must cry, “Red Rover” three times, or he cannot hold his captive. Only the Red Rover has authority to call out for the others by name, and if any of the boys start when one of the captives who is aiding the Red Rover calls him, that boy is considered caught. The game is continued, until all are caught, and the one who is first caught is Red Rover for the next game.
14. RED LION
The players “count out,” to see who shall be “Red Lion” who must retreat to his den. Then the others sing:
Red lion, Red Lion,
Come out of your den,
Whoever you catch
Will be one of your men.
Then the Red Lion catches whom he can, and takes him back to his den. The others repeat the call, and the two come out together and catch another player, and this is continued until all are caught. The first one caught is Red Lion for the next game.
Another way: One boy is chosen “Red Lion” as before, and the others select one of their number as “chief,” who gives certain orders. The chief first cries “Loose!” to the Red Lion, who then runs out and catches any boy be can. When he catches a boy, he must repeat “Red Lion” three times, and both he and the boy whom he has caught hurry back to the den to escape the blows which the other players shower upon them. The chief may then call out “Cow catcher,” when the Red Lion and the boys he has caught run out of the den with their hands interlocked, and endeavor to catch one of the others by putting their arms over his head. When they catch a prisoner, they hurry back to the den to escape being hit. If a boy’s hands should break apart in trying to catch another boy, all the boys from the den must run back, as they may be hit. The chief may call “Tight,” when the boys in the den take hold of hands, and try to capture a boy by surrounding him, and so taking him to the den. The chief may also call “Doubles,” when two boys must take hold of hands, or all the boys in the den may go out in twos and try to catch prisoners. The chief may call out these commands in any order he likes after the first, and repeat them until all the boys are caught.
15. EVERY MAN IN HIS OWN DEN
is similar to the preceding. When a company of boys and girls are standing in a group, discussing what game to play, one of them will suddenly shout, “Every man in his own den.” Each will at once select for his den a place not too near that of another. One player will then run out, and a second will try to catch him. The third player out will try to catch the first or second, and so on until the last one out, who may catch any player who is out of his den. When a player is caught, he goes to the aid of the one who catches him. In this way several sides may be formed, and the side that captures all the players wins the game.
I find three games of hiding as follows:
16. I SPY, OR HIDE AND SEEK
A boundary of a block is agreed upon, within which the players may hide, and then they count out to determine who shall be “it” for the first game. A lamppost or tree is taken as the “home” or “hunk”; the one who is “it” must stand there with his eyes closed, and count five hundred by fives, crying out each hundred in a loud voice, while the others go hide. At the end of the five hundred, “it” cries:
One, two, three!
Look out for me,
For my eyes are open,
And I can see!
and goes in search of those in hiding. They may hide behind stoops, in areas, etc., but are not permitted to go in houses. When “it” discovers a player in hiding he cries out, “I spy so and so,” calling the person by name, and runs to “hunk,” for if the one spied should get in to “hunk” first, he would relieve himself. The players run in to the “hunk” when they have a good chance, and cry relievo! and if they get in first, they are free. Sometimes the game is so played that, if a boy runs in and relieves himself in this way, he also relieves all the others, and the same one is “it” for the next game. Two players will frequently change hats in hiding so as to disguise themselves, for if the one who is “it” mistakes one player for another, as often happens through this change of hats, and calls out the wrong name, both boys cry, “False alarm!” and are permitted, according to custom, to come in free. The game is continued until all the players come in, and the first caught becomes “it” for the next game. In “I spy,” the one who is “it” is sometimes called the “old man.”
17. THROW THE STICK
One player throws a stick as far as he can, and the one who is “it” must run after it, and put it back in its place. In the mean time the others hide. “It” then looks for those in hiding, and when he spies one of them, he cries out and touches the wicket. The players may run in from hiding and if they touch the wicket before “it,” they are free. The first spied becomes “it” for the next game.
18. RUN A MILE
The boy who is “it” runs from one street corner to another, and while he runs, the others go hide. The first boy spied is “it,” unless he can get in and touch the base before the spy.
This game is played by several boys who vault in turn over each others’ backs. Thus if four play, the first leans over, and the second vaults over him; the third then vaults over the first and second, and the fourth over the first, second, and third. Then the first boy vaults over the fourth, third, and second, and thus the game may be continued indefinitely.
20. HEAD AND FOOTER
Any number of boys can play. When boys are “standing around,” one boy will squat down, and cry, “First down for Head and Footer!” He becomes the “leader.” Then another boy will squat down and cry, “Second down for Head and Footer!” and so on, and the last one down is “it”.
A level place is selected, preferably on the grass, but otherwise on the sidewalk, and a straight line is drawn at a right angle across one end of the course, which latter is usually about thirty feet in length. The one who is “it” stands at the cross line with his feet parallel to that line, and stoops over, and the leader, who is always first, places his hands upon his back, and jumps over him. The others follow in turn, and a fresh line is drawn across the course at the point touched by the one who makes the shortest jump. The one who is “it” must then stoop at the new line, while the leader must jump from the line first drawn to where he is stooping and then over him as before. The others follow in turn, and this is continued, the one who is “it” advancing to a new line at the end of each round. As the latter goes farther from the line first drawn, the leader may take two jumps before leaping over his back, and finally, as the distance increases, three jumps. If one of the players cannot follow the leader, he becomes “it,” and the game is recommenced from the beginning. When a player does not jump squarely over the back of the boy who is down, but touches him with his foot or any part of his body except his hands, it is called “spurring,” and he has to down, and the begun again. But if the next in turn leaps over the boy who is down, before he gets up after being touched, the one who touched him is relieved of the penalty. When the boy who is down is touched by one of the jumpers and does not know it, the leader or any of the players who may see it, cry, “Something’s up,” and the boy who is down may guess three times who it was that touched him. If be succeeds, the one Who touched him takes his place, but otherwise he must remain “it.”
This game is identical with “Head and Footer” up to the point where all have leaped over the back of the one who is “it.” The latter then moves forward a certain distance, which he measures by placing one foot lengthwise beside the base line and the other foot in the hollow of the ankle at right angles to the first. This distance, amounting to the length of the boy’s foot plus the width at the in-step, is called a “par.” The boys then leap over as before, and this is continued until the distance is so great that some one fails to make the leap, or the one who is “it” is “spurred.” The game is then started again from the original line, the one failing to go over, or “spurring,” becomes “it.”
22. SPANISH FLY
This game is similar to “Head and Footer” and “Par,” except that the one who is “it” remains stationary, and the “leader,” who vaults first, practices or suggests various feats or tricks, in which the others must follow him. One of these is called “Hats on the Back.” The leader, as be jumps, leaves his hat on the back of the boy who is down. The second boy puts his hat on the leader’s, and this is continued, the players piling up their hats, until one of them lurches over the pile, and becomes “it.”
23. STUNT MASTER, OR FOLLOW THE LEADER
is a game in which the leader endeavors to stunt the others; that is, perform some feat in which they are unable to follow him. One boy is chosen stunt master or leader, and the others arrange themselves in order behind him. The leader may vault fences, jump, run, etc., and the others must follow him. Three chances are given to them, and those that fail on the last trial are sent down to the end of the line.
The largest number of games which may be classed together are those in which some object, usually a ball, is either thrown, kicked, or struck with a bat. Of these there is an interesting group, the precursors of our national game of base ball, which are played by the boys in Brooklyn under the following names: Kick the Wicket, Kick the Can, Kick the Ball, Hit the Stick, One o’ Cat, and One, Two, Three.
I find but one hopping game:
24. HOP SCOTCH
Two distinct ways of playing this game exist among the children of Brooklyn: one common among boys and girls, called “Kick the stone out,” and another, said to be played exclusively by girls, called “Pick the stone up.” I shall first describe the former:
A diagram, as shown in the figure, is drawn upon the sidewalk, where five flagstones, as nearly of a size as possible, are selected, of which the second and fourth are divided in halves by a line drawn vertically through the centre. The compartment formed by the entire surface of the first store is marked 1; the two compartments the next stone, 2 and 3; the third stone is marked 4; the fourth stone, 5 and 6; and the fifth and last stone, “home.” The diagram may be enlarged, and the numbers continued up to 10, which makes the game longer and more difficult. Each player finds a stone of convenient size, one about an inch thick being usually selected. The first player stands without the diagram, and throws his stone into the compartment marked 1. If it falls fairly within that compartment, he hops on one foot into the same place and kicks the stone out, taking care not to put down his other foot or to step on a dividing line, as either would lose him his turn. If he succeeds in kicking the stone out and hopping out himself, he throws the stone into number 2, and then hops into number 1, and from that into number 2, kicks the stone out, and hops back as before. This is continued until “home” is reached, and the one arriving there first wins the game.
Pick the Stone Up
This is played in the same manner as “Kick the stone out,” except that the players pick the stone up instead of kicking it out.
25. KICK THE WICKET
A lamp-post or a tree is chosen as “home,” and several bases are agreed upon, usually four, around which the players run. The boy who is “it” places the wicket, which is sometimes made of wood, and sometimes of a piece of old rubber hose, against the tree or post chosen as home, and then stations himself at some distance from it, ready to catch it when it is kicked by the other players. They take turns in kicking the wicket If it is caught by the boy who is “it,” the kicker becomes “it”. If the boy who is “it” does not catch the wicket, be runs after it and puts it in place, and any boy whom he catches running, between the bases, when the wicket is up, becomes “it.” The players run around the bases as they kick the wicket, and when they make the circuit, and touch home, they form in line, ready to kick the wicket again, each in his turn. If all the boys have kicked the wicket, and are on the bases, the one nearest home becomes “it,” and must run in and touch the wicket, as all must do when they become “it”.
26. KICK THE CAN
This game is identical with “kick the wicket,” except that an empty tin can, usually a tomato can, mounted on a rock is substituted for the wicket.
27. KICK THE BALL
Bases are marled out as in playing base ball, that is, first, second, and third base and home plate, and equal sides are chosen. A small rubber ball or a base ball is used. The boys of one side arrange themselves around the bases, and one of them a little to one side of the home plate. Then a boy from the opposite side, who stands at the home plate, kicks the ball in the direction of the bases, and immediately runs to the first base, thence to the second, and so on to the third base and back home. This is counted as one run. But if the ball is stopped by one of the players on the other side, and thrown to the boy near the home plate before the one who runs has reached one of the bases, he is out, and another player on the same side takes his place, and again kicks the ball. If the runner is touching a base when the ball is thrown home, he remains there, and waits until the ball is kicked again to run towards home. If one of the players in the field catches the ball when it is kicked, the one who kicked it is out. If a player on a base runs when the kicker attempts to kick the ball, and misses it, he is out. Kicking the ball and running around the bases is continued until three of the boys from the one side are put out. Then the side in the field comes in and has its turn. These together constitute what is called one inning. Four innings are usually played, and the side that scores highest wins.
28. HIT THE STICK
Equal sides are chosen, and bases are determined upon, usually at the intersection of two streets, where the curb at one corner is fixed upon as the “home plate,” and the other comers designated as first, second, and third base. This game is identical with the preceding, except that, instead of kicking a ball, a small wooden wicket is knocked in the air. The players of one side arrange themselves around the bases, with one boy near the “home plate.” One player from the opposite side also takes his position at the home plate, where he balances a stick, about three inches long by one wide, across the inner end of another stick some ten inches in length, which is laid so as to extend about three fourths of its length beyond the edge of the curb. He then strikes the projecting end a sharp blow with another stick about three feet in length, which he holds in his hands, so that the smallest stick is tossed into the air. The batsman at once runs to the first base, and so to home, which constitutes one run. The boys on the opposite side try to catch the flying stick, however, and if they are successful (they may use their hats for the purpose) the batsman is put out; or, if they should succeed in throwing it to the boy on their side at the home plate, while the batsman is off a base, he is out. The first player is succeeded by another until three men on the side are put out, when the others go in and have their inning. A player on a base may run to another at any time during the game, but be may be declared out by the opposite side, if he is observed, unless the stick has been knocked into the air.
The terms used in this game, as in “Kick the Ball,” are the same as those of the game of base ball.
One boy will cry out “Inner!” another will in turn cry “Catcher” one “Pitcher!” one “First base,” and one or two “Fielder!” A home place with a base some feet distant is then agreed upon, and the players take their respective positions. The “inner” takes the bat and stands at the home place between the “pitcher” and “catcher,” and strikes at the ball as it is thrown by the “pitcher.” If the batter makes three strikes at the ball without hitting it, or if he hits it and it is caught by any of the players he is “out,” and takes the position of “fielder,” while the others move up in order, the catcher becoming, batter, the “pitcher” “catcher,” and the first base “pitcher,” and so on. If the “batter” strikes the ball, and is not caught “out,” he immediately runs to the base and from there “home.” If he reaches that point before the ball, which is at once thrown to the catcher and put on the “home plate,” he is considered to have made one “run,” and takes his place at the bat again. The boy who makes the most runs, wins the game. An ordinary base ball bat is used.
30. ONE, TWO, THREE!
This game is similar to “One o’ Cat,” except that the players call out numbers, “one, two, three,” “four,” etc., instead of the names of their positions. Those crying ” one!” and “two!” become first and second “batsmen”; “three” is “catcher”; “four,” “pitcher”; “five,” “baseman;” “six,” “seven,” “eight,” “fielders.”
Simpler than the foregoing, is the game of:
31. HAND BALL
Only two can play. A boundary about twenty feet long and as many wide, with a wall or fence at one end, is chosen, and a tennis ball or ordinary rubber ball is used. One player throws the ball against the wall, and, as it rebounds, the other player strikes it with the palm of his band back again against the wall. Then, as it rebounds, the first player strikes it, and so on. If a player misses the ball, the other player counts one. The player who thus first counts twenty-five wins the game. If the ball goes outside the boundary, the miss is not counted.
This game is played on a vacant lot, or in the middle of a wide street. One boy is chosen for batsman, and the others stand around at some distance from him. A base ball is used, and the batsman throws it in the air, and then bats it out to the fielders, who endeavor to catch the ball “on the fly.” The one who first catches the ball, a certain number of times that has been agreed upon, takes the batsman’s place for another game.
Sides are chosen, and goals, one for each side, are agreed upon. The latter consist of two lines about three hundred feet apart, which are drawn across the street. The implements of the game consist of sticks with a crook at one end, with which each of the players are provided, and a wooden ball or a block of wood about two or three inches in length, which is placed in the middle of the street, midway between the goals. The sides form two lines facing each other, up and down the street, with a distance of about two feet between them. The two boys on opposite sides of the ball, which occupies the centre of this alley will strike it at the cry of “Ready;” and each side then endeavors to drive it to its own goal, which constitutes the game. It is not permitted to touch the ball with the hands; and if a player crosses to the side opposite to the one to which he belongs, he is greeted with the cry “Shinney on your own side!” and liable to a blow on the shins.
A circle of about four feet in diameter, with a straight line at right angles about twelve feet distant, is drawn upon the sidewalk. The “cat” is whittled from a piece of wood, and is usually about six inches in length by an inch in diameter, with sharp-pointed ends. The players are the “batter,” who stands a little to one side of the circle; the “pitcher,” who stands at the line; and the “fielders,” who are numbered in rotation, and stand about the ring. The pitcher throws the cat towards the circle, and the batter, who stands ready with his bat, a stick about two feet long, hits it or not, as be thinks best. If the cat falls within the circle, the batter is out, and the pitcher takes his place, and all the other players move up one place, while the batter becomes the last of the fielders. If the cat falls without the circle, the batter hits it on one end as it lays on the ground, and as it rises into the air strikes it again. The other boys try to catch the cat in their hats or with their hands as it falls; and if they succeed, the batter is out. If they do not thus catch it, the pitcher endeavors to jump from where it lies into the circle. If it is too far away for the pitcher to cover in one jump, the batter gives him as many jumps as he deems proper. If the pitcher accomplishes the distance in the jumps that have been accorded to him, the batter is out; but if he fails, each jump the batter is allowed counts as one point to his own credit in the game.
35. ROLEY POLEY
A convenient place is selected, and each player digs a hole three or four inches in diameter. If this is impossible, hats are used instead of holes in the ground. A medium-sized rubber ball is used, and one of the players stands at a distance of about twenty feet, and tries to roll it into one of the hats or holes. All the others stand by their holes; and when the ball enters one of them, its owner must throw the ball at the player nearest to him. Meantime, when a boy sees the ball rolling into any near hole, he will run away to escape being hit. The boy who is hit must put a stone into his hole; but if the thrower is unsuccessful in hitting any one, the stone must go into his own hole. The game continues until one of the players gets ten stones in his hole, when he has to stand up with his back against a wall or fence, and let each boy take three shots at him with the rubber ball, the first time with the thrower’s eyes closed, and afterwards with them open. When the boy is put up against the fence, the distance at which the players shall stand, when they throw at him, is sometimes determined by letting the victim throw the ball against the fence three times, and a line drawn at the farthest point to which the ball rebounded is taken as the place at which the throwers shall stand.
This game is a recent invention, and is played with the small picture cards which the manufacturers of cigarettes have distributed with their wares for some years past. These pictures, which are nearly uniform in size and embrace a great variety of subjects, are eagerly collected by boys in Brooklyn and the near-by cities, and form an article of traffic among them. Bounds are marked of about twelve by eight feet, with a wall or stoop at the back. The players stand at the longer distance, and each in turn shoots a card with his fingers, as he would a marble, against the wall or stoop. The one whose card goes nearest that object collects all the cards that have been thrown, and twirls them either singly or together into the air. Those that fall with the picture up belong to him, according to the rules; while those that fall with the reverse side uppermost are handed to the player whose card came next nearest to the wall, and he in turn twirls them, and receives those that fall with the picture side up. The remainder, if any, are taken by the next nearest player, and the game continues until the cards thrown are divided.
Of “pitching pennies” my informant knew nothing, except that there are said to be three different ways of playing the game. It was regarded among his associates as a vulgar game, and only practised by bootblacks and boys of the lowest class, such as compose the “gangs” that are a well-known feature of street life among the boys of our cities. There is said to be a prejudice against other games on account of their associations among certain sets of boys Thus, in Philadelphia the game of leapfrog is abandoned to the rougher outside class, who are known as “Micks” by the boys of at least one of the private schools.
Concerning the “gangs,” my young friend in Brooklyn was unable to give me much information, other than to relate the name of one of these organizations, the “Jackson Hollow Gang,” which is said to have obtained more than local celebrity. I am able, however, to give at least the names of some of the gangs in Philadelphia, obtained by personal inquiries among the boys along the Schuylkill river front. They comprise the Dumplingtown Hivers, of Fifteenth and Race streets; the Gas House Terriers (pronounced tarriers), of Twenty-third and Filbert streets; the Golden Hours, of Twenty-fifth and Perot streets; the Corkies, of Seventeenth and Wood streets; the Dirty Dozen, of Twenty-fifth and Brown streets; the Riverside, of Twenty-third and Race streets; the Dung Hills, of Twenty-third and Sansom streets; and the Gut Gang, of Twenty-third and Chestnut streets. These I am able to supplement with a very complete list of the names of similar organizations that used to exist in Philadelphia, which has been kindly placed in my hands by Mr. Leland Harrison. It is as follows: —
Pots, Twelfth and Shippen.
Skinners, Broad and Shippen.
Lions, Seventeenth and Shippen.
Bull Dogs, Eighteenth and Shippen.
Rats, Almond Street Wharf.
Bouncers, Second and Queen.
Fluters, Tenth and Carpenter.
N****rs, Thirteenth and Carpenter.
Cow Towners, Nineteenth and Carpenter.
Tormentors, Twenty-second and Race.
Hivers, Broad and Race.
Pluckers, Ninth and Vine.
Buffaloes, Twentieth and Pine.
Snappers, Second and Coates.
Murderers, Twenty-third and Filbert.
Ramblers, Beach and George.
Forest Rose, Seventeenth an(J Sansom.
Prairie Hens, Fifteenth and Brown.
Bed Bugs, Front and Brown.
Pigs, Twentieth and Murray.
Killers, Eighth and Fitzwater.
Lancers, Twentieth and Fitzwater.
Cruisers, Eleventh and South.
Forties, Eighteenth and South.
Wayne Towners, Eleventh and Lombard.
Mountaineers, Twentieth and Lombard.
Bullets, Twenty-first and Lombard.
Ravens, Eighteenth and Lombard.
Darts, Sixteenth and Lombard.
Spigots, Twenty-third and Callowhill.
Bleeders, Fifteenth and Callowhill.
Hawk Towners, Seventeenth and Callowhill.
Canaries, Eighteenth and Market.
Clippers, Seventeenth and Market.
Rovers, Nineteenth and Market.
Bunker Hills, Fifteenth and Market.
Badgers, Twenty-first and Market.
Haymakers, Twenty-seventh and Market.
Blossoms, Broad and Cherry.
Railroad Roughs, Eighteenth and Washington Avenue.
Didos, Eighteenth and Lombard.
The “Didos” were a portion of the ”Raven” gang.
These, however, belong not only to Folk-lore, but to the never-to-be-written history of our city. They had their laws and customs, their feuds and compacts. The former were more numerous than the latter, and they fought on every possible occasion. A kind of half secret organization existed among them, and new members passed through a ceremony called “initiation,” which was not confined altogether to the lower classes, from which most of them were recruited. Almost every Philadelphia boy, as late as twenty years ago, went through some sort of ordeal when he first entered into active boyhood. Being triced up by legs and arms, and swung violently against a gate, was usually part of this ceremony, and it no doubt still exists, although I have no particular information, which indeed is rather difficult to obtain, as boys, while they remain boys, are reticent concerning all such matters. I am also unable to tell how far this and similar customs exist among boys in other cities. They were unknown to my young friend in Brooklyn, although he told me that a new boy in a neighborhood had rather a hard time of it before he was finally recognized as a member in good standing in boys’ society. And this leads back to the subject of street games. Here are some of the games the new boy is invited to play: —
HIDE THE STRAW. — Bounds are agreed upon, and the new boy is made “it.” All close their eyes while he hides the straw, and afterwards they searched for it, apparently with much diligence. At last they go to the boy and say: “I believe you have concealed it about you. Let us search him.” Then they ask him to open his mouth, and when he complies they stuff coal and dirt and other objects in it.
LAME SOLDIER. — The new boy is made “doctor,” while the rest are “‘lame soldiers,” who have been to the war, and been shot in the leg. The “lame soldiers” have covered the soles of their shoes with tar or mud ; and, as they hobble past the “doctor,” and he examines their wounds, he soon finds that his hands are much soiled, and discovers the object of the game.
FIRE is a game in which the new boy is made a fireman, who is sent in search of a fire ; and when he cries out, as he has been instructed, “Fire! fire! fire! ” the others come running from their engine-house, and salute him with a shower of stones.
GOLDEN TREASURE resembles hide the straw. The new boy is chosen “thief,” two other boys “policemen,” and one boy “judge,” before whom the “thief” is brought. The “thief” is suffered to go and rob a house. The “policemen” capture him, and bring him before the “judge.” The case is tried, and it is discovered that the “thief” has robbed a house where gold was hidden. The “judge” orders him to be searched; but, as nothing is found on his person, the “judge” says sharply: “Let me look in your mouth, and open it wide, for you may have hidden the gold there.” As the prisoner opens his mouth, the others, who stand ready, stuff it with handkerchiefs and dirt and coal, as is most convenient.
1. Dr. Carrington Bolton, The Counting-out Rhymes of Children, New York, 1888.
2. A large number of counting-out rhymes, collected by Francis C. Macauley, Esq., have been kindly placed by him in the writer’s hands. As many of them, not included by Mr. Bolton, were contributed by French and Irish maidservants, it is probable that a part at least may become incorporated in the lore of American children.
3. Dr. Edward Eggleston pointed out, at the Annual Meeting of the American Folk-Lore Society in New York in 1889, that this was originally ” one hole cat,” ” two hole cat,” etc.
4. The antiquity of this game is well attested by the discovery by Mr. Flinders-Petrie of wooden “tip cats ” among the remains of Rahun, in the Fayoom, Egypt (cir. 2500 B. C.). Through the courtesy of Mrs. Cornelius Stevenson, Curator of the Egyptian Department of the Museum of Archaeology of the University of Pennsylvania, one of these objects is now exhibited in the writer’s collection of games in the American Department of the museum.
5. An abstract of this article appeared in the Public Ledger, Philadelphia, December 9, 1883, and elicited the following letter from the Rev. Henry Frankland, of Cheltenham, Pa., which is here printed for the first time: — •
The Public Ledger.
Your article on ” Street Games ” in to-day’s (Tuesday) issue of the Ledger is so thoroughly interesting, and has awakened so many memories of the past, that I cannot resist the temptation of writing a few words in addition. I was especially interested in the account given of the Philadelphia “gangs.” It carried me back to the time when I was a “railroad rough.” In those days, under the leadership either of regularly appointed or self-constituted “leaders,” the various “gangs,” often by previous arrangement, would meet, and “fight it out” for hours. What boy of twenty years ago who does not recall these famous “stone fights” ? A scar on my own face near the temple — a scar that will never be effaced — shows how successfully (?) they were fought. The list of these “gangs” as given by your correspondent—the most complete I have yet seen—is made still more complete by the addition of the following : “Buena Vistas,” near 13th and Federal; “Garroters,” south of Federal or Wharton and toward old “Bucks” Road; “Schuylkill Rangers ;” and the ” lascous,” or “Glassgous,” near 20th and Ellsworth. In addition to these, I distinctly recall the “Tigers” and the “War Dogs,” but cannot now locate them. The “Ravens” and the “Railroad Roughs” were friendly, and would frequently combine against the combined forces of the “Glascous” and “Lions ;;” they also fought against the “Buena Vistas.”
We had great times in those days. The boy who either could not or would not fight was of no use. Often, through having to pass through the boundaries of a hostile “gang ” on our way to school, we were compelled to fight. For this reason, we frequently went in companies of three or four. In passing through the territory immediately in the neighborhood of a fire company, a boy would sometimes be ” tackled ” and asked, “What hose do you go in for?” If he knew his neighborhood, and was shrewd enough to “go” for their particular hose, he was usually set free, but sometimes not before his pockets were rifled. If he was unfortunate enough to “go in for” some other company, he was usually set upon by his enemies, and most unmercifully “lambasted.”
Those days, happily, have passed away. How much the volunteer fire companies were responsible for them, I am unable to say, but my impression is, that the new and better order of things has prevailed since the introduction of the paid fire department.
Not all the boys of those “by-gone days ” have turned out bad. Most of them were fighters, perhaps, but the habit of taking care of themselves, and fighting their own battles, has been of incalculable service to some, at least. I could mention at least four preachers of the gospel from down town alone, and many others who have since occupied positions of honor and usefulness in the church and State. Let some one else contribute to the list of “gangs” until it is complete, and if they care to tell us what has become of some of the once famous “leaders” and fighters.
This document, never before published and largely unknown even to exist, may not contain startling revelations and indeed may be a mere historical curiosity. And yet … it is new, and the voice is that of Hall of Fame pitcher Charles Augustus “Kid” Nichols (1869-1953). It is appropriate to publish this thirty-page handwritten fragment on this day, as the All-Star Game is about to be played in Kansas City. That where the Kid lived from 1881 until his death, excluding the years of his professional ballplaying career.
The Nichols fragment resided in the files of the Baseball Hall of Fame since the 1950s. It was first published in Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, in the Fall 2010 issue, and is reprinted here with the permission of the publisher, McFarland and Company. The annotations in italics are the work of Bill Felber, estimable scholar and old friend. Typographical and orthographic oddities have been preserved.
The Nichols Transcript
Charles Augustus Nichols
Born in Madison Wisconsin on Sept 14, 1869.
My father was Robert Livingston Nichols born in the State of New York 1819.
My mother was Christina Skinner Nichols born in Vermont [ca. 1831].
My nationality American.
I had 2 brothers, William H. Nichols [born c. 1858] GeorgeW. Nichols [born c. 1861] and 4 sisters, Sarah [surname illegible; born c. 1856] (still living in K.C. age 93) Fanny Nichols [burned? illegible] to death at age of 9 [born 1859] Jessie Nickells of Ridgewood, N. Jersey [born c. 1866] Dora Northrup [?] of Kansas City. Mo. 1 half brotherJohn Nichols of Oshkosh,
Wisconsin 1[half ] sister Libby Griffeth of Cleveland, Ohio
I only attended the Ward schools.
My parents moved our family to Kansas City, Mo. About 1881.
I began playing base ball on the corner lots, and in Amateur games.
The first team I played on, was the Blue Ave. Club of Kansas City, MO in 1886.
In 1886, When I was 16 years old, Being confident in my ability as a ball player, I was determined to get on a Base Ball team.
The Kansas City ball club was in the National League. I applied for trial with them, and with two other National League clubs, but was turned down. (guess they must have taken me for a bat boy.)
That year Kansas City finished last.
[Nichols can perhaps be forgiven an old man’s pride at his recollection that the Kansas City National League team’s sentence for failing to recognize his budding talent was a term in the league basement. Although the club known then as the Cowboys was dreadful—they actually came home seventh in the eight-team National League. Washington (28 –92, .233) was even worse. The 1886 season was Kansas City’s first in the National League; the club emerged as a last-minute substitute for Indianapolis, which was to have joined the league until that city’s backers failed to come up with the necessary cash. Nichols may have been wrong about the team’s standing, but he was right about the pitching. The Cowboys allowed a league-high 872 runs in 1886, roughly seven per game. Kansas City was ousted from the NL after 1886, shifting to the Western League for one season and then to the American Association.]
In 1887 I again applied to the K.C. club, who were then in the Western League.
They also refused me.
On June 1st they were short of pitchers They, then sent for me.
June 10th I joined the K.C. club in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The first game I pitched for them I won.
In fact, I won the first 5 games I pitched fo the K.C. club.
The manager was named Paterson [J.B. Patterson, a newspaperman who took over for Joe Ellick on May 20, 1887]
At the end of the season, I was told I could go where I pleased for the next season.
In 1888 I joined the Memphis Team, in the Southern League.
Their manager was Jimmy Woods. [better known as Jimmy Wood, who had played for and managed Chicago in the National Association]
My first game was an exhibition game against The “Old St. Louis Browns 4 times winners.” I beat them 5 to 3.
The Southern League disbanded July 1st with Memphis in 1st Place.
[The assertion requires clarification. There were actually two Kansas City “clubs” in 1888. The Cowboys, which emerged as a descendant of the 1886 team of the same name, joined the American Association—considered a major league—that season, and also operated as an A.A. team in 1889. That team was owned by Joseph J. Heim, the same man who had operated the 1886 NL franchise. But Nichols did not join the Cowboys; instead, he signed with the Blues, which operated in the newly formed Western League. With Nichols’ 1.14 earned run average leading the league, the Blues fought the Des Moines Prohibitionists in a pennant race whose outcome is in dispute even today. Kansas City’s .644 winning percentage was actually two points worse than that of Des Moines, but the Blues claimed the pennant because at 76 –42 their record was one-half game better than Des Moines’ 73–40.]
The manager was Jimmy Manning.
I finished the season with them winning 18 games out of 20.
[Nichols was good in 1888, but not quite that good. The best modern accounting credits him with a record of 16–2, not 18–2. In his own accounting (see below) he recorded a mark with Kansas City that year of 12–2.]
In 1889 I was sold to the St. Joe team in the Western League.
They would not meet my terms. Wanting to pay less than I had been receiving.
After a length of time, I was free to make other arrangements.
So I signed with Omaha Nebraska in the Western League.
Frank Selee was their manager.
Here I won 40 games out of 48.
[The official record credits Nichols with a record of 39–8 for the Omaha Omahogs in 1889. He also led the league in strikeouts, with 368.]
In Omaha we played under the 4 strikes rule.
[Pitching rules changed frequently during the 1880s and early 1890s, both at the major and minor league levels. The number of balls and strikes required to retire a batter or award him first b se had been tinkered with over the decade; at the major league level the number of strikes required to retire a better would settle in at three, finally, after the 1887 season.]
At end of season I was sold to the Boston Club in the National League.
In 1890, I married Jane [also known as Jennie or Janey] Curtin of Kansas City, Mo. She died in 1933.
I have a daughter, Alice, who was born in Boston, Mass. [in 1891]
She married Dr. Harlan L. Everett, a dentist of Kansas City Mo. He passed away in 1949.
It is with my daughter, I make my home.
I have a grandson, Harlan L. Everett Jr. of Kansas City, Kansas. He served in World War II in Air Corps, and a grand[d]aughter, Jane E. Jones, of Larchmont, N.Y. who was formerly a danser. Having appeared in two Broadway shows, and been a member of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, N.Y.
I have 5 greatgrandchildren.
Sandra Nichols Everett of K.C. Kans. 8 yrs.
Sharon Ann Everett of K.C. Kans. 6 yrs.
Harlan L. Everett III of K.C. Kans. 3yrs.
Thomas Gregory Jones of Larchmont, Ny.Y. 4 yrs.
Catherine Lynn Jones of Larchmont, N.Y. 1 yr.
When I first joined the Kansas City Club, at 17 years of age, being of light build, I looked even younger.
The public and the newspapers called me “Kid.” This name has remained with me throughout the years. I’m best known as Charles “Kid” Nichols.
And so in 1890, I reported to the Boston Nationals, with Frank Selee again my manager. You see he took me there with him.
And it was with Boston I remained until 1902.
It was Charley Bennett who caught me most of my games that first year.
I always pitched and batted right handed.
I threw an overhand ball.
Never used a swing in my delivery.
Always pitched straight away.
Using same delivery when men were on base.
Never did I use trick pitching.
To quote from the Kansas City World of 1893.
“Kid” is a hard worker from the word “go.” When in the tightest places he pitches his best game.
He always works to win, and never loses his head. He is the kind of a player that elevates the profession, and if all the players were like the “Kid,” baseball would soon regain its old time popularity. The features of his pitching are speed, headwork, and control of the ball. He has never been troubled with a glass arm, which he attributes to the fact that he delivers the ball with a long easy swing and not a jerk.
From the Ohio State Journal, 1899, signed.
“‘Kid’ Nichols is a monument. He’s other things, too, but he’s a living, breathing effective argument to all ball players of what they might be if they took proper care of themselves. For nine years he has figured as the star twirler of the Boston team without being supplanted, and he seems likely to be there in 1907, for his is not his worst season by any means.
[“]He is always ready for work, never out of condition, and doesn’t know an ailment. He lives up to requirements of his duties, and, though not a physical giant (being rather under the average build of a ball player.) is careful to violate no rule of hygiene or deviate from the rigidity of his chosen course.”
In 1899, Charley Bennett, the great catcher said. (copied)
“There is nothing very peculiar about his delivery. He stands right up in the box and throws many straight balls. He has wonderful control over the ball and every one is right around the plate. They don’t get many bases on balls with him. Most of the balls which Nichols throws are either fast or slow straight balls. His delivery for both fast or slow ball is so nearly alike that only a man who catches him right along or watches him constantly can tell what he is going to throw.
["]His favorite method is to throw fast balls and switch off to slow ones constantly to keep a batter puzzling over what he is going to do. He will give it just a little upward movement or outward shoot of not more than a few inches, but it takes a very quick eye to gauge it.”
I was always in condition to work, and willing to go in the pitchers box.
[There was no such thing as a “disabled list” in the 1890s. But the statistics we do have support Nichols’ assertion on the latter point. During the course of his 15-season career, he averaged 41 appearances, 37 starts and 338 innings of work. The observation regarding his motion is especially interesting with regard to his physical well-being. It is impossible, of course, to precisely quantify why Nichols proved so durable as a pitcher. But let us not lightly dismiss his own view that his simple overhand motion had much to do with it. The motion Nichols describes is today considered the least stressful pitching motion on elbow and shoulder ligaments, tendons and muscles. Beyond that, Nichols was widely understood as almost exclusively a fastball pitcher who changed speeds and relied on control for effect but rarely if ever delivered breaking balls. We tend today to oversimplify the cause of a pitcher’s arm injuries by relating it to age and perceived overwork—largely because the simplest among us can quantify “overwork.” That’s what the ongoing hysteria regarding pitch counts is all about. Consider that Nichols threw 424 innings at age 20 and 2,134 innings by his 25th birthday ... and did so while experiencing no significant arm injury before, during, or after that workload. We can arbitrarily assert that work conditions were “different” then, but that is largely untrue. Modern pitching rules were in full effect by the season of 1893, when Nichols, who was 24, threw 425 innings. Unless we make Nichols out to be a freak of nature, or unless we categorize opposing hitters as incompetents, the most logical solution is that his motion minimized the actual physical strains imposed on the act of throwing a baseball in ways that are largely forgotten today. In fact few pitchers today employ the kind of straight overhand motion Nichols describes; many use an almost horizontal delivery that can maximize dangerous elbow and shoulder torque and lead to injury.]
I never drank or dissipated in any way during my baseball career or since.
Occasionally I filled in the outfield. Once or twice I even played first base, on account of sickness.
[Nichols played 11 major league games in left field, three in center field, and six in right field. He also played six games at first base, one in 1898 and five in 1901. He did not, however, play first base against New York in 1899.]
The salary limit in those days in the National League was $2400.
Expenses while traveling were paid by the Club same as they are today.
So I had no chance to build up a nice nest egg for my years of retirement as the players of today can do.
We had no trainers in those days. Instead, we were trained by the managers.
Major league ball parks I played in other than the ones used today were,
Walpole Grounds Boston.
Old Polo Grounds, NY, Where Rusie + I had a famous battle.
National [Natural] Bridge Rd. + Vandeventer line in St. Louis.
Allegheny Park in Pittsburg.
Old Congress St. Grounds in Chicago.
Comiskey Park in Chicago.
Broadstreet Park in Philadelphia.
[The seven parks named by Nichols represent only a partial list of the ballparks in which he played. Here is the complete list, organized by city.
Baltimore: Union Park.
Boston: South End Grounds I (Walpole Street Grounds), Congress Street Grounds, South End Grounds II.
Brooklyn: Washington Park.
Chicago: Congress Street Grounds, West Side Park, South Side Park. Nichols confuses South Side Park with Comiskey Park, which was constructed on the site of South Side Park, but which was not opened until four years after his retirement from baseball.
Cincinnati: League Park I, League Park II, Palace of the Fans.
Cleveland: National League Park, League Park.
Louisville: Eclipse Park I, Eclipse Park II.
New York: Polo Grounds II, Polo Grounds III
Philadelphia: Philadelphia Baseball Grounds, Baker Bowl. Nichols’ reference to “Broadstreet Park” is likely a reference to Baker Bowl, which was located at the corner of Huntingdon and Broad Streets.
Pittsburgh: Exposition Park. This park was situated near the Alleghany River, a fact that may account for Nichols’ terming it Allegheny Park.
As to the battle with Amos Rusie: On May 12, 1890, these two most feared pitchers met in a game that cemented both of their legends. Nichols was a 20-year-old rookie just one month into his big league career and Rusie a 19-year-old in only his second season. For 12 innings the prodigies, both ranked among the game’s hardest throwers, handcuffed their opponents. Both limited their opposition to just three hits, Rusie striking out 11 and Nichols 10. The issue was finally settled in the bottom of the 13th inning when Giants outfielder Mike Tiernan drove a one-strike pitch into the center field bleachers for a game-winning home run. The victory was one of 29 for Rusie that season; Nichols won 27 games.]
My best batting day, was one day when I was with Boston Nationals. I believe the game was against Baltimore or Cincinnatti. That day I got 2 Home Runs and 2 doubles.
[SABR’s home run log reveals no two-homer days for Nichols, and among his 16 career home runs one was hit against Cincinnati on July 6, 1901, when his homer accounted for Boston’s only run in a 4–1 loss. That might leave the day he hit one against Baltimore: September 19, 1892, when Nichols pitched and won a 14–11 slugfest. But in that game Nichols had only two hits, a homer and a triple.]
As a fielder my record always stood out.
I consider Billy Keeler, Mike Tiernan, Ed Delihanty and Larrie La Joie the toughest hitters I had to pitch to, but I did not dread them.
Remember Hughie Duffy was a member of our team, so I did not face him. In my opinion, Duffy was the greatest hitter.
In 1902, I asked for my release from Boston to manage the Kansas City Club in the Western League.
[Under Nichols, the Kansas City Blue Stockings went 82–54, beating the Omaha Indians (84–56) by three percentage points. Nichols, by the way, was his own best pitcher. His 27 victories and .794 winning percentage were both league highs. Interestingly, the Milwaukee Creams, managed by former Nichols teammate Hugh Duffy, finished third, one game behind Kansas City and Omaha. Nichols managed Kansas City again in 1903, but the Blue Stockings (65–61) fell to third place, 18 games behind Duffy’s Creams.]
This they granted, and I retuned to my home town and won the Pennant.
In 1903, The Big Flood of this district, caused financial losses. So the Western League consolidated with the American Asociation and I lost out.
I then went to St. Louis Nationals, which I managed and played with in 1904.
In 1905, Difficulties with one of the owners. Caused me to ask for my release in mid year.
I then signed up with Philadelphia Nationals whose player manager was Hugh Duffy.
In 1906 I developed pleurisy and was unable to get into condition.So I asked for my release and obtained it.
So ended my Major League Career.
Through the years I only met with two serious accidents.
Wile playing with Boston. In an exhibition game in Waterbury, Conn. I was practicing in outfield. A batted ball hit a stone and bounced up and hit me on the nose, breaking it.
Then in Denver 1902. Before the game, while at practice, a bat slipped out of a player’s hand and hit me on the head. It cut a gash one and one half inches long. I was taken to a doctor’s office to have it sewed up. I returned to the park with my head so swathed in bandages I was unable to wear my cap. In the 7th inning I had to go into the game. (the umpire had ordered the pitcher out of the game on account of arguing) Our other pitcher was unable to pitch on account of the climate so there was nothing else to do but to go in and finish the game. We won the game, which gave us the pennant.
In summing up the Championship Base Ball teams I was a member of, They were.
1888 Memphis Tenn.
1889 Omaha Neb.
1891–1892–1893–1897–1898. Boston Nationals.
1902. Kansas City, Western League.
[The Memphis Grays actually finished second in the Southern League in 1888, five and one-half games behind Birmingham. Nichols did, however, have the satisfaction of leading the league in strikeouts, with 84.]
I consider the Boston National Champions of 1891–’92–’93–’97 and 1898 the greatest Base Ball Club of all time.
I have always smoked cigars.
My life time pitching average was .665. Winning percentage in Big League for 12 years.
[Nichols is today credited with 361 major league victories, and 208 defeats, over 15 seasons. That translates to a .634 winning percentage. His is at this writing tied for sixth with Jim Galvin on the all-time list of winningest pitchers, trailing Cy Young (511), Walter Johnson (417), Grover Cleveland Alexander (373), Christy Mathewson (373), and Warren Spahn (363). The discrepancy between his assessment of his record and the official one does not involve a dispute over any given season, but rather a series of small adjustments or miscalculations over the course of his career. In 1893, for instance, Nichols credited himself with a record of 33 wins, 10 losses; officially he was 34–14. He listed his 1894 record as 33–12; in fact he was 32–13. These sorts of disputes were not uncommon in the late 19th Century, when the rules for scorekeeping were not as firmly set as they are today. For example, the 1898 Spalding Guide listed Nichols’ record for the previous season as 31–12. Nichols himself listed it as 33–11. The modern record book puts him at 31–11 in 1897.]
One event, I do not think has been equaled by any other pitcher.
In 1892. On August 23rd The Boston Club played a double header with St. Louis in Kansas City Mo. I pitched one of these games. Winning 5 to 3.
On August 24th Boston played another double header, this time in St. Louis. I pitched one of the games, and won 3 to 1.
On August 25th. Boston played in Louisville, Ky. Against the Louisville Club. I pitched winning 6 to 1.
[Nichols’ recollection of his achievement of winning three games in three days is essentially in accord with the facts. He errs only in describing the August 24 events in St. Louis as a double-header; in fact, only a single game was played, with Nichols beating Pink Hawley 3–1. Whether three victories in three day—won while allowing five runs—represents an unequaled achievement is a matter for debate. There are at least two other well-known pitching achievements which, if not identical in the details, are in some aspects more remarkable. In September of 1908, Walter Johnson pitched shutouts against New York in three consecutive games played over four days. Later that month, Chicago Cubs pitcher Ed Reulbach shut out the Brooklyn Dodgers in both ends of a double-header, allowing a total of just six hits.]
The following words are as near accurate, I believe as can be figured. [Mathematical and other errors preserved; Nichols neglects his four games pitched with Philadelphia in 1906, with a record of 0–1.]
“The three best consecutive years of pitching (a total of 60 or more games) he placed ‘Kid’ Nichols 1st with. Games 35–33–32 total 100 av. 33.3 Those are years 1892–93 + 94 Which shows 33 on our record.”
[This claim is simple hyperbole. Nichols is today credited with 101 victories during the 1892–1894 seasons. Here is a not necessarily complete list of pitchers who won that many or more games in three consecutive seasons: Charles Radbourn, 140 wins in 1882–1884; Jim Galvin, 120 wins in that same period; John Clarkson, 127 wins in 1885–1887; Mickey Welch, 116 wins in 1884–1886; Tim Keefe, 112 wins in 1886–1888; Tony Mullane, 105 wins in 1883–1885, and Larry Corcoran, 101 wins in 1880–1882.]
“In average Victories per year.
Nichols places 2nd with 14 years for 25.4 Ave games Won, Radurne is first with 11 yrs.”
“In 3 consecutive years rated according to best percentages of games won.
Nichols is 7th. W. 92 L. 34 Ave 731.
I do not know the years.”
“In the Thousand strike out Artist.
Nichols is 6th with 14 years. 1820 S O. 130 Ave.”
[The years, of course, have not been kind to Nichols in this category. He is officially credited with 1,881 strikeouts, a total that stands him outside the top 75 all time. The leader is Nolan Ryan with 5,714. The first name on the list when Nichols penned his notes, Walter Johnson (3,509), now ranks 9th.]
“Of pitchers who have won .600 of their games ‘Kid’ Nichols ranked 12th.”
In 1892, Boston Nationals won 102 lost 48.
The same year Nichols pitched 51 games or 1/3rd of the games played. Winning 35 and lost 16.
By the way. Remember these were 9 inning games as a rule. Not 1 innings as so often is quoted today.
[Nichols was durable in part because his managers had few other options. In the 1890s, teams rarely carried more than four or five pitchers at any given time. Even so, Nichols can be forgiven a boast about his durability. His 562 starts included 532 complete games, a 95 percent rate. For comparison, Bob Feller, a pitcher similar to Nichols in stature and style at the time he wrote these notes, started 228 games between 1940 and 1950 and completed 171 of them. That is a 75 percent rate.]
[The numbers tell a slightly different story. Nichols was one of the principals in 131, not 110, games that were decided by one run. While he did win 75 of those games, that leaves 56—not 35—defeats for a .573 winning percentage that is below his overall .634 percentage. Counter-intuitively, Nichols was not particularly successful in one-run games while pitching for pennant winning teams. In Boston’s five championship seasons—1891, ’92, ’93, ’97 and ’98—his cumulative record in one-run games was just 23–21. For some reason, Nichols was at his best in tight games when he pitched with poorer clubs behind him. In 1904, Nichols’ Cardinals finished fifth with a record of 75–79. Yet Nichols won 11 of the 14 games he pitched that were decided by a single run. In 1894, when the three-time defending champion Beaneaters slumped to third place, Nichols won nine of 11 one-run decisions. In 1890 he was 8–4 in one-run games for a fifth place Boston club.]
“Nichols blanked his opponents 50 times and had 110 games where he held the opposition to 5 hits or less per game.” [He is today credited with 48 shutouts.]
Mr. J. F. Rollins, who assembled these records, makes base ball his hobby. And his records of other ball players. I have other interesting data he has assembled for me. A record of the other pitchers on my teams with our standings.
“Year of of 1890. Youngest man to win 27 games his first year in the big league. Was 20 years old.”
“Young and Nichols both started in 1890 and pitched 1890–91–92 at 50 foot pitching distance.
In 1893–94–95 and after at the present 60 ft distance.”
Took up golf in 1908 winning one city championship.
Gave up Golf + Bowling in 1947 under Doctor’s orders.
During the years I played base ball, I followed several different fields of work in the winter.
I coached Amherst and Brown College each one season.
Sold gents furnishings one winter in Boston, at [text absent].
I Backed my brothers in the Laundry business in Kansas City. But the one who was managing it died, so I sold out.
During my Base ball years, my favorite exercise in the winter was bowling.
About 1892. I helped organize the first bowling league formed in K.C.
In 1895 I was a member of a team that rolled 2665 which was considered the record of the U.S. at that time.
So what was more natural, than for me to go into the bowling business.
In 1908. I was called to Oshkosh to manage their team in the Wisconsin, Illinois League.
For several summers I had a base ball team, the “Kid Nichol Kids” in the Inter City League, in K.C. Mo.
[The most prominent alum of the Kid Nichols Kids was almost certainly a local kid named Charles Dillon Stengel, later known to the world as Casey. Nichols liked to tell the story that Stengel, a neighborhood kid, came up to his house one day and asked the famed athlete “how can I become a big league ballplayer?” “Join my team,” Nichols said he replied. Stengel did and within a few years was playing outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Nichols also developed a relationship with fellow Kansas Citian andChicago Cubs catcher Johnny Kling. An accomplished pool player in his spare time, Kling had opened a billiards hall that, by 1909, became very profitable. So the catcher staged a one-season retirement from the Cubs, returned to Kansas City to run his pool hall, and helped Nichols with his semi-pro team in the interim. When the three-time champion Cubs lost the 1909 pennant, many in Chicago blamed the defeat on Kling’s defection. There may have been more than partisan grumbling to it:Kling returned to the Cubs in 1910, and they won their fourth pennant in five years.]
I also had several bowling teams known as the “Kid Nichols Kids.” The one in 1909 Won the Mid West Bowling Championship in St. Joseph Mo.
In 1935 I was City Bowling Champion.
About 1912 I changed from the bowling business to the Picture Show game. Not having success in it, I traveled, booking pictures for a while.
I also have sold insurance.
My board was operated in Convention Hall and at the Kansas City Star to great success until Radio came in.
In 1915 I coached the Missouri Valley College Base Ball team.
I have attended two of the Old Timer games—1922 and 1939.
About 1921 I went back to the bowling game as manager.
This I continued in until 1947 when I was retired because of my age.
Receiving the honor which came my way in 1949. Namely to be entered into Base Ball’s Hall of Fame has been one of the happiest periods of my life.
In 1927 I became a member of the Co-Operative Club of Kansas City Mo. It is a Civic Club.
After I was nominated to the Hall of Fame, My club gave a party and voted me an Honorary Member of the Club.
[And thus the story ends.]
First midseason all-star game? Some nineteenth-century-baseball smartypants might point to the three Fashion Race Course contests of 1858, and he would be right. “Picked nines” from the top clubs of New York played against those selected from the elite clubs of the rival city, Brooklyn. New York won the match, two games to one, and ushered in the age of professionalism. Not only was this the first instance of paid admission to a ball grounds, but it also spurred a resentment by Brooklyn’s Excelsiors of the selection process, dominated by the rival Atlantics … which led to the Excelsiors’ incentivized recruitment of Jim Creighton. Bob Schaefer treats this landmark series admirably at:
However, the first midseason all-star game in organized professional baseball came not in 1858, or in 1933, when the American League All-Stars defeated the Nationals, 4-2, but in 1903, in a Class D minor league in my own backyard: the short-lived Hudson River League. Let me tell you about it.
In 1902 African American pitcher Andrew Foster won 51 games for the Cuban X-Giants of Philadelphia. In one of these games he defeated the squirrelly lefthanded ace of the Philadelphia Athletics, Rube Waddell, thus acquiring his nickname.
In early September of 1903, Rube Foster and the X-Giants defeated the Philadelphia Giants in the first black World Series (although it was not until 1924 that the champions of two distinct Negro Leagues squared off in a postseason contest). Then the X-Giants took to the road, playing white minor-league and semipro teams and making good money. On September 21, 1903, Rube Foster and his champions came to Kingston to play at the Driving Park, a new baseball grounds opposite the West Shore depot.
Their opponents, the Kingston Colonials, were only four days away from clinching the pennant of the Hudson River League, a minor circuit in its first year of operation. The Saugerties Colts had broken from the gate well, winning their opener at home against Newburgh, 5-2, on May 21, then taking their next three games as well; but by September the Colts had slid back into the pack as Kingston’s Colonials and Hudson’s Marines emerged as the obvious class of the league. The Poughkeepsie Giants finished far behind Saugerties, as did the Newburgh Taylor-Mades and the Catskill squad, which had relocated from Ossining in August. Peekskill, which had declined to join the HRL at the beginning of the season, changed its mind on August 10 and fared well enough in its truncated season to finish third as measured by won-lost percentage.
The star player of the Saugerties nine into September had been Art DeGroff, a product of Hyde Park, where he had played with the Robin Hoods. (Other Robin Hoods who went on to play in the HRL were Artie Rice of Kingston, later sheriff of Ulster County and city treasurer of Kingston; Bill “Pony” Farley, who played 2B for Saugerties and later moved to New York City; and Eugene Ressigiue, who played outfield and pitched for Kingston in 1905.) DeGroff, a pitcher and hard-hitting center fielder who reached the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1905-06, played professionally through 1917. Yet when interviewed at the age of 69 he recalled: “I had the most wonderful time of my life that year in Saugerties. They treated the players like sons and brothers. They invited you to their homes. When you had a good day, why they were tickled to death…. As you go up in baseball you lose all that….”
Art DeGroff was Saugerties’ lone selection to play in the Hudson River League’s midseason All-Star Game. That momentous contest was played in Poughkeepsie on August 17. The stars, called the All-Leaguers, defeated Poughkeepsie by a score of 7 to 0 before a capacity crowd. Demonstrating Kingston’s dominance in the league, five of the stars were from the Kingston Colonials, with one each from Catskill, Peekskill, Hudson and Saugerties. The Newburgh club provided no one.
On September 11, with Saugerties out of the race and Kingston struggling to hold off the late charge of Hudson, DeGroff was traded downriver in a fishy deal, with Kingston giving in return a nondescript outfielder, Bill Peoples, and a sore-armed pitcher, George Van Riper.
And now we come full circle. Ten days after joining Kingston, DeGroff took the mound against the Cuban X-Giants. Not only did the black champions have Foster as their hurler, they also had Home Run Johnson at shortstop, Danny McClellan in center, Pete Hill at third, and the remarkable Charley Grant at second. The light-skinned Grant was so highly prized that in spring training two years before, John McGraw, then manager of the Baltimore Orioles, had tried to smuggle him into the American League as a full-blooded Cherokee, “Chief Tokohama,” who was said to have barnstormed with Guy Green’s noted Nebraska Indians, a team that on several occasions played in Ulster County. The ruse worked through several exhibition games as the Orioles headed north … until they reached a locale where Grant’s fans came out to the park and hailed him as “Charley.” On March 31, 1901 the Washington Post reported: “There is a report in circulation that Manager McGraw’s Indian player is not a Cherokee at all, but is the old-time colored player, Grant.”
Rube Foster, who would go on to create the Negro National League in 1920 and in 1981 earn a plaque in Cooperstown, defeated the Kingston Colonials, but barely. Coming up on the short side of the 3-2 score, Art DeGroff pitched brilliantly. It may be coincidence, but by the time he reached Rochester for the 1904 campaign, and forevermore thereafter, he too was known as “Rube.”
On September 20, the day before the once and future Rubes were to duel in Kingston, Hudson and Poughkeepsie played an unbelievable quadruple-header. In what is the longest day any professional team has endured in the twentieth century, Poughkeepsie lost all four games.
Nary a man alive can recall this Hudson River League of 1903-07, nor obviously its predecessor of 1886, in which Cy Young’s future catcher, Chief Zimmer of Poughkeepsie, would win the batting title with a mark of .409, nipping Kingston’s Myron Allen, a future big leaguer with the New York Giants, by only six points. To digress further for a moment, the Kingston Leaders of the 1880s were so formidable a semipro nine success that at an organizing meeting of the upcoming third major league, the Union Association, on October 20, 1883, they applied to become a big-league team along with aspirants from Lancaster and Richmond. They failed to win entry, but one of their star players, Dick Johnston, went on to play for Richmond in the Union Association in 1884 and for many years thereafter was a celebrated center fielder with Boston.
The HRL of 1903-07 is notable for several oddities and firsts. Its teams and fans traveled together to distant games by riverboat, boarding the celebrated Mary Powell for the trip south to New York City to play the Paterson (New Jersey) Intruders, who entered the league in 1904. The Kingston and Saugerties teams defeated two of the most famous barnstorming outfits of the day, the All-Cubans (the genuine article, not African-American “impostors” like the Cuban X-Giants) and the Sioux Indians (whose pedigree as Sioux, or even Indians, was open to question). The contest between these Sioux Indians and the Kingston Colonials the previous year had been played at night, incredible as that may seem, under arc lights at the Driving Park. The major leagues’ first night game did not take place until 1935.
Many big leaguers passed through the old HRL, either on the way up or on the way down. Most of these names are known only as trivia questions, obscure bit players in the major-league pageant. Elmer Steele, Joe Lake, Ernie Lindeman, Pete Cregan, Al Burch, George Gibson, Heinie Beckendorf, Phil Cooney, Pete Lamar — and three genuine stars: Jimmy Dygert of the 1903 Poughkeepsie team who as a spitballer with the Phladelphia A’s in 1907 would post a record of 21-7 that included three shutout wins in four days; George McQuillan of the 1905 Patersons, a ten-year major leaguer who with the Phillies in 1910 would lead the league with an ERA of 1.60; and the inimitable Dan Brouthers.
A Hall of Famer who was undoubtedly the most feared slugger of the nineteenth century, Brouthers played first base for Poughkeepsie in 1903-05 as well as for Newburgh in 1906. Big Dan’s splendid career in the bigs had appeared to end with the Phillies in 1896, despite his batting .344 at the age of 37, two points above his lifetime average. In 1897 he marked his exile to Springfield by leading the Eastern League in batting (.415, with 208 hits) but as the new century turned he returned home to Wappingers Falls. When a new league opened its doors for business right around the corner from his horse farm, however, he got back in harness. On June 1, 1904, in a game at the Driving Park in Saugerties (at the site of the present Cantine Field, but with its home plate facing the other way) Brouthers went 6-for-6 with a grand slam and a three-run homer. Saugertiesian Merce Farrell, whom I interviewed back in 1981 when he was 83, recalled sneaking into that game; he declared that the old man’s two home runs were the longest balls anyone in the town had ever seen or ever would see. At year’s end the 46-year-old Brouthers wound up leading the league in batting with a mark of .373 and as a reward was even called up to the New York Giants at season’s end to play in two games.
Oh, we had stories and stars back then, right in our backyard. Here’s to the old Hudson River League!
This is the keynote speech delivered at SABR’s 42nd annual convention on June 29, 2012. On September 22, 1884, the Boston Unions were playing the St. Louis club when shortstop Walter Hackett, who had played in nearly all the club’s games, showed up too sick to play. Outfielder Kid Butler shifted to short, as an amateur named Clarence Dow was called in from the stands. He played the whole game in the outfield and did well—you could look it up, and with this audience, I know you will—but never played another big league game, instead becoming a baseball statistician and reporter for the Boston Globe.
Right now I am feeling a bit like Clarence Dow. Why have I been plucked from the audience to play before my peers? I suspect that the reason I am standing up here, rather than seated in my accustomed spot among you, has something to do with my role as Official Historian of Major League Baseball.
Last year, within days of my appointment by Commissioner Selig, I spoke before the New York City regional chapter of SABR. I said then that, gratifying as this post might be to me, it was also a bouquet toss to SABR, without which I could not have come to understand and serve the game. Several of you in the audience have collaborated with me in Total Baseball and other sabermetric efforts, in historical research, and in SABR publications. Truly, if today I occupy a high standing in baseball it is in good measure because I stand on your shoulders. Thank you.
SABR has been great for me, for its members, and for the game … but now I think it is poised to be even better. The “New SABR”—in its new location, with new leadership, a new digital publishing program, and a new initiative of sponsored conferences—has been embraced halfheartedly by many longtime members. They liked the “Old SABR” just fine the way it was, and have opined, in effect, that if a thing ain’t broke, why fix it? Given the troubling demographic trends of our membership, the question confronting the Society appears to be whether we may continue to enjoy it as we always have—in my case for thirty-two years—or whether we ought to do some “estate planning,” to leave something of enduring value to those who follow.
I have long described SABR as baseball’s best-kept secret. That was once a compliment but became a problem. I believe that SABR’s leadership, in a moment of crisis, has seized an opportunity to promote the Society’s work before a broad fanbase, and to raise awareness of the broad benefits to baseball of historical study and statistical analysis. Set aside for the moment whether—as a byproduct of, for example, SABR’s newly announced relationship with Major League Baseball Advanced Media—membership increases, remains stable, or marginally declines. Set aside whether the new readers SABR gains at mlb.com will be researchers or, more likely, consumers, unconcerned with how the sausage was made. Writers ought to want readers, and more of them rather than fewer.
Will the New SABR have to change its focus? Will those who loved the Old SABR be cast out of the revamped organization, at the hands of some death panel? I would like to suggest that the new opportunities to extend our message and to enhance our value require the very traits that have permitted SABR to continue into a fifth decade. We are nerds, you and I. We endure the predictable slings and arrows on the whole cheerfully, not only because we know who we are but also because we live in the age of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and other nerds for whom data, when shared, become life’s most rewarding currency.
Ernie Harwell once said: “SABR is the Phi Beta Kappa of baseball.” That remains true, and the New SABR cannot succeed by pretending to be less smart than it is. This is especially true in the Age of the Nerd, in which knowledge is, at long last, cool. For many years SABR’s officials bristled when its members were painted with a broad brush and called sabermetricians. They protested that Society members were also interested in history, and culture, and ballparks, and the Negro Leagues, and the international game. True, true, but I think it is a good thing that now we do not protest quite so much. The success of the SABR Analytics Conference in March is testament that Bill James did us a great favor by coining the term sabermetrics.
Change can be painful in the short run, but change is good. My take on the changes in SABR that have vexed some veteran members is that the New SABR, as it rolls out, will be remarkably like the Old SABR. Like baseball itself, on any given day it will be the same but different. Even if we fit into the larger baseball community a bit better, we will continue to be nerds, proudly self-identified misfits.
You meet the most interesting people at a SABR gathering such as this one—those who believe that it’s what you know, not whom you know, that counts. For me, that is almost a definition of nerddom, a subject of deeply personal interest. I have sometimes thought of writing a book about SABR’s most unusual members, but each time I have turned away because objectivity is impossible. How could I write about nerds as them when it so aptly describes me? In my hastily conducted case study, a baseball nerd, a baseball fan, and a baseball fantasy player are all united by their intense interest in something which they know, in the end, when matched against faith or family or philosophy, may not matter much.
Here we are in mid-summer, the acme of the real and natural world of baseball. Yet for some of the game’s most ardent devotees, like those of us here, the seasons pass almost without notice. For them … us … the grass does not turn brown, ever; in the green fields of their minds there is a perpetual thrill of the grass. Always, there are baseball statistics to digest, projections to make, fantasy transactions to contemplate, and history’s attic to excavate.
Jocks may call such studious fans nerds, intending to deprecate their drive to gather, interpret, and invent new ways of understanding the grand old game that jocks have always thought they understood pretty damned well. Jocks and nerds are both stereotypes, but in the intensity of their dedication to “mere games,” they are more alike than different.
I have walked the nerds’ walk and talked their talk not only in my years as a writer on baseball history and statistics. I have always been one of them—literally an old boy, a strangely earnest lad—as long as I can remember, even before nerd was a word.
It has always been easy to be nerdy, even when my detached, obsessively focused demeanor seemed to be a problem for others. (“Why can’t you be normal?” my exasperated mother used to wail.) Being odd has been the source of substantial solitary pleasure and a lifetime of wonderful friendships with other like minds, who signaled their membership in the nerd tribe not by their devotion to baseball, necessarily, but simply by the intensity of their curiosity, regardless of its object. These were people worth knowing.
In recent years nerds have begun to distinguish themselves from drips, dweebs, geeks, and duds, pejoratives applied by the cool kids for a century and more. While the dictionaries continue to treat square and nerd as synonyms, ask around and you’ll find that nearly everyone detects a difference: while both terms connote a measure of social ineptitude or at least discomfort, nerd has come to be associated with intellectual aptitude. It is worn as a badge of honor, even by those not reduced to quivering jelly in the presence of the opposite sex. Indeed, times are good for nerds right now, and not only at the helm of Microsoft or Apple: the internet has brought myriad ways for birds of a feather to flock together and to influence mainstream society and culture.
Dr. Seuss created the nerd in If I Ran the Zoo (“And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo / And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo / A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!”). The first citation in print after that came in the February 10, 1957, issue of the Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday Mail: “Nerd—a square, any explanation needed?” Like the square peg in the round hole, in the age of conformity the 1957-model nerd came to be simply another term for misfit. Fifteen years later, nerds began to drift into Silicon Valley and Wall Street, and such newly sprouted “nonconformist clubs” as SABR. Sport proved a particularly fertile ground for alternative viewpoints: the very term denotes peculiarity, as in “sport of the litter.”
The stereotype of the nerd is one who is more comfortable with computers (or, back in the early days of SABR, index cards and shoeboxes!) than with human beings. The nerd has a keen scent for phoniness and opposes the dominant culture. The nerd regards information as the most valuable of all currencies, as it permits him or her to show up the fatheads who run major software companies, news organizations, and the like. Globally, techno-nerds are united in their hunt for covert data. No bit of information is too trivial for consideration, as long as it was not previously known. This, by the way, describes SABR at its most mockable level.
It is the prestige of ownership that makes a data hound into a geek among geeks; I offer myself as, occasionally, a case in point. It’s pretty childish, really, because the most accomplished nerds, and the ones who gain the respect of their kind, are those who are most disposed to share and least inclined to preen. And yet … the lure of late-night web trawling is that you will find something, very nearly in plain sight, that had been overlooked for eons until you, oh perspicacious one, spied the gold amidst the dross.
A nerd trait we might term stubbornness (or independence, or principle, or tenacity) might as easily be called arrested development, a broad and amorphous label that is marked by three essential qualities: a treacly nostalgia for a false childhood, one more imagined than lived, with unrealized adult benchmarks; an affectionate attachment to the media kitsch of one’s childhood, such as the theme song to Gilligan’s Island; and, most importantly, an improbably preserved childish sense of curiosity and wonder. A veneer of cynicism may also present in a self-protective way, but it will be easily penetrated: scratch a cynic and find a sentimentalist.
In the further classification of nerds it may be noted that they don’t like to be fussed over, be confined in small places, or have their personal space violated by strangers. (They may themselves, however, be fussy, pushy, and insensitive to the social requirements of others.) Like Amazon headhunters, they collect things, either mementos of experiences they may have had or wish to have had, or items associated with persons of power, from Winston Churchill to Babe Ruth. With their active imaginations nerds generally have little need for the company of others, though on the odd occasions when they are feeling companionable, the absence of companions may seem a cruelly personal affront.
In my own life as a nerd, I learned to read by deciphering the backs of cereal boxes and baseball cards. Like all lonely boys I became a listmaker and daydreamer, able to slip into a warm fuzzy fugue state. I built models, I collected fetishes—from baseball cards to bottle caps, from comic books to back-date magazines—and thus fortified myself against the demands of the outside world, in my intense devotion to mastery as the amulet against … who knew what. Even today, when I might look back on a long career, I remain on the lookout for the next thing, the way a man will look over the shoulder of his date at a dinner table to check the woman who’s just walked in the door. There’s nothing that is as much fun, Yogi Berra ought to have said, as learning something you didn’t know before.
Far more than social disability, it is the delight of knowing things and gathering tales that defines nerddom. Despite nerds’ public show of odd interests, there is a secret joy that pervades their lives, blurring the distinction between work and play, between adult and child. This may serve either to perpetuate childhood or to make up for a childhood missed.
My parents, given to second-guessing my every move when we were in the same place, went off to work daily and thus were occupied elsewhere much of the time, permitting me to spend a significant part of my youth playing ball and pursuing vice (with only middling success in either). This is how and when I was made a nerd. Finding a place of retreat was, as I saw it, a path to happiness, a world of my own making.
For many Future Nerds of America that world would be off in the future, a science-fiction playground. For me that safe haven was in the past. Old books, old music, old film, old folks long dead but not to me. This was a private world, a world that was perfect … if, perhaps, not perfectly sane. It was fitting that, as I progressed in baseball and early on gravitated to statistics, I should be described as a “figure filbert,” that old-fashioned term for a stats nut.
Which brings us back to the one-game major leaguer whom I mentioned at the head of this speech, Clarence Dow, who became a sportswriter. Upon Dow’s untimely death at age 38, Boston Globe sports editor Jacob Morse wrote:
He was pre-eminently alone in his line. There was no one to vie with him, no one in his class. Dow was the greatest statistician the game ever knew. He gloated over his statistics, and many of his tables were entirely original with him. His matter in the Boston Globe every Monday during the base ball season was devoured with the greatest avidity by the base ball cranks. He can’t be replaced, because no one can he found who can or will take time to undertake the tremendous amount of work necessary to produce like results.
Clarence Dow, a pioneering nerd, is a neglected patron saint of SABR. “He can’t be replaced,” Jacob Morse said of him, but of course he was—by Ernie Lanigan, by F.C. Lane, by Allan Roth, by Pete Palmer, by Bill James, and legions more. Baseball has not lacked for nerds. But until Bob Davids came up with the idea of SABR, back in 1971, there was no place for them to convene and consult with their brethren. There was no way but through lone and lonely effort, sadly unpublicized, to advance our understanding of this great game.
If the New SABR is to reach greater heights, as I believe it is bound to do, it will do so upon the foundations built by the Old SABR. If we are to continue to record and preserve the story of baseball, and to provide a virtual think tank for its analysis, then the Old SABR must play the vital role—simply by continuing to be itself.
To conclude, I invoke the words of The Most Interesting Man in the World:
“Stay nerdy, my friends.”
I’ll soon be running off to Minneapolis for the 42nd annual convention of the Society for American Baseball Research, where I’ll be delivering the keynote speech. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to post an entry of customary length this week, so may file a couple of odd squibs like the one below. These were great plays, as viewed in 1913, yet unknown to me; some have lost their claim on immortality, so let’s dust them off now, nearly a hundred years after William Shepard Walsh offered them up in his Handy Book of Curious Information.
One of the most spectacular of recorded feats in fielding is credited to ”Wee Willie” Keeler, in a match played at Baltimore, in the early nineties, between the Baltimores and the Bostons. Keeler was right fielder for the home club. Right field there and then was a terror to visiting players, and a discomfort even to the visited. It ran down a rough and weedy hill and was backed by a fence which sloped upward at an angle of 65 degrees. The two clubs were engaged in a frantic duel for the pennant. [This detail, plus the fact that Stahl did not play with Boston until 1897, establishes that year as the likely date, rather than "the early nineties," as the author recalled.] Late in the game, with runners on bases, [Chick] Stahl, of the Bostons, drove to right field a long fly that looked like a certain winner for his club. Keeler, realizing that the ball would be out of reach from the field itself, leaped nimbly upon the slope of the fence, and, mounting higher and higher, reached for and caught the ball just as it was sailing over the fence. His momentum carried him further up the incline and ended by precipitating him over the other side of the fence, but he firmly held the ball aloft as he disappeared. His reappearance a moment later was greeted with what the reporters, with a nice mixture of metaphors, called “a rousing ovation.”
Up to date this had been the greatest individual feat ever performed on the field. In 1895, however, Bill Lange, center fielder for the Chicagos, established a new record in Washington. Incidentally he saved himself from fines, aggregating $200, imposed upon him by Captain Anson. Having missed a train from New York he had arrived on the ball-field only just in time to join in the game. In the first half of the eleventh inning Chicago broke a tie by scoring one run. Washington in its half had one man on first base with two out, when “Kip” Selbach, its hardest hitter, sent the ball flying over Lange’s head. “Home run!” howled the Washington fans. Lange, a man weighing 225 pounds, turned his back to the ball and sprinted desperately toward the center-field fence. Then, as the ball was going over his head, he reached and caught it, turned a somersault, crashed against the fence, broke through it, and crawled back out of the wreckage, never having let go of the ball.
The crowd stood up on the benches, stamped, howled, whistled, went mad.
Lange limped in home.
“Fines go, Cap?” he asked, briefly.
“Nope,” said Anson, more briefly.
Hugh S. Fullerton, an expert authority, writing in the American Magazine for June, 1910, signalizes as the greatest episode in base-ball history the famous tenth inning in a game played at Columbus, Ohio, between the home team and the St. Louis. It was the last day of the season . St. Louis and Brooklyn were almost a tie for the championship, the situation being as follows:
If both teams lost or both won, St. Louis would capture the pennant for the fifth consecutive time, an unparalleled record. A fortiore the same result would follow if St. Louis won and Brooklyn lost. On the other hand, Brooklyn could only become champion if on that last day Brooklyn won and St. Louis lost.
In the early stages of the St. Louis-Columbus game, the victory of the Brooklyns (playing in the East) was announced. The championship, therefore, depended on the success or failure of the St. Louis club. One can imagine the excitement and suspense of the spectators at Columbus and the fans all over the country when the ninth inning left the two antagonists close-locked in a tie. St. Louis scored one run in her half of the tenth inning. More excitement, more suspense. Then came a moment of almost frantic unrest with two men out and a runner on second base. “Big Dave” Orr came to the plate for Columbus. Three balls! Two strikes! The next ball pitched must decide the greatest event of the base-ball year. It whirled from the pitcher’s hand, it was met fair and square by Orr’s bat, it sailed back over center field,–the longest hit, some say, ever made,–and home came the man from second base and home came Big Dave.
This last story illustrates well the perils confronting one who would grasp baseball history on the fly. Received wisdom is often not so smart. (I’ll spare you the Doubleday-Cartwright patter.) It turns out that Dave Orr DID hit a walkoff homer at Columbus to defeat the Browns but the event took place on September 1, with 45 days left in the season schedule. Orr’s victim on the Browns, by the way, was ambidextrous pitcher Elton “Ice Box” Chamberlain, who won his nickname for the cool demeanor with which, while in the box, he caught flies (the insect variety) and ate them.
Oh, the stories could keep running, but summer is a-coming in, and we really ought to save such ramblings for the hot stove league.