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Bowing Out On Top

Cap Anson.

Cap Anson

While researching the strange career of Henry Moore, Washington Nationals outfielder who hit .336 in his lone season in major league baseball (in the Union Association of 1884), I recalled having published this fine article by James D. Smith III in The National Pastime of 1983. Smith was, in 1983, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard and had contributed to historical, religious, and sports publications. Today, The Rev. Dr. James D. Smith III is Professor of Church History at Bethel Seminary in California, and is part time Minister of Pastoral Care at Fletcher Hills Presbyterian Church. As to Henry (also known as Harry or Hen) Moore, I will devote a full column to him next week.

In the early months of 1926, Ty Cobb recounts in his autobiography, My Life in Baseball, the great outfielder was obliged to submit to eye surgery at the Johns Hopkins Clinic in Baltimore: “the dust of a thousand ballfields was in my eyes.” Shortly before he was admitted, a poem appeared in one of the local papers:

The curtain’s going to drop, old chap

For Time has taken toll,

And you could never play a part

Except the leading role.

You might go on and play and play,

But why go on for folks to say

“There’s old Ty Cobb, still on the job,

But not the Cobb of yesterday.”

The record shows that the Georgia Peach not only played that season, but added two more with the Philadelphia A’s before hanging up his spikes–batting over .300 each time. The point, however, is well taken: it has been said that, amid all the physical and mental exertion, the toughest thing for a ballplayer is knowing when to quit. And, as does no other sport, baseball often provides a decisive statistical indication of that moment when the sun has dropped below the horizon of a career.

The story is told of another Hall of Famer, Adrian (Cap) Anson, relating an incident which occurred a few years before his death in 1922. The old Chicago veteran was involved in a Windy City accident which nearly claimed his life. This prompted a close friend, half-jokingly, to ask what he would like as an epitaph when the time came for him to be laid to rest. With little hesitation, the reply came: “I guess one line will be enough–just write this on my tombstone: ‘here lies a man that batted .300.’ ” Pop Anson, of course, had finished his career on that note, batting .302 at the ripe age of forty-six.

But how many have gone out that way, clearing that time-honored barrier, satisfied with a strong effort at the plate during their final major league campaign? And, for those closing their big league careers in that manner, how was such a decision made—what marked the end? These two questions provide the starting point for a glance backward into a century of baseball history.

At the outset, four points must be made. As implied above, our investigation does not begin with any so-called “modern era” of baseball (1893? 1900? 1901? 1903?). In 1968, the Special Baseball Records Committee declared that major league baseball has been played in America since 1876. To approach completeness, even with changes  in the game and some records still being researched, our story must begin at the beginning and recognize the continuities.

Second, since many players have appeared briefly for a “cup of coffee” on major league rosters, or played only occasionally, some criterion of involvement is necessary. For our purposes, the measure of a “regular” player is not number of games, but a number of plate appearances equal to 2.5 times the scheduled games. That is, for a 154-game season, 385 appearances provide a cut-off point; for 1877, when the schedule called for 60 games, the figure becomes 150 plate appearances.

Next, not all players end their careers voluntarily—some do; most don’t.

(1) Some leave the game for health reasons.

(2) A few have been permanently suspended—barred from major league ball.

(3) Far more frequently, players have continued their careers in Organized Baseball by catching on with a minor league team.

(4) Finally, there is a story behind each of the thirty-six regulars who batted .300 in his last major league season; four of these–one from each of the categories listed above–will serve to epitomize the group. And within each group, four others will have their tales told in brief.

Smith ChartSome players are familiar, others obscure–but all reach beyond the statistics to provide a brief glimpse of the wealth of baseball history. Eight players played regularly in their final campaign, batted .300, and retired voluntarily from Organized Baseball.

Cap Anson has been mentioned above, retiring in 1897 after twenty-two legendary seasons with Chicago. In Anson’s obituary, Grantland Rice best summed up what lay behind his retirement: “The light in his batting eye was still carrying a bright glow when his ancient arms and legs had at last given away and ended his career upon the field.” His involvement with baseball was to continue in a variety of management and business ventures, including an unhappy stint as manager of Andrew Freedman’s New York Giants.

Bill Lange

Bill Lange

Bill Lange stands as the finest everyday, all-around player to retire from baseball at the peak of his career. Born in San Francisco, he developed there both his baseball skills and a lifelong attachment to the Bay Area. In 1893, aged twenty-one, he began his seven-season major league career with the Chicago Colts. By the time player-manager Anson retired, Lange was already being hailed by some as “the greatest player of the age.”

His physical tools were impressive. In an age of generally smaller players, he stood 6’2″ and weighed over 200 pounds. Moreover, he was lightning fast as a runner, as well as being agile in the outfield.

The 1897 season was vintage Lange. In the spring, he was helping to coach the Stanford baseball team. On March 5, he received a telegram summoning him to the Colts’ training camp in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Determined to remain in the West until local favorite Gentleman Jim Corbett’s fight with Bob Fitzsimmons in Nevada, his first stalling tactic was to send a wire refusing to report until he received a $500 raise. But the raise was quickly granted (provided he come immediately and tell no one of the bonus). The fight was scheduled for March 17. So he managed to “sprain his ankle,” wiring the news on March 12 that it should be all right in a week. It was (Corbett wasn’t), and Lange finally reported in time to hit .340 with 73 stolen bases.

More famous, however, was his 1896 campaign. Despite stealing 84 bases and batting .326, it was his fielding that would become legendary. AI Spalding, when selecting his all-time major league team years later, chose Lange even over Tris Speaker. “Both men,” he reflected, “could go back or to either side equally well. Both were lightning fast in handling ground balls. But no man I ever saw could go forward and get a low line drive like Lange.”

During the 1899 season, his last, a romance with Miss Grace Geiselman of San Francisco blossomed. After the campaign, wedding plans were made for the spring, and in October (with his fiancee in Europe) Bill Lange announced his retirement from baseball. He left to take up a position in a large real estate and insurance firm in his native city, accepting a partnership with his father-in-law to be.

In the following years, he played occasionally and became involved in scouting (sending nephew George Kelly to the majors) and in the business end of baseball in California. He died in 1950, mourned in his native San Francisco and by all in Chicago who ever saw him play.

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb, after twenty-four seasons of American League baseball, issued a statement on September 17, 1928, declaring that he was in his final campaign: “I prefer to retire while there still may remain some base hits in my bat. Baseball is the greatest game in the world. I owe all that I possess in the way of worldly goods to this game. For each week, month, and year of my career, I have felt a deep sense of responsibility to the grand old national sport that has been everything to me. I will not reconsider. This is final.” His aching legs and old wounds made his final season, the last of two under Connie Mack, “hellishly hard.”

Ted Williams, thirty-two years later, closed out his magnificent career with the Red Sox with a 425-foot home run at Fenway Park on September 28. Earlier in the season, after hitting his 500th home run, he had remarked: “I want to play out the year if I can. I hope I can get through it. I know I can’t play all the time. I need a rest about every fourth day. But I think I’ll be able to hit the rest of the year. I believe I can still help the club.” And hit he did, rebounding from his only sub-.300 season in a career which touched four decades. After his final game, in the dressing room: “I’m convinced I’ve quit at the right time. There’s nothing more I can do.” Except, perhaps, fish…

Lou Brock ended his stellar career with a major league record 938 stolen bases, 21 in his final season of 1979. In spring training he had declared, following a disappointing 1978, “I think this will be my last season in baseball. Even if present conditions change, I don’t think I want to go on. The mental tear is too much. The writing is on the wall … I am convinced that a real champ, a thoroughbred, can rebound. I’d like a chance to prove it.”

In September, after he had collected hit number 3,000 the previous month and was still going strong: “The most important thing was to crown my career with a fine performance. I’ve always wanted to leave baseball in a blaze of glory.” He retired to become Director of Sports Programming for a Cable TV concern and to pursue other business and civic involvements.

Four ballplayers ended their major league careers still batting a steady .300, but overcome by poor health, even death.

Dave Orr

Dave Orr

Dave Orr was the 250-pound first baseman on John M. Ward’s 1890 Brooklyn team in the Players League. In his eight major league years he never batted under .300–including a .373 mark in his final year–though often hit with nagging injuries. On July 12, he had two ribs broken by a pitched ball in a game against Boston. He continued to play for a time, but the pain continued. Late in the season, during an exhibition game in Renova, Pennsylvania, he was stricken with a paralysis which affected his whole left side. He hoped to find the therapy in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which would allow him to return in 1891, but he never fully recovered. He served in various positions attached to baseball, including a job as caretaker when Ebbetts Field was being built.

With the exception of Lou Gehrig, perhaps the player best remembered for a career tragically halted by terminal illness is Ross Youngs. At 5’8″, he was stocky, powerful, and aggressive. College coaches pursued him for his abilities in track and football, but he wanted to play professional baseball.

Immediately after graduation, in 1914, he became a seventeen-year-old trying to hold his own in the fast Texas League. The Austin team let him go, and he drifted into lower leagues for two seasons. In 1916, however, he enjoyed a .362 campaign in Sherman, Texas of the Western Association–and his contract was purchased by the New York Giants. John McGraw brought him to spring training camp at Marlin, Texas, in 1917 but sent him to Rochester, bringing him back at season’s end to hit .346 in seven games.

That was the first of eight straight .300 seasons Youngs registered for the Giants, who captured National League pennants in 1921-24. For the first of these four pennant winners, he drove home 102 runs with benefit of only 3 homers. He was a “short Ty Cobb.” In the process, he also  captured a spot in the hard-bitten McGraw’s heart reserved only for Christy Mathewson. The pictures of those two would adorn McGraw’s office wall for years to come.

Ross Youngs

Ross Youngs

In 1924, the Giants lost a hard-fought World Series to Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators. That winter, during a stay in Europe, Ross Youngs became ill, and carried the effects into 1925, in which he lost almost 100 points off his previous season’s average (.356-.264).

A cloud of uncertainty and concern hung over him at the Giants’ training camp in 1926. Youngs seemed sluggish and drained, somehow. When questioned, he laughingly replied, “I guess I’m getting old. It takes me more time to get in shape.” McGraw, however, was worried and depressed by all this (Mathewson had died in October 1925), and called in a doctor. He was told that “Pep” might not finish the season, that his condition would require a special diet and constant attention. “Muggsy”hired a male nurse to monitor his right fielder’s needs.

Youngs was determined to play as hard as he could for as long as he could. He joked about his male nurse and special care: “I used to laugh at Phil Douglas [the inebriate Giants’ pitcher] and his keeper–now I’ve got one.” He taught a seventeen-year-old rookie named Mel Ott to play right field. And, having played his final game on August 10, he closed his season at .306. He was no longer able to take the field, due to the progressive effects of Bright’s Disease, a degenerative kidney disorder which led to the retention of toxic uric acids. Despite the best care available in the 1920s, prolonged convalescence, and repeated transfusions, he died in San Antonio, Texas on October 22, 1927. He was thirty.

Perhaps the best summary of Youngs’ career is to be found in his eulogy by John McGraw, who had already managed the Giants for twenty-five seasons and whose baseball memory reached back to the Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s: “He was the greatest outfielder I ever saw … he was the easiest player I ever knew to handle … on top of all this, a gamer ball player than Youngs never played….”

Ray Chapman is the only player to be killed by a pitched ball in the major leagues. On August 16, 1920, in the midst of the best of his nine major league seasons, he was struck in the head by a Carl Mays submarine delivery. One of the finest hitting and fielding shortstops in the American League, he remained conscious for a time but could not speak, passing away at 3 AM the next day.

Clemente at Ebbets Field, 1955

Clemente at Ebbets Field, 1955

Roberto Clemente ended his career in 1972, reaching the 3,000 hit milestone on September 30. Before the season began, however, his spring training interviews had told a story: “There is no way I can play more than this year and next year. No way.” Even as his hitting remained strong and he won his twelfth Gold Glove, it appeared that the 1973 season might well be his last. It never came. On the night of December 31 the airplane in which he was riding, carrying medicine and supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, plunged into the Atlantic. Waiving the five year wait, baseball writers voted him into the Hall of Fame in 1973.

Two other players, both .300 batters but neither surviving midseason, deserve brief mention. Ed Delahanty, the great turn-of-the-century slugger, died on July 2, 1903 when he plunged off a railroad bridge into the darkness of the Niagara River–a mysterious end to a remarkable career (he was batting .333 for Washington at the time and that was below par for him!). Lesser known, but a fine player at age thirty, was Pittsburgh first baseman Alexander McKinnon. Batting .340 coming into a game at Philadelphia on July 4, 1887, “Mac” complained of not feeling well, and the next day was persuaded to go home to Boston: “I don’t believe I tried harder in my life to break a sweat than I did this morning, but it was no go.” He had typhoid fever, and died on July 24.

Four seasoned regulars enjoyed campaigns well over the .300 mark, but never played another inning in the major leagues–banished from Organized Baseball for conspiring with gamblers to throw games for a payoff.

The Black Sox scandal of 1919 immediately comes to mind–and, indeed, three of the plus-.300 group were mainstays of that team. The remaining figure, however, deserves special attention, as he played a vital role in what was baseball’s biggest scandal of the nineteenth century.

George Hall, 1874

George Hall, 1874

George Hall was born in Brooklyn in 1849, and polished his skills there during the baseball boom which followed the Civil War. There were no recognized professional teams or leagues in the mid-1860s. Amateur clubs and town teams had been in the field for decades, and as competition for the prestige and profit of a “winner” increased, under-the-table payoffs increased as well. Heavy betting and the periodic throwing of ballgames through intentionally careless play plagued the ballparks. Amateurism had become a sham—and into this turbulent atmosphere stepped a nineteen-year-old George Hall.

After an 1868 season with the Excelsior Juniors of Brooklyn, he caught on as first baseman for the Brooklyn Stars, one of the leading teams in the East. In 1870, he became center fielder of the Atlantics. But when the Atlantics decided to reorganize as an amateur club in 1871, Hall moved down the coast to play center field for the Washington Olympics of the new National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. He batted .260, but was just reaching his physical maturity, standing 5’7″ and weighing around 140 pounds. (It should be noted that, of the 150 or so NA players for whom vital statistics are available, only about a dozen were known six-footers.) He was a wiry left-handed batter with sure hands, good speed, and surprising strength for his size.

In 1872, the Olympics dropped back to “cooperative” status in the league, indicating an economy operation with players paid from gate receipts without guarantee. Faced with this, Hall moved to nearby Baltimore to wear the silk uniform of the Canaries. He batted .300 and.320 in 1872 and ’73, but with the high expenses of a twelve player roster, huge for that period, the team sank in red ink (in the latter season, Hall was the lowest-paid regular but drew $1000). The team scattered, and he joined Cal McVey in moving to the prestigious Boston Red Stockings–champions the past two seasons.

In Boston, though called a substitute, in deference to the legendary but aging Harry Wright, he played the latter’s traditional center field position in most of the league games (.329) and the several exhibitions. In July of that 1874 campaign, he enjoyed the team’s exhibition tour in England. For his season’s labors, however, he was paid only about $500. The following season, at age twenty-six, he signed with the Philadelphia Athletics.

The atmosphere in Philadelphia was significantly different from what he had known in Boston. The crowds were notoriously rowdy. Betting was heavier on games and innings, and the “baseball pools” were openly played on the premises. The undisciplined corruption which would eventually destroy the National Association was rife in Philadelphia.

During that season, Hall was also reunited with his tough, but moody, former teammate and manager in Baltimore, William Craver. After some years of taking a brutal beating as catcher (with no protective gear), Craver had developed skills as a second baseman. He had also cultivated other skills; in August of 1874, he had been accused by Billy McLean, a former New York City bare knuckle fighter and widely respected umpire, of “throwing” a ballgame. During his 1875 season with the Athletics, the Brooklyn Eagle named a starting lineup of “rogues” who “would think only of how much money to make out of a game,” and included Craver without fear of a libel suit.

By season’s end, the second-place Athletics were in financial difficulty and the fans were indifferent. The National Association itself collapsed, to be replaced by the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs.

In 1876, George Hall was stationed in left field for the reorganized Athletics and enjoyed his finest season, batting .366 and becoming the first NL home run king (5); the A’s, meanwhile, went 14-45 and, at the league meetings in December, were expelled for failing to play out their final scheduled games. Without a team, Hall signed with Louisville for the 1877 season, his last.

The Louisville Grays were a strong team. Holdover Jim Devlin was one of his era’s great pitchers, and in ’77 became the only one in major league history to hurl every inning of his team’s games. Hall joined a young and speedy outfield. The captain, however, was the aforementioned Bill Craver. And, when their third baseman developed a painful boil at midseason, Brooklyn native Al Nichols, who had batted .179 with a league-high 73 errors at that position for the 1876 New York Mutuals, was signed at Hall’s suggestion.

The Grays were league leaders and favorites well into the campaign but suddenly began losing late-season road games in suspicious ways. Amid Louisville Courier Journal headlines like “!!!-???-!!!” and tips on gamblers’ betting patterns, club vice-president Charles E. Chase initiated an investigation which led to confessions by Hall, Devlin, and Nichols, backed by incriminating telegrams from New York gambling connections. The three were promptly suspended by the Grays, along with Craver, who had refused to have his telegrams opened and was generally uncooperative and antagonistic. In December, the league reaffirmed these suspensions, as did all the clubs of the newly formed “League Alliance.” Having batted .323 while appearing in all his club’s games, Hall was banished for life. St. Louis tried to sign him and Devlin to ’78 contracts, but to no avail.

Following the scandal, Hall began, by choice, to fade into obscurity. While Devlin and Craver made repeated appeals in person to league officials like president William Hulbert, Hall’s fruitless appeal for reinstatement in December of 1878 was made by mail. He may have played ball in Canada–Craver tried to and Devlin did [also in San Francisco in 1880–jt].

Other evidence remains inconclusive. What is certain is George Hall’s eventual return to Brooklyn, where he labored quietly as an engraver for years. He died, at age 96, in 1945—unrecognized both as the last of the pre-National Association worthies and as one of baseball’s greatest wastes of talent. [Since initial publication of this article, Hall’s death date has been revised to 1923.–jt]

Black Sox and their Lawyers, 1920

Black Sox and their Lawyers, 1920; Weaver, #8; Jackson #9.

Four decades after the banishment of the Louisville Four, eight Chicago White Sox players were banned from Organized Baseball for life for their part in selling out the 1919 World Series to Cincinnati. Among these “Black Sox” were three regulars who had batted well over .300 in 1920, Happy Felsch, Joe Jackson (.382), and Buck Weaver.

Much has been written over the years about their relative guilt, or lack of such. The statement of Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, however, set forth a standard of baseball which would end their careers in their prime. Issued after the conclusion of their trial on August 2, 1920 (in which they were acquitted), it read, in part: “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it,will ever play professional baseball!”

After Judge Landis’s decision, each of the three played semipro and outlaw baseball for a number of years. Felsch returned to his hometown, Milwaukee, working as a crane operator and laborer, and opened a tavern to support his six children. Jackson played baseball until 1933, continuing a valet business and, later, buying a liquor store. He remained active in the management and administration of several semipro teams and leagues. Weaver repeatedly made appeals to Landis for reinstatement, but all were bluntly denied. He continued to run a drugstore for many years, and later worked the parimutuel windows at a local racetrack.

By far, most of those major league regulars (twenty) who batted .300 in their final seasons continued their careers in the various minor leagues that once dotted the American landscape.

Perry Werden was one of the most feared minor league batters of the 1890s, and played portions of seven seasons in the big leagues. In Minneapolis he hit 45 home runs in 1895–a record that stood throughout all baseball until the 1920 onslaught of Babe Ruth. In 1897 he was drafted by Louisville (then a major league franchise), when he compiled his highest big-time average, leading NL first basemen in putouts and assists as well. The following season, however, he returned to Minneapolis, unfortunatelybreaking his  leg and missing the entire 1898 season. Thereafter his power totals were reduced, but he continued to hit for a high average into 1906. He eventually made his home in Minneapolis.

George Sisler always insisted that his real career ended in 1923 when, after batting .420 the season before, he missed the entire season with a severe sinus infection which produced double vision. He returned to play major league ball in 1924-30 until, with his legs “gone,” he was unconditionally released by the Braves. He then batted .303 for Rochester and was released. The following year he dropped out of his player-manager position at Shreveport-Tyler when asked to take a large pay cut. He spent most of the 1930s as a businessman in St. Louis.

Buzz Arlett

Buzz Arlett

Buzz Arlett, like Harry Moore and Irv Waldron, as well as part-time .300 hitters Tex Vache (1925) and Monk Sherlock (1930), enjoyed only one season in the major leagues. He was, however, the greatest switch-hitter in minor league history, averaging .341 and blasting 432 home runs in 19 seasons (the first five largely as a pitcher). His first thirteen seasons were spent with Oakland of the Pacific Coast League. Depending on who ventured the opinion, Arlett was confined to the minors due to his fielding weaknesses, high price, temperament, or bad timing (the PCL President voided Arlett’s 1930 sale to Brooklyn after an altercation with an umpire). After his .313 NL season with the Phillies, who had purchased him for a healthy sum from Oakland, he was traded to minor league Baltimore.

Urban John Hodapp stands as the only ballplayer in this century who closed out his major league career as a regular batting .300–and ended the minor league tour which followed in the same manner.

Born in Cincinnati in 1905, “Johnny” had an uncle who took considerable interest in his baseball development. By the early 1920s, young Hodapp’s abilities stood out in several of the small amateur leagues which dotted the Queen City, and he turned semipro in 1923. Two years later, after a turn in the minors with Indianapolis, he appeared in 37 games with Cleveland. Although he batted only .238, his showing was stronger than that of three-year incumbent third baseman Rube Lutzke, and rapid improvement was expected. Instead, during spring training of 1926, he suffered a broken leg, limiting him to only five at-bats with the Indians that season.

In 1927, however, Hodapp returned to bat .304 in halftime duty. His next season, finally as the regular third baseman, was even better: his line drives produced a .323 mark, complemented by 73 RBIs. By that time, Hodapp was reaching his physical prime, a sturdy six-footer at 180 pounds, batting and throwing righthanded.

Unfortunately, in the following years, his knees were a constant source of trouble. Moved to second base in 1929 (his position thereafter), he managed to bat .327, with the benefit of increased pinch-hitting roles. During the offseason, taking special care of himself, he prepared for the 1930 campaign.

Teamed with Earl Averill, Eddie Morgan & Co., Hodapp played in all 154 games, leading the league in hits (225) and doubles (51), driving in 121 runs while batting .354. Though not a smooth fielder, he did pace AL second basemen in putouts. The 1930 season indicated what a healthy John Hodapp could do.

Johnny Hodapp

Johnny Hodapp

The next campaign, however, saw the return of serious concerns about his knees. Though he managed a .295 mark, both his power at the plate and mobility in the field were noticeably diminished. By 1932, it was clear that ligament damage was involved. Given the surgical care of fifty years ago, Hodapp was warned that an operation could possibly leave him with a stiff knee–so he chose to make the best of his situation. That season marked the close of his career with the Cleveland Indians, and he finished out the torturous year in the White Sox outfield and as a pinch hitter. Chicago let him go after its 49-102 season, and Hodapp signed with an AL team which was even more inept, the Boston Red Sox (43-111).

The 1933 Red Sox improved to 63-86. But, most significantly, the beginning of the Tom Yawkey era marked the end of the major league trail for four great hitters: Bob (Fatty) Fothergill, Dale Alexander, Smead Jolley–and Johnny Hodapp. The game second baseman was leading the league at .374 in June but, plagued with continued physical liabilities, declined to a still respectable .312 with 27 doubles. On October 31, with the Sox making rebuilding plans, Hodapp was released.

Not yet 30, and still in love with the game, he did not seriously consider retiring. Instead, he turned to the minor leagues. Hodapp split the 1934 season between Columbus (.344) and Knoxville (.307). This one year back in the minors was enough to convince him he would not be returning to the majors. He considered umpiring but, by this time, his father was waiting for a decision on the business offer which had been open for a decade: Johnny Hodapp returned to Cincinnati as a director in the family funeral home, with his brothers. He passed away in 1979.

In 1945, three American Leaguers batted over .300 in qualifying for the batting title, two of them on the Chicago White Sox–who released both–Tony Cuccinello and John Dickshot–in anticipation of the return of the World War II veterans. Cuccinello, in 1941 the manager of the Giants’ Jersey City farm club, had joined the Braves for the 1942 campaign and, during his final stint with the White Sox, led the league in batting (“strictly from memory”) almost until the final day. His outright release came as a complete surprise for, as the UPI noted, “the old Cuccinello was better than the Cuccinello of old.” He remained in the New York area in 1946, playing semipro baseball and turning down other opportunities due to family concerns. He managed the Tampa Smokers in 1947, batting .067 in seven games. Soon after, he began a coaching and scouting career, notably with Al Lopez, which would last for decades.

“One of the great thrills of my life,” Ted Williams once observed, “was when I was 14 and discovered I could hit whatever my friend Wilbur Wiley threw.” Cap Anson would, no doubt, have smiled in agreement, remembering his mastery of the hurlers of another era. A selective survey of those major league regulars batting .300 in their final seasons, however, clearly underlines a fact of baseball life: for some players a strong season at the plate simply isn’t enough.

Addendum: SABR’s Jacob Pomrenke rightly notes, “Since this article was written, you can add to the list Kirby Puckett in 1995 and Will Clark in 2000. (Dave Nilsson misses qualifying by a lone plate appearance, but he hit over .300 in 1999.)

“Thanks, as always, to Baseball-Reference for the ability to search for such queries in a matter of seconds. And let’s never forget to appreciate the quality of Jim Smith’s original research–and others like him–at a time when Baseball-Reference and the like did NOT exist.”

Ron Ziffer added Kirby Puckett to this list. He hit .314 in 1995; illness forced him to leave the game.

Old News in Baseball, No. 11

Newsboy logoDashing off to Cincinnati for the All-Star Game, I note that this week’s Old News inevitably touches upon a few Midsummer Classic highlights, such as Carl Hubbell’s feat of fanning five future Hall of Famers in succession. (There are others below, but why preempt myself further?) The 1933 All-Star game was Major League Baseball’s first, and it was bookended by September’s Negro Leagues East-West All-Star Game, also staged at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Yet both were preceded by a minor-league midseason all-star game, in the Hudson River League of 1903 (see:, and an all-star series, best of three, at the Fashion Race Course in 1858, one of the last years of the purely amateur era (see:

July 10

1874: Jimmy Wood‚ famed as a second baseman with the Brooklyn Eckfords and more recently known as the man who put together the Chicago White Stockings of 1870‚ has his right leg amputated above the knee. Although he no longer plays the game, he continues as Chicago’s manager. For more, see the six-part series of reminiscences beginning here:

Jimmy Wood, 1871

Jimmy Wood, 1871

1884: Hugh “One Arm” Daily of Chicago‚ having tied Charlie Sweeney’s one-game record of 19 strikeouts in his previous outing (including a 20th strikeout that eludes the catcher but is not counted by the rules of the day), becomes the first big-leaguer to throw consecutive one-hitters‚ defeating Boston 2-1. By season’s end Daily will have hurled four one-hitters‚ a record equaled by Grover Alexander in 1915.

1934: In the second All-Star Game,  Carl Hubbell fans five future Hall of Famers in a row. With two men on base in the first inning‚ Hubbell uses his screwball to strike out Babe Ruth‚ Lou Gehrig‚ and Jimmie Foxx. He adds Al Simmons and Joe Cronin to start the second. After three scoreless innings he leaves with the National League ahead 4-0, but the American League rallies for a 9-7 victory. For more, see:

July 11

2003: Pittsburgh first baseman Randall Simon is suspended for three games and fined $2‚000 for hitting one of the Milwaukee sausage mascots with his bat during the race held between innings of the July 9 game.

1971: Tony Conigliaro‚ who had gone 0-for-8 with 5 strikeouts for the Angels during their 20-inning loss 2 days earlier‚ calls a 5 A.M. press conference to announce his retirement. Later tests will show that the sight in his left eye‚ injured in a 1967 beaning‚ has deteriorated.

1887: Horace Fogel takes charge of the Indianapolis Hoosiers as manager. Like O.P. Caylor of the Mets‚ Fogel is a sportswriter by trade. He will later manage the New York Giants as well diastrously, and later, as president and part-owner of the Philadelphia Phillies, will be banned from baseball.

Hub Pruett

Hub Pruett

July 12:

1922: Hub Pruett fans Babe Ruth three times as the Browns top New York‚ 7-4. A highly ordinary pitcher (lifetime record 29-48), Pruett somehow has a hex on Ruth, who would strike out in 13 of his first 16 at bats against him.

1938: At Brooklyn‚ the Dodgers beat the Giants‚ 13-5. At Pat Diamond’s Bar and Grill in Brooklyn, Dodger fan Robert Joyce is teased by Giants’ supporter Frank Krug about the Dodgers and in retaliation he kills Krug and shoots proprietor Diamond, who dies three days later. Krug was convicted of first-degree murder.

2003: The Giants beat the Diamondbacks‚ 8-1. Barry Bonds hits his 30th home run of the year to join Jimmie Foxx as the only players with 12 straight 30-homer seasons.

July 13:

1825: The following notice appears in the July 13‚ 1825 edition of the Delhi Gazette, Hamden‚ NY : “The undersigned‚ all residents of the new town of Hamden‚ with the exception of Asa Howland‚ who has recently removed to Delhi‚ challenge an equal number of persons of any town in the County of Delaware‚ to meet them at any time at the house of Edward B. Chace‚ in said town‚ to play the game of Bass-Ball‚ for the sum of one dollar each per game.” For more, see:

Dean Stone

1936: Bill Lee wins a 1-0 duel from Carl Hubbell‚ who allows just two hits‚ as the Cubs move into first place. It is the last game the Giants ace will lose in 1936; he will win his next 16 decisions this year and his first 8 next year.

1954: In the All-Star Game‚ the AL breaks the NL’s four-game winning streak with an 11-9 win. Dean Stone is the winner‚ despite throwing just two pitches and retiring no batters. He relieves Bob Keegan in the 8th‚ with Red Schoendienst on third and Alvin Dark on first. With a one-and-one count on Duke Snider‚ Schoendienst tries to steal home and Dean’s throw is in time to get him.  The Americans score three runs in the bottom of the inning and Virgil Trucks throws a scoreless ninth to make Stone the winner.

July 14:

1934: In Detroit‚ Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-game string is extended by having him lead off and listed in the lineup as shortstop. He singles and leaves the game‚ and Red Rolfe pinch runs.

1946: Warren Spahn, who had broken in with the Boston Braves in 1942, pitching in four games without a decision, wins his first major league game‚ topping the Pirates‚ 4-1. He had missed all of 1943-45 while in military service, seeing action in the Battle of the Bulge.

1970: At Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium‚ the National League wins its eighth straight All-Star Game‚ a thrilling 12-inning 5-4 victory in Cincinnati. The most memorable play comes as Pete Rose crashes into Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run on Jim Hickman’s single. Both Fosse and Rose are hurt but the injury to the Indians backstop proves of more lasting damage.

George W. "Grin" Bradley

George W. “Grin” Bradley

July 15:

1876: George Washington “Grin” Bradley of St. Louis pitches the National League’s first no-hitter‚ defeating Hartford and Tommy Bond 2-0. It is his third shutout over Hartford in the three-game series. Starting all 64 of his club’s games, Bradley throws an amazing 16 shutouts while accounting for all 45 of the club’s victories. Boston’s Joe Borden had thrown a no-hitter the year before, in the National Association.

1952: Walt “Moose” Dropo continues his streak in the first game of a doubleheader, going 4-for-4 against the Senators’ Walt Masterson. In the nightcap Moose gets a single‚ double‚ and triple in his first three at bats to run his streak to 12 straight hits, tying the mark first set by Mike “Pinky” Higgins in 1938. . He goes 4-for-5‚ fouling out in the seventh.

Wagner T-206, Goulston Collection, NYPL

Wagner T-206, Goulston Collection, NYPL

2000: A 1909 Honus Wagner T-206 baseball club is auctioned for a record $1.1 million. This same card, the subject of an enduring controversy as to whether it was trimmed from its original size so as to improve its condition, will sell for $2.8 million in 2007.

July 16:

1866: Lipman Pike of the Philadelphia Athletics hits six home runs, five of them in succession‚ against the Alert Club of Philadelphia. Final score is 67-25.

1921: At age 63‚ Arthur Irwin‚ pioneer player‚ manager‚ and executive who began with Worcester in the National League in 1880‚ jumps to his death from a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. During the investigation into Irwin’s disappearance , two widows would emerge: one lived in Boston and the other lived in New York.

1951: While in Detroit‚ the Yanks option rookie Mickey Mantle to Kansas City of the American Association. Mantle will go 0-for-22 in his start with the Blues‚ before ending with a tear at .361. The Yankees will recall him August 20.

Early Team Names

1895-Cap-Anson_Runaway ColtI wrote this some 25 years ago, in a letter to friend Geoff Ward, but I post it today in response to a Twitter request for odd and interesting baseball team names. The Newark, New Jersey, team in the 1884 Eastern League had the most quotidian nickname of all time–the Domestics. Contrast that with its league rivals the Quicksteps of Wilmington, Delaware, and the Actives of Reading, Pennsylvania. The famous Excelsior Club of Brooklyn was originally formed in the 1850s as the JYBBBC, standing for the Jolly Young Bachelors Base Ball Club.

Many clubs were named after volunteer fire companies, such as the Knickerbockers and Mutuals, both of New York, the Alerts of Philadelphia, the Americus of Newark, the Resolutes of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and countless more in this vigilant vein. The Civil War supplied some grand names, such as the Antietam of Hagerstown, Maryland, the Monitor of Westport, Connecticut, and the McLellan of New Jersey.

Cosmological visions might have led to the naming of the Eons of Portland, Maine, the Constellations of Brooklyn, the Meteors of Addison, New York, the Mystics of New York, the Orions of Philadelphia, and the Harmony of Brooklyn.

Those of an exclamatory bent might have named the Eurekas of Newark, the Excelsiors of Brooklyn, and the Hunkidoris of Wheeling, West Virginia.

Literature may have given us the Pequods of New London, Connecticut, the Hiawathas of Kittanning, Pennsylvania, and the Mohicans of Hightstown, Maryland.

One is caught short by the Surprise Club of West Farms, New  York, and the Black Joke of New York, and the Wide Awakes of Hartford and Monumentals of Baltimore.

On the major league level, besides the oft-remarked Cleveland Spiders and Brooklyn Bridegrooms, we have such marvels as the Molly Maguires of Cleveland (as the current Indians were known for a couple of years at the turn of the century), the New York Highlanders (so named not only because their ballpark, known as Hilltop Park, occupied the high ground now taken by Columbia Presbyterian, but also because their owner’s name was Joseph Gordon … Gordon’s Highlanders).


Haymakers of TroyWe also have, as major league entrants, the Troy Haymakers; St. Louis Maroons, a.k.a. Black Diamonds; Boston Rustlers (later known as the Braves); Boston Pilgrims (today’s Red Sox); Chicago Whales (Federal League, which also gave us the Newark Peps, Baltimore Terrapins, and Brooklyn Tip-Tops); Baltimore Canaries (National Association, 1872-74); Worcester Ruby Legs; Louisville Eclipse; Cincinnati Porkers; Toledo Maumees; and the Cleveland (again!) Infants.

Which last named brings to mind the neat little story of Adrian Anson and the White Stockings: as a young player, before he became the famous captain of the Chicago nine, thus the nickname “Cap,” he was an umpire-baiter and complainer par excellence for the Rockford Forest City and Philadelphia Athletic clubs, at which time his universally accepted nickname was “Baby”–this for being a crybaby, principally, but also because he was the first white baby born in Marshalltown, Iowa, a tedious fact that became even more tiresome through repetition in the press. As Anson’s playing career extended prodigiously into its third decade, his nickname became “Pop,” and his inexperienced charges, the wretched White Stockings of 1893 and ’94, became known as the Colts. This team nickname was also the basis of a starring vehicle that melodramatist Charles Hoyt wrote for Anson in 1895 called A Runaway Colt. When Chicago fired Anson as manager after the 1897 season, Pop’s team became known in the press as the Orphans.

Why Discriminate?

Welday Walker, Akron, 1887

Welday Walker, Akron, 1887

Welday (also spelled Weldy) Wilberforce Walker was one of two African-American brothers to play in Major League Baseball in 1884, with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association. Moses Fleetwood Walker’s story has often been told, notably in David W. Zang’s book, Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart and in Jerry Malloy’s “Out at Home” at Our Game

His brother’s story is less celebrated, but he too was a notable player and an articulate champion of his race. When the Tri-State League banned black ballplayers in 1888 (a rule later rescinded) Welday Walker sent a letter to the league’s president and to the editor of Sporting Life, which published it on March 14, 1888:


An Appeal to the Tri-State League By a Colored Player.

W. W. Walker, a well-known colored player, requests THE SPORTING LIFE to publish the following open letter to the president of the Tri-State (late Ohio) League:

STEUBENVILLE, O., March 5. MR. MCDERMITT, President Tri-State League.—Sir; I take the liberty of addressing you because noticing in THE SPORTING LIFE that the ”law permitting colored men to sign was repealed, etc.,” at the special meeting held at Columbus, Feb. 22, of the above-named League of which you are the president I concluded to drop you a few lines for the purpose of ascertaining the reason of such an action. I have grievances, and it is a question with me whether individual loss subserves the public good in this case. This is the only question to be considered both morally and financially in this, as it is, or ought to be, in all cases that depend upon the public for success—as base ball. I am convinced beyond doubt that you all, as a body of men, have not been impartial and unprejudiced in your consideration of the great and important question—the success of the “National game.”

1883 Michigan with Weldy Walker

1883 Michigan with Welday Walker; Fleet had played with Michigan in 1882.

The reason I say this is because you have shown partiality by making an exception with a member of the Zanesville Club; and from this one would infer that he is the only one of the three colored players Dick Johnson, alias Dick Male, alias Dick Noyle, as THE SPORTING LIFE correspondent from Columbus has it; Sol White, of the Wheelings, whom I must compliment by saying was one, if not the surest hitter in the Ohio League last year, and your humble servant, who was unfortunate enough to join the Akrons just ten days before they “busted.”

It is not because I was reserved and have been denied making my bread and butter with some club that I speak; but it is in hopes that the action taken at your last meeting will be called up for reconsideration at your next. The law is a disgrace to the present age, and reflects very much upon the intelligence of your last meeting, and casts derision at the laws of Ohio—the voice of the people—that say all men are equal. I would suggest that your honorable body, in case that black law is not repealed, pass one making it criminal for a colored man or woman to be found in a ball ground.

Oberlin College 1881, Fleet Walker left, Weldy top

Oberlin College Base Ball Club, 1881; Fleet Walker left, Welday top

There is now the fame accommodation made for the colored patron of the game as the white, and the same provision and dispensation is made of the money of them both that finds its way into the coffers of the various clubs. There should be some broader cause—such as want of ability, behavior, and intelligence—for barring a player than his color. It is for these reasons and because I think ability and intelligence should be recognized first and last at all times and by everyone I ask the question again, why was the “law permitting colored men to sign repealed, etc.?”

Yours truly, WELDY W. WALKER.


Old News in Baseball, No. 10

Newsboy logoDebuts and swan songs. Triumphs and tragedies. July 4th and the All-Star Game. Baseball and America, indivisible … let Walt Whitman take over for me now. In his last years, living in Camden, New Jersey, Whitman had a devoted admirer at his side, Horace Traubel, who invaluably recorded their conversations. Upon reading in the newspaper of April 7, 1889, that Albert Goodwill Spalding’s world tourists had returned home, Whitman said to Traubel:

“Did you see the baseball boys are home from their tour around the world? How I’d like to meet them—talk with them: maybe ask them some questions.”

Traubel replied, “Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic!”

[Whitman] was hilarious: “That’s beautiful: the hurrah game! well—it’s our game: that’s the chief fact in connection with it: America’s game: has the snap, go, fling, of the American atmosphere—belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”

For more in this vein, see:

July 3:

1912: Rube Marquard bests Nap Rucker 2-1 to capture his 19th straight game this season. With two end-of-year wins in 1911‚ the Giants’ lefthander and one-time “11,000 Lemon” has 21 in a row in regular season play. Both marks are records at the time, though the later is later topped by Carl Hubbell, with 24.

Jim Riley

Jim Riley

1921: In the Browns 5-1 loss to the White Sox, Jim Riley makes his big-league debut, replacing Jimmy Austin late in the game. The Canadian Riley will go hitless in four games with the Browns this season and a couple more with the Senators in 1923–but will finish second next year in scoring in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. Riley will make his NHL debut with the Chicago Black Hawks on January 19, 1927; he is the only man to play in both MLB and the NHL.

1966: Pitcher Tony Cloninger hits two grand slams as the Braves rout the Giants at Candlestick Park 17-3. The Atlanta pitcher drove in another run with a single.  His nine RBIs are a major-league record for pitchers‚ breaking Vic Raschi’s mark of seven. The National League record for pitchers was five—most recently by Cloninger himself, three weeks earlier.

July 4:

1831: This may well be the earliest entry in Old News this year. In 1831 a group of Philadelphians in their mid-20s made the ferry ride across the Delaware River to Camden, New Jersey, to play town ball on Saturday afternoons. At the same time a club under the name “Olympic” convened to play town ball on the Fourth of July, and occasionally on other days as well. Following the example of the Saturday group, they began practicing on the same Camden grounds on Wednesdays. This led to a match game—among the earliest known, but with the results unrecorded. The two clubs merged in 1833 as the Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia. For more, see:

Hooks Wiltse

Hooks Wiltse

1908: In the first game of a twin bill with the Phillies, Hooks Wiltse took a perfect game into the ninth inning and retired the first two batters. The last man up figured to be a pinch hitter for the weak-hitting pitcher, George McQuillan (lifetime batting average in ten seasons, .117). But McQuillan too had not allowed a run, so his manager permitted him to bat. Strike one. Strike two. Then poor Wiltse tried to get cute and threw an 0–2 hook to McQuillan … and hit him, erasing his perfect game. Although the Giants won the game in the tenth and Hooks retained his no-hitter, it was cold comfort. In the history of Major League Baseball, in which no-hitters foiled in the ninth are legion, there has never been another game like it.

1939: In between games with the Senators‚ Lou Gehrig bids farewell to 61‚808 fans at Yankee Stadium with a short and moving speech that begins: “Fans‚ for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Gehrig’s uniform number 4 is then retired‚ the first ML player so honored.

July 5:

1898: Lizzie (Stroud) Arlington, with the blessings of Atlantic League president Ed Barrow, later famous as the general manager of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, pitches an inning for Reading against Allentown. She allows two hits but no runs in this first appearance of a woman in Organized Baseball. For more, see:

1946: The first-place Dodgers lose to the last-place Giants‚ 7-6‚ but not before Bums manager Durocher utters a now-famous line in a pregame conversation with Red Barber, who calls Giants manager Me Ott “a nice guy.” The Lip retorts‚ “A nice guy? I’ve been in baseball a long time. Do you know a nicer guy in the world than Mel Ott? He’s a nice guy. In last place. Where am I? In first place. The nice guys are over there in last place‚ not in this dugout.”

2004: The Dodgers defeat the Diamondbacks‚ 6-5 in 10 innings‚ but closer Eric Gagne gives up two runs in the ninth inning as Arizona ties the score at 5-5. Thus his streak of 84 consecutive saves finally ends.

July 6:

1898: Erasmus Arlington “Arlie” Pond pitches Baltimore to a 15-0 win over Philadelphia in his last game before entering the Army Medical Corps as an assistant surgeon. For more, see:

1933 All Star Game scorecard

1933 All Star Game scorecard

1933: The first All-Star Game is played at Comiskey Park. Babe Ruth’s two-run homer is the margin of victory in the American League’s 4-2 win. Lefty Gomez‚ the starter and winner‚ also knocks in the game’s first run.

1983: In the 50th anniversary All-Star Game at Chicago’s Comiskey Park‚ the AL routs the NL 13-3 for its first win since 1971, breaking the game open with seven runs in the fourth inning. The key blow is Fred Lynn’s grand slam—the first in All-Star competition and, all these years later, the only.

July 7:

1900: Boston’s ace Kid Nichols notches his 300th career victory‚ beating Chicago 11-4. The win comes two months before his 31st birthday‚ making him the youngest to ever reach the magic figure. Nichols would finish his career with a mark of 361-208. For more, see:

1914: Suffering heavy losses from Federal League competition in Baltimore‚ Jack Dunn, owner of the International League’s Baltimore Orioles, offers Babe Ruth (plus pitcher Ernie Shore and catcher Ben Egan) for $10‚000 to old friend Connie Mack‚ who declines‚ pleading poverty. Cincinnati‚ which has a working agreement giving them the choice of 2 players‚ ignores Ruth and takes outfielder George Twombley and shortstop Claud Derrick. Dunn finally peddles his threesome to the Red Sox.

1948: The Cleveland Indians sign Satchel Paige‚ Negro League star of indeterminate age, thought to be 42. The move is ridiculed by some as a Bill Veeck publicity stunt‚ and J.G. Spink in The Sporting News editorializes‚ “Veeck has gone too far in his quest for publicity. . . . To sign a hurler at Paige’s age is to demean the standards of baseball in the big circuits.” Paige will answer the critics tomorrow with a relief win in an 8-6 triumph over New York. He will finish with a mark of 6-1.

Paige, Bowman card, 1949

Paige, Bowman card, 1949

July 8:

1902: John McGraw negotiates his release from the Orioles and officially signs to manage the Giants at $11‚000 a year‚ although he’d secretly signed a contract several days earlier. McGraw says‚ “I wish to state that I shall not tamper with any of the Baltimore club’s players.” But conspiring with Reds owner Brush and Giants owner Andrew Freedman‚ McGraw swings the Orioles to them‚ enabling them to release Orioles Dan McGann‚ Roger Bresnahan‚ Joe McGinnity‚ and Jack Cronin for signing by the Giants, while Joe Kelley and Cy Seymour go to the Reds. Denuded of players, the Orioles will fail to field a club for a scheduled game and their franchise will be taken over by the American League. Brush, Freedman, and McGraw do not care. The culmination of this farce is the birth of the New York Yankees in 1903. For more, see:

1918: Although Babe Ruth’s tenth-inning blast over the fence in Fenway scores Amos Strunk in the Red Sox win 1-0 over Cleveland‚ the prevailing rules reduce Babe’s home run to a triple. Such “sudden-death” home runs came in for review by the Special Baseball Records Committee prior to publication of the Macmillan/ICI encyclopedia of 1969: Its ruling read: “The committee originally voted that before 1920 any ball hit outside the park in a sudden death situation should be counted as a home run. However, after the committee had a further opportunity to review their ruling and [realizing that this would alter Ruth’s career total to 715] … they reversed their decision on May 5, 1969.”  For more, see:

1962: With homers in his first three at bats‚ 41-year-old Stan Musial of the Cardinals not only becomes the oldest player to hit three in a game but also ties the record of four straight home runs‚ as the Cards whip the Mets 15-1. Until today Ty Cobb had been the oldest, at age 38.

July 9:

1886: Joe Start, known as “Old Reliable,” plays his last game. The 43-year-old first baseman began his career in 1860, a decade before professional league play and the dawn of modern recordkeeping. With 27 years of play at the top echelons of baseball, Start’s tenure equals that of Cap Anson and Nolan Ryan.

Bert Shepard

Bert Shepard

1945: At Washington‚ the Senators defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers‚ 4-3‚ in an exhibition game. The game’s winning pitcher is Bert Shepard‚ who had lost a leg in military service. Shepard pitches four innings and gives up two runs. On August 4 he will make his lone appearance in a regularly scheduled game, against the Red Sox, with an impressive pitching line of 5.1 IP, 3 H, 2 SO, 1 BB, 1 ER.

2005: Adam Greenberg makes his major-league debut with the Chicago Cubs in the 9th inning of a game in Miami and is hit in the head by the first pitch he sees from Valerio de los Santos. Greenberg will go on the DL‚ then go to the minors‚ then be released on November. Greenberg returns to play minor-league ball but does not return to a big-league roster until 2012, when Miami signs him and sends him to the plate for one final turn at the bat.

Self Portrait

thorn_ourgameMark Ruckhaus interviewed me some time back, and the story runs in the current issue of “The Inside Game: The Official Newsletter of SABR’s Deadball Era Committee.” I think it may be of passing interest to readers of Our Game, as it touches on baseball’s history as well as my own. I reprint this with the kind permission of the newsletters’s editor and SABR. Mark Ruckhaus kicks things off.

As it’s probably been with nearly everyone, there are numerous forks in the road where, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we can look back and ask, “How did I get here?” I asked Thorn about what might have been.

John: “Oh, like everyone on the periphery of the game, I would have preferred to have been a player — a shortstop, a center fielder, maybe. Or a writer of serial installments like Dickens, who held a nation in his grip while he decided what to do with Little Nell. Or a teacher. Or an archaeologist. But maybe I have been a little of each.”

Mark: As far as Baseball in the Garden of Eden is concerned, seeing that the Garden of Eden is, essentially, chapter one in the story of Creationism and your story is most definitely one of evolution, at least as it applies to baseball, was the choice of title deliberate?EDEN2

John: “Of course. While the story of baseball’s ‘birth’ and rise may be one of evolution, the Garden of Eden exists in the minds of fans and is memorialized in Cooperstown. Baseball is a game in which no matter how admirable the players of today and how compelling their accomplishments, we believe in our hearts, ‘Well, it wasn’t as good as the Babe woulda done.’”

Mark: Speculative question, if you don’t mind … And that is, have we pretty much unearthed all the major baseball history there is? Or, might there be another Lucy (the ape-like hominid found in Ethiopia about 40 years ago) hiding under the floorboards of someone’s attic somewhere, something that could turn what we know about baseball on its head? It could include anything from a 19th century or Deadball Era Allan Roth up to people we haven’t heard about before. What would surprise you?

John: “I think the historical spelunking of the past 15 years has been sensational, and the sabermetric revolution, begun perhaps 35 years ago, is still gathering steam. I have been privileged to be in both camps, off and on, and it is perhaps unsurprising if I feel that little truly great work remains. I may feel that way because I am old, and because I have been at this awhile. But my feelings are irrelevant; my brain tells me that we will come to understand the present moment in the game better with each passing year, and that while fewer historical ‘finds’ may lie at out our feet, greater perspective on history is always available. David Laurila [Ruckhaus note: Laurila writes for Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America among others) once asked me, in the lobby of a SABR convention hotel, ‘What was the greatest unanswered baseball question that remained?’ I replied, ‘Why does it feel so good to play catch?’ Get at the to and fro of play — and of life itself — and there will be a discovery that dwarfs the others.”

Mark: Regarding baseball’s birth and development, it seemed that the Civil War spread the New York version of the game around the country at the expense of other local versions, likely equally as popular in their own areas. More speculation … How might baseball have developed without the Civil War? For that matter, how might it have developed had the Players League succeeded, which it almost did?

Civil War Baseball at Fort Pulaski; Savannah, Georgia.

Civil War Baseball at Fort Pulaski; Savannah, Georgia.

John: “I think the variant regional games of baseball, along with cricket, were all poised to fail of expansion by 1860. The hoary explanation that the Civil War, with its prisoners and veterans returning home having learned the ‘new game’ in the camps, has been pretty well exploded. If the Players League had succeeded I think nothing substantial would have been gained on the field of play or in the game’s organization, as capitalists were the vital force behind that league as much as they were in the [National League] and [American Association]. I cannot point to a single development in the game that, had it not occurred, would have rendered the game indisputably different. Baseball’s history and rules do not comprise a house of cards in which the addition or removal of a card might prove fatal to the whole.”

Mark: There was a confluence of two events that may well have upset that house of cards and sent baseball in a different direction. And that was the Federal League case that Judge Landis  delayed his opinion on long enough for the league to go out of business combined with the Black Sox scandal. In the end, Landis becomes Commissioner, probably as repayment for what looked like the favor he did for MLB and the Terrapins take their case to the Supreme Court where, in not one of their finest hours, they upheld MLB’s anti-trust exemption. What’s your take on that period in baseball history?

John: “When baseball had its first boom in the 1880s, as the effects of the Depression of 1873 finally began to dissipate, the newfound optimism inspired the launch of two new leagues (American Association in 1882, Union Association in 1884). The reasons for the launch of the Players’ League (1890) were different, of course. Baseball’s next boom came after the Peace Agreement between the NL and AL in 1903, inspiring magnates to build new stadiums and a bunch of minor-league owners (Federal League, 1913) to have big-league aspirations, just as Ban Johnson had dreamed in 1900-01. The uncontrolled wild-west aspect of baseball in the 1910s gave rise to the Commissioner system and is highly interesting to the historian for all the swings in financial circumstances, the effect of our entry into WW I, and with Babe Ruth, the dawn of a new style of play. These are all truisms, but I mention them to indicate that my great interest in both the 1880s and 1910s is for largely the same reasons.”

Mark: More toward the era we write about here, in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, you mentioned, “When I first began writing baseball, I was enamored of the Deadball Era.” What was it about the era that you were enamored with?

John: “How rough, unpolished … experimental … it was. I loved that many things we today take for granted were novelties then. Gloria Swanson’s character Norma Desmond, in Sunset Boulevard, defended her silent-film days by saying that they did not feel the lack of words: ‘We had faces then.’ Well, Deadball players did not lack the home run.”

Mark: Though a lot has been written about Deadball, little seems to have been written about the style of play among the black teams of the era. After all, it was the blacks who brought the running game to MLB in the ’50s. Were they playing the white style of game in the aughts and teens or were they doing things differently and, if so, what were they?

John: “The minstrel tradition of showmanship was present in professional black baseball from the start — parades beforehand, sleight of hand and staged ‘bits’ during the game. The theatrical tradition — remember, baseball practitioners are called ‘players’ for a reason — continued into the Deadball Era, with less vigor and overt showmanship. But a daring style of play, shared with white baseball in the early years of the 20th century, persisted in the black game even after it, too, produced home run sluggers who might make a plodding base-to-base approach seem like superior strategy. When integration came in the late 1940s, African Americans brought their game of speed mixed with power to the formerly all-white major leagues and produced the beautiful game of our youth.”

Rube Waddell, 1902

Rube Waddell, 1902

Mark: You mentioned your enjoyment of the Deadball Era. Whether in that era or anywhere, is/are there any character or characters that seem to grab your attention and that you find fascinating above the others? If you don’t mind and, for the sake of discussion, mine would likely be Rube Waddell. The greats of the game back then could have survived in the current era as they had the talent and brains to “figure it out.” There are others, like George McBride and Bill Bergen, who would likely never have seen the light of day on an A-ball roster let alone MLB as there’s no market for good field/no-hit players at any position anymore. But Rube is an odd duck who might have been totally lost and ridiculed in the current day. Something just popped into my head. And you mentioned that those who participated in baseball were called “players” for a reason. Was Waddell more of a player/actor than a ballplayer — that he knew exactly what he was doing? Another one, and for a far different reason, is Honus Wagner. Immensely talented and his 1908 season is one of the most dominant ever, even in his 20s and 30s always looked like someone’s grandfather. Maybe it’s the black and white photos or maybe it’s the big schnozz. But he always looked much older than his years.

John: “I like Wagner, and I like Cobb, and I like Matty, too, especially because his life has been outstripped by the legend. Baseball writers felt they needed a Christian Gentleman, so they went to the Frank Merriwell stories for their model. Rube Waddell was the anti-Matty, the last of a line of heroes of the old sort. But he was no play-actor. He was a bit demented but, like all those shortchanged by God in one area, gifted in another. He is a great favorite of mine. I have a longish essay on this subject (that was recently posted) at (to be precise:, and I will quote a passage from it:

If Mathewson was not truly a prince among men — and he had his moments, from punching out a lemonade vendor to “high-hatting” his teammates — the press was only too glad to fit him into that role, which had been vacant in the game to that time. Baseball had certainly been well represented in the lower archetypes — knave, fool, sot, rogue, libertine — but a prince was something new.

Dime-novel heroes were red-blooded, not blue; a nobleman on the frontier was a dude, a figure of fun. Sportswriters did not need to look to Elizabethan drama or Classical legend for inspiration. Why bother, when the dime novelists of the day were mining those age-old conventions already? Whether creating fictional heroes, after the manner of James Fenimore Cooper and Sir Walter Scott, or stretching the truth of real-life figures like John Paul Jones, Davy Crockett, or Buffalo Bill, the writers of the early dime novel were giving the people a national history unfettered from mere fact. With Deadwood Dick, Jesse James, Nick Carter, Jack Lightfoot, and of course Frank Merriwell, they were providing America with a usable past, just as Parson Weems had aimed to do with his tale of George Washington and the cherry tree.”Hidden Game of Baseball 2015

Mark: More toward the present, you were coauthor with Pete Palmer in The Hidden Game of Baseball and the Total Baseball books, both of which gave people a different and more detailed look at statistics, as Bill James did. In your opinion, have the sabermetrics become too dominating in the game with people paying too much attention to the numbers and might it be akin to people going to a dance and counting 1-2-3-4 to make sure they get the steps right rather than listening to the music?

John: “I don’t think that hyper-analysis or rote recitation of stats constitute the problem, if there is one. My complaint in recent years has been how lousy the sabermetric writing is, with material that would make for a snappy table instead making for indigestible prose. There is also a mind-numbing tendency among younger writers especially to use stats as bludgeons in their battle to convince readers that, say, Dwight Evans is a superior player to Tommy McCarthy. Certainly by now I am more attracted to story than to stats, but I have abandoned neither my interest in statistical analysis nor my belief that it ought to serve the story rather than be the story.”

Mark: I read in an interview you did with Bleacher Report a few years ago that, in or around 2010, former Commissioner Bud Selig might have written a letter, noted on the web site Hauls of Shame, that he still believed the Creationism version of baseball — that Doubleday created baseball out of whole cloth. As MLB Historian, did you straighten him out just a bit and has he come over to the Evolutionary side? In a deeper aspect, is the Creationism vs. Evolution in baseball a microcosm of the real world Creationism vs. Evolution argument? I mean, even showing them the history and irrefutable proof we have, at least so far, are there people who are still entrenched in their baseball creationist ways?

John: “It has not been part of my job description to challenge folklore but instead to embrace it as being more powerful and enduring than fact. And it’s fun. If people wish to credit Abner Doubleday with the invention of baseball, they are free to do so; it is, on the whole, harmless and does not impede the progress of historical investigation. Commissioner Selig and I share the belief that Abner Doubleday is baseball’s ‘Father’ to those who feel the need for such a figure; some folks find a depersonalized evolutionary tale excessively dull. There are those who believe in Santa Claus, or Dracula, or Bigfoot. To them I say, mazel tov. The world spins anyhow.”

Mark: But the Commissioner believing in baseball Creationism might be akin to the Pope espousing evolution, wouldn’t it?

John: “Your proposition is silly. An understanding of history, on the one hand, and faith, on the other, have no rational intersection.”

Mark: It was Mark Twain who said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Is that how folklore marches on and is so powerful?

John: “Lying and folklore are kissing cousins, to the extent a ‘needful lie’ will, over time, become history — and then successfully resist attempts to revise it. I have great respect for the enduring strength of myth (which is a highly constructed sort of lying). I wrote in Eden: ‘It is said in folklore circles that when a custom is too old for its origins to be remembered, a story is often devised to rationalize what would otherwise be baffling. Such has been the case with baseball.’”

Baseball_Hall_of_Fame_Plaque_GalleryMark: Is the Hall of Fame relevant? After all, its foundation in Cooperstown is built on a lie as Doubleday never invented baseball and may not even have been in Cooperstown in 1839. And, considering it’s become the Hall of the Very Good, most of it likely due to the Frankie Frisch-led Veterans’ Committee, does the HOF have the meaning it should? If not, what would you do to change it?

John: “The Hall may have been founded on sand, but its foundation has stiffened with age, and it has a venerable past all its own. It’s not going anywhere, let alone away, and I think the electors have done an amazingly good job when one views the entire span of inductions since 1936. One may disagree with this inclusion or that one, but there are very few figures of great magnitude on the outside looking in (Marvin Miller is a notable exception to this view, I recognize). Me, I wouldn’t change a thing. Let the Hall tinker with its own procedures, and trust to their good sense and instinct for self-preservation.”

Mark: In your position as MLB Historian and remembering the famous Santayana quote and realizing that many in this country have either forgotten the past or don’t particularly care about it, how do you go about “spreading the word,” so to speak, and getting people, especially youngsters (as they’re baseball’s next customers) interested in that aspect of the game?

John: “The best outreach mechanisms have been via the web. ‘Our Game’ is astonishingly well attended for so nerdy a blog. I have nearly 10,000 followers [now greater–jt] on Twitter and as many friends as I might wish on Facebook. I am active on both — no recipes, no cats, just history.”

Old News in Baseball, No. 9

Newsboy logoWell, last week was the week that was … and in this column, so is next week. The past is present, especially in baseball, reflected in current events and providing background and context that illuminates the shadows. Speed up the game? Well, we have heard about that since the 1850s, when called strikes were introduced to deter batters from delaying the game by letting good pitches go by; and then a few years later, when the advent of called balls was designed to deter pitcher dallying. The proposed “20-second” rule, designed to have pitchers get on with the show, has been on the books since … 1901: “The umpire shall call a ball on the pitcher each time he delays the game by failing to deliver the ball to the batsman when in position for a longer period than 20 seconds.” Can things go too far in the name of speeding up the game? Read the entry below for June 27, 1911!

June 26:

1886: African-American lefthander George Stovey makes his pitching debut with Jersey City of the Eastern League after being purchased from the Cuban Giants. On July 14, as the directors of the integrated International League were discussing the circuit’s troubled racial situation in Buffalo, the Newark Little Giants planned to pitch Stovey in an exhibition game against the NL’s Chicago White Stockings. The Toronto World reported that “Hackett intended putting Stovey in the box against the Chicagos, but Anson objected to his playing on ac¬count of his color.” Stovey did not pitch, but Newark won, 9-4. For more, see:

Cleveland 1916

Cleveland 1916

1916: Cleveland players‚ in a game with the White Sox‚ wear numbers pinned to their sleeves‚ marking the first time players are identified by numbers corresponding to those on the scorecard. The practice is not broadly customary, however, until the late 1920s, after the Yankees affix numbers to the backs of their jerseys.

1944: More than 50‚000 pack the Polo Grounds to watch the Yankees‚ Dodgers and Giants play each other in a 6-inning round-robin contest to raise money for war bonds. Each team plays successive innings against the other two teams‚ then sits out an inning. The final score is Dodgers 5‚ Yankees 1‚ Giants‚ 0. This game was a precursor of the Mayor’s Trophy series, which began in 1946. The notion of a postseason city series dates to 1882.

June 27:

1911: In the seventh inning at Boston‚ the A’s Stuffy McInnis steps into the batter’s box to lead off and hits Ed Karger’s warm-up pitch for an inside-the-park home run while the Red Sox are still taking their positions. Boston manager Patsy Donovan protests, but umpire Ben Egan upholds the homer on the basis of Ban Johnson’s new rule prohibiting warmup pitches. Intended to save time, the rule—which dictated that pitchers must throw as soon as the batter is in the box—is soon withdrawn.

1955: Boston’s young star 1B Harry Agganis dies of complications following a bout with pneumonia, age 26. The “Golden Greek” was hitting .313 this season in 25 games. His last appearance was in a May 15 doubleheader when he stroked five hits.

Harry Agganis, Topps 1955

Harry Agganis, Topps 1955

1958: In a bid for a perfect no-hitter‚ Billy Pierce of the White Sox retires 26 Washington Senators in a row before pinch-hitter Ed Fitzgerald doubles. Pierce then fans Albie Pearson to win‚ 3-0. Other perfect games lost with two outs in the ninth: Max Scherzer just last week; Armando Galarraga, Yusmeiro Petit and Yu Darvish (2013); Mike Mussina (2001); Ron Holman (1990): Dave Steib (1989); Ron Robinson (1988); Milt Wilcox (1983); Milt Pappas (1972); Tommy Bridges (1932); Hooks Wiltse (1908).

Babe Ruth, George Bush, Yale 1947

Babe Ruth, George Bush, Yale 1947

June 28:

1999: Hack Wilson ups his RBI total for the 1930 season to 191, reflecting SABR research commenced in 1977. The Commissioner’s office also gives Babe Ruth six additional walks‚ raising his career-record total to 2‚062. “There is no doubt that Hack Wilson’s RBI total should be 191‚” Commissioner Bud Selig said. “I am sensitive to the historical significance that accompanies the correction of such a prestigious record‚ especially after so many years have passed‚ but it is important to get it right.” When 1980 research revealed that Ty Cobb’s hit total was inflated by a double entered 2-for-4 in 1910, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn declared a “statute of limitations” on historical investigation. For more, see:

1947: California wins the initial College World Series with an 8-7 victory over Yale. Cal freshman pitcher Jackie Jensen, who will later star in the majors, is staked to a 7-3 lead, but is relieved after a bout of wildness. Yale first sacker George Bush has no hits in the two games, but scores a run and makes 17 putouts with no errors.

1915: Recent University of Michigan graduate George Sisler makes his big-league debut as a pinch hitter. Sisler stays on to pitch the last three innings‚ giving up no runs‚ in the Browns 4-2 loss to the White Sox. For more, see:

Moonlight Graham, by Helmar Cards

Moonlight Graham, by Helmar Cards

June 29:

1990: Oakland’s Dave Stewart and the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela both throw no-hitters today‚ the first time this has happened since Hippo Vaughan and Fred Toney’s double no-hitter of May 2, 1917. Stewart blanks the Blue Jays 5-0‚ and a few hours later Valenzuela beats the Cardinals 6-0. For more, see:

1905: At Brooklyn‚ the Giants score seven runs in the first three innings to coast to an 11-1 victory. Dan McGann paces the offense with a triple and homer‚ while Moonlight Graham‚ in his only game in the majors‚ takes over in right field as a late inning replacement. Graham will have no at-bats but will be made famous in W. P. Kinsella’s Field of Dreams.

1897: The Chicago Colts score in every inning to demolish Louisville 36-7 while setting the NL record for runs scored. Chicago amasses 32 hits good for 51 bases with Barry McCormick hitting 4 singles‚ a triple‚ and a homer.

1886: Sid Farrar’s grand slam gives the Phillies a 4-2 decision over the Whites. Farrar’s grandest contribution, however, was to father opera and film star Geraldine Farrar (1882-1967).

Letter to Waitkus, Ruth Sternhagen

Letter to Waitkus, Ruth Steinhagen

June 30:

1998: Mark McGwire belts his 37th homer of the year‚ tying Reggie Jackson’s record for most homers before the All-Star break. The homer is a 472-ft upper deck shot off Kansas City’s Glendon Rusch.

1949: In Chicago‚ Ruth Ann Steinhagen is arraigned for shooting Eddie Waitkus. Waitkus‚ in a wheel chair‚ testifies at the hearing. A jury finds her criminally insane and by early afternoon she is on her way to Kankakee State mental hospital. The Waitkus shooting inspired Bernard Malamud’s novel, and the later film made from it, The Natural.

1905: Nap Lajoie is sidelined by blood poisoning from neglect of a spike wound. He will play in only 65 games‚ losing a chance to lead the AL in batting for the fifth straight year. The infection was thought to have been caused by the red stocking his club wore; in subsequent years, ballplayers would swap their colored hose for stirrups, worn over white sanitary stockings.

July 1:

1945: Hank Greenberg‚ absent from the game for four years because of his early enlistment in the war effort, homers in his first game following his release from the Army.

1941: Despite the 95 degree weather‚ 52‚832 are on hand at Yankee Stadium to watch Joe DiMaggio lead a sweep of the Red Sox‚ 7-2 and 9-2. DiMaggio has two hits in the first game‚ off Mike Ryba‚ and one in the 2nd‚ off Jack Wilson‚ to tie Willie Keeler’s batting streak of 44 games. Fortunately for Joe, he gets his second-game hit early, as the contest is stopped after five frames.

Amherst-Williams 1859

Amherst-Williams 1859

1859: The first intercollegiate baseball match is played between Amherst and Williams colleges at Pittsfield‚ MA. Amherst wins the 26-inning game by a score of 73-32. Then why did the game take 26 innings, you ask? Because it was played under “Massachusetts Game Rules,” in whichan inning is one-out, side out. For more, see:

July 2:

1963: In a classic pitching matchup in San Francisco, Juan Marichal prevails over Warren Spahn 1-0 in 16 innings. Both pitchers go all the way. Willie Mays’s homer off Spahn at 12:31 A.M., with one out in the bottom of the 16th, gives Marichal the edge.

1903: Seeing that George Davis is playing for the Giants‚ Ed Delahanty decides to jump to New York too. Leaving the Washington Senators in Detroit‚ he boards an eastbound train. He is put off the train for rowdy‚ and possibly drunken‚ behavior at Niagara Falls. When he tries to walk across the railroad bridge over the Niagara River‚ he falls to his death. Delahanty had a .346 lifetime batting average over 16 seasons.

1885: Against New York‚ Detroit right fielder Gene Moriarty injures himself chasing a foul fly in the sixth inning. He is replaced by 25-year-old Sam Thompson in his big-league debut. The future Hall of Famer was an RBI machine in the years before they were officially counted, three times driving in more runs that he played games.

Anatomy of a Murder: The Federal League and the Courts, Part 4

Federal League Tobacco Tin

Federal League Tobacco Tin

Gary Hailey’s article continues from yesterday (


On January 27, the Baltimore stockholders voted to authorize the club’s directors to spend up to $50,000 on “litigation in such form as they deem advisable” to protect the stockholders’ interests. They eventually filed suit in Washington on September 20, 1917.

After a year and a half of legal skirmishing, a jury was sworn in On March 25, 1919. The testimony summarized above was presented, the judge gave his instructions, and the jury retired to deliberate On April 12. Given the judge’s instructions to the jury–which, in essence, told the jury that O.B. had in fact violated the federal antitrust laws, and that the Baltimore club was entitled to recover for any damages it suffered as a result–the verdict came as no surprise. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and assessed damages at $80,000. The antitrust laws provide that guilty defendants pay three times the amount of the actual damages plus attorneys’ fees, so the final judgement was for $254,000.

Organized Baseball’s lawyers immediately appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. They attacked the trial court’s decision on a number of legal grounds, but focused most of their attention on a single key issue:

By far the most important question presented by the assignments of error is whether professional baseball is interstate commerce.

In his memoirs, George Wharton Pepper, O.B.’s top lawyer, described his appeal strategy.

I raised at every opportunity the objection that a spontaneous output of human activity is not in its nature commerce, that therefore Organized Baseball cannot be interstate commerce; and that, it not being commerce among the states, the federal statute could have no application….

… [T]he case came on for argument … on October 15th [, 1920]. I mention the date because of the coincidence that on the same day there was being played the final game in the [Dodgers vs. Indians] World Series of that year ….

George Wharton Pepper at the bat

George Wharton Pepper at the bat

. . . Counsel for the Federal League made the grave mistake of minimizing the real point in the case (the question, namely whether interstate commerce was involved) and sought to inflame the passions of the Court by a vehement attack upon the evils of [Organized Baseball], a few of which were real and many, as I thought, imaginary. I argued with much earnestness the proposition that personal effort not related to production is not a subject of commerce; that the attempt to secure all the skilled service needed for professional baseball is not an attempt to monopolize commerce or any part of it; and that Organized Baseball, not being commerce, and therefore not interstate commerce, does not come within the scope of the prohibitions of the Sherman [Antitrust] Act.

If the business of professional baseball was not interstate commerce, it was not subject to the Sherman Antitrust Act or any other federal regulation, even if all of the Baltimore club’s allegations of monopoly and conspiracy were found to be true.

On December 6, 1920, the Court of Appeals issued its decision, which was written by its Chief Justice, Constantine J. Smyth. Chief Justice Smyth first stated that interstate commerce “require[s] the transfer of something, whether it be persons, commodities, or intelligence” from one state to another. But, Smyth wrote,

A game of baseball is not susceptible of being transferred…. Not until [the players] come into contact with their opponents on the baseball field and the contest opens does the game come into existence. It is local in its beginning and in its end. Nothing is transferred in the process to those who patronize it. The exertions of skill and agility which they witness may excite in them pleasurable emotions, just as might a view of a beautiful picture or a masterly performance of some drama; but the game effects no exchange of things. . . .

It didn’t really matter that baseball players traveled across state lines, or that the players carried their bats, balls, gloves, and uniforms across state lines with them.

The players, it is true, travel from place to place in interstate commerce, but they are not the game ….


The transportation in interstate commerce of the players and the paraphernalia used by them was but an incident to the main purpose of the appellants, namely the production of the game. It was for it they were in business–not for the purpose of transferring players, balls, and uniforms. The production of the game was the dominant thing in their activities ….

. . . So, here, baseball is not commerce, though some of its incidents may be.

Newark Peppers 1915 scorecard

Newark Peppers 1915 scorecard

Suppose a law firm in the city of Washington sends its members to points in different states to try lawsuits; they would travel, and probably carry briefs and records, in interstate commerce. Could it be correctly said that the firm, in the trial of the lawsuits, was engaged in trade and commerce? Or, take the case of a lecture bureau, which employs persons to deliver lectures before Chautauqua gatherings at points in different states. It would be necessary for the lecturers to travel in interstate commerce, in order that they might fulfill their engagements; but would it not be an unreasonable stretch of the ordinary meaning of the words to say that the bureau was engaged in trade or commerce?

Chief Justice Smyth then cited with approval cases holding that those who produce theatrical exhibitions, practice medicine, or launder clothes are not engaged in commerce.

The Baltimore club tried to persuade the United States Supreme Court to reinstate the original verdict in its favor. But Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for a unanimous Court, upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals.

[E]xhibitions of base ball … are purely state affairs. It is true that, in order to attain for these exhibitions the great popularity that they have achieved, competitions must be arranged between clubs from different cities and States. But the fact that in order to give the exhibitions the League must induce free persons to cross state lines and must arrange and pay for their doing so is not enough to change the character of the business…. [T]he transport is a mere incident, not the essential thing. That to which it is incident, the exhibition, although made for money would not be called trade or commerce in the commonly accepted use of those words. As it is put by the defendants, personal effort, not related to production, is not a subject of commerce. That which in its consummation is not commerce does not become commerce among the States because the transportation that we have mentioned takes place. To repeat the illustrations given by the Court below, a firm of lawyers sending out a member to argue a case, or the Chautauqua lecture bureau sending out lecturers, does not engage in such commerce because the lawyer or lecturer goes to another State.

U.S. Supreme Court, 1922

U.S. Supreme Court, 1922

The Supreme Court’s decision was issued on May 29, 1922–almost seven years after the Baltimore Federals played their last game.

Given the legal doctrines of its day, the Federal Baseball case was correctly decided. The courts of that era applied the federal antitrust laws only to businesses that were primarily engaged in the production, sale, or transportation of tangible goods.

It is popularly believed that Organized Baseball was given immunity from the antitrust laws because baseball was a sport, not a business. That belief has grown out of a passage in the Court of Appeals opinion:

If a game of baseball, before a concourse of people who pay for the privilege of witnessing it, is trade or commerce, then the college teams who play football where an admission fee is charged, engage in an act of trade or commerce. But the act is not trade or commerce; it is sport. The fact that [Organized Baseball] produce[s] baseball games as a source of profit, large or small, cannot change the character of the games. They are still sport, not trade.

Lee Magee, manager, Brooklyn Tip-Tops Federal League

Lee Magee, manager, Brooklyn Tip-Tops, Federal League

But a close reading of that language and the rest of Chief Justice Smyth’s opinion shows that the key to the decision was not the fact that baseball was a sport. The more crucial fact was that baseball–as well as the practice of law or medicine, the production of grand opera, and the other nonsporting activities cited in the opinion–was not commerce.

Antitrust doctrines have changed radically since Federal Baseball was decided in 1922. The cases that the Supreme Court relied upon in holding that baseball wasn’t interstate commerce have long ago been overruled. By 1960, the Supreme Court had held that doctors, theatrical producers, boxing promoters, and even the National Football League were subject to the federal antitrust laws.

But baseball has somehow retained its uniquely privileged status. In 1953 and again in 1972, in the celebrated Curt Flood case, the Supreme Court affirmed the holding of Federal Baseball. Justice Blackmun, in Flood vs. Kuhn, noted that baseball’s antitrust immunity was “an anomaly” and “an aberration.” But, he noted,

Remedial legislation has been introduced repeatedly in Congress but none has ever been enacted. The Court, accordingly, has concluded that Congress as yet has had no intention to subject baseball’s reserve system to the reach of the antitrust statutes….

…. If there is any inconsistency or illogic in all this, it is an inconsistency and illogic of long standing that is to be remedied by the Congress and not by this Court.

Is the Federal Baseball ruling of any consequence today? After all, the players’ union has managed to decimate the reserve clause through collective bargaining. Free agency, arbitration, limits on trades without consent–no longer is the major league player, in Curt Flood’s words, “a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of [his] wishes.”

But what about the owners? Al Davis and Robert Irsay could move away from Oakland and Baltimore because the antitrust laws prevent the other NFL owners from taking concerted action against such moves. What if Calvin Griffith, rather than selling the Twins, had decided to move them to Tampa–or back to Washington, D.C.–without American League approval? If the other owners simply refused to schedule any games with the Twins and Griffith sued them, would Federal Baseball still control?

Or what if the USFL owners decided to start a baseball league, too? (Perhaps they would play in the fall and winter.) If Organized Baseball threatened NBC that it would never again sell broadcast rights to that network if it televised the new league’s games, would the “USBL” win the antitrust suit that would undoubtedly follow?

Surely then Federal Baseball--a case decided over sixty [today ninety–ED.] years ago, long before television, jet airplanes, free agents, and night baseball–would finally be laid to rest. Of course, that was what Curt Flood’s lawyers thought would happen in 1972. Federal Baseball may be an anomaly and an aberration–but it may also outlive us all.


Anatomy of a Murder: The Federal League and the Courts, Part 3

Official Federal League baseball

Official Federal League baseball

Gary Hailey’s article continues from yesterday (


Baltimore officials did hear rumors that some Federal League owners were negotiating a settlement. At a November 9 league meeting in Indianapolis, Baltimore President Rasin asked Gilmore, Weeghman, and Sinclair point-blank if there was any truth in newspaper reports to that effect. All three denied that they were in communication with Organized Baseball, but Rasin suspected at the time that their denials “might not be frank.” In early December, Rasin saw more “newspaper talk” that O.B. and the Federal League were about to cut a deal. When he called Gilmore, Gilmore again assured him that there was no truth to the rumors.

On December 12, Gilmore ran into three National League officials in the lobby of New York City’s Biltmore Hotel. One of them asked Gilmore to “come around and take this matter up” at the National League owners’ meeting scheduled for the next day. Gilmore turned down the invitation. “Absolutely nothing doing,” he said. “We have gone too far and made too much progress on our New York invasion.”

The next day, the same men called Gilmore and asked him to “come over and fix this thing up.” Gilmore–hoping to hook his adversaries a little more firmly before reeling them in–feigned disinterest. “I told you the other day I would not have anything to do with it,” he said, “and I will not talk about it.”

Gilmore then turned to Harry Sinclair and said, in a voice loud enough for his caller to hear, “Harry, these people want [us] to come over and talk to them. Do you want to go?” Also intending the caller to hear him, Sinclair replied, “We might as well go and hear what they have to say.” The two of them went to National League President Tener’s office to discuss the situation.

Federal League officials: (top row) Weeghman, W. Ward, Comstock; (middle row) L. Goldman, R. Ward, Steininger, Gilmore, G. Ward, Schleunes, Walker, Robertson, George, Carroll; (bottom row) Krause, Ball, H. Goldman, Mullen, Rickart, Hanlon, Gates

Federal League officials: (top row) Weeghman, W. Ward, Comstock; (middle row) L. Goldman, R. Ward, Steininger, Gilmore, G. Ward, Schleunes, Walker, Robertson, George, Carroll; (bottom row) Krause, Ball, H. Goldman, Mullen, Rickart, Hanlon, Gates

Gilmore, Sinclair, and the National League representatives came to a tentative peace agreement. First, the NL agreed to make all blacklisted Federal League players eligible to play in O.B. and to let the Federal League owners sell their players’ contracts to the highest bidders. Next, the NL owners offered to buy the Brooklyn Federals’ park for $400,000, subject to the American League owners agreeing to kick in half of that sum. They also promised to approve the sale of the Chicago Cubs to Chicago Federals owner Charles E. Weeghman and put up $50,000 of the purchase price. The NL owners then agreed to buyout the Pittsburgh Federals for $50,000. Sinclair was a close friend of St. Louis Federals owner Phil Ball, and he assured the conferees that Ball would be satisfied if he could buy either the Cardinals or the Browns. The Buffalo and Kansas City clubs were no longer members in good standing of the Federal League–their owners had run out of money before the season ended, and the other teams had provided funds to pay their players in order to keep the league’s financial problems a secret–so there was little need to worry about them. There was apparently no discussion concerning the Newark franchise, even though owner Sinclair was present.

That left only the Baltimore club. Gilmore testified that he asked for $200,000 for Baltimore’s owners, but was laughed at. He later told Sinclair that he thought it was wise “to start high.” The meeting then broke up.

On December 16, 1915, Rasin received a telegram from Gilmore: “You and Hanlon be at Biltmore in morning. Important.” Rasin, Hanson, and Janney took the midnight train to New York, and went to Gilmore’s apartment at the Biltmore Hotel on the morning of December 17. Gilmore explained that he had summoned them to New York to tell them that the 1916 Federal League season was “all off.” Gilmore then told the stunned Baltimore officials about the tentative peace agreement of the 13th.

Terrapin Park, Federal League, Baltimore

Terrapin Park, Federal League, Baltimore

Janney and Rasin asked why Gilmore and the others had agreed to sell out, but Gilmore did not reply. They then asked what arrangements had been made concerning the Baltimore club’s interests. None, said Gilmore; however, he was sure that Baltimore would be “taken care of” before the settlement was made final.

Later, Sinclair, Weeghman, and representatives of other Federal League teams joined the meeting. They told the Baltimoreans that the opportunity to make peace had arisen suddenly and unexpectedly, and no one then present in New York felt he had authority to speak for Baltimore; however, like Gilmore, they were all sure that the National Commission would give due consideration to Baltimore’s claims.

The Baltimore officials were in no mood to take Gilmore’s advice and “accept the situation philosophically.” According to Janney, the discussion “grew rather bitter.” When Sinclair defended his and his allies’ actions, “quite a dispute arose” between him and Janney; “his words and mine,” Janney testified, “were not always of the smoothest.” Janney argued that the Federal League clubs should get some share of the proceeds of any agreement to dissolve the circuit, but Sinclair said he “would have none of that.”

Gilmore and his allies hoped to finalize the December 13 agreement at a meeting with American and National League club owners that evening at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. According to Gilmore, Comstock, and Ward, Rasin moved that a committee of three–Gilmore, Sinclair, and Weeghman–be authorized to represent all the Federal League clubs at that meeting. Rasin denied that he made such a motion.

Charles Weeghman

Charles Weeghman


The Waldorf meeting was called to order by National Commission president August Herrmann at 9:10 P.M., Friday, December 17, 1915. Among the thirty or so baseball men present at the meeting were American and National League presidents Johnson and Tener; Federal Leaguers Gilmore, Sinclair, Weeghman, and Rasin; American League owners Charles Comiskey (White Sox) and Colonel Jacob Ruppert (Yankees); and National League owners Charles Ebbets (Dodgers), James Gaffney (Braves), and Barney Dreyfuss (Pirates). A stenographer was present, and a transcript was produced.

The conferees quickly ratified those parts of the tentative peace agreement of December 13 that provided that the National League would put up $50,000 toward Weeghman’s purchase of the Cubs; that Organized Baseball would pay R.B. Ward’s heirs $20,000 a year for twenty years in exchange for the Brooklyn Federals’ stadium; that Organized Baseball would pay $50,000 to the owners of the Pittsburgh Federals; and that all Federal League players would be eligible to return to O.B.

Gilmore was asked if his committee was empowered to enter into a binding agreement on behalf of the Federal League.

Gilmore: I can say for the Federal League that the committee represented here tonight was appointed with full authority to discuss this proposition with you, and conclude any agreement that we might come to, and we are ready to open up the talk and see what can be done.

Herrmann: I understand, Mr. Gilmore, you state now that you have authority to act on behalf of the Federal League; that is, your committee?

Gilmore: We have full authority, Mr. Herrmann.

Rasin did not challenge Gilmore’s assertion. At about the time the meeting was beginning, a Baltimore Sun reporter went to the Biltmore to tell Janney that it looked as if Baltimore might be able to get a National League team. Janney hurried to the Waldorf, where Rasin also told him that Baltimore had a good chance of landing an established franchise if they asked for one. Herrmann then gave Janney the floor.

We feel just as I suppose everyone feels, that peace is the very best proposition in baseball and for baseball. We are all willing to concede that, and we hope it will come about. There is in the proposal which has been adopted, and which has been signed by certain parties–the situation in Baltimore is not touched upon, and it seems to me important in several aspects. In the first place, Baltimore has a population of seven hundred and fifty or eight hundred thousand people, including the suburbs …. 

We are willing to purchase and pay for a franchise in the major leagues, if we can get it, and we want that to be the main keynote of our situation this evening ….


We are not venturing to suggest to you gentlemen just what franchise we think that would be. You could work that out probably better than ourselves, but that is our starting point, and that is what we would like to see, and which we lay before you.

Baltimore is not mentioned in the proposals that you have heretofore considered, and we think that, that is–we want to be taken up with every consideration, and … if you state or suggest that Baltimore would not pay the rest of the teams what the city does from which the franchise might be moved, we would be willing, and we will say that [we] will guarantee to pay as much as the city from which it is moved. In other words, the patronage there, we are willing to stand back of. We know it is there. We know that the people [will] attend the games, and we know we can produce the same revenue for a visiting team that has been produced by the city from which it will be moved …. 


Charles Comiskey, Sept 12, 1915, St. Louis Globe-Democrat

Charles Comiskey, Sept 12, 1915, St. Louis Globe-Democrat

We represent a large body of representative citizens there, and we will see to it that suitable guarantees are given to back up every word that I have said. That is our position, gentlemen; and … we do not ask anything if we could be given the privilege of buying and locating a major league club in Baltimore, at a reasonable price, a franchise in … either one or the other of the two major leagues which you represent. We do not ask anybody to sacrifice anything or contribute to us. We are willing to stand in our own position and come forward and back our words with deeds and give you suitable guarantees.

Several of the major league owners present ridiculed the notion that Baltimore could support a major league franchise.

Comiskey: Well, what would you give for a franchise in Baltimore? Suppose we could blow life into McGraw and Kelley and Jennings and all those players that you had there that you could not support …. What would you give for those players if we would guarantee that they would play good ball in Baltimore for ten years, what would you pay for them and how loyally would you support them?

Janney: We would support them well.

Comiskey: What crowd would you draw?

Janney: We would draw sufficient to enable us to pay $250,000 for a franchise.

Comiskey: That is just the proper price for a minor league franchise …. Baltimore, a minor-league city, and not a hell of a good one at that.

Ebbets: That’s right.

Comiskey: As sure as you are sitting there now, and your friends will tell you. Charlie, show them what you have got in Baltimore. You are the best evidence in the world. Tell them what you drew in Baltimore ….

Ebbets: When [Ned Hanlon] quit Baltimore and came to Brooklyn, he said, “Baltimore is not a major league city.” We lost money in Baltimore operating the club with the same players that Mr. Comiskey speaks of.

Janney: There are very peculiar circumstances that brought that about.

Ebbets: Nothing peculiar about it; it is a minor league city, positively and absolutely, and will never be anything else.

Janney: That is your opinion.

Ebbets: Sure that is my opinion, because I had a piece of experience and lost money down there.

Janney: But money has been lost in other towns also in baseball.

Ebbets: Not in major league cities.

Janney: Yes, they have been lost in other towns that are major league cities.

Ebbets: It is one of the worst minor league towns in this country.

Janney: It will never be a minor league town because the people feel naturally–

Ebbets: You have too many colored population to start with. They are a cheap population when it gets down to paying their money at the gate.

Janney: They come across, I think, in good shape. This is perfectly futile, of course. It requires your consent and I am not going to try to convince you when you are so set in your ways.

Charles Ebbets

Charles Ebbets

Janney was right to call further discussion futile. Under both American and National League rules, the transfer of any franchise to Baltimore would require the unanimous consent of the league owners. From the statements of the owners at the meeting, it is clear that any motion to give Baltimore an existing team–Janney and Rasin had thought the Cardinals might be available–would have been met not with unanimous consent, but unanimous refusal.

The two sides agreed that a detailed settlement, including something for Baltimore, should be worked out by the National Commission and a Federal League committee of three. Gilmore proposed that himself, Sinclair, and Weeghman serve as that committee, and neither Janney nor Rasin objected.

There was then some discussion of the Federal League’s pending antitrust suit against Organized Baseball, which Judge Landis had still not decided. National League counsel John C. Toole felt that the suit should be withdrawn before any more negotiating was done:

[I]t seems to me that the very first thing that should be done, and that should be done very promptly, to show that the thing is moving along, is that both sides should agree that that action be discontinued, and prompt steps should be taken to discontinue it and get it out of the way. That ought to be done before you have any meeting of the [National] Commission with this committee.

Janney objected that Toole was putting the cart before the horse.

Janney: I think that should be part of the agreement ultimately reached, that the suit be discontinued. It would not certainly be any discourtesy to the Court for parties to a litigation to discuss its composition, and when they come to a composition, then to have the dismissal of the action as a part of the composition.

Toole: You are not settling that suit, that is the difficulty. If you were settling that litigation, that is another thing, but you are settling a multitude of things in no way involved in that, and reaching agreements on them and this decision has been in abeyance. He may decide it tomorrow, and all this go to nothing, and put you all in a very embarrassing position, although you do not, perhaps, get into contempt of court.

Janney: I think the most that could be done, so far as I can see, would be to wire our respective counsel to appear before the Court tomorrow and advise him that there are matters under discussion which may ultimately result in an agreement, and if this agreement is effective, it will involve the discontinuance of the action before him, and suggest it would be proper for him to delay rendering a decision in it until this could be seen, whether the composition was effected, and that would be perfectly compatible with every possible legal or courteous principle…. What we do here will be subject to the dismissal. It is not usual to dismiss the case and then compose it. You compose it and then dismiss it…. You do not dismiss your suit and then agree how to settle it. That is that whole settlement. You settle this thing, and then, with your settlement, go and dismiss it. I have no objection, of course, to notifying the attorneys and telling them to do everything that is necessary to be courteous and pleasing to the Court.

When the meeting was adjourned, Toole telegraphed Organized Baseball’s Chicago attorney:

Negotiations are pending, which if carried out will result in an agreement to withdraw the action brought by the Federal League. Please bring the matter to the attention of ]udge Landis, if you think it advisable, and secure his approval of situation. Communicate with attorneys for Federal League, who will be advised by their client.

Chicago Federals

Chicago Federals

The Federal League was dead, but Gilmore and his allies weren’t shedding any tears over its demise. Fearful that the league was doomed anyway, they decided to cut their losses rather than fight to the finish. Organized Baseball was happy to offer the Federal League a generous peace settlement. After all, there was still a chance that Judge Landis would issue a damaging verdict in the Federal League’s antitrust action. The rival league’s New York bluff also raised the specter of even more bitter competition for players and fans, with plenty of red ink to go around.

Ban Johnson would have preferred not to call a truce. The Federal League’s threat to put a team in New York may have fooled the National League, but the American League knew better: It had considered building a new stadium on the Lenox Avenue property years earlier, but found that it was absolutely impractical to locate a park there. Johnson was characteristically blunt in describing his feelings about the peace pact.

Q. Can you tell us without any lengthy answer why did you pay $50,000 for [the Pittsburgh park]?

A. That was a tentative agreement that the National League entered into, and we abided by their decision in the matter. I could not see any reason why Pittsburgh should be given
$50,000. As a matter of fact I did not want to give a five-cent piece to Pittsburgh.

Q. What you wanted to do was to knock them out?

A. Knock them out; that is it.

Q. Not to pay a cent?

A. Not a nickel.

Q. You were not as generous as Mr. Herrmann. Mr. Herrmann said yesterday he wanted to help them out.

A. I did not want to help them out. I am very frank in that regard.

The National Commission and the Federal League committee signed a peace treaty in Cincinnati On December 22. Before the agreement was concluded, Gilmore called Rasin to ask if Baltimore would accept $75,000, but Rasin said no. Another meeting to discuss Baltimore’s claims was held in Cincinnati on January 5, 1916, but no settlement was reached. A day or two later, Baltimore filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, but Assistant Attorney General Todd announced on January 11 that he had no reason to believe that Organized Baseball had violated the antitrust laws.

More tomorrow.

Anatomy of a Murder: The Federal League and the Courts, Part 2

Baseball Magazine, Federal League

Baseball Magazine, Federal League

Gary Hailey’s article continues from yesterday (


Walsh never wrote to American League president Ban Johnson, as Lichtenheim had suggested. But only two weeks after Lichtenheim had written to Walsh, Johnson made his opinions known. In a March 5, 1914, interview with a New York Evening Sun writer, Johnson “declared war” on the Federal League.

There can be no peace until the Federal League has been exterminated … [W]e will fight these pirates to the finish. There will be no quarter.

Yes, I’ve heard that peacemakers are at work, but they are wasting their time. The American League will tolerate no such interference ….

This Federal League movement is taken too seriously, why, the whole thing is a joke. They are holding a meeting once a week to keep from falling to pieces. Quote me as saying that the Federals have no money in Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh. They have no ball parks in any of their cities, except an amateur field in Kansas City and a ramshackle affair in Pittsburgh. There are some wooden bleachers put up on Hanlon’s Park in Baltimore, I believe.

We hear from day to day that the Feds have millions behind them. If that is true they ought to build half million dollar stadium[s] in a few weeks. But getting down to brass tacks, they have neither grounds nor players that amount to anything. 

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

When the list of players is finally announced the baseball public will realize what a bluff these fellows have been putting up. They have many unknown players, taken offthe lots[,] and a bunch of Bush Leaguers with a sprinkling of big fellows. But the American League will lose not more than ten men ….

We are going to cut and slash right and left from now on. We intend to show up the four flushers and the bluffers in the proper light.

The Johnson interview appeared in print the day before fifty-odd major leaguers returned to New York on the “Lusitania” after an around-the-world trip. According to the plaintiff, Johnson’s tough talk was intended to frighten those players away from the Federal League as well as to destroy the new circuit’s credibility with the public.


In spite of Organized Baseball’s opposition, the Federal League opened the 1914 season confident of success. Opening day attendance was high, with Baltimore’s home opener attracting a standing-room-only crowd of 19,000.

The 1914 pennant race was a close one: Indianapolis, led by outfielder Benny Kauff (who hit .370, stole 75 bases, and scored 120 runs) and pitcher Cy Falkenberg (a 25-game winner with a 2.22 ERA and 9 shutouts), edged Chicago by one and a half games, with Baltimore a close third. Still, total Federal. League attendance did not approach that of either the American or National League. The Chicago Federals led the league in attendance, but drew fewer fans than the sixth-place White Sox. The established leagues suffered as well; AL attendance fell from 3.5 million in 1913 to 2.75 million in 1914.

The players were not complaining about the competition between the rival leagues. The Federal League eventually signed 81 major leaguers and 140 minor leaguers to contracts, nearly all of them at much higher salaries. Other players used the threat of jumping to get more money from teams in O.B. Several players–including Ray Caldwell, Walter Johnson, “Reindeer Bill” Killefer, and Ivy Wingo–signed contracts with Federal League teams but were persuaded to jump back to their former clubs. Caldwell made $2400 in 1913, but the Yankees gave him a four-year contract paying $8000 annually to bring him back into the fold. Killefer’s and Wingo’s salaries also more than doubled while Johnson’s went from $7000 to $12,500.

Hal Chase, Buffalo Federal League

Hal Chase, Buffalo Federal League

Several times, disputes over who had rights to a player ended up in court. Organized Baseball did not take legal action against players who were reserved but not under contract, but it did go to court to restrain players who had signed contracts for the 1914 season from jumping leagues. Early that season, pitchers Dave Davenport and George “Chief’Johnson and outfielder Armando Marsans of the Cincinnati Reds jumped to Federal League clubs. A Missouri federal judge granted the Reds’ request for an injunction against Marsans, but a court in Illinois refused to issue a similar injunction against Johnson because the contract lacked “mutuality.” On similar grounds, a New York court denied a White Sox request for a court order to prevent first baseman Hal Chase from jumping to the Buffalo Federals.

The tables were turned in the Killefer case. Killefer’s 1913 Phillies salary was $3200. On January 8, 1914, he signed with the Chicago Federals for $5800; only twelve days later he signed a new Phillies contract for $6500. A federal appeals court refused to order Killefer to stand by the contract with Chicago on the grounds that the Federal League team, which had induced Killefer to ignore his reserve clause, came into court with “unclean hands.” George Wharton Pepper, who represented O.B. in that case as well as in the Baltimore Federal Club litigation, persuaded the court that while the reserve clause was not legally enforceable by Philadelphia, the Chicago Federals had no business luring Killefer away before the Phillies had a fair chance to sign him to a contract for the 1914 season.

On January 5, 1915, the Federal League took the legal offensive by filing an antitrust suit against Organized Baseball. The Chicago federal judge assigned to hear the case was none other than Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who had the reputation of being a committed trustbuster. The trial of that case ended on January 22, and the Federal League hoped for a quick decision from Judge Landis. But the future commissioner seemed to be in no hurry to act. In March, Brooklyn Federals owner R.B. Ward approached Ban Johnson and again asked O.B. to allow its rival to become a party to the National Agreement.

James A. Gilmore

James A. Gilmore


The Federal League opened the 1915 season with high hopes. Over 27,000 fans were on hand for opening day in Newark, where oilman Harry Sinclair had moved the Indianapolis Federals. But attendance fell off rapidly and losses began to mount. By the end of the league’s second season, Brooklyn’s Ward had lost $800,000; the Kansas City and Buffalo clubs were insolvent. Baltimore lost $35,000 in 1914 and almost $30,000 in 1915.

According to President Gilmore, the league’s financial ills became apparent early in the season.

A. [I]t was probably in May that some of us realized that it was going to be a very poor season from a financial standpoint, and I know along about the middle of July we started to hold meetings to discuss the situation, because previous to that time I had been called to Buffalo, and I had been called to Kansas City, in an effort to induce other people to invest money. Their overhead was far in excess of their receipts, and they were all beginning to complain.

Q. When did you say you reached the conclusion that the Federal League was doomed?

A. Along about the middle of June or the first of July…. [M]y opinion was that we were fighting a hopeless task. There were two clubs that had practically given up the fight, Kansas City and Buffalo. I had already received an opinion from the other members of the organization that they would not continue with six clubs….

Q. You had no idea from June on that the Federal League would be able to prepare for the next season at all?

A. I did not see any opportunity at all, no sir.

Q. Were you absolutely convinced of that?

A. I felt satisfied in my own mind to the extent that I began to figure out some way that we could at least save the ball players, and save our own reputations.


Gilmore approached Sinclair and Ward with an audacious plan. First, they rented a suite of Manhattan offices and purchased an option to buy some vacant land at 143rd Street and Lenox Avenue. They then asked Corry Comstock, a New York City engineer and architect who was also the vice-president of the Pittsburgh Federal club, to draw up plans for a grandiose, 55,000-seat stadium. Gilmore then announced to the press that the Federal League planned to “invade” New York in 1916.

1915 Pittsburgh Rebels Federal League Ticket

1915 Pittsburgh Rebels Federal League Ticket

The purpose of all this? According to Gilmore, “[i]t was one big bluff,” a trick to force O.B. into “coming around and making some kind of offer.”

Q. Your real purpose was to get Organized Baseball to buy you out?

A. To reimburse us for some of our expenditures, yes, sir.

Q. To buy you out. Did not they have enough ball parks for the American and National Leagues at that time?

A. I presume they did.

Q. You expected them to buy you out and get rid of you as an annoying competitor; is that the proposition?

A. I think so, yes, sir.

Q. You had statements and interviews in the papers about it [the N.Y. stadium]?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. You said you were going to build it?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And you had no idea of building it?

A. None at all. We did not know where the money was coming from unless some angel came along.

Q. You mean some devil; you were not associating with angels. Do you mean to tell this jury that you gave out interviews to the papers that you were going to build this stadium, employed an architect and manifested all of the different things that were necessary to accompany a real good faith act and had no idea of building a stadium at all?

A. It was one big bluff.

Q. That is the word you used for it?

A. Bluff, yes, sir.

Q. Might you not also characterize it as false pretense?

A. I do not know what you characterize it.

Q. Were you not engaging in false pretense?

A. We were trying to be protected to the best of our ability.

Comstock described the threatened invasion of New York by the Federal League as a “holdup”; he said there was “not a word of truth” in the announcement of the plans to build a stadium.

1914 Federal League Stock Certificate, Baltimore

1914 Federal League Stock Certificate, Baltimore

Gilmore and his co-conspirators did not tell the other Federal League owners about their scheme. According to Gilmore,

A. . .. [T]he bluff that we had formulated, the plan we had formulated, to put this thing through, was an absolute secret between Mr. R.B. Ward, Mr. Comstock, Mr. Sinclair and myself ….

Q. You were putting up a bluff on Baltimore?

A. Baltimore did not know one thing about the plan we were putting up in New York …. [W]e decided to keep it a secret from everybody. Mr. Weeghman [of Chicago] knew nothing about it. Mr. Ball of St. Louis knew nothing about it.

Gilmore’s machinations certainly fooled the Baltimore club. While he was trying to bluff O.B. into buying out the Federal League, Baltimore officials were naively making preparations for the 1916 season. Colonel Stuart S. Janney, a prominent Baltimore attorney who held stock in the team and served as its lawyer, testified that the club’s directors and stockholders had not expected to turn a profit overnight and were prepared to supply whatever additional financing was necessary for the 1916 season.

These preparations were encouraged by a series of letters Gilmore wrote to club officials in the fall of 1915, all of which contained some implication that the Federal League would be alive and well enough to operate in 1916. In an October 13 letter, Gilmore wrote:

[I] hope that your club is signing up some good talent for the coming year. I have wonderful faith in Baltimore as a Major League city, and know if you can get a fighting team there and keep it in the race, you will draw wonderful crowds and easily pay expenses.

On November 1, he wrote:

I also want to suggest that in view of your experience the last year that you make out a statement of the approximate cost to operate your club during the next season. In other words, I would like an idea of how much cheaper you think you can operate in 1916 than you could in 1915. This will be valuable information for our Board Members, and I want you to get it as accurately as possible.

On November 30, Gilmore forwarded to Baltimore club president Carroll W. Rasin a letter from a Williamsport, Pennsylvania fan recommending that the Federal League sign up for the 1916 season a local star who was a “natural-born hitter … fast on his feet; a sure catch and a ‘find.'” And on December 3, Gilmore wrote again to request the financial information that he had asked for in his November 1 letter.

More tomorrow.


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