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Surprise Postseason Heroes

bpp header[I delivered this brief talk in my hometown of Catskill, at Beattie-Powers Place, on Saturday.] There are probably a good many Mets fans among you, so forgive me for bringing up a painful memory: the 2015 World Series, which the Kansas City Royals captured in five games. If only baseball were a game of eight innings rather than nine, it is the Mets who would have won in five; three times they took a lead into the ninth and coughed it up. Bad luck, but as some wit once said, it is unlucky to be behind at the end of the game.

The MVP of the World Series was Royals’ catcher Salvador Perez, who had some key hits but drove in only two runs. Daniel Murphy of the Mets, who had ridden into the World Series in a Cinderella glass carriage after seven home runs in the first two rounds, rode back in a pumpkin after collecting only three singles in the World Series.

I am telling what you already know, either from press reports or by having witnessed it with your own eyes. My point is simply this: that over the many months of the regular season we keep track of the WHO and the WHAT of baseball accomplishment, but the postseason adds, sometimes poignantly, the dimension of WHEN, which creates ephemeral demigods—men who may have exhibited no similar skill beforehand, and typically revert to form thereafter.

Curt Welch

Curt Welch

The list of relative nonentities who became fleeting heroes is long, beginning with outfielder Curt Welch of the 1886 St. Louis Browns. In the World Series of that year—yes, there had been one in the early years, before the advent of the American League—the prize pot of $15,000 went entirely to the winning club, and Browns’ owner Chris von Der Ahe renounced his personal share if his club would win. With the Browns having won three of the first five contests, Game 6 was settled in the tenth inning by what instantly came to be known as “Welch’s $15,000 slide,” as the winning run scored by Browns’ outfielder Curt Welch assured his teammates that much in shared winnings.

Chances are that you never heard of Welch, or of George Rohe, the substitute infielder on the “Hitless Wonder” Chicago White Sox of 1906. Playing third base only because a regular was unable to take the position, Rohe hit two game-winning triples, and added three more hits in the clincher. The Sox defeated the powerhouse Cubs—whose regular season record was 116 wins against only 36 losses—in what remains the greatest World Series upset of all time.

I could go on to list other unlikely heroes, but that would be a bit dull. A partial roll call might include New York second-tier players Bucky Dent, Dusty Rhodes, Billy Martin, Don Larsen, and Joe Page, as well as other forgettable figures such as Gene Tenace, Larry Sherry, and David Freese. An exploit at the end of a final game—think Bill Mazeroski’s homer in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, or, to a lesser extent, Joe Carter’s in Game Six, 1993—will cement a reputation and even pave the way to Cooperstown.

In a postseason series the significance of every hit, run, and error is magnified so as to create the illusion of clutch performance. Because it happened when it happened, it must be clutch, right? Reggie Jackson’s three home runs off the first pitch from three different pitchers in the deciding Game Six of the 1977 World Series—well, it can’t get any clutchier than that, can it?

Several sabermetricians, myself among them, believe that if clutch ability were anything more than an optical illusion—if it attached to an individual as his attribute—then it would be replicable, season to season, as other abilities are. Over his career, a home run hitter will tend to hit home runs, a strikeout pitcher will tend to strike batters out, a premier shortstop will tend to get to more balls than his rivals at the position. But it turns out that a strong clutch performer in one season may be among the league’s worst in the following campaign.

Player Win Averages_Mills BrothersIn 1969 and 1970, the Mills brothers (the nonsinging variety, in this case Eldon and Harlan), who were partners in a self-started enterprise called Computer Research in Sports, tracked two entire major-league seasons on a play-by-play basis. Then they applied to that record the probabilities of winning which derived from each possible outcome of a plate appearance, as determined by a computer simulation incorporating nearly 8,000 possibilities.

What, for example, was the visiting team’s chance of winning the game before the first pitch was thrown? Fifty percent, if we are pitting two theoretical teams of equal or unknown ability on a neutral site. If that first man fails to get on base, the chances of the visiting team winning are reduced to 49.8 percent; should he hit a double, the visiting team’s chance of victory is raised to 55.9 percent, as determined by the probabilistic simulation. Every possible situation—combining half inning, score, men on base, and men out—was tested by the simulator to arrive at “Win Points.”

The Millses’ purpose was to determine the clutch value of, say, hitting a homer with two men on and one man out in the bottom of the ninth, with the team trailing by two runs, the situation that Bobby Thomson faced in the climactic National League game of 1951. (It gained for him 1,472 Win Points; had it come with no one on in the eighth inning of a game in which his team led 4-0, the homer would have been worth only 12 Win Points.)

What the Mills brothers were attempting to do was to evaluate not only the what of a performance, which traditional statistics indicate, but the when, or clutch factor, which no statistic to that time could provide. If this project, detailed in a small book issued in 1970 called Player Win Averages, sounds familiar, it is because at last it has been adopted by modern-day statisticians, in all sports. Win probability mid-game is a feature, for example, of NFL broadcast analysis.

Good hitters are good hitters and weak hitters are weak hitters regardless of the game situation. Who would you wish to appear at the plate in a clutch situation—your cleanup batter or your number 8 hitter?

My friend Dick Cramer wrote, in a landmark article in 1977: “But there is no reason why a weak hitter shouldn’t be fortunate enough to get a series of fat pitches or good swings in crucial situations. Given enough time, this might even happen over some player’s whole career. After all, what was really meant when someone was called a ‘clutch hitter’? Was he really a batter who didn’t fold under pressure—or was he a lazy batter who bothered to try his hardest only when the game was on the line?”

Each year, postseason heroes and goats abound—Daniel Murphy went from hero to goat in an instant, it seemed—but both are accidents of time and place rather than indications of character and ability.


Diamond Visions: Baseball’s Greatest Illustration Art, Part 5

Artist: John Falter

Artist: John Falter

Boy, now that I’m at the end of the series I realize that I like these last five as much as any of the others ranked higher. But Clickbait 101 has no lesson plan for unranked groupings. I have written full articles related to the five images below, excepting only Gary Cieradkowski’s Infinite Card Set, amazing for its scholarship as well as its art. But steeling myself to the task, let me talk a little about the steel engraving below of the Magnolia Ball Club’s playground at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken. This unassuming little ticket to an 1844 ball, of which only one example has survived–it is in a private collection–is the first visual depiction of grown men playing baseball. Because it was clearly produced in numbers, and for sale, I would call it the first baseball card, a further distinction if less impressive than that previously mentioned. And a further distinction is that the image, which came up at auction with a misleading description, opened the door onto a previously unknown baseball club of New York n’er-do-wells–one that preceded the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club.

21. Fashion Race Course on cover of New York Clipper, July 24, 1858.

21. Fashion Race Course, New York Clipper, July 24, 1858.

The “Great Base Ball Match” depicted on the cover of the New York Clipper of July 24, 1858 had been played four days earlier, pitting the best of New York against the best of Brooklyn. The firsts that can be pinned to this event are: first all-star game; first game played in an enclosed park (the Fashion Race Course Grounds, spitting distance from today’s Citi Field); and first paid admission. To me this is not only a historic image but a beautiful one. For more on this signal game, see:

22. Ticket to First Annual Ball of the Magnolia Ball Club, 1844

23. Ticket to First Annual Ball of the Magnolia Ball Club, 1844

What are we seeing in this tiny image, engraved by William Fairthorne of New York? In the foreground, the North River, as the Hudson was called near New York City; the Colonnade Hotel at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken; a waiter bringing refreshments to the ball players; and a game of game of ball, with the bases artisticall terndered as posts, as in the old game of baseball that had been played in this country since the mid-18th century. As I wrote in the piece linked below, “The baseball scene on the card reveals three bases with stakes, eight men in the field, a pitcher with an underarm delivery, possibly base-stealing, and a top-hatted waiter bearing a tray of refreshments from the Colonnade. Some of the members of the ‘in’ side are arrayed behind a long table; others are seated upon it. The pitcher delivers the ball. A runner heads from first to second base. This is, from all appearances, the original Knickerbocker game, and that of the New York Base Ball Club, and that of the Gothams of the 1830s (shortstop was a position not manned until 1849–1850).” For more on this ball club and the circumstances surrounding its rediscovery, see:

22. Gary Cieradkowski, Infinite Card Set

22. Gary Cieradkowski, Infinite Card Set

Gary Cierdakowski recently published a stunningly executed book called The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes. I blurbed it thus: “Gary Cieradkowski is to me the most interesting artist working in baseball today. His bold graphic style recalls America’s poster kings of yore–Edward Penfield, J.C. Leyendecker, Fred G. Cooper–and his love of the game breathes new life into heroes long gone.” Here are links to that book and to his blog:

24. Red Stocking Cigar Poster, 1874

24. Red Stocking Cigar Poster, 1874

Apart from its drop-dead-gorgeous portrait of Boston shortstop George Wright, the hero of the age, this 1874 poster has the distinction of being the first instance of an American athlete endorsement of a product or service. Wright was about to embark on a tour of England with his fellow Red Stockings and the Philadelphia Athletics. And 1874 was also the year when the fledgling firm of Nichols & Macdonald, Boston cigar makers, secured the rights to his photographic image for a 14– by 10–inch advertising poster. Produced for them by the venerable lithographer and job printer J.H. Bufford’s Sons of 490 Washington Street, it is a graphic and historic landmark. Wright’s image within the poster dates to 1871 or ’72, when Warren’s Photographic Studios of Boston issued it as a cabinet card. The address listed for Bufford in the city directory for 1875 is 666 Washington, so we may deduce the date of the poster as no later than 1874. The young cigar makers are not listed before 1874, so there we have the date of issuance with certainty. For (a great deal) more, see:

25. New-York Illustrated News, Atlantic-Excelsior match game, August 4, 1860,

25. New-York Illustrated News, Atlantic-Excelsior match game, August 4, 1860.

SABR pal Bob Tholkes shared this with me some time ago: “An August 1, 1860 ad by a book seller in the Buffalo Daily Courier of August 1, 1860 mentioned that pictures of the recent match between the Atlantic and Excelsior (played on July 19) appeared in the current edition of Demorest’s New-York Illustrated News [August 4].” Examining an enlargement of the panoramic scene, it struck me that the emblem on the pitcher’s bib front looked to be single letter, not the ABBC of the Atlantic Club. He must be an Excelsior and, as the box score would corroborate, he must be Creighton. This was no generic, bucolic scene–as all baseball-game views had been to this time–but an illustration of a specific contest. As the caption put it: “Grand Base Ball Match forthe Championship, Between the Excelsior and Atlantic Clubs,of Brooklyn, at the Excelsior Grounds, South Brooklyn, on Thursday, July 19.–from a Sketch Made by Our Own Artist.”  That artist’s name, barely legible, appears to be J.H. Gooter, but that is a name not identifiable today.


Diamond Visions: Baseball’s Greatest Illustration Art, Part 4

Base Ball Collar, 1867

Base Ball Collar, 1867

Welcome to Part Four of this five-part series. The best is not behind you but arguably ahead: it may easily be held that images 16-20 below are the equal of, if not superior to, those that preceded it in my admittedly quirky rankings. (I doubt, for example, that anyone but yours truly would have awarded James Daugherty’s newspaper cartoon from 1914, below, a place in the pantheon.) Illustration art will tend to have more graphic pop than fine art, and it will draw the eye to a central object while treating the background detail with scant attention. But I particularly like the “small stuff,” and this taste may go some way toward explaining why I have selected the twenty-five exemplars depicted in this series. In Image No. 16, for example, the intent of the artist and the publisher–Ebenezer Butterick, the inventor of graded sewing patterns–is to focus on the fashions; Butterick issued a fashion plate to accompany each “quarterly report” of patterns. But look at the background–a ball game in progress at what is clearly Brooklyn’s Union Grounds, with its distinctive pagoda, erected even before the park’s proprietor, William Cammeyer, thought of playing baseball here. The Union Grounds began life as a skating rink, and this was a changing room (for more on this park, see

16. New York Fashions for March 1870, E. Butterick & Co.

16. New York Fashions for March 1870, E. Butterick & Co.

The clubs depicted are, left to right, Cincinnati Red Stockings, undefeated in 1869; Empire of New York; Atlantic of Brooklym; Star of Brooklyn; unknown; and Mutual of New York. The name of the lithographic publisher (“Hatch & Co., 218 Broadway, Herald Building, N. Y.”) appears in smaller lettering in the lower right corner. The name of the artist, John (“Jno.”) Schuller, appears in small script on the fence to the far right. Fewer than ten examples of this print are known to survive.

17. Futurist Picture of the Opening Game, James Daugherty, Detroit Free Press, April 12, 1914

17. Futurist Picture of the Opening Game (inset), James Daugherty, Detroit Free Press, April 12, 1914

Writing in 1949, James Daugherty (1887–1974) declared that modern art was nothing less than “liberating and expansive, rousing and freeing human consciousness from materialism to infinite possibilities of living, creating universal harmony, energy and renewal.” In 1913, his eyes were opened to a world of new possibilities by the landmark Armory Show and, as he later described it, Daugherty “went modern with a vengeance.” In his Futurist-inspired works, swirling and intersecting figures were abstracted and fragmented in the nonstop movement of baseball and dancing. The painting on which the newspaper cartoon above is based–“Three Base Hit,” in pen and ink and opaque watercolor on paper–resides in the collection of the Whitney Museum, which also purchased this newspaper print. See:

18. The National Pastime, Dick Perez

18. The National Pastime, Dick Perez

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. All that is missing from Dick Perez’s recreation of Opening Day in New York, April 29, 1886 is the rhyme’s silver sixpence in her shoe. Reconstructing the vista from a series of detective-camera snapshots taken from the stands on that day, Perez created a panoramic view of not only a ball game but the era itself. Later issued a limited-edition print, “The National Pastime” began life as the wraparound cover of SABR’s publication by that name, in Spring 1984. A portion of this image graces the book jacket for my own Baseball in the Garden of Eden.

19. Charles Dana Gibson. The First League Game of Base-Ball of the Season, Harper's Weekly, April 27, 1889

19. Charles Dana Gibson. The First League Game of Base-Ball of the Season, Harper’s Weekly, April 27, 1889

Charles Dana Gibson is today remembered as the originator of “The Gibson Girl,” the long-haired, athletic beauty featured in so many of his ironic social tableaux. But he was a baseball fan, too, who specialized in depicting the facial expressions that accompanied hope and despair in the stands. This lesser known work is my favorite, though. It appeared in Harper’s Weekly in monochrome, of course; the coloring is later.

20. Lucky Seventh, Ralph Henry Barbour; cover, Norman Rockwell, 1914

20. The Lucky Seventh, Ralph Henry Barbour; cover, Norman Rockwell, 1914

Norman Rockwell created so many now famous baseball paintings for The Saturday Evening Post that I could not choose among them. Instead, I have selected this first of his baseball works printed in color, published when he had just turned twenty. Some baseball drawings had appeared previously, in the May 1913 issue of Boys’ Life.

Illustrations 21-25 tomorrow!

Diamond Visions: Baseball’s Greatest Illustration Art, Part 3

Catcher, JC Leyendecker

Catcher, J.C. Leyendecker

As the heading indicates, this is Part 3 of a five-part series. I encourage you to view the first two parts if you have not already done so, as that will clarify some of my criteria and admitted bias. Here is another caveat: while I wished to represent all the acknowledged great American illustrators who occasionally worked in baseball, I expended no great effort to select the very best work by each. Instead, I have chosen an important effort by Rockwell or Leyendecker or Penfield or Shepard–in code, the one that tickles me–rather than a perhaps more fully developed virtuoso work. Consider this five-part series as the beginning of a long discussion rather than its end. Last, I encourage you to join a Facebook group devoted to Baseball Arts in all its forms–painting, sculpture, illustration, cartoons, and graphics:

[Clicking on a photo below will enlarge it, in one or two screens.]

11. Base-Ball ABC, back cover, McLoughlin 1885

11. Base-Ball ABC, back cover, McLoughlin Brothers, 1885

Every page of this children’s book is a stunner but I have selected its back cover as a particularly brilliant instance of the 1880s fascination with Japanese and “Aryan” design. If Whistler had painted a children’s book, it might have been this one. The entire book may be viewed or downloaded here:

The McLoughlin Brothers (1828-1920) firm was preeminent in color-printed children’s books, toys, and board games. Baseball-game collectors will know the name McLoughlin especially for the gorgeous Game of Base-Ball and Home Base-Ball (both from 1886).

12. The National Pastime cover, 1988, Nap Lajoie, Mike Schacht

12. The National Pastime cover, 1988, Nap Lajoie, Mike Schacht

My dear departed friend Mike Schacht, a graphic artist by day and a painter by night, combined his two passions brilliantly to produce an unmatched portfolio of striking posters, graphics, and paintings. Apart from his baseball art, Schacht was also the publisher and editor of “Fan,” a quirky literary and art quarterly with an elite subscription list. At the time of his death in 2001, he and I were collaborating on a book with a working title of PLAY: The Art of Mike Schacht.

13. Calvert Litho, 1895; full sheet base ball poster no. 281

13. Calvert Lithographing Co., 1895; full sheet base ball poster no. 281

The Calvert Lithographing Company was founded in Detroit and continued as an independent business into the 1960s. One of the largest color printing firms in the country, it specialized in cigar labels and theatrical posters. Its forays into baseball appear to have been few, but this 1895 image (marketed as “Base Ball Poster No. 281,” with text to be supplied by the customer) is certainly a keeper.

14. Great Base Ball Match ... with the Leading Players of the Principal Clubs (Jim Creighton Memorial), Leslies, 1865

14. Great Base Ball Match Between the Atlantic and Eckford Clubs of Brooklyn … with the Leading Players of the Principal Clubs … (Jim Creighton Memorial), Leslies, 1865

On November 4, 1865, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper featured this remarkable two-page woodcut illustration depicting both a game-in-progress scene and images of the top players from all of the New York, Brooklyn, and Newark clubs. All the players are named, including the crepe-draped Jim Creighton, three years in the ground. Henry Chadwick is by this point, evidently, so well known that he requires only the names of his outlets, the newspapers spread beneath his visage. My biographical essay on Creighton may be read here:

15. Collier's, J.C. Leyendecker, 1907

15. Collier’s, J.C. Leyendecker, 1907

For connoisseurs, the competition for the laurel as greatest of all baseball illustrators is between Edward Penfield and J.C. Leyendecker. I would not disagree.

Illustrations 16-20 tomorrow!

Diamond Visions: Baseball’s Greatest Illustration Art, Part 2

Dan Brouthers, N162

Dan Brouthers, N162

This series commenced yesterday in this space. In my survey of baseball’s illustration I landed upon many wonderful portraits of real-life players, many of them on cigarette cards I confess to a special fondness for those of the 1880s–Allen & Ginter, Gypsy Queen, and W.S. Kimball. I even like the rough-hewn, amateurish depictions of Buchner Gold Coin cards and, later, the cartoonish strip cards of the 1920s and the social-realist style of the 1930s Goudey cards. (for more about this subject, see “Rhapsody in Cardboard,” at Such images are, like old photographs, the spur to memory–not your own, unless you are a centenarian, but to the collective memory that forms the national pastime’s very foundation.

The beautiful image speaks unaided, but the ungainly one that, for historic reasons, won its place in my little pantheon may call for a bit of backstory. Some of the woodcuts featured in this series cannot be described as beautiful, even by the most flexible standards, but they do qualify as great. If you disagree, you could send me a note by wire, or whatever it is the kids do these days.

[Clicking on a photo below will enlarge it.]

6. Chicago scorecard, 1948, Otis Shepard

6. Chicago scorecard, 1948, Otis Shepard

I could easily have filled this series with twenty-five cover designs by Otis Shepard. From the 1930s to 1960s, he and his wife Dorothy designed uniforms, programs, and logos for the Chicago Cubs., and the logo and base uniform for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). This image for me evokes Magritte and is my ultimate Shepard. A recent book, Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream is a splendid tribute (

Temple Cup game at Polo Grounds, 1894, by Henry Sandham

Temple Cup game at Polo Grounds, 1894, by Henry Sandham

There is an aquatint version, too, but I prefer the uncolored. Henry Sandham‘s 1894 painting, on which this 1896 print was based, seems to have been lost. It depicts, we think, a Temple Cup contest between Baltimore and host New York. The Boston Evening Transcript announced, on March 13, 1896, the availability of a limited edition of 250: “Henry Sandham has painted a picture of a game in progress on the grounds of the New York League Club, and the painting has been finely reproduced in the form of a Goupilgravure.” For a full appreciation of the print, I recommend downloading the 143-meg tiff:

8. Little Pretty Pocket Book 1787, Isaiah Thomas; American version of 1744 book by John Newbery

8. From Little Pretty Pocket Book 1787, Isaiah Thomas; American version of 1744 book by John Newbery

David Block, author of Baseball Before We Knew It, writes of this image at Our Game (

Our earliest evidence for English “base-ball” dates from 1744, when the iconic children’s book A Little Pretty Pocket-Book was first issued. Publisher John Newbery devoted a full page of his pioneering juvenile work to the game, giving us our first clues of how it looked and how it was played. Newbery’s page includes a simple engraving of the pastime that depicts three young gents at play, one holding a ball in his hand and another waiting to strike it with his bare hand. The bases, three of them, are shown as posts in the ground. An accompanying snippet of verse reads as follows:

The Ball once struck off,

Away flies the Boy

To the next destin’d Post,

And then Home with Joy.

This is followed by a “MORAL”:

Thus Britons, for Lucre,

Fly over the Main,

But, with Pleasure transported,

Return back again.

In the American edition, as shown above, the word “Britons” in the second stanza is replaced by “seamen.”

Oil on canvas for Baseball Magazine cover, Joseph Francis Kernan (1878-1958)

9. Oil on canvas for Baseball Magazine cover, Joseph Francis Kernan (1878-1958)

Quoting a passage from my post on the art of Baseball Magazine: “In the golden age of magazines, the period 1880-1920, the newsstands were bedecked with general-interest and literary publications: the weeklies included such fare as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Frank Leslie’s Popular Magazine, and Harper’s; the monthlies boasted, among others, Atlantic, Munsey’s, McClure’s Magazine, and Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. Competition for rack space was fierce, as was the competition for the eye (and pocketbook) of the browser; the fees that top writers routinely received in 1920 exceed those available today, when the dollar buys so much less; and artists whose work graced magazine covers, like James Montgomery Flagg, Edward Penfield, Maxfield Parrish, and J. C. Leyendecker, became truly wealthy. But first-class cover art had never been viewed as a necessary competitive edge for an all-sports publication until the advent of Baseball Magazine.” For more, see:

John Francis Kernan provided cover art for many numbers of Baseball Magazine in its glory years, 1908 (the year of its founding) to 1920. A prolific illustrator, he specialized in images of home, family, and outdoor recreation. His paintings of football, fishing, and hunting frequently graced the covers of the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s and ’30s.

Live Oak Polka, 1860.

Live Oak Polka, 1860.

This is the first baseball illustration printed in color. The “Live Oak Polka” was published in sheet-music form in 1860, only two years after the first in the genre, “The Baseball Polka.” by J.R. Blodgett of Buffalo. While the composer of this tribute to the Live Oak Base Ball Club of Rochester, New York was J. H. Kalbfleisch, and the publisher was Joseph P. Shaw, it is the artist we care about, and he or she is unknown. The lithographer was the durable firm of Endicott & Company, founded in New York City in 1831 and active until 1886.

Illustrations 11-15 tomorrow!

Diamond Visions: Baseball’s Greatest Illustration Art

Fan based on a Bufford litho, 1887.

Fan based on a Bufford lithograph, 1887.

In March of this year I offered a five-part series titled “Diamond Visions: Baseball’s Greatest Photographs.” For each of five successive days I offered five of my considered favorites, after laying out the criteria and landing, ultimately, on one: beauty. So let’s proceed in much the same way here. What is not included: fine art in two dimensions or three; caricature; baseball-card portraiture, even when rendered artfully amid symbols and vignettes. What is included: art designed for mass distribution that illustrates a book, newspaper, or magazine; posters designed to promote the game or sell merchandise linked with it; and art pitched to lovers of the game, who might purchase it for their collections.

So, no Thomas Eakins or William Morris Hunt. No Willard Mullin or Tad Dorgan. No cards from Turkey Red or Kimball or Allen & Ginter. Some fine painters also dabbled in commercial art, or at least fine art produced in multiple numbered prints: George Bellows, Fletcher Martin, to name just a couple. I hate to leave them out altogether, so maybe at some not too distant point I will offer up “Diamond Visions: Baseball Greatest Fine Art” … and perhaps separate portfolios highlighting caricature (cartoons, comics) and graphics (logos, typography).

But I get ahead of myself; back to the subject at hand. I could offer up twenty-five Penfields or Leyendeckers or Rockwells or Gibsons, but each artist is herein limited to one representation. Some images selected may possess little evident artistic merit but warrant inclusion for their historic importance (such as John Newbery’s 1744 image of English base ball, a game played without a bat).

I will offer five illustrations each day, rank-ordered with much trepidation. Because of my antiquarian bent, I tend to like the older images better. You are likely to have other ideas, and I’d love to hear them.

Oh, and if you missed the photographic series, check it out here:

[Clicking on a photo below will enlarge it.]

1. The American National Game of Base Ball, Currier and Ives, 1866.

1. The American National Game of Base Ball, Currier and Ives, 1866.

Long believed to depict the 1865 match between the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn and the Mutual of New York, it has turned out be something else entirely: a fantasy game, one that the baseball world desired but that never was played. For a good deal more about this image, see “Unraveling a Baseball Mystery” (

The crowd, reported at 15,000 to 20,000, is barely hinted at, and the rain that halted the contest in the sixth inning is forever off in the distance. When the clouds burst at five-thirty, after an hour and forty-five minutes of play (today’s game is too slow, eh?), the Atlantics led the Mutuals 13-12. The Mutes had two men on base, but play could not be resumed. The Atlantics also won the second game of the series, later that month, 40-28, and by going on to finish undefeated in all its contests with first-class opposition became baseball’s first “national champion.”

Note that the first baseman and third baseman stand right on their bases because the rules at that time permitted the “fair-foul” hit, in which a skilled bunter could angle his bat so that a ball could bounce once in fair territory, skitter off into foul ground, and be a valid hit. The second baseman’s position is harder to explain, but the vast hole between first and second is what prompted Chadwick to suggest, first, that batters hit the ball on the ground in that direction, and second, that a “right shortstop” be added to the complement in the field–a tenth man. By the time anyone got around to testing Chad’s idea, in the mid-seventies, eliminating the fair-foul hit seemed the wiser course.

Currier & Ives printed lithographs only in black and white and employed a legion of colorists to tint the pictures by hand. Smaller editions of this print sold for fifteen to twenty-five cents upon original publication and were made available for ten cents with a subscription to the New York Clipper, the main sporting paper at the time. A 20” x 30” print like this would have cost three dollars in 1866–half a week’s pay for a workingman, but nothing like the figure it might fetch at auction today.

2. The second great match game for the championship, between the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia and the Atlantics of Brooklyn, on the grounds of the Athletics, Fifteenth & Columbia Avenue, Phila., Oct. 22nd, 1866. [graphic] / Drawn & published by J.L. Magee, S.E. cor. 3rd & Dock Sts. Philada.

2. The second great match game for the championship, between the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia and the Atlantics of Brooklyn, on the grounds of the Athletics, Fifteenth & Columbia Avenue, Phila., Oct. 22nd, 1866. [graphic] / Drawn & published by J.L. Magee, S.E. cor. 3rd & Dock Sts. Philada.

This 1867 depiction of a baseball game played in the previous year is less well known than the Currier & Ives image above, but if one were to come to market today it would probably bring about the same figure, nearly $200,000. Both are exceedingly scarce, but the Magee has more brilliantly crisp detail. It gives us a real flavor of being right there, right then. Note the figures in the foreground especially.

A previous attempt to pit these teams against each other had proved disastrous. The proprietors of the Athletic grounds had sold 8,000 seats at twenty-five cents each, but a near stampede to see the game resulted in a crowd of 30,000, who surrounded and constricted the playing area to such an extent that midway in the bottom of the first inning, the game was halted. A return match at Brooklyn’s Capitoline Grounds proceeded without disruption, and the Atlantics won, 27-17.

For the “second great match game” (not counting the abortive first attempt), Philadelphia’s policemen were out in force and the proprietors of the park charged one- dollar admission, the most ever to that time and still a high price half a century later. The Athletics delighted their fans by winning, 31-12, as the game was halted by thundershowers in the eighth inning. For the A’s, Al Reach scored six runs,  Wes Fisler five. Lipman Pike, the first Jewish professional ballplayer, made four outs that day, but he had slugged seven homers in a game earlier in the season. A potentially thrilling rubber match between the clubs was canceled because of a dispute over the division of the gate receipts; the Atlantics thus retained their championship.

Above each player is a small number that corresponds to his position in the key printed below the image.  So we have McBride batting and Kleinfelder taking off from first (is there a hit-and-run play going on?), with Mills catching and Pratt on the mound. On deck is  Reach. The handsome Pike is seated at the far right. Standing next to him (left to right) are Wilkins and Fisler. Dockney is sitting between them. Sensenderfer is seated by the scorer’s table, where Gaskill is standing. Could they be asking that the scorer change a ruling? Unlikely–keeping score is the “father of baseball” himself, Henry Chadwick.

3. Jay Hambidge, Crowd at the Polo Grounds, 1895

3. Jay Hambidge, Crowd at the Polo Grounds, 1895

Also little-known image, this image also has a time-travel quality to it. Artist Jay Hanbidge painted this scene for Truth Magazine ca. 1895, and it was included in the Truth Portfolio of the following year. The image depicted is a press proof held by the Museum of the City of New York. He was a pupil of William Merritt Chase; George Bellows was a disciple of Hambidge’s theory of Dynamic Symmetry.

4. Penfield, Collier's Out-Door Number 1902

4. Penfield, Collier’s Out-Door Number, April 26, 1902

This classic image by Edward Penfield, the father of the American Poster Movement as art director of Harper’s Magazine in the 1890s, was also reproduced by Collier’s six years later as a now rare print titled “Three Men on Base.” The image will also be familiar to baseball book collectors from its use on the cover of the outsized Book of Baseball (Patten & McSpadden, 1911).

Anson and Ewing promoting ale and stout.

5. Anson and Ewing promoting E. & J. Burke ale and stout.

This gorgeous lithograph from 1899 is a monument in the history of celebrity endorsement. While not the first–that honor goes to an 1874 cigar poster featuring Boston’s star shortstop George Wright–it is the most splendid. According to Charles Zuber of the Cincinnati Times-Star:

There is only one case of record where ball players received a large remuneration for acting as models for an advertisement. Those players were Capt. Ewing and ‘Old Man’ Anson. It was before the Brotherhood War, when Ewing was in the very zenith of his glory. A certain ale manufacturing concern wanted a taking ad. for its goods and decided that a base ball picture was the best thing. So when the Chicagos came to New York this firm arranged for Ewing and Anson to sit in front of a tent on which the ad of the company was emblazoned. Barrels and cases of the product were placed in close proximity and Ewing and Anson, in their uniforms and each with a glass of ale poised graceful in his hands, were in the foreground. The ad made a big hit and Ewing and Anson received $300 and a case of ale each. It was quick and easy for them.

For more on this subject, see “The Dawn of Athlete Endorsements.” (

Illustrations 6-10 tomorrow!

Ball Playing Among Native Americans

Indian Ball-Player

Indian Ball-Player

As synopsized at Early Baseball Milestones ( Captured by Native Americans, a youth sees them playing a game of ball. The “ball” was part of a sturgeon’s head covered with deerskin strips, the club was of hickory, some number of safe-haven bases were formed by small piles of stones, and there was plugging. “Their principal object seemed to be, to send the ball as far as possible, in order to enable the striker of it, to run around the great space of ground, which was comprised within the area formed by the piles of stones….” There is no mention of a pitcher, and if a batter-runner was put out, he would replace the fielder who made the putout. Some games would last for days.

Source:  Anonymous (the credited author is “Lucy Ford,” the protagonist), Female Robinson Crusoe: A Tale of the American Wilderness (1837), pp. 176-78.

Some of the male adults were playing ball, which article was, as he afterwards ascertained it to be on examination, portion of a sturgeon’s head, which is elastic, covered with a piece of dressed deerskin.  Another ball which he noticed was constituted of narrow strips of deerskin, wound around itself, like a ball of our twine, and then covered with a sufficiently broad piece of the same material.

An Indian Ball-Play, Dwight's American Magazine & Family Newspaper, August 8, 1846.

An Indian Ball-Play, Dwight’s American Magazine & Family Newspaper, August 8, 1846.

In playing this game, they exhibited great dexterity, eagerness, and swiftness of speed.  The party engaged, occupied an extensive surface of open ground, over whose whole space, a vigorous blow with the hickory club of the striker, would send the ball, and also to an amazing height.  On its coming down, it was almost invariably caught by another player at a distance, and as instantly hurled from his hand to touch, if possible, the striker of the ball, who would then drop his club, and run, with a swiftness scarcely surpassed by the winds, to a small pile of stones, which it was part of the game for him to reach.  If the runner succeeded in attaining to the desired spot, before the ball touched him, he was safe.  Otherwise, he had to resign his club to the fortunate thrower of the ball against him, and take his place to catch. The runner, by watching the coming ball, was almost always enabled to avoid its contact with him, by dodging or leaping, which was effected with all the nimbleness of one of the feline race.  If that was effected, another person, in his own division of the playing party (there being two rival divisions), assumed the dropped club, to become a striker in his turn.Female Robinson Crusoe, A Tale of the American Wilderness (1837)

Their principal object seemed to be, to send the ball as far as possible, in order to enable the striker of it, to run around the great space of ground, which was comprised within the area formed by piles of stones, placed at intervals along the line of the imaginary circle. Two rival parties would thus contrive in eager contest for hours, and their captive, has actually known them to keep up the game for several days, regardless of food or drink, which, however, their fellow savage spectators, who became interested, would bring, and persuade them to partake of, in order to sustain in vigour, their drooping strength and spirits.  When the darkness of night had involved the scene, and they could no longer discern the ball, they would drop asleep in the very spot where they had stood, at the time that the obscurity in the air, obliged them to suspend playing; and at the earliest gray of dawn, some arose, and immediately making the welkin ring with their shouts, thus awakened the others, and at it again they all went, with scarce a moment’s cessation, until night again temporarily stopped the sport.


World Series Centennial Review: 1915

1915 World Seies programBaseball before the curse … but which one? The Curse of the Bambino or that of the Billy Goat? Merkle’s Revenge, or Rocky Colavito’s, or Steve Bartman’s? The Sports Illustrated Cover Curse? Or the one circulating in Toronto this year—Taylor Swift’s concert schedule? Or the most recent, Murphy’s Curse? A fresh look at the 1915 World Series provides yet another spectral candidate: Philadelphia Phillies President William F. Baker.

The Phillies had been a powerhouse before the turn of the century. In 1894 they hit .350 as a team—with all four of their regular outfielders topping the .400 mark—yet somehow finished fourth. They had never won a pennant until this miracle year of 1915—when they did it with pitching.

The Phillies played in a bandbox park known as Baker Bowl, named for their owner, so it is unsurprising that they, and their slugging outfielder Gavvy Cravath, led the National League in home runs. But pitching is what separated them from the pack and gave them their seven-game margin over last year’s champions, the Miracle Braves. The Phils’ ERA of 2.17 was half a run better than their nearest competitor. Grover Cleveland Alexander was 31-10—next year he would record an amazing 16 shutouts. Erskine Mayer, Al Demaree, and Eppa Rixey filled out the formidable rotation.

Their opponents, the Boston Red Sox, likewise knew nothing of a curse, yet. They had won each of their two previous World Series (1903 and 1912) and they would win this one, too, plus those in 1916 and 1918. Indeed, in baseball’s first two decades of the century no club won more championships than the Red Sox. Smoky Joe Wood, hero of the 1912 campaign with 34 wins and then three more in the Fall Classic, was nursing a tender arm in 1915, which permitted manager Bill Carrigan to add a fifth starter—20-year-old Babe Ruth, who went 18-8 yet would not pitch in the Series. The Red Sox had a “big three” of Rube Foster, Ernie Shore, and Dutch Leonard, and they would combine to pitch all the innings in the five games against Philadelphia.

Shore, Alexander

Shore, Alexander, 1915 WS

The Quaker City had been baseball’s World Series home: this year marked was the fifth in six seasons to be played there. The Red Sox elected to play their home games at Braves Field, with its greater seating capacity. The Phils might have gone the same route, playing at the A’s Shibe Park. But the penny-wise and pound-foolish Phils management didn’t want to share the profits. Instead they added 2,000 temporary center-field seats to Baker Bowl’s 18,000 capacity, and it would cost them dearly, both financially and, in the fifth and final game, on the field.

The Series opened at home, with celebrities George M. Cohan and John L. Sullivan in attendance. Grover Alexander was smacked around liberally yet limited the damage as he won over Ernie Shore, 3-1. With Boston trailing in the ninth, manager Carrigan sent Ruth up to pinch hit. Overeager against Alexander the Great, the Babe bounced out weakly to first. New York Times reporter Hugh Fullerton wrote: “Alexander pitched a bad game of ball. He had little or nothing [and only] luck saved the Phillies.” This would be the last postseason game the Phils would win until 1977 (they were swept in the 1950 World Series).

The historic feature for Game 2 was the presence of Woodrow Wilson and his new bride. Throwing out the first pitch, Wilson became the first seated President to attend a World Series game.

Filmmakers were busy recording Wilson and the action on the field. “Close-ups of all the players were taken,” notes the American Film Institute Catalog, “and for the first time a camera was placed behind home plate in order to obtain good shots of the playing action, which included four home runs.” The subsequently released five-reeler titled 1915 World’s Championship Series is, alas, a lost film.

The Series was closely contested, as the deciding run was not scored until the ninth inning in three of the games, and only in Game One was the margin of victory as much as two runs. Boston won Games 2, 3, and 4 by identical scores of 2-1, with the Phils notching 13 hits combined.

Harry Hooper, 1915

Harry Hooper, 1915

In Game 5, returning to Baker Bowl, Rube Foster pitched the whole way against Mayer and Rixey, but he was not as effective as he had been in Game 2. Twice he gave the Phillies a two-run lead as first baseman Fred Luderus drove in three runs with a double and a home run. But from the fifth inning on, Foster held Philadelphia scoreless on two hits, while Duffy Lewis evened the score with a two-run homer in the eighth, and Harry Hooper (who had tied the score earlier with a home run in the third) won the game and the Series with a second homer in the top of the ninth. Both of Hooper’s homers bounced over the fence, shortened by the addition of the temporary seats. Although such hits would late be counted as doubles, in 1915 they were home runs.

“If we had beaten Boston in ’15,” said Rixey in later years, “who knows what would have happened? We might have been a team to reckon with for a long, long time.” Instead, he was traded to Cincinnati, Alexander was sent to the Cubs, and Baker’s Curse would not be overturned with a World Series victory until 1980. 

50 years ago: The 1965 World Series pitted two venerable franchises still in their first decade in a new home. The Dodgers had won only one championship in Brooklyn, that in 1955, but had taken two in their early years in Los Angeles (1959 and 1963). The Minnesota Twins, who had been the downtrodden Washington Senators until 1961, had not earned a title since 1924. The Twins sluggers defeated Don Drysdale in a Game 1 that Sandy Koufax declined to pitch because it was scheduled for Yom Kippur, then topped Koufax in Game 2. Returning to L.A., the Dodgers took the next three games. If home-field form were to hold, the Twins, after capturing Game 6, should have run the table, but on two days’ rest, Koufax threw a magnificent three-hit shutout in Game 7. 

25 years ago: The 1990 World Series saw a return of the AL champs of the prior two seasons, the Oakland A’s, led by the Bash Brothers combo of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, bolstered by the speed of Rickey Henderson. In 1989, in a Series interrupted by an earthquake, the A’s had swept their Bay Area rivals, the Giants. This time around it was the NL champs, the Cincinnati Reds, who brought the brooms. Billy Hatcher and Chris Sabo led the Reds at the bat, Jose Rijo allowed one earned run across two starts, and the bullpen was unscored upon.

This story will run in MLB’s World Series Media Guide, to be published this week. 


Some Superstitions of the Year 1886

Orem, Baseball 1845-1881

Orem, Baseball 1845-1881

Baseball players are less given to superstitious than they were a century ago, but fans (and journalists) have continued to give voice to them, even if accompanied by a wink and a nudge. The Curse of the Bambino or that of the Billy Goat (Murphy’s Hex)? Merkle’s Revenge, or Rocky Colavito’s, or Steve Bartman’s? The Sports Illustrated Cover Curse? Bo Jackson’s Revenge? Or the latest one, circulating in Toronto this year—Taylor Swift’s concert schedule? But all of these pale in absurdity to the hoodoo obsessions of old-time players. The section below is excerpted from Preston D. Orem’s invaluable 1967 booklet–self-published, and exceedingly scarce–Baseball from the Newspaper Accounts (1886). As he noted in the foreword, “The material in this book, as well as in the prior books which covered the years from 1845 to 1885 inclusive, was principally obtained from the contemporary newspaper accounts published the day after the game or other event.” Portions of the passage below may well offend modern readers, but they accurately reflect the attitudes of the period.

Baseball players have always been very superstitious but the year 1886 probably set a record for this sort of thing, as there were “Mascottes” and “Hoodoos” galore.

There were a number of general superstitions commonly believed in by most players. For instance meeting a funeral procession on the way to a game meant good luck; but to break through the line of the procession meant extremely bad luck.

Seeing a cross-eyed person was bad, being in the same room with one was worse, but to have a cross-eyed man sit down at the dining table with a club was absolutely disastrous. One antidote was known; to turn around immediately and spit over the left shoulder before speaking. When this was done on the main street of a large city it was a funny sight, amazed the pedestrians, and was a bit unsanitary. The antidote in a hotel dining room was frowned upon by the management as the other guests failed to understand the necessity of such a procedure.

Packing up the bats before the game was over was a “hoodoo.”

The Hoffman House Bar

The Hoffman House Bar

Drinking a glass of beer in a saloon before a game was an experimental practice. The glass was set aside and used again the next day if the game was won. If the game was lost another saloon and glass was tried. But against a “Jonah” club this idea would never work.

Sometimes a person would bring a team bad luck so that the club could never win when the person was present; this was very hard to combat although if the team played badly enough the crank might not come back. On the other hand the manager might mete out fines for poor play and the crank might show up again anyway.

Many players would turn shirts inside out; sleep on the same side every night, with head in a certain position; wear the same pair of sox without laundering. All continued while the team was winning.

In 1885 Willie Hahn, the famous Chicago mascot, was a little boy in short clothes, just able to talk when the White Stockings adopted him and won the championship. The players hired an open landau, bedecked it with flowers, put Willie in it and hauled him all over Chicago in triumph. As the White Stockings won again in 1886 Willie had a permanent home.

Willie Hahn, Chicago Mascot

Willie Hahn, Chicago Mascot

So the Detroit managers said that any sort of a mascot that the players would believe in would help win games. A colored boy born with all his teeth was found and, sure enough, the Detroit players would not exchange him for his weight in gold.

A number of teams had small Negroes as mascots and would rub their hands in their hair for help in making a base hit. It was however very bad luck if a visiting player were mean enough to touch the hair of their mascot. For this reason some teams went to the trouble of maintaining their boy in a closed hack at the ball park and he would have to duck out as the players wanted to rub his top piece.

Mascots were short lived as such. The Phillies had a big “buck” Negro for quite a long time however. One peculiarity of this Mascotte was that, as long as he remained sober the team won, either at home or away. But this was very hard on the mascot as he was extremely fond of his liquor in large quantities and would get drunk whenever he had a chance to do so, which brought the Phillies nothing but bad luck until he was sober again. So Philadelphia hired a man just to watch the Negro’s every step and keep him out of temptation and sin.

The Giants thought they would surely win the pennant if they opened the season by playing the Jaspers of Manhattan College. Even although they had opened with the Jaspers from 1883 on and never won the championship yet this superstition continued. In 1886 New York had a little dog which had wandered upon the diamond for a time. Although fed beefsteak every day the animal was unproductive of much good luck. But after the dog was given away the New York players thought the reason they could not do better was the lack of a mascot so Mutrie was on the lookout for most anything in that line.

The St. Louis Browns, when the bell rang for their practice, always formed a line abreast across the field and went across to first base that way before dispersing to their positions. Gleason was always careful to walk astride of the right foul line when coming upon the field. Bushong caught with a pair of gloves so dilapidated that even the patches were patched but he would not part with them. They were his “mascots.”

Brouthers of Detroit always laid his gloves in a certain spot as he went to the bench or to bat and allowed no one to interfere with them.

Henry PorterPorter, Brooklyn pitcher, had worn a red sleeveless jacket and shirt when pitching for over two years. The outfit did not match the club uniforms but he wore it anyway. When he was slated to pitch in St. Louis one day it was found that the jacket was in a laundry which was closed, it being Sunday. Porter was so affected he cried. Manager Byrne came to the rescue by getting the manager of the laundry to supply the garment in time. The overjoyed Porter won his game.

Pittsburgh had good luck when a Negro girl attended the home games but only provided she sat in a certain seat and wore a certain scarf. The nine was unbeatable if she was Seen before the game sitting in the seat reserved for her and properly attired but unfortunately considered they were “jonahed” if she was not there. Pitt had two pairs of uniform pantaloons for each man, one red and one blue. Each color would be worn as long as the club was successful, then changed if not.

New York refused to have a team picture taken when they were in a winning streak because they thought that bad luck.

Germany Smith of Brooklyn had a personal mascot, a boy that he brought to the field each day and had bat flies which Smith caught. Then Germany felt sure of his hits that day.

Chief Roseman of the Metropolitans always took a position on the forward side of the ferry boat going to Staten Island and looked for a green flag among the many small flags floating over the grounds. If the green one was there the club was sure to win. Apparently it had not been there much in 1885 and 1886. The Indians, as a whole, believed white stockings and blue caps were the only lucky dress that players could wear. If the club saw a load of empty barrels going in the same direction that they were this was also a good luck sign.

Naturally birds were an omen in Brooklyn. When a black pigeon circled around the ball park Brooklyn always won. But when it flew over in company with two white pigeons the score would be close.

Any goat which wandered across a diamond would be adopted at once, as would usually a dog or a cat. The directions in which a flag would be flying determined the results of games.

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

Pete Browning was the worst fanatic on his practice of any. When going on or off the field he would always walk over and touch third base. He actually believed that the nine would have to be a wonderful success as long as he continued his tagging, and could not win a game otherwise. On one occasion a rival player as a gag loosened the third sack, took it to the bench with him and hid it. Proceedings had to come to a complete stop until the bag had been unearthed, reattached, and properly tagged by Browning.

On the Gladiator’s return from the Springs, Louisville players, on a winning streak without Pete, gave him a somewhat cool reception. Browning was deeply hurt and said: “Yes, but I was touching third base every day for you or you could not have won the way you did.” Pete had actually marked off a diamond in back of the hotel at the Springs, installed a third base bag and, on the days that Louisville was scheduled to play, went out upon his diamond and went right through his regular ceremony.

When manager Hart of Louisville walked into the clubhouse so proudly wearing a beautiful new white plug hat, the players hollered: “A mascot!” As the nine did meet with luck the hat got the credit. Four or five weeks later’Hart exchanged the plug hat for a black mackinaw and the players kicked as they said this bonnet was a “Jonah” so they would lose the next game. And they did! Certain spectators in Louisville always tried to get the same seat to bring the club luck. One elderly man always attended when he could, standing in a certain spot almost directly behind the catcher for luck. Whenever the home team came to bat, as each player came to the plate, the man would close his eyes, clasp his hands, utter briefly a fervent prayer for the Louisville nine.

Foutz always carried a lemon in his pocket during the game wherever he played. Otherwise the Browns could never win.

[To these I add some add some superstitions recorded in an undated news clip, ca. 1890.–jt]

Art Whitney says it is bad luck to wear dif­ferent sized stockings.

Ed Beecher, of the Buffalos, has a penny fastened to the inside of one of his shoes.

Roger Connor will walk any day to the grounds rather than be compelled to ride in a yellow vehicle.

Connie Mack, of the Buffalos, carries a copper penny in the palm of his big left hand glove.

Tim Keefe reverses his hat when he enters the grounds, and wears it reversed until obliged to put on his playing cap.

Hardy Richardson always puts his foot on second base before he touches a ball in a game, and failure to do so means irretrievable ruin to himself and his colleagues.

Mike Slattery loses confidence if he sees a cross-eyed man during the day of the game, and he immediately hunts up a cross-eyed colored woman to offset the spell.

Henry Gruber, of the Clevelands, thinks that luck will come to him as soon as the grass is long enough for him to chew. In a game he always has a blade of grass in his mouth.

Ed Beatin, of the Clevelands, always puts one foot on the home plate when he gets into the field. He thinks that by doing this he can charm the ball so that he will have the players at his mercy.

Tragedies and Shortened Careers, Part 5

Total Baseball 1989Repeating my intro to Part 1: My dear departed friend Joe Overfield wrote this wonderful essay for the first edition of Total Baseball, published in 1989. Of course we have had tragedies since–early deaths, shattered dreams–but I will not step in to update for Cory Lidle, Nick Adenhart, or Oscar Taveras. (A complete list of players who died mid-career may be viewed here: The article is learned, with a light hand, and comprehensive, though today’s reader might make some allowance for its vintage–no talk of PEDs here, no rehash of those sitting in limbo waiting for the call from the Hall of Fame that may never come. These are baseball’s tearful tales, may of such ancient vintage as to have been forgotten; bring on the weeps.

Alcohol and Drugs

It is impossible to put a number on the baseball careers shortened or adversely affected by the excessive use of alcohol. In at least four cases (Delahanty, Koenecke, Morris, and Wilson), dealt with elsewhere in this chapter, fatalities resulted. Countless players of the game’s early years were lushes. Liquor was readily available to them, often on the house, and there was plenty of time for carousing, especially when on the road. Some of the worst offenders were quietly blacklisted and faded from the game. Others who were heavy drinkers continued in uniform, because they were star players and the owners winked at their alcoholic escapades. Future Hall of Famer Michael “King” Kelly, for example, drank as hard as he played; yet in 1887 Boston paid an unheard of $10,000 to Chicago for his contract. Toward the end of his career, he opened a saloon in New York, which was like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. His performance level deteriorated rapidly, and by 1894 he was in the minors. That fall he developed pneumonia, and on November 8 he died at the age of thirty-six.

King Kelly's autobio

King Kelly’s autobiography

Terry Larkin, who won 29 games for Hartford in 1877, and 29 and 31, respectively, for Chicago in 1878 and 1879, was another nineteenth-century player whose career self-destructed from the ravages of strong drink. In 1883, while drunk, he shot his wife (she recovered) and then tried to commit suicide in jail. In 1886, while employed as a bartender in Brooklyn, he showed up for work with two pistols and challenged his employer to a duel. Police were called and he was thrown into jail until he sobered up. He died in Brooklyn in 1894.

Equally melancholy is the story of James (The Troy Terrier) Egan, who pitched, caught and played the outfield for Troy (NL) in 1882 and then was blacklisted for drunkenness. Supposedly rehabilitated, he was given a chance with Brooklyn (AA) in 1884, but before he played a game he was arrested for theft and jailed. He died of what was described as “brain fever” in a New Haven, Connecticut, jail, September 26, 1884.

Few players have come to the majors with more raw talent than Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian from Old Towne, Maine. He played college baseball at both Holy Cross and Notre Dame. While at the latter school in 1897, he and a companion broke up an establishment run by a certain “Popcorn Jennie” and threw the furniture out the windows. When the good fathers who ran Notre Dame read about this caper in the South Bend Tribune, they promptly threw him out. Future major league catcher Mike Powers, who had been instrumental in getting Sockalexis into both Holy Cross and Notre Dame, wired the Cleveland Club, with whom the Indian had signed a contract to take effect at the end of the school year, and suggested it send someone to South Bend to bail him out. Manager Patsy Tebeau caught the next train west, and in a few days Sockalexis was in a Cleveland uniform. He impressed with his strength, speed, and magnificent arm. In later years, both John McGraw and Hughie Jennings said he was the greatest natural talent they had ever seen. Even allowing for the hyperbole that often accompanies such reminiscence, it is apparent that he was a player of exceptional ability. But just as exceptional was his appetite for strong drink. Frequently interrupted by binges and injuries (once he jumped from a second-floor window and severely injured an ankle), his major league career was limited to 94 games in three seasons.

1897 Louis Sockalexis PinSockalexis died in Burlington, Maine, on December 24, 1913, at the age of forty-two. His baseball monument is not his .313 batting average but the Cleveland Indians baseball club, which was nicknamed after him.

Hall of Famer Rube Waddell gained almost as much notoriety for his drinking as he did recognition for his pitching. Lowell Reidenbaugh, in his Cooperstown, tells how Waddell would come into a bar, penniless, and whisper to the bartender, “Give me a drink, and I will give you the ball I used to defeat Cy Young in twenty innings.” According to Reidenbaugh, hundreds of bartenders “displayed what they considered to be the historic souvenir.”

Despite the abuse he gave his body, the Rube lasted for thirteen major league seasons and won 191 games. But his indiscretions led to tuberculosis and he died in San Antonio, Texas, on April Fool’s Day, 1914, at the age of thirty-seven.

Waddell contemporary Arthur (Bugs) Raymond was not the pitcher the Rube was, but he was his equal in the drinking department. The efforts of Giant manager John McGraw to rein him in are a part of the lore and legend of baseball. Raymond finally became so uncontrollable that the Giants let him go in the spring of 1912. Later that year Raymond, while drunk, was watching a sandlot game in Chicago when a spectator picked up a broken piece of pottery and threw it, hitting Raymond in the face. A fight ensued in which Raymond was badly beaten up. He went back to his hotel room, where six days later he died of a cerebral hemorrhage, caused by a skull fracture. He was only thirty years old. One former teammate said of him, “Bugs paid too much too soon for too many drinks.”

Bugs Raymond

Bugs Raymond

The problem of alcoholism continues in the modern game, but added to it is an affliction even more virulent–the use of illegal drugs. Careers are being shortened or interrupted by excessive drinking or the ingestion of drugs, or by a combination of both. In the old days, when a player drank too much, he was either shunted aside or his problem was swept under the rug. Now, the usual pattern is a confession of the problem, or exposure, followed by treatment, rehabilitation, sometimes suspension, but then a return to the game.

In 1983 the baseball world was rocked by the news that four players on the Kansas City Royals–Willie Wilson, Willie Aikens, Jerry Martin, and Vida Blue (no longer with the team)–had been involved with illegal drugs. All were suspended for one year by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, although later an arbitrator reduced the suspensions, except for Blue’s. Meanwhile, indictments were handed down and all were convicted and sentenced to one year in jail, with the last nine months suspended. Eventually Wilson returned to the Royals. Aikens was traded to Toronto but then went to the minors. Martin and Blue are out of baseball.

Pitcher Steve Howe of the Los Angeles Dodgers was suspended for the 1984 season for alleged drug use and did not challenge it. After at least two relapses, he was signed by the Texas Rangers and appeared for them late in the 1987 season. He was out of baseball in ’88 and ’89, but made a comeback in 1991 and eventually worked himself up to a prominent place in the New York Yankee bullpen. After his conviction in 1992 in Kalispell, Montana, for drug possession, he was barred from baseball “for life” by Commissioner Fay Vincent, but was given yet another chance to play in 1993, by virtue of a ruling by an arbitrator. He pitched the entire season for the Yankees, with spotty results, and presumably passed all his required blood tests. In 1994 he became the ace of the Yankee bullpen.

Atlanta pitcher Pascual Perez spent three months in a Dominican Republic jail on drug charges during the 1983·1984 off-season and was also suspended by Commissioner Kuhn. Arbitrator Richard I. Bloch, who had also ruled in the Willie Wilson et al. cases, subsequently threw out the Perez suspension because of lack of evidence.

Also in 1983, pitcher Dickie Noles of the Cubs spent time in jail after a drunken brawl in Cincinnati. Outfielder Ron LeFlore was arrested on drug and weapons charges in 1982 while with the Chicago White Sox. Although found not guilty, he was released by the Sox in April 1983.

Bob Welch, talented righthanded pitcher of the Dodgers, best remembered for his classic confrontation with Reggie Jackson of the Yankees in the 1978 World Series, revealed that he had been an alcoholic for many years. After rehabilitation and relegation to the minors, he returned to the Dodgers in 1986 and Oakland two years later. He has written a book about his experiences, Five O’Clock Comes Early.

A much-publicized drug trial that began in Pittsburgh on September 5, 1985, exposed the drug involvement of numerous players, including Keith Hernandez of the Mets (formerly with the Cardinals) and Dave Parker of the Reds (formerly with the Pirates). After the trial, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth meted out penalties to twenty-one players, ranging from heavy fines to be paid to drug prevention programs, orders to participate in random drug testing, and the performance of drug-related community service.

LaMarr Hoyt

LaMarr Hoyt

The shocking disclosures of widespread drug use that came out of the 1985 trial and the severe penalties that followed seemed to have a favorable impact on the drug problem, but did not eliminate it entirely. In 1986 San Diego pitcher LaMarr Hoyt, a Cy Young Award winner in 1983 when he was with the White Sox, was arrested three times on drug-related charges, and after the third was sentenced to forty-five days in federal prison. Hoyt’s suspension from baseball was later overturned, and he was ordered reinstated with back pay, much to the dismay of the baseball hierarchy.

Hoyt then signed with his old club, the Chicago White Sox, but his troubles were far from over. He tested positive for cocaine three times in October 1987, and then on December 4 he was arrested in his Columbia, S.C., apartment and charged with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana. He was convicted the following year and sentenced to one year in prison. How widespread has been the use of illegal drugs by major league players? In a recent book, Baseball Babylon, author Dan Gutman lists eighty-three players who have been so involved, including such superstars as Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, whose problems surfaced again in 1994.

The list of tragedies and shortened careers has been a long one and sad. It has included paragons and playboys, teetotalers and tosspots, the great, the near-great, and the never-were; some who self-destructed and many more who were simply the victims of the cruelest of bad luck. However classified, for each player the hypothetical question remains: Had his tragedy not occurred, what might have been?

Careers Shortened by Blacklisting or Expulsion

Listed below, but not discussed in this chapter, are players blacklisted or expelled from baseball for gambling, dishonest play (or knowledge of same), criminal activity, or, in one case–that of Ray Fisher–violation of a contract. The players involved in the 1877 Louisville and 1919 Chicago White Sox scandals, all of whom were barred for life, are grouped; the others are listed alphabetically:

1877 Louisville players: Bill Craver, Jim Devlin, George Hall, Al Nichols.

1919 Chicago White Sox players: Eddie Cicotte, Oscar Felsch, Chick Gandil, Joe Jackson, Fred McMullin, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, Claude Williams.

Louisville 1876 with Devlin, Bechtel

Louisville 1876 with Devlin, Bechtel

Others: George Bechtel, Rube Benton (who was later reinstated and returned to the majors), Hal Chase, Cozy Dolan, Phil Douglas, Jean Dubuc (who returned as a coach with Detroit in 1931), Ray Fisher, Joe Gedeon, Claude Hendrix, Richard Higham (umpire), Benny Kauff, Hubert Leonard, Lee Magee, Jimmy O’Connell, Eugene Paulette, Pete Rose, Heinie Zimmerman. (Former major leaguers banned from baseball for their activities in the minor leagues include Babe Borton, Gene Dale, Jess Levan, Harl Maggert, Tom Seaton and Joe Tipton.) [Note that man, many other players, especially before 1900, were placed on indefinite suspension–and thus banned or blacklisted–for a variety of offenses ranging from on-field inebriation to contract jumping. Most of these individuals were welcomed back to the big leagues, eventually.–jt]


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