Another offering from old pal John B Holway, especially relevant as we near the third game of the fourth World Series matchup of the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.
Do reporters report the news? Or invent it?
Hark back 65 years to the first Red Sox-Cardinal World Series in 1946. You’ve heard the story: Johnny Pesky held the ball while Enos Slaughter streaked home on Harry Walker’s hit to lose the final game. People who never saw the game–who weren’t even born yet–swear to it as the truth.
But those lucky 34,000 who were at the game didn’t see Johnny hold the ball. They couldn’t have, because the official film of the game didn’t see it either. I’ve studied the film again and again in slow motion and stop action.
It just didn’t happen.
Marty Marion and other Cardinals agreed: Johnny got a bad rap.
For 30 years Johnny and I have had a standing offer: If you will watch the film and you still honestly believe he held the ball, we’ll buy you a steak dinner for two.
We’ve never had to buy a dinner yet.
Yet most of the newspapers of that pre-TV day told us that he really did hold the ball. Why were they so positive that something that didn’t happen, did?
The following should be required reading in every freshman journalism class in America. It’s a classic example of how newsmen sometimes don’t report the news. They invent it.
My theory: Six years earlier, in the 1940 World Series, Detroit shortstop Dick Bartell did hold the ball, allowing a Cincinnati run to score in a 2-0 defeat. Six years later the play was fresh in some scribes’ minds. I believe that Jack Lang of the AP yelled, “Did you see that? Did you see that? Pesky held the ball! Pesky held the ball!”
There was no instant replay then. But Lang was so positive that it did happen, the others were too embarrassed to admit that they missed it. Some may have sheepishly inserted it in their stories.
As for the others, when their stories arrived on their editors’ desks, Lang’s AP story had gotten there ahead of them, and the editors decided they better insert it.
I have looked up 18 major major papers that sent writers to cover the game. Half of them didn’t say a word about Pesky holding the ball. The other half mentioned it briefly, half-way down in their stories.
Shirley Povich of the Washington Post, one of the country’s two most famous sportswriters, wrote that Pesky “carefully studied” the signature of league president Will Harridge on the ball while Slaughter raced home.
Vicious sardonic humor, the kind that made Povich famous.
But worthless as journalistic reportage.
Because of such mendacious journalism, Slaughter, a .300-hitting outfielder, was voted into the Hall of Fame, and Pesky, a .313-hitting shortstop, was locked out.
Meantime two other examples of journalistic manipulation were going on.
First, some reports said Slaughter ran through a ”stop” sign by third base coach Mike Gonzales, who was holding up his arms and yelling, “No! No!” This gave us the picture of the daring Anglo-Saxon ignoring a timid Latin to bring victory to his team.
The truth: Gonzales was frantically waving his arms and yelling, “Go! Go!” But that’s not the story the sportswriters wanted to write and their readers wanted to read.
Second, the official scorer ruled Walker’s drive a two-base hit. It’s not unusual to score from first on a double, so Bob Broeg, a cub reporter for the St Louis Globe-Democratic, ran screaming to him: “You’re ruining a great story!” He pleaded with the scorer to change it to a single. It was reported as a double the next morning but was changed to a single the following day. About two weeks later it became a double again, which it remains to this day.
Thus do sportswriters–and other newsmen–create the news they are supposed to be reporting. And their readers and future historians never realize what has been done to them.
There is an addendum to the story that you never read about.
The Red Sox still had three outs in the ninth. Bobby Doerr spanked a single. Rudy York lined another single, sending the tying run to third with no out. But the bottom of the batting order was up, and they went out 1-2-3. The final out was a ground ball. Second baseman Red Schondienst (.289 lifetime) gloved it, but the ball rolled up his arm, and he just did nip the batter at first.
“If I had dropped it,” Red shuddered, “I would have been the goat.” If so, he might not be in Cooperstown today, and Johnny, now shorn of his goathood, would.
The 1913 Fall Classic matched two historic rivals—the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Giants—that exist today if not in their original cities. This tenth World Series of the modern era marked the third between these clubs, who met in a spirit of rancor that cannot be understood without a bit of backdrop.
The upstart American League had defeated the Nationals in the 1903 World Series, but in 1904 John McGraw’s NL champion Giants refused to play because of their scorn for the new league. In 1905 the Giants topped their league again but this time were compelled to play in the World Series. Opposing Connie Mack’s “White Elephants,” as McGraw had derisively termed the AL champion Philadelphia Athletics, the Giants’ manager dressed his men in black. The theatrics prevailed, as the Giants defeated the Athletics in five games, all of them shutouts by future Hall of Famers: one by the A’s Chief Bender, another by the Giants’ Joe McGinnity, and three by Christy Mathewson.
In 1911 McGraw returned to the World Series for the first time, and found himself again matched up against the A’s. A superstitious sort, resorted to black uniforms for his Giants, and Matty topped Bender in Game 1, allowing a single run. But then the black magic wore off, and the A’s went on to take the Series in six. Giants lefthander Rube Marquard lost the second game on a home run by A’s third baseman Frank Baker. In his newspaper column the next morning, Matty criticized Marquard’s pitch selection, but in Game 3, he too surrendered a home run to Baker—who won a new nickname and, as Home Run Baker, would earn a plaque in Cooperstown himself. Six days of rain stood between Games 3 and 4—the longest mid-Series delay until these two clubs, relocated to the West Coast, were interrupted by earthquake in the 1989 World Series.
When the Giants and A’s met again in 1913, they were still the class of their leagues. The A’s had won the World Series in 1910 and 1911, and the Giants were making their consecutive World Series appearance. They had lost in 1912 in a heartbreaking extra-inning finale. Both clubs continued to rely upon aging mound stars—Mathewson, Bender, Plank—but the A’s had subtly become a different club. They had transformed themselves into the most formidable batsmen of the deadball era, led by their “$100,000 infield” of first baseman Stuffy McInnis, second sacker Eddie Collins, shortstop Jack Barry, and third baseman Baker. The Giants were a well balanced club, ranking first in pitching and second batting in the National League. The A’s, on the other hand, were tops in batting (as measured by OPS+) and next to last in pitching (ERA+) in the American League. By sabermetric accounting, these A’s were, in their 76 games at their new Shibe Park, the top hitting home club of all time.
The Giants returned to home whites and road grays for the 1913 Series, but it turned out luck was not a matter of black and white. The A’s won Game 1 behind Bender as Home Run Baker yet again made good on his nickname. In Game Two, the most exciting of the Series, Plank and Mathewson pitched shutout ball through nine innings. In the bottom of the ninth, with none out, the A’s had Amos Strunk on third and Jack Barry on second. The next batter, Jack Lapp, grounded to first, where George “Hooks” Wiltse, a lefthanded pitcher, was filling in. Wiltse made a good stop and threw home to nab Strunk. With Barry on third now and Lapp on first, Plank grounded to Wiltse and Hooks fired home again, nailing a sliding Barry. Thus did Wiltse make up, at least in part, for his ninth-inning disappointment of July 4, 1908 when, having retired the first 26 men to face him and with two strikes on the last—opposing pitcher George McQuillan—he hit him to spoil a perfect game.
But I digress. After Wiltse’s fielding heroics, Mathewson retired the next hitter, and the game went into extra innings. Plank yielded three runs in the top of the tenth, and Matty set the A’s down in order for what proved to be New York’s only Series win. Bender won Game 4 and Plank avenged his first-game loss with a brilliant two-hitter in Game 5. In an oddity, four of the five games were won by the visiting team. The A’s outscored the Giants 15-1 in the games’ first four frames; although the men of McGraw “won” the last five innings, it was a case of too little, too late.
Baker was the hitting star, as he had been in 1911. He rang up nine hits in 20 at bats, for a batting average of .450, while driving in seven. With catcher Wally Schang driving in another six, the pair accounted for 13 of the club’s 23 runs. Collins starred, too, going 8-for-19. It was a shellacking. Matty would never again pitch in a World Series. Bender and Plank would never win another Series game.
Like the great Cubs’ dynasty of 1906-08, the Giants had become the next NL club to win three straight pennants. But they lost in the Series each time, equaling the unhappy record of the Detroit Tigers of 1907-09. In the 100 years since the Giants’ defeat in the 1913 World Series, no other club has matched them in such misery.
The 1913 World Series was not without an irony visible from a century’s distance. These clubs would not meet again in the World Series until 1989, when they had long since become Bay Area rivals. The A’s again walloped the Giants, this time in a sweep. The Philadelphia A’s had a stopover in Kansas City from 1955-67 before settling in Oakland, where, surpassing their predecessors, the Oakland A’s won three consecutive World Series (1972-74).
50 years ago: The World Series of 1963 matched two clubs that had met many times before as the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. But the latter had moved to Los Angeles in 1957, and the Subway Series was now a Jetlag Series. The Yankees had defeated that other East Cost transplant, the San Francisco Giants, in 1962 and were returning as two-time world champions, having also defeated the Cincinnati Reds in 1961, the peak year of Mantle and Maris. But New York’s big bats were sawed into toothpicks by Dodger pitchers Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, and Ron Perranoski. In a four-game sweep, the light-hitting Dodgers allowed their powerful rivals only four runs in the four games. In Game 1, Koufax established a new World Series mark (soon surpassed by Bob Gibson) by fanning 15 Yankees.
25 years ago: In the World Series of 1988, the Oakland A’s squared off against the Los Angeles Dodgers, an underdog as they had been 25 years before. Like the 1913 Athletics of Philadelphia, the Oakland A’s were centered on an awesome offense, led by Bash Brothers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Closer Dennis Eckersley was the featured pitcher. But a hobbled Kirk Gibson hit a memorable pinch-hit walk-off home run in Game 1, and the Dodgers took the Series in five. Home run heroics had been the hallmark of the 1913 Series, too.
Of our three anniversary World Series, none was a competitive classic. Across a century’s span, the losing clubs in these Series won a total of two games. Yet like all postseason series, this year’s commemorated classics provided heroes and goats, thrills and pratfalls, exultation and lamentation. Wait till next year! Which in this space will mean the Miracle Braves of 1914, Yogi’s rollercoaster ride in 1964, and the Sidelight Series of 1989, when tragedy took center stage.
To this year’s World Series program I contributed a sidebar on the perenially debated home-field advantage. Coming upon a doubtful point, I looked for someone who would know. “As has long been my custom,” I write in the sidebar, “when presented a puzzle beyond my understanding, I consulted with old friend and collaborator Pete Palmer.”
Pete and I have not worked together on a book or web idea in some time, so it was a pleasure to reconnect even in this minor way. This morning the thought occurred to me that we might not have collaborated on all those projects had it not been for SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, which, if you are not already a member, I urge you to consider joining (http://sabr.org).
I take the liberty of publishing Pete’s contribution, and my own, to the question posed separately to each of us: “Why I Joined SABR.”
I joined pretty early; I think I was #27. If I had realized that Cooperstown was only a four-hour drive, I would have been at the kickoff meeting [on August 10, 1971].
Bob Davids was familiar with me since we both contributed to The Sporting News, and the fact that the editors decided to pretty much dispense with fan contributions encouraged Bob to start SABR in the first place. The three main reasons I have enjoyed SABR were meeting the guys, reading the publications and participating in research projects that would have been very difficult to do on my own.
This often involved particularly checking newspapers across the country. As a group, we collected research on 1927 AL caught stealing, 1912 NL sacrifice hits allowed, 1880s AA runs batted in and 1897-1908 batter hit by pitch. John Schwartz, Bob Bailey, Joe Ditmar, Ralph Horton, Bob Richardson, Walt Wilson, Herb Goldman, Joe Simenec, Lyle Spatz and others were very helpful. I worked with Bob McConnell straightening out [John] Tattersall’s home run log before it was computerized, and have corresponded with Frank Williams for over thirty years. Recently, I helped Jonathan Frankel collect batter strikeout data for 1897-1909.
I probably never would have met John Thorn. Our collaboration produced The Hidden Game of Baseball and seven editions of Total Baseball. Dave Smith and I have been helping each other out for three decades. Gary Gillette and I have carried on to do five editions of the B&N ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. I am still busy at something I started as a hobby maybe 60 years ago.
I appreciate SABR recognizing my work.
SABR member Pete Palmer, part of the inaugural class of Henry Chadwick Award winners in 2010, has been a leading innovator in statistical analysis. His contributions to the game have been as particular as correcting Ty Cobb’s hit total and as grand as restating and evaluating all the game’s historical records through the prism of modern statistical measures. He was the first to recognize the mathematical relationship between runs and wins, and the one most responsible for the introduction of On Base Percentage into common parlance.
I joined SABR thirty years ago, in part to cover that year’s convention in Toronto, on assignment for The Sporting News. Cliff Kachline — at that time the historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame, later SABR’s first executive director, and posthumously, not long ago, a recipient of the society’s Henry Chadwick Award — urged me to join. With my interests in baseball’s history and statistics, he assured me, I would feel instantly at home and would wonder why I had waited so long to join.
He was spectacularly right.
At the convention’s opening reception, the first two individuals I met were Pete Palmer and Bob Carroll. I went on to create many books with each, and in some cases both of them, and they became lifelong friends.
I had a fantastic time at the convention, despite being a little star-struck at meeting so many individuals whose work I had read. Immediately upon returning to Albany, New York, I filed my story with TSN. (I vividly remember transmitting it via 300-baud cupped-phone modem from the Western Union office on State Street.)
I have been a member ever since. I continue to be amazed at how many accomplished men and women I have met in the ranks of this merry band of baseball sleuths. I have continued to describe SABR as baseball’s best-kept secret — puzzlingly so, because its benefits are many for the advanced fan, the aspiring professional, or simply those who cannot get enough good baseball talk and text.
The perception among baseball fans has been, I suspect, that SABR membership is for those who are conducting ground-breaking historical research or game-changing statistical analysis, but that is not so. At your first convention or regional meeting, you will be seized with newbie jitters, as I was, but you will instantly be made to feel at home. Look me up; I will be one of many longtime members who will be glad you joined us.
Ordinarily I would be content to let a reader’s response to an Our Game post be available via hyperlink at the bottom of the selection. But this response, by David Lawrence Reed, is so interesting that I thought it merited this heightened position. Mr. Reed is a SABR member from San Francisco who has written for the Baseball Research Journal (“Lawrence S. Ritter, the Last New York Giant,” 2004). Class, read and respond.
I recall reading an anecdote many years ago that addressed the issue of what a player should do as opposed to what he can do. Some of the members of New York’s famed Murderers’ Row were watching Joe Sewell take batting practice. The little infielder was spraying line drives to every field, the ball coming off his bat like “popcorn flying off a hot griddle,” according to the writer. One of the Yankees remarked that Sewell’s constant contact was a marvel, a remark to which Babe Ruth responded by saying, “Aw [insert colorful ballplayer language here], I could do that if I wanted to.”
Several of his teammates–who probably should have known better–scoffed and, in similarly colorful language, challenged him to put his money where his mouth was. Ruth is said to have shrugged, and when Sewell was done taking his hacks, the big outfielder grabbed his bat and headed for the cage. Stepping into the batter’s box, the Babe then choked up on his truncheon and yelled out to the pitcher to throw whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted.
Ruth proceeded to smash line drives all over Yankee Stadium, to left, right, and center, with the same consistency as Sewell had, but with more power–balls that had died on the outfield grass several feet beyond the infield for Joe now skittered and rolled deep into both gaps and down both lines for the Bambino.
He continued this exhibition for about five minutes, then returned to the dugout. He said, “I could hit .400 every year if that’s what I wanted to do.” One of his teammates then asked why he didn’t and the Babe replied, “Because that’s not what Colonel Ruppert pays me to do. He pays me to hit home runs.”
Ted Williams was in the same situation: he was not being paid by Tom Yawkey either to flare the ball to left or to confound the defense by bunting. He was paid to hit the ball deep as well as consistently. And while some, like Ty Cobb, saw Williams as merely stubborn, those who have read The Science of Hitting and My Turn at Bat know that this most cerebral of hitters, far from sticking to the status quo, worked hard to find a way to drive the ball to the opposite field while maintaining his power.
It wasn’t an easy technique to master and it took some time, but eventually Williams learned how to employ the inside-out swing, one which would enable him to drive the ball to the opposite field with the same oomph he imparted to the balls he hit to right. This would pay great dividends at the plate, especially during the 1957 season when Ted fell five hits shy of batting .400, and in 1958 when he won his sixth and final batting title.
As for current Red Sox players foiling the shift, I think the occasional bunt would be a splendid idea for someone like Jarrod Saltalamacchia–no one is going to complain much if a .273 hitter plumps up his average and gets on base by dropping one down. It might even spread the defense a little bit (especially given Miguel Cabrera’s current defensive constraints due to injury).
But with regard to Big Papi, one of the smartest hitters I’ve ever seen in half a century watching the Red Sox, this Boston fan is content to let him work things out for himself. With all due respect to Mr. Holway, one of baseball’s finest historians, and with due consideration for the rare game situation wherein a bunt might be as good as a blast, singles and doubles the opposite way are not what Mr. Henry pays David Ortiz to do.
This quickie is from longtime pal and esteemed baseball historian John B. Holway. It relates to the current American League Championship Series, and thus is more current than Our Game readers have come to expect. But baseball’s history begins not in 1839 or 1744 but with the conclusion of last night’s game. Holway and I co-wrote The Pitcher and worked together on Total Baseball‘s first edition. But John’s forays into baseball’s dimly understood past predates mine by eons. He has been researching baseball since 1944. Renowned for his work on the Negro Leagues, he has also written frequently about Ted Williams, whom he saw hit two home runs in the 1946 All-Star Game. The Williams Shift is relevant here.How do you give advice to David Ortiz?No, not with the bases loaded and four runs down.But I was shouting it to him almost every other time up this postseason.“BUNT!!!”They give him a 50-foot open target at third base. Even I could drop a bunt into it.I know David can. Because I saw him do it. About seven years ago in Tampa. You could almost see him shrug and chuckle, “Well, if they’re gonna give it to me…”–then he pushed a 250-foot bunt into left field and jogged to first while the left fielder loped over to stop the ball before it rolled to the fence. Then Papi trotted home on Manny Ramirez’s homer.I wonder if Boston could have beaten Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers in Game 1 if Ortiz had bunted every time they invited him to. He sure could have broken up two no-hitters fast.In 1946 Lou Boudreau pulled his Shift on Ted.Ty Cobb and everybody told Ted to hit to left: It would open up right field so he could drill singles and doubles into it again. But he wouldn’t do it.However, that fall he did win the pennant with an inside-the-park homer to left. And I saw him bunt to third with a swollen elbow in the World Series.Then he got stubborn again.Funny thing: Seven fielders were crowding into right field, but the wary pitchers were still pitching him outside; they were as stubborn as he was.It took Ted a year and a half to see the light, but finally the smartest hitter in history started hitting the ball where it was pitched, lifting homers over the Monster or glancing hits against it like Wade Boggs. Over the years he’d hit a couple over the Wall every season or dump a few flies on the grass in front of it.Yet Boudreau and others were even more stubborn than Ted. Lou didn’t call the Shift off until about 1950.In ‘58 I saw Ted beat Pete Runnels for the batting crown in the final series with three homers–to right, to center, and to left.
“The fundamental reason for the popularity of the game is the fact that it is a national safety valve. Voltaire says that there are no real pleasures without real needs. Now a young, ambitious and growing nation needs to ‘let off steam.’ Baseball furnishes the opportunity. Therefore, it is a real pleasure…. That is what baseball does for humanity. It serves the same purpose as a revolution in Central America or a thunderstorm on a hot day…. A tonic, an exercise, a safety-valve, baseball is second only to Death as a leveler. So long as it remains our national game, America will abide no monarchy, and anarchy will be too slow.” These oft-quoted lines were penned by Allen Sangree (1878-1924), perhaps for The New York World in 1907. I was unable to locate these fine words there but did come across them in the September 1907 number of Everybody’s Magazine (Volume 17, pp. 378-387). I had never seen the article in its entirety and figure probably you haven’t either, so here it is, complete with original illustrations. It’s a corker, as they said back in the day, offering an unequaled view of baseball’s idealized bleacher democracy. [I have altered one derogatory term so as not to give needless offense, entering a replacement in brackets below.]
FANS AND THEIR FRENZIES: The Wholesome Madness of Baseball
By ALLEN SANGREE
With photographs by Heyworth Campbell
THE visit of Clark Griffith and his New- York American Leaguers to the Federal Prison at Atlanta on the occasion of their southern practice trip this spring, furnished a telling illustration of the intensity of the American interest in baseball. I was among the newspaper correspondents that accompanied the party, and all through the corridors and workshops we marked the yearning with which the prisoners’ eyes followed the leaguers, some of them moving their lips as they tagged off the various diamond heroes filing by—Griffith, Chesbro, Elberfeld, and Jim McGuire. Dr. Nye, the Bertillon expert of the prison, explained that though conversation is forbidden and newspapers are excluded, the prisoners in some mysterious way manage to learn the baseball scores each day and even become familiar with the names and achievements of renowned players.
As we were passing through the barber shop, an employee made such excited gestures with a razor that Dr. Nye stopped and whispered: “That fellow has been in prison twenty-six years and his time expires at noon to-morrow.” Then, struck by a sudden idea, he suggested to Griffith that if he wanted one stanch rooter at the next day’s game he should write out a pass for the ex-murderer, forger, and counterfeiter.
Griffith, of course, made out the pass, and we looked for the released convict with some eagerness. There was no difficulty in noting his arrival. He came from the top row of the grand stand to a seat back of the visiting bench in three bounds, emitting yells of peculiar ferocity, and immediately began a vicious roast of the New York team : “Rubes!” “Lobsters!” “Yer can’t put ’em over!” “Back to Hackensack!” “They bought the empire!” “Run, you ice-wagon!” He had every classic anathema, ancient and modern, at tongue’s tip, and he so rattled New York’s pitching tyro that the big leaguers were defeated.
“You’re a fine sort of a fan, you are,” jeered Griffith bitterly after the game. “Had my way, you’d get ten years more.”
Excepting for the loss of his voice, the ex-convict appeared to be rejuvenated as he sat there red-cheeked, throbbing with life, grinning happily. Not until Dr. Nye explained did he appreciate his blunder. “Cap’n,” he apologized in a wheezy whisper, “take my oath, I never even knowed who was playin’. Yes, sir,” he asserted earnestly, “that’s gospel. What I let go”— he tapped his chest—”has been inside o’ me twenty-six years, an’ it had t’ come out.” Dr. Nye nodded at the somewhat appeased Griffith with understanding sympathy: “It was either this or a spree for him, and the ball game’ll do him more good.”
Doubtless some thirty-third degree “fan” resents the use of the title for such an illogical crank as the ex-convict. It must, indeed, be admitted in all justice that, although lexicographers have not as yet devoted their acumen to the subject, there does exist a nice distinction among the terms “rooter,” “bug,” and “fan.” Any one may be a rooter if he attends a game only once in a lifetime and yells. A bug, too, need not be a steady patron; his chief requirement is ability to quote data and statistics dealing with averages, games, and players. But the fan— He is as far above the others as a mahatma above a coolie. To him baseball is sleep, meat, and drink. It becomes a fetish. Having passed through the stages of rooter and bug, the soul of a fan frequently achieves a Nirvana that enables him to express untold passion by a mere eye-glint. Again, he may elect to roar. He is the sublimation of baseball fervor, getting out of it all there is in it.
Now the bug finds difficulty in transforming himself into the gorgeous, glittering, butterfly fan. He is too small-minded, cranky, absorbed in details. He is the chap who writes letters to the papers: “It’s a wonder to me that you don’t get a cigar-store Indian to do baseball for you. He couldn’t make any more mistakes. Yesterday that asinine blockhead that calls himself a baseball expert said Dan McGann was born in Tennessee, instead of Kentucky. Day before he said Willie Keeler’s batting average was .321. It should have been .324. If you want to keep your circulation, better get an expert that can tell a base-hit from a catcher’s mask.”
Even as a child, irresponsible and uncritical, the rooter blithely pursues his untrammeled course, howling at anything and everything—he is only a laborer in the cult, not an artist. It was in complaint of such a one that the New York baseball editors received numerous caustic letters just after Ira Thomas made his first appearance in “fast company” with the Highlanders. Detroit, the visiting team, had scarcely gone to bat when the rooter arose and in a voice blatant as Roland’s trumpet, began to root for “ol’ Jim McGuire,” who at that precise moment was out in Michigan.
“That’s him! There he is, same ol’ Jim. God bless the old fella’! I knowed him down in Washington—used t’ eat at th’ same table with him. Well, sir, did yeh see that t’row to second? Great? W’y there ain’t another man on earth ‘at could do it! An’ say, jest t’ think—he’s been twenty-five year in th’ business. He’s th’ whole game, Jim is!”
This was really a serious offense, since “Big” Thomas is perhaps a foot and a half taller than McGuire and a score of years younger. Along about the seventh inning when the rhapsody grew wilder, a bug stepped down and touched the rooter’s shoulder: “Say, you, that isn’t McGuire ketchin’; it’s Thomas. And if it was McGuire he hasn’t been in the big league but twenty years; you said twenty-five.”
“Thomas?” questioned the other, not the least abashed. “What’s his first name?”
“Good boy, Ira! That’s th’ way! Make it a home! Holy Smoke, look at him run! Ain’t he th’ candy! What d’ I tell you—cleaned th’ bases! Thomas! Thomas! Thomas!”
Little wonder that the bugs were incensed at this cheap demonstration. But the row of fans behind—did they move a muscle? Hardly! In superb benevolence or perhaps pity, they silently regarded both bug and rooter; to them the incident was not even worth relating.
Of the nation’s fans, those to whom baseball has become synonymous with life and freedom, none has been so celebrated as “Hi-Hi” Dixwell, of Boston, and old ” Well-Well,” of New York. When the former died he was characterized as Boston’s “most unique citizen.” For a generation he had delighted and amused baseball patrons with his high-pitched, staccato “Hi-Hi,” emitted only upon the accomplishment of some especially meritorious play. It was considered something to boast of that one had been seated “right ‘long side of Hi-Hi,” and the ambitious novitiates in fandom were accustomed to wait for him to put his stamp of approval on a throw, hit, or catch before they joined in.
The popularity of old “Well-Well” with laymen is undeniable. Verse writers have long employed his name as synonymous with spring. Indeed, it is never reckoned a genuine opening at the Polo Grounds unless the long-drawn, sonorous bass notes, “Well, well, well!” caroming against Coogan’s Bluff, usher in the season. But old “Well- Well” has never been regarded as a criterion and his lack of judgment will prevent his ever ranking high among baseball mahatmas. Another count against him is that in later years he has “well-welled” for the enemy and the home club indifferently, a breach of ethics that the forty-second-degree fan, who is immovably loyal, will not overlook. [For more about “Old Well-Well,” see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/13/old-well-well/]
A more reliable and praiseworthy celebrity in the fan cult was “Detroit Andy,” who died about the same time as “Hi-Hi” Dixwell. Under his real name of Andrew Rudolph, he was just beginning to be successful in business when the baseball mania seized him with such relentless grip that he practically abandoned everything in order that he might be in the ball-park day and night. He attracted attention by his steadfast allegiance to the Tigers whether they were losing or winning, and his clever advice from the bleachers helped to win many a game. Pitcher Mullin in particular profited by “Andy’s” observations, so that when “Andy” bid for the score-card privilege, Detroit’s crack twirler helped him secure it. Rudolph was straightway in a delirium of joy. He slaved to get out the most attractive score-card on the circuit, even though he was losing $500 a year. The approach of ruin in nowise daunted his zeal. On the contrary, when half the Detroit club were crippled, this astonishing fan volunteered as assistant rubber, and after every game, though wearied from selling score-cards, he would pitch in and employ what strength he had left in massaging the kinks out of Tom, Dick, and Harry. When Andy came to die he was quite impoverished, yet, like Nathan Hale, he had only one regret—that he could no longer shout for the Tigers.
Though fans are bound by no constitution nor code, there is, nevertheless, a hard-and- fast understanding among them that a candidate for the title must prove himself worthy in some noticeable way. Mere attendance at every game in a season will not suffice; and many a zealous and faithful enthusiast, failing to realize this, has suffered under the lifelong stigma of rooter or bug. But, like success, fan fame often comes without any effort. DeWolf Hopper, for instance, became the high exalted ruler of fandom as a result of reciting “Casey at the Bat.” And not only that—he made a deal of money out of that baseball poem. Other actors of that period, notably Henry E. Dixey and Digby Bell, knew more about the game and patronized it more frequently than Hopper, but the public did not care to hear of them.
Consider what befell Mr. Dixey, who strove to clip away some of Hopper’s laurels. On a gala day in Boston he attended the game in a purple-painted barouche accompanied by a party gorgeously appareled. The comedian also had with him a favorite fox- terrier, which he loved like a child and would not have lost for at least a trifling fortune. In the ninth inning Bill Dahlen, playing short-stop for Chicago, smashed a terrific drive directly at Dixey’s carriage. It came with such velocity that the agile terrier had no time to escape. The ball hit him squarely on the head and he tumbled on the greensward a very dead dog. Next day every news paper in America told the story, describing the actor’s grief, his narrow escape, his devotion to the national game; and “Pop” Anson, Chicago’s captain, after vast mental labor, originated a historic bon mot. “It is,” he testified, “the only case of a dog gone run that has ever come under my observation.” Yet even with this authoritative boost, Dixey’s baseball fame perished miserably at an early age.
Taking liberties with a venerable truth, one might say that some persons are born fans, others become fans, and a few have had the honor of being fans thrust upon them. Before the American League was established, half a dozen years ago, there was but one object of devotion and therefore there was less chance than now to gain publicity among all the millions who patronize professional baseball. But with the shifting of famous players from the National to the American League, citizens were called upon to select a favorite, and a distressing upheaval followed. Husbands and wives parted; lifelong friendships were destroyed; children abandoned their parents. In Philadelphia and Boston nearly all the illustrious fans attached themselves to the American League. Chicago and St. Louis made an even division. But New York, the cradle of baseball, remained loyal to the Giants and the National League. For a time it seemed that the invaders [today’s Yankees] never would attach any but rooters and bugs, and then, suddenly, in a single game, two deserving fanatics won the degree.
It was the historic contest in the American League when New York lost the pennant to Boston on account of Pitcher Jack Chesbro’s anointing the pellet too lavishly. Jimmy Williams fielded a grounder and had he made his throw accurately, the game would have been won by Griffith’s team. But as a result of the ball’s being wet, he hurled it wild and Boston put the “pie over the counter.” In this awful moment a Fulton Market fish dealer named Edward Leach stood up like thousands of others in agonized contortions, a cigar butt in his mouth. In the painful excitement he gasped and down went cigar, ashes, and all. Those who have experienced this calamity say that the immediate results are harrowing. But Leach, recognizing the psychological hour, bore the agony without a groan. “It was nothing,” he declared, “to losing the pennant.” Next day the papers printed his picture and the order of Elks raised him to high estate. For the rest of his life he will be pointed out as a fan.
It was also in this game that Lawyer Wallace, a university graduate and an able barrister, first won general recognition. He had been casually mentioned during the season as the “Yanks’ singing fan,” his hobby being to take position behind the home bench and lead the grand stand in song. For this occasion the lawyer arranged a parody on Auld Lang Syne:
We’re here because we’re here because
We’re here because we’re here.
Hardly a masterpiece, but the words and melody were so simple that the whole arena joined in, and if song could have availed, Boston would have been defeated. Lawyer Wallace always occupies the same seat. He not only sings but coaches the home club so cleverly as to be of real service. Pitcher Mullin, of Detroit, admits that Wallace has caused him to lose several important games by his continuous avalanche of song and speech. It required a certain amount of thought and craftiness to dim the luster of Leach and Wallace. But a manufacturer of safes in Harlem, one Edward Everett Bell, evolved an effective idea. Bell had been for many seasons a steady patron of the Polo Grounds, though by reason of the fame there of actors, statesmen, and society notables he had small renown. He was determined to succeed with the new league even at a financial loss and began by presenting the Yankees with a safe wherein the players might stow their jewelry while on the field. It proved such a trump card that Bell’s name went the circuit of the league and now he basks in deathless fame.
Few of the gentler sex have had the desire to follow the game closely and fewer still the hardihood to work upward through the degrees of rooter and bug to fandom. In fact, the records mention but two—Helen Dauvr[a]y, who arrived at full honors when she married that Achilles of the “diamond,” John Ward, and Mrs. Charles Wilson, of New York. Wherever the Giants are known, Mrs. Wilson and her son “Buster,” mascot of the team, are also known. They are accompanied by the husband and father, Charles Wilson, an extensive real-estate operator, and this trio of fans has traveled the country over, in training and championship trips, missing only two games at the Polo Grounds in three years. They have been photographed, caricatured, and “roasted” for their extreme fanaticism, all of which merely amuses Mrs. Wilson, because, as she told the writer, “Except for baseball I should not be alive to-day.”
“Four years ago,” runs her story, “I was quite ill, threatened with consumption. At the same time Mr. Wilson suffered a heavy financial loss, and with eight children to rear, things looked desperately blue for us. We were not in a position to take a sea voyage, and no other sort of diversion appealed to us, until one day I happened to see the following verses:
Let’s get a bag of peanuts and be boys again and shout
For the men who lam the leather and line three-baggers out:
Let’s go out and root and holler and forget that we have cares,
And that still the world has markets that are worked by bulls and bears.
Every year they tell us that baseball’s out of date,
But each spring it’s back in fashion when they line up to the plate;
When the good old, glad old feeling comes again to file its claim—-
When a man can turn from trouble and go out to see the game.
“We forthwith resolved to turn from our troubles in this way. The result of our experiment sounds like a patent-medicine testimonial, but it is true that I recovered my health, Mr. Wilson his cheerfulness, and soon after everything prospered.”
It is unfortunate that she who was Miss Alice Roosevelt did not continue her patronage last year of the Washington club and thus set the fashion for women fans. Instead, Mrs. Longworth attended only enough to get the name of rooter. A little more persistence and see what would have happened! Throughout the length and breadth of this broad land you could not have found a nagging matron nor a maid with nervous prostration. “For,” says a philosopher, “health contributes most to cheerfulness, and to remain healthy one must have the proper amount of daily exercise. . . . When people can get no exercise at all, as is the case with countless numbers who are condemned to a sedentary life, there is a glaring and fatal disproportion between outward inactivity and inward tumult. For this ceaseless internal motion requires some external counterpart. . . . Even trees must be shaken by the wind, if they are to thrive.” Fans, bugs, and rooters are shaken and therefore thrive by baseball. The game furnishes the required “external counter part.” Why, even watching the scores will stir the blood, galvanize the heart, and rid one of distemper, a truth of which there was strange evidence at Foreshaw Ranch, near Hutchinson, Kansas, last summer. In the midst of the harvesting season all hands quit work to see the Joplin and Hutchinson teams fight for supremacy. The owner faced ruin if the crop was not garnered immediately, and he could get no other workers. In this extremity the boss thought of building a huge score-board so that the men might harvest and still read from the most distant fence corners. A telegraph wire was run from town, a skilled operator received and posted the scores, inning by inning, and we have the word of a truthful Missouri sporting editor that “Mr. Foreshaw’s ranch was harvested in jig time.”
The fundamental reason for the popularity of the game is the fact that it is a national safety-valve. Voltaire says that there are no real pleasures without real needs. Now a young, ambitious, and growing nation needs to “let off steam.” Baseball furnishes the opportunity. Therefore, it is a real pleasure.
But the outsider comprehends nothing of this. “Baseball,” he argues loftily, “is a game for people whose minds are vacant, whose imagination is dull, who, of necessity, seek diversion because they have not enough soul leavening to be company for themselves. They remind me of the Southern [African American] who loves to crowd with twenty score of his kind in a small space and ‘be sociable.’ Briefly, I think baseball is supported by persons intellectually poor and somewhat vulgar.”
In the face of what occurred at the opening game at the Polo Grounds this year, the enthusiast hardly knows how to gainsay this aspersion. Commissioner Bingham having unexpectedly withdrawn all police protection, a whole army of fanatics—estimated at 15,000—charged on the field just when New York was on the point of overhauling Philadelphia. What did that throng care for victory or defeat! Who was John McGraw pleading that he might finish the game, when 15,000 mortal dynamos surcharged with pent-up emotion, energy, and democratic enthusiasm were bent upon expressing themselves! This way and that swept the multitude—fans, bugs, and rooters—pommeling one another with cushions, jubilating, yelling, making a sieve of the welkin—physically and mentally getting everything “off the system.” That is what baseball does for humanity. It serves the same purpose as a revolution in Central America or a thunder storm on a hot day.
In commenting upon Commissioner Bingham’s threat to close up the baseball parks in New York if the managements did not provide their own police protection, two metropolitan editorial writers alluded to baseball as a “harmless” sport. What a weak characterization of the exhaust-valve of a great nation’s spirit! Do you suppose either of those editorial pundits ever saw Louis Mann, the German character actor, “explode” at a ball game, casting to the winds all thought of propriety or criticism? Could they know the brain-storm surging within David B. Hill from the only outward sign visible—a nervous tapping of the fingers? Would they understand why Senator Winthrop Murray Crane, ex-Governor of Massachusetts, insists on his guests at the Dalton farm playing baseball, making the game the principal feature of his hospitality?
A sport for the empty-headed? By no means. One of the country’s pioneer fans was the late Arthur Pue Gorman, who played professional ball with the old Washington Nationals. He lauded the game as a national benefaction and declared that it had added years to his life. It is related of the Maryland statesman that while watching a thrilling game in Baltimore some exuberant spectator unintentionally landed on him such a mighty fist-blow that Mr. Gorman “took the count.” The offender was seized and thrown down, and though he was screaming apologies, he would have been roughly handled had not Mr. Gorman himself interfered. “Never mind, never mind,” he said; “I might have done the same thing, I was so excited.”
And then, how about Justice White, of the United States Supreme Court! Would you call his a vacant mind? For years this eminent American plodded, in company with his associate Justice McKenna and scores of statesmen, to win the title of fan. But baseball crowds are so democratic that the mere enthusiasm of a national dignitary “gets him nothing.” He must convincingly prove that he grasps the game’s transcendent purpose and understands its democracy. There are no honorary titles to fandom even for a president or a king.
Jealously, therefore, the great jurist awaited his hour, and although it came most unexpectedly, he had the acumen to discern it. One day he was sitting beside an explosive rooter, who was a total stranger to him. Just as Hickman rapped a two-bagger in right field, scoring a couple of runs, the rooter gave Justice White a hard thwack on the shoulder.
“Peach! Great!” he yelled. “Wasn’t that a corker?”
“Nice hit,” agreed the justice, wincing under the blow, “but he should have taken third base; he had plenty of time.”
The “rooter’s” face broke into grins of admiration. “Say, that’s what he could. Say, you know this game — you do. You must be a fan! What’s your name?”
“Mine’s Dorgan. Well, White, ol’ horse, you certainly know baseball. He’d ought t’ reached third!”
Next day the justice was talking with three senators on Pennsylvania Avenue when the rooter and a friend passed. Another thump on the back and: “Say, White, it was a corker, eh? But you was right. The papers claim Hickman ought t’ went to third. Well, s’long.”
Instead of administering a rebuke, the justice, much to his companions’ amazement, returned this familiarity with nod and smile.
Among the myriad prominent persons who make a hobby of baseball—statesmen, physicians, clergymen, actors, and financiers—Senator Crane has a niche all to himself. When Governor of Massachusetts he bought a farm near Dalton ostensibly for raising crops, but the gentlemen of his council on their first visit soon discovered that potatoes and beans were of secondary importance.
“I have an idea, my friends,” said the governor, “that before we start wrangling over perplexing questions it would be a wise thing to play a game of baseball. If any one has a grouch let him take it out on the ball and above all things yell yourselves hoarse.”
He led his astonished council to a choice bit of meadow where was a perfect diamond with a grand stand behind the home plate. Then, to the further amazement of his guests, he arrayed his farm employees—Swiss gardener, Irish hostler, English groom, Danish teamster—against the members of the council, who were thus put upon their mettle. Togged out in old clothes, they puffed, panted, and perspired, ever goaded by their chief, who was in fine training. “Run, you Indian!” “Put it on him!” “Take a lead!” “Come on home!”
Only after full nine innings had been played did the governor let up. All ranklings, jealousies, and bitterness having been worked off on the diamond, there resulted a most satisfactory conference. Another zealot is ex-Congressman Wadsworth, of Geneseo N. Y,, whose son, “Jimmy,” Speaker of the New York Assembly, played first base on the Yale team. He held the same position on the Geneseo Valley Club, which was organized and backed by the elder Wadsworth and has for years cleaned up everything in the valley. Mr. Wadsworth apparently takes keener interest in this ball club than in cross-country riding, at which he is an adept. Two years ago the judges at the Madison Square bench show waited fretfully for the Geneseo pack of hunting dogs to be brought into the ring. Stewards scurried about seeking them, and friends who had come to see the pack take first prize also searched the building for the master, who was finally found in a far corner demonstrating to a reporter how the Geneseo shortstop checked a liner by throwing his glove in the air and then making a double play.
Like Senator Crane and Mr. Wadsworth, the astute and blithe E. H. Harriman prefers to vent his feelings in semi-privacy, and the team that he and his seventeen-year-old son conduct near Tuxedo is said to be a “ripper.” Mr. Harriman does not play himself, but he knows the fine points of the game and has long since passed the stage of rooter.
When the Chicago and All America clubs completed their round-the-world Spalding tour in 1889, many distinguished fans of that period, including Chauncey M. Depew, Mark Twain, Daniel Dougherty, Henry E. Howland, and Erastus W[i]man, joined in royally banqueting the athletes at Delmonico’s. In declaring that “civilization is marked, and has been in all ages, by an interest in the manly arts, and among those baseball is supreme,” it was believed that Mr. Depew had summed up the case for baseball. But the champions of cricket, football, polo, or boxing might justly dispute this. A better characterization would be: Baseball is chess with athletics, a constant changing of situation, a continuous excitement. These features, coupled with the fact that nearly every man has at some time been a player, the game’s honesty, its democracy, and—the umpire, unite to furnish a diversion that fills a real need.
A tonic, an exercise, a safety-valve, baseball is second only to Death as a leveler. So long as it remains our national game, America will abide no monarchy, and anarchy will be too slow.
George Boziwick contributed this splendid article to the journal Base Ball, which could neither accommodate nor print in color all his wonderful accompanying illustrations. Here at last is the piece the way it might ideally have been published; it is reprinted through courtesy of the journal’s publisher, McFarland and Company. Boziwick is Chief of the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. He is also a composer, performer, and co-founder of the Red Skies Music Ensemble, created with the mission to make archives and special collections come alive through research and performance.
Katie Casey was base ball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev’ry sou Katie blew.
On a Saturday, her young beau
Called to see if she’d like to go,
To see a show But Miss Kate said “no,
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was Katie’s well known reply, but in 1908, a woman at the ballpark rooting and cheering was neither a common sight, nor was it fully accepted. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” advertises just the opposite: that a woman’s place was indeed in the grandstand at the ballpark and not just safe at home.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”
At the turn of the 20th century, as more women gained access to higher education, participation in the general workforce, and political activism, an “emergent ideal” of the “New Woman” began to take hold that “imbued a women’s activity in the public domain with a new sense of female self, a woman who was independent, athletic, sexual, and modern.” According to the song’s second verse, the fictional Katie Casey had all those qualities, and expressed them fully through her passion for the game of baseball.
Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names;
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along good and strong. When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the gang sing this song:
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” made its appearance at a time in the spring and summer of 1908 when everyone was talking about baseball’s hotly contested pennant race—a three-way National League extravaganza between John McGraw’s mighty New York Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates with their star Honus Wagner, and the reigning world champion Chicago Cubs. All this excitement “surely” inspired vaudevillian Jack Norworth to write his “sensational baseball song,” as it was billed by the publisher and appeared on the sheet music. But the story behind “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” waited some fifty years before the song’s lyricist explained to the press how his famous words came to be written. By that time the song’s composer, Albert Von Tilzer, dead for two years, was unable to corroborate.
Norworth recounted that in the spring of 1908 he was riding a New York City elevated subway train when he spotted a sign that called out “Ball Game Today – Polo Grounds.” Norworth claimed he had never been to an actual game but that he needed a song for his act at the Amphion Theater in Brooklyn. According to Norworth, he thought the time was right for a baseball song and an idea struck him that he “thought was pretty good.” Before the subway ride was finished, baseball’s biggest female fan and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had come to life. He brought the lyrics to composer Albert Von Tilzer, who set them to music.
Later that fall, when the first sound recordings of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” were issued, the National Recording Company reviewed the Edison cylinder recording sung by Edward Meeker in its September 1908 catalog.
The base-ball hit of the season – a home run at least. Katie Casey is a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool base-ball ‘fan,’ and can give her big brothers pointers on ‘rooting’ for the home team. She’d rather munch peanuts on the bleacheries than caramels at a matinee – which is saying a good deal for a girl. Meeker must have taken Katie to a game or two, judging from the interest he takes in singing about her. The tune is a jolly, infectious one and you can get every word.
The focus of the Edison recording review is clearly on the character of Katie Casey and the song’s verse, not simply a trip to the ballpark with its chorus of “peanuts and Cracker Jack,” as we know it today.That musical “branding” would come long after female fans had melded into the crowds coming through the turnstiles, and the awareness of gender in the song’s forgotten verses had long since disappeared from memory.
To increase the song’s reach and visibility, Albert Von Tilzer had his publishing house, the York Music Company, commission a set of hand-painted glass lantern slides that were customarily used to accompany singalongs led by “song pluggers” between acts or reels in vaudeville and movie houses. These “illustrated song slides” were manufactured by master lantern-slide-maker DeWitt C. Wheeler, who shot them onsite at the Polo Grounds in May 1908. Using actors or models to depict the fictional Katie Casey and her beau, these slides undoubtedly encouraged the acceptance of women at games. They portrayed Katie Casey not as someone to sit idly taking in the game, but a woman who was fully engaged in the activity, surrounded by men. 
The presence of women at the ballpark in 1908 was not new, but it was still considered unusual. The increase in female attendance altered the informal, exclusive social club atmosphere, and elicited considerable resentment from many men. Despite this, ballclub owners eagerly exploited the idea of women at games, as it was commonly thought that their presence purified the game’s nastier elements and would increase attendance by men who simply wanted an opportunity to be where women were. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” certainly promoted the idea of women attending games. The song was indeed “infectious,” and you could “get every word.” But while the public may have been receptive to that idea in a song, in reality getting every word would take some time.
Ring Lardner’s book You Know Me Al, published in 1916, eight years after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” offers some evidence that the perception of baseball as an exclusively male domain was gradually yielding to the idea of women as knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans. Lardner’s fictitious ballplayer Jack Keefe describes his new wife and her love of baseball, as he writes to his friend Al: “Florence knows a lot about baseball for a girl. You would be surprised to hear her talk. She says I am the best pitcher in the league and she has saw them all.”
“Take me out with the crowd”
In the decades prior to the turn of the 20th century, the importance of recreational activities such as baseball was embraced by an emerging philosophy that young people would benefit from spending their leisure time pursuing the social, psychological, and physical benefits of organized outdoor activities. A growing number of social activists on both sides of the Atlantic realized that team sports had inherent values that, once instilled on the field of play, were readily transferable to the everyday lives of young men entering adulthood as productive citizens in the professional workforce. By 1908, baseball’s popularity had found resonance in both the playground movement of the 1890s and the subsequent Progressive Era that flourished under the watchful eye of Theodore Roosevelt, a great promoter of strenuous outdoor activity. Even the urban landscape saw a sharpening focus on the need for team-based outdoor activities for young people. Organizations such as the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL), founded in New York City in 1903, began to take root. The efforts of the PSAL were enormously successful in its outreach to the youth of New York City. Baseball as both a participatory and spectator sport was taking hold. By 1906 there were 106 PSAL baseball teams for boys throughout the New York City public school system. That year they held their final baseball contest in front of an audience of 1,500 enthusiastic spectators at the Polo Grounds, home to the New York Giants.
With the construction of new ballparks, the establishment of a stable and competitive American League, and the reintroduction in 1903 of an annual World Series, baseball was becoming an enduring commodity to a fan base already acclimated to a game that they themselves often played as children. Also, in 1908, the report of the Mills Commission on the origins of baseball had just been released. Despite the fact that the commission had determined on questionable evidence that baseball was a uniquely American game invented in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839 by Civil War veteran Abner Doubleday, America’s pastime was now official, and in the minds of many, as American as apple pie. Even though Jack Norworth’s recounting of the song’s creation came 50 years after the fact, he may have been prophetic in claiming that he thought it was time for a baseball song. Regardless, he could not have realized that his baseball song would attain recognition as a signifier for the passion, the values, and the inclusiveness that Americans found in their national game. “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack”
According to Norworth, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had a modest reception, but almost immediately other performers began incorporating his song into their acts and its popularity grew. There are at least thirty known variants of the sheet-music cover of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” issued by the publisher in 1908. Clearly the song was gaining in popularity, and so too was Norworth. His story about the origins of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” may or may not have been accurate, but looking closely at his activities at the time of the song’s writing provides evidence for what I believe to be the real story that Norworth never told about his “sensational base ball song.” By late 1906, Norworth (then married to actress Louise Dresser) had become infatuated with a fellow vaudevillian, Trixie Friganza. Norworth and Friganza began a heated affair while working together during 1907. By October the affair had become public, and Dresser announced to the press that Norworth was seeking a divorce so that he and Friganza could marry.
Even as Friganza sang her popular number “No Wedding Bells for Me” from the show The Orchid, neither she nor Norworth would have predicted that by the summer of 1908, their romance would suddenly falter, but it did. On June 15, the day of his divorce from Louise Dresser, Norworth began starring in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 and on June 21, in Long Branch, New Jersey, he unexpectedly married his Follies partner, vaudeville superstar Nora Bayes. Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes were Broadway’s most sensational couple. They worked and wrote songs together, including the baseball song “Let’s Get the Umpire’s Goat,” and their best-known song, “Shine On Harvest Moon.” Although there are no extant recordings of Bayes or Norworth singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” both are represented on individual covers of the sheet music. As part of their act, Bayes and Norworth held song-request contests that often included by popular demand performances of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
The lack of a Norworth/Bayes recording of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is not surprising given the fact that as part of his marital agreement with Bayes, Norworth severed his collaboration with composer Albert Von Tilzer and wrote songs exclusively with his new wife. From then on, many of the songs Norworth and Bayes either co-wrote or performed together favored entertaining Irish or other ethnic parodies. This was a world in which Norworth’s fictional Katie Casey of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” chose not to participate. She was more than willing to pass up a show for something more exciting, something American. She wanted baseball, and according to the song’s lyrics, her identity with the game was a proven fact.
“I don’t care if I never get back”
Who was the fictional Katie Casey in Jack Norworth’s song? By her name, she was likely Irish American. In 1908 she would have been at least second generation, already well assimilated to American culture and in her case, baseball. Assimilation for her and other Irish meant Americanizing without eradicating one’s cultural and religious “Irishness,” despite the fact that many Irish immigrants consciously turned their backs on a homeland that was still reeling from the effects of a catastrophic famine, poverty, and massive emigration. In their adopted homeland, the Irish would create their own infrastructure of community and culture, manifested in the building of Catholic schools and hospitals, and in the formation of service and fraternal organizations.
In Ireland, many young women found themselves without adequate means of marital support or inheritance, making emigration their only route of survival. These circumstances made the first generation of single Irish female immigrants more likely to answer the call for live-in domestic servants as a means of gaining a sure foothold in America. The growing demand for domestics in well-to-do Protestant households during the Victorian era was easily filled by young single Irish Catholic women often referred to ubiquitously as Kates, Katies, Noras, or Bridgets by their employers, who barely tolerated their “Hibernian” temperaments or their peculiar religious devotions. For the young Irish immigrant servant, the benefits of domestic employment went well beyond that of a steady income. Full-time residence in a prosperous middle class Protestant home afforded the Irish domestic a view of American life from the inside out. This “lace curtain” perspective greatly accelerated the Americanization process. Women were able to save money not otherwise spent on room and board and outfit themselves with the trappings and persona of upward mobility. This swift process of acculturation guaranteed that subsequent generations would soon begin filling the growing ranks of teachers or nurses, professions that mirrored the dominance, assertiveness, and control that Irish mothers and daughters often had over their households, husbands, and families. With independence and mobility as byproducts of her Irish cultural, social, and religious upbringing, Katie Casey was likely to be single, working, and self-sufficient. Her desire to get to the ballgame and assimilate to the rooting crowd is recognizable as part of the very cloth of her Irish American feminine identity.
Joining in the process of ethnic identity and assimilation, the Tin Pan Alley music industry manufactured its own form of entertainment that catered to enthusiastic Irish audiences, offering up song parodies and satires of the Irish experience from the beautiful and sentimental view of the homeland, to caricatures in the New World of cops, hard drinkers, and politicians. Songs about ethnic stereotyping, cultural identity, and the Americanization of young women were plentiful both in song and in the visual-art form of the sheet-music cover, particularly in the creation of the famous Gibson girl, the idealized American female image made famous by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. While Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes were writing entertaining songs and being lauded as the most celebrated couple on the Broadway stage, Norworth’s “sensational baseball song” began playing to a very different kind of audience, thanks to his affair with the almost Mrs. Norworth, Trixie Friganza.
Friganza had been cited in the local papers as a suffragist who marched for her rights in the very year that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was written. Her suffrage activities at the time were supported publicly by her employers, George M. Cohan and Sam Harris, in whose production of The American Idea Friganza was costarring with actress Stella Hammerstein. It is my belief that Friganza’s relationship with Norworth and her activities on behalf of women’s rights were the catalysts for Norworth’s inspiration and were fictionalized in Katie Casey’s explicit and affirming response to her beau to take her to the ballgame. This opinion is supported by the fact that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was officially registered for copyright on May 2, 1908, likely coinciding with the peak of Norworth’s affair with Friganza and their near marriage.
Another indicator of Friganza’s likely identity as the inspiration behind the fictional Katie Casey is the fact that out of all the known covers of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” released by the publisher, she appears twice in two different poses. Like Casey, Friganza (whose real name was Delia O’Callahan) was known to be outspoken and independent, drawing large crowds to both the theater and the suffrage rallies at which she was often a key speaker.
As an independent young woman and knowledgeable fan, Katie Casey was perfectly capable and qualified in leading the rooting charge, or telling the umpire, in a voice “good and strong,” that his call was wrong. The baseball park was her proving ground. Her boisterous behavior, although in 1908 it may have been considered inappropriate to her gender, provided the necessary lyric—the verse that she needed in order to participate in the chorus of assimilation and solidarity to “root, root, root for the home team.”
This same desire for solidarity and assimilation was already being observed in the behaviors of immigrant groups of young lower-class women in the crowded factory workrooms of New York and other urban centers. The image of the modest sequestered young woman at work was far from reality. Since these women, largely adolescent, had little or no opportunities for advancement in that milieu, the women’s work group became the dominant form of socialization. This gave rise to an adolescent counterculture that allowed them to thrive in the bleak, deafening atmosphere in which they spent their long days. These young girls were observed to be a cohesive, boisterous group, using the workspace to experiment with profanity, slang, and other careless or loud behaviors. This was part of a young working girl’s rite of passage. As social historian Leslie Tentler reminds us, “initiation into the heady world of adolescent independence was necessary for an urban working-class girl in the early twentieth century, because it was the adolescent peer group, and not parents, that provided suitors and ultimately, mates.”
These were the Katie Caseys of the factories who eventually took to the streets in search of better working conditions and higher pay. The tune that these women were singing was also an “infectious” one, and society would have to “get every word.” Women wanted empowerment, and Katie Casey’s fictionalized declaration for a female presence in the grandstand was a reverberation of these workers’ demands for equality. Once they reached their own chorus of assimilation, they too could never go back.
Indeed, these ladies did not go back. They eventually went on strike. The uprising of the 20,000 began in New York on November 23, 1909, and lasted for many weeks. Newspaper reports described in detail the worker’s strikes, including an account of one woman’s determined behavior on the field of battle: a real baseball-inspired story.
A striker [by the name of] Lena, threw an egg at the foreman of her factory and missed. The foreman made scornful remarks about her throwing abilities. Lena again began to throw eggs but this time, she did not miss. In a moment Grossman [her foreman] looked like an animated omelet. He rushed at the line and the pair clinched, half of the omelet being transferred to Lena.
With each successive worker’s march or suffrage parade, a growing number of groups and organizations both male and female were becoming affiliated with the broad cause of empowerment for women. No longer was it just for the shop girls, clerks, or garment workers. Nor was it simply Society’s latest fashionable cause. However, many began to realize that “if suffrage was made fashionable, victory would be assured.” The best way to ensure this victory was to sharpen the focus of empowerment on a single issue that would create a unified chorus of assimilation. That chorus became the “franchise” or the right to vote. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” employed a parallel platform, conveying the single message that empowerment, solidarity, and equality, not dominance, was bringing men and women together at the ballpark to root “good and strong” for the team. Since this inclusive support and focus on a single issue was the thing that would virtually guarantee the success of the suffrage movement, why not the same formula of success for the message of a baseball song?
“Let me root, root, root for the home team”
While Trixie Friganza may have given Jack Norworth an idea, actress Stella Hammerstein personified it. Hammerstein, and indeed all of Broadway, went out to the ballgames in 1908 where the New York Giants were baseball’s biggest attraction. The Giants players (some of whom also played the vaudeville stage) fraternized regularly with the acting crowd of Broadway. George M. Cohan even had his own amateur baseball team.The unique message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was significant enough for Cohan himself to introduce his own baseball song, “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.” While both the Cohan and Norworth songs were advertised in the same May 2, 1908, issue of Variety, Cohan’s was registered for copyright on May 8, six days after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Lantern slides for Cohan’s song followed one month after those of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” They were shot (also by DeWitt C. Wheeler) at the American League ballpark in upper Manhattan. The trade publications advertised both songs as sensational hits, and in the case of Cohan’s song, the “novelty summer waltz song and a home run hit.” Not only were the titles nearly identical, there was an unmistakable similarity in the opening phrases of both choruses. Although the trade publications remarked on the peculiar similarities of the two song titles, neither publisher seemed to have made an issue over the similarity of the refrains. In his later interviews, Norworth was quick to point out that he knew he had the better song, but there is no evidence that he ever challenged the powerful “Yankee Doodle Boy.” The two songs could not have been more different in tone, message, and prosody. Cohan’s refrain is passive, like a lovely afternoon at the ballpark, whereas “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has you on your feet with its opening octave jump. Norworth has no reservations about Katie Casey’s qualifications as a diehard and knowledgeable fan of the game, even leading the rooters in the song’s “infectious” chorus. Contrast that with Cohan’s opening verse, in which he advises the rooters around him that undignified behavior should be put aside so that an appropriate place might be made for a woman, who then could gently and lovingly be taught the rules of baseball when you “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.”
Coney Island’s all right,
It’s a fine place at night,
But the place that’s the money to me,
Is the park where they play,
Classy ball every day,
Talk of sport,
It’s the big Jubilee!
At the shout of “Play Ball”
I’m just daffy that’s all,
As I sit with my queen like a king,
With her score card in hand,
Mamie looks more than grand,
To the rooters around me I sing:
Take you girl to the ball game,
Any old afternoon.
That’s the spot to propose to Mame,
The spot for a sunshiny spoon.
Make a fan of your steady girl,
If you lose her I’ll take all the blame.
In the stand, It’s just grand,
As she squeezes your hand,
At the base ball game.
Though Cohan’s song is typical of the genre of songs that would follow, he did two important things that allowed the message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to go forward. He publicly approved the suffrage activities of Trixie Friganza (represented in the fictional Katie Casey, who independently chooses to go to a ballgame instead of a show). And, he published his own song, whose title is the necessary signifier of approval that gives currency and validation to Norworth’s message of enfranchisement. Taking your girl to a ballgame had now become fashionable.
As a result, both songs helped unleash a great swath of copycat songs from publishing houses across New York’s Tin Pan Alley and beyond, many of them about taking your girl to a ballgame, and many (like those of Norworth and Cohan) composed in a simple waltz meter of three-four. One of these songs, “I’ve Been Making a Grand Stand Play for You,” offers the following opening lyric:
Way down front,
hand in hand,
In the baseball grandstand,
Is my girl and myself ev’ry day;
She’s a regular fan,
Like a regular man,
Know just what to do, what to say.
While these copycat songs certainly contributed to the positive message put in motion by “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” they did not convey the same anthem of equality and empowerment offered by Katie Casey. Cohan uses the ballpark as a romanticized teachable moment for his girl’s benefit, who is presumed to know nothing about baseball. The message of these songs is to inculcate your best girl into the rituals of baseball as a male-oriented pursuit in which she could now participate if she just played along by a new set of rules where a home run, a hit, or a grandstand play were creating a new language of courtship, love, and romance.
“If they don’t win it’s a shame”
The message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” stands alone when set in relief against these easily forgotten songs. It is the only song that asserts the unique message that a woman’s presence and participation at the ballpark gives momentum towards a relationship of equality with those around her. That relationship is legitimized in the stands when (as told in the second verse) Katie Casey leads her fellow fans in the song’s final chorus. No other baseball song places a woman in a position of leadership, which more than fulfills her need and desire to be part of the franchise, which, in this case, was the rooting crowd.
Thus the question often asked by many baseball fans can now be answered: “Why do we sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ when we are already at the game?” The answer is hidden in plain sight in the song’s second verse that we never sing. The very first time that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was ever sung at the ballpark was when Katie Casey sang it. What was once fiction has, over time, become reality. Katie Casey by her actions establishes both the progressive momentum of participation for the “new woman” and, at the same time, effectively sets the song on its future course of greatness. Someday a woman will indeed be able to lead the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the ballpark, and the momentum to achieve that had just been put in place.
The momentum to sustain Katie Casey’s victory in the grandstand was generated by continued performances of the song—not at the ballpark or in movie houses or vaudeville theaters but in millions of parlors across the country. As was the continued custom, mothers taught music to their children. In the process they became eager consumers of sheet music, sharing the delights of songs such as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” around the family piano. These re-creations of the ballpark experience at home singalongs and other social gatherings sustained interest in the song’s “jolly, infectious” chorus and its resonant message. Over time and across generations, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” would fulfill its message of inclusive empowerment, ensuring its continued popularity and eventual crowning as baseball’s popular anthem.
“For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out”
Jack Norworth himself helped to keep his song in proper step with the changing times. Women had won the right to vote in 1920, and in 1927 Norworth revised the verses of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” He modernized the song’s language and changed Katie Casey’s name to Nelly Kelly.
Nelly Kelly loved baseball games,
Knew the players, knew all their names,
You could see her there ev’ry day,
Shout “Hurray” when they’d play.
Her boy friend by the name of Joe,
Said “To Coney Isle, dear, let’s go,”
Then Nelly started to fret and pout,
And to him I heard her shout.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had another reason to gain a new lease on life: 1927 was the year that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. With baseball’s popularity soaring, perhaps Norworth was hoping that younger audiences eager for baseball would make an old song new again. More likely, with a fresh copyright on his baseball song, Norworth was rooting for his royalty checks to continue for at least another half-century.
Sometime after the 1949 release of the movie “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” when electronic organs were being introduced into many ballparks, the song gradually found its own opportunities for integration into the baseball experience. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, the song’s chorus was catching on with organists, who began playing it with some regularity as part of the pregame entertainment. Over time, the omission of the opening verse eliminated the song’s critical narrative from our collective memory.
By the late 1960s and early ’70s, many organists gave the song an increased presence at the ballpark; and while Norworth certainly envisioned hundreds of people singing the song during intermissions in theaters and movie houses, he could not possibly have imagined that his simple chorus of “root, root, root for the home team” would be given additional momentum by someone not in the theatrical world, but rather a baseball impresario who had a flair for the ridiculous and whose simple idea would propel Norworth’s tune into baseball immortality.
Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, like his father before him, always looked for opportunities to inject some crowd-pleasing novelty entertainment into his games. In 1977, after hearing White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray singing the tune badly to himself in the broadcast booth as organist Nancy Faust played the song, Veeck persuaded Caray to turn on the microphone and lead the crowd in singing the chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch of every game. That grand experiment was not only a hit, a home run, and a grandstand play with the fans; it has become iconic, sung today in all major league ballparks across the country during the game’s customary intermission. The song’s chorus, originally resonant for Katie Casey, now resonates with the sustained message that baseball is for everyone, regardless of class, gender, or generation. This inclusiveness has allowed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to achieve a lasting and cherished position of popularity, alongside “Happy Birthday” and the “Star Spangled Banner.
“At the old ball game”
When you can get away to the carefree atmosphere of the ballpark, the experience of singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch creates a magic of participation and belonging as memorable as the ballgame itself. Jack Norworth’s “sensational base ball song” unites players and fans, young and old, male and female, who still seek that common bond and restless urge, like generations before them and the fictional Katie Casey, to be part of the rooting crowd. Knowing what we now know about “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” imagine that tangible moment that Katie Casey must have felt back in 1908, walking into the ballpark for the first time, taking in the atmosphere and thinking to herself, “I don’t care if I never get back.”
This article was derived from an exhibit curated by George Boziwick at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts celebrating the 100th anniversary of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in 2008. A paper version of this article was presented at the 2009 Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. A lecture/performance version of this article was presented by the Red Skies Music Ensemble in 2012 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. George Boziwick would like to thank Jacqueline Z. Davis, the Dorothy and Louis B. Cullman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and staff member Tema Hecht. He also thanks Trudy Williams, co-founder of the Red Skies Music Ensemble for her contributions, and gives special thanks to Stephanie Doba.
Did you know that slugging average is older than the batting average, and was tossed aside in favor of it? And if so, do you know why? I did not, until I came upon Henry Chadwick’s “The True Test of Batting,” in The Ball Players’ Chronicle of September 19, 1867. (I was rummaging through old newspapers, looking for something else in another early baseball weekly; more on that soon.) Chadwick’s article is a genuine crossroads in the history of baseball statistics.
Bases on balls were still uncommon events, having been introduced for the 1864 season, and no one thought of them as batters’ achievements, nor would they for decades to come. So the need for an on base average was not evident. Chadwick had already posited a primitive version of the slugging percentage, with total bases divided by number of games; change the denominator from games to at bats and you have today’s slugging percentage—which, incidentally, was not accepted by the National League as an official statistic until 1923 and the American until 1946. Chadwick’s “total bases average” represented the game’s first attempt at a weighted average—a huge conceptual leap forward from, first, counting, and next, averaging. The weighted average is in fact the cornerstone of today’s statistical innovations.
Chadwick’s bias against the long ball was in large measure responsible for the game that evolved. What he valued most in the early days was the low scoring game marked by brilliant fielding. In the early annual guides, he listed all the “notable” games between significant teams—i.e., those in which the winner scored fewer than ten runs!
What I did not recognize until now was that the triumph of the batting average was not merely a product of Chadwick’s preference for the scientific style over the brutish slugging. It was his recognition that most runs were scored through some combination of errors (muffs), which were easily counted, and misplays, which were not. In the 1860s a single might easily become a tainted extra-base hit, indistinguishable in the box score from a legitimate one. So in discarding the old practice of crediting batters with only Outs (hit into or run into) and Runs, Chadwick held—and correctly, given the state of the early game—that times reached base on undeniably safe hits was a superior measure to the bases gathered on that hit. Here is his reasoning, with spelling unaltered but paragraph breaks added to what appeared originally as a single block of text.
The True Test of Batting
Up to the present year, and, in fact, up to the inaugural number of The Chronicle, the only recorded test of the skill of a batsman in a match was the number of outs and runs in the score of the game. In The Chronicle, however, the plan of estimating the batting by the number of times a batsman made his base by clean hits was introduced, and now this plan, varied by taking in the number of bases secured on hits, has become general, all the daily press reporting the game having accepted it.
Our plan of adding to the score of outs and runs the number of times—not the number of bases—bases are made on clean hits will be found the only fair and correct test of batting; and the reason is, that there can be no mistake about the question of a batsman’s making his first base, that is, whether by effective batting, or by errors in the field, such as muffing a ball, dropping a fly ball, or throwing badly to the bases, whereas a man may reach his second or third base, or even get home, through errors of judgment in the out-field in throwing the ball to the wrong man, or in not properly estimating the height of the ball, &c—errors which do not come under the same category as those by which a batsman makes his first base.
For instance, the first striker goes to the bat, and, by a sharp ground hit between short stop and third base, out of reach of both those fielders, easily secures his first. The second striker hits a ball, which is easily fielded by the short stop, and were he to throw it to first, the second striker would easily be put out, but as the point is to send it to second, to cut off the player forced from the first, striker No. 2 gets his first, not from his good hit, but from the ball having to go to second first.
Striker 3 now comes to the bat, and sends a high ball to third base, and the ball is dropped, whereupon B, the second striker, makes his second, and C, the third striker, his first. D now takes the bat, and, hitting a high ball to centre field, which ball gives a chance for a catch, runs for his second, sending C and B before him; the ball being badly judged, and, when fielded, thrown in badly, D runs for his third, and, without stopping, he risks a home run, and gets his run from another high ball.
Now, how stands the record of this play as ordinarily scored ? Why simply as follows: The man who made the best hit of the four strikers is put out at second by the poor batting of his successor, while B and C, who made their bases by poor batting, arc credited with one base each, while D gets four bases through the lack of skill of the out-fielder in judging a high ball, the result of the play being a credit for seven bases on hits and three runs, when, by a just estimate, only one man made his base by a hit, and he was the only one put out.
Now, this is the average result of the batting score in a match game. But again, in estimating bases on hits, any scorer will find that it is quite a difficult task to sift the chaff from the wheat after the first base has been made; that is, he will find that the second and third bases are made more by lack of judgment in the outer fielding, and by errors of play which are not exactly “muffs,” viz., balls handled but not stopped or picked up neatly, overthrows or miscatches; while in the in-field these errors seldom occur, the ball, generally speaking, cither being palpably muffed, thrown wildly, or not held when touched on the fly. In the scores the number of bases made on hits should be, of course, estimated, but as a general thing, and especially in recording the figures by the side of the outs and runs, the only estimate should be that of the number of times in a game on which bases arc made on clean hits, and not the number of bases made.
Chadwick prevailed, and Hits Per Game became the criterion for the Clipper batting championship and remained so until 1876, when the problem with using games as the denominator in the ratio at last became clear. If a team played several weak rivals who committed many errors, the number of at bats for each individual in the superior team’s lineup would increase. The more at bats one is granted in a game, the more hits one is likely to have. The batting average used in the 1860s is the same as that used today except in its denominator, with at bats replacing games. The suggestion for that may be credited to Hervie Alden Dobson’s letter to the Clipper of March 11, 1871.
The batting average, of course, makes no distinction between the single, the double, the triple, and the home run, treating all as the same unit—a base hit—just as its prototype, Runs Per Game, treated the run as its unvarying, indivisible unit. This objection was met in the 1860s with Chadwick’s Total Bases Average (per game), but, as one reads above, was rejected. Looking at some other data, Chadwick’s choice now seems more reasonable, less idiosyncratic.
In 1871, the first year of professional play and a mere four seasons after Chadwick’s article, only 41 percent of runs scored were earned. The fielding percentage of the National Association clubs was .833. (In 2012 the MLB fielding percentage was .983.) The number of errors per game in 1871 was 7.6 and the runs scored per game was 10.47. And these figures were for the best clubs in the country; Chadwick made his choice of batting average as the “true test of batting” while considering hundreds if not thousands of clubs in 1867, professional and amateur.
The number of runs scored per game has been remarkably consistent throughout baseball history. Here’s a chart I developed a few years back.
1871: 7.61 per game
1911: 3.66 per game
1961: 1.82 per game
2005: 1.22 per game
1871: 10.47 per game
1911: 9.03 per game
1961: 9.05 per game
2005: 9.18 per game
In effect, the relentless increase in home runs, doubles, strikeouts, and walks have balanced the decrease in errors and triples. Baseball is a game of delicate balance, and at the outset Father Chadwick was sensitive to its nature.
This is a guest column by David Block. While filming the Major League Baseball documentary “Base Ball Discovered” in England, he and director Sam Marchiano met Tricia St. John Barry, who responded to a BBC piece on the film crew being in country, looking at the roots of baseball. (For more about that film, see: http://goo.gl/5M9h9P.) She claimed to possess a volume of a previously unknown William Bray diary that contained one of the earliest-known references — and at that time the oldest extant original reference–to baseball. Until the MLB.com crew met her, the only known Bray diary volumes were held by Surrey History Centre, and dated from 1756-1832. The newly discovered journal, which covers Bray’s life from 1754-1755, contains this entry from Easter Monday, March 31st, 1755: “Went to Stoke church this morn.- After dinner, went to Miss Jeale’s to play at base ball with her the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford and H. Parsons. Drank tea and stayed til 8.”
Block’s landmark book on the subject, Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game, was the recipient of the 2006 SABR Seymour Medal, the 2006 NASSH award, and was named to the New York Times Reading List of sports books for 2005. David serves on MLB’s Origins Committee as well as on the editorial board of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, in which this article appeared in the Fall of 2007.
The Story of William Bray’s Diary
During the course of my recent trip to England, I had the pleasure of tagging along for several days with a video production team from MLB.com, which was over there collecting footage for a documentary film on the origins of baseball. I was serving as the project’s unofficial historian-in-tow, traveling through southern England with the filmmakers as they captured video images of various old bat-and-ball games that comprise baseball’s family tree.
One morning, as we drove away from a village in Kent—where the previous evening, in a pub yard, we had obtained images of a match of “bat and trap”—we abruptly smashed into a parked car. Our driver, an American, had not quite gotten the hang of driving on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately no one was hurt, but our rental van needed to be replaced, and there were insurance matters to be dealt with. Because these tasks required that two of the MLB.com people stay behind, one of them being producer Sam Marchiano, I was deputized to be her substitute producer and interviewer.
Because our cameraman and soundman were driving in a separate car, I was able to proceed with them to our next stop, a girls’ school in the town of Horsham in Sussex. Our mission there was to obtain footage of a game of rounders, and conduct interviews with the players, school officials, and the director of the National Rounders Association.
As I was making my directorial debut, we had another unexpected development. A second video production crew—dispatched by BBC news—showed up at the school. Apparently the network had received word that the MLB filmmakers were touring the English countryside in search of baseball’s origins, and determined that this was a newsworthy event. So the BBC crew began filming our MLB crew, which was in turn filming the game of rounders. The BBC reporter also conducted interviews with me, the rounders official, and several other people at the scene.
That evening, the story of the MLB.com film project appeared on BBC South’s 6 p.m. news program. It included clips of their interviews with us, and reported, among other things, that Jane Austen used the word baseball in her novel Northanger Abbey, first drafted in 1798. By the time of the BBC broadcast, the project members we had left behind in Kent had obtained a replacement van and had rejoined us in Horsham. As we were driving to cover a Little League baseball game (yes, American baseball is alive and well in Sussex!), Sam Marchiano’s cell phone rang. It was the BBC. It seems that immediately following their airing of the piece about us, they had received a telephone call. A woman from nearby Surrey had rung up their studio to report that she knew of a reference to baseball far earlier than Jane Austen’s. The caller said that she had an old diary in her possession, the work of a young man named William Bray, in which he wrote about playing baseball in the year 1755. Naturally, we were all excited by this news, as 18th century references to baseball are exceedingly rare, and for the MLB.com film project to be the catalyst for the discovery of a new one would be an unexpected coup. We immediately phoned the woman—her name is Tricia St. John Barry—and arranged to visit her home the following morning.
Her home, it turned out, was a 16th century cottage down a country lane near the Surrey-Sussex border. At 11 A.M. we approached her door in force: Our group consisted of me, the four-person MLB.com crew, fellow SABR member Larry McCray, and John Price, the head of the Sussex stool-ball association, who was our local host in Horsham. Tricia answered the door, but instead of the smiling welcome we were expecting, she was in a state of great agitation. She was mortified: She couldn’t find the diary! It had been in a Marks & Spencer bag next to her filing cabinet, she was certain of it, but it simply wasn’t there. She had been searching her house high and low all morning, but to no avail.
One look at her cottage and you could tell it would be easy to misplace something there. It was all a jumble, its small, ancient rooms filled with piles of books and papers. Tricia is a delightfully charming lady, but a tad disorganized, and it turned out she hadn’t actually seen the diary in several years. She had obtained it about twenty years ago, and was in the process of transcribing it, albeit very slowly. She had made photocopies of the whole thing, but, alas, she believed they were in the same bag as the diary. Still, she had no doubts whatsoever about its mention of baseball. She had first noticed the entry about fifteen years earlier and, knowing it to be an American game, had at that time taken it down the road to show it to some American neighbors.
So there we were—with a great story, but no diary. Tricia may be a little eccentric, but there was no reason to question her credibility, and we were all convinced that the diary was buried somewhere in her house. She insisted that it would come to light; it just might take a little time. So the MLB.com team went ahead and interviewed her, and shot footage of her house and garden. We trusted that it was just a matter of time before the diary would appear.
Shortly thereafter the MLB.com crew returned to New York, and I resumed my family vacation in England, hoping that Tricia would find the missing diary before I returned to the States myself. About a week later, while traveling in Northumberland, I received an email from her: “Eureka! I found it!” This was great news. I called Sam in New York to report the find, and she said she would try to line up a freelance cameraman
to accompany me to film the precious document. The next day I called Tricia to tell her I had received her message, and to arrange my next visit to her cottage. In the course of our conversation, one small detail became apparent. It seems Tricia hadn’t actually found the diary itself, but only the photocopies! True, this was better than nothing; but I had to bite my tongue to hide my disappointment. I consoled myself by knowing that at least I’d be able to return home with a copy of the 1755 reference—that is, if the photocopies hadn’t disappeared again before I returned to Tricia’s house.
Two days later, at a library in Cornwall, I had another chance to check my email. A new message from Tricia: “Eureka again! I really found it this time!” And she really had. So five days later, on my final day in the UK, my wife Barbara and I returned to Tricia’s cottage along with a cameraman. Also along for the big show was John Price of the stool-ball association, the BBC crew again (by now, they too had a stake in this discovery, and came to tape another spot for the evening news), and Julian Pooley, a Surrey archivist and historian who is the foremost expert on William Bray, the author of the diary.
As it happens, Bray was a notable historical figure of his day, a prominent 18th century lawyer and antiquarian who wrote a three-volume history of Surrey that is still the authoritative work on the subject. More importantly, Bray had a vast range of interests that spanned science, politics, literature, and the arts, and a lively curiosity in all of the new developments of his age. And he wrote about them diligently in the diaries and journals he kept. He lived to the age of 96 and his journals span almost all of his adult years. The bulk of these—beginning in 1756, when he turned 20 years of age—are located in the Surrey History Centre, and have been studied extensively because of their unusual insights into the goings-on of that era.
At some time in the past, a single volume of Bray’s diary—the one spanning the years 1754 and 1755—was separated from the others. Until recently, its very existence was unknown to scholars. It first surfaced 20 years ago when a neighbor of Tricia’s, knowing that she liked “old things,” gave her a call to see if she was interested in a stack of old papers. It seems this neighbor’s deceased ex-husband, who had once worked on the Bray estate, had stored a collection of old documents in a tea chest in a shed on their property. She was threatening to “dump them on the bonfire” unless Tricia wanted them. The William Bray diary was among this lot, and Tricia immediately recognized it as a treasure. It’s just taken her a bit of time to let the rest of the world know about it.
OK, now for the baseball part. William Bray doesn’t reveal anything about how the game was played; just that he played it and whom he played it with. His entry for Easter Monday, March 31, 1755, reads as follows:
Went to Stoke Ch(urch) this Morn.—After Dinner Went to Miss Seale’s to play at Base Ball, with her, the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Fluttor, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford, H. Parsons & Jolly. Drank tea and stayed till 8.
Despite its brevity, this early reference offers some tidbits of information that help inch forward our understanding of baseball at its infancy.
1. William Bray was 18 or 19 at the time of this entry (his birth year, 1736, is known, but not his precise birth date). From other writings in his diaries, we know that the companions he names as participants in this baseball game were all young adults like him, indicating that baseball was not simply a pastime for children in the 1750s.
2. Clearly, this baseball gathering involved both young ladies and young men, confirming the suggestion from other sources that the game in its earliest years was played by both sexes.
3. At this time, baseball was more of a social phenomenon than a sporting one. Bray’s diaries from these years suggest that he interacted with a circle of friends and acquaintances—men and women—numbering about twenty. They would gather at different homes and estates for various activities: card playing, dancing, lawn bowling, and the like. Baseball seems to have been among these pastimes—something that was played for social entertainment rather than serious competition.
I consider myself very fortunate to have found myself in the midst of this new, early baseball discovery. Curiously, earlier on my visit to the UK, while researching at the British Library, I had come across another reference to baseball from 1755. This one appears in a book entitled The Card, published in London by John Newbery, the pioneering children’s publisher. Newbery also wrote and published A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, the 1744 work that is believed to contain the earliest reference to baseball. The actual author of the 1755 book, The Card, was not Newbery but John Kidgell, a disreputable and scandal-surrounded churchman who eventually had to flee Britain to avoid arrest. The book is a sarcastic and not-so-very-funny satire directed at a fellow writer, and would be completely forgettable if not for its mention of baseball:
… the younger Part of the Family … retired to an interrupted Party at Base-Ball, (an infant Game, which as it advances in its Teens, improves into Fives, and in its State of Manhood, is called Tennis).
A literal reading of this passage would suggest that Kidgell regarded baseball to be a rather rudimentary activity when compared to the more “sophisticated” pastimes of fives (handball) and tennis. Yet, because virtually every sentence in The Card is written with pen in cheek, the author’s intention may have been to poke fun at this family’s choice of baseball by exaggerating the simplicity of the game.
One curious aspect about the presence of the word baseball in The Card is that it hasn’t been detected before. Unlike William Bray’s diary, which was hand-written and buried in a tea chest for many years, The Card is a published book that survives, in its original edition, in more than thirty American libraries. And a reprint facsimile edition, published in 1974, exists in more than one hundred libraries! So while this particular reference to early baseball has been hidden up until now, it seems to have been hidden in plain sight.
Whether you consider the unearthing of references to baseball from 1755 to be of considerable historical significance, or simply to be quaint bits of trivia, their rarity cannot be disputed. Fewer than ten mentions of baseball from the 18th century are known, and most of those date from later in the century. That two such discoveries surfaced within two weeks of each other is an extraordinary coincidence. Moreover, these two references quite possibly may be the earliest tangible mentions of the term baseball in existence. Two frequently cited earlier appearances of the term—in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book from 1744 and Lady Hervey’s letter of 1748—are, in fact, only presumed to have existed. Though published in 1744, no known copies of the first edition of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book have survived, nor, for that matter, have any copies of that book’s first nine editions. The earliest example we know of is a single copy of the 1760 10th edition residing in the British Library. And in the case of Lady Hervey’s 1748 letter describing the family of the Prince of Wales playing baseball, it’s known only because her collected letters were published in book form in 1821. But that original letter of Lady Hervey’s from 1748 cannot be located. So, if you want to lay your eyes on actual surviving evidence of the term baseball from the mid–18th century, give Tricia a call to arrange a look at William Bray’s diary, or find yourself a library copy of The Card. [In 2013 the author revealed an earlier find in a 1749 newspaper, detailed here: http://sabr.org/latest/new-discovery-sabr-member-david-block-confirms-baseball-was-played-royalty-england-1700s.]
My five-week odyssey to Britain culminated on that wonderful final day at Tricia’s house. We took new video images of her cottage, many shots of William Bray’s diary, and even went down the road to film the shed where Tricia had found the document 20 years earlier. After conducting interviews with Tricia and Julian Pooley, I switched sides of the camera and became the interviewee myself, with my wife Barbara, always a good sport, agreeing to toss me some questions. With any luck, some of the footage we took that day will survive the cutting room floor and make its way into the MLB.com documentary, due to be released this fall.
When you go over to Britain and start mucking around, you never know what you’re likely to find.
Above is the title of a story about not Alex Rodriguez, as you may have been entitled to think in this momentous week of PED suspensions, but Joe Jackson, more than five years before he received a lifetime banishment from the game of baseball. The subtitle of this story–which appeared in the special “Joe Jackson Number” of Baseball Magazine in March 1916–was “Joe Jackson and His Extraordinary Career—A Humble Beginning—His Sensational Rise—His Strong Points and Weaknesses as a Popular Star.” Its author is the great but heretofore largely neglected F.C. Lane, who received the Henry Chadwick Award from the Society for American Baseball Research last year (for more about Lane, see Rob Neyer’s profile at http://goo.gl/gakTby). I was honored last week to join Lane as a recipient of the “Chaddie.” Here is Lane’s article, prescient about Jackson and perhaps Rodriguez.
Joe Jackson will be known in after years as the man who might have been the greatest player the game has ever known. To sum up his talents is merely to describe in another way those qualities which should round out and complete the ideal player. In Jackson, nature combined the greatest gifts any one ball player has ever possessed but she denied him the heritage of early advantages and that well balanced judgment so essential to the full development of his extraordinary powers. Joe Jackson is the most striking example in history of what a player can accomplish on sheer ability.
The oddest character in baseball today is that brilliant but eccentric genius, Joe Jackson. Those who know him best are readiest to admit they know him least. So strange a medley of contradictory traits, of weaknesses and errors, sustained throughout by sheer natural ability no atom short of marvelous has never been seen elsewhere in that region of queer personalities and clay footed popular idols known as major league baseball. Jackson is unique unparalleled; dramatic in his rise to prominence, brilliant in his success, startling in his manifold failures. His is a character that has never been exploited, that probably never will be exploited until he has passed forever from the diamond and given the perplexed scribes a proper perspective of his mingled weaknesses and dazzling talents.
But the public is impatient. It doesn’t want to wait until a man is dead or gone from active life before it checks up its estimate of his worth. So we will endeavor, from an intimate knowledge of Joe Jackson’s early surroundings and a close association with him personally ever since he broke into the major leagues, to trace the broken corners of that character which has so impressed its distorted image on the public fancy.
We have interviewed numberless people about Joe Jackson, from Charles Somers and Charles Comiskey down. We have been in his native town and seen the mill where Jackson worked as a humble employee through the years of his youth and listened to the opinions of his boyhood friends. We have heard his mother tell about “Her Joe” and talked with four of his five brothers. We have discussed his case with his first manager and with most of his subsequent managers. And lastly, we have spent as much time with Joe personally as with any other player in the game. And the numberless stories and traditions of Joe and his many eccentricities, when traced to their source, reveal an absolute maze of contradictions most difficult to resolve to truth.
Joe himself has a warm, fervid imagination, which looks upon facts as hurdles to be surmounted by brief but frequent flights of fancy. If he had that education which is the proper endowment of an American he might become a great writer, for we would back his imagination against the world. But other sources of information are not thus hampered by an exotic growth of fiction and yet they throw rays of light the most diverse upon the character of the high strung Southerner.
Perhaps the best estimate of a man may be had by steering a median course between extreme opinions. When Birmingham was manager at Cleveland, while the sun still shown brightly upon Charles Somers’s fortunes, he told me that he would not trade Joe Jackson for Ty Cobb. “I consider Joe the greater asset to a club of the two,” said he.
Another warm admirer of Joe Jackson is Walter Johnson, the uncrowned king of American League pitchers. “I consider Jackson the greatest natural player I ever saw,” was Walter’s comment.
Pitted against these complimentary views are two others taken at random from an indefinite list. I recall overhearing a conversation between two fans at the Polo Grounds. Joe Jackson was standing near with his back toward the grandstand. He has a build almost exactly like that of Ty Cobb. One of the fans, noting this similarity, said: “Joe looks a good deal like Ty Cobb, doesn’t he?” “Yes,” retorted the other fan, “he is a good deal like Ty Cobb—from the neck down.”
I was talking with an early acquaintance of Jackson’s at Greenville. Possibly the comments of this early acquaintance were tainted by jealousy or other unworthy motives, but at any rate he summed up the success of his fellow townsman in this manner: “Joe’s record is the best example I ever saw of what a man may accomplish in this world wholly without brains.”
This opinion we are bound to confess is extreme. Joe has brains, in fact he is remarkably keen-witted about many things. But we doubt if his brains ever helped him greatly in his baseball career. For his success is due solely to an extraordinary natural ability that has certainly never been surpassed and has probably never been equaled.
The last phrase of the above sentence will be deeply criticized. But let us see. Ty Cobb has dominated the past decade in baseball history and established the brightest record in baseball annals. Ty Cobb is universally admitted to be the greatest player of the present and except for the croaking of a few old-timers is equally admitted to be the greatest player of all time. Ty has a marvelous baseball brain, a brain that works even faster than his body, a brain that is worth a fortune to any man. But Cobb would never have established the records he has established if he had not possessed as an accompaniment of that brain a wealth of natural ability of the very first order. But let us see how he compares with Joe Jackson.
Ty is a wonderful batter. Most of his reputation rests upon his phenomenal work with the stick. And yet we will maintain that Joe Jackson is a better natural hitter than Ty Cobb by a considerable margin. Ty’s record in the minors was brief and meteoric. His entry into the majors was sensational, but he did not immediately show that speed and dash which has characterized all his efforts since that time. In short, as Ty matured he grew better, and this was so merely because Ty was gearing his brain to his speed and batting eye and making of himself that wonderful mental and physical machine which he is to-day. But Jackson, when he became a professional ball player, established a record which so far as we know has never been equalled. First with the Carolina Association, then with the South Atlantic League, next with the Southern League, and lastly with the American League, Joe Jackson led each league in batting in his very first season. Knowing little of the inner science of baseball, untutored, feeling friendless and alone in the great world far off from his little home circle, depending upon no one but himself, he leaped from height to height, growing better as he advanced, always showing a little better than the next best man could show. In the American League he found the greatest batting race of all history waged to its furious conclusion between Lajoie and Ty Cobb. Cobb’s average stood at .385, but Jackson topped it with .387. He took part in too few games to count as the batting leader, but he led the league, nevertheless. The next season Jackson, the natural prodigy, accomplished the impossible. He crossed the .400 mark, which had been deemed closed for all time to the batsman by the introduction of the foul strike rule. He hitfor .408 and forced the desperate Ty to the utmost limit of his strength and cunning to keep ahead of him.
This marvelous record Joe accomplished on sheer ability. Ty Cobb was wise in the arts of baseball, crafty, farsighted, lightning-brained. Joe Jackson had simply native gifts, which, in themselves, have never been equaled. It was as natural for him to hit a baseball as it was for his early forebears to hit a squirrel in the eye at a hundred yards. When Joe batted for .408 he did far better than did Ty Cobb with .420 to his credit, for Cobb, as every one knows, beats out many a lean hit by dazzling speed and quick wit and constantly harasses the pitcher and the infielders by the wealth of tricks of which he is master. But Joe stood silent and alone at the plate and banged out the best the pitchers could offer him to the tune of .408. Surely his like as a natural batter has never been known.
As a fielder Joe is like the image of Daniel’s vision, partly iron and partly clay. He has made stops that were seemingly impossible. I saw him once make that rarest of plays, a putout at first on a bouncing fly. He is a keen judge of distance, he has great natural speed, and his throwing arm is so extraordinary as to elicit from Walter Johnson the comment that it was the best he ever saw. Naturally, Joe might be the greatest outfielder in the world. In actual fact his performances in the field, like most of his performances, leave much to be desired.
Ty Cobb is a great outfielder, but his superiority to Jackson rests wholly upon brain and mental keenness. Joe certainly has as great natural gifts as Ty and his throwing arm is considerably better.
As a base runner Ty is a marvel. But his superiority rests entirely upon the mental basis. Jackson has an even better build for running. Just as tall, he is lither, more sinuous and lighter. Furthermore, even Ty will admit that in a straightaway race Jackson is just as fast as he. And his hook slide, the most important of the items in base running, is as near perfection as may be.
Joe Jackson combined in one frame natural ability to make him the greatest ball player the game has ever known. It is singularly unfortunate that these amazing talents are not combined with a better mental training and sounder judgment.
Joe Jackson’s records, those which appear outwardly, at least, are fairly well known. But to understand a man as he is we must follow him back into the obscurity of childhood and the seclusion of private life. The oldest of six brothers and two sisters, Joe was born on a plantation with an unpronounceable name, some twelve miles from Greenville, South Carolina. Here, in the literal backwoods, he spent the first few years of his life. The plantation belonged to an eccentric old fire-eater, whose dealings with his tenants were not always of an amicable nature. The Jacksons derived a meager living from the soil, for the plantation supported acres of cotton, some corn, and the customary lean cattle and razorback hogs of the poorer sections of the South. It was the land of corn whiskey and the black pall of illiteracy rested like a blight upon the inhabitants.
The incidents of such a childhood can be understood and appreciated only by one who has passed through them. Now, Greenville is a clean-kept city of some fifteen thousand people, which felt the quickening touch of northern enterprise. Around its environs, one after the other, long spacious structures were erected and dedicated to the manufacture of cotton, the heritage of the South. Eleven great factories dot the landscape in the environs of Greenville and in the suburbs are miniature mill villages with a combined population of some twenty thousand persons. It was to one of these mill villages which grew up around the great Brandon cotton manufactory that the elder Jackson journeyed, carrying with him his numerous family. The wage in the cotton mills, while small, was secure and looked welcome to a member of the poor white population of the country districts.
In the hot and stuffy rooms of the Brandon mill Joe Jackson toiled for six years, beginning when he was thirteen years old. The hours were from six to six, the work unwholesome, and in some cases dangerous. The surroundings, outside the mill, were of the factory town variety. Between the population of Greenville proper and the mill villages on the outskirts there was a great gulf fixed.
The Brandon mill, like many other business enterprises, promoted a baseball club for its employees. Upon its payroll of eight hundred names that of Joe Jackson was written big almost from the first. His mother told me that the men in the mill would come for Joe when he was but thirteen and want him to play on their teams. Though nothing but a boy, he possessed from the start that keen batting eye which has been his chiefest bid to fame. Joe did not start as an outfielder, either. He was a catcher.
“Joe has a scar on his forehead,”said his mother, “that he got in those early days. He was catching behind the plate and a great burly mill-hand was pitching to him. He threw one so swift and strong that Joe didn’t have strength enough to stop it. So it forced his hands back, drove into his mask and dented the mask into his forehead, leaving a deep cut. That was how he got that scar.”
The secretary of the Brandon Mills, Mr. J. C. Hatch, informed me that he was manager of the local mill team when Joe was a member. “He was a great natural batter even then,” said Mr. Hatch. “Of course he wasn’t a finished ball player by any means, and those of us who knew him never imagined that he would make much of a reputation outside the mill. But he developed rapidly, once he had the opportunity, and the whole country knows his record now.
“I well remember the first game Joe ever tried to pitch. So far as I know, it was the last game as well. He had a remarkably strong throwing arm, and some of us imagined that, with that whip of his, he ought to be a great pitcher. Perhaps he would have been, but one game cured him. He was pitching to one of the mill-hands here, and, like all amateur pitchers, burning over the ball with all the speed at his command. Unfortunately the ball hit this particular mill-hand on the arm and broke his arm. Joe decided that if he were that dangerous in the box he had better play some other position.
“Joe’s father worked in the mill most of these years, but finally got into some disagreement with the management and decided to go into business for himself as a butcher, supplying meat for the mill operatives. The business was a small one, but Joe occasionally helped him in the business when work at the mill was slack.
“I remember the elder Jackson as a man with abnormally long arms. I never heard that he was particularly athletic — simply one of the wiry type of South Carolina backwoodsmen. He died about two years ago. Joe seems to have been athletically inclined from the first. He certainly has an ideal build.”
Baseball instinct seldom runs in families, but Joe’s younger brother Dave showed much promise as a ball player. His family and friends apparently expected great things from Dave, and indeed he did become a professional ball player in a small way, but Dave met with so many accidents in the mill that he was practically debarred from any hopes of success on the diamond. He broke his right arm while employed in the mill on no fewer than five occasions, having become caught in the whirring machinery.
Once he was carried to the roof by a revolving belt, and not only his arm but one leg broken. The many fractures of his arm have bent it slightly and stiffened it so that he has some difficulty in catching a ball under certain circumstances. It would seem that a young man who has suffered so many mishaps would be incapacitated for almost any athletic work.
When Joe left the mill he had perhaps gone as high as he could ever expect to go, with a wage of $1.25 a day. His entry into the ranks of the professional ball player came in this wise.
In 1907 he was playing with a mill team at Greer, South Carolina. Against this team came a neighboring aggregation under the leadership of Thomas Stouch, later manager of the Greenville club. Stouch is the man who is really responsible for Jackson’s rise to fame—the man who gave him his first professional engagement, and who tipped off Connie Mack to the ability of his mill-hand star, and really introduced him into major league ranks.
But we will let Mr. Stouch tell the story of his first meeting with Jackson:
“I had been appointed manager of the Greenville club,” he says. “Naturally, while scouring around the country, I was on the outlook for new talent. I was playing second base on this particular occasion, when a tall, thin fellow stepped to the plate. He didn’t appear to have it in him, but he drove the ball on a line toward the very spot where I was standing; like a bullet out of a gun. Now I have had much baseball experience and
though getting a little old for active service, I still prided myself that I knew how a ball ought to be fielded. But that pellet caromed off my shins before I had time to make any effort to field it, and it hurt my shins, too, depend upon that. I thought to myself, ‘If this Rube hits them like that every time, he must be some whale. I guess he will bear watching.’ He did. That game, if I remember, he made three hits, two of them for extra bases, and they were all ringing smashes that left a trail of blue flame behind them when they shot through the air.
“I got into consultation with my pitcher and said to him, ‘Bill, you watch this young fellow and see if you can discover his weakness.’ We played five games in all at the burg, and every day Jackson walloped the ball as he had done at the first. The last day he drove one straight at Bill’s head. Bill looked at it for about a thousandth of a second, and then ducked as if he were dodging a shell from a Krupp mortar.
” ‘Did you discover his weakness?’ I asked Bill after the game was over. ‘No,’ replied Bill, ‘but he discovered mine, all right. I don’t want to buck my head against any of those wallops.’
“After the series I went and hunted up Jackson. ‘I am going to manage Greenville next year,’ I told him, ‘and I would like to have you play with me, if we can agree upon terms. ‘All right,’ said Joe; ‘I would like to play with Greenville.’ ‘How much are you getting now?’ I asked; ‘$35 a month in the mill,’ replied Joe. ‘Very well,’ said I, ‘how much do you want to play for me?’
” ‘Well,’ said Joe, ‘you see, I am getting along pretty well. I get $35 a month from the mill, but I get $2.50 a game on Saturdays for playing ball, so that gives me $45 a month in all. I wouldn’t want to give up my job unless I could see something in sight. I think I ought to be worth $65 a month to you.’
“‘Joe,’ I said, ‘if you will promise to let corn whiskey alone and stick to your business, I will pay you $75 a month.’
” ‘I will work my head off for $75,’ said Joe, and that was our bargain. “What Joe did at Greenville next year —which was the season of 1908—is history now. He led the league, as, in fact, he has led every league he ever played with. And he developed so fast that I was determined to sell him into major league company.
“I am an intimate friend of Connie Mack and drifted down here, I hardly know how, when I grew too old to play baseball in fast company. So naturally my first thought was of Mack and the Athletics. I notified Mack of my find, and Mack promptly wired to bring him on.
“Jackson is, in many respects, a queer fish, as you know, and when I told him I was going to take him to the big leagues, he didn’t show the enthusiasm I expected he would. ‘I hardly know how I would like it in those big northern cities,’ he told me. ‘Oh, you will like it fine there,’ I said; and so I started north with Jackson. I don’t remember the exact town, but it was somewhere en route that Joe slipped off the train, unknown to me, and got the next train back home. I thought he had gone into another car—never even dreamed that he wasn’t on the train—until I got to Philadelphia. It was a mortifying position to be in, and I was anxious for fear something had happened to Joe, when we got a telegram. He had got someone to send it for him, and it read something like this, ‘Am unable to come to Philadelphia at this time.’
” ‘What does this mean?’ said Connie. And then I tried to explain the situation. “When he understood it, Mack said to ‘Socks’ Seybold, ‘Go down to Greenville, and get this fellow’s brothers and sisters, and his whole family, to come back with you, if necessary, but bring him with you, and see that he doesn’t give you the slip on the way.’ So Joe came back a second time to Philadelphia.
“He took part, as I remember it, in one game, and did fairly well, though he muffed a fly. But the next two days it rained. Detroit was the next club in town, and around the lobby the fellows got to talking about Ty Cobb and comparing him with Joe. Joe listened to all that was said, and I never knew why he should be affected as he was. Perhaps it was for fear that he would not look very strong against the greatest player in the game. Perhaps it was for some other reason, but the next morning Joe caught the 6:15 train for Greenville.”
Joe’s connections with the Athletics continued from 1908 to 1910, and have been the theme of much comment. During these years he put in little enough time with the Athletics, but was farmed to other clubs and made a prodigious reputation with several minor leagues. He was with Savannah in 1909 and led the South Atlantic League with a batting average of .358. He was with New Orleans in 1910, and led the Southern League with .354.
“Charles Somers was owner of the New Orleans club. After several discouraging interviews with the eccentric Jackson, Mack rather soured on his purchase, as he is apt to do upon occasion. Somers had Briscoe Lord and offered cash to boot, so Mack said good-bye to his talented but unmanageable find. With Cleveland in the fall of 1910 Joe struck the record clip of .387, and bettered it the following year with .408 to his credit. He burned up the circuits like a whirlwind once he got fairly started.”
Joe’s backing and filling with the Athletics form an intricate chapter, and one that is extremely hard to understand. But to one who has known him and the little circle which was his whole horizon at the time, his conduct is more clearly grasped. Joe is confident—in a way perhaps overconfident—but he has lacked at all times that innate faith in himself which is the groundwork of success. Prosperity came too quickly to Joe, and he couldn’t grasp it all at once. The rise from the dust and smoke of the cotton mill to fame on the local diamond at Greenville was dazzling enough for his mental horizon. When it came to a regular position on a great metropolitan team in that strange world of the North, which was as a foreign land to him, it was a different proposition. Joe felt entirely out of place. He was homesick for the pines and cotton fields of his native South. He was entirely unused to city ways, and the routine of a big metropolitan hotel. It was a strange new world to Joe, and he felt the instinct to run away from it all, back to the world that he knew.
With success in other and larger cities culminating in New Orleans, Joe was ripened for entry into major league life at Cleveland. He had become used to customs which tallied not at all with his days of poverty when he was Shoeless Joe, the ignorant country lad, the poor mill-hand who played baseball for pastime or for $2.50 a game. He had become used to city ways, he had demonstrated what he could do, he had discovered that he had it in him to rival the greatest at his chosen profession, he had become acclimated, as it were, to a world that had been wholly foreign to his tastes and experiences.
His mother, anxious to shield her son from any vestige of blame, explained the seeming eccentricities of his conduct with the Athletics in the following way: “Joe has been accused of running away from Philadelphia,” she said, “and that would imply that Joe hasn’t courage. It is a great mistake. Joe is game, and he has always been game. He left Philadelphia because I sent for him. His wife was very sick and his uncle was not expected to live. Any man whose relatives were in that condition could not refuse to come to them when they sent for him. And I don’t see how anyone can criticize Joe for doing what any man with any self-respect could not help doing.”
Joe’s record has been a brilliant but tarnished one. He started out like the world-beater that he is. He took the whole minor league system by storm and vaulted at one leap to the very pinnacle of the American League. He contested for three years with Ty Cobb for the batting crown, and was beaten out only by the superior adroitness and address of his brilliant rival. For three years he made the fiery Georgian extend himself for every step of the way.
Then the dissipations which assail the ball player in the big cities of the circuits began to exert their fatal glamor on Joe. Or, rather, his strong constitution began to show the effects of these dissipations. Though still a wonderful ball player, the last two years have seen a substantial decline in Jackson’s once great record. It remains for the future to tell whether or not he will bring to Comiskey’s club that wonderful ability which is his by divine right.
Joe’s course in major league baseball has been the natural one. Unschooled and unlettered, he was cut off from many of the sources of amusement which appeal to the average man. To add to the various pitfalls with which the ball player has to contend in the course of his active duties, Joe had a fondness for the life behind the footlights. Last winter he was a member of a little troupe which toured the country, and this life did not prove beneficial to Joe in any way. His health was impaired, his finances became involved, and the season just closed was the poorest he has ever had.
Be it remembered, however, that Jackson’s poorest will rival most players’ best efforts. Part of the season he was laid up with genuine injuries received on the field of battle. Joe is physically game, and plays oftentimes when he should be on the shelf from injuries. “I have had him go into a game,” said Birmingham, “when I would have preferred to let him stay out and get into better shape. Spike cuts, however severe, never bothered Joe, and I have seen him line a ball in from the deep outfield, though I knew his elbow was encased in bandages from injuries at the time. Joe is game, there is no mistaking that, and you can’t keep him off the field when he can possibly play.”
Joe is a shrewd observer. In a way he is extremely ambitious. Now that he has become accustomed to handling money in larger amounts than he ever saw it before, he has learned the easy lesson to take all he can get. The Federal League, at the time it was openly fishing for stars, attracted Jackson into its net, and I remember distinctly on a visit to see President Gilmore at the Biltmore Hotel, finding the genial head of the Federal League seated in the lobby in earnest consultation with Joe Jackson.
Now that the whole grand war has become history, it will not hurt anyone to reveal the inside story of the Joe Jackson deal. On the very day before the incident of which I speak I had talked with President Somers, of Cleveland, and questioned him as to rumors that Jackson was about to be traded. “There is nothing in the story,” said Somers; “I need Jackson to build up my club.” But in the meantime Joe got it in his head that there were more plums in the orchard than he had yet plucked, and Somers, becoming convinced that he could not hold Jackson against the spirited bidding of the Federal League, sold him to one whom he knew could thus hold him, namely Charles Comiskey. The price the old Roman paid for Joe was $31,500 and three players, and the salary a substantial raise over Joe’s previous one. The criticism of the deal is a little story in itself, and we give elsewhere Mr. Comiskey’s version of the affair.
Jackson’s best year was 1911. He hit .408, made 233 hits, scored 126 runs and had a total of 41 stolen bases to his credit. The next year was nearly as good; he hit for .395, made 226 hits, scored 121 runs and stole 35 bases. Even last season, which was his poorest and which was largely broken up by injuries, indifferent playing and the glamor of the Federal League, he batted for .308.
Up to the present winter Joe has made his winter home at Brandon Mills. Here he bought a house, a much better house than any other in the mill village, which he gave to his father and mother. Here his mother and four of his brothers still reside.
Ambitious to succeed in other lines of business Joe opened a fine poolroom in Greenville, which should have proved a success with the enormous advertising of his name. But his partner in the enterprise apparently failed woefully as a manager, and the enterprise was a failure. A farm which Joe purchased near Greenville became also involved in financial mismanagement, and Joe, having learned the bitter lessons of experience, will need to make the most of his good salary and his prospects in the next five years.
Numberless efforts have been made by the various managers who have had Joe in hand to get him to overcome the handicaps of an early lack of advantages. Connie Mack offered to hire a tutor and companion for him, who would live with him and teach him the things he most needed to learn. Somers also tried to do the same thing, but to all these offers Joe turned a deaf ear. To Joe the vast domain of “book” knowledge is indeed a sealed mystery.
In temperament Joe is as variable as the wind. High strung and impetuous, he has that proud, imperious disposition which goes so frequently with Southern birth. He is sensitive, easily hurt, quick to take offense. But he is popular with his fellow players and with those who know him, and, unlike many ball players, it is safe to say that he is unpopular nowhere.
Seven years ago when he was just entering upon his professional baseball career, Joe married a little Southern girl from the environs of Greenville who was but fifteen years old. Their winter home has usually been in Greenville, in the house he purchased and gave to his father and mother. This winter, however, Joe has resided in Cleveland.
Numberless anecdotes of Jackson, some of them accurate, some tinged with fiction, but all throwing some light on his complex character, have gone the rounds of the circuits. There isn’t a city which hasn’t witnessed some prodigious feat which has stamped Jackson as a real wizard of the diamond.
The holder of the title to the longest hit on record varies with the different diamonds on the circuit, and often with the memories of the older fans. But there is no doubt that the hugest wallop ever seen at the Polo Grounds caromed off Joe Jackson’s black bat. It was my good fortune to be seated in the press box almost exactly behind the catcher on that memorable occasion, and I well remember the particular wallop that won for Joe his high distinction. The pitcher threw low and wide. The ball was a ball beyond any doubt or criticism. In the first place, it was much below the knee, sweeping not very far above Joe’s ankle. Again it was not over the plate, but pretty close to Joe’s foot. He swung the bat like a golf stick, caught the ball fair on the nose and lifted it in a wide, sweeping arch clear over the roof of the grandstand half way up near a floating pennon on one of the flagstaffs for the most sensational home run ever made on that historic field.
Other exploits of Joe Jackson which illustrate his marvelous ability might be cited to the weariness of the reader, but this single instance of a typical Jackson wallop will serve.
The public has a warm spot in its rather complex heart for Joe Jackson. It recognizes in him a true product of American soil, a striking example of a man who has risen from the lowest round of the ladder through his own inherent ability. It also recognizes in his record the greatest natural talent which has ever rested upon one person’s shoulders—a sheer ability that has never been rivaled. And if Jackson is prodigal of his immense gifts, and has not made the best use of his amazing talents, perhaps, after all, it is but the working out of the universal law of compensation.
To some is given a natural batting eye; to others great speed of foot; to others mastery of the rudiments of base-sliding; to others fielding skill or a throwing arm. To Joe was given all these talents in their fullest measure. But, to offset them, lest one player should rise too far above his fellows, his matchless talents were united with a judgment not always adequate to the task of handling them to the best purpose, with a wayward temperament and an erratic ambition scarce fitted to develop his wonderful abilities to their fullest measure.
In appearance Joe Jackson is the ideal athlete. He is the greyhound of the diamond, even more than is Ty Cobb. Tall, lithe, easy-moving, graceful in every unconscious pose, a sculptor would choose Jackson from the field as the model of what an outfielder should be. There is every evidence of speed in his whole frame. Where he gets the strength for his amazing wallops is not so readily apparent. It is easy to estimate that the herculean shoulders of Sam Crawford would wallop the ball a mile, but Jackson has made some of the longest hits on record, and he is at all times a direful slugger, who hits any kind of pitching at any time and to any distance. The reason for this is that Jackson, though built for speed rather than strength, has tremendous power in his long, sinuous muscles, as is evident from his great throwing arm. Furthermore, he is so admirably geared that he can command the last ounce of strength in his whole system easily, without effort, wherever the occasion demands.Six feet tall, Jackson weighs 175 pounds. He is a flawless dresser. He possesses excellent taste. His clean-cut face and dark, curly hair are in keeping with his appearance. He is a striking figure in any company.
His faults, which are as obvious as his virtues, are what one would naturally expect. Jackson has traveled far on the road from the bottom of the ladder. The fact that he has not accomplished everything to be desired should certainly not be held against him. The entire lack of advantages in his early life, for which, of course, he was in no way responsible, has been his heaviest handicap. Coupled with this has been the lure of dissipation, against which fatal attraction Jackson has perhaps accomplished as much as any one else might have done placed in his shoes. It is hard for a young man fresh from a penniless life of comparative servitude in a Southern cotton mill to spring all at once into the limelight, to be feted and admired by the sharks that lurk for the unwary on the outskirts of every big, cosmopolitan city, and escape all damage from such environment. Jackson has not done so, as his declining record shows. But experience is the only school, and the lessons of one or two comparatively misspent seasons might be well earned in a renewal of ambition and brilliant service in the five or ten years that are left him.
I remember that Ed Walsh once told me that when he was fighting to make good with the White Sox, the main incentive in his work was that the shadow of the mines was on him. It was either make good or back to a life of drab, unhealthy toil in the coal fields for the man who afterward became the “spitball king.”
In Joe’s case an equally melancholy outlook is a prospective possibility. When I talked with some of his old associates at the Brandon Mills they said: “Wait five years or so. Then Joe will go through all he has made in baseball and be broke once more. What will he do? Why, he will be back in the cotton mill working for $1.25 a day.” The statement was one perhaps of jealousy or envy, but there was a grain of truth in it all the same. Joe is not naturally a spendthrift. But he has been taken advantage of in various ways and on various occasions. His business partners have robbed him; he has been mulcted of his savings. For the sake of one of the greatest players who ever trod a diamond, the warm-hearted public will wish well by Joe. For the sake of the man who started without a solitary advantage in the world and who, combating more obstacles than the average man is ever called upon to meet, has risen to the sheer pinnacle of his profession, the public will wish a better fate than a continuation of the life of poverty and obscurity from which he sprung. The public is interested in Joe. He is a national character, a thoroughly likable—in many respects admirable—fellow of the best intentions, whose faults and weaknesses have hurt no one but himself. They are interested in and they wish all possible future success to the player who might have been—who might perhaps even yet become—the greatest player the game has ever known.