Now for the second installment of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.
Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of 1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.
The fundamental rules of baseball have not changed much since they first were drawn by the Knickerbocker club—the first baseball organization—in 1845. But there have been many radical departures from the customs of other days.
One is the treatment of umpires. In the early part of my baseball career—from 1859 to 1869—an umpire was highly honored. After each game the players would give three cheers for each other and then, as a grand finale, they would bellow forth with three more—and sometimes nine—for the umpire.
Arbitrators in the early days wore chosen from among the crowd. In most cases, at least up to 1865, the umpire often was one of the distinguished men in the city. The clubs vied with each other in trying to secure the most prominent personages.
The old time umpires always were accorded the utmost courtesy by the players. They were given easy chairs placed near the home plate, provided with fans on hot days and their absolute comfort was uppermost in the minds of the players. After each of our games in the early ’60s, sandwiches, beer, cakes, and other refreshments were served, by the home team. The umpires always received the choicest bits of food and the largest glass of beer— in case he cared for such beverage. If he didn’t, he needed but to express his desire in the thirst-quenching line before the game started— and he got it.
The playing of baseball games on skates on the ice during the winter of 1864 really brought about the rule which permits players to over-run first base. Prior to that time the runners had to stop at first base the same as they must stop now at the other sacks. If they over-ran the bag they could be touched out.
Baseball had taken such a firm hold upon the people between 1860 and 1864 that they were not content to play it only during the summer. They played it all during the winter in the enclosed field in Williamsburg, known as the Union grounds. The players wore skates, but played the game under the same rules as governed it in the summer.
Players, however, found it impossible to stop at bases after skating out a hit. Many of them were injured by sliding into the base, their skates tripping them and sending them to the icy surface. To prevent further accidents the captains decided to permit players to over-skate the bags without penalty of being touched out if they turned to the right on their way back to base.
When summer baseball was resumed it was decided that the rule made for skater-players should be extended to the regular diamond, so far as first base only, and it was incorporated in the statute books, at the next annual meeting, and has been there since.
Base hits were not counted until 1868. Then Henry Chadwick, figuring that it would stimulate base-running, decided that hits should be counted the same as runs. The first game in which hits were tabulated was in the game on August 4, 1868, between the Eckfords and the Mutuals, of New York. Chadwick offered a bat to the player making the most safe hits—and that bat, suitably engraved, is my most treasured possession today. I won it by making four clean drives.
From 1876 until the days of Patsy Tebeau and his Cleveland Spiders, in the ’90s, it always was the custom for the visiting team to have the last turn at bat. That was courtesy. But Tebeau changed all that. He discovered that there was no league rule compelling the visitors to take last bats and at the same time he decided that it was a distinct advantage for his club to have the last crack at the ball on its home grounds. Whereupon, Tebeau curtly refused visiting teams the “final outs” and later the other clubs had to follow in the wake of Tebeau.
In the early ’60s, when speed was the main dependence of a pitcher, the moundsmen would spend hours every day trying to perfect their delivery. But it remained for Joe Leggett, owner and manager of the Excelsiors of Brooklyn, to originate the strangest plan ever known to help a pitcher develop his speed.
It was in the winter of 1859 that Leggett signed James P. Creighton to pitch for his team. Creighton, at that time, ranked as one of the greatest hurlers in the game. In 1858, pitching for the Niagaras, he had performed splendidly and followed this up with some sterling performances among the 1859 Stars.
When Leggett signed up Creighton, he said:
“Jimmy, speed is the thing. You’ve got a lot of it, but I want you to have more when the next season opens. Therefore, I want you to get an iron ball, the same size as a baseball, and pitch it for at least a half hour each day during the winter. That will develop your muscles and your speed as well.”
And all through that winter Jimmy Creighton followed his manager’s orders. When spring came and he began throwing a baseball, about one-twentieth as heavy as the iron ball, his speed was blinding, and he flashed the greatest pitching ever seen up to that time.
Ever since the game began the pitcher has been the target for reforms. Always the tendency has been to make things harder for him and easier for the batter. The foul strike rule alone seems to have been introduced as a means of helping the pitcher.
But the pitchers of the other days, by a bit of subterfuge, caused the elimination of the rule that forced them to pitch underhand exclusively. The more proficient a pitcher became in the underhand era, the greater the handicaps that were placed upon them by lengthening the pitching distance, making smaller the size of the box or barring him from taking a step in making the delivery.
Protests by the pitchers during the ’60s and early ’70s, however, brought about a change in the rules, which permitted pitchers to throw balls from a waist-high angle as well as underhand. The pitchers, who were quite keen about throwing with a side-arm delivery, quickly took advantage of this rule, and worked a little trick. They elevated their trousers to a point where the “waist line” was on a level with their chest and side-arm pitching was possible. Finally, in 1884 the ruling powers in baseball removed all restrictions as to pitching delivery and the moundsman since then have been delivering the ball in a way that suits them best.
Part 3 tomorrow.
When The Baseball Encyclopedia first came out in 1969, and even twenty years later when Total Baseball followed, Jimmy Wood was a mystery man. We weren’t sure where he was born; Canada and England were both reasonable guesses; today we think Wood was born to English immigrants on December 1, 1842, most likely in Canada. Moreover, we suspected that the death date both encyclopedias listed was wrong, but even as late as Total Baseball‘s seventh edition in 2001, SABR’s Biographical Research Committee offered us a death date of November 30, 1886, which we continued to list. Personally I had long known this was wrong because I had uncovered correspondence between Wood and A.G. Mills from 1926, inviting Wood to take part in the celebrations surrounding the fiftieth anniversary of the National League. In 2004 baseball’s great detective, Peter Morris, wrote to me and some others: “I’ve found an intriguing candidate. A James Wood, 84, died in New Orleans on November 30, 1927. I have no proof that this is the player and there was no obit or death notice in the Times-Picayune, but it’s intriguing for several reasons:  Our player’s son had died in New Orleans four years earlier;  there was no James Wood of appropriate age in New Orleans on the 1920 census;  our ballplayer’s granddaughter told Lee Allen that he died in 1926 or 1927 (although she thought it was in NYC).”
Two years later, the Biographical Research Committee reported in its newsletter:
Jimmy Wood Found.
James Leon “Jimmy” Wood has long been one of our most interesting missing players. He was very prominent in the National Association as both a player and manager. In 1874, he decided to do a little home surgery when he lanced an abscess on his leg with a pocket knife. An infection led doctors to amputate his right leg. Wood was written up as a mystery in Lee Allen’s column in the Sporting News on April 20, 1963. Wood moved to Florida and did well investing in citrus groves. His daughter Carrie married William Chase Temple. Temple moved to Pittsburgh and became extremely wealthy and it was he who established the Temple Cup. Wood’s granddaughter, Dorothy Temple, married major league pitcher Del Mason. It sounds like it would be an easy task to find Jimmy Wood, but that was not the case. Allen’s column suggested that he died in Brooklyn in 1926 or 1927. We could never find any proof of that in Brooklyn. It turns out that the date was about right; the location was just 3000 miles off. In our long and fruitless search for Wood we had tracked him to Quebec, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, and Pennsylvania without finding a death certificate. Peter Morris was able to find a death certificate in California showing that he died November 3, 1927 in San Francisco. The birth matches what he have and his body was sent to New Orleans for burial next to his son. This is a great find. Wood was on our Top 20 Most Wanted list so Peter wins the Find of the Month award.
So who was Jimmy Wood, and why was he worth a search that lasted nearly fifty years? He began play with the Brooklyn Eckfords in 1859, was wooed by other clubs and left in 1865 (but returned in 1868). In 1869, his last season with the Eckfords, a reporter for the New York Tribune wrote that Wood
has no superior. His play is a rare combination of shrewdness, courage and activity. He covers the great part of the in-field and has been known to put out men on all three bases, although the second was his position. His stopping and throwing are superb. He faces every ball that comes near him, never flinching, no matter how hot it may come. He is also very efficient at the bat, generally getting his bases on clean hits.
Jimmy Wood reached the pinnacle of his career as the star second baseman and manager of Chicago’s first White Stockings club back in 1870. Even after losing a leg in 1874, when Chicago reentered the National Association after a two-year hiatus prompted by the Great Fire of October 8, 1871, he continued to manage the club through the 1875 season. Not only did Wood not die in 1886, he was lively enough to pen a six-part memoir which ran in many newspapers in mid-August 1916. Never before published in total, its serialization commences today at Our Game. Five more parts will follow, daily. [Editorial note: Wood’s reminiscences are more trustworthy for the years of his maturity, from the late 1850s on, than for earlier periods in which Frank Menke, his ghost, may have “helped” his recollection.]
Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of 1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.
Henry Chadwick has been called “The Father of Baseball,” but that, in a certain sense, is a misnomer. Chadwick did not originate the great national game. Baseball, in a crude way, was played some years before Chadwick became involved in it.
But to that grand, lovable sportsman must go the full credit for revolutionizing baseball; for bringing it from a state of chaos and crudity to the rank of the dominating sport of America. It was Chadwick, the genius, who saw in the game of 60 or 70 years ago its wonderful scientific possibilities and who worked unceasingly through the years to standardize the sport; to lift it to its present crest.
There always has been considerable dispute as to where baseball really had its origin. One story has it that many years ago, a boy had a bundle of twine and amused himself by throwing it against a barn, catching it on the rebound. Eventually, another boy joined him. Later a few more youths wanted to play in the game. A new “ball” made of twine and sewed to prevent unraveling was put into play. One of the boys suggested that it would be greater sport to hit the ball, with a club. An axe handle was used.
And so, in this way, according to many historians, baseball became a game.
Back in 1839 Abner Doubleday, of Cooperstown, N. Y., who later became a Major General in the United States Army, designed the baseball diamond then called a “square.” The original lines laid out by Doubleday are the same as the baseball diamond of today. Along in 1845 Alexander J. Cartwright, of New York, also brought out a baseball “square” exactly the same as Doubleday’s. The Cartwright supporters claim that his “square” was the first made, but the Doubleday people have submitted what they declare is indisputable proof that Doubleday outlined the diamond six years earlier.
The Knickerbockers, of New York, was the first baseball club in history. It was organized in 1845. The first real baseball game played was in Hoboken, N. J., on June 19, 1846 between the Knickerbockers and another club, known as the “New York Nine.” The latter was victorious, the score being 21 to 1 in its favor, the game lasting only four innings. The rules for that first game, made in 1845, and for all games up to 1857, provided that victory should go to the team first scoring 21 runs, irrespective of innings played.
Among the rules laid down bv the Knickerbockers of 1845 which have endured through all the succeeding 71 years are these:
(1) A baseball knocked outside of the boundary lines of first and third base shall be considered a foul.
(2) If three balls are struck at and missed, the last being caught, it is a hand out (strikeout); if not caught, it is considered fair and the striker is privileged to run to the base.
(3) A running player who prevents an adversary, from catching or getting the ball before making the base is a hand out (out).
(4) Three hands out, side is out.
(5) If two men are out the scoring of a player on a hit on which the batter is put out before reaching first does not count.
(6) Players must bat in regular turn.
The next recognized contest was not played until five years later when the Knickerbockers accepted the challenge of a team composed of New York men who called their club the “Washingtons,” and the Knickerbockers introduced uniforms in that game which was played in Hoboken, June 3, 1851. The reason given for the use of the uniforms was that the Knickerbockers had found in their game five years before that trousers impeded their movements and that the wearing of linen shirts was a handicap.
The Knickerbockers won that second “big league” game 21 to 11 in eight innings. Two weeks later the same teams—Knickerbockers and Washingtons—played a 10-inning contest in Hoboken, the Knickerbockers winning out 22 to 20.
The Washingtons, immediately after this second defeat, changed their name to the Gothams and the following year issued another challenge to the Knickerbockers. It was accepted and the game was played in New York on June 27, 1852. It went 16 innings before the Gothams scored their 21 to 16 victory.
A year later—on July 5, 1853 to be exact—the Knickerbockers competed again, the Knickerbockers achieving victory of 21 to 12. The first tabular box score in baseball was compiled during the game. It was published July 16, 1853 in the New York Clipper. It follows, just as it appeared, without notation as to positions, and without errors, hits, assists, etc., which were not counted until a later period. [Note that the brothers “Faucet” are in fact Van Cott; “Miebuhr” is Niebuhr; and “Parison” is Parisen.]
It was just about that time that the people in New York began to take a real interest in the new game. Its devotees began to increase. A club, called the Eagles, was organized early in 1853, to be followed later in the summer by the formation of the Empire. The following year the Excelsiors, of Brooklyn, came into existence, to be followed in 1855 by Putnams of Williamsburg and the
Eckfords, also of Williamsburg and the Atlantics, of Jamaica, N. Y., in 1856.
It was in 1857, however, that baseball began to gain its real impetus. Until then there was no governing organization. The games were played in a haphazard way, some under the rules laid down in 1845, others partly under those laws but mainly under regulations made by the captains of both sides before a game began.
But in January, 1857, those who had been instrumental in forming the first Knickerbockers team, called together a “Baseball Convention.” Representatives from 25 clubs attended, and it was at that meeting that baseball was voted “America’s National Game.” And it was at that conference and later ones that Henry Chadwick was among the dominating spirits.
With one major and two minor exceptions, the rules of 1845 were approved at that Conference. The one important change was to do away with the rule awarding a victory to the club first scoring 21 runs. Objections had been made to that rule due to the fact that many of the games had taken all afternoon and part of the evening before one or the other clubs scored 21 tallies.
The new rule accorded victory to the club scoring the most runs in nine innings but permitted the rival captains to play 5 inning games if they desired. In cases where 5 inning games were played and the score was tied at the end of the fifth inning, the game then went to nine innings, even though one club took the lead in the sixth, seventh or eighth. If the score was tied again in the ninth, the game continued as it does today—until one side or the other took the lead after a full inning of play.
After baseball became a, standardized sport in 1858 it gained devotees by the hundreds. Teams sprang up everywhere. Its popularity spread beyond the confines of New York and reached all the big cities along the Atlantic seacoast, as well as many of the inland towns in New York state. The baseball colony increased by leaps and bounds.
It was in 1859, when I was 16 years old, that I really began my baseball career with the Eckfords. I began playing as a second baseman and continued there [i.e., at second base] barring one year until I finished my active diamond career in 1875.
(Note—The second chapter of “Baseball of Bygone Days” will appear in these columns tomorrow. It will tell how royally umpires of the past era were treated; how the rule came about permitting players to | overrun the first bag; of a pitcher who hurled an iron ball all winter to develop speed, of many other interesting incidents of the past. Editor).
Part Two follows.
In the months after Jerry Malloy’s “Out at Home” was published, in the 1983 issue of SABR’s annual The National Pastime, Vern Luse–a contributor to TNP’s debut issue–wrote to me about a discrepancy between Malloy’s depiction of the 1883 confrontation between Cap Anson and Fleet Walker and a Toledo Blade account of the game. I relayed his concerns to the author and, in the next “regular issue” (the succeeding one had been a special pictorial number), published their exchange. It is, I believe, a perfect illustration of the spirit of SABR.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following comments by Vern Luse and Jerry Malloy have been abstracted from a number of letters received in this office over several months. The last issue of TNP featured Malloy’s article “Out at Home,” which detailed how baseball drew the color line in 1887. He wrote: “In 1884, when Walker was playing for Toledo, Anson brought his White Stockings into town for an exhibition. Anson threatened to pull his team off the field unless Walker was removed. But Toledo’s manager, Charley Morton, refused to comply with Anson’s demand, and Walker was allowed to play. Years later Sporting Life would write: ‘The joke of the affair was that up to the time Anson made his “bluff” the Toledo people had no intention of catching Walker, who was laid up with a sore hand, but when Anson said he would not play with Walker, the Toledo people made up their minds that Walker would catch or there wouldn’t be any game.”’
This has long been the accepted account of the first Walker-Anson confrontation, and has appeared in print on numerous occasions in this century. Here Vern Luse, SABR’s premier authority on minor-league baseball before 1900, sets the story straight:
THE ARTICLE “Out at Home” by ]erry Malloy contains a critical error that may have been caused by resort to secondary or tertiary sources. This can be adequately documented by reference to the primary source of the period, the local daily newspaper, in this case the Toledo Daily Blade of August 11, 1883; it contains a full column article, plus box score, covering the exhibition game between Toledo, of the Northwestern League, and the Chicagos, of the National League.
Some background on the incident. The National League, American Association, and Northwestern League signed an agreement (usually known as the Tri-Partite Agreement) in the spring of 1883. In a sense, this was the origination of the concept of “Organized Baseball.” It was a contract between three equals, not between two “majors” and one “minor.” The baseball season of 1883 extended from April through September, even into October, much as today. However, only 84 championship games were scheduled in the Northwestern, stretching from May 1 through September 30, and 98 in both ,the National League and American Association, over approximately the same span. The multitudes of open dates, even taking into account the relative slowness of railroad transportation, allowed–indeed, required–the teams to set up a schedule of exhibition games. In general, National League and American Association teams did not play exhibitions against each other, either intra- or interleague, but only with outside teams.
Toledo’s geographical position, its relatively good baseball team (ultimate winners of the Northwestern’s 1883 championship), and the relative prosperity of the city dictated that Toledo become a frequent exhibition opponent of major league teams. Toledo played such contests against the New York Metropolitans, the New York Nationals, Columbus, and St. Louis prior to the scheduled date, August 11, 1883, of a game with Chicago of the National League.
Chicago was a particularly attractive exhibition opponent. They were the three-time champions of the NL, and were heavily engaged in battle with Boston for the 1883 pennant. With Toledo closing in on a pennant as well, a very large gate was anticipated. Exhibition contracts usually called for both a guarantee and a “rain guarantee,” and for the visitor to receive a portion of the receipts over a specified amount. On August 11, Chicago was to receive its guarantee when the game was “called” by the umpire–that is, when the game began.
Moses Walker had been catching almost every Northwestern League game, and his hands were badly banged up, so he was not scheduled to play in the exhibition fray. Cap Anson specifically refused to have his Chicagos take the field against Walker. Charles Morton, Toledo manager/captain, informed Anson that if Chicago did not play, no guarantee would be forthcoming. This argument was sufficiently strong that the exhibition was played-with Anson at first base for Chicago and Walker in right field for Toledo. The score of the game was Chicago 7, Toledo 6, in 10 innings, illustrating the relative strength of one of the top minor league teams of 1883 and the premier major league team of the time (Chicago was to finish-second to Boston in 1883).
I believe the evidence, based on the article in the Toledo Daily Blade of August 11, 1883, excerpted below, is clear: Anson, early on, exhibited his prejudices, but he just picked on the wrong management to push around. When I had the microfilm of the 1883 Blade, I was unable to secure a photocopy of the relevant article and box score because our little library doesn’t have a microfilm printer. Steve Lauer, one of our SABR members with whom I’ve corresponded in the past, provided this material. [ED.: The printed microfilm was too faint to permit facsimile reproduction.]
BALL AND BAT.
The National Champions Narrowly Escape Defeat in a 10-Inning Game
Baby Anson and the Color Line–No More Chicago’s in Ours–The Score of Yesterday’s Game–Notes.
The Color Line
Walker, the colored catcher of the Toledo Base ball Club, who, by the way, is a gentleman and a scholar, in the literal sense, and was a source of contention between the home club and that swelled organization (literal, again) the Chicago Club.
The national champions came to Toledo yesterday morning, and their arrival created quite a sensation at the Union depot, where it was first thought they were Haverly’s Mastadons [sic] or Callendar’s Consolidated, their sun burned faces leaving it a matter of doubt as to their being tainted with black blood. They wore white tiles [sic] and blue uniforms, and under the command of the swelled baby (literal again) of Marshalltown, Capt. Anson, created a very considerable impression. Shortly after their arrival in the city the managing director of the Toledo Club was waited upon and informed that there was objection in the Chicago Club to Toledo’s playing Walker, the colored catcher. It was not stated that Walker, being a “nigger,” might contaminate the select organization of visitors, but that was the only inference to be drawn from the announcement. The New Yorks, Metropolitans, Columbus and St. Louis clubs, organizations outside of the N.W. League, had played with Walker against them and had experienced no unpleasant results save as his excellent play had militated against them, but the Chicago club was of more delicate fiber, more susceptible to deliterious [sic] influences and hence could not play, with a colored catcher against them.
Walker has a very sore hand, and it had not been intended to play him in yesterday’s game, and this was stated to the bearer of the announcement for the Chicagos. Not content with this, the visitors during their perambulations of the forenoon declared with the swagger for which they are noted, that they would play ball “with no d__d nigger,” and when the Club arrived at the grounds Capt. Anson repeated the declaration to the Toledo management. What would have been gratifying to Toledoans would have been for the management to have ordered Capt. Anson and his crew off the grounds, without more ado, but this was not done. The management had put McQuaid in to play, and as announced in the morning, had not intended to play Walker, but when Capt. Anson made his “break,” the order was given, then and there, to play Walker and the beefy bluffer was informed that he could play his team or go, just as he blank pleased. Anson hauled in his horns somewhat and “consented” to play, remarking, “we’ll play this here game, but won’t play never no more with the nigger in.” Walker was put in right field, and played a faultless game, despite his sore hand …
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here, Malloy’s response to Luse’s findings:
I greatly appreciate learning the details of the first Anson-Walker encounter in, as you decisively establish, 1883. [ED.: On July 14, 1887, Anson successfully intimidated the management of the Newark team in the International league, forcing the removal of Newark’s black battery–Walker and George Stovey–before Chicago would consent to play.] Although I relied extensively on primary sources for events that occurred in the International League season of 1887 (the focus of my attention), I did, as you surmise, base my brief account of the Chicago-Toledo game on secondary sources. I do, however, acknowledge full responsibility for any and all inaccuracies in the text.
I find it especially interesting that your (correct) version of the game in question bolsters my central points: by 1887, Anson was able to disqualify black opponents, something he had been unable to accomplish only a few years earlier. I certainly wish I had known of this before I wrote my article.
Even more important than its service to my thesis, however, is the fact that your account is accurate. It is the duty of SABR to push back the boundaries of knowledge wherever possible, and to rectify this error on my part does just that.
Part 2 of Jerry Malloy’s masterful essay appeared yesterday and may be viewed here: http://goo.gl/D21cuI.
July 14, 1887, would be a day Tommy Daly would never forget. Three thousand fans went to Newark’s Wright Street grounds to watch an exhibition game between the Little Giants and the most glamorous team in baseball: Adrian D. (Cap) Anson’s Chicago White Stockings. Daly, who was from Newark, was in his first season with the White Stockings, forerunners of today’s Cubs. Before the game he was presented with gifts from his admirers in Newark. George Stovey would remember the day, too. And for Moses Fleetwood Walker, there may have been a sense of déjà vu—for Walker had crossed paths with Anson before.
Anson, who was the first white child born among the Pottawattomie Indians in Marshalltown, Iowa, played for Rockford and the Philadelphia Athletics in all five years of the National Association and twenty-two seasons for Chicago in the National League, hitting over .300 in all but two. He also managed the Sox for nineteen years. From 1880 through 1888, Anson’s White Stockings finished first five times, and second once. Outspoken, gruff, truculent, and haughty, Anson gained the respect, if not the esteem, of his players, as well as opponents and fans throughout the nation. Cigars and candy were named after him, and little boys would treasure their Anson-model baseball bats as their most prized possessions. He was a brilliant tactician with a flair for the dramatic. In 1888, for example, he commemorated the opening of the Republican national convention in Chicago by suiting up his players in black, swallow-tailed coats.
In addition to becoming the first player to get 3,000 hits, Anson was the first to write his autobiography. A Ball Player’s Career, published in 1900, does not explicitly delineate Anson’s views on race relations. It does, however, devote several pages to his stormy relationship with the White Stockings’ mascot, Clarence Duval, who despite Anson’s vehement objections was allowed to take part in the round-the-world tour following the 1888 season. Anson referred to Duval as “a little darkey,” a “coon,” and a “no account nigger.”
In 1884, when Walker was playing for Toledo, Anson brought his White Stockings into town for an exhibition. Anson threatened to pull his team off the field unless Walker was removed. But Toledo’s manager, Charley Morton, refused to comply with Anson’s demand, and Walker was allowed to play. Years later Sporting Life would write:
The joke of the affair was that up to the time Anson made his “bluff” the Toledo people had no intention of catching Walker, who was laid up with a sore hand, but when Anson said he wouldn’t play with Walker, the Toledo people made up their minds that Walker would catch or there wouldn’t be any game.
But by 1887 times had changed, and there was no backing Anson down. The Newark press had publicized that Anson’s White Stockings would face Newark’s black Stovey. But on the day of the game it was Hughes and Cantz who formed the Little Giants’ battery. “Three thousand souls were made glad,” glowed the Daily Journal after Newark’s surprise 9-4 victory, “while nine were made sad.” The Evening News attributed Stovey’s absence to illness, but the Toronto World got it right in reporting that “Hackett intended putting Stovey in the box against the Chicagos, but Anson objected to his playing on account of his color.”
On the same day that Anson succeeded in removing the “colored battery,” the directors of the International League met in Buffalo to transfer the ailing Utica franchise to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It must have pleased Anson to read in the next day’s Newark Daily Journal:
THE COLOR LINE DRAWN IN BASEBALL. The International League directors held a secret meeting at the Genesee House yesterday, and the question of colored players was freely discussed. Several representatives declared that many of the best players in the league are anxious to leave on account of the colored element, and the board finally directed Secretary White to approve of no more contracts with colored men.
Whether or not there was a direct connection between Anson’s opposition to playing against Stovey and Walker and, on the same day, the International League’s decision to draw the color line is lost in history. For example, was the league responding to threats by Anson not to play lucrative exhibitions with teams of any league that permitted Negro players? Interestingly, of the six teams which voted to install a color barrier—Binghamton, Hamilton, Jersey City, Rochester, Toronto, and Utica—none had a black player; the four teams voting against it—Buffalo, Oswego, Newark, and Syracuse—each had at least one.
In 1907, Sol White excoriated Anson for possessing “all the venom of a hate which would be worthy of a Tillman or a Vardaman of the present day…” [Sen. Benjamin R. (“Pitchfork Ben”) Tillman, of South Carolina, and Gov. James K. Vardaman, of Mississippi, were two of the most prominent white supremacists of their time.]
Just why Adrian C. Anson . . . was so strongly opposed to colored players on white teams cannot be explained. His repugnant feeling, shown at every opportunity, toward colored ball players, was a source of comment throughout every league in the country, and his opposition, with his great popularity and power in baseball circles, hastened the exclusion of the black man from the white leagues.
Subsequent historians have followed Sol White’s lead and portrayed Anson as the meistersinger of a chorus of racism who, virtually unaided, disqualified an entire race from baseball. Scapegoats are convenient, but Robert Peterson undoubtedly is correct:
Whatever its origin, Anson’s animus toward Negroes was strong and obvious. But that he had the power and popularity to force Negroes out of organized baseball almost single-handedly, as White suggests, is to credit him with more influence than he had, or for that matter, than he needed.
The International League’s written color line was not the first one drawn. In 1867 the National Association of Base Ball Players, the loosely organized body which regulated amateur baseball, prohibited its members from accepting blacks. The officers candidly explained their reason:
If colored clubs were admitted there would be in all probability some division of feeling, whereas, by excluding them no injury could result to anybody and the possibility of any rupture being created on political grounds would be avoided.
This 1867 ban shows that even if blacks were not playing baseball then, there were ample indications that they would be soon. But the NABBP would soon disappear, as baseball’s rapidly growing popularity fostered professionalism. Also, its measure was preventative rather than corrective: it was not intended to disqualify players who previously had been sanctioned. And, since it applied only to amateurs, it was not intended to deprive anyone of his livelihood.
Press response to the International League’s color line generally was sympathetic to the Negroes—especially in cities with teams who had employed black players. The Newark Call wrote:
If anywhere in this world the social barriers are broken down it is on the ball field. There many men of low birth and poor breeding are the idols of the rich and cultured; the best man is he who plays best. Even men of churlish dispositions and coarse hues are tolerated on the field. In view of these facts the objection to colored men is ridiculous. If social distinctions are to be made, half the players in the country will be shut out. Better make character and personal habits the test. Weed out the toughs and intemperate men first, and then it may be in order to draw the color line.
The Rochester Post-Express printed a shrewd and sympathetic analysis by an unidentified “old ball player, who happens to be an Irishman and a Democrat”:
We will have to stop proceedings of that kind. The fellows who want to proscribe the Negro only want a little encouragement in order to establish class distinctions between people of the white race. The blacks have so much prejudice to overcome that I sympathize with them and believe in frowning down every attempt by a public body to increase the burdens the colored people now carry. It is not possible to combat by law the prejudice against colored men, but it is possible to cultivate a healthy public opinion that will effectively prevent any such manifestation of provincialism as that of the ball association. If a negro can play better ball than a white man, I say let him have credit for his ability. Genuine Democrats must stamp on the color line in order to be consistent.
“We think,” wrote the Binghamton Daily Leader, “the International League made a monkey of itself when it undertook to draw the color line”; and later the editor wondered “if the International League proposes to exclude colored people from attendance at the games.” Welday Walker used a similar line of reasoning in March 1888. Having read an incorrect report that the Tri-State League, formerly the Ohio State League, of which Welday Walker was a member, had prohibited the signing of Negroes, he wrote a letter to league president W. H. McDermitt. Denouncing any color line as “a disgrace to the present age,” he argued that if Negroes were to be barred as players, then they should also be denied access to the stands.
The sporting press stated its admiration for the talents of the black players who would be excluded. “Grant, Stovey, Walker, and Higgins,” wrote Sporting Life, “all are good players and behave like gentlemen, and it is a pity that the line should have been drawn against them.” That paper’s Syracuse correspondent wrote “Dod gast the measly rules that deprives a club of as good a man as Bob Higgins. . . .” Said the Newark Daily Journal, “It is safe to say that Moses F. Walker is mentally and morally the equal of any director who voted for the resolution.”
Color line or no color line, the season wore on. Buffalo and Newark remained in contention until late in the season. Newark fell victim to injuries, including one to Fleet Walker. Grant’s play deteriorated, although he finished the year leading the league in hitting. Toronto, which overcame internal strife of its own, came from the back of the pack, winning twenty-two of its last twenty-six games; they may have been aided by manager Charley Cushman’s innovative device of having his inflelders wear gloves on their left hands. On September 17, Toronto swept a doubleheader from Newark at home before 8,000 fans to take first place. One week later they clinched their first International League title. To commemorate the triumphant season, the Canadian Pacific Railway shipped a 160-foot tall pine, “the second tallest in America,” across the continent. Atop this pole would fly the 1887 International League pennant.
Before the season ended there was one further flareup of racial prejudice that received national, attention. On Sunday, September 11, Chris Von der Ahe, owner of the St. Louis Browns, canceled an exhibition game that was scheduled for that day in West Farms, New York, against the Cuban Giants. Led by its colorful and eccentric owner, and its multitalented manager-first baseman, Charles Comiskey, the Browns were the Chicago White Stockings of the American Association. At ten o’clock in the morning Von der Ahe notified a crowd of 7,000 disappointed fans that his team was too crippled by injuries to compete. The real reason, though, was a letter Von der Ahe had received the night before, signed by all but two of his players (Comiskey was one of the two):
Dear Sir: We, the undersigned members of the St. Louis Base Ball Club, do not agree to play against negroes tomorrow. We will cheerfully play against white people at any time, and think by refusing to play, we are only doing what is right, taking everything into consideration and the shape the team is in at present.
The Cuban Giants played, instead, a team from Danbury, New York, as Cuban Giant manager Jim Bright angrily threatened to sue the Browns. Von der Ahe tried to mollify Bright with a promise to reschedule the exhibition, a promise that would be unfulfilled. The Browns’ owner singled out his star third baseman, Arlie Latham, for a $100 fine. Von der Ahe did not object to his players’ racial prejudice. In fact, he was critical of them not for their clearly stated motive for refusing to play, but for their perceived lack of sincerity in pursuing their objective:
The failure to play the game with the Cuban Giants cost me $1000. If it was a question of principle with any of my players, I would not say a word, but it isn’t. Two or three of them had made arrangements to spend Sunday in Philadelphia, and this scheme was devised so that they would not be disappointed.
There was considerable speculation throughout the offseason that the International League would rescind its color line, or at least modify it to allow each club one Negro. At a meeting at the Rossin House in Toronto on November 16,1887, the league dissolved itself and reorganized under the title International Association (IA). Buffalo and Syracuse, anxious to retain Grant and Higgins, led the fight to eliminate the color line. Syracuse was particularly forceful in its leadership. The Stars’ representatives at the Toronto meeting “received a letter of thanks from the colored citizens of [Syracuse] for their efforts in behalf of the colored players,” reported Sporting Life. A week earlier, under the headline “Rough on the Colored Players,” it had declared:
At the meeting of the new International Association, the matter of rescinding the rule forbidding the employment of colored players was forgotten. This is unfortunate, as the Syracuse delegation had Buffalo, London, and Hamilton, making four in favor and two [i.e., Rochester and Toronto] against it.
While the subject of the color line was not included in the minutes of the proceedings, the issue apparently was not quite “forgotten.” An informal agreement among the owners provided a cautious retreat. By the end of the month, Grant was signed by Buffalo, and Higgins was retained by Syracuse for 1888. Fleet Walker, who was working in a Newark factory crating sewing machines for the export trade, remained uncommitted on an offer by Worcester, as he waited “until he finds whether colored players are wanted in the International League [sic]. He is very much a gentleman and is unwilling to force himself in where he is not wanted.” His doubts assuaged, he signed, by the end of November, with Syracuse, where, in 1888 he would once again join a black pitcher. The Syracuse directors had fired manager Joe Simmons, and replaced him with Charley Hackett. Thus, Walker would be playing for his third team with Hackett as manager. He looked forward to the next season, exercising his throwing arm by tossing a claw hammer in the air and catching it. After a meeting in Buffalo in January 1888, Sporting Life summarized the IA’s ambivalent position on the question of black players:
At the recent International Association meeting there was some informal talk regarding the right of clubs to sign colored players, and the general understanding seemed to be that no city should be allowed more than one colored man. Syracuse has signed two whom she will undoubtedly be allowed to keep. Buffalo has signed Grant, but outside of these men there will probably be no colored men in the league.
Frank Grant would have a typical season in Buffalo in 1888, where he was moved to the outfield to avoid spike wounds. For the third straight year his batting average (.346) was the highest on the team. Bob Higgins, the agent and victim of too much history, would, according to Sporting Life, “give up his $200 a month, and return to his barbershop in Memphis, Tennessee,” despite compiling a 20-7 record.
Fleet Walker, catching 76 games and stealing 30 bases, became a member of a second championship team, the first since Toledo in 1883. But his season was blighted by a third distasteful encounter with Anson. In an exhibition game at Syracuse on September 27, 1888, Walker was not permitted to play against the White Stockings. Anson’s policy of refusing to allow blacks on the same field with him had become so well-known and accepted that the incident was not even reported in the white press. The Indianapolis World noted the incident, which by now apparently was of interest only to black readers.
Fowler, Grant, and Stovey played many more seasons, some with integrated teams, some on all-Negro teams in white leagues in organized baseball, some on independent Negro teams. Fowler and Grant stayed one step ahead of the color line as it proceeded westward.
Fleet Walker continued to play for Syracuse in 1889, where he would be the last black in the International League until Jackie Robinson. Walker’s career as a professional ballplayer ended in the relative obscurity of Terre Haute, Indiana (1890) and Oconto, Wisconsin (1891).
In the spring of 1891 Walker was accused of murdering a convicted burglar by the name of Patrick Murphy outside a bar in Syracuse. When he was found not guilty “immediately a shout of approval, accompanied by clapping of hands and stamping of feet, rose from the spectators,” according to Sporting Life. His baseball career over, he returned to Ohio and embarked on various careers. He owned or operated the Cadiz, Ohio, opera house, and several motion picture houses, during which time he claimed several inventions in the motion picture industry. He was also the editor of a newspaper, The Equator, with the assistance of his brother Welday.
In 1908 he published a 47-page booklet entitled Our Home Colony; A Treatise on the Past, Present and Future of the Negro Race in America. According to the former catcher, “The only practical and permanent solution of the present and future race troubles in the United States is entire separation by emigration of the Negro from America.” Following the example of Liberia, “the Negro race can find superior advantages, and better opportunities . . . among people of their own race, for developing the innate powers of mind and body. . . .” The achievement of racial equality “is contrary to everything in the nature of man, and [it is] almost criminal to attempt to harmonize these two diverse peoples while living under the same government.” The past forty years, he wrote, have shown “that instead of improving we are experiencing the development of a real caste spirit in the United States.”
Fleet Walker died of pneumonia in Cleveland at age 66 on May 11, 1924, and was buried in Union Cemetery in Steubenville, Ohio. His brother Welday died in Steubenville thirteen years later at the age of 77.
In The Strange Career of Jim Crow, historian C. Vann Woodward identifies the late 1880s as a “twilight zone that lies between living memory and written history,” when “for a time old and new rubbed shoulders—and so did black and white—in a manner that differed significantly from Jim Crow of the future or slavery of the past.” He continued:
… a great deal of variety and inconsistency prevailed in race relations from state to state and within a state. It was a time of experiment, testing, and uncertainty—quite different from the time of repression and rigid uniformity that was to come toward the end of the century. Alternatives were still open and real choices had to be made.
Sol White and his contemporaries lived through such a transition period, and he identified the turning point at 1887. Twenty years later he noted the deterioration of the black ballplayer’s situation. Although White could hope that one day the black would be able to “walk hand-in-hand with the opposite race in the greatest of all American games—base ball,” he was not optimistic:
As it is, the field for the colored professional is limited to a very narrow scope in the base ball world. When he looks into the future he sees no place for him. . . . Consequently he loses interest. He knows that, so far shall I go, and no farther, and, as it is with the profession, so it is with his ability.
The “strange careers” of Moses Walker, George Stovey, Frank Grant, Bud Fowler, Robert Higgins, Sol White, et al., provide a microcosmic view of the development of race relations in the society at large, as outlined by Woodward. The events of 1887 offer further evidence of the old saw that sport does not develop character—it reveals it.
Tomorrow, a postscript, as SABR’s minor-league expert Vern Luse disputes a fine point with Jerry Malloy, one year after first publication of “Out at Home.”
Part 1 of Jerry Malloy’s masterful essay appeared yesterday and may be viewed here: http://goo.gl/nSfhX4.
In 1886 an attempt had been made to form the Southern League of Colored Base Ballists, centered in Jacksonville, Florida. Little is known about this circuit, since it was so short lived and received no national and very little local press coverage. Late in 1886, though, Walter S. Brown of Pittsburgh announced his plan of forming the National Colored Base Ball League. It, too, would have a brief existence. But unlike its Southern predecessor, Brown’s Colored League received wide publicity.
The November 18, 1886, issue of Sporting Life announced that Brown already had lined up five teams. Despite the decision of the Cuban Giants not to join the league, Brown called an organizational meeting at Eureka Hall in Pittsburgh on December 9,1886. Delegates from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Louisville attended. Representatives from Chicago and Cincinnati also were present as prospective investors, Cincinnati being represented by Bud Fowler.
Final details were ironed out at a meeting at the Douglass Institute in Baltimore in March 1887. The seven-team league consisted of the Keystones of Pittsburgh, Browns of Cincinnati, Capitol Citys of Washington, Resolutes of Boston, Falls City of Louisville, Lord Baltimores of Baltimore, Gorhams of New York, and Pythians of Philadelphia. (The Pythians had been the first black nine to play a white team in history, beating the City Items 27-17 on September 18,1869.) [This finding since superseded–jt] Reach Sporting Goods agreed to provide gold medals for batting and fielding leaders in exchange for the league’s use of the Reach ball. Players’ salaries would range from $10 to $75 per month. In recognition of its questionable financial position, the league set up an “experimental” season, with a short schedule and many open dates.
“Experimental” or not, the Colored League received the protection of the National Agreement, which was the structure of Organized Baseball law that divided up markets and gave teams the exclusive right to players’ contracts. Sporting Life doubted that the league would benefit from this protection “as there is little probability of a wholesale raid upon its ranks even should it live the season out—a highly improbable contingency.” Participation in the National Agreement was more a matter of prestige than of practical benefit. Under the headline “Do They Need Protection?” Sporting Life wrote:
The progress of the Colored League will be watched with considerable interest. There have been prominent colored base ball clubs throughout the country for many years past, but this is their initiative year in launching forth on a league scale by forming a league . . . representing . . . leading cities of the country. The League will attempt to secure the protection of the National Agreement. This can only be done with the consent of all the National Agreement clubs in whose territories the colored clubs are located. This consent should be obtainable, as these clubs can in no sense be considered rivals to the white clubs nor are they likely to hurt the latter in the least financially. Still the League can get along without protection. The value of the latter to the white clubs lies in that it guarantees a club undisturbed possession of its players. There is not likely to be much of a scramble for colored players. Only two [sic] such players are now employed in professional white clubs, and the number is not likely to be ever materially increased owing to the high standard of play required and to the popular prejudice against any considerable mixture of races.
Despite the gloomy—and accurate—forecasts, the Colored League opened its season with much fanfare at Recreation Park in Pittsburgh on May 6,1887. Following “a grand street parade and a brass band concert,” about 1200 spectators watched the visiting Gorhams of New York defeat the Keystones, 11-8.
Although Walter Brown did not officially acknowledge the demise of the Colored League for three more weeks, it was obvious within a matter of days that the circuit was in deep trouble. The Resolutes of Boston traveled to Louisville to play the Falls City club on May 8. While in Louisville, the Boston franchise collapsed, stranding its players. The league quickly dwindled to three teams, then expired. Weeks later, Boston’s players were still marooned in Louisville. “At last accounts,” reported The Sporting News, “most of the Colored Leaguers were working their way home doing little turns in barbershops and waiting on table in hotels.” One of the vagabonds was Sol White, then nineteen years old, who had played for the Keystones of Pittsburgh. He made his way to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he completed the season playing for that city’s entry in the Ohio State League. (Three other blacks in that league besides White were Welday Walker, catcher N. Higgins, and another catcher, Richard Johnson.) Twenty years later he wrote:
The [Colored] League, on the whole, was without substantial backing and consequently did not last a week. But the short time of its existence served to bring out the fact that colored ball players of ability were numerous.
Although independent black teams would enjoy varying degrees of success throughout the years, thirty-three seasons would pass before Andrew “Rube” Foster would achieve Walter Brown’s ambitious dream of 1887: a stable all-Negro professional baseball league.
The International League season was getting under way. In preseason exhibitions against major league teams, Grant’s play was frequently described as “brilliant.” Sporting Life cited the “brilliant work of Grant,” his “number of difficult one-handed catches,” and his “special fielding displays” in successive games in April. Even in an 18-4 loss to Philadelphia, “Grant, the colored second baseman, was the lion of the afternoon. His exhibition was unusually brilliant.”
Stovey got off to a shaky start, as Newark lost to Brooklyn 12-4 in the team’s exhibition opener. “Walker was clever—exceedingly clever behind the bat,” wrote the Newark Daily Journal, “yet threw wildly several times.” A few days later, though, Newark’s “colored battery” performed magnificently in a 3-2 loss at the Polo Grounds to the New York Giants, the favorite National League team of the Newark fans (hence the nickname “Little Giants”). Stovey was “remarkably effective,” and Walker threw out the Giants’ John Montgomery Ward at second base, “something that but few catchers have been able to accomplish.” The play of Stovey and Walker impressed the New York sportswriters, as well as New York Giants’ Captain Ward and manager Jim Mutrie who, according to White, “made an offer to buy the release of the ‘Spanish Battery,’ but [Newark] Manager Hackett informed him they were not on sale.”
Stovey and Walker were becoming very popular. The Binghamton Leader had this to say about the big southpaw:
Well, they put Stovey in the box again yesterday. You recollect Stovey, of course—the brunette fellow with the sinister fin and the demonic delivery. Well, he pitched yesterday, and, as of yore, he teased the Bingos. He has such a knack of tossing up balls that appear as large as an alderman’s opinion of himself, but you cannot hit ‘em with a cellar door. There’s no use in talking, but that Stovey can do funny things with a ball. Once, we noticed, he aimed a ball right at a Bing’s commissary department, and when the Bingo spilled himself on the glebe to give that ball the right of way, it just turned a sharp corner and careened over the dish to the tune of “one strike.” What’s the use of bucking against a fellow that can throw at the flag-staff and make it curve into the water pail?
Walker, too, impressed fans and writers with his defensive skill and baserunning. In a game against Buffalo, “Walker was like a fence behind the home-plate . . . [T]here might have been a river ten feet behind him and not a ball would have gone into it.” Waxing poetic, one scribe wrote:
There is a catcher named Walker
Who behind the bat is a corker,
He throws to a base
With ease and with grace,
And steals ’round the bags like a stalker.
Who were the other black ballplayers in the IL? Oswego, unsuccessful in signing George Williams away from the Cuban Giants, added Randolph Jackson, a second baseman from Ilion, New York, to their roster after a recommendation from Bud Fowler. (Ilion is near Cooperstown; Fowler’s real name was John Jackson— coincidence?) He played his first game on May 28. In a 5-4 loss to Newark he “played a remarkable game and hit for a double and a single, besides making the finest catch ever made on the grounds,” wrote Sporting Life. Jackson played only three more games before the Oswego franchise folded on May 31, 1887.
Binghamton, which already had Bud Fowler, added a black pitcher named Renfroe (whose first name is unknown). Renfroe had pitched for the Memphis team in the Southern League of Colored Base Ballists in 1886, where “he won every game he pitched but one, averaging twelve strikeouts a game for nine games. In his first game against Chattanooga he struck out the first nine men who came to bat,” wrote the Memphis Appeal; “he has great speed and a very deceptive down-shoot.” Renfroe pitched his first game for Binghamton on May 30, a 14-9 victory over Utica, before several thousand fans.
“How far will this mania for engaging colored players go?” asked Sporting Life. “At the present rate of progress the International League may ere many moons change its title to ‘Colored League.’ ” During the last few days in May, seven blacks were playing in the league: Walker and Stovey for Newark, Fowler and Renfroe for Binghamton, Grant for Buffalo, Jackson for Oswego, and one player not yet mentioned: Robert Higgins. For his story, we back up and consider the state of the Syracuse Stars.
The 1887 season opened with Syracuse in a state, of disarray. Off the field, ownership was reorganized after a lengthy and costly court battle in which the Stars were held liable for injuries suffered by a fan, John A. Cole, when he fell from a grandstand in 1886. Another fall that disturbed management was that of its team’s standing, from first in 1885 to a dismal sixth in 1886. Determined to infuse new talent into the club, Syracuse signed seven players from the defunct Southern League after the 1886 season. Although these players were talented, the move appeared to be backfiring when, even before the season began, reports began circulating that the Southern League men had formed a “clique” to foist their opinions on management. The directors wanted to sign as manager Charley Hackett, who, as we have seen, subsequently signed with Newark. But the clique insisted that they would play for Syracuse only if Jim Gifford, who had hired them, was named manager. The directors felt that Gifford was too lax, yet acquiesced to the players’ demand. By the end of April, the Toronto World was reporting:
Already we hear talk of “cliqueism” in the Syracuse Club, and if there be any truth to the bushel of statement that team is certain to be doomed before the season is well under way. Their ability to play a winning game is unquestioned, but if the clique exists the club will lose when losing is the policy of the party element.
Another offseason acquisition for the Stars was a catcher named Dick Male, from Zanesville, Ohio. Soon after he was signed in November 1886, rumors surfaced that “Male” was actually a black named Dick Johnson. Male mounted his own public relations campaign to quell these rumors. The Syracuse correspondent to Sporting Life wrote:
Much has been said of late about Male, one of our catchers, being a colored man, whose correct name is said to be Johnson. I have seen a photo of Male, and he is not a colored man by a large majority. If he is he has sent some other fellow’s picture.
The Sporting News’ Syracuse writer informed his readers that “Male . . . writes that the man calling him a negro is himself a black liar.”
Male’s performance proved less than satisfactory and he was released by Syracuse shortly after a 20-3 drubbing at the hands of Pittsburgh in a preseason game, in which Male played right field, caught, and allowed tliree passed balls. Early in May he signed with Zanesville of the Ohio State League, where he once again became a black catcher named Johnson.
As the season began, the alarming specter of selective support by the Southern League players became increasingly apparent. They would do their best for deaf-mute pitcher Ed Dundon, who was a fellow refugee, but would go through the motions when Doug Crothers or Con Murphy pitched for the Stars. Jim Gifford, the Stars’ manager, not equal to the task of controlling his team, resigned on May 17. He was replaced by “Ice Water” Joe Simmons, who had managed Walker at Waterbury in 1886.
Simmons began his regime at Syracuse by signing a nineteen-year-old lefthanded black pitcher named Robert Higgins. Like Renfroe, Higgins was from Memphis, and it was reported that manager Sneed of Memphis “would have signed him long ago . . . but for the prejudice down there against colored men.” Besides his talents as a pitcher Higgins was so fast on the basepaths that Sporting Life claimed that he had even greater speed than Mike Slattery of Toronto, who himself was fast enough to steal 112 bases in 1887, an International League record to this day.
On May 23, two days after he signed with the Stars, Higgins pitched well in an exhibition game at Lockport, New York, winning 16-5. On May 25 the Stars made their first trip of the season to Toronto, where in the presence of 1,000 fans, Higgins pitched in his first International League game. The Toronto World accurately summed up the game with its simple headline: “DISGRACEFUL BASEBALL.” The Star team “distinguished itself by a most disgusting exhibition.” In a blatant attempt to make Higgins look bad, the Stars lost 28-8. “Marr, Bittman, and Beard . . . seemed to want the Toronto team to knock Higgins out of the box, and time and again they fielded so badly that the home team were enabled to secure many hits after the side should have been retired. In several instances these players carried out their plans in the most glaring manner. Fumbles and muffs of easy fly balls were frequent occurrences, but Higgins retained control of his temper and smiled at every move of the clique . . . Marr, Bittman, Beard and Jantzen played like schoolboys.” Of Toronto’s 28 runs, 21 were unearned. Higgins’ catcher, Jantzen, had three passed balls, three wild throws, and three strikeouts, incurring his manager’s wrath to the degree that he was fined $50 and suspended. (On June 3 Jantzen was reinstated, only to be released on July 7.) The Sporting News reported the game prominently under the headlines: “THE SYRACUSE PLOTTERS; The Star Team Broken Up by a Multitude of Cliques; The Southern Boys Refuse to Support the Colored Pitcher.” The group of Southern League players was called the “Ku-Klux coterie” by the Syracuse correspondent, who hoped that player Harry Jacoby would dissociate himself from the group. “If it is true that he is a member of the Star Ku-Klux-Klan to kill off Higgins, the negro, he has made a mistake. His friends did not expect it. . . .”
According to the Newark Daily Journal, “Members of the Syracuse team make no secret of their boycott against Higgins. . . . They succeeded in running Male out of the club and they will do the same with Higgins.” Yet when the club returned to Syracuse, Higgins pitched his first game at Star Park on May 31, beating Oswego 11-4. Sporting Life assured its readers that “the Syracuse Stars supported [Higgins] in fine style.”
But Bob Higgins had not yet forded the troubled waters of integrated baseball. On the afternoon of Saturday, June 4, in a game featuring opposing Negro pitchers, Syracuse and Higgins defeated Binghamton and Renfroe 10-4 before 1,500 fans at Star Park. Syracuse pilot Joe Simmons instructed his players to report the next morning to P. S. Ryder’s gallery to have the team portrait taken. Two players did not comply, left fielder Henry Simon and pitcher Doug Crothers. The Syracuse correspondent for The Sporting News reported:
The manager surmised at once that there was “a nigger in the fence” and that those players had not reported because; the colored pitcher, Higgins, was to be included in the club portrait. He went over to see Crothers and found that he was right. Crothers would not sit in a group for his picture with Higgins.
After an angry exchange, Simmons informed Crothers that he would be suspended for the remainder of the season. The volatile Crothers accused Simmons of leaving debts in every city he had managed, then punched him. The manager and his pitcher were quickly separated.
There may have been an economic motive that fanned the flames of Crothers’ temper, which was explosive even under the best of circumstances: he was having a disappointing season when Simmons hired a rival and potential replacement for him. According to The Sporting News’ man in Syracuse, Crothers was not above contriving to hinder the performance of another pitcher, Dundon, by getting him liquored-up on the night before he was scheduled to pitch.
Crothers, who was from St. Louis, later explained his refusal to sit in the team portrait:
I don’t know as people in the North can appreciate my feelings on the subject. I am a Southerner by birth, and I tell you I would have my heart cut out before I would consent to have my picture in the group. I could tell you a very sad story of injuries done my family, but it is personal history. My father would have kicked me out of the house had I allowed my picture to be taken in that group.
Crothers’ suspension lasted only until June 18, when he apologized to his manager and was reinstated. In the meantime he had earned $25 per game pitching for “amateur” clubs. On July 2, he was released by Syracuse. Before the season ended, he played for Hamilton of the International League, and in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, all the while threatening to sue the Syracuse directors for $125.
Harry Simon, a native of Utica, New York, was not punished in any way for his failure to appear for the team portrait; of course, he did not compound his insubordination by punching his manager. The Toronto World-was cynical, yet plausible, in commenting that Simon “is such a valuable player, his offense [against Higgins] seems to have been overlooked.” The sporting press emphasized that Crothers was punished for his failure to pose with Higgins more than his fisticuffs with Simmons.
Thus in a period of ten days did Bob Higgins become the unwilling focus of attention in the national press, as the International League grappled with the question of race. Neither of these incidents—the attempt to discredit him with intentionally bad play nor the reluctance of white players to be photographed with a black teammate—was unprecedented. The day before the Stars’ appointment with the photographer, the Toronto World reported that in 1886 the Buffalo players refused to have their team photographed because of the presence of Frank Grant, which made it seem unlikely that the Bisons would have a team portrait taken in 1887 (nonetheless, they did). That Canadian paper, ever vigilant lest the presence of black ballplayers besmirch the game, also reported, ominously, that “The recent trouble among the Buffalo players originated from their dislike to [sic] Grant, the colored player. It is said that the latter’s effective use of a club alone saved him from a drubbing at the hands of other members of the team.”
Binghamton did not make a smooth, serene transition into integrated baseball. Renfroe took a tough 7-6 eleven-inning loss at the hands of Syracuse on June 2, eight days after Higgins’ 28-8 loss to Toronto. “The Bings did not support Renfroe yesterday,” said the Binghamton Daily Leader, “and many think the shabby work was intentional.”
On July 7, Fowler and Renfroe were released. In recognition of his considerable talent, Fowler was released only upon the condition that he would not sign with any other team in the International League. Fowler joined the Cuban Giants briefly, by August was manager of the (Negro) Gorham Club of New York, and he finished the season playing in Montpelier, Vermont.
On August 8, the Newark Daily Journal reported, “The players of the Binghamton base ball club were . . . fined $50 each by the directors because six weeks ago they refused to go on the field unless Fowler, the colored second baseman, was removed.” In view of the fact that two weeks after these fines were imposed the Binghamton franchise folded, it may be that the club’s investors were motivated less by a tender regard for social justice than by a desire to cut their financial losses.
According to the Oswego Palladium, even an International League umpire fanned the flames of prejudice:
It is said that [Billy] Hoover, the umpire, stated in Binghamton that he would always decide against a team employing a colored player, on a close point. Why not dispense with Mr. Hoover’s services if this is true? It would be a good thing for Oswego if we had a few players like Fowler and Grant.
There were incidents that indicated support for a color-blind policy in baseball. For example:
A citizen of Rochester has published a card in the Union and Advertiser of that city, in which he rebukes the Rochester Sunday Herald for abusing Stovey on account of his color. He says: “The young man simply discharged his duty to his club in whitewashing the Rochesters if he could. Such comments certainly do not help the home team; neither are they creditable to a paper published in a Christian community. So far as I know, Mr. Stovey has been a gentleman in his club, and should be treated with the same respect as other players.
But the accumulation of events both on and off the field drew national attention to the International League’s growing controversy over the black players. The forces lining up against the blacks were formidable and determined, and the most vociferous opposition to integrated baseball came from Toronto, where in a game with Buffalo on July 27, “The crowd confined itself to blowing their horns and shouting, ‘Kill the nigger’.” The Toronto World, under the headline “THE COLORED BALL PLAYERS DISTASTEFUL,” declared:
The World’s statement of the existence of a clique in the Syracuse team to “boy cott” Higgins, the colored pitcher, is certain to create considerable talk, if it does not amount to more, in baseball circles. A number of colored players are now in the International League, and to put it mildly their presence is distasteful to the other players. … So far none of the clubs, with the exception of Syracuse, have openly shown their dislike to play with those men, but the feeling is known to exist and may unexpectedly come to the front. The chief reason given for McGlone’s* refusal to sign with Buffalo this season is that he objected to playing with Grant.
* John McGlone’s scruples in this regard apparently were malleable enough to respond to changes in his career fortunes. In September 1888 he signed with Syracuse, thereby acquiring two black teammates—Fleet Walker and Bob Higgins.
A few weeks later the World averred, in a statement reprinted in Sporting Life:
There is a feeling, and a rather strong one too, that an effort be made to exclude colored players from the International League. Their presence on the teams has not been productive of satisfactory results, and good players as some of them have shown themselves, it would seem advisable to take action of some kind, looking either to their non-engagement or compelling the other element to play with them.
Action was about to be taken.
When Jackie Robinson opened the 1947 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, most baseball fans and writers believed that he was the first black to play in the major leagues. (Robinson himself believed that at the time.) He was the fourth. William Edward White was the first, in 1879; the author died before this discovery. Who were the other two? Read on. For a few years in the 1880s, with slavery dead and Jim Crow not yet ascendant, a spirit of racial tolerance prevailed in America that permitted black and white to rub shoulders without strife. Many black players performed at all levels of Organized Baseball into the 1890s, but the color bar that Jackie Robinson broke was erected in the International League in 1887. How and why it happened makes compelling reading; from The National Pastime of 1983, which I had created in the previous year for the Society for American Baseball Research. Jerry Malloy (1946-2000) was a pioneer researcher who was honored in 1997 by the creation of an annual Negro League Conference named for him. He was also my friend. This is his monumentally important study of how baseball drew the color line.
Out at Home
Baseball is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.–MARK TWAIN
. . . social inequality … means that in all the relations that exist between man and man he is to be measured and taken not according to his natural fitness and qualification, but that blind and relentless rule which accords certain pursuits and certain privileges to origin or birth.–MOSES F. WALKER
It was a dramatic and prophetic and prophetic performance by Jackie Robinson. The twenty-seven-year-old black second baseman opened the 1946 International League season by leading the Montreal Royals to a 14-1 victory over Jersey City. In five trips to the plate, he had four hits (including a home run) and four RBIs; he scored four runs, stole two bases, and rattled a pitcher into balking him home with a taunting danse macabre off third. Branch Rickey’s protégé had punched a hole through Organized Baseball’s color barrier with the flair and talent that would eventually take him into the Hall of Fame. The color line that Jackie Robinson shattered, though unwritten, was very real indeed. Baseball’s exclusion of the black man was so unremittingly thorough for such a long time that most of the press and public then, as now, thought that Robinson was making the first appearance of a man of his race in the history of Organized Baseball.
Actually, he represented a return of the Negro ballplayer, not merely to Organized Baseball, but to the International League as well. At least eight elderly citizens would have been aware of this. Frederick Ely, Jud Smith, James Fields, Tom Lynch, Frank Olin, “Chief” Zimmer, Pat Gillman, and George Bausewine may have noted with interest Robinson’s initiation, for all of these men had been active players on teams that opened another International League season, that of 1887. And in that year they played with or against eight black players on six different teams.
The 1887 season was not the first in which Negroes played in the International League, nor would it be the last. But until Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate on April 18,1946, it was the most significant. For 1887 was a watershed year for both the International League and Organized Baseball, as it marked the origin of the color line. As the season opened, the black player had plenty of reasons to hope that he would be able to ply his trade in an atmosphere of relative tolerance; by the middle of the season, however, he would watch helplessly as the IL drew up a written color ban designed to deprive him of his livelihood; and by the time the league held its offseason meetings, it became obvious that Jim Crow was closing in on a total victory.
Yet before baseball became the victim of its own prejudice, there was a period of uncertainty and fluidity, however brief, during which it seemed by no means inevitable that men would be denied access to Organized Baseball due solely to skin pigmentation. It was not an interlude of total racial harmony, but a degree of toleration obtained that would become unimaginable in just a few short years. This is the story of a handful of black baseball players who, in the span of a single season, playing in a prestigious league, witnessed the abrupt conversion of hope and optimism into defeat and despair. These men, in the most direct and personal manner, would realize that the black American baseball player soon would be ruled “out at home.”
The International League (IL) is the oldest minor league in Organized Baseball. Founded in 1884 as the “Eastern” League, it would be realigned and renamed frequently during its early period. The IL was not immune to the shifting sands of financial support that plagued both minor and major leagues (not to mention individual franchises) during the nineteenth century. In 1887 the league took the risk of adding Newark and Jersey City to a circuit that was otherwise clustered in upstate New York and southern Ontario. This arrangement proved to be financially unworkable. Transportation costs alone would doom the experiment after one season. The New Jersey franchises were simply too far away from Binghamton, Buffalo, Oswego, Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica in New York, and Hamilton and Toronto in Ontario.
But, of course, no one knew this when the 1887 season opened. Fans in Newark were particularly excited, because their “Little Giants” were a new team and an instant contender. A large measure of their eager anticipation was due to the unprecedented “colored battery” signed by the team. The pitcher was George Stovey and the catcher was Moses Fleetwood Walker.
“Fleet” Walker was born in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, on the route of the Underground Railroad, on October 7, 1857. The son of a physician, he was raised in nearby Steubenville. At the age of twenty he entered the college preparatory program of Oberlin College, the first school in the United States to adopt an official admissions policy of nondiscrimination by sex, race, or creed. He was enrolled as a freshman in 1878, and attended Oberlin for the next three years. He was a good but not outstanding student in a rigorous liberal arts program. Walker also attended the University of Michigan for two years, although probably more for his athletic than his scholastic attainments. He did not obtain a degree from either institution, but his educational background was extremely sophisticated for a nineteenth century professional baseball player of whatever ethnic origin.
While at Oberlin, Walker attracted the attention of William Voltz, former sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who had been enlisted to form a professional baseball team to be based in Toledo. Walker was the second player signed by the team, which entered the Northwestern League in 1883. Toledo captured the league championship in its first year.
The following year Toledo was invited to join the American Association, a major league rival of the more established National League. Walker was one of the few players to be retained as Toledo made the jump to the big league. Thus did Moses Fleetwood Walker become the first black to play major league baseball, sixty-four years before Jackie Robinson. Walker played in 42 games that season, batting .263 in 152 at-bats. His brother, Welday Wilberforce Walker, who was two years younger than Fleet, also played outfield in five games, filling in for injured players. Welday was 4-for-18 at the plate.
While at Toledo, Fleet Walker was the batterymate of Hank O’Day, who later became a famous umpire, and Tony Mullane, who could pitch with either hand and became the winningest pitcher, with 285 victories, outside the Hall of Fame. G. L. Mercereau, the team’s batboy, many years later recalled the sight of Walker catching barehanded, as was common in those days, with his fingers split open and bleeding. Catchers would welcome swelling in their hands to provide a cushion against the pain.
The color of Walker’s skin occasionally provoked another, more lasting, kind of pain. The Toledo Blade, on May 5, 1884, reported that Walker was “hissed . . . and insulted . . . because he was colored,” causing him to commit five errors in a game in Louisville. Late in the season the team travelled to Richmond, Virginia, where manager Charley Morton received a letter threatening bloodshed, according to Lee Allen, by “75 determined men [who] have sworn to mob Walker if he comes on the ground in a suit.” The letter, which Morton released to the press, was signed by four men who were “determined” not to sign their real names. Confrontation was avoided, for Walker had been released by the team due to his injuries before the trip to Richmond.
Such incidents, however, stand out because they were so exceptional. Robert Peterson, in Only the Ball Was White, points out that Walker was favorably received in cities such as Baltimore and Washington. As was the case throughout the catcher’s career, the press was supportive of him and consistently reported his popularity among fans. Upon his release, the Blade described him as “a conscientious player [who] was very popular with Toledo audiences,” and Sporting Life’s Toledo correspondent stated that “by his fine, gentlemanly deportment, he made hosts of friends who will regret to learn that he is no longer a member of the club.”
Walker started the 1885 season with Cleveland in the Western League, but the league folded in June. He played the remainder of 1885 and all of 1886 for the Waterbury, Connecticut, team in the Eastern League. While at Waterbury, he was referred to as “the people’s choice,” and was briefly managed by Charley Hackett, who later moved on to Newark. When Newark was accepted into the International League in 1887, Hackett signed Walker to play for him.
So in 1887 Walker was beginning his fifth season in integrated professional baseball. Tall, lean, and handsome, the thirty-year-old catcher was an established veteran noted for his steady, dependable play and admired, literally, as a gentleman and a scholar. Later in the season, when the Hamilton Spectator printed a disparaging item about “the coon catcher of the Newarks,” The Sporting Nevus ran a typical response in defense of Walker: “It is a pretty small paper that will publish a paragraph of that kind about a member of a visiting club, and the man who wrote it is without doubt Walker’s inferior in education, refinement, and manliness.”
One of the reasons that Charley Hackett was so pleased to have signed Walker was that his catcher would assist in the development of one of his new pitchers, a Negro named George Washington Stovey. A 165-pound southpaw, Stovey had pitched for Jersey City in the Eastern League in 1886. Sol White, in his History of Colored Base Ball, stated that Stovey “struck out twenty-two of the Bridgeport [Connecticut] Eastern League team in 1886 and lost his game.” The Sporting News that year called Stovey “a good one, and if the team would support him they would make a far better showing. His manner of covering first from the box is wonderful.”
A dispute arose between the Jersey City and Newark clubs prior to the 1887 season concerning the rights to sign Stovey. One of the directors of the Jersey City team tried to use his leverage as the owner of Newark’s Wright Street grounds to force Newark into surrendering Stovey. But, as the Sporting Life Newark correspondent wrote, “. . . on sober second thought I presume he came to the conclusion that it was far better that the [Jersey City] club should lose Stovey than that he should lose the rent of the grounds.”
A new rule for 1887, which would exist only that one season, provided that walks were to be counted as hits. One of the criticisms of the rule was that, in an era in which one of the pitching statistics kept was the opposition’s batting average, a pitcher might be tempted to hit a batter rather than be charged with a “hit” by walking him. George Stovey, with his blazing fastball, his volatile temper, and his inability to keep either under strict control, was the type of pitcher these skeptics had in mind. He brought to the mound a wicked glare that intimidated hitters.
During the preseason contract dispute, Jersey City’s manager, Pat Powers, acknowledged Stovey’s talents, yet added:
Personally, I do not care for Stovey. I consider him one of the greatest pitchers in the country, but in many respects I think I have more desirable men. He is head-strong and obstinate, and, consequently, hard to manage. Were I alone concerned I would probably let Newark have him, but the directors of the Jersey City Club are not so peaceably disposed.
Newark planned to mute Stovey’s “head-strong obstinance” with the easy-going stability of Fleet Walker. That the strategy did not always work is indicated by an account in the Newark Daily Journal of a July game against Hamilton:
That Newark won the game [14-10] is a wonder, for Stovey was very wild at times, [and] Walker had several passed balls. . . . Whether it was that he did not think he was being properly supported, or did not like the umpire’s decisions on balls and strikes, the deponent saith not, but Stovey several times displayed his temper in the box and fired the ball at the plate regardless of what was to become of everything that stood before him. Walker got tired of the business after awhile, and showed it plainly by his manner. Stovey should remember that the spectators do not like to see such exhibitions of temper, and it is hoped that he will not offend again.
Either despite or because of his surly disposition, George Stovey had a great season in 1887. His 35 wins is a single season record that still stands in the International League. George Stovey was well on his way to establishing his reputation as the greatest Negro pitcher of the nineteenth century.
The promotional value of having the only all-Negro battery in Organized Baseball was not lost upon the press. Newspapers employed various euphemisms of the day for “Negro” to refer to Newark’s “colored,” “Cuban,” “Spanish,” “mulatto,” “African,” and even “Arabian” battery. Sporting Life wrote:
There is not a club in the country who tries so hard to cater to all nationalities as does the Newark Club. There is the great African battery, Stovey and Walker; the Irish battery, Hughes and Derby; and the German battery, Miller and Cantz.
The Newark correspondent for Sporting Life asked, “By the way, what do you think of our ‘storm battery,’ Stovey and Walker? Verily they are dark horses, and ought to be a drawing card. No rainchecks given when they play.” Later he wrote that “Our ‘Spanish beauties,’ Stovey and Walker, will make the biggest kind of drawing card.” Drawing card they may have been, but Stovey and Walker were signed by Newark not for promotional gimmickry, but because they were talented athletes who could help their team win.
Nor were other teams reluctant to improve themselves by hiring black players. In Oswego, manager Wesley Cuny made a widely publicized, though unsuccessful, attempt to sign second baseman George Williams, captain of the Cuban Giants. Had Curry succeeded, Williams would not have been the first, nor the best, black second baseman in the league. For Buffalo had retained the services of Frank Grant, the greatest black baseball player of the nineteenth century.
Frank Grant was beginning the second of a record three consecutive years on the same integrated baseball team. Born in 1867, he began his career in his hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, then moved on to Plattsburg, New York. In 1886 he entered Organized Baseball, playing for Meriden, Connecticut, in the Eastern League until the team folded in July. Thereupon he and two white teammates signed with the Buffalo Bisons, where he led the team in hitting. By the age of twenty Grant was already known as “the Black Dunlap,” a singularly flattering sobriquet referring to Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap, the first player to sign for $10,000 a season, and acknowledged as the greatest second baseman of his era. Sol White called Frank Grant simply “the greatest ball player of his age,” without reference to race.
In 1887, Grant would lead the International League in hitting with a .366 average. Press accounts abound with comments about his fielding skill, especially his extraordinary range. After a series of preseason exhibition games against Pittsburgh’s National League team, “Hustling Horace” Phillips, the Pittsburgh manager, complained about Buffalo’s use of Grant as a “star.” The Rochester Union quoted Phillips as saying that “This accounts for the amount of ground [Grant] is allowed to cover . . . and no attention is paid to such a thing as running all over another man’s territory.” Criticizing an infielder for his excessive range smacks of praising with faint damns. Grant’s talent and flamboyance made him popular not only in Buffalo, but also throughout the IL.
In 1890 Grant would play his last season on an integrated team for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, of the Eastern Interstate League. His arrival was delayed by several weeks due to a court battle with another team over the rights to his services. The Harrisburg Patriot described Grant’s long awaited appearance:
Long before it was time for the game to begin, it was whispered around the crowd that Grant would arrive on the 3:20 train and play third base. Everybody was anxious to see him come and there was a general stretch of necks toward the new bridge, all being eager to get a sight at the most famous colored ball player in the business. At 3:45 o’clock an open carriage was seen coming over the bridge with two men in it. Jim Russ’ famous trotter was drawing it at a 2:20 speed and as it approached nearer, the face of Grant was recognized as being one of the men. “There he comes,” went through the crowd like magnetism and three cheers went up. Grant was soon in the players’ dressing room and in five minutes he appeared on the diamond in a Harrisburg uniform. A great shout went up from the immense crowd to receive him, in recognition of which he politely raised his cap.
Fred Dunlap should have been proud had he ever been called “the White Grant.” Yet Grant in his later years passed into such obscurity that no one knew where or when he died (last year an obituary in the New York Age was located, revealing that Grant had died in New York on June 5, 1937).
Meanwhile, in Binghamton, Bud Fowler, who had spent the winter working in a local barbershop, was preparing for the 1887 season. At age 33, Fowler was the elder statesman of Negro ballplayers. In 1872, only one year after the founding of the first professional baseball league, Bud Fowler was [said to be; no proof has yet emerged–jt] playing professionally for a white team in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Lee Allen, while historian of baseball’s Hall of Fame, discovered that Fowler, whose real name was John Jackson, was born in Cooperstown, New York, in about 1854, the son of itinerant hops-pickers. Thus, Fowler was the greatest baseball player to be born at the future site of the Hall of Fame.
As was the case with many minor league players of his time, Fowler’s career took him hopscotching across the country. In 1884 and 1885 he played for teams in Stillwater, Minnesota; Keokuk, Iowa; and Pueblo, Colorado. He played the entire 1886 season in Topeka, Kansas, in the Western League, where he hit .309. A Negro newspaper in Chicago, the Observer, proudly described Fowler as “the best second baseman in the Western League.”
Binghamton signed Fowler for 1887. The Sportsman’s Referee wrote that Fowler “. . . has two joints where an ordinary person has one. Fowler is a great ball player.” According to Sporting Life’s Binghamton correspondent:
Fowler is a dandy in every respect. Some say that Fowler is a colored man, but we account for his dark complexion by the fact that … in chasing after balls [he] has become tanned from constant and careless exposure to the sun. This theory has the essential features of a chestnut, as it bears resemblance to Buffalo’s claim that Grant is of Spanish descent.
Fowler’s career in the International League would be brief. The financially troubled Bings would release him in July to cut their payroll. But during this half-season, a friendly rivalry existed between Fowler and Grant. Not so friendly were some of the tactics used by opposing base-runners and pitchers. In 1889, an unidentified International League player told The Sporting News:
While I myself am prejudiced against playing in a team with a colored player, still I could not help pitying some of the poor black fellows that played in the International League. Fowler used to play second base with the lower part of his legs encased in wooden guards. He knew that about every player that came down to second base on a steal had it in for him and would, if possible, throw the spikes into him. He was a good player, but left the base every time there was a close play in order to get away from the spikes.
I have seen him muff balls intentionally, so that he would not have to try to touch runners, fearing that they might injure him. Grant was the same way. Why, the runners chased him off second base. They went down so often trying to break his legs or injure them that he gave up his infield position the latter part of last season [i.e., 1888] and played right field. This is not all.
About half the pitchers try their best to hit these colored players when [they are] at the bat. . . One of the International League pitchers pitched for Grant’s head all the time. He never put a ball over the plate but sent them in straight and true right at Grant. Do what he would he could not hit the Buffalo man, and he [Grant] trotted down to first on called balls all the time.
Fowler’s ambitions in baseball extended beyond his career as a player. As early as 1885, while in between teams, he considered playing for and managing the Orions, a Negro team in Philadelphia. Early in July 1887, just prior to his being released by Binghamton, the sporting press reported that Fowler planned to organize a team of blacks who would tour the South and Far West during the winter between 1887 and 1888. “The strongest colored team that has ever appeared in the field,” according to Sporting Life, would consist of Stovey and Walker of Newark; Grant of Buffalo; five members of the Cuban Giants; and Fowler, who would play and manage. This tour, however, never materialized.
But this was not the only capitalistic venture for Fowler in 1887. The entrepreneurial drive that would lead White to describe him as “the celebrated promoter of colored ball clubs, and the sage of base ball” led him to investigate another ill-fated venture: The National Colored Base Ball League.
With the rise of pitching (or decline in batting) capturing everyone’s attention lately–as if it had not been inevitable–I think it worthwhile to take the long view. History may exist for its own sake but, unlike art, it may also be useful. Before we lower the pitching mound, increase the pitching distance or the length of the basepaths, permit aluminum bats, or move in the fences, let’s buck up for a moment and realize that we have been here many times before … since the very dawn of the game. Here, modified only slightly, is the opening chapter of The Pitcher, which John B. Holway and I wrote in 1987.
THE EARLY DAYS: 1845-75
In the first survivng rules of baseball, drafted by William R. Wheaton and William H. Tucker for the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in 1845, Article 9 (the only one pertaining to the pitcher) read:
The ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.
Only ten words, but how much they reveal about the humble origins of baseball’s pioneer players! First, we see that the pitcher came by his name from the underhand, stiff-armed, stiff-wristed pitch borrowed from cricket’s early days—a delivery much like that seen today at the bowling alley. Second, we see the disdain of the “gentlemanly” Knickerbockers of New York for the uncouth throw, which characterized the rival version of baseball that flourished in New England until the Civil War. (Indeed, the term pitcher has been a misnomer in baseball ever since the mid-1860s, when the widespread—though not yet legal—wrist snap transformed the respectable pitch into the lowly throw.) And third, we see that the pitcher was not required to throw strikes rather than balls (the former did not exist until 1858, the latter until 1863), but instead to pitch for the bat: In other words, he and the batter were not adversaries but very nearly allies, each doing his utmost to put the ball in play for the valiant barehand fielders. Of all the positions in the game’s original 1845 design, only right field was less demanding and less prestigious than pitcher.
That began to change in the game’s second decade, as pitchers realized that, despite the restrictions on their motions, they could muster considerable speed and, with no “called ball” system in place, could whiz fastballs wide of the bat for as long as fifteen minutes until the impatient batter finally fished for one. The former alliance of batter and pitcher was thus breached and the breach was soon to widen.
Jim Creighton, a seventeen-year-old pitcher for the amateur Niagaras of Brooklyn (all teams were amateur then), created a stir in 1858 with a pitch that was not only faster than any seen before but also sailed or tailed or climbed or dipped; the result was “fairly unhittable,” in the words of John “Death to Flying Things” Chapman, a contemporary star with the Brooklyn Atlantics. How did Creighton do it? By adding an imperceptible snap of the wrist to his swooping bowler’s delivery. The first baseball pitcher to impart spin to the ball, he was soon wooed away from the Niagaras by the Star of Brooklyn club, with filthy lucre no doubt the bait. Now he was baseball’s first professional, and by the following year, when the Excelsiors of Brooklyn offered him a still more lucrative deal, he had become baseball’s first great pitcher and the idol of the fans. Even twenty years after his last performance, observers of such worthies as Hoss Radbourn and Tim Keefe would say, “They’re fine pitchers, to be sure, but they’re no Creighton.”
That last performance, alas, came against the Unions of Morrisania on October 14, 1862, when the twenty-one-year-old Creighton sustained a rupture which a few days later proved fatal. He incurred the injury with heroic flair, after a mighty swing that produced one of his four doubles in the game. (Legend soon had him hitting a home run, like Roy Hobbs.)
The year after Creighton’s death brought the system of “called balls” to speed up the game, but inasmuch as the lone umpire stood in foul ground along the first base line, balls and strikes could not be accurately judged. Moreover, the batter could demand a pitch high in the strike zone (waist to top of shoulder) or low (waist to a foot or so above the ground) and the pitcher had to comply. The pitcher was therefore working with a batter-imposed strike zone that was theoretically half that of today (but in practice much the same, since the strike zone of the last thirty-plus years has effectively shrunk to the “low strike” definition of the 1860s).
What advantages did a pitcher of the earliest days have? First, he worked behind a line, and after 1865 within a box, that was only 45 feet from home plate. An 80-mile-per-hour fastball thrown by George “Charmer” Zettlein would reach the plate in 0.38 seconds, precisely the time it takes Justin Verlander to hurl 100-m.p.h. heat past a batter today. Second, with the pitcher’s box—which until its abolition in 1893 varied in width from twelve feet to four and in length from seven feet to three—the hurler might move pretty much as he pleased, permitting him a wide-angle crossfire or even a running start, as in cricket bowling. Third, he could record outs on one-bounce catches until 1864, on one-bounce fouls until 1883, and on foul tips at any point in the count until 1888; uncaught fouls were not to register as strikes until the next century. Fourth, even though the batter’s high-low option narrowed the strike zone and thus gave him an edge, a walk was awarded on nine misfires prior to 1876, and that number was not reduced to the current four until 1889. And fifth, once Creighton snapped his wrist, it was only a matter of time before the other spinning pitches—notably the curve, but also the drop (sinker), the rise, the in-shoot (screwball), and spitter—were invented.
The many claimants to creation of the curveball include Candy Cummings, Fred Goldsmith, Deacon White, Tommy Bond, Bobby Mathews, and college pitchers Charles Hammond Avery and Joseph McElroy Mann. The spitter is attributed to Bobby Mathews, but surely his version dropped less spectacularly than the reinvented wet one thrown most notably by Jack Chesbro and Ed Walsh.
The prohibition against the wrist snap and the throw (or bent-elbow delivery) was only rarely observed by the late 1860s, so in 1872 Henry Chadwick proposed that the wrist snap be legalized, and it was. At the same time, the requirement that the pitcher’s arm swing perpendicular to the ground was relaxed so as to permit, in effect, a below-the-hips throw not unlike that of Joe McGinnity or Dan Quisenberry. By 1875, Hartford’s Tommy Bond was living at the edge of the rule by throwing low sidearm with tremendous speed, paving the way for the batting decline of the late 1870s and the frantic series of rule changes in the 1880s.
Before these pitching innovations came about, the baseball games of the 1860s typically featured 35 or more combined runs per game, with scores of 60-100 runs not unusual. Many of these were unearned because of general ineptitude in the field, greatly abetted by a rock-hard ball of incredible resiliency. One player of the period recalled in later years that the ball was so lively that, if dropped from the top of a two-story building, it would rebound nearly all the way back up. Low-scoring games were such a rarity that the annual guides would feature a list of “model games,” defined as those in which the teams combined for fewer than ten runs.
In addition to the different pitching techniques, the late 1860s brought the famous dead ball and with it a sudden rush of low-scoring contests characterized by comparatively dazzling fielding. The fans and sportswriters were overjoyed with the new “artistic” game, at last a worthy rival to cricket. In a famous game of July 23, 1870, Rynie Wolters of the New York Mutuals shut out the “braggart” Chicago White Stockings; this whipping gave rise to the term Chicagoed, meaning shut out. (Prior to that game a few shutouts had been recorded—the first authenticated one, pitched by Creighton, on November 8, 1860—but never against so formidable a foe.)
On May 10, 1875, Chicago fell victim to Joe Blong of St. Louis in baseball’s first 1-0 game and to Boston’s Joe Borden in history’s first no-hitter on July 28 of the same year.
The opening season, 1871, of the National Association, baseball’s first professional league, produced six shutouts. Only five years later, the National League’s inaugural schedule of seventy games featured a whopping sixteen shutouts by St. Louis’ Grin Bradley alone.
THE RISE OF THE MAJORS: 1876-1900
Baseballs were now being manufactured in mass, with deplorable quality control: The dead ball was, by midgame, often the mush ball. The fans no longer considered low scores so remarkable. National League batting averages declined every year from 1877 to 1880, falling from .271 to an alarming .245. The number of strikeouts nearly tripled as pitchers perfected the curves and slants introduced only a decade before. The league ERA was 2.37. The fledgling circuit, which in those years included franchises in such marginal sites as Troy, Syracuse, Worcester, and Providence, was losing money and in big trouble.
To the rescue came Harry Wright, the organizer of the Cincinnati Red Stockings and “Father of Professional Baseball.” He perceived the threat as early as 1877 when, in the Boston Red Stockings’ final exhibition contest, he had the pitcher’s box moved back 5 feet. The following year, in a September exhibition contest against Indianapolis, he arranged for the game to be played with: a walk awarded on six balls rather than the nine that then prevailed; every pitch counting as either a strike or a ball, thus eliminating the “warning” call an umpire made when a batter watched a good pitch sail by; and complete elimination of restrictions on a pitcher’s delivery—he might throw any way he wished. In the winter prior to the 1880 season, Wright proposed a flat bat and a cork-centered lively ball. And in December 1882, by which time most of the above proposals had been tried and some instituted—the front of the pitcher’s box at 50 feet, the abolition of warning pitches, the walk awarded on seven balls, soon to be six—he proposed denying the batter the right to call for a high or low pitch and, most dramatically, a pitcher’s box of 56 feet—very much the pitching distance of today. (The pitching distance at that time was measured from home plate to the front of the box, or true point of delivery, while today’s distance is measured from the plate to the rubber, from which the pitcher’s front foot strides some 4 to 4.5 feet forward.)
Hitting revived briskly in 1881, the first year of the new 50-foot pitching distance, but soon slid back again. The rule makers continued their tinkering with the ball/strike count (raising the strike count to four for 1887–in effect raising it to former levels, since the old warning pitch had prevailed until 1880 and was granted with two strikes until 1881–and lowering the ball count to four by 1889); the length of the pitcher’s box (from 7 feet to 6 feet to, in the final adjustment before replacement by the rubber, 5.5 feet); the pitcher’s windup (banning the running start and, for 1885, the raised-leg windup); and, most important, the delivery itself.
Once Tommy Bond began to raise his sidearm delivery slightly above the waist in the mid-1870s, it was only a matter of time before “anything goes” became the standard. Pitchers’ motions were creeping up to a three-quarters, “from the shoulder” style in the early 1880s, and despite a few warnings, many balks, and even a few forfeits, the practice was well in place before the rule that permitted it in 1883. In 1884 the National League removed all restrictions from pitchers, permitting a full overhand delivery that benefited primarily Charlie Sweeney of Providence, whose record of nineteen strikeouts in a game was not surpassed until Roger Clemens struck out twenty 102 years later. The American Association, the rival major league of the day, held to the from-the-shoulder rule until a June 7 meeting in 1885.
In 1887 the rule makers granted the most controversial capitulation to the hitters: not only were four strikes allowed against only five balls (although, to be fair, the division of the strike zone into high and low regions was eliminated), but walks were to be counted as hits. The resulting proliferation of .400 batting averages was broadly ridiculed, and in 1888 an out was again based on three strikes, walks resumed their previous status—and batting averages resumed their decline, dropping a whopping thirty points in the National League and thirty-five in the American Association as strikeouts increased dramatically.
The slide in batting performance was finally arrested in 1893 by adoption, one decade after its proposal by Harry Wright, of an effective pitching distance of 56 feet. The box was eliminated in favor of a slab placed 60 feet 6 inches from home (rejected was a proposal that the pitcher’s position be midway between home and first, or about 63 feet 7 inches from home). Writers ever since have attributed the explosion of hitting in the mid-1890s to the ten-foot increase in the pitching distance, but in fact it was only a five-foot increase: The box of 1892 was 5.5 feet long, and the distance to home plate of 50 feet was measured from the front of the box; moreover, since 1887 the pitcher had to have his back foot in contact with the back line of the box. The old chestnut about the 60-foot 6-inch pitching distance being the result of a surveyor’s error in reading a blueprint has no basis in fact: The rule makers simply moved the pitching distance back five feet, just as they had done in 1881.
The hitting explosion produced, at its zenith in 1894, a league ERA of 5.32, a team batting average of .349 (for the fourth-place Phillies), and nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts. That such a boost could have been anticipated was demonstrated by a little-known experiment in the Players League of 1890. In its attempt to win fan favor through increased scoring, the rival major league moved its pitching box back 1.5 feet and, with the addition of a new lively ball, produced a batting average twenty points higher than those in the two established major leagues.
The 1890s were a hitter’s heyday. Pitchers throwing breaking pitches at the new distance tired more quickly than their predecessors of the 1880s had; staffs now typically featured three and sometimes four starters where two had sufficed in the 1880s and one had been enough in the 1870s. The pitcher’s craft was advancing, but refinement created a new level of physical exertion. The curveball of the 1890s was no longer the roundhouse or schoolboy curve that featured only a lateral break, and the better pitchers had learned to throw a slow ball (change-up) with the same motion as the fast one, making it just as taxing on the arm. Hoss Radbourn threw for 679 innings in 1884, but he would not have been able to do it in 1894, when no pitcher exceeded 450 innings.
In 1895 the bat was widened to 2.75 inches in diameter, and the foul tip (nicked backwards) was for the first time ruled a strike. As the former change benefited the batter and the latter the pitcher, the balance between offense and defense was maintained. The other notable new wrinkle of the 1890s was pitcher Clark Griffith’s introduction of the scuffed, or cut, ball; his practice was to bang the ball brazenly against his spikes. (In the 1920s, oddly, Griffith’s voice was one of the loudest against the spitball.) Griffith’s cut ball was significant primarily as a harbinger of the dead ball era to come, which might as aptly be termed the doctored ball era.
THE DEAD BALL ERA: 1901-19
Rule changes slowed in the 1890s—now was one of those anomalous times in major-league history when the battered pitchers needed a boost. And they drew considerable comfort from the ruling that the foul ball was a strike (NL, 1901; AL, 1903) and from the advent of such now illegal if not exactly defunct pitches as the spitball, shine ball, mud ball, emery ball, and cut ball as well as the legal knuckleball and forkball. In 1900, the National League batting average was .279, and walks exceeded strikeouts by 12 percent. One year later, the mark was .267, and strikeouts exceeded walks by 58 percent. Parallel figures mark the experience of the American League in the years surrounding its adoption of the foul strike.
A hitting famine took hold for the rest of the decade, with the grimmest year being 1908. Shutouts were common and extra-base hits scarce. Base stealing and the bunt were potent offensive weapons, but the home run was a freakish occurrence—more often than not, the league home run leader would have fewer than ten, and in 1908 the entire Chicago White Sox team, who contended for the pennant into the final week, had only three. The popularity of the game itself was not in jeopardy—indeed, 1908 may have provided baseball with its greatest pennant races in each league. Such pitchers as Christy Mathewson, Ed Walsh, Cy Young, and Walter Johnson had become heroes with stature equal to Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, and Honus Wagner. The game was fast, strategic, and exciting, and fans were delighted with the rivalry between the American and National leagues after a decade of NL domination. But the owners had long memories, and they worried what might happen if hitting did not pick up soon: the press had been grumbling about baseball becoming a dull duel between pitchers rather than a contest between teams.
So in midseason of 1910, the National League introduced the new cork-centered ball (developed for cricket in 1863, rejected by baseball in 1882). Both leagues agreed to its use in the World Series that year and during the regular 1911 season. The result was a mild boost in batting averages but a marked increase in extra-base hits—notably home runs—and run scoring. But was the cork-centered ball truly that much more lively than the rubber-centered ball of old? Did it have a higher coefficient of resiliency? In 1911, one oldtimer noted astutely:
It isn’t the cork center that makes the ball lively and causes so much hitting; it’s the fact that the pitchers find the ball too hard to curve with their former skill. You see, the cork center is so large that twine has to be wound more tightly than formerly and when the cover is sewed on the ball is like the one used in cricket. It is like wood and the pitchers in gripping it between the thumb and fingers find that the surface does not give. You can make a soft ball curve almost at will. Anybody who knows will admit that. But the hard ball, such as the big leagues are using now, is far different. The pitchers can’t get the old breaks and shoots, and as the ball necessarily cuts the plate straight and fast the good batsmen kill it. You’ll find that all the best pitchers are having trouble this year and most of them will tell you that the old curves are impossible. The ball used two years ago was just soft enough near the surface to permit a tight grip, and that meant plenty of effectiveness.
This observation applies equally well to later, still more lively versions of the baseball. The bane of pitchers is not the rabbit at the center of the ball, but the nature and tightness of the twine or wool that wraps around it, and the elevation of the stitching. The rest of the decade continued to be dominated by pitchers such as Russ Ford with his emery ball, Eddie Cicotte with his shine ball, and legions of pitchers with spitballs, Ed Walsh being paramount.
The cork-centered ball may have been more lively, but its joie de vivre was certainly diminished by the fifth inning or so, for in these days only two or three balls might carry the teams through an entire game.
By the mid-1920s—surely due in some measure to Ray Chapman’s fatal beaning—stained or mutilated balls were taken out of play; a batter could request a fresh baseball; and the teams no longer insisted upon the return of foul balls (sample figures: the NL of 1919 used 22,095 baseballs; in 1924 it used 54,030). And those foreign-substance pitches were banned. And Babe Ruth, who had sounded the death knell of the dead ball era when he hit 29 homers for the Red Sox in 1919, came to New York. And the lively ball, whose existence at any point in history is still denied by everyone connected with Organized Baseball, hit the American League. (What made the heart of the 1920 ball race was the use of Australian wool, unavailable during World War I, and the tighter winding made possible by new machinery. An official of the Reach Company, manufacturer of AL baseballs, later admitted that the winding would be periodically tightened or loosened as requested.)
THE RUTHIAN ERA: 1920-41
Daring the dead ball era, the National League batted over .270 only once and the American League only in its first two years as a major circuit, when pitching quality was marginal. Beginning in 1920, NL batters hit over .270 every year until 1933, and AL batters did so every year until 1941. From 1919 to 1921 alone, home runs doubled; by 1930, they had nearly doubled again. In 1919 the National League’s leading slugger, Hi Myers, had a slugging average of .436; in 1930, the entire league slugged at a .448 clip. In 1919 the National League had no .350 batters, the American League four; in 1930 they had twenty. Perhaps most incredible, the top-hitting team in the NL of 1919 was the second-place New York Giants, who batted .269; in 1930 the Phillies hit .315 and finished last as their shellshocked hurlers permitted 7.7 runs per game.
The Dark Age for pitching had set in: Pitchers found themselves short on ammunition and ideas, as they had in 1893—but now it would take them a long time, far longer than ever before or since, to resume their historic advantage.
Was the batting truly so awesome or the pitching so awful? Probably neither. This was an extraordinary period during which several forces combined to give the offense the sort of overwhelming superiority it had enjoyed in the mid-1890s. A whole generation of strongboys, their path illuminated by Ruth, was learning the joys of fencebusting. The push-and-poke attack, advancing runners one base at a time, went the way of the dodo almost overnight. And the pitchers, shorn of much of their arsenal, were caught unprepared for the new offensive—they simply fired those fastballs a bit faster and resignedly watched them rocket by their ears.
A fastball and a curve (the latter almost never thrown when behind in the count, except by the great ones) used to be enough to get by when the ball was dead and the outfielders could play shallow. Now the ball was, comparatively, a grenade, and every man in the lineup could hurt you—no more opportunities to pitch around strong batters and coast whenever you had a three-run lead. The plan of pacing oneself to go nine innings, a la Christy Mathewson, was becoming passe; relief pitchers were becoming respectable. Indeed, the advent of such relief specialists as Firpo Marberry, Mace Brown, and Johnny Murphy was the principal strategic innovation of the Ruthian era.
The great pitchers of the dead ball era were gone or, like Walter Johnson and Grover Alexander, in decline. Stars like Lefty Grove, Dizzy Dean, Dazzy Vance, and Bob Feller came along, but most of the pitchers of the twenties and thirties were pretty straightforward chuckers, daring the big boys to hit their best. Their stuff was probably no worse than that of the bulk of dead ball pitchers, but the consequence of their mistakes was far greater. New pitches? The slider may have been created in the mid-1920s by George Blaeholder of the Browns or Tommy Thomas of the White Sox, but its era of impact was yet to come. The knuckler o[ Dutch Leonard was not new, and its glory too was in the distance. The screwball of Carl Hubbell had of course been used by Mathewson (the fadeaway) and with less celebrated effect by a handful of nineteenth-century pitchers. Paul Richards, a great student of pitching and architect of the dazzling Orioles’ staffs of the 1950s and 1960s, once said:
Pitchers are much better than they used to be. The oldtimers only remember the outstanding ones. They forget about the soft touches who couldn’t hold a job today. Let’s go back to the 1930s, and that means we’re actually talking about the modem era. Most of the pitchers threw a fastball and a curve. That was it. There were some cute ones around, too, but they weren’t the stars. Even some of the stars had a curve that was nothing special and today they couldn’t make it with just the pitches they had.
When Richards spoke of cute ones, he may have had in mind Ted Lyons or Tommy Bridges. Some say Bridges had the best curve ever seen. And Richards’ curveless wonders might have included Red Ruffing, Dizzy Dean, and a bevy of other notables, including Hall of Famers.
But the pitchers’ debacle of this period cannot be blamed entirely on their penchant for meeting power with power. The ball was livened and deadened, league by league, as the owners scrambled to attract the scarce dollars of Depression era fans. The NL ball was juiced in 1921, one year later than in the AL, when senior circuit officials saw how the fans liked the home-run heroics of Babe Ruth in the rival league. Certainly it was inflated further for the bruising 1930 season, then deflated the following year as homers declined mysteriously from 892 to 492. By 1933 the National League’s ERA had come down by 33 percent; Carl Hubbell managed one of 1.66, a level not seen in either league since . . . 1919.
From 1931 to 1942, the American League was the hitters’ circuit. Its ERA reached a high of 5.04 in 1936 (the only time a league ERA has ever exceeded five runs except for 1894) and stayed over 4.00 every year from 1921 to 1941, barring a 3.99 mark in 1923. Yankee fans may have loved the carnage their batters in particular wrought, but these were not classic years in baseball history.
Nor in truth were the next four, but they laid the groundwork for the period many observers feel was the game’s greatest, the 1950s.
THE CLASSIC PERIOD: 1942-60
Baseball during World War II (1942-45) may have been inferior to that played immediately before and after, but the reason was not just the manpower shortage, which was not severe until 1944-45. The shortage of wartime materials forced baseball manufacturers to use an inferior grade of wool that produced a dramatically softer, deadened ball. Home runs in the American League, for example, plummeted from 883 in 1940 to 401 in 1946; league batting averages dipped below .250 for the first time since 1917, when another war for America had just commenced.
The marathon batting orgy of the twenties and thirties was over, and pitching seemed poised to reassert the dominance it had enjoyed in the early years of the century; even the return of stars like Williams, Musial, and DiMaggio from the service for the 1946 season failed to boost overall batting. But 1947 was a year of momentous change: Jackie Robinson broke the color line, television became a force. Of less obvious but more immediate impact, the ball was livened again. Home runs jumped by an incredible 62 percent, and, not surprisingly, complete games declined and saves increased (in the AL, by a whopping 45 percent). The fans loved it.
So the rule makers fanned the flame, lowering the strike zone in 1950 from the top of the shoulder to the armpit and raising it from the bottom of the knee to the top—the first mandated change in this area since 1887. As a result, home runs soared again, to a new high—but oddly, so did strikeouts. The die was cast for the rest of the decade: batters would swing from the heels, forsaking batting average for power, and pitchers—many of them newly armed with the slider, or “nickel curve,” as Cy Young disparagingly termed it—would keep them off balance. The strikeout-to-walk ratio, which had been roughly 1:1 since the introduction of the lively ball in 1920, was nearing the 2:1 (and higher) ratio of the 1960s. Despite the plentiful home run (in 1954, National League teams averaged 158 homers, the game’s highwater mark until 1986 when American League teams averaged 164 four-baggers), batting averages and bases on balls declined, testifying to the advancing skill of the pitchers and the managers who discovered the bullpen. The scoring level in 1960 was lower than that in 1950, and batting was already on its downhill slide to the vanishing point of 1968: the year of the pitcher.
THE EXPANSION ERA: 1961-
Only Commissioner Ford Frick did not know it. He saw the prodigious slugging in the American League’s expansion year of 1961: Colavito, Gentile, Killebrew, Cash, Mantle, and Maris plus a Yankees’ team that hit 240 homers. He was particularly irked that a low-average hitter like Maris could break the cherished home run mark of Babe Ruth. After the National League’s expansion and increased run production in the following year, he said: “I would even like the spitball to come back. Take a look at the batting, home run, and slugging record for recent seasons, and you become convinced that the pitchers need help urgently.” He saw fit to rescue them by restoring the old strike zone that had been reduced in 1950.
Whoops! Strikeouts rose, walks declined; batting averages fell to the mid-.240s in both leagues, reaching the lowest combined level since 1908, and the woeful New York Mets batted .219, the lowest in NL annals since 1908. The batters were in disarray, and in the seasons that followed they would scurry into full retreat. Young strikeout artists—Gibson, Marichal, Koufax, McDowell, Chance, McLain, and others—dominated. New stadiums favoring pitchers, such as Shea, Busch, and Dodger stadiums, replaced older parks that were hitters’ havens—the Polo Grounds, Sportsman’s Park, the Coliseum. The forkball and the knuckler, two pitches that had been around for generations, were revived with devastating effect; every kid pitcher seemed to hit the big time with a slider in addition to his curve and fastball, and such firemen as Larry Sherry, Roy Face, Ron Perranoski, Lindy McDaniel, and Dick Radatz had years when they seemed unhittable.
Baseball officials were becoming concerned that the grand old game appeared stodgy to fans of the sixties, that professional football was capturing the hearts and minds of America. The events of 1968 helped convince them. In the National League Bob Gibson had an ERA of 1.12, including thirteen shutouts. The American League had a batting champion who hit .301, surpassing his nearest rival by eleven points; five pitchers with ERAs under 2.00, with one of them, Denny McLain, winning thirty-one games; a league batting average of .230, with the once proud Yankees hitting .214. Paul Richards recommended setting the pitching distance back another 5 feet, to 65 feet, 6 inches.
This was rejected, but the remedies of 1969 were almost as radical. The strike zone was reduced again, to the region of 1950-62. The mound was lowered to a maximum height of 10 inches from the 15 inches that had prevailed since 1903. In all likelihood, the ball was juiced again. Scoring was boosted by about 15 percent in each league, and homers (adjusted for the expansion to twelve-team circuits) jumped by about 30 percent. The lowered mound flattened out wicked curveballs and sliders and took the hop off all but the elite of fastballs. The strike zone change was of little significance in itself, but at about this time, without an explicit rule change, the top of the strike zone mysteriously came down not from the shoulders to the letters but to the midriff. By 1987 the high strike would become defined in practice as anything above the belt buckle.
These innovations resuscitated hitting for a while. Whereas in 1968 there had been only six .300 hitters, 1969 produced eighteen; where 1968 saw only three men with 100 RBIs, 1969 brought fourteen; the number of forty-plus home-run hitters rose from one to seven. But by 1972 the pitchers had adjusted, and batting in both leagues slid back to near-1968 levels. In the American League particularly, the situation was grim: home runs (on a team-average basis) hit their lowest level since 1949 and batting averages dipped below .240 yet again.
The response this time was the designated hitter. It produced a tilt back toward the batters, inasmuch as pitchers now had to face nine true batters rather than eight. (How remarkable an achievement was Nolan Ryan’s strikeout record of 383 that season. If he had faced pitchers in the nine-hole of the lineup, he might have added sixty more Ks.) Not only did the d.h. produce more scoring, it also produced more complete games, as managers no longer needed to pinch-hit for a starter who trailed in a low-scoring game. This tendency, however, was short-lived: AL pitchers completed 33.5 percent of their starts in 1974, but only 15.7 percent a decade later (although this was still higher than the 11.6 percent figure for the NL).
Strangely, hitting perked up in the National League at about the same time, without benefit of the d.h. Could the new cowhide ball, manufactured in Haiti, have had something to do with it? Or was it the incredible shrinking strike zone? (Consider how sharp today’s pitchers must be in comparison to their mates of, say, the 1920s, when the strike zone printed in the rule book corresponded to the strike zone during the game.) In any event, the pitcher/batter war seemed a standoff in the late seventies and early eighties, as batters fattened up on the new flock of breaking-ball cuties while older hard-stuff stars like Seaver, Palmer, Carlton, and Ryan continued to shine. Some of the newcomers—Soto, Guidry, Richard, Morris, Valenzuela—threw hard and made their marks, but the general opinion in baseball was that if the fastball was the pitch of the sixties and the slider the pitch of the seventies, the mixed bag of curve and change, cut fastball and split-finger fastball, would dominate the eighties. Then along came Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens and Mark Langston, and we stopped hearing about the death of the fastball.
Nonetheless, the split-finger fastball was the sensation of the 1986 season. Popularized by relief pitcher Bruce Sutter in the early eighties, it had been invented back in 1908 by Bert Hall, who called it a forkball, and later was employed by Tiny Bonham, Roy Face, and Lindy McDaniel. For all of them it served as a dry spitter, an offspeed sinker that batters would beat into the ground or, in the case of Sutter, who threw it harder than the others, fan on. The gospel of the split-finger fastball was spread in the 1980s by Roger Craig when he was pitching coach of the Detroit Tigers, whose staff fell in love with the pitch.
It seems anyone whose fingers were long enough to throw the pitch added it to his repertoire. But one of Craig’s disciples, Mike Scott of the Houston Astros, threw it harder than anyone and transformed it, in 1986, from a freakish change-up to the greatest menace batters had faced since the hard sliders of Lyle, Guidry, and Carlton a decade earlier. The pitch thrown by Sutter had a bit of a screwball tail to it, but its primary trait was its drop; Scott’s split-finger pitch sailed and swooped unpredictably at some 85 m.p.h.—and sunk, too.
In the second half of 1986, carrying over to the National League Championship Series, Scott’s pitch was as nearly unhittable as any ever seen on a diamond—as discouraging as Ryan’s fastball, Carlton’s slider, Koufax’s curve, Wilhelm’s knuckler, Walsh’s spitter, Creighton’s blue darter. Was this the end for the batter? Of course not; he would adjust, even if it would take a little help from his friends.
Offenses revived in the mid-1990s and home runs proliferated. And then the pitchers came up with something new.
This is a stray, ephemeral piece by Lawrence S. Ritter that has been overlooked for three decades. Larry let me use it as a sidebar to fill out an article that ran short on its final page in the first issue of The National Pastime (1982). Larry contributed one of his unpublished oral-history transcripts from The Glory of Their Times, too. The success of that first issue may in no small measure be chalked up to him. Published by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), the journal is now in its thirty-third year of continuous publication. This untold story of Goose Goslin’s strange experience in Cooperstown on the day of his induction into the Baseball Hal of Fame was finally published in a an updated edition of The Glory of Their Times. All the same, I believe it will be new to most readers.
The date was July 22, 1968: a hot summer day in Cooperstown, New York, the day lumbering, amiable Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin, age 68, finally made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Goose Goslin had begun his big-league career with the Washington Senators in 1921. He ended it with the same team 17 years later. In between he was one of baseball’s outstanding hitters, although his defensive skills in the outfield occasionally fell somewhat short of perfection. In January 1968, the Goose was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Veterans. The Cooperstown induction was scheduled for Monday morning, July 22, and the Goose joyously made plans for his big day.
“You be sure to be there,” he said to me on the phone. “We’ll have a wonderful time.”
Both of us arrived at Cooperstown on Sunday evening, the day before the ceremonies, the Goose accompanied by some relatives and close friends from home in southern New Jersey. He and his party happily established themselves in several beautiful rooms at the Otesaga Hotel, a few blocks from the Hall of Fame, and all of us enjoyed a bountiful meal, with many toasts, as we awaited the day of days. Joe Medwick, also to be inducted the next day, joined us as the evening progressed and the two former outfielders recalled, with some exaggeration, the many game-saving catches they had made and the home runs they had hit in the bottom of the ninth.
The long-awaited day dawned warm and beautiful. A large crowd was already on hand as we arrived at the Hall of Fame at 10:00 in the morning. General William D. Eckert, then the Commissioner of Baseball, introduced the Goose and presented him with a replica of the plaque that would stand forever in his honor, in close proximity to those of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson. The Commissioner noted, in his introduction, that the Goose had once been hit on the head by a fly ball, but then had hit three home runs in that same game.
In response, the Goose, his eyes wet, tried to maintain his composure. “I want to thank God, who gave me the health and strength to compete with those great players,” he said. Then he started to cry and couldn’t continue, until the gentle hand of the commissioner and the applause of the crowd restored his self-control. “I will never forget this day,” he concluded. “I will take the memory of this moment to my grave.”
For the next couple of hours the Goose was besieged by reporters and assorted admirers. Finally, we made our way back to the hotel, where a buffet luncheon had been prepared for the new inductees and their guests. Although the lunch was excellent, the Goose could hardly eat because of his exhilaration, not to mention the steady stream of interruptions by congratulatory old friends and autograph seekers.
After lunch we returned to the room and began to make plans for the afternoon and evening. “I think I’ll take a nap for an hour or so,” the Goose said. ”Then let’s all walk back to the Hall and take a good look at it.”
Before anyone could answer, however, the phone rang. It was the room clerk. ”You will have to vacate your rooms within the hour, Mr. Goslin,” he said. “We have a convention arriving and people are already waiting in the lobby for your rooms.”
“But I’m not leaving until tomorrow,” the Goose said. “It’s a long drive home and I’m tired. We expected to stay overnight.”
“I’m sorry,” said the clerk. “When we wrote you several months ago we told you that we had reserved your rooms for Sunday night only, and that if you or any of your party wanted to stay longer you’d have to let us know. Since we never heard from you, we assigned your rooms to someone else for tonight.”
The Goose was stunned. He was also enraged. He called Ken Smith, the Hall of Fame’s director, Paul Kerr, its president, and everyone else he could think of. But no one, not even Commissioner Eckert, could help. There simply were no vacancies in the Otesaga, or in any other hotel or motel within 20 miles. Like it or not, the Goose had no choice. He had to leave.
And so it happened that on his great day, July 22,1968, Leon Allen Goslin was honored, acclaimed, and applauded in the morning–and unceremoniously ejected from his hotel room that same afternoon.
Sic transit gloria mundi!
As promised yesterday, here is a guide to variances between the Baseball Hall of Fame plaques and the official record of Major League Baseball. There is truly little controversy here, as the Hall has elegantly placed a rubric in the Gallery reading: “The information on these plaques was taken from sources believed to be reliable and accurate at the time it was written.” Fair enough, but there are errors galore. As Alan Schwarz wrote nearly a decade ago in the New York Times, “many of these errors wound up on the best players’ Hall of Fame plaques. Walter Johnson was believed to have won 414 games when he was inducted in 1936, but several corrections later, he was left with 417. Eddie Collins’s plaque says he collected 3,313 hits from 1906 to 1930, but the record-keeper back then apparently switched one game of Collins’s statistics with those of his teammate Buck Weaver, so he actually had two more. In the mid-1970’s, when an addition error was discovered on Tris Speaker’s official stat sheets–which are preserved on microfilm–his official career average went up to .345 from its longtime .344, two decades after his death.” History is set in wet concrete.
Major League Baseball Record Keeping, Part 2
John Thorn, Pete Palmer, and Joseph M. Wayman
Nineteenth Century Hall of Famers
Cap Anson Plaque, four batting titles; Total Baseball (TB), three
In 1879, Anson appears to have been the beneficiary of 20 extra hits, either by error or, as is commonly believed, a civic-minded Chicago official scorer. This error was found by John Tattersall in his review of newspaper box scores. In addition he (and we) incorporated the player records of four Chicago tie games, of which Anson played in two. His traditional mark of .407 was really only .317, and was so recorded in Total Baseball; however, although a modern accounting would result in an 1879 batting title for Paul Hines, with .357, we credit the championship that year to Anson, as an instance of the official Major League Baseball policy cited in Part 1 of this article (records may change, titles/awards do not).
The singular season of 1887 presents a different case. Following the long-standing directive of the Special Baseball Records Committee, we did not count walks as hits, the practice which had been the sole basis of Anson’s fourth batting championship. Note that only for this year, in which walks were aberrationally recorded as hits, and 1876, when they were aberrationally recorded as outs, didwe overturn the scoring practice of the time in favor of a modern reinterpretation of who was the batting leader. However, when Jerome Holtzman, MLB’s official historian, ruled to revers the Special Records Committee, we saw reason in his stance and went along. [His article on the subject is appended here at the conclusion.] Today Holtzman’s edict is observed largely in the breach.
Jake Beckley Plaque, .309 lifetime, also for fielding at first base, 2368 games, 23696 putouts, 25000 chances; TB, .308, 2377, 23709, 25024
These are about as close as you can get when comparing several sources prior to 1900.
Dan Brouthers Plaque, .419 average in 1887; TB, .338
This average is inflated by the aforementioned scoring practice of 1887; even if we elected to keep that practice in effect, Brouthers’ walks would have lifted him to .426.
John Clarkson Plaque, 175 losses, 2013 strikeouts, 4514 innings; TB, 178, 1978, 4536
The major difference in strikeouts occurred in 1886, where the guide had 340 and we counted only 313. We recorded two additional losses in 1894, in accordance with the scoring rules of the day. Reviewing our sources, we counted 27 more innings in 1887. His plaque bore a clear error concerning his wins in 1888. He had 33 and did not lead the league, although the plaque says 49. This was a confusion with the 49 Clarkson did win in 1889, which was also listed.
Roger Connor Plaque, hit .300 twelve times; TB, eleven
If we counted walks as hits in 1887, we would also have twelve times.
Ed Delahanty Plaque, hit. 408 in 1899; TB, .410
The discrepancy is a product of newspaper research.
Hugh Duffy Plaque, hit .438 in 1894; TB, .440
This was the highest average all-time. The 1895 guide has 236 hits while the newspaper count is 237; both had 539 at bats. Since no backup data has survived for the guide, there is no way to determine where the difference might be.
Jim Galvin Plaque, 365-311 won-lost; TB, 360-308
The plaque data includes a 4-2 mark in the 1875 NA, which has been denied major league status by the Special Baseball Records Committee. There are other smaller differences.
Billy Hamilton Plaque, 196 runs in 1894, 115 stolen bases and .338 batting average in 1891, 937 stolen bases total, 1893-1895 batting averages of .395,.399 .393, ten times scoring 100 runs; TB, 192 runs in ‘94, 111 steals and .340 batting average in ‘91, 912 lifetime steals, 1893-1895 batting averages of .380, .404, .389, eleven times scoring 100 runs
Whether Hamilton scored 196 runs or 192, he still holds the all-time record. There were small differences in stolen bases in several years. We speculate that when the folks at Cooperstown counted Hamilton’s seasons of scoring 100 or more runs, they overlooked his 1889 A.A. accomplishment.
Hughie Jennings Plaque, once hit .397; TB, .401 in 1896
The guide had 208 hits in 523 at bats, which actually computes to .398, although .397 was shown. The newspaper research showed 209 for 521.
Tim Keefe Plaque, 346 wins; TB, 342
Daguerreotypes also has 342.
Joe Kelley Plaque, .391 in 1894; TB, .393
Newspaper box score research pointed up discrepancies in the figures recorded in the guides.
King Kelly Plaque, .394 average in 1887; TB, .322
If we count walks as hits Kelly would have a mark of .393.
Tommy McCarthy Plaque, 1268 games, 109 stolen bases in 1888, 53 assists in 1893; TB, 1275 games, 93 steals, 28 assists
Newspaper research found the early stolen base figures to be inflated, especially for the American Association. His 53 assists in 1893 included many while playing at second base and shortstop. However, he did have 44 in the outfield in 1888, fourth best all-time.
Kid Nichols Plaque, 360-202 won-lost, 30 wins in 1895; TB 361-208, 26
Daguerreotypes has 361-208 as we do, including 26 wins in 1895. Nichols for years had been credited with winning 30 or more games from 1891 through 1897, but it has been conclusively shown that he had only 26 in 1895. The Spalding Guide showed games pitched (which was usually interpreted to be decisions) and percentage. They had 44 and .681 which would give a mark of 30-14. The 1942 Baseball Register showed him 30-15. ICI’s Baseball Encyclopedia had him at 26-16 in 42 complete games and 0-0 in 5 relief appearances. Ironically, the corrected figures give him 30 wins in 1898, for seven seasons of 30 victories or more—total, but not consecutive.
Amos Rusie Plaque, led in shutouts 5 times; TB, 4: Rusie pitched 7 innings of a 9-inning shutout on July 5, 1897.
Taking this shutout away, in accordance with current scoring rules (there were no official rules for crediting shutouts until 1951), gave him 2 instead of 3.
Sam Thompson Plaque, .336 lifetime, hit .400 twice; TB, .331, once)
If walks counted as hits, we would have him at .407 in 1887 and .334 lifetime.
John Ward Plaque, 158-102 won-lost, 2151 hits; TB, 164-102, 2105
Walks in 1887 accounted for 29 of Ward’s now “missing” hits. An additional 18 came from the 1890 Players League, for which newspaper research offered a lower total than the league figures. Other discrepancies were spread out over several years. We spotted 3 extra pitching wins in 1879 and again in 1883.
Twentieth Century Hall of Famers
Luke Appling Plaque, 11,569 chances accepted at shortstop; TB, 11,616
There was an addition error for his putouts in 1940. He had 307, not 257. Daguerreotypes had 11,566, not 11,569.
Jack Chesbro Plaque, 192-128 won-lost; TB, 198-132
Daguerreotypes now has 198-128. The 1947 Baseball Register—only one year after Jack’s election and the creation of his plaque—had 197-127. Still under review are two other games for which it has been argued that Chesbro should have received wins.
Ty Cobb Plaque, 4191 hits; TB, 4189
See Part 1 of this article for discussion of the doubly entered 2-for-3 game. But that is not the whole story of how Cobb’s lifetime hit total fell by two, nor of how he comes to retain his twelve batting titles. Modern research of the official day-by-day sheets revealed that Cobb had two games in 1906–on April 22 and 23–in which he went 1-for-8 that were not entered on his sheet. Finally, there was a game on July 12, 1912 (the first game of a doubleheader) in which Cobb had a run which was entered in his hit column. (If this had indeed been a hit, he would have had a 34-game hitting streak. It was really only 23 games.) Finally, under today’s rules, Cobb would not have won the batting title in 1914, because he didn’t have enough plate appearances (or at bats). However, he did win it under the rules of the day, as he won the 1910 title.
Eddie Collins Plaque, 3313 hits; TB, 3312
Collins picked up two hits in 1920 in a game for which his stats were switched with those of Buck Weaver. But he lost a hit in 1907 in a mixup with Jimmy Collins, giving Eddie a net loss of one hit.
Stan Coveleski Plaque, 214-141 won-lost, 2.88 ERA; TB, 215-142, 2.89
Daguerreotypes has 215-141. The 1942 Baseball Register has 216-142. Our ERA includes 1912, when Stan had a 3.43 era in 21 innings. The beginning of official status for ERA in the AL was 1913.
Sam Crawford Plaque, 2505 games, 2964 hits, 312 triples; TB, 2517, 2961, 309
Red Faber Plaque, 253-211 won-lost, 3.13 era; TB, 254-213, 3.15
Elmer Flick Plaque, .378 in 1900; TB, .367
The guide had 207 hits in 547 at bats, while the newspaper research showed 200 in 545.
Harry Heilmann Plaque, 2146 games; TB, 2148
Daguerreotypes has 2145 games. Heilmann appeared in 69 games in 1914, not 66. For 1912-14 the official AL averages did not count a game for any player who had all zeros in his entry. These would be pinch-runners or late-inning defensive replacements. There were a total of over 400 such uncounted appearances in this category altogether.
Walter Johnson Plaque, 414 wins; TB, 417
This research was done by Frank Williams and detailed minutely in his previously cited essay in The National Pastime of 1982. Walter had a 16-game winning streak in 1912, but one of the games (August 5) was not marked as a win on his sheet. In 1911, wins were incorrectly marked as losses on June 27 and July 9. For the AL before 1920, there were about twenty or thirty errors in awarding wins and losses in the official statistics each year.
Heinie Manush Plaque, 2009 games; TB, 2008
Joe McGinnity Plaque, won 20 seven times; TB, eight
This looks like an error made by the Hall of Fame. He won 20 in 1902 between two leagues, as shown in the 1941 Baseball Register (McGinnity was elected in 1946).
Herb Pennock Plaque, 161 losses; TB, 162
Daguerreotypes agrees with 162 losses. The 1941 Baseball Register had 161.
Eppa Rixey Plaque, 4494 innings; TB, 4494-2/3
Official stats rounded innings pitched until 1982. Total Baseball recorded thirds of innings pitched in all seasons.
Red Ruffing Plaque, led in shutouts 1938 and 1939; TB, 1939 only
Lefty Gomez had 4 shutouts in 1938, not 3. This included a rain-shortened complete game on July 15. Ruffing had 3. Also, the comment on the plaque about making the all-star team in 1937-38-39 applies to the Sporting News All-Star team, not the All-Star Game team.
Tris Speaker Plaque, .344 lifetime; TB, .345
There was an addition error on his official sheet for 1911. He had 500 at bats, not 510.
Pie Traynor Plaque, one of few players with 200 hits in a season; TB, of course, many players have had 200 or more hits in a season
Zack Wheat Plaque, 2318 games for Brooklyn, 2406 total; TB, 2322 for Brooklyn, 2410 total
There were four unrecorded games in 1911 in which Wheat appeared only as a pinch hitter.
League Batting Leaders
Until the fourth edition of Total Baseball, Major League Baseball had established no official historical record, despite its product endorsement of several statistical compendiums over the years. As a result, writers, historians, statisticians, and fans were offered a choice amongst differing annual league batting leaders, depending on the major record book favored. Those most favored by recent chroniclers have been Total Baseball and The Baseball Encyclopedia because they featured all the player and club records. Today Baseball-Reference.com vies with mlb.com for the best online presentation.
There was no official batting championship rule until 1950. Total Baseball and The Baseball Encyclopedia remedied this oversight by formulating—independently—their own guidelines for the many years of omission, each based on their own concepts of fairness and equality.
In previous editions, Total Baseball established the following criteria for batting championships: 1876-1956, qualification by having plate appearances equal to 3.1 per game times the number of scheduled games, thus conforming to the Major League Baseball practice since 1957. The batting championship criteria for The Baseball Encyclopedia over the years have been: 1876-1919, games played equal to at least 60 percent of games the team scheduled; 1920-1949, at least 100 games played, based on acceptance of the unofficial but universally assumed rule requiring appearance in at least 100 games; and 1950-present, the various changing official rule definitions.
The history of the official batting championship rule is as follows: (1) 1950-1951, 400 official times at bat; (2) 1952-1954, 400 official times at bat or, if less than 400 times at bat and by adding enough imaginary hitless at bats so as to total 400, “he still would have the highest batting average in his league, he shall be the champion batter”; (3) 1955-1956, 400 official times at bat; (4) 1957-1966, 3.1 plate appearances per game times number of scheduled games, equaling 477 in a 154-game schedule and 502 in a 162-game schedule; and (5) 1967-present, 3.1 plate appearances per scheduled game, except that “if there is any player whose average would be the highest if he were charged with the required number of plate appearances or official at bats, then that player shall be awarded the batting championship.”
In the strike-shortened season of 1972, a 156-game standard prevailed instead of the 162 scheduled games. In the strike seasons of 1981 and 1994, the rule of 3.1 plate appearances per game was applied to the number of games played by each team, rather than to those scheduled.
The early record tomes, the Spalding Record Book and the Sporting News Record Book, placed Jake Stenzel (NL) in the lead for 1893 and Nap Lajoie (AL) on top in 1905. Both Stenzel and Lajoie were the leaders during the life of the Spalding volumes, 1908-1924, and in the Sporting News volume from its debut in 1921 until 1929, when Hugh Duffy replaced Stenzel, and 1930, when Elmer Flick supplanted Lajoie. The reasoning behind the Sporting News switches was that both Stenzel and Lajoie failed to meet the unwritten criterion of a representative number of games—Stenzel had played in only 60 games and Lajoie in 65, not even half of their club’s scheduled games. Otherwise the early record books’ leaders were those endorsed by the leagues.
The Spalding Record Book in its 1917 edition made two important batting championship changes, both on the basis of mathematical errors which their editors had noted. To that time, Dan Brouthers had been tied with Cupid Childs for the highest batting average in 1892, but had been awarded the title based on his having played in more games, which was the tie-breaking guideline of the day. In 1917, however, Childs went to the front on the basis of extended batting average (calculating to extra decimal places beyond the thousandths that comprise conventional reporting of batting averages). Next, Lajoie’s average of .422 in 1901 was reduced in 1917, because of a Reach Guide typo in the hit column, to a .405 figure. The Spalding management (the once independent Reach company had long since been acquired by Spalding) should have known that in 1892, the criterion for awarding a batting championship was indeed games played, not extended batting average, and that in 1901 they would have found Lajoie’s correct (as then calculated) average in any number of newspapers. Lajoie’s .422 average was restored in 1954 in response to John Tattersall’s research, but Childs remained, until this writing, ahead of Brouthers in the NL’s Green Book. (In the fourth, official, edition of Total Baseball, Brouthers is credited as the champion because he played in more games, which was the criterion of the time—not because modern research has lowered Childs’ batting average from .335 to .317.)
During its formative years, 1876-1919, the National League omitted any mention of batting championship criteria in its published rules. Certainly, this should have been addressed before 1920. Still, batting championships were tacitly acknowledged by the league, with guidelines drawn primarily from the comments of Henry Chadwick.
From 1876 to ca. 1888, the criterion was understood to be the best seasonal performance; as expressed by Chadwick in the Spalding Guide of 1887, “an average rating of a player should be on a season’s work.” Seasonal leadership may be deduced when the league’s recognized champion was not listed first in the official averages. His preeminence was based on a representative number of games played over the season in which he excelled, as opposed to the nominal leader’s handful of games.
The yardstick between 1889 and 1919 was playing in at least 100 games. In the 1890 Spalding Guide Chadwick wrote: “With the object in view of equalizing the averages and placing the names of the batsmen who have played in 100 games or over, are given the front rank, while those who have played in 50 games and over occupy second place, and those in 25 games and over third place, and so on.”
The American League rules in its early years, 1901-1919, omitted any batting championship language. In honoring Cobb as its 1914 bat champ, the AL was undoubtedly proceeding from the guideline of best seasonal performance.
For students of the game, Joe Wayman documented the variances among the record books and encyclopedias and highlighted particularly those traditional batting champions whom previous editions of Total Baseball had toppled from the pinnacle. Even though most of these champions have been rethroned, the following thumbnail account of the debatable batting leaders will serve to explain the seeming anomaly of a batting champion whose average is lower than that of a rival.[*] Thompson becomes the official batting champion with a .372 average in accordance with e decision of the Special Baseball Records Committee not to count walks as hits. Anson would be a .347 hitter without the benefit of his walks.
1878: Abner Dalrymple captured the NL’s batting title. Modern record tomes (The Baseball Encyclopedia and Total Baseball) list Paul Hines in the top spot. The NL in 1878 did not include tie games in its official averages, while today’s record tomes count them. Thus, by counting tie games, Hines emerges with the higher average, but does not take away Dalrymple’s championship.
1879: Cap Anson, the day’s recognized batting champion, has been challenged by the moderns (The Baseball Encyclopedia, Total Baseball, Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball, and The National League Story, by Lee Allen) as to whether his .407 average is legitimate. In fact, the average was disputed as early as the 1880 DeWitt Guide, the averages for which were compiled by William Stevens of the Boston Herald, and Balldom (1914), compiled by George Moreland. Total Baseball keeps the title with Anson in recognition of the league action at the time, but reports his batting average correctly in the Player Register and does not list him in the Annual Record’s listing of top five batting averages in the 1879 NL.
1884: The official batting champion remains Orator Jim O’Rourke. Newspaper box scores, game accounts, and the results of tie games elevate King Kelly to a higher average. Tie games were not included in the official averages at the time, and how to handle them today remains a matter of controversy. However, regardless of how we treat Kelly’s 2-for-4 in his only tie-game appearance (August 11), O’Rourke is the leader.
1887: In only this season, bases on balls counted as hits. One month into the season, the American Association wanted to scrap the rule, but the NL would not consent. Total Baseball gave the championship to Sam Thompson. Without his 60 walks registering as hits, Anson batted .347.
1892: Brouthers and Childs were honored as co-champions at .335, as discussed above. Childs had the higher extended average, .3351, against Brouthers’ .3350 mark. By the day’s reasoning, however, Brouthers is the leader. As Chadwick noted in the Spalding Guide, “the lead in all cases of tie scores in base hits belongs by right to the batsman who has played in the greatest number of games, and in this case Brouthers batted in 152 games to Child’s 144.” Childs’s statistics, as compiled by ICI from newspapers, yield a batting average of .317, placing him third.
1893: Billy Hamilton’s average was higher than Duffy’s, and he would have met modern criteria for plate appearances. The NL, however, honored Duffy because he appeared in at least 100 games, which was expected of the leading players of that day. The title is thus accorded to him.
1910: Cobb is the champion, for reasons discussed amply above.
1914: Cobb, due to his proven hitting excellence, was awarded the championship because, in all reasoned probability, he would have been the leader over the full season. Consider, also, that the batting championship for the Chalmers car in 1910 for position players was based on 350 at bats. Cobb would have easily captured the hit crown on a mythical 100 game requirement, even though he was three games shy.
1926: Bubbles Hargrave topped three other questionable contenders—those not credited with at least 400 at bats. All qualified for the title, though, based on the period’s acceptance of appearance in at least 100 games. In Hargrave’s favor was his position—catcher. Over the years, catchers were considered somewhat differently when it came to handing out awards, because of the demands of their position. In fact, in order for a catcher to qualify for the fielding championship at his position, he need only have appeared in at least 77 games. Hargrave caught in 93 games.
1932: Dale Alexander had the games and at bats to satisfy the AL as to his claim. If the 400 at bat rule had been on the books, Alexander no doubt would have been inserted into the lineup until he secured eight additional at bats. If Jimmie Foxx were today recognized as champion, he would have the first of two consecutive Triple Crowns.
1938: Foxx was the AL leader—no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The AL had a rule in 1938 requiring the batting “…winner to be at least 400 times at bat.” (Reach Guide, 1939) Taffy Wright is the trivia-question champion, batting .350 in 100 games.
1940: Debs Garms raised a few eyebrows as a come-from-nowhere champion. If enough imaginary at bats to reach 400 were to be added to Garms’ total, his adjusted average would still be one point higher than that of Stan Hack, the runnerup.
1942: Ernie Lombardi was the recognized NL batting king. As a Sporting News headline advised, “Ernie’s 105 contests suffice to qualify him for a second title.” The announcement called attention to the “inquiries” which had been made regarding a Lombardi award since the AL had put in place a 400 at bat requirement. Bill James noted that the NL announced a “meritorious 400 at bat” requirement after the problematic Garms award two years earlier. NL President Frick, however, contended there was no specific bat rule and catchers, because of their demanding position, deserved special consideration. The catcher’s fielding championship by this time was based on 100 games, lessening the Frick contention. Frick may have had in mind the prior, 77-game catching requirement for fielding leadership. Thus, Frick’s reasoning could have been to create a proportion: 77 games for catchers is to 100 games for position players what 77 percent of 400 at bats (308) for catchers is to 400 at bats for position players.
1954: Ted Williams, the batter with the highest average in the AL, did not meet the official qualifications to claim the title. The 1954 official Rule 10.17 spelled out the champion as one who, with at least 400 at bats, or with fewer than 400 at bats plus enough imaginary ones to equal 400, has the higher average. Under the official rules definition, Bobby Avila is the batting leader. During the closing weeks of the campaign, Williams was aware of the rule but continued to be selective of pitches, rather than swing at those outside the strike zone simply to reach the required 400 at bats. Williams’ extended average based on adding imaginary at bats to his 386 is a .331 figure.
1981: Bill Madlock is the official batting champion by the rules of the day. Due to the strike-shortened season, the games a team played, rather than the scheduled games, were the basis for individual championships. Pittsburgh, Madlock’s club, played 103 games. Thus, 103 x 3.1 = 319 plate appearances to qualify for the batting championship. Madlock topped the required 319 PA’s by one, with 279 at bats, 4 sacrifice flies, 34 bases on balls, 3 hit by pitch, and no sacrifice hits or interference calls. Total Baseball awarded the title to Pete Rose in editions 1 and 2, based on average games played per team, then corrected the procedure in its third edition.
The record of the four defunct major leagues shows only the American Association had batting champions not agreeing with Total Baseball champions. This happened twice: in the 1884 AA, the official winner was Dude Esterbrook though his teammate Dave Orr actually batted 50 points higher; and in 1886 AA, the champ was officially Orr though Guy Hecker’s recomputed average nips him by a point. (Pete Browning also surpassed Orr and was listed as champion in earlier editions of Total Baseball, for which a guideline of 3.1 plate appearances per game was employed throughout.)
An Important Change to the Official Record of Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball’s Official Historian
Major League Baseball is pleased to announce that, beginning with this seventh edition of Total Baseball, all batting averages are recorded as they were at the time they were reported, and not in accordance with the decision of a 1968 Special Baseball Records Committee. For the sake of conformity, the committee ruled that the 1887 batting averages be recalculated and that walks not be counted as base hits (as they were that year) or as outs (as they were in 1876).
John Thorn, the eminent editor of Total Baseball, has described it as an attempt to normalize baseball’s “gloriously messy” statistical history and bring the abnormal 1887 season in line with modern statistics. It was the only season when walks were considered hits and hence skewed the averages upwards.
For example, there were eleven .400 hitters, all properly listed in the 1888 Spalding and Reach guides, the official statistical compendiums of the time. (An arithmetic check has revealed that Paul Radford, the eleventh and final such batsman, in fact batted “only” .397.) The acknowledged batting champions were Tip O’Neill, at .492, for the St. Louis Browns of the old American Association, and Cap Anson, .421, for the Chicago National League entry. (As with Radford, an arithmetic correction reduces O’Neill’s average to .485, still the all-time record).
The special committee, in deciding walks were not hits, took 50 hits away from O’Neill, dropping his average to .435. Anson, stripped of 60 hits, fell to .347 and lost his batting title, fairly won. Worse, he no longer qualified for the 3,000 Hit Club of which he was the first member.
Revisionist history is admirable when new and undisputed evidence is brought forth. But this was an abomination, an absolute falsehood and twisting of the known facts for the singular purpose of regulating history to conform to previous and subsequent standards. It was a grievous corruption. If a walk was a hit in 1887 it should stand as a hit forevermore.
The committee was formed by General William Eckert, baseball’s fourth commissioner. Eckert always had good intentions but was ill-equipped and didn’t have a schoolboy’s knowledge of the game. The day after he took office in 1965, during his first press unveiling, it was painfully apparent he was unaware the Los Angeles Dodgers had been transplanted from Brooklyn.
The committee was co-chaired by Dave Grote, public relations director of the National League and Robert Holbrook, his American League counterpart. Neither was qualified to rule on such matters. The other members were Jack Lang, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America; Joseph Reichler, director of public relations of the Commissioner’s Office, and Lee Allen, the historian of the Hall of Fame.
Why the committee was formed remains a puzzle. The general belief is that it was at the request of the Macmillan Company, which was preparing a new encyclopedia, trumpeted as better and more complete than any of its predecessors. It went on sale the next year.
To heighten the launch, the committee mostly reviewed statistics accumulated in the period before 1920, “a time that was somewhat chaotic for record-keeping procedures.” Perhaps the encyclopedia’s editors were eager to find previously published errors; adjustments would strengthen the authenticity and value of the new enterprise.
The only established historians on the committee were Joe Reichler, who had been the national baseball writer for the Associated Press, subsequently elected to the writers wing [sic] of the Hall of Fame; and the distinguished Lee Allen, widely respected, the author of a half dozen noteworthy books, including delightful histories of the American and National Leagues.
Reichler knew his stuff. A stickler for accuracy at any cost, he had edited an earlier encyclopedia, published in 1962 by Ronald Press. Allen was a compulsive researcher and known for his fascinating player anecdotes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He also wrote a wonderful weekly column, “Cooperstown Corner,” for The Sporting News and was not concerned with current events. They agreed to the changes. However, a year before he died, Allen admitted to historian David Voigt that “past records ought not to be tampered with.”
The change in record-keeping procedure that commences with publication of this edition of Total Baseball should not be interpreted as a blanket damning of Macmillan’s The Baseball Encyclopedia. In mid-life, it became known, fondly, as the “Big Mac,” and was the final statistical authority, an enormous aid to sportswriters, book-writers, researchers, and super-fans. There were 10 editions. Sales may have approached a million copies.
Nor is this a total condemnation of Eckert’s Special Baseball Records Committee. The committee voted on 17 thorny issues and responded with good reason, with two exceptions: the 1876 scoring of walks as an at bat (if a player drew four walks he was 0 for 4), a practice that has also been restored in this edition; and the 1887 statistical butchery. A listing of the significant 1887 batting averages restored to their proper dimension follows.
This essay is adapted from one that appeared in many of the eight editions of Total Baseball from 1989 to 2004. My decision to publish is precipitated by a current dustup over Baseball-Reference.com’s decision to uncouple the records of the Baltimore Orioles of 1901-02 from those of the successor franchise, today’s New York Yankees (http://www.sports-reference.com/blog/2014/07/1901-02-orioles-removed-from-yankees-history/). It is delightful to see so much passion exhibited in the Comments section over a decision with little practical consequence, except that the Yanks’ 10,0000th win will now come sometime next year instead of next week. No individual or team seasonal records have been excised. Anyway, the entire matter of team records when there have been precedessor franchises becomes very murky and has been observed anecdotally by the clubs themselves.
The nascence of the Yankees is an interesting question and unsurprisingly arouses more passion than that of the Pittsburgh Pirates (see: http://goo.gl/QbIhZD). I gave a pretty full rendering of the riotous events of 1902 in this space: http://goo.gl/hL1fXP. In any event, I offered my opinion on the Oriole-Yankee issue as a rather well-informed fan, not as Major League’s Baseball official historian. To my knowledge MLB takes no stance regarding how clubs choose to observe their records. I have excavated the essay below (with cuts and modifications) to demonstrate that baseball’s record book has always been a mine field, which may offer comfort to those currently incensed. [*]
Major League Baseball Record Keeping
John Thorn, Pete Palmer, and Joseph M. Wayman
Despite the death of editors Hy Turkin in 1957 and S.C. Thompson ten years later, their Official Encyclopedia of Baseball (first issued in of 1951) remained the dominant book of baseball statistics, although many fans were frustrated with the fragmentary records it presented. As Frank V. Phelps wrote in the 1987 edition of The National Pastime, “Gaps and obvious errors in official averages, the lack of many early records, difficulty in securing the records of players who appeared in only a few games, and frustrating discrepancies among existing guides and registers had long since created a desire for an ultimate, complete, correct set of major league records. But it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that the development of sophisticated computers which could absorb, retain, order, and output huge amounts of data finally made a project feasible.”
Beginning in 1967, a battalion of researchers commanded by David S. Neft foraged through the official records and newspaper box scores to provide freshly compiled figures for those who had no ERAs, RBIs, slugging averages, saves, and all manner of wonderful things. The material which finally appeared in the tome was entered into a data bank, and the book was the first to be typeset entirely by computer, now a common practice. Published in 1969, The Baseball Encyclopedia was a milestone in computer technology, but as indispensable as the computer were the old-fashioned scrapbooks and files of Lee Allen and John Tattersall. The result was a mammoth ledger book of the major leagues more thorough than any that had appeared before.
The ICI group not only found new data to correct old inaccuracies but also applied new yardsticks to men who had gone to their graves never having heard of an RBI or a save. The ICI research that went into The Baseball Encyclopedia of 1969 created new stars, launching several previously underappreciated heroes of old into the Hall of Fame. Sam Thompson, Addie Joss, Roger Connor, Amos Rusie—their phenomenal level of play was hidden simply because statisticians back then were not recording the particular numbers which would show them off to best advantage. If sabermetrics consists of finding things in the existing data that were not seen before, or in collecting that data which makes possible the application of new statistics to old performances, the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia was a monument in the course of sabermetrics.
However, its subsequent editions declined from that standard, dropping valuable data, altering figures for star players in a misguided homage to tradition, and making a shambles of individual/team balance in the totals. As Phelps wrote of the second edition, supervised by the Macmillan Company after the ICI group broke up:
“Players’ batting statistics were changed without compensating for changes in the records of other players on the same teams or in the corresponding team and league totals. Later editions included even more unbalanced adjustments . . .
“Quite apart from the problem of record-balancing, the numerous changes in players’ totals and averages has caused serious misapprehensions and confusions for fans, writers, and researchers. The records of Fred Clarke and Cy Young differ in all six editions [to 1987] even without counting Clarke’s astronomical 1899 BA [in the third edition, Clarke was credited with a batting average of .986 that boosted his lifetime mark by 15 points]. The figures for Burkett, Chesbro, Duffy, Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Radbourn, Speaker, and Waddell differ in five of the six books. The same is so in four of six for at least twenty-three other Hall of Famers, and many more less gifted players.”
The seventh edition was issued in 1988 and, like the five that preceded it, was less accurate than the classic first issue. The eighth edition, published in 1990, corrected many of the errors in the seventh but retained many once-contested errors that historians had long since expunged from the record, while changing other statistics in a manner at variance with Major League Baseball’s standards and with a rationale that remains unclear. For the ninth edition, Major League Baseball distanced itself from the both the product and its database.
Even when The Baseball Encyclopedia had been launched back in 1969, the ICI findings raised the hackles of traditionalists, prompting the formation by Major League Baseball of a Special Baseball Records Committee. Its members ruled upon such matters as whether, for the historical record, bases on balls should be counted as hits (as they were in 1887), outs (as they were in 1876), or neither (as has been the practice in all other years); or whether “sudden-death” home runs—thirty-seven game-winning blows with men on base that they identified as having occurred in the bottom half of the ninth or an extra inning—would be credited as homers or, in the practice before 1920, would count for only as many bases as were needed to push across the winning run. In the latter controversy, committee members first decided to count the disputed blows as homers, but then, when complaints arose that Babe Ruth’s famous total of 714 would change to 715, they reversed themselves. They also decided that the National Association of 1871-1875 was not a major league, while the Federal League, Union Association, and Players League were; and they ruled on several other issues, all of which were published in the Appendix to The Baseball Encyclopedia.
Because earlier editions of Total Baseball enjoyed neither the privilege nor the responsibility of official Major League Baseball status, the editors committed themselves to the process of history—its research, reporting, and interpretation—more than to its product. History is not static and unchanging. Our course then as now seemed unassailable: publish the best-documented data and remain humbly amenable to subsequent revision in the light of new evidence. (This is not very different from the placard in the Baseball Hall of Fame, which states that although later studies have called into question the accuracy of information on the plaques, the facts as engraved were believed to be accurate at the time.)
However, it must be acknowledged that we paid little mind to the consequences of our findings and reasoned judgments, such as the stripping of a batting championship from Ty Cobb in 1910 or Bobby Avila in 1954. For the fourth edition of Total Baseball, the first to receive official MLB status, our challenge was to devise a more historically sensitive framework that would permit us to incorporate the best modern research while continuing to honor the judgments of the past. For example, Total Baseball abided by the Special Baseball Records Committee’s decision on game-ending homers—not to preserve Ruth’s total, but because there were many more such homers before 1920 than the thirty-seven the committee identified, and the disputes surrounding some of them are now beyond settling.
Like Turkin/Thompson and all previous record books, and in accordance with the view of most historians, we rejected the committee’s position that the National Association was not a major league. We committed to the creation of a full statistical record of that trailblazing circuit, and hoped one day to integrate the NA and NL records of such players as Al Spalding, Cap Anson, George Wright, and all the others who played in the professional league between 1871 and 1875.
We also differed from the committee’s ruling on awarding pitchers wins and losses in the years before 1920. Not finding any official scoring rule or practice for that time, they chose to apply 1950 guidelines to decisions awarded in 1876-1920. This well-intentioned decision produced substantial alterations in the records of such hurlers as Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Grover Alexander, and others. In the ensuing years, the notable research of Frank Williams (reported in “All the Record Books Are Wrong,” The National Pastime, 1982) revealed that there was indeed a pattern and a rationale for the way decisions were awarded in those days; the data in Total Baseball and today all other sources conforms with his meticulously substantiated findings.
More involved, and perhaps of most direct interest to fans and media, are the subjects of (a) statistical discrepancies between the record presented in Total Baseball or Baseball-Reference.com and the figures published in other reference works, or memorialized on Hall of Fame plaques, and (b) the implications of corrected data for the awarding of batting championships.
There are seven major sources for baseball statistical research. By far the most significant one is the official Major League Baseball records kept by the leagues, published in the baseball guides, and maintained on microfilm at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and in the league offices. These records cover the years since 1903 for the National League and 1905 for the American League. Any source data before these years were lost.
The second major source is the computer printouts prepared by ICI for The Baseball Encyclopedia in 1969. These cover the NL for 1891-1902, the AL for 1901-05, the Federal League for 1914-15, plus all the nineteenth-century leagues (1882-91 American Association, 1884 Union Association, and the 1890 Players League). These records, obtained from newspaper box scores, were turned over to the Hall of Fame and made public by agreement with historian Lee Allen, who permitted ICI to use his voluminous player demographic files.
The third source is John Tattersall’s newspaper box-score research for the NL of 1876-90. Since Tattersall had done such careful work, day-by-day computer printouts were never generated for this period. Any day-by-day records created by John have been lost, but what has survived is a batting and fielding summary and a pitching summary for each club each year listing many categories. This collection, now owned by SABR, also includes the home run log, which lists every home run ever hit from 1871 to date, the date, teams, game location, batter, pitcher, inning, men on base, and other notes.
The fourth source for baseball statistics is a box score collection accumulated by Michael Stagno, covering the National Association of 1871-1875, which was also purchased by SABR. Preliminary basic data was calculated by Stagno. Bob Richardson of Boston and Bob Tiemann of St. Louis worked to get complete totals in most categories from this data.
The fifth source is additional data done by the ICI researchers for the 1969 edition, covering data that were not kept officially during the years since 1903 for the NL and 1905 for the AL. Examples of this data are runs batted in before 1920, extra base hits in the AL for 1905 and 1906, double plays by fielders before 1920 NL and 1923 AL, pitching data except wins and losses for the AL for 1905-07, earned runs for pitchers before 1912 NL and 1913 AL, complete games before 1913 NL and 1926 AL, games started before 1926 AL and 1938 NL, and saves before 1969. Any day-by-day records from this source have been lost, but the season totals have survived.
The sixth source is newspaper box score research to pick up additional categories not covered by the first five sources. Examples of this are hit by pitch for batters before 1917 NL and 1920 AL (by Alex Haas, Tattersall, Palmer, and many others), triple plays by fielders before 1928 AL and 1930 NL (mainly by Jim Smith), home runs allowed by pitchers before 1950 AL and 1952 NL (again by Tattersall). Frank Williams carefully researched AL pitching records for 1901-1919, when the league records were particularly sloppy. Total Baseball gathered day-by-day sheets for most of this data, with the rest residing in the Tattersall collection.
The seventh and newest is the astoundingly voluminous play-by-play restoration at Retrosheet.org.
The data reported by the ICI group in the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia upset many people in baseball, for their numbers were different from those traditionally accepted; in subsequent editions, many of the prominent players’ statistics were fudged back to their traditional values. Yet 1969 had hardly been the first time corrections had been made to official data. In 1929 Grover Cleveland Alexander won his 373rd game, breaking Christy Mathewson’s National League record, then thought to be 372. He never won another game. A number of years later, Joseph Reichler found a game in which, by the rules of that time, Matty should have gotten the win, this game taking place on May 21, 1902. The official record was changed and Matty pulled into a tie with Alex. The problem was that no one checked all of Mathewson’s other games to see how many times he received a win under the old rules that wouldn’t have been credited that way today. When ICI did its original research in 1968, it found Matty had only 367 wins by today’s rules, while Alexander had 374. (Further research, notably by Frank Williams, has restored Alexander and Mathewson to a tie at 373 wins.)
In another celebrated example of record-book flip-flops, when the American League was formed in 1901, Nap Lajoie was credited with a .422 average, with 220 hits in 543 at bats. After a number of years, someone noticed that if you take these at bats and hits, the average comes out only to .405, so his average was changed. (Turkin/Thompson gave Nap a mark of .409 in its first edition.) Later in the 1950s, John Tattersall had his doubts and decided to go through his newspaper collection of box scores. He found 229 hits for Lajoie, not 220–the error had been in the figure for hits, not in the figure for batting average. Thus his average was restored to .422, which happened to be the highest in American League history. Then ICI research in this area came up with a .426 mark (232 for 544, based on newspaper accounts), which was published in the first edition, then trimmed back to .422 in subsequent editions. Because the day-by-day source data for the American League of 1901 has been lost, one must make an informed choice between .422 and .426.
In 1910 there was a very close batting race between Cobb and Lajoie. At the end of the season, most people thought Nap had won, based on his getting seven hits in a doubleheader on the final day of the season. There was talk that the opposing Browns had let him get a number of bunts by playing back, so that the hated Cobb would lose. However, the AL office went over their figures and gave Cobb the title, .385 to .384. Nearly eighty years later, Palmer discovered a critical error: a game in which Cobb had two hits in three at bats had been entered twice. This was found because Sam Crawford had 14 games on his official sheet for the homestand yet the Tigers had only played 13. It turned out that Detroit played a doubleheader on September 24, but the second game inadvertently was inserted in the official sheets as being played on September 25. Later, this second game of the 24th, which appeared to have been missing, was put in the scoresheets again. The League Office discovered this mistake soon after its official announcement that Cobb had won the batting title, because the double entry was corrected for all the other Detroit players. However, Ban Johnson had made a big deal out of how carefully his people had checked the figures in order to settle the controversy, so the AL kept quiet about the gaffe, leaving Cobb the winner.
Appeals to Commissioner Kuhn in 1981 to set the matter straight officially were to no avail, because that would not only have changed the outcome of the 1910 batting race, it would also have altered Cobb’s lifetime hit total, then being pursued to massive media attention by Pete Rose. Kuhn’s statement read, in part, “The passage of seventy years, in our judgment . . . constitutes a certain statute of limitation as to recognizing any changes in the records with confidence of the accuracy of such changes. . . . Since a variety of questions have been raised through the years about the accuracy of the statistics of that period, the only way to make changes with confidence would be for a complete and thorough review of all team and individual statistics. That is not practical.” It may not have not been practical, but we embarked upon such a course, and brought it to conclusion.
Asked at the time how we would have resolved the dispute over the 1910 batting race, we responded in this way: remove Cobb’s two redundant hits and alter his batting average accordingly, effectively dropping it beneath Lajoie’s, and correct his lifetime hit total as well; however, retain Cobb’s batting championship, for two reasons—one, because Lajoie’s flurry of bunt hits were highly suspect, and two, because Cobb was awarded the title in his day, and awards should be permanent, not contingent. Furthermore, a reasonable case can be made that Ban Johnson, if he had believed that Lajoie’s tainted hits would have been sufficient to produce a batting championship, would have nullified them; after all, he did banish from baseball the Browns’ manager who had instructed his rookie third baseman to play exceptionally deep.
It is this singular event in baseball history that supplied a model for how Total Baseball and Major League Baseball developed a policy for incorporating new research finds into the historical record without revoking long-held personal championships. Player records may be changed upon the evidence of historical error, but league awards and titles are forever.
Here is what happened in the now celebrated Honus Wagner case in the 1990 Baseball Encyclopedia, over which Major League Baseball and the Macmillan publishing firm became estranged. The Macmillan editor noticed that previous edition figures for Wagner did not agree with the data presented in the first edition in 1969. He assumed that the data had been corrupted over the years, and thus returned the 1897-1900 data to the original figures, costing Wagner 12 hits. However, the editor did not restore the 1901-02 data, which would have resulted in Wagner losing three more hits. The outcome was that Wagner had a total of 3415 hits in the 1969 edition, 3430 in the 1988 edition (the traditional figure) and 3418 in the 1990 edition (also in 1993). One of the problems with the Macmillan newspaper research was that it did not count protested games in the player data. Although the games were thrown out of the standings, the player stats did count in the league compilations at the time, which should be the criterion for inclusion. (Protested games were included in the official records through 1909, then omitted 1910-1919, and were made once again part of the official records in 1920. When our review of these protested games prior to 1909 is completed, the individual stats will be added to our figures.)
Wagner was involved in three of these protested games. There were about twenty-five of them altogether in the nineteenth century. However, the newspaper research did show up additional differences in player stats beyond those from the protested games.
When checking the plaques for the Hall of Fame players, we found about forty players with differences from the Total Baseball data. Most were nineteenth century players with small differences due to discrepancies between the old guide figures and the later newspaper research. Some had to do with rule changes from the 1969 Special Baseball Records Committee, such as not counting walks as hits in 1887. For the twentieth century, there were a number of differences due to official errors, mostly in the area of pitcher won-lost marks in the 1901-1919 American League period. There were only a few outright errors on the plaques (Anson, Clarkson, Hamilton, McCarthy, McGinnity, and Nichols). Exact differences can be found by comparing The Sporting News Daguerreotypes (which often agrees with the plaques) with Total Baseball.
[*] I focus here on the major league period and do not recount the rise of stats from 1845 to the twentieth century—a favorite topic but one which I have addressed of late. See, in this space, “Stats and History,” as taken from The Hidden Game:
Tomorrow, a guide to variances between the plaques and the official record of Major League Baseball.