Old News in Baseball, No. 8

Newsboy logoThis week begins with one of baseball’s big lies—that a baseball game between two distinct clubs (“the first match game”)—was played on June 19, 1846. The city of Hoboken will continue to celebrate this non-event, but in the wink-and-nod department it will have nothing on Cooperstown. The good folks at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum long ago acknowledged that the reason for their founding location in 1939 was based on a myth, and they go about their business knowing they have a fine history all their own. So does Hoboken have a great place in the history of baseball, and while it probably makes sense to continue to celebrate June 19 each year, it would also make sense not to make too much of the game played that day back in 1846.

June 19:

1846: The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club (KBBC) plays today in a game that in later years will be labeled as “the first match game,” meaning the first game between two distinct clubs. On their playing grounds at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields, the “pioneer club” is thumped by the score of 23–1. As early as 1889, a writer for the New York Sunday Mercury observed the irony that baseball’s “first team” had no trouble in finding a rival club experienced enough to give it a thrashing. In later years, KBBC president Duncan Curry described the action: “An awful beating, you say, at our own game, but, you see the majority of the New York Club’s players were cricketers, and clever ones at that game, and their batting was the feature of their work.” Following Curry’s lead, another writer declared, “It appears that this was not an organized club, but merely a party of gentlemen who played together frequently, and styled themselves the New York Club.” In fact, the New Yorks or Gothams, or “New York Nine,” as have variably been called, preceded the Knickerbockers as the first organized baseball club. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/02/11/inventing-baseball/

Wally Yonamine

Wally Yonamine

1898: Entire books have been written about baseball and the blue laws, which in most municipalities forbade amusements of various sorts on Sundays. Baseball players, amateur or professional, who dared to play on the Sabbath were frequently fined or jailed. On this day, with Cleveland batting in the bottom of the eighth inning at Euclid Beach Park‚ the game ends abruptly when all of the Cleveland players are arrested for violating the Sunday blue law. Not coincidentally‚ the Spiders had just scored to go ahead 4-3‚ so the arrests assure Cleveland of a victory.

1951: Wally Yonamine‚ an American of Japanese descent (a Nisei) born in Hawaii‚ plays his first game with the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo. After one year with the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pioneer League (he hit .335), he goes to Japan. He will become the first American star in Japanese baseball‚ winning batting titles in 1954‚ 1956‚ and 1957.

June 20:

1894: Denny Lyons scores the winning run in the ninth inning to lead Pittsburgh to a 7-6 win over Washington. Lyons gets into scoring position by running from first to third—across the pitcher’s mound—on a fielder’s choice. The lone umpire did not see the ploy‚ a common one in the era before two umpires became the requirement, first formalized in the Players’ League of 1890: “There shall be two umpires at every championship game; one shall stand behind the bat and the other shall stand in the field.” (Leave it to the players to understand the importance of having at least two umpires on the field of play.) The National League did not mandate two umpires until 1898.

1912: The Giants coast to a 14-2 lead through eight innings at Boston‚ then score seven more in the ninth for a 21-2 lead. They entrust the lead to rookie Ernie Shore, making his big-league debut. Although charged with only three earned runs in his inning of work, Shore allows eight hits‚ a walk‚ and ten runs. It is his only appearance in the National League, as the Giants send him to Indianapolis. He reemerges successfully with the Red Sox in 1914, and famously in an entry below.

2003: Florida beats Tampa Bay‚ 3-1‚ in eleven innings as rookie Miguel Cabrera hits a walkoff home run in his big-league debut. He is only the third player in history to perform the feat‚ joining Josh Bard (8/23/02) and Billy Parker (9/9/71).

Eleanor Engle

Eleanor Engle

June 21:

1879: With Joe Start out with an injury‚ Providence quickly recruits Bill White of Brown University to play 1B. He goes 1-for-4 with no errors in his only big league game as the Grays beat Cleveland‚ 5-3. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/03/19/thinking-robinson-part-2/

1952: As a publicity stunt‚ Harrisburg of the Inter-State League signs a woman player‚ Eleanor Engle‚ but she does not get into a game. Afterwards, National Association president George Trautman bans her from minor-league baseball. Dorothy Mills writes in Chasing Baseball that Trautman’s ruling came with the support of Commissioner Ford Frick and extended to all of professional baseball, but for that to have happened MLB would have had to rule on this separately, and did not. Of course, a tacit MLB ban could have been enforced, as it was for African Americans between 1884 and 1947. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/03/28/picture-portfolio-no-3-women-in-baseball/

1964: On Father’s Day at Shea Stadium‚ in the opener of a twin bill, Jim Bunning fans 10 and pitches the first regular-season complete perfect game since Charlie Robertson’s on April 30‚ 1922. It is the first National League perfecto since 1880. In the nightcap the Mets don’t fare much better as 18-year-old rookie Rick Wise wins his first game and gives up just three hits in an 8-2 win. (More on Wise below.)

June 22:

1898: Boston defeats Chicago 6-5 in 14 innings. Boston’s Ted Lewis, who would finish the season with a mark of 26-8, relieves Vic Willis with three runs in‚ two on‚ and one out in the first inning. He induces the Orphan batter to hit into a double play. Lewis‚ “The Pitching Professor” (he is the Harvard baseball coach) finally triumphs over Chicago in the longest and relief effort of the 19th century. For more, see: http://unhmagazine.unh.edu/sp12/historypage.html

1926 Worl Series, Game 7: Grover C. Alexander FansTony Lazzeri, Walks to Dugout

1926 World Series, Game 7: Grover C. Alexander Fans Tony Lazzeri, Walks to Dugout

1926: The Cardinals pick up 39-year-old Grover Alexander (3-3) on waivers from the Cubs to help in the pennant chase. Alexander will rejoin Bill Killefer‚ fired as Cubs manager last year‚ and now a Cardinal coach. “Old Pete” will be 9-7 down the stretch‚ but will reserve his real heroics for the World Series, in which he won Game 6 and saved Game 7, including his famous strikeout of Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/12/18/grover-cleveland-alexander-remembers-1926-world-series-game-7/

1947: Ewell Blackwell just misses pitching back-to-back no-hitters when Eddie Stanky of the Brooklyn Dodgers singles with one out in the ninth inning. Blackwell wins 4-0 on a two-hitter. The only men to have thrown two no-hitters in succession in MLB history was Johnny Vander Meer in 1938. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/07/31/johnny-vander-meer-remembers/

June 23:

1915: Philadelphia Athletics lefty Bruno Haas marks his big-league debut by walking 16 New York batters and throwing three wild pitches. Somehow he is permitted to go all the way in a 15-7 loss. Haas will pitch in just five more games before ending up in the league that would become the NFL as a halfback with the Akron Pros, Cleveland Tigers and Dayton Triangles.

Babe Ruth with Ernie Shore

Babe Ruth with Ernie Shore

1917: In the memorable first of two games at Boston‚ Babe Ruth starts for the Red Sox against Washington and walks leadoff man Ray Morgan‚ griping to plate umpire Brick Owens after each pitch. After Owens calls ball four‚ Ruth punches the ump and is ejected. Ernie Shore hastily relieves and Sam Agnew takes over behind the plate for Pinch Thomas, who had also been tossed. Morgan is then caught stealing by Agnew‚ and Shore retires all 26 men he faces in a 4-0 win‚ getting credit in the books for a perfect game, an accomplishment that is taken away when MLB changes its definition of a perfect game in 1991 (Harvey Haddix also thus lost his perfecto).

1971: Phillie pitcher Rick Wise no-hits the Reds 4-0 and hits two home runs that drive in three of his team’s runs. Roger Freed drove in the other on a groundout.

Jim Bouton

Jim Bouton

June 24:

1946: A bus careens off a Cascade Mountain Pass road‚ killing nine members of the Spokane (Western International League) club. Jack Lohrke‚ a young infielder‚ had not reboarded the bus after it stopped at a restaurant just before the accident. The restaurant owner called him as he was about to get on the bus‚ telling him there was a long distance phone call and that he had been sold to San Diego. He decided to return. He later exclaimed‚ “I guess it just wasn’t my turn‚ But how did the owner know we would stop in that town? And what if the call had come five minutes later?” The future Giant and Phil will hence be known as Lucky. For more, see: http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-jack-lohrke1-2009may01-story.html

1962: A marathon between the Tigers and Yankees concludes in the 22nd inning when defensive replacement Jack Reed’s home run—his only one in the majors—gives New York and Jim Bouton a 9-7 victory. Reed had replaced Joe Pepitone in the 13th. Tiger and Yankee relievers threw shutout ball for the last 17 innings, with Bouton contributing the final seven.

1992: Yankees pitcher Steve Howe is banned from baseball by Commissioner Fay Vincent after having pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to purchase a gram of cocaine. It is Howe’s seventh ban from the game on account of drug involvement, but this time it is permanent.

June 25:

1953: White Sox manager Paul Richards uses five first basemen in beating the Yankees 4-2. He brings in Harry Dorish to face two batters‚ moving lefty pitcher Billy Pierce to first base. After his two batters, Dorish is replaced by Sam Mele, who goes to first base as Pierce returns to the mound to close out the game. The tactic of alternating to pitchers was so old that it was new—it had last been seen in the days before free substitution (pre-1891), when the reliever, or “change pitcher,” had to be one of the men on the field. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/01/20/the-first-relief-pitchers/

1968: San Francisco rookie Bobby Bonds becomes the second player to debut with a grand slam‚ as Ray Sadecki blanks the Dodgers 9-0. Bonds does it on his third at bat. The only other player to hit a grand slam in his first major league game was Bill Duggleby of the Philadelphia Nationals‚ who achieved the feat in 1898, in his very first at bat. For more, see: http://research.sabr.org/journals/from-a-researchers-notebook

1998: Chicago’s Sammy Sosa hits his 19th home run this month in the Cubs’ 6-4 loss to the Tigers‚ breaking Rudy York’s major league record. He will end the month with 20 round-trippers.

Shoeless Joe, the Bambino, the Big Bankroll, and the Jazz Age

Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella

Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella

Most of you have read Shoeless Joe, a novel of magical realism by Bill Kinsella, whom I knew a little bit thirty years ago, before he finished that book and before I became a historian of the game we both so clearly love. Shoeless Joe is a novel about fathers and sons, the baseball of now and then, and guilt, and hope. It is about the transformative power of fable and dream.

Another fellow whose baseball novel about sin and redemption, The Natural, is, like Kinsella’s, more widely known through the film adapted from it, is Bernard Malamud, who once observed, “The whole history of baseball has the quality of mythology.” Yes indeed. This creates a problem no less for the novelist than for the historian. We crave realism not only from game accounts but also from imaginative renderings of an activity that itself is not real. Play, like play acting, is metaphoric action.

Like a novelist who ventures to write about theater or film, the writer tackling baseball always starts off at one remove from reality, and is always playing catch-up. Baseball is not about baseball, at least not entirely, even if you’re playing it. For those watching it or thinking about it or reading about it, this great game is about past glories, power transference, surrogated combat, and unconscious contests of generation and gender.

Ad for The Great Gatsby

Ad for The Great Gatsby

Yet another author, one who with The Great Gatsby may have written the best of all American novels, used baseball as a symbol of all that was good about our nation, so that he could depict how even this icon could be stained. My own book, too, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, deals with the game’s history and legend and good and evil—the title gives that away rather blatantly—but it is a work of history, not fiction. All the same, it raises issues that one may confront with Shoeless Joe and in one’s observations of what we uncertainly call “real life.” What is real, and what is made up? Can we shape or even alter the facts of history to make for a better story? Can our imaginations create a desired reality? If we do so, are we artists of our own lives, architects of legend, or mere liars, no matter how lofty our intentions might be?

Shoeless Joe’s ballpark in the cornfield speaks to us as a symbol of paradise lost, when rural innocents played ball for the love of the game, when distant fathers could toss a ball with sons perplexed by real life. But baseball’s idyllic past, like America’s and like our own, for each of us, is not history; it is a pretty story agreed upon. Not a lie, exactly, but a sustaining myth.

What might possibly join The Great Gatsby, Shoeless Joe, and my little book? Let’s look to the Jazz Age, the Black Sox Scandal, and the religion of baseball—complete with a creation myth, a fall from grace, an expulsion from paradise, and an eternal longing for a dimly recalled golden age.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald—an all-American boy from St. Paul, Minnesota—drifted east with his family’s shifting fortunes and in 1913 entered Princeton University. Graduating with the class of 1917, he went to New York, determined to become a writer. Two years later, after a despairing, impoverished return to bunk in his parents’ home, he linked up with Scribners, a prestigious house, to publish This Side of Paradise, his first novel. Appearing in 1920, it portrayed a generation that, drained of all illusion by the horrific casualties, was heedless in its pursuit of pleasure.

The novel was a great success and launched his magazine career, where the real money was back then. Short fiction in Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and other story papers often fetched $5,000—a handsome annual salary for a white collar worker and four times that of the common working man.

In 1922 Fitzgerald published a collection of stories titled Tales of the Jazz Age. This enduring term for the riotous 1920s was one that he himself coined. The Jazz Age was a normless bundle of contradiction—alcohol was prohibited by the Volstead Act yet in the cities was readily available, seemingly with greater demand than before it was banned. As the federal income tax, new in 1913, had begun to make America a nation of accountants, the Prohibition era made it a nation of lawbreakers.

Speakeasies offered gamblers and mobsters the opportunity not only to mix with athletes and entertainers, as they always had, but now with suburban businessmen and upper-class youth in search of thrills. New York, always regarded as a den of iniquity by those in the hinterlands, in the Jazz Age became a desired destination for all America: a place where anything goes, where elevator boys offer stock tips and bootleggers enter politics . . . and where the World Series can be fixed by a man such as Arnold Rothstein, the genius who invented Organized Crime and who is portrayed in The Great Gatsby as Meyer Wolfsheim. More about him in a moment.

Where everyday crime had previously been a localized activity, controlled by neighborhood thugs, now, with bootleg liquor, there was a deliverable product desired everywhere. Its transport impelled crime to organize along regional, national, and even international lines (liquor was not illegal in, say, Canada or Cuba or England). Of course there were two forms of crime that had gone national much earlier—gambling on sporting events and manipulating the stock market. The 1920s proved a golden age for both, with an escalating level of violence.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

The Roaring ’20s offered jazz and speakeasies, the Teapot Dome scandal and bucket-shop brokers, Hollywood hoopla and network radio, Lucky Lindy and the Great White Way. It was also the golden age of sport, featuring such media titans as Red Grange (football), Bobby Jones (golf), Bill Tilden (tennis), Jack Dempsey (boxing) and, above all, baseball’s Babe Ruth. “He was a parade all by himself,” wrote Jimmy Cannon, “a burst of dazzle and jingle. Santa Claus drinking his whiskey straight and groaning with a bellyache caused by gluttony…. Babe Ruth made the music that his joyous years danced to in a continuous party….”[1]

How did Ruth, who modeled his awesome batting swing on that of Shoeless Joe Jackson, come to be, in the Jazz Age, the game’s great hero and an American archetype? The age of appetite that made a hero of the Babe as the Big Bam, the larger-than-life Sultan of Swat, also made Arnold Rothstein into the character known as The Big Bankroll, immortalized not only as Meyer Wolfsheim in Gatsby but also as Nathan Detroit in the Damon Runyon story that became the musical Guys and Dolls. Ruth and Rothstein, more than any other tandem except the fictional Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, provide a key to understanding the Jazz Age.

In the first decade of the century baseball became the great repository of national ideals, the symbol of all that was good in American life. It became routine for the President to throw out the first ball of the season. Supreme Court Justices had inning-by-inning scores from the World Series relayed to their chambers. “Baseball,” opined a writer for American Magazine in 1913, “has given our public a fine lesson in commercial morals…. Someday all business will be reorganized and conducted by baseball standards.”[2]

Leaders of recent immigrant groups advised their peoples to learn the national game if they wanted to become Americans, and foreign-language newspapers devoted space to educating their readers about America’s strange and wonderful game. As America was riddled with stock-market scandals, economic panics, race riots, and fixed elections, as its boys were sent off to die on foreign fields, baseball came to be seen as the last bastion of fair play and decency.

This was the mythology, anyway, the public spin. In fact baseball had arisen from a gambling culture in the 1840s and had become worthy of press mention and spectator attention only when its rules became sufficiently understood for ordinary people to place wagers on the outcome of games. Without the attachment of gambling, baseball would not have become an arena for steadily increasing levels of skill; it would have remained a game for boys, avoided by men except those desiring a rather leisurely field exercise. Yes, baseball connected an increasingly urban America with a romanticized rural past, more imagined than real, and this explains the nostalgia at the game’s core; but on the ground, conditions were always more harsh.

Black Sox and their Lawyers, 1920

Black Sox and their Lawyers, 1920

The first punished instance of game fixing is not the Black Sox Scandal but instead goes all the way back to 1865, during the amateur era of the game, when three players of the Brooklyn Eckfords confessed to “heaving” a contest to the rival Mutuals in return for payments from gamblers.[3] The offending players confessed and were banished for some years but later reinstated. The second year of the National League, 1877, was blighted by an even larger scandal, in which four Louisville players tossed away what seemed a certain pennant by tanking a series of late season games.[4]

Despite fines and bans and the inclusion of antigambling statutes in the league bylaws, gambling remained a large part of the game. There was an attempt to bribe players in the very first World Series between the American and National Leagues, in 1903, when Boston catcher Lou Criger was offered a bribe to “lay down.”[5] Two years later, Philadelphia pitcher Rube Waddell allegedly received $17,000 to fabricate a tale of a sore arm resulting from a stumble over a teammate’s suitcase, thus rendering himself useless for the Series with the Giants.[6] Other attempted (or successful!) fixes have been reported for the fall classics of 1914 and 1918. By and large, these squabbles and accusations were kept from the public; reporters acted like publicity agents, protecting the game and its players.

All this corruption came to a head in 1919. Even before the first pitch had been thrown in what became Cincinnati’s “improbable” World Series victory over the Chicago White Sox, rumors swirled that the fix was in. It took a year for the rumors to be revealed as true: in September 1920, a Chicago grand jury convened to investigate charges about the 1919 World Series. It turned out that eight Chicago players—immortalized ever after as the Black Sox—had conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The entire plotline of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal is too complex to detail here and now, but suffice it to say that the overall public response to the revelations was shock, dismay, and heartsick outrage.

Joe Jackson, the gullible one?

Joe Jackson, the gullible one?

Following the mysterious disappearance of their grand-jury confessions, the eight Black Sox won acquittal during their June 1921 conspiracy trial, as did two gambler defendants, David Zelcer and Carl Zork. But the newly appointed baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, in an extraordinary move aimed at restoring public confidence in the game, suspended all eight players for life. Landis knew from private sources that it had been the players who had approached the gamblers, not the other way around, but he preferred a version with more popular appeal—that a group of “foreign” gamblers (by which was meant Jewish)—had corrupted the innocent players.[7]

Despite the romantic apologies made for Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver especially, all eight were, in my view, guilty enough to warrant their punishment, even though ballplayers had been throwing games left and right for decades. The principal gripe of men like Weaver and Fred McMullin may have been that they were left holding the bag without getting any of the swag. The other six pocketed some money, if not all that was promised, so what is there left to say, except that there may have been extenuating circumstances . . . Shoeless Joe’s naiveté and remorse, Eddie Cicotte’s backlash against owner Charlie Comiskey’s penury, Buck Weaver’s last-minute change of heart.

Arnold Rothstein

Arnold Rothstein

The suspicion at the time, that the outcome of the 1918 World Series had been fixed as well as that of 1919, testifies to the endemic level of corruption among the players, but it hardly serves to absolve the gamblers—Arnold Rothstein and his small-fry henchmen, whom he played off against each other to preserve deniability for himself when the plot unraveled. Rothstein, who pocketed hundreds of thousands in sure-thing bets arranged by his lieutenants, never met with the players face to face; he even appeared willingly before the Chicago grand jury to register his astonishment at being implicated. His testimony is worth quoting.

The whole thing started when (Abe) Attell and some other cheap gamblers decided to frame the Series and make a killing. The world knows I was asked in on the deal and my friends know how I turned it down felt. I don’t doubt that Attell used my name to put it over. That’s been done by smarter men than Abe. But I was not in on it, would not have gone into it under any circumstances and did not bet a cent on the Series after I found out what was underway.[8]

As F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the tale in Gatsby, at a luncheon Jay Gatsby introduces Nick Carraway to Meyer Wolfsheim, who displays his unusual cufflinks, made from human molars. Afterward Nick asks Gatsby:

“Who is he, anyhow, an actor?”


“A dentist?”

“Meyer Wolfsheim? No, he’s a gambler.” Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: “He’s the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919.”

“Fixed the World’s Series?” I repeated.

The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World’s Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely HAPPENED, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people—with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.

“How did he happen to do that?” I asked after a minute.

“He just saw the opportunity.”

“Why isn’t he in jail?”

“They can’t get him, old sport. He’s a smart man.”[9]

That Wolfsheim and Rothstein are indeed the same person is further attested by an earlier conversation in that same luncheon setting, in which Fitzgerald alludes to a police scandal from 1912 that was still on everyone’s mind a decade later:

The Bar at the Hotel Metropole

The Bar at the Hotel Metropole

“This is a nice restaurant here,” said Mr. Wolfsheim, looking at the Presbyterian nymphs on the ceiling. “But I like across the street better!”

“Yes, highballs,” agreed Gatsby, and then to Mr. Wolfsheim: “It’s too hot over there.”

“Hot and small—yes,” said Mr. Wolfsheim, “but full of memories.”

“What place is that?” I asked.

“The old Metropole.

“The old Metropole,” brooded Mr. Wolfsheim gloomily. “Filled with faces dead and gone. Filled with friends gone now forever. I can’t forget so long as I live the night they shot Rosy Rosenthal there. It was six of us at the table, and Rosy had eat and drunk a lot all evening. When it was almost morning the waiter came up to him with a funny look and says somebody wants to speak to him outside. ‘All right,’ says Rosy, and begins to get up, and I pulled him down in his chair.

“‘Let the bastards come in here if they want you, Rosy, but don’t you, so help me, move outside this room.’

“It was four o’clock in the morning then, and if we’d of raised the blinds we’d of seen daylight.”

“Did he go?” I asked innocently.

“Sure he went.” Mr. Wolfsheim’s nose flashed at me indignantly. “He turned around in the door and says: ‘Don’t let that waiter take away my coffee!’ Then he went out on the sidewalk, and they shot him three times in his full belly and drove away.”

“Four of them were electrocuted,” I said, remembering.

“Five, with Becker.” His nostrils turned to me in an interested way.[10]

Charles Becker was a New York City police officer who was executed for ordering the murder of Manhattan gambler Herman Rosenthal, who had complained to the press that the greed of Becker and his fellow corrupt cops were ruining his business; Rosy didn’t mind paying the usual protection money but the climbing percentages finally got to him. Two days after the story appeared, in July 1912, Rosenthal walked out of the Hotel Metropole at 147 West 43rd Street, just as Wolfsheim described. (By the way, the Hotel Metropole, where Rosenthal’s execution took place, still stands; it is today called the Casablanca Hotel and to soak in the atmosphere I recently stepped up to the front desk, where the Metropole bar once stood.) Rosenthal was gunned down by a crew of Jewish gangsters at Becker’s behest. Rothstein was the beneficiary of the murder, taking over Rosenthal’s business and acting thereafter less as a poolroom shark and horserace manipulator and more as the financier of Broadway shows—a pal of George M. Cohan and Flo Ziegfeld.[11]

How did Rothstein come to be The Big Brain of organized crime? He approached it in a refined, businesslike manner. Lloyd Morris described Rothstein as “the J. P. Morgan of the underworld; its banker and master of strategy.”[12] Gangster Meyer Lansky observed, “Rothstein had the most remarkable brain. He understood business instinctively and I’m sure that if he had been a legitimate financier he would have been just as rich as he became with his gambling and the other rackets he ran.”[13] If business provided a model for Rothstein, his conduct of crime may later have provided a model for business.

John McGraw, 1926

John McGraw, 1926

By 1912, when he was thirty, Rothstein was a millionaire from the profits of his gambling parlors, poolrooms, and racetracks. One of these, the Oriental Park Racetrack and Casino in Havana, he co-owned with John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, and Charles Stoneham, a stock market swindler who parlayed his gains into ownership of the ball club. Even after Commissioner Landis ordered McGraw and Stoneham to divest their holdings in the racetrack, Rothstein continued to frequent Stoneham’s private box at the Polo Grounds. He also co-owned a billiard parlor with McGraw. Gamblers and ballplayers were still connected at the hip.

With gambling as his base, Rothstein had access to the cash and political protection needed to make big deals in many other spheres, notably bootlegging. He was among the first to purchase liquor in England, smuggle it to America by the boatload, and distribute it to the speakeasies. From this business he moved on to narcotics, by 1926 enlisting such celebrity thugs as Legs Diamond, Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, and Frank Costello. Two years later Rothstein was dead, felled by a gunshot after a high-stakes poker game in which it is said he welched on a bet. His accused murderer, George McManus, was acquitted (under dubious circumstances) at trial.

Arnold Rothstein was a loan shark, pool hustler, bookmaker, thief, fence of stolen property, political fixer, Wall Street swindler, labor racketeer, rumrunner, and mastermind of the modern drug trade. Today’s investment bankers, credit-card issuers, and lottery hawkers have been enriched by his legacy. He was the Babe Ruth of crime and, ironically, his henchman Abe Attell, with Black Sox winnings, partially financed Headin’ Home, the Hollywood movie Ruth made before the 1920 season. In a way this foray into show business led to the Babe’s epic sale from the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees.[14]

Abe Attell

Abe Attell

In 1918 Ruth, who in previous years had become the best lefthanded pitcher in the American League, hit 11 homers as a part-time outfielder. This figure led the league. In spring training of 1919 he gave further hint of things to come when he hit six home runs in six at bats (with two intervening walks).[15] Then in the regular season, now as an everyday player, he exploded for 29 home runs, along the way breaking the major league record of 27, set in 1884 by Ned Williamson, a right-handed batter who benefited from a left-field fence at his home park in Chicago that was only 180 feet distant. Ruth’s record-breaking 28th home run sailed over the right-field grandstand at the Polo Grounds, home at that time to both the Giants and the Yankees. It was reported in the New York Times of September 25, 1919 as the longest drive anyone in attendance had ever seen. “Several seasons ago Joe Jackson hit a home run over the top of the right field stand but the ball landed on the roof. Ruth’s bang yesterday cleared the stand by many yards and went over into the weeds in the next lot.”

Jacob Ruppert, owner of the Knickerbocker Brewery and the Yankees, could not help but notice. At season’s end the Times piled on praise for “the mastodonic mauler of the Boston Red Sox,” labeling him “the greatest batsman the game has ever known.”[16] And when Ruth declared his intention not to play with the Red Sox in 1920 unless they doubled his $10,000 salary, the Yankees must have quivered with a sense of opportunity.

On his way from Boston to Hollywood, where he was set to star in the film Headin’ Home, Ruth declared, “I feel that I made a bad move last year when I signed a three years’ contract to play for $30,000.”[17] Two months later, still out west, he added that he could easily make $10,000 a year through several different opportunities, hinting at the boxing ring as well as the movies. Heck, he had made $25,000 for a few weeks’ effort in Headin’ Home.[18]

Headin' Home Lantern Slide

Headin’ Home Lantern Slide

On January 5, 1920 it was announced that Ruth was now a Yankee, in exchange for $125,000 in cash and what later emerged as a loan to Boston owner Harry Frazee of $300,000—collateralized by, of all things, Fenway Park. Tris Speaker, Ruth’s teammate in 1915, on hearing the news that the Yankees had acquired Babe and planned to use him full time as an outfielder, is said to have opined, “Too bad about Ruth. If he had remained a pitcher, he might have lasted a long time and become famous.”

Ruth made his debut with the Yankees on April 14, 1920, but did not his first home run in pinstripes until May 1. By season’s end Ruth would add 53 more, for a total greater than any other team in baseball except the Phillies, who, playing in the bandbox Baker Bowl, totaled 64. In addition to his new home run record, Ruth scored 158 runs and drove in 137. He batted .376 and slugged an incredible .847. Did he like New York? Against the 9 home runs he had hit at home for Boston in 1919, the Babe now poled out 29. “I cried when they took me out of the Polo Grounds,” Ruth said after his last season there in 1922.[19]

But on April 18, 1923, after an initial ten years in a makeshift wooden ballpark (on the site of the current Columbia Presbyterian Hospital) and ten more as second-class denizens of the Polo Grounds, the Yankees finally opened a home of their own. Fittingly, the Babe christened “The House That Ruth Built” by hitting a three-run homer to support Bob Shawkey’s fine pitching in a 4–1 win over, yes, Boston. The occasion drew the biggest crowd ever to see a major-league baseball game to that time: 74,217. At year’s end, after losing the World Series to their in-house rivals, the Giants, in both 1921 and 1922, the Yankees won the first of their many championships.

He saw it all.

He saw it all.

The baseball decade of the Jazz Age belonged to the Babe: he had made baseball over in his image by leaving a pile of black ink in the record books that forms an Everest, unsurpassed and seemingly unsurpassable. But poring over stats, even those as great as Ruth’s, can quickly glaze the eyes. It may be easier to grasp this simple fact: From 1920, his first year as a New York Yankee, through 1929, the Babe enjoyed the greatest ten-year stretch of any player in the whole history of baseball. After Ruth hit his 60th home run of the 1927 season, John Kieran of the New York Times wrote:

He’s the Prince of Ash and the King of Crash, and that’s not an idle jest.
He can hit that ball o’er the garden wall, high up and far away,
Beyond the aftermost picket lines where the fleet-foot fielders stray.
He’s the Bogey Man of the pitching clan and he clubs ’em soon and late;
He has manned his guns and hit home runs from here to the Golden Gate;
With vim and verve he has walloped the curve from Texas to Duluth,
Which is no small task, and I beg to ask: Was there ever a guy like Ruth?[20]


Nor was there ever a guy like Rothstein, or Fitzgerald. With Ruth, they made the wild music that the Jazz Age danced to.


1. Cannon, New York Post, n.d.; from The Ultimate Baseball Book, Daniel Okrent and Harris Lewine, eds., Houghton Mifflin 1979, p. 143.

2. “In the Interpreter’s House,” The American Magazine, Volume 76 (1913), p. 97.

3. “Out-Door Sports,” New York Times, September 29, 1865, 8; also, “‘Hippodrome’ Tactics in Base Ball,” New York Clipper, November 11, 1865, 242.

4. “Cussed Crookedness,” Louisville Courier-Journal, November 3, 1877, per Dean Sullivan, ed., Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball 1825–1908, University of Nebraska Press , 1997, pp. 101–110.

5. Glenn Stout, Boston Herald, October 3, 1993, p. 6. “In 1923, he filed an affidavit in which he claimed that in 1903 he was approached by a Pittsburgh man before the Series and offered $12,000 to see to it that Pittsburgh won.”

6. Stephen S. Hall, “Scandals and Controversies,” Total Baseball, Warner Books, 1989 and later editions.

7. “Jewish Gamblers Corrupt American Baseball,” The Dearborn Independent, September 3, 1921. “A Cook County grand jury was called into session at Chicago and asked to investigate. When the grand jury had completed its labors, eight members of the Chicago American League team were under indictment for throwing the World Series of 1919, the previous year, to the Cincinnati Reds. And all along the line of investigation the names of Jews were plentifully sprinkled.”

8. David Pietrusza, Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, 2004, p. 182.

9. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Scribners, 1925, Chapter 4.

10. Ibid.

11. Pietrusza, p. 80.

12. Lloyd Morris, Postscript to Yesterday, Random House, 1947, p. 75.

13. Dennis Eisenberg et al., Meyer Lansky: Mogul of the Mob, Paddington Press, 1979, p. 108.

14. Pietrusza, p. 178.

15. “Ruth, Long Distance Gun,” New York Times, April 19, 1919; also, “Babe Ruth Aims Higher,” July 31, 1919.

16. “Ruth Stands Alone as a Heavy Hitter,” New York Times, October 12, 1919.

17. John J. Hallahan, “$20,000 Yearly the Figure Ruth Names,” Boston Daily Globe, October 25, 1919.

18. “Ruth Talks of Retiring,” New York Times, December 27, 1919.

19. Michael Gershman, Diamonds: the Evolution of the Ballpark, Houghton Mifflin, 1993, p. 104.

20. John F. Kieran, “Sports of the Times,” New York Times, October 2, 1927.

Old News in Baseball, No. 7

Newsboy logoA few days ago, courtesy of a nameless headline writer at a newspaper in Bend, Oregon, baseball fans were apprised of yet another historic first: an amphibious pitcher. As you will see from an entry below, Pat Venditte is not the first ambidextrous hurler in MLB history: he was preceded by Tony Mullane, Larry Corcoran, Icebox Chamberlain, and Greg Harris. The Associated Press writer of the underlying story used the correct term for Venditte, who had just been called up to the Oakland A’s, but his story is already fish-wrap while the headline is assured of baseball immortality. Another of this week’s entries below, in which Phillies manager George Stallings is replaced by the club secretary, will resonate with fans of the Miami Marlins.

June 12:

1880: Lee Richmond pitches the first perfect game in major-league history‚ leading Worcester to a 1-0 victory over Cleveland. Right fielder Lon Knight saves the no-hitter by throwing out Cleveland’s Bill Phillips at first base. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2015/05/13/j-lee-richmonds-remarkable-1879-season/

1888: Frank Pidgeon‚ captain of the Brooklyn Eckfords in the 1850s and the game’s greatest pitcher before Jim Creighton, is killed by a train in New York City while walking along the tracks. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/10/03/finding-frank-pidgeon/

JUne 12, 1939. Top, l-r: Wagner, Alexander, Speaker, Lajoie, Sisler, John. Seated, l-r: Collins, Ruth, Mack, Young.

June 12, 1939. Top, l-r: Wagner, Alexander, Speaker, Lajoie, Sisler, John. Seated, l-r: Collins, Ruth, Mack, Young.

1939: The Baseball Hall of Fame opens its doors to the public in the greatest gathering of members and future inductees ever. The Hall named its first five inductees in 1936—Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson–and added more worthies in each of the ensuing years. Twelve living honorees were present but in the accompanying photo Cobb, who arrived late, is absent.

June 13:

1887: Sportswriter O. P. Caylor takes over as manager of the Mets. Caylor had managed Cincinnati in 1885 and 1886 while writing for the Cincinnati Enquirer; now he is editor of the National Baseball Daily Gazette, a short-lived paper.

1889: After the Colonels lose for the 19th time‚ Louisville owner-manager Mordecai Davidson tells the players he will fine them $25 if they lose the next game. Six players will refuse to play tomorrow against Baltimore. They had to be replaced by local amateurs for the next game, which, unsurprisingly, Louisville lost.

1962: Sandy Koufax hits his first of two big-league home runs‚ off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. It is the winning blow in the 2-1 win at Milwaukee.

June 14:

1870: After a streak of 89 wins against top-rank clubs dating back to 1868, the Cincinnati Red Stockings lose 8-7 to the Atlantics of Brooklyn in what I believe to be the greatest game ever played. With the game tied at the end of the ninth inning, 5-5, Reds captain Harry Wright turns down the Atlantics’ offer of a draw, which would have rendered all bets moot. When the Reds scored twice in the eleventh, it appeared that victory would be theirs. But the Atlantics rallied for three runs and the game. A key play occurred when an exuberant Brooklyn spectator jumped on the back of Cal McVey as he was in the act of fielding a fairly hit ball, thereby permitting a run to score. After the game a telegram to Cincinnati is sent:

June 14, 1870, Reds vs Atlantics

June 14, 1870, Reds vs Atlantics

“The finest game ever played. Our boys did nobly but fortune was against us. Eleven innings played. Though beaten‚ not disgraced. (signed) A.B. Champion‚ Cincinnati Baseball Club.”

For more, see: http://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/june-14-1870-atlantic-storm-red-stockings-suffer-first-defeat

1957: With the bases loaded. Jim Gilliam swipes home with the winning run in the 10th inning to give the Dodgers a 2-1 win over the Cardinals.

1965: After pitching no-hit ball through 10 innings and fanning 18, Cincinnati’s Jim Maloney  allows a leadoff home run to the Mets’ Johnny Lewis in the 11th inning  and loses a heartbreaker, 1-0. He is the first pitcher since Harvey Haddix in 1959 to lose a no-hitter in extra innings.

June 15:

1872: During the Athletics-Atlantics game‚ Tom Barlow bunts the ball and reaches first safely. The New York Clipper describes the play: “After the first two strikers had been retired‚ Barlow‚ amid much laughter and applause‚ ‘blocked’ a ball in front of the home plate and reached first base before the ball did.” Barlow would later, after an injury, become addicted to morphine. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/11/20/some-basball-tricks-the-unfair-means-by-which-some-games-were-won-in-the-1860s/

1895: Future novelist Zane Grey makes his minor league debut playing left field for Findlay‚ Ohio‚ against Wheeling (Tri State League). The Pennsylvania University athlete‚ playing under the name Zane‚ fails to get a hit‚ but walks and scores on a grand slam by brother Romer “Reddy” Grey, subsequently immortalized as one of three in “The Redheaded Outfield.” For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/13/old-well-well/

Jay Justin

Jay Justin “Nig” Clarke

1902: Corsicana (Texas League) shows no mercy in beating Texarkana‚ 51-3. Due to a Sunday laws forbidding baseball‚ the game is shifted to a smaller park in Ennis. The team’s 53 hits include 21 home runs. Jay Justin “Nig” Clarke goes 8-for-8, with all of them home runs‚ collecting 16 RBIs and 32 total bases.

June 16:

1857: The Tri-Mountain Baseball club is organized in Boston by Edward Saltzman‚ but not to play by the customary Massachusetts Game rules. Recently removed from New York, Saltzman had played on the Gotham Base Ball Club. Not finding any teams in Boston playing “The New York Game” he taught some friends the rules and formed the club. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/07/06/early-baseball-in-boston/

1884: Chicago’s Larry Corcoran pitches both left- and right-handed in a league game game against Buffalo. Trying to alleviate pain from an inflammation on his right index finger‚Corcoran alternates sides. Hit hard‚ he is lifted after four innings. Cincinnati’s Tony Mullane had preceded him in this stunt two years earlier.

1989: Rick Wolff‚ a former Harvard player and, at age 37, editor of Macmillan’s The Baseball Encyclopedia, writes an article on minor-league baseball for Sports Illustrated. The subject: his three-day stint playing second base for the South Bend White Sox (Midwest League). He goes 4-for-7 against the Burlington Braves.

Ron Guidry, by Jim Trusilo

Ron Guidry, by Jim Trusilo

June 17:

1871: Civil War hero Abner Doubleday‚ now a Colonel in command of the 24th U.S. Infantry’s “Colored Regiment” at Fort McKavett‚ Texas addresses a request to General E.D. Townsend‚ Adjutant General‚ U.S. Army‚ Washington‚ D.C.: “I have the honor to apply for permission to purchase for the Regimental Library a few portraits of distinguished generals‚ Battle pictures‚ and some of Rogers groups of Statuary particularly those relative to the actions of the Colored population of the south. This being a colored regiment ornaments of this kind seem very appropriate. I would also like to purchase baseball implements for the amusement of the men and a Magic Lantern for the same purpose. The fund is ample and I think these expenditures would add to the happiness of the men.” This is the full extent of Doubleday’s documented relationship to baseball.

1880: In the second perfect game in six days, John Montgomery Ward pitches a classic in Providence against Buffalo‚ winning 5-0. Losing pitcher Pud Galvin makes the last out. Oddly, Galvin had pitched the first perfect game in professional baseball in 1876, outside the National League. For more, see: http://thisgameofgames.blogspot.com/2009/01/first-perfect-game.html

1978: Ron Guidry strikes out 18 batters—with 15 coming in the first six innings–in a four-hit shutout of the Angels‚ setting an AL record for lefthanders. The victory raises his record to 11-0, on the way to a record of 25-3, a Cy Young Award, and second place in the MVP balloting.

June 18:

1898: After the players mutiny and refuse to play‚ Philadelphia deposes rookie manager George Stallings. His replacement, club secretary Bill Shettsline‚ finishes 15 games above .500 for the remaining 103 games in the season.

1919: At Boston‚ St. Louis Browns third baseman Jimmy Austin ends the game by nabbing Sox runner Wally Schang with the hidden ball trick. The Browns win‚ 3-2. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2015/06/09/the-oldest-trick-in-the-book/

1962: One day after the Cubs’ Lou Brock drove a home run into the left-center-field bleachers at the Polo Grounds, Hank Aaron does it too. Before this, only Joe Adcock of the Braves had accomplished the feat, in 1954.

The Oldest Trick in the Book

Deane, Hidden-Ball TrickThe hidden-ball trick is defined as “a time- honored legal ruse in which a baseman conceals the ball and hopes that the base runner believes it has been returned to the pitcher. When the runner steps off the base, he is summarily tagged out with the hidden ball.” The dying art dates back to the early days of pro baseball. With the invaluable help of many others, author Bill Deane has spent decades compiling a list of 264 successful executions of the trick in the major leagues. This puts the rarity of the play roughly in the class of the no- hitter.

My old friend Bill and his publisher graciously permitted the use of the story below, which focuses on hidden-ball tricks up to 1920, in last year’s number of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game. It is extracted from Finding the Hidden-Ball Trick: The Colorful History of Baseball’s Oldest Ruse, by Bill Deane, recently published by Rowman & Littlefield (http://goo.gl/1B3lQV). Upon reading it in manuscript, I commented: “Bill Deane is a magician. Spinning out the story of baseball’s most ancient sleight of hand, he draws your attention to a game, a date, a perpetrator, and a victim. Yet all the while he is weaving his way—and yours—to a unique view of the game’s whole history. Devilishly ingenious, this is a gem of a book.” 

Bill served as Senior Research Associate at the Baseball Hall of Fame from 1986–1994. He has authored hundreds of articles and seven books, including Baseball Myths (Scarecrow, 2012). He served as managing editor of Total Baseball, and has done consulting work for the likes of Roger Kahn, Bill James, and Topps Baseball Cards. In 1989, Deane won the SABR– Macmillan Baseball Research Award for his book, Award Voting. In 2003, Deane won the Utica-Cooperstown SABR chapter’s “Cliff Kachline Award.” Most recently, SABR named him as a 2015 recipient of its prestigious Henry Chadwick Award.

I first started “collecting” hidden-ball tricks in the 1980s. Employed as Senior Research Associate for the National Baseball Library from 1986–1994 and working on my own projects after hours, I spent hundreds of hours a year doing research for myself and others. Inevitably, I stumbled across interesting tidbits which had little or nothing to do with what I was working on, and I kept various lists based on these findings. Many of these feats, like three-pitch innings, and scoring from first base on a single, turned out to be not as uncommon as I thought. But the hidden-ball trick held up as a rare and remarkable event, roughly as uncommon as a no-hitter.

My project blossomed thanks to the internet and considerable help from others. To date, I have documented 264 successful executions of the HBT in the major leagues.
The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary defines the hidden-ball trick as “a time-honored legal ruse in which a baseman [I’d say “infielder”] conceals the ball and hopes that the baserunner believes it has been returned to the pitcher. When the runner steps off the base, he is summarily tagged out with the hidden ball.”[1] SABR member Eric Sallee gives a good explanation of what is required for the play to be successful, saying “the sun, the moon, and the stars all have to be in alignment in order for it to work:

1. Play cannot be ‘dead,’ i.e., time is not ‘out’;
2. The pitcher cannot be touching or straddling the pitching rubber;
3. The umpire has to be alerted or paying attention;
4. A bonehead runner must be willing to take a lead off a bag before the pitcher toes the slab; and
5. The bonehead runner’s teammates and base coaches all have to be asleep, as well.”

The hidden-ball trick is almost as old as baseball itself. It has been said to date back to Harry and George Wright of the 1869 Red Stockings, but 19th century baseball expert Peter Morris scoffs at the notion of that team resorting to such deceptive ruses. Another source credits National Association utilityman Tom Barlow with the innovation. The earliest HBT I have documented occurred on May 20, 1872, in a Philadelphia–Baltimore NA game; it was described as an “old trick” as early as 1876. In any case, it dates back more than 140 years, and has happened to end games and to complete triple plays. It once resulted in two arrests, another time cost a Hall of Famer a managing job, and it even happened in a World Series. With TV monitors in the clubhouses and professional coaches at the bases, the play was still pulled off twice in 2013.

Following are accounts of 10 successful pre-1920 executions of the hidden-ball trick:

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers

Date: June 17, 1884
Teams: Buffalo Bisons vs. Chicago White Stockings (NL)
Perpetrator: Buffalo first baseman Dan Brouthers
Victim: Billy Sunday, Chicago

According to The Sporting Life, “Brouthers, in one of the games with Chicago last week, worked a very old trick on Sunday. The latter had made a good base hit and was safe on first. The guileless Daniel had thrown the ball back to [pitcher Billy] Serad (in his mind), when Sunday slipped off the bag. Dan jerked the ball from under his arm and touched him out before the Chicago right fielder knew what happened. Any player stupid enough to be caught in that manner deserves a fine.”[2] Buffalo won the game, 8–7 in 10 innings. Brouthers was on his way to the Hall of Fame; Sunday was on his way to a long career as an evangelist.

Date: September 28, 1893
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Giants (NL)
Perpetrator: Pittsburgh first baseman Jake Beckley
Victim: John Montgomery Ward, New York

According to the New York Sun, “It was in the ninth inning and Ward had made a single. Of course John was tickled to death and did not observe that the ball was passed to Beckley. [Mike “King”] Kelly was coaching at first and he, of course, did not see the renowned [pitcher Ad] Gumbert make an effort to get in a position to pitch, and Ward stepped from the bag. The instant he did so Beckley touched him out, and there were roars of laughter all around. John kicked, but he was out, and the umpire told him so. It was somewhat humiliating for the little manager, but it had to go.”[3] For Ward, considered the most intelligent man in baseball in the nineteenth century, it was the second time in four months he had been caught on the trick. Kelly—like Ward and Beckley, a future Hall of Famer—was in the closing days of his colorful career; a year later, he would be dead.

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

Date: October 9, 1907
Teams: Detroit Tigers (AL) vs. Chicago Cubs (NL)
Perpetrators: Tigers second baseman Germany Schaefer and third baseman Bill Coughlin
Victim: Jimmy Slagle, Cubs

The hidden-ball trick has even been executed in the World Series, though most sources don’t account for it (The World Series has it as a pickoff, Tigers pitcher George Mullin to Coughlin).[4] In the first inning of Game 2 of the 1907 Fall Classic, according to The Sporting Life, “Slagle was passed, stole second and got to third on [catcher Freddie] Payne’s wild throw, but was caught napping on the ‘hide-the-ball’ trick, Schaefer to Coughlin.” The 1908 edition of Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide said “Coughlin working that ancient and decrepit trick of the ‘hidden ball’ got ‘Rabbit’ Slagle as he stepped off the third sack.” According to author Stephen D. Boren, Schaefer caught a pop fly, then joined Coughlin in a conference with Mullin, during which Coughlin secreted the ball under his arm. After the tag, umpire Hank O’Day yelled, “You’re out. Where did the ball come from?”[5]

Bill Coughlin

Bill Coughlin

Date: May 13, 1908
Teams: Detroit Tigers vs. Boston Red Sox (AL)
Perpetrator: Tigers third baseman Bill Coughlin
Victim: Amby McConnell, Red Sox

In the third inning, rookie McConnell hit a bases-clearing triple. As player-turned-sportwriter Tim Murnane wrote in the Boston Globe, “About the meanest thing known to baseball occurred at this point. With Cy Young coaching, the ball was fielded to Coughlin, who tucked it away under his arm, and McConnell, supposing the pitcher had it, moved off the base and was touched out. This is one trick as old as the game that should never be allowed to go in baseball…. Hiding the ball is an ancient trick, and long since barred from the game by custom. No Boston player has been allowed to attempt the trick since Harry Wright declared it was unsportsmanlike and an insult to the spectators.” The Detroit Times replied, “News of the barring of the play is fresh out this way. It has always been understood heretofore that the baserunner was supposed, with the assistance of his coacher, to take reasonable care of himself and not be caught napping against any such transparent stratagem.”[6] It’s interesting that Murnane would take such umbrage at the play: back on September 20, 1875, he pulled it on Cincinnati’s Emmanuel Snyder to end a National Association exhibition game.

Coughlin is the all-time leader, with nine documented tricks (at three positions) in the majors. According to his 1943 obituary, “When only 3 years old, he picked up a revolver and pulled the trigger, the discharge tearing off the finger next to the thumb on his left hand. He attributed that accident to making it possible for him to execute the hidden ball trick, as he had a special mitt made for his hand.”

Merkle Ball, Sept 23, 1908

Merkle Ball, Sept 23, 1908

Date: September 22, 1910 (first game)
Teams: New York Giants vs. Chicago Cubs (NL)
Perpetrator: Giants first baseman Fred Merkle
Victim: Johnny Evers, Cubs

The Giants’ Fred Merkle is forever remembered for his September 23, 1908 “boner,” when he failed to advance to second base on an apparent game-winning hit, and was called out when Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers retrieved a ball and touched the base, forcing Merkle for the third out and nullifying the run. The game wound up a tie, replayed at the end of the season, and resulting in a Cubs victory to win the pennant by one game over the Giants.

Merkle could never live down that humiliation, but he did gain a measure of revenge. It happened in New York in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cubs. According to I.E. Sanborn of the Chicago Tribune, “A feature of the day not indicated in the tabulated summary occurred in the first game when J. Evers was made the victim of a mothball scented trick by none other than Fred Bone Merkle…Evers was on first with none out in the fifth inning, having just accepted his third straight pass from [Louis] Drucke. The hurler pegged across to first to drive him back. Merkle went through the time worn motion of bluffing to return the throw, but holding the ball. Evers yanked his foot off the bag. Merkle stabbed him and the umpire saw it. There was great joy among the bugs who dearly love the Trojan, we don’t think so. What made it all the more noteworthy is that tomorrow is the anniversary of ‘Merkle day’ at the Polo grounds. Just two years ago tomorrow Merkle gave Chicago it’s [sic] third pennant by forgetting to touch second.”[7]

Date: July 14, 1912 (first game)
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Giants (NL)
Perpetrator: Cardinals third baseman Wally Smith
Victim: Fred Snodgrass, Giants

According to the New York Times, “Wally Smith pulled ‘the hidden ball trick’ at the expense of Fred Snodgrass in the sixth inning, and it probably saved the game for [pitcher] Bob Harmon…[Beals] Becker hit with Snodgrass on the ‘hit and run,’ whacking a single to right field, Snodgrass taking third base…. However Snodgrass forgot to follow the ball, Smith hiding it in his glove, and when Fred stepped off the bag, Wally tagged him. Umpire Bob Emslie, who was making base decisions, said that he did not see the play, but Umpire [Mal] Eason, who was working behind the bat, saw it and waved Snodgrass out.”[8] It was a critical play, as the Cards won, 3–2. Interestingly, Snodgrass—who would become infamous for a fatal World Series error later this year—had been similarly tricked by the Cardinals two years before, with Emslie calling him out, but Cy Rigler overruling his fellow arbiter, nullifying the play.

Cy Rigler, Polo Grounds, 1911

Cy Rigler, as famous for his combativeness as for his acumen; Polo Grounds, 1911.

Date: June 9, 1914
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies (NL)
Perpetrator: Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner
Victim: Beals Becker, Phillies

In the eighth inning, Wagner pulled the ruse on Becker, who had singled and been sacrificed to second. Wagner also pulled a decoy earlier in the same game, but it doesn’t quite qualify as an HBT. After Hans Lobert stole second in the first inning, according to the Pittsburgh Gazette Times, “Wagner tricked him into starting for third. Wagner then picked up the ball behind the bag and tagged Lobert trying to get back.” Despite Wagner’s theatrics—including his 3,000th career hit—the Phillies won, 3–1.

Date: May 1, 1915
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds (NL)
Perpetrator: Cardinals second baseman/manager Miller Huggins
Victim: Tommy Leach, Reds

In a play involving two stars near the end of their playing careers, Huggins nailed Leach, precipitating a fistfight between Reds manager Buck Herzog and umpire Cy Rigler that landed both of them in jail. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The fracas which eventuated in the arrest of the umpire and manager was imposed suddenly upon some 6000 fans in the seventh inning of a game which the Cardinals won from the Reds, 9–5…. Manager Herzog exploded when Tommy Leach, his veteran outfielder, was victimized on the hidden ball trick, a moth-eaten affair, by Manager Huggins. This play took place at second base. Hug held the ball until Leach wandered off second and then dove for his prey and landed him. Umpire [Bill] Hart, officiating on the bases, didn’t see the play. He appealed to Rigler, who was behind the plate. Rigler called Leach out. Then Herzog rushed at the umpire. Rigler promptly ordered Herzog out of the game. The Cincinnati manager went to the bench but returned and renewed his argument with Rigler. He tapped Rigler on the chest with his index finger…Rigler hit Herzog with his mask and then followed with blows from his fist. The pair clinched and fists were flying freely.”[9] After the game, both men were arrested on peace disturbance charges, and each was fined $5.

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

Date: July 4, 1918 (second game)
Teams: Detroit Tigers vs. Chicago White Sox (AL)
Perpetrator: Tigers first baseman Ty Cobb
Victim: Joe Benz, White Sox

In the second game of a holiday doubleheader, Cobb (in one of his 14 career games at first base) was inspired by Bob Fisher’s trick the day before. According to the Detroit Free Press, “Cobb, having read in the papers of the old hidden ball trick used on Dode Paskert in St. Louis Wednesday, thought he’d try it and he made good, too. In the sixth inning [the White Sox’ Fred] McMullin was on third and [Otto] Jacobs on first with one out when Benz tapped to the pitcher. McMullin was run down and the ball was thrown to second later for a play on Jacobs. It got away from [Pep] Young and was recovered by Cobb, who tucked it under his arm, walked back to first base…and when Benz stepped off the bag, Ty stung him with the ball.”[10]

Date: September 2, 1918 (second game)
Teams: Chicago White Sox vs. Detroit Tigers (AL)
Perpetrator: White Sox third baseman Babe Pinelli
Victim: George Harper, Tigers

According to the Toledo Blade, rookie Pinelli caught Harper with manager Hughie Jennings coaching.[11] It was during the second game of this season-ending doubleheader at Detroit, and there was a feeling that this could be the last regular-season baseball game of the foreseeable future. The campaign was being cut short by World War I, and the game featured a squad of military airplanes exhibiting maneuvers above the field. According to the Detroit Free Press, “George Harper helped to make this game historic, by allowing Pinelli, the Sox recruit third sacker, to pull the hidden ball trick on him. It made Harper look bad…. In the inning in which Harper was nailed it looked like the Tigers must have a bat on their opponents, a double, two singles and a long fly that enabled two runners to advance a base, being bunched without a run resulting, and with only one man left.” The Detroit News wrote, “George also fell victim to the hidden ball trick in the second game. Harper watched the airplanes, after getting as far as third base, and Pinelli shoved the ball into his ribs.”[12] Detroit still won, 7–3, but Harper announced afterward that he was thinking of enlisting in the Navy.


1. Dickson, P. 1999. The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary (pp. 244–245).
2. The Sporting Life, June 25, 1884.
3. New York Sun, Sept. 29, 1893.
4. Neft, D., and R. Cohen. 1990. The World Series (p. 20).
5. Boren, S. 1991. “Blunders on the Base Paths Part of World Series Lore,” Baseball Digest, October.
6. Detroit Times, May 16, 1908.
7. Chicago Tribune, Sept. 23, 1910.
8. New York Times, July 15, 1912.
9. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 2, 1915, sports p. 1.
10. Detroit Free Press, July 5, 1918.
11. Toledo Blade, April 20, 1925.
12. Detroit News, Sept. 3, 1918.

Old News in Baseball, No. 6

Newsboy logoBaseball is a comforting game, echoing the rhythms and events of games gone by and recalling the past, one’s own and the nation’s. Yet even for those who have witnessed thousands of games, baseball holds out the prospect on any given day of seeing something that’s never been seen before. This past week provided such a privilege, as the Padres’ Andrew Cashner, facing the Mets, became the first pitcher to give up ten or more hits while also striking out ten or more batters in fewer than five innings. On the very next day, in the very same ballpark, Mets rookie Noah Syndergaard did the same thing.

June 5:

1875: In St. Louis‚ the Boston Red Stockings suffer their first defeat of the season after 26 victories and one draw. After the Browns’ pitcher George Bradley records the last out, the crowd rushes onto the field and lifts him to their shoulders. Boston will go 34–8 on the road and will win all 37 its home games, a level of success that spelled doom for the five-year-old National Association.

1890: Rookie Billy Rhines pitches Cincinnati to a 9-1 win over Pittsburgh. Rhines invented the “raise curve” or upshoot, made famous by Joe McGinnity, an underhand pitcher, or submariner, whose knuckles would almost scrape the ground. He described his specialty, the raise curve, as “the heritage of the old days of pitching—when no curves were known—combined with the outcurve of the present day.” In 1896, Sporting News reported, “the underhanded movement of Billy Rhynes [Rhines] … though an old swing, is new to the majority of major league batsmen, and therein lies its effectiveness.”

Billy Rhines

Billy Rhines

1914: Opelika (Georgia-Alabama League) pitcher John Cantley slugs three grand slams and a single for 15 RBIs in a game against Talladega‚ winning the contest 19-1. He won 17 games that year, too.

June 6:

1892: President Benjamin Harrison watches Washington go down to a 7-4 defeat to Cincinnati in 11 innings. It marks the first visit to a ML game by a seated President. Ulysses S. Grant had attended the opening game of the new National League club in New York in 1883, but he had finished his second term in office some years earlier. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/02/26/our-baseball-presidents/

1934: Myril Hoag‚ subbing for Babe Ruth‚ records six singles in six at bats in the first game of a doubleheader with the Red Sox. The Yanks rout Lefty Grove and roll to a 15-3 win. For more, see: http://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/hoag_myril.htm

1972: Sadaharu Oh of the Yomiuri Giants hits home runs 499 and 500. At the end of his 22-year career, his home run total was 868.

June 7:

1884: Charlie Sweeney of Providence strikes out 19 Boston Red Stockings to establish a major-league record for a nine-inning game. It will be tied a month later by Hugh “One Arm” Daily (whose 20th strikeout was not counted, by the rules of the day, because the batter reached first base), but not broken until Roger Clemens fans 20 on April 29‚ 1986. Sweeney would resign from the Providence club in July, compelling Hoss Radbourn to pitch nearly all of the club’s remaining games. For more, see: http://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/june-7-1884-sweeney-strikes-out-nineteen

Mabel Hite and Mike Donlin

Mabel Hite and Mike Donlin

1911: After two years on the vaudeville circuit with his wife Mabel Hite‚ “Turkey Mike” Donlin is reinstated by the National Commission. He rejoins the Giants‚ but after 12 games the .333 lifetime hitter is traded to the last-place NL Boston Rustlers.

1966: The New York Mets‚ picking first in the June free-agent draft‚ pass up Arizona State’s Reggie Jackson to select catcher Steve Chilcott. The A’s take Jackson with the 2nd pick. After six years in the minors Chilcott will retire as the only number-one pick never to play in the major leagues.

June 8:

1876: The Chicago Tribune reports the following: “One of the stupidest ideas that ever entered into the head of base-ball managers is the new arrangement on the Hartford grounds‚ by which they refuse to permit the transmission of any report of the game by innings. As the ‘Courant’ well says‚ those who have been visitors to the bulletins are those who have an interest in the game‚ which is kept alive by their opportunity of watching the board‚ and the increased interest they have had has made them visitors to the games when a game of special interest has been played‚ or when they could get away from their business to attend. Not to continue the score by innings is to remove a very excellent and cheap feature of advertising‚ and‚ in a money way‚ to cause a loss to the ball manager.”

1921: Babe Ruth is arrested for speeding in New York‚ fined $100‚ and held in jail until 4:00 P.M. Game time is 3:15‚ so a uniform is taken to him. He changes in jail and follows a police escort to the ballpark where he enters with the Yankees trailing 3-2. They rally for a 4-3 win. This wild ride to the ballpark is echoed in 1928—although the destination is Yankee Stadium, not the Polo Grounds—in Harold Lloyd’s Speedy, in which Ruth plays himself. For more, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpZiYOKQihg

1955: The Dodgers option P Tommy Lasorda to Montreal to make room on the roster for Sandy Koufax‚ who has been on the injury list. At this time, rules called for any “bonus baby”—an amateur signed for more than $4,000—to spend two years on a big-league roster.

Johnson in Weiser, Idaho 1907

Johnson in Weiser, Idaho 1907

June 9:

1887: New York Metropolitans right fielder Jack “Candy” Nelson starts three double plays‚ two on throws to home and one to start an infield rundown. Only two other outfielders have tied this record: Jack McCarthy in 1905 (4/26/05) and Ira Flagstead in 1926.

1907: Throwing the only perfect game of his career‚ Weiser (Idaho) pitcher Walter Johnson beats Emmett‚ 11-0. He strikes out 14. The Washington Senators sign him in July of this year and he starts his first big-league game the following month.

1963: The Colt .45s beat the Giants 3-0 in the major leagues’ first Sunday night game. Today Sunday Night Baseball is an institution on national television. But on this date it is decidedly an exception to the rules, on account of Houston’s oppressive daytime heat. A Sunday night game had been scheduled in St. Louis for this very date in 1950, but Commissioner Happy Chandler ordered the Cardinals to cancel it.

June 10:

1892: Wilbert Robinson‚ Baltimore Orioles catcher‚ goes 7-for-7 in a nine-inning game and, it is later accounted, drives in 11 runs‚ a record that stands until Jim Bottomley topped it in 1924. Pittsburgh’s Rennie Stennett tied the mark in 1975. In extra inning games, Detroit’s Cesar Gutierrez went 7-for-7 in 1970 and, in 1932, Cleveland’s Johnny Burnett collected nine hits in eleven at bats.

1944: Joe Nuxhall‚ only 15 years‚ 10 months old‚ pitches two-thirds of an inning in the Cincinnati Reds’ 18-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. He allows five walks and two hits before manager Bill McKechnie pulls him. Nuxhall would return to the majors eight years later and become a successful starting pitcher. For many years it was thought only Fred Chapman‚ age 14‚ had been the youngest player in major-league history. However, later research revealed that the Chapman who pitched in the game of July 22‚ 1887‚ was actually Frank Chapman, age 25, whom the A’s had picked up from the Reading club in the Pennsylvania State Association. The youngest player to hit the big leagues and stick was 16-year-old Willie McGill, a little lefthander who pitched for Cleveland in the Players League of 1890.

1959: Rocky Colavito hits four consecutive home runs in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium to lead the Indians to an 11-8 win. For more, see: http://sabr.org/research/four-homers-one-game

Rube Waddell, Los Angeles 1902

Rube Waddell, Los Angeles 1902

June 11:

1902: Connie Mack signs Rube Waddell to a contract with the Philadelphia A’s. The Rube, a former big-leaguer, was pitching in the Pacific Coast League, where he had already won 12 games with Los Angeles. He did not pitch his first game for the A’s until June 26, then proceeded to win 10 games in July, a feat unmatched by any hurler in any month since. His 24 wins for the A’s came over a period of only 87 games the club played. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/06/29/rube-waddell-baseballs-peter-pan/

1947: Mel Ott, who broke in with the Giants at age 17, in 1926, makes his last appearance as a player. Pinch hitting for pitcher Ken Trinkle in New York’s 8-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the player-manager pops to short.

1995: Oakland’s Mark McGwire hits three consecutive home runs in an 8-1 win over the Red Sox. McGwire hit two homers yesterday‚ giving him a record-tying five in two consecutive games. He is the 15th player to do so (the first was Cap Anson), and with Ralph Kiner the only to do so twice. Bryce Harper did it last month. For more, see: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/recbooks/rb_hr5.shtml

Sketch of National Game of Baseball by George Wright

George Wright in 1924

George Wright in 1924

George Wright (1847-1937), the first hero of the professional era in baseball, presented this little essay in person at the Columbia Historical Society in Washington, D.C. on May 20, 1919. It was published by the Society in the following year. Much of what Wright relates predates his earliest experience of playing the game, at age 14 in 1861, and is a bit of an undigested hash. But baseball was surely discussed in his household when he was a tyke, for his brother Harry had joined the Knickerbocker Baseball Club in 1857, and his father, Sam, had been the professional of the St. George’s Cricket Club before that, and must have been present for early baseball matches. Some material may also reflect the received wisdom of Henry Chadwick and Albert Spalding, especially as gleaned from the latter’s America’s National Game (1911). Caveats aside, this is an interesting recollection by septuagenarian George Wright, a full half century after he wore the Old English “C” of the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings and became the idol of the age.

It was in the thirties or earlier, that a Bat and Ball were used in introducing the game called “Town Ball” or “Round Ball,”which was generally played throughout New York, the New England States, and Philadelphia. Later the game worked westward.

In those days it was the custom to throw the ball at the base runner in place of touching him with it, as is done in the game of today. The bases were laid out differently; in place of a canvas bag for a base, a wooden stake three to four feet high was driven in the ground. The game was won by the side first making either twenty-one or fifty runs, as agreed upon. The balls used were of different sizes; the inside was made of rubber strips cut from old rubber shoes and covered with leather. There were no set rules.

It was from these early days that the foundation of the game of the present day was taken. Abner Doubleday about 1839, subsequently graduated from West Point, entered the regular army, and is credited with drawing the first diamond-shaped baseball field, which was introduced later on.

In 1843 a number of gentlemen fond of the game, assembled and played on a plot of ground at 27th Street and Fourth Avenue, now occupied by the Madison Square Garden, New York City.

The railroad cut through the north end of Madison Square.

The railroad cut through the north end of Madison Square.

The march of improvement made a change of base necessary, and the following year they met at the next most convenient place, the north slope of Murray Hill, between 40th and 21st Streets, Fourth Avenue.

In the spring of 1845, those who had become enthusiastic over the game, one day on the field proposed a regular organization, and at a meeting held shortly afterwards, a board of recruiting officers was appointed, and as it was apparent to them that they would soon be driven from Murray Hill, it was suggested that some suitable place should be obtained in New Jersey, where their stay could be permanent; accordingly a day was selected, and enough men to make a game, assembled at Barclay Street Ferry, crossed over to Hoboken, marched up the road, prospecting for ground on each side, until they reached the Elysian Fields, where they “settled.” Thus it occurred that a party of gentlemen formed an organization, combining health, recreation, and social enjoyment. In the fall of the same year the first baseball club was organized–the “Knickerbocker,” which made the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, the club’s headquarters, where, it is thought, the first diamond-shaped baseball field was laid out.

Between this time and 1856 many clubs were formed throughout New York City and Brooklyn. A meeting was held in New York on the 6th of December, 1856, the object being the calling of a general baseball convention. A committee was appointed which decided on the 22d day of January, 1857, as the day of the meeting when playing rules were to be adopted adopted. This
was the first step in the organization of an association of baseball clubs. A new rule was brought up before the meeting, which was to catch the ball on the fly, in place of the bound, but nothing was done about it. The fly game was originated by a Mr. [James Whyte] Davis, who worked hard to induce his club, the Knickerbockers, to adopt it, and finally succeeded.

The Knickerbockers (left) and Excelsiors.

The Knickerbockers (left) and Excelsiors.

On June 30, 1858, Mr. Davis arranged a match between the Knickerbockers of New York and the Excelsior Club of Brooklyn, two first-class clubs in those days, to test the fly game and give up the boy’s play of catching the ball on a bound. Both nines as well as those present, pronounced it a success, and it proved the shortest game on record. It was thought that it would result in being made a rule at the next convention, but it failed. After repeated attempts in later years, the “fly” game rule was adopted at a meeting in 1865, after being bitterly opposed, but it did more to improve the game than any other change in the rules.

In 1858 the ball used was improved upon; it was made smaller and lighter. From being 5-1/2 ounces in weight it, was made 5-1/4. In size, from 9-1/2 or 9-3/4 in circumference, it was reduced to 9 or not more than 9-1/4. The inside contained an ounce of moulded rubber wound tightly with woolen yarn and covered with horsehide, causing it to be a very lively ball.

Excelsiors and Nationals at the White Lot, 1866

Excelsiors and Nationals at the White Lot, 1866

The game was now becoming very popular throughout the country; clubs were organized in all directions, which continued until the breaking out of the Civil War in 1861, when there was but little baseball played until the war was over. It again started up with new life in 1865, particularly at Washington, D. C, where clubs were organized in the departments of the Government by the clerks, playing on grounds laid out on the White Lot, in the rear of the White House.

Outside of the departmental clubs, the National, Olympic, and Jefferson clubs were organized about the same time and played on enclosed grounds located on 15th Street.

During the year 1867 Col. Frank Jones, a great admirer of the game and president of the National Club took that Club on a trip west, playing at Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago, winning eight out of nine games and losing one at Chicago to the Forest City Club of Rockford, Ill.

Col. Frank Jones, via Ars Longa

Col. Frank Jones, via Ars Longa

The nine on the trip were, [Harry] Berthrong, Catcher; [Billy “Swift”] Williams, Pitcher; [George Horace Elliot] Fletcher, First Base; [George] Fox, Third Base; George Wright, Short Stop; [Val] Robinson, Left Field; [Sy] Studley, Center Field; and [Harry] McLean, Right Field; with [FRank Prescott] Norton, [Eben] Smith and [Billy] Hodges as extra players. The trip caused much interest at Washington among the club supporters and admirers of the game. The National was the first club to visit the western cities.

About this time, 1868, curved pitching was introduced by Arthur Cummings, pitcher of the Star Club of Brooklyn N. Y.

In 1869 the Cincinnati got together a strong nine (the best players obtainable) known as the “Red Stockings “–the first club to wear short trousers and long stockings, and the first club to have contracts with their players to play for a stated salary for the season. The nine went into regular training, the advantage of which was that a record was made which has not been equalled to the present day, playing fifty-seven games, not losing a game during the season, playing all clubs of prominence from the Atlantic to the Pacific, causing quite a commotion in baseball throughout the country, and resulting in most of the large cities which had clubs, placing players under contract for the playing season. This was really the start of professional baseball. Before this, players in such clubs as the Atlantics, Mutual Union and Athletics (which clubs had enclosed grounds) received a percentage of the gate receipts.

In the fall of 1870 the Red Stockings disbanded, part of the nine going to Boston where they introduced professional baseball for the first time, and the remainder joining the Olympic Club of Washington.

During the season of 1874 the Boston and Athletic Clubs made a trip abroad, playing in the larger cities of England, Ireland and Scotland. The idea was to introduce our American game of baseball. The games were played on enclosed Cricket Grounds. Many well-contested matches were played between the two teams, but the game did not seem to impress the clubs or athletic public enough to have them take up the game. Fourteen games were played during the trip, Boston winning eight and the Athletics six.

In 1873 the double covered ball was adopted as the official ball. The catcher’s mask was introduced in the year 1876, and very shortly afterwards, the chest protector and gloves.

First Nine cigars 1874, Boston vs Philadelphia Tour

First Nine cigars, 1874 English Tour

During the years between 1873 and 1876, neither the clubs nor players were under the proper control. The game was getting into the hands of gamblers, mostly due to the weakness of the Baseball Association in not controlling and stopping it. Seeing that something had to be done, in the fall of 1876, the National League of Professional Baseball was organized by men of integrity and ability, led by the president of the Chicago Baseball Club [William A. Hulbert], who made a thorough investigation of the existing conditions, which resulted in the expulsion of four leading players of the Louisville Club for selling games. These players were never allowed to return. This destroyed the gambling element in connection with baseball and proved a warning to all future professional players. The game ran along smoothly until 1890 when the players of the country organized a Brotherhood or Player’s League, composed of the best players, which placed clubs in the large cities. The league lasted only two years as it was poorly managed.

Again the game continued without anything important happening until 1900, when the American League Baseball Association came into existence, well equipped in the way of executive officers of ability, well backed financially, and with many of the best players of the country. Teams were placed in New York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Washington, and proved a success from the start. The coming of this new association placed the game on a solid foundation. The old league had been careless in many ways and recognized the fact. The two leagues now worked together harmoniously. The new league brought many improvements, one of which was the umpire system, making the umpire absolute master of the field during a game. This has greatly helped to make the game what it is today–the popular sport with the American public and the national game of the country.

Old News in Baseball, No. 5

Newsboy logoThis week we leave May behind and enter June, having completed about 30 percent of the 2015 regular-season campaign. The newsboy depicted at left is probably shouting, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” … or some variation on that theme. News is omnipresent now, with updates and tweets keeping us up to the minute, let alone the hour–or, as when baseball began, the past couple of days. But speed on the field and in the receipt of information have always been of the essence in baseball.

The nineteenth century version of the internet was, of course, the telegraph. In the early years of the National League, a Chicago swindler presented a concrete example of how the wire worked in poolrooms. His company paid three dollars for three wire reports, one each three innings, on games in progress. It then sold the information, one inning at a time, to twelve subscribers, usually poolrooms or saloons, for forty cents an inning (plus the cost of the messenger boys), the proprietor thus receiving a total of $43.20. The men in these establishments then bet furiously on each coming inning. The aggregator himself, a fellow named Lauderbeck, was accused of betting on each of the succeeding two innings in his wire report, being for a while in sole possession of the outcome. More tidbits below, tied to the week upcoming:

MAY 29

1915: Babe Ruth, not yet recognized as the Home Run King allows one hit through 8 innings but he and his Red Sox lose‚ 2-1‚ when the A’s A’s Harry Davis hits a 2-run pinch single. Davis had been known as “Home Run” Davis for leading the American League in home runs in four straight seasons (1904-07). Davis later relinquished the nickname to teammate Frank Baker, who also led AL in homers four straight times (1911-14). For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/61ebb0fe

1922: The U.S. Supreme Court rules baseball is not interstate commerce‚ and the Baltimore Feds lose their case. The request for a rehearing will be denied. Despite repeated challenges in the decades to come, the ruling stands to this day.

1952: Willie Mays enters the army and will miss the rest of this season and all of the next. Meanwhile‚ the Giants lose another young Birmingham player as Boston Braves scout Dewey Griggs signs Henry Aaron to a contract. The Indianapolis Clowns receive telegram offers from both clubs‚ but Aaron prefers his chances to make the Braves.

Henry Aaron with Indianapolis Clowns

Henry Aaron with Indianapolis Clowns

MAY 30

1876: Chicago‚ with four Boston stars of 1875 in their lineup‚ play their first NL game in Boston. When word had leaked in the summer of ’75 that Chicago had stripped Boston of its stars for the following season, a columnist for the Worcester Spy wrote of Boston’s loss: “Like Rachel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted because the famous baseball nine, the perennial champion, the city’s most cherished possession, has been captured by Chicago.” The White Stockings, who had also raided the Philadelphia Athletics to obtain Adrian Anson, indeed went on to win the pennant.

1894: Boston second baseman Bobby Lowe homers in four consecutive at bats‚ becoming the first major leaguer to do so. Here he is pictured with Lou Gehrig, who in this week in 1932 would do it too. For more, see: http://sabr.org/research/four-homers-one-game

1935: Babe Ruth calls it quits, playing only the first inning of the opener of a doubleheader between Boston and Philadelphia at Baker Bowl‚ going 0-for-1. Five days earlier, at Pittsburgh on May 25, he had hit his final three home runs.

Gehrig and Lowe, 1932MAY 31

1927: Detroit first sacker Johnny Neun pulls off the second unassisted triple play in two days. Only the seventh in MLB history, it came a day after Jimmy Cooney of the Cubs had worked the trick. For more, see: http://sabr.org/tripleplays

1944: Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma “Buster” McLish‚ 18 years old‚ picks up his first big-league win for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Fifteen years later he would win 19 and become an all-star with the Cleveland Indians.

1950: With their record 8-25 and in last place‚ the St. Louis Browns fire Dr. David F. Tracy. Tracy‚ a New York psychologist‚ had been hired to help the players overcome their feelings of inadequacy.

June 1
1895: Today’s issue of the weekly Sporting Life reports that “The Minneapolis team now on its uniforms advertises a brand of flour made in Minneapolis. The other clubs should follow suit-Kansas City advertising canned beef‚ Milwaukee [advertising] beer‚ and St. Paul‚ ice wagons.”

Tracy, Psychologist at the Bat

Tracy, Psychologist at the Bat

1975: The Angels’ Nolan Ryan pitches his fourth career no-hitter‚ winning 1-0 over the Orioles‚ to tie the record set by Sandy Koufax. Today’s win is his 100th.

2001: In a rarity at Yankee Stadium, Cleveland starter C.C. Sabathia earns a win, in accordance with the rules, despite pitching only four innings. The game is called because of rain after five innings with the Tribe ahead‚ 7-2.

June 2

1887: George W. “Watch” Burnham is fired as manager of the last-place Indianapolis club. Four years earlier he had won his nickname thus: As an umpire he was viewed with scorn by both Chicago and Cleveland players. Before the next day’s game at Cleveland, Burnham was presented with a gold watch at the home plate, inscribed: “Presented to George W. Burnham by his Cleveland friends, July 25, 1883.” It was later learned that Burnham bought the watch himself, had it inscribed and arranged for the presentation. Forever after he was known as “Watch.”

Watch Burnham

Watch Burnham

1932: Buzz Arlett is another (see Lowe and Gehrig, above) who hits four home runs in a game, though for Baltimore in an International League game. Arlett played in the big leagues the previous year, hitting .313 with 18 homers for Philadelphia. But it was in the minors where he was a terror, including 54 homers in 1932. For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/4419031b

1954: How great were the Cleveland Indians of ’54, a team that finished 111-43? At Yankee Stadium on this day‚ the Yanks tag Early Wynn and reliever Don Mossi for seven runs in the first inning. Beginning in the next inning, however, Mossi and four other relievers hold New York hitless for nine innings and the Indians win in the tenth, 8-7.

June 3

1888: The poem “Casey at the Bat” is published in William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. Though credited only to “Phin,” the immortal ballad was the creation of Hearst’s Harvard classmate Ernest Lawrence Thayer. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/01/14/casey-doubleheader-game-two/

1898: Jack Clements of St. Louis becomes the first man to catch 1‚000 games. He drives in the winning run in a 5-4 victory over Baltimore. He is a lefty thrower.

1932: In Philadelphia‚ Lou Gehrig hits four consecutive home runs yet takes second billing, as usual—this time not to Babe Ruth but to Giants’ manager John McGraw‚ who on this day announced his resignation after 30 years with the club.

Nap Lajoie Horseshoe Bouquet

Nap Lajoie Horseshoe Bouquet

June 4

1912: On Napoleon Lajoie Day in Cleveland‚ the player-manager receives a horseshoe of flowers filled with 1‚000 silver dollars‚ a gift from the fans. His teammates chip in with $125 in gold.

1947: In the fifth inning at Ebbets Field‚ Dodgers outfielder Pete Reiser crashes into the fence and is knocked unconscious. He still manages to hold onto the long fly to help the Dodgers win over Pittsburgh. In the clubhouse a priest administers the last rites of the Catholic Church to Reiser‚ who will be hospitalized for ten days.

1986: Pirates outfielder Barry Bonds goes 4-for-5 with his first big-league home run (off Craig McMurtry) as Pittsburgh whips Atlanta 12-3.

The Pitcher’s Art

Tim Murnane

Tim Murnane

I spotted this in the Brownstown, Indiana Banner of July 8, 1887, but it originates with the Boston Globe, for which Tim Murnane long served as sporting editor and columnist. I wrote elsewhere at Our Game: “In 1886 Murnane was engaged, together with John J. Drohan, to do baseball work as a staffer for the Globe. When Drohan soon left, Murnane was given full charge, rising to head the entire sports department for a generation….When he died at age 65 he was not only the voice of baseball in Boston; his opinionated style had become a national institution.” Much more about “The Silver King” here: http://goo.gl/MsZFJd

Clever and Scientific Curving, Shoots, Raises and Drops from the Box.

It was by slow stages, writes T. H. Murnane, that the present high standing of the pitcher’s art was attained. Arthur [“Candy”] Cummings, a Brooklyn youth, was the first to bring into use the out-curve. H e was known as the boy wonder, back in 1869, with the Stars, of Brooklyn. I have heard him tell how he first discovered the curve. He was pitching against a picked nine one day and noticed the ball curving. He had no difficulty in striking the batsman out, and went home that night and  tried to study out the phenomenon. The next day he invited some gentlemen friends out to see him work. They laughed at him, and when he tried to convince them that he could accomplish what he claimed he failed, as no doubt in his anxiety he sent the ball too fast, and very little curve can be got on a speedy-pitched ball. He was not discouraged, however, but went out with his catcher the next day and learned that the curve came from a certain twist he gave his wrist. He worked hard until he go  good control of the new move and then astonished the scientific world. Cummings was of slight build, his pitching was very graceful, and his curve was of the sailing kind, much like Caruthers’ of the St. Louis Browns.

1871 Kekionga, Mathews at center

1871 Kekionga, Mathews at center

Matthews [Bobby Mathews] was undoubtedly the first pitcher to work the raise ball, as far back as 1869. I never saw him pitch an out-curve until 1878, and I faced his pitching for several years before that. In 1878 Matthews was  with the Worcester and pitched against the Bostons, defeating them. He had changed his style altogether from previous years and adopted one-arm Daily’s style, that is, making a double motion by drawing back before delivering the ball. With his headwork and the addition of the curve he jumped into the front ranks once more.

In 1872 Avery, the famous Yale pitcher, discovered the “in-shoot.” I don’t think he could curve a ball, at least I never saw him do it, and I hit against his pitching several times. His effectiveness was handicapped by the inability of his catcher to hold him, as without doubt the “in-shoot” is the most difficult ball to handle, for in those days the catchers were not protected with gloves or masks.

Fred Nichols, better known as “Tricky Nick,” was the first to make good use of the drop ball. He was a great puzzle to the heavy hitters in 1875-6. At Bridgeport and New Haven, Conn., Nichols got a great drop on the ball, when pitchers had to keep their hand below the belt, which would puzzle any of our twirlers of the present day to accomplish.

Harry McCormick, Syracuse

Harry McCormick, Syracuse

The next ball that seemed to bother the batters was introduced by [Henry] McCormick, of the Stars, of Syracuse [winner of 59 games in 1877]. This young pitcher had Mike Dorgan, now of the New Yorks, for catcher. They shut out about all the crack clubs of the country that paid them a visit. The ball he deceived the batsmen with was a raise curve, now used by Radbourn, of the Bostons. He gave his field easy chances; the out-field had most of the work to do off his pitching. I never saw him pitch a ball below a man’s belt. He had perfect control of the ball and a cool head.

The curve drop was first worked by “the only Nolan,” at Columbus. O., in 1876. For several seasons he fooled the best batsmen. See: “The Only Nolan,” at http://goo.gl/g4MP9g.

All these different curves, raises, shoots and drops were discovered by different people. It is now no unusual thing to find a pitcher with all these points and many more wrinkles that they keep working up. Change of pace was most beautifully illustrated by Al. Spalding in the old Boston champions. Tim Keefe, of the New Yorks, is now the most successful in that line, while Clarkson, of the Chicagos, is also working the change of pace to good advantage. Will White and John Ward were about the first to work the sharp curve and “in-shoot” as far back as 1878. One of the greatest pitchers, if not the greatest that ever twirled a ball, was Charley Sweeney, who was with the Providence club in 1883-4. He was the first and only man that I ever saw who could curve an out-ball to a left hand batsman. Several of the pitchers can get a shoot, but his was a clean curve. He has the unequaled record, up to the present day, of nineteen strike-outs in one game.—Boston Globe.

Old News in Baseball, No. 4

Newsboy logoThis is getting to be a habit—one darn week after another—and there is so much great baseball history to share with you. “Old News” is chugging along, with this fourth entry featuring events of May 22-28. To this point we have steered clear of the generally dreary litany of birthdates and deathdates (although this may become impossible if we extend into the offseason). Old News could mean anything from last night’s box score to Abner Doubleday’s brainstorm (if he had actually had one). But most of the entries here will be from twenty years back to a century and more. “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” So wrote L.P. Hartley in The Go-Between, a 1953 novel. And because it is different, even in “the unchanging game,” one needs a guide, or a newsboy, to understand it.

MAY 22

1880: Jim Galvin makes his first appearance of the season for Buffalo‚ beating Cincinnati 2-1. Galvin had difficulty leaving California‚ where he had been playing for the San Francisco Athletics. He was forced to walk 36 miles at one point to avoid local detectives who were trying to hold him to his California League contract. In a little-known fact, Galvin, on May 17, 1876, had thrown the first perfect game in professional baseball history. For more, see: http://thisgameofgames.blogspot.com/2009/01/first-perfect-game.html

1935: After a ruling by Commissioner Landis in which he states that Alabama Pitts has paid his debt to society‚ the Albany Senators (IL) sign the parolee from Sing Sing prison. Pitts will have two hits in his first game but soon Albany will release him. He’ll sign with York (New York-Penn) and move on to the Charlotte Hornets (Carolina) on July 28‚ 1936. On June 7‚ 1941‚ Pitts will die after getting knifed in a barroom brawl. For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/d7db6951 

Hoyt Wilhelm

Hoyt Wilhelm

1959: Baltimore’s Hoyt Wilhelm continues his dominance over the Yankees. On this day he one-hits the Yankees 5-0‚ with Jerry Lumpe’s single in the 8th the spoiler. On May 28‚ he will beat the Yankees again‚ 5-0. On September 29 of the previous year, in a game I watched on television, Wilhelm no-hit the Yanks, 1-0, as the only run came on a home run by batterymate Gus Triandos.

May 23

1901: At Cleveland’s League Park‚ the Blues score nine runs after two outs in the ninth inning to defeat the Washington Nationals 14-13. Down to its last strike‚ Cleveland put the next ten men on base‚ winning the game on an error. Winning pitcher Bill Hoffer‚ who had given up the 13 runs‚ is carried off the field by the delirious crowd. This sort of thing has becomes a hallmark of the new American League in its first season as a major circuit: On Opening Day, April 25, the Tigers defeated Milwaukee by this same score of 14-13, scoring ten runs in the bottom of the ninth.

1906: In Oakland‚ the San Francisco Seals play the first Pacific Coast League game in the Bay Area since the earthquake‚ beating the Fresno Raisin Pickers‚ 4-3. Nearly a month earlier, on April 29, 1906, in a symbolic display of national unity, New York City’s ban on Sunday ball had been lifted so the Highlanders could play game against the Philadelphia Athletics to benefit victims of the San Francisco earthquake.

2002: At Miller Park in Milwaukee‚ the Dodgers’ Shawn Green sets an all-time record. He goes six-for-six, scoring six and driving in seven. Included among his six hits are four home runs, a double, and a single. His 19 total bases top Joe Adcock’s former mark of 18 set in 1954. Before today’s power display‚ Green had gone 0-for-15.

May 24

1880: Troy rookie Roger Connor hits his first ML home run‚ off Boston’s Tommy Bond in the bottom of the second inning with two men on. He adds a triple and two singles as the Trojans beat the Red Stockings‚ 8-1. When Connor retires in 1897 he will have 138 homers‚ a record that will stand until Babe Ruth breaks it on July 18, 1921. For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/4ef2cfff

1935: The Cincinnati Reds host the Philadelphia Phillies in MLB’s first night game‚ winning 2-1 before a crowd of 24‚422. President Roosevelt throws the switch at the White House to turn on the lights. For more, see: http://research.sabr.org/journals/under-the-lights

The REds' Ethan Allen at bat in the first night game, May 24, 1935 at Crosley Field

The Reds’ Ethan Allen at bat in the first night game, May 24, 1935 at Crosley Field

1936: Yankees second baseman Tony Lazzeri sets several slugging marks with two grand slams‚ another homer, and a triple for 15 total bases in a 25-2 slaughter of the Athletics at Shibe Park. He also sets a new American League mark, still standing, of 11 RBIs in one game.

Troy defeats Mutual, 1871

Troy defeats Mutual, 1871

May 25

1871: The heavily favored Mutuals of New York are soundly defeated by the Haymakers of Troy‚ at the Union Grounds in Brooklyn‚ 25-10. Lipman Pike of Troy collects six hits.

1922: The U.S. Supreme Court‚ in a resounding 9-0 decision‚ rules that baseball is not an interstate business. The suit had been brought by the Federal League’s Baltimore franchise, disbanded after the 1915 season. For more, see Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s account of the case: http://sabr.org/research/alito-origin-baseball-antitrust-exemption

1935: Babe Ruth has a last hurrah‚ hitting 3 home runs at Pittsburgh. The first shot is hit off Red Lucas‚ while the last two homers come off Guy Bush. The final one‚ the last of his 714 career HRs‚ is the first to clear the RF grandstand at Forbes Field and is measured at 600 feet. Bush said‚ ‘I never saw a ball hit so hard before or since. He was fat and old‚ but he still had that great swing. Even when he missed‚ you could hear the bat go swish. I can’t remember anything about the first home run he hit off me that day. I guess it was just another homer. But I can’t forget that last one. It’s probably still going.”

Babe Ruth in Pittsburgh, May 25, 1935

Babe Ruth in Pittsburgh, May 25, 1935

May 26

1940: The Reds receive their 1939 World Series rings from Commissioner Landis and then beat the Cardinals 1-0 on Paul Derringer’s one-hitter. In the stands are 21 fans who saw the 1869 champion Red Stockings in action.

1955: Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe hits a triple and then steals home in the ninth inning in Pittsburgh. Newk was no speedster; he was running toward the plate on an attempted squeeze play by Jim Gilliam. On a pitchout to foil the squeeze, the ball got away from Bucs’ catcher Jack Shepard.

1959: Harvey Haddix of the Pirates pitches a perfect game against Milwaukee for 12 innings‚ only to lose in the 13th. Felix Mantilla opens the bottom of the 13th inning by reaching base on an error by third baseman Don Hoak. A sacrifice and an intentional walk to Hank Aaron brings up Joe Adcock‚ who hits one out of the park in right-center for an apparent 3-0 victory. Aaron pulls a “Merkle‚” leaving the field‚ and Adcock passes him on the basepaths. Both are called out as Mantilla scores. Initially the score is 2-0 as Aaron returns and scores; it is later called a 1-0 game. Lew Burdette goes all 13 innings for the win‚ scattering a dozen hits.

May 27

1897: In a 16-7 loss to Boston‚ the Reds player-manager Buck Ewing  plays the last game in his 18-season career. Many at the time called him the greatest ballplayer of the century, exceeding even Cap Anson and King Kelly.

1959: National League President Warren Giles rules that the final score of the Harvey Haddix perfect game should be amended to 1-0. Adcock is credited with a double and not a home run.

1991: In a game against the Portland Beavers at Civic Stadium‚ Portland‚ Vancouver OF Rodney McCray runs through a plywood fence in right field while trying to catch a ball hit by Chip Hale. McCray was not hurt seriously‚ but becomes an instant celebrity. For more, see: http://m.mlb.com/video/v13110567/rodney-mccray-crashes-through-the-outfield-fence

John L Sullivan in San Francisco,  1886

John L Sullivan in San Francisco, 1886

May 28

1883: At New York’s first Polo Grounds‚ at Fifth Avenue between 110th and 112th Streets, heavyweight boxing champ John L. Sullivan pitches his team to a 20-15 victory in an exhibition of semipro teams. More than 4‚000 fans are on hand to watch Sullivan play. He collects three hits, commits four errors, and pockets half of the game proceeds: $1‚595. He will continue tplay in and umpire baseball games into the late 1890s.

1903: At Boston‚ the Pirates edge the home club‚ 7-6. Debuting for Pittsburgh is outfielder Reddy Grey. He goes 1-for-3 in his only big-league appearance. While with Rochester, he had formed one-third of the “Red Headed Outfield,” later made famous as a story by his brother, Zane Grey. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/13/old-well-well/

2005: In Phoenix‚ the Dodgers’ Luis Terrero‚ batting against reliever Duaner Sanchez‚ hits a bouncer up the middle that goes high over Sanchez’s head. Sanchez throws his glove at the ball and hits it‚ knocking it down. His throw to first is late but Terrero is awarded a nearly unique infield triple. We must say “nearly” because the “ground-rule triple” was awarded at least once before: on July 27, 1947, with the culprit being St. Louis Browns pitcher Fred Sanford.

The Only Nolan

Ed "The Only" Nolan

Ed “The Only” Nolan

Who was Edward Sylvester Nolan? Look at his stats page at baseball-reference.com and one is hardly impressed: a lifetime pitching record of 23-52 in five seasons in the big leagues, spanning eight years with five clubs, and an ERA well below league average. His rookie year with Indianapolis in 1878, at the age 20, was notable principally for two separate suspensions—the first when he was accused of game-fixing (he was cleared); the second for lying about a sick brother so he could get time off to visit a prostitute. Nolan’s 13 wins were hardly enough to keep the new Indianapolis franchise afloat in the National League beyond its first season.

So why did fans sing his praises for generations to come, and award him the nickname “The Only”? And what the heck did it mean, anyhow? Nolan is one of my favorites; let me tell you why.

Nolan was born in Canada in 1857, but grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, where he played cricket and baseball. At the age of 16 he began to play baseball for the Paterson Keystones, along with Jim McCormick and King Kelly. He moved on to the Columbus Buckeyes in mid-1875, and starred for them in 1876. When Nolan signed with Indianapolis for 1877, McCormick replaced him as pitcher for the Buckeyes, with Kelly following on a few weeks later, as his catcher.

As to the sobriquet “The Only,” many have had theories. Wikipedia offers this:

Francis "The Only" Leon

Francis “The Only” Leon

A range of possible origins of the nickname “The Only” have been claimed over the years; one states that the reason for the name derives from the fact that no other Nolans, either first or last name had played or was playing in the majors at that time, therefore he was the only Nolan. The other is slightly more elaborate. In the period following the Civil War, a wildly successful minstrel performer of the day, named Francis Leon, rose to prominence performing a burlesque act while simultaneously in both blackface and drag. His popularity prompted many imitators. In response, Leon began billing himself and his act as “The Only Leon.” The theory follows then that Ed Nolan somehow reminded an observer of Leon, thus sparking the similar nickname.

The first explanation is patently absurd, the other is surprisingly near the truth. It appears that The Only Leon went so far as to copyright/trademark his nickname. But Nolan did not remind anyone of Leon. The nickname was common in circus and theatrical settings, as in the manner of “The One, The Only” Madame Fifi, for example.

The Bullpen section of baseball-reference.com offers this: “‘The Only’ was a common term during Nolan’s time, applied to anyone who excelled at something, although it must be noted that ‘The Only’ Nolan compiled a lifetime record of 23 wins and 52 losses.” But to look only at his MLB-recognized record misses the whole point.

Robert Smith, who really knew his baseball oldtimers, almost certainly got his info about Nolan from sportswriter Guy McI. Smith, who was born in Indianapolis in 1870 but lived in Danville, IL until his death in 1950. In 1952, Smith published Heroes of Baseball, which may have been the book that the two Smiths had planned to publish together before the elder one died in 1950. In that book there is a chapter on Nolan–right after the one on King Kelly, another “husky kid from Paterson,” as was Nolan. In February 1877 Nolan, fresh off a dazzling season with Columbus, accepted an offer of $2500 from club owner W.B. Pettit to pitch for Indianapolis. Now to quote Smith directly:

Columbus Buckeyes, 1876; Nolan stands second from right

Columbus Buckeyes, 1876; Nolan stands second from right; credit, Tracy Martin

… Eddie went south in February, on what was probably the first spring training jaunt any organized club ever took [this is not so–jt]. The Indianapolis club, starting in New Orleans, won eleven straight games down south, six of them shutouts, and Eddie Nolan pitched them all. After that he became not Edward J. Nolan [the record books, in which his date and place of birth are in some disarray, have him as Edward S. Nolan] but simply “The Only Nolan,” and that was the name for the rest of his career.

We have no encyclopedic record for Nolan’s heroics with Indianapolis of the 1877 League Alliance at baseball-reference.com but Smith offers some astonishing marks that would tend to support the nickname:

In 1877 Nolan won more games by shutouts than most top-flight pitchers, in a single season nowadays, win by hook and crook. He pitched seventy-six complete games, won sixty-four, and tied eight. And he set the record that still stands: thirty shut outs in one season. In thirty-three games, just to rest up, he played right field.

One of the thirty shutouts was a no-hit no run job against Columbus. And two of them came on the same day, April 26, 1877, when he blanked Syracuse in both ends of a doubleheader, the first pitcher ever to accomplish such a feat.

No pitcher has ever equaled The Only’s earned run average which he set that year. He pitched to 3589 batters, and allowed 632 hits and 87 walks, with only 38 of the 131 runs against him being earned. For 76 games then, his earned run average was just 0.50.

Nor has anyone ever equaled his seasonal pitching percentage of .941 [64-4, with 8 ties].

These stats of Smith’s are pretty detailed, and yet we have nothing to speak of at baseball-reference.com, which leases its minor-league data from SABR. http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/league.cgi?id=a9132541

Indianapolis 1877

Indianapolis 1877

Ed Nolan was, in sum, the ultimate phenom, the Sidd Finch of his day. No man at any level of professional baseball, before or since, has won 64 games. It was during this year that he won the name “The Only,” which was also applied to his batterymate, Silver Flint, later famous with Anson’s White Stockings. In the major leagues, Hoss Radbourn won 59 for Providence in 1884; John Clarkson and Guy Hecker also topped 50 wins. In the National Association, Al Spalding went 54-5 in 1875 and 52-16 the year before. Harry McCormick was 59-39-2 for Syracuse, also in the League Alliance of 1877.

Maybe now is a good time to tell what the League Alliance was, before we talk a bit more about Nolan. The League Alliance was not a minor league at all but, like the International Association, an alternative league of somewhat loosely organized professional clubs. The National League contained only eight clubs in 1876 and six the year after, but the League Alliance contained thirteen clubs and the International Association another sixteen. The survival of the National League was by no means assured. The six NL clubs in 1877 suffered 73 defeats to nonleague clubs—especially the clubs from Syracuse, Lowell, Indianapolis, and Allegheny. Henry Chadwick, in the De Witt Guide, described these four clubs as being, with the six of the NL, the “ten most prominent” of the country.

1877 scorecard, St. Paul Red Caps at Indianapolis Blues

1877 scorecard, St. Paul Red Caps at Indianapolis Blues

After the game-fixing scandal involving four members of the Louisville club in 1877, the NL was reduced to four clubs (St. Louis dropped out in addition to Louisvile, as they had intended to field a club headed by Louisville conspirator Jim Devlin). So Indianapolis and Milwaukee were hurriedly admitted into the National League for 1878, maintaining its roster at six clubs.

Let Al Spink, founder of The Sporting News, pick up the story:

At the commencement of the 1878 year the directors of the Indianapolis non-league team, thinking they had a bonanza in Nolan, christened him “The Only Nolan,” joined the National League and set out to win the pennant of that organization. The attempt, however, was a wonderful failure, the club not only failing to win the league flag, but to make good for its directors. At a meeting of the club directors at the close of the 1878 season they found to their dismay that the playing year had closed with the club some $2,500 in debt and no money in the treasury to pay the salaries still due the players. Just before this meeting was held a club for the following season, 1879, had been talked of, and Clapp, McCormick, Warner and McKelvey had signed to play in it, but the sorrowful discovery made knocked this programme into a “cocked hat,” and the players who had signed were released…. In this Fall of 1878 soon after the discovery of the shortage this special dispatch was sent out from Indianapolis: “The Homeless Nine membership are still hanging about town awaiting payment by the stockholders in the busted baseball organization. The individual indebtedness to the players will average $250, on which $50 each has been paid. It is the understanding that will have to content, as they will get no more. The total indebtedness is said to exceed $5,000. Warner and Schaffer are threatening to place their claims in an attorney’s hands, and the rest will probably join them…. Not even a semiprofessional club will be maintained in this city next year, from the present outlook.” … The people of Indianapolis were so disappointed at the work of the team that had represented them so splendidly the year before that they repudiated it and wearing uniforms like that previously worn by the members of the St. Louis League team the nine went barn storming through the country and wherever they went they were called the … Homeless Browns.”

Knickerbocker of San Francisco 1880; Nolan second row at right (#10)

Knickerbocker of San Francisco 1880; Nolan second row at right (#10)

Nolan played the next two seasons in San Francisco–in 1879 with the Knickerbocker club, in 1880 with the Unions and then the Bay Citys. He resurfaced in the majors with Cleveland in 1881, where he went 8-14. One of ten players blacklisted by the league on September 29 for “confirmed dissipation and general insubordination,” he returned after a year’s suspension for a partial season in 1883 with Pittsburgh of the American Association, for whom he posted a record of 0-7. In this year a burlesque called “Thoughts about Potters” circulated in newspapers across the nation, featuring the quip that a potter “is a base ball star, and makes a better pitcher than the ‘only Nolan.'”

Thoughts about Pottery, Daily Alta

Thoughts about Pottery, Daily Alta

In 1884 he was 18-5 with Wilmington of the Eastern League when that club joined the Union Association. In the UA Wilmington went 2-16, with Nolan accounting for one of its victories. The next year he returned to the NL with Philadelphia, where his major league career ended after seven games. He pitched a few games for Savannah and Jersey City in 1886, but then he was done.

Nolan became a policeman in his home town of Paterson, New Jersey. He rose in the ranks, becoming a sergeant. On May 18, 1913, at the age of 55, he died suddenly from illness brought on by strenuous activity during the famous Paterson Silk Strike.


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