Ups and Downs of the Worcester Base Ball Club: League Season 1880

F.E. Pollard, Ups and Downs, 1880.

F.E. Pollard, Ups and Downs, 1880.

The National League was still pretty green in 1880, its fifth season of existence. Reduced to only six teams in 1878, it had bounced back to eight only by adding such small-population franchises as Troy, Buffalo, and Syracuse for 1879. For 1880, Worcester replaced Syracuse. This “base ball sketchbook” by Frederick E. Pollard, recounting the Ups and Downs of the Worcester Base Ball Club: League Season 1880 is a gem of cartoon art, in fading purple ink. Each panel depicts the outcome of a Worcester game during its inaugural year in the National League, with colorful language and highly uncomplimentary depictions of opposing players (Cap Anson and his White Stockings were a favorite target) and cities (pigs running in the streets of “Porkopolis,” or Cincinnati). The Worcester men finished that season 26 and a half games behind Anson’s men, but they made their mark for sure.

Lee Richmond's perfect game of June 12, 1880.

Lee Richmond’s perfect game of June 12, 1880.

This scorecard tells the story of June 12, 1880, when Lee Richmond of the Worcester Brown Stockings threw the first perfect game against the Cleveland Blues. Look closely at the fifth inning. See that “9-3”? Yep, Richmond’s masterpiece stayed intact because right fielder Lon Knight threw out Bill Phillips at first base. Only five days later John Ward matched Richmond’s perfect game. The feat didn’t occur again till the estimable Cy Young performed it in the American League against Philadelphia in 1904. Four years later Addie Joss of Cleveland also held the opposition runner-less for nine innings. The story is told that after Joss’s gem, someone ran into his son’s schoolroom to shout, “Your dad just pitched a perfect game.” The teacher wasn’t thrilled. “So what?” he said. “So did I.” The teacher was Lee Richmond.

Three Pollard postcards, 1880.

Pollard postcards, 1880.

Now, getting back to Pollard and his  incredibly rare book. Only one copy is known to have survived, and it resides in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, which has graciously permitted me to display it in its entirety in a gallery setting tomorrow. Never before presented on the web, Pollard’s endearingly crude masterpiece did yield three postcards which came up at at the Old Judge auction in 2007, selling for $7200. Old friend Lew Lipset described them thus in his auction listing: “The postcards measure 5 1/8″ x 3”, were all postally used, with a Worcester postmark (probably in 1880) and were all sent to a Miss E.M. Bacon in Albany New York. The first game represented on the postcards was from May 27th. Worcester lost to Providence 4-1 and the card notes ‘… Tho’ 4 games out of six, aint so bad after all,’ referring to the fact that Worcester, despite the loss, had won 4 of the 6 games with Providence to that point in the season. The second postcard represents two games against Buffalo on June 4th and 5th. The card depicts a Buffalo and makes no comments. The final postcard was from June 10 and represents a 5-0 shutout win for Worcester against Cleveland.”

Tomorrow, a page-by-age presentation of the book. The day after, to conclude the week’s trio of articles devoted to the Worcester club: “J. Lee Richmond’s Remarkable 1879 Season,” a fine article from The National Pastime of thirty years ago, by my friend John Richmond Husman–Lee Richmond’s great-grandson (!). Also worth checking out is Brian Goslow’s 1991 article, “Fairground Days: When Worcester Was a National League City, 1880-1882,” at

Old News in Baseball, No. 2

Newsboy logoStop me if you’ve heard this one before. “Old News” is back, this time focusing on events from the week of May 8-14. I’ll relate what happened, why I think it’s interesting, and where you might find out a bit more if you’re so inclined. I do not claim to identify the two or three “greatest” moments on a particular date, only those that interest me at this moment. And as always there are pictures. I am indebted, as usual, to the efforts of SABR researchers and that splendid reference source, Jim Charlton’s Baseball Chronology.


1878: Providence center fielder Paul Hines pulls off a spectacular and, in my view, unassisted triple play. With men on second and third and none out in the eighth inning‚ Boston’s “Black Jack” Burdock hits a humpack liner over shortstop as both runners take off. Hines‚ racing in‚ catches the ball at his shoetops, stays on his feet, and keeps running to touch third base. This retires the runner who started on third base‚ but did it retire the runner who started on second base but had already rounded third? By today’s rules, no. By 1878 rules, yes. So in this year the forgotten star registers, at the bat, baseball’s first triple crown; and in the field, its first triple play: For more, see:

1961: At a ceremony at the Savoy Hilton‚ the New York expansion entry into the National League is officially named the “Mets”—not Metropolitans‚ the name of its big-league predecessor of the 1880s, just Mets. “Mets” was the choice among ten finalists: Continentals‚ Burros‚ Mets‚ Skyliners‚ Skyscrapers‚ Bees‚ Rebels‚ NYBs‚ Avengers‚ and Jets. The full poll yielded 644 names from among 9‚613 suggestions.

The Mets of 1882.

The Mets of 1882.

1968: Oakland’s 22-year-old Catfish Hunter throws a perfect game against the Twins‚ winning 4-0. This is the first American League regular-season perfecto since Charley Robertson threw one in 1922. Hunter strikes out eleven‚ including Harmon Killebrew three times‚ and drives in three of the A’s four runs.


1888: With an 18-6 lead after 7 innings‚ Louisville righthander Elton Chamberlain pitches the final two innings lefthanded‚ holding Kansas City scoreless. (Other documented practitioners of big-league pitching ambidexterity include Tony Mullane, Larry Corcoran, disputedly John Roach, and Greg Harris). Chamberlain’s immortal nickname was “Icebox” or “Icy” because of the cool demeanor with which he would snatch flies from the air while in the pitcher’s box … and then eat them.

1896: Washington defeats Pittsburgh 14-9 in a beanball battle. Nationals pitcher Win Mercer hits three Pittsburgh batters while Pirate Emerson “Pink” Hawley plunks three Washington batters in the seventh inning alone, tying a mark he set on July 4‚ 1894. Hawley was a twin who was tagged with a pink ribbon as an infant to distinguish him from his twin brother Elmer (who went on to be nicknamed “Blue,” natch). The two formed a baseball battery in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.

1961: Jim Gentile of Baltimore becomes the third player to hit grand slams in consecutive innings (Tony Lazzeri in 1936‚ Jim Tabor in 1939 when he belts one off Pedro Ramos in the first and adds another off Paul Giel in the second. He will finish the year with 141 RBIs, second to Roger Maris’s 142; but more than half a century later, Maris loses an RBI because research revealed that he was credited with one while grounding into a double play. Gentile today shares the RBI title for this year. For more, see:

Christy Mathewson 1904

Christy Mathewson 1904

MAY 10

1904: The Cards score five runs in the first inning off Christy Mathewson‚ sending him to the showers. Matty will not lose to St. Louis again until 1909, a span of 24 decisions.

1909: Organized Baseball’s longest no-hitter takes place in a Blue Grass League contest between the Lexington Colts and the Winchester Hustlers. Fred Toney‚ who eight years would win in MLB’s only double no-hitter‚ throws a 17-inning no-hitter for Winchester‚ winning 1-0. He fans 19 opponents and walks only one‚ in beating Lexington’s Baker‚ who allows 7 hits. For more, see:

1999: The Red Sox pound the Mariners‚ 12-4‚ as SS Nomar Garciaparra leads the way with 3 HRs‚ including 2 grand slams. Garciaparra drives home 10 of Boston’s runs as he clouts a bases loaded homer in the 1st‚ a 2-run shot in the 3rd‚ and another grand slam in the 8th. Nomar is one of thirteen men with two grand slams in a game. (One of these is a pitcher, Tony Cloninger, on July 3, 1966.)

MAY 11

1927: In St. Louis‚ Ruth belts his second homer in 2 days and his 8th of the year‚ off Ernie Nevers of the St. Louis Browns, better known for his football exploits. The ball is to the left of the CF flagpole in Sportsman’s Park. Two years later Nevers would, on November 28, 1929, score every one of his team’s points (six touchdowns and four extra point conversions) in a 40-6 rout of the Chicago Bears.

1937: White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton allows 7 hits in defeating the Yankees‚ 7-2. In the offseason of the following year, Stratton would lose his leg in 1938 as the result of a hunting accident. He resumed pitching in the minor leagues with a wooden leg, winning 18 in the East Texas League in 1946. He is the subject of the 1949 movie, The Stratton Story.

The Stratton Story, MGM, 1949.

The Stratton Story, MGM, 1949.

1980: In a 7-3 win over the Reds‚ Philadelphia’s Pete Rose‚ at age 39, steals second, third, and home in one inning. The last National Leaguer to pull this feat was Jackie Robinson in 1954. Ty Cobb did it three times, Honus Wagner four.

MAY 12

1911: Against the Yankees at Bennett Park in Detroit‚ Ty Cobb doubles home two runs in the seventh frame to tie the game. When New York catcher Ed Sweeney vehemently argues the call at the plate‚ the rest of the infield gathers. With no time out called‚ Cobb strolls to third base‚ and then ambles in to observe the continuing argument. When he spots an opening in the circle of players‚ he quickly touches home plate with the go-ahead run. The Tigers win‚ 6-5.

1955: Sam “Toothpick” Jones of the Cubs takes a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Pirates, the walks the first three batters. Hitching up his pants, he fans the next three—Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente, and Frank Thomas.

1962: New York Mets relief P Craig Anderson wins both games of a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Braves to go 3-1. He will not win another game in the big leagues losing his next 19 decisions‚ 16 of them this season. Ninth-inning game-ending homers win the games. Hobie Landrith hits a 258-foot two-run homer that scrapes the top deck in right field, off Warren Spahn in the opening 3-2 win. In the second game, Gil Hodges hits a homer in the ninth for the 9-8 victory. It is the first time in history that a doubleheader has ended with two walkoff homers. And I was there, at age 15! For more, see:

MAY 13

1882: National League players are relieved to learn that they will no longer be required to wear the motley “jockey costume,” a silk jersey differentiating each player according to his position in the field, with common stocking colors assigned to each team by the league. A player rebellion against the absurdity of the garments (and the unbearable warmth of the silk) brings an end to the experiment for 1882, yet it is revived for 1883.

Cincinnati Reds of 1882; the American Association went along with the NL idea.

Cincinnati Reds of 1882; the American Association went along with the NL idea.

1912: A Western Union telegraph operator named Lou Proctor inserts his name into the Browns-Red Sox box score as a pinch hitter (giving himself a walk in his at bat). The Sporting News will publish the box score and‚ years later‚ Proctor’s name will appear in the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia. For more, see:

1923: In a 5-2 Cleveland win‚ Washington rookie Wally Warmoth strikes out Cleveland shortstop Joe Sewell twice. In 1932 Swell would fan three times all season, in 576 plate appearances.

1929: In Cleveland‚ fans have no trouble telling the players apart‚ as both the Indians and the visiting Yankees wear numbers on their uniform backs. This is a first in the majors.

MAY 14

1939: Too bad this one is not in time for Mother’s Day, 2015. Bob Feller’s mother travels from Iowa to watch her son pitch against the White Sox. It is the first time she’s seen him play in the majors‚ and she is given a box along the first-base line at Comiskey Park. Sox 3B Marv Owen then lines a Feller fast ball that inflicts a deep gash and knocks Mrs. Feller unconscious. She is taken to the hospital and receives six stitches. Her son stays in and wins the game, 9-4.

1972: In front of a Mother’s Day crowd of 35‚000‚ Willie Mays marks his first game in a New York uniform since 1957 with a game-winning home run against his old teammates. Playing first base for the Mets and leading off, Mays walked in his first time up and scored on Rusty Staub’s grand slam. His solo blast in the fifth frame snaps a 4-4 tie and the Mets hold on to win 5-4. (Ten years after seeing the Mets win that doubleheader—see above—I am present for this momentous event, too.)

Paul Hines and the Unassisted Triple Play

Paul Hines, ca. 1887.

Paul Hines, ca. 1887.

In the last edition of Total Baseball (2004), Lyle Spatz persuaded me to add this note to a segment on unassisted triple plays in the larger essay titled “Streaks and Feats,” which had run in each edition of the encyclopedia since its launch in 1989. “Total Baseball has eliminated the unassisted triple play purportedly made by Providence’s Paul Hines and carried in some earlier editions. In the eighth inning of that May 8, 1878 game, Boston had Ezra Sutton at second and Jack Manning at third, when Jack Burdock hit a looping fly ball to short left‑center field. Both runners took off, but Hines, the center fielder, caught the ball and stepped on third, retiring Manning and, presumably, Sutton. However, further research has indicated that Sutton, the runner from second, may not have passed third base when Hines made the catch. If Sutton had done so, stepping on that base would have put him out. However, it is known that Hines threw the ball to Providence second baseman Charlie Sweasy, who stepped on that base either to record the third out or to make ‘double certain’ of the out. Either way, Hines’ exploit is too ambiguous to be resolved with satisfaction.” Supporting the view that Hines pulled off merely an unassisted double play, in the May 4‚ 1901 issue of The Sporting News four of the game’s participants all agreed that Hines threw to second base to complete the triple play. Two of the letter writers were Sweasy‚ the second baseman‚ and E. B. Sutton‚ the runner at second base.

I agreed with Lyle that the complexities of the play and its varying accounts made it prudent to remove Hines from the honor roll. But I never quite let go of my conviction expressed in earlier editions, and now I have reason to regain my hold on the belief that Paul Hines did indeed make history that day:

In the early years of baseball, outfielder Paul Hines of the Providence Grays, had been credited with making an unassisted triple play. Later-day research indicated Hines had made an unassisted double play but had thrown to a base for the third out. But according to the rules of 1878, Hines did indeed register an unassisted triple play.

In 1928, Providence sportswriter W.D. “Bill” Perrin–who at that time had covered the Providence Grays for nearly half a century–described Hines’ actions in the game played on May 8, 1878, in Providence. “The circumstances of this play have afforded more arguments than any other known play. That the play was made is not disputed, but whether Hines made the play unassisted or whether [second baseman Charles] Sweasy completed it by retiring the third man. . . . Here is what happened: [Jim] O’Rourke drew a base on balls and scored when Sweasy threw [Jack] Manning’s drive over [Providence first baseman Tim] Murnane’s head, Manning going to third on the error. Murnane muffed [Ezra] Sutton’s fly, Manning holding third [as Sutton took second]. [Jack] Burdock was next up and dropped the ball just over [shortstop Tom] Carey’s head for what looked like a safe hit. . . .

Ezra Sutton, ca. 1887

Ezra Sutton, ca. 1887

“The story in the Providence Journal of the next day thus describes the play: ‘Manning and Sutton proceeded to the home plate,’ meaning that both rounded third. ‘Hines ran in and  caught the ball, and kept going to tag third.’ The rule then as now requires that when a baserunner is forced to retrace his steps he must retouch the bases passed in reverse order. As Hines touched third with the ball in his hand, after making the catch, before either Manning or Sutton could get back, both were out automatically. It is true that Hines then on a signal from Sweasy threw the ball to second, but this was unnecessary as both runners were out at third.”

To confirm Perrin’s view, let’s look at the playing rules for 1878, the year in which Hines made his celebrated play. Rule V, Section 1 reads:

“Players running the bases must touch each base in regular order, viz., first, second, third, and home bases; and when obliged to return to bases they have occupied they must retouch them in reverse order. . . .” And Rule V, Section 15 reads: “Any base-runner failing to touch the base he runs for shall be declared out if the ball be held by a fielder, while touching said base, before the base-runner returns and touches it.” Henry Chadwick’s gloss on the latter rule stated: “. . . it is only necessary for a fielder to hold the ball on the base, which should have been touched, in order to put the runner out.”

Eureka! The controversy of over a century is thus resolved, and in favor of Paul Hines and his unassisted triple play. Rewrite the record books!

In today’s “late-breaking development,” I spotted the following story while digging through old numbers of Baseball Magazine.  In the October 1913 issue, Smith D. Fry penned the following, with the testimony of men who were on the field that day–including Paul Hines.  I offer it not in hope of settling the controversy, but rather to keep the hot stove simmering.

Baseball Magazine, October 1913

Baseball Magazine, October 1913

The Most Sensational Play In Baseball

How Neal Ball Became Famous in a Day—
A Greater Feat by an Old-Time Star—
Paul Hines and His Wonderful Triple Play of 1878

Batting will always take precedence in the public eye over fielding. A long hit with men on bases is the dream of every professional player. There is no man in baseball who would not rather hit for .300 than to field brilliantly, and the crowd shares this sentiment. But there is one fielding stunt that is the most brilliant and spectacular play in baseball. It happens but once a generation, but when it does happen it is written bodily into baseball history. This is the triple play unassisted. Neal Ball vaulted all at once into the limelight by performing this rarest of all plays. But an even more remarkable feat was the triple play of Paul Hines many years ago.

INSIDE of three seconds Gandil and McBride pulled off a very brilliant triple play in Washington, June 16 last, and since then there have been paragraphs galore concerning triple plays.

It is needless to detract from the good work done by one man, while giving credit to another for good work done. It was all right for Jake Stahl to give credit to Neal Ball for the splendid brilliant triple play unassisted which was made by Neal Ball at Cleveland on July 19, 1909; a play of which Stahl was one of the victims.

But it was not wise nor was it necessary for Stahl to add: “They say that Paul Hines made a similar play, back in 1878, in a game in Providence, but most baseball authorities deny it. I don’t believe it.”

In the first place it is incorrect to state that “most baseball authorities deny it.”

“Uncle Nick Young” is pretty good “baseball authority,” and he speaks of the splendid triple unassisted by Paul Hines as “a play concerning which I never before heard any doubt expressed.”

“Doug” Allison, one of the best catchers that ever played the game, still lives and was a witness of the great play made by Paul Hines, and vouches for it enthusiastically. It was not in any sense similar to that made by Neal Ball, but vastly more difficult.

Ball took a ball on the fly, twenty feet rear and right off second base, thus putting out the batter. He hastily touched second base, thus putting out the runner trying to come back from third. He then dived into Jake Stahl, as he came running from first.

It was all done quickly, splendidly, and must always stand out in history as a record play. Nobody should ever try to detract from it. But let us see what Paul Hines did.

Excepting only the prodigy from Georgia, the incomparable Tyrus Raymond Cobb, there has never been a center fielder to compare with Paul Hines. He was fleet, excelling Billy Sunday, as was well known at the time. He was perfect as a fielder of fly balls. Nothing but an uneven field would enable any ground ball to get past him. He was in the forefront at the plate, a batter feared by all pitchers. It is useless to minimize the pitchers of those days. When Hines was batting against Bond, Manning, Radbourne and the peerless Clarkson, he was facing as puzzling and baffling pitching as the game produces today; and he batted all of them.

“Home Run Baker,” one of the greatest of them all, was never more in the limelight, nor half so long.

Nick Young.

Senator Nelson W. Aldrich is one of the well-known men of to-day who saw Paul Hines make his great triple unassisted, and there are many persons yet living in Providence who remember having seen the play. But writing in Washington City makes it impossible for the narrator to seek them all. First, let us hear from Mr. N. E. Young (“Uncle Nick”) , for many years President of the National League, the “Grand Old Man” of baseball. He was seen in his office and said:

“Everybody in the baseball world knew that Paul Hines made that triple play unassisted. No baseball authority ever denied it. Paul Hines was one of the most modest, unassuming and gentlemanly men the game has ever known. He was the most graceful athlete that ever stepped to the plate. His batting record is phenomenal. Two of the best catchers ever known reside in Washington, Charley Snyder and ‘Doug’ Allison. They both saw the play. Go and see them, and you can set history straight for all time.”

Charley Snyder, well and prosperous, was seen in his place of business, asked about the play, and he promptly said:

“I certainly saw Paul Hines make his great triple play, unassisted. I was catching for Boston. We had men on first and second, with no one out. Burdock, one of our best batters, came to the plate. Burdock slammed the ball out into left field, and it looked good enough for three bases. Burdock was chasing himself, though, for a home run, and he might have made it. But—the unexpected happened.


Charles “Pop” Snyder.

“Paul Hines swept like a whirlwind from deep center into short left field, and he caught that ball. I should say about knee high or lower. The ball was going like a rifle shot, but Paul gripped it, held it as only one man out of a thousand could have done, and ran on to third base. Both of our runners had gone past third base and were already congratulating themselves on having made runs. It was a triple play, unassisted, and was so declared by the umpire. The side was out. No player, Billy Sunday nor any other, ever rivaled the speed made by Paul Hines on that run. It was almost impossible for any man to have reached that ball; and then to have held it, as Hines did, was another almost impossibility. But, with it all, the cool baseball brains of the man was shown by his continuing on to make the triple play by running to the base without once slackening his speed. I’ve seen some base ball, but that was the feat of feats; Pat [sic] Hines’ triple unassisted.”

Soon after leaving Charley Snyder, the writer was in the Post-office Department, and there found the other great catcher, “Doug” Allison. He is hard of hearing nowadays, and with difficulty heard the question; but when he comprehended it his face wreathed in smiles as he said:

“Yes, I was catcher for the Providence Grays that year. I was behind the bat when Burdock came to the plate. Boston’s second baseman, Sutton, made a single to begin the inning. Then Manning, who was Boston’s pitcher and also center fielder, was the next batter, and he also made a single. That put Sutton on second and Manning on first. Burdock was a dangerous batter. When he came up I signaled Paul to get out into deep field for him, and he did so. But I noticed that Paul was shifting toward left, guessing the batter well. Well, Burdock hit the second ball that was pitched, and he smashed it out into left field. It looked to me like a sure enough home run, clearing the bases. But as I saw Burdock rushing around the paths I also saw Paul Hines come tearing in from deep center to short left. His speed was terrific. He came like a streak of lightning. He gauged that ball right, too. He speared it about knee high in short left, back of third. He stumbled and almost fell, but kept on running and veering around, he kept on until he reached third base. There he halted and held up the ball. We only had one umpire in those days, and Charley Daniels, one of the best, was umpiring that day. He saw what Paul was up to, ran out toward him, and was not more than ten feet away when Paul perched on third base with the ball aloft in his hand. Daniels called out his decision: ‘Three out. Side out.’ And that crowd went wild.

“Then, as I remember it, Carey, our shortstop, took the ball and threw it to Sweeney, our second baseman, and he touched second base as they both shouted to the crowd: ‘Just for good measure.’ ”

Hands of Douglas Allison, showing results of baseball playing,  Feb. 12, 1889.

Hands of Douglas Allison, showing results of baseball playing, Feb. 12, 1889.

Ten years ago, or maybe twelve, Secretary Wilson made Paul Hines Postmaster of the Department of Agriculture; and in that office the narrator found Paul Hines. The great, big, broad-shouldered, gentle and kindly disposed old boy smiled, and said:

“If you’ve seen Charley Snyder and ‘Doug’ Allison, they know all about it, and I don’t need to say anything; except to say that the players of to-day can’t make any of us oldtimers take off our hats to them. Billy Sunday was as good as Ty Cobb. Radbourne and Rusie were some pitchers, and so was Clarkson a wizard. We played ball in those days, and we didn’t wear armor plate either.”

After showing his gnarled fingers and listening to urgent appeals from an old friend, Paul said:

“Well, my side of the story of course is different from the side of the folks who saw the play. It was at Providence, Rhode Island, May 15, 1878 [Hines’ recall was one week late; the game was indeed played on May 8–ED.]. It happened that I played what they call nowadays ‘inside baseball.’ I knew that Burdock was a dangerous batter. I knew also that he was inclined to pull ’em out into left field.

1879 Providence Grays.

1879 Providence Grays.

“Believing that any long knock into left field would be gathered in by our left fielder, I figured that Burdock might knock one into the field too short for the left fielder and too far out for either the third baseman or the shortstop. While I was guessing the batter and moving toward left field (as ‘Doug’ Allison told you he saw me), Burdock got his hit. I was on the move in a dog trot while our pitcher, Corey, was winding up [pitcher on May 8 was “Tricky” Nichols; Fred Corey pitched on the 15th–ED.]. When ball and bat cracked I was under way instantly; and instantly I saw where that ball was going. I felt that nothing but lightning sprinting would get me there, and I cut loose with all my might. I never ran so fast before or since. I just flew. Well, it is a wonder that I lived to tell the story. I barely got there in time to grip the ball somewhere between my knee and ankle. It was so near my ankle that I almost fell and broke my neck. Although I came near falling, I managed to keep my balance by keeping up the momentum until I could swerve about toward third base. As soon as I stepped on the base I held up the ball. Umpire Charley Daniels was quite near. He looked excited, but I guess that was because I was excited. The umpire called so that he could be heard all over the field: ‘Three out. Side out.’ Then there was such a noise as I never heard. The whole crowd was crazy. It was in Providence, you know; and it was a Providence player that made the play.

“Somebody motioned for me to go to second base. You know, my hearing is deficient, and I depended largely on signs in those days. Well, I ran down and touched second. Then Carey, our shortstop, and Sweeney [Sweasy–ED.], our second baseman, took the ball and danced around with it, cutting up monkey shines.

“Of course I never started out to make a triple play. After I caught the ball, the triple play was right in front of me, and the remainder was easy. What I should have credit for principally are the long and speedy run; catching the ball so near the ground; holding it while it twisted in my hand; and keeping my feet without breaking my neck.”

Following the advice of “Uncle Nick” Young, we are making reliable history here. We have the story of two eyewitnesses, and they were probably the two best catchers in baseball at that time, Charley Snyder and “Doug” Allison. And added to the stories of those eyewitnesses we have the modestly told story of the great athlete himself, lovable and gentlemanly Paul Hines.

Umpire Charles Daniels, April 25, 1888.

Umpire Charles Daniels, April 25, 1888.

But the historian sought further evidence, and wrote to Charley Daniels at R. F. D., Colchester, Connecticut, and he replied thus:

“Well, well, well, so they are still trying to deny dear old Paul that famous triple play unassisted. I was the umpire on that occasion and was connected with the National League, and the American Association many years afterward, and in active association with the game between twenty-five and thirty years; most of the time I was umpiring.

“On the occasion of the famous play by Paul Hines, Ezra Sutton was on second base, and some one else was on first base. Burdock, at the bat, hit a fly which traveled rainbow fashion to left field. There was a light wind blowing, and carrying the ball a little toward second base, but back of it. When the second baseman saw Paul tearing in after the ball, he wisely got out of the way.

“Sutton made home, from second base, and the other man was near the home plate, when Hines caught the ball about a foot from the ground, almost turned a somersault, and rushed to third base, where he stood and held up the ball. Of course I did my duty then and made the decision: ‘Three out. Side out’ Hoping that this statement will help square the history for dear old Paul, I am, yours truly, C. F. Daniels, Umpire.”

These statements of fact, told without rhetorical effort or other display, but merely with historic intent, should settle for all time the right of Paul Hines to the fame of making the first and greatest triple play, unassisted, ever made in the national game. Every true sportsman likes to give “honor to whom honor is due.”

Why Is the National Association Not a Major League … and Other Records Issues

Ross Barnes, 1876.

Ross Barnes, 1876.

On Twitter last week (on May 2, to be precise) I posted: “On this day in 1876 Chicago’s Ross Barnes hits first MLB homer, off Cherokee Fisher at Cincinnati.” In response I was asked, by Michael Mengel: “As I expect you well know, Barnes was best player in NA. Why doesn’t MLB recognize NA as a ML (better than UA)?” To which I tweeted, “MLB Special Records Committee Ruling of 1968-69 defined major leagues as: NL, AA, UA, PL, AL, FL.” To which Mr. Mengel replied, quite reasonably: “Thanks for the reply. Do you know their reasons for excluding the NA? Is a formal report of the committee available online?“

Well, no … until I go on to provide it below. In 1968–69 MLB’s Special Baseball Records Committee (SBRC) ruled on a number of disputed points, including the major-league status of the NA and later rival leagues. MLB was henceforth defined as having commenced with the first game of the National League, played on April 22 between the Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics. The SBRC also ruled on how walks were to be counted in the record books for the years 1876 (when they were originally counted as outs) and 1887 (when they were counted as hits).

The SBRC decision on this point was reversed by my predecessor as MLB’s official historian, Jerome Holtzman, in 2001, with a position paper that I published in the seventh edition of Total Baseball, which was MLB’s official encyclopedia. I wrote:

Following the long-standing directive of the Special Baseball Records Committee, we [Total Baseball] did not count walks as hits, the practice which had been the sole basis of Anson’s fourth batting championship. Note that only for this year, in which walks were aberrationally recorded as hits, and 1876, when they were aberrationally recorded as outs, did we overturn the scoring practice of the time in favor of a modern reinterpretation of who was the batting leader. However, when Jerome Holtzman, MLB’s official historian, ruled to reverse the Special Records Committee, we saw reason in his stance and went along.

Today Holtzman’s edict is observed largely in the breach, but I still believe his reasoning was correct. So, without further ado, the two central documents, heretofore unavailable on the web. First, without my editorial annotation, the SBRC rulings of 1968-69, as published in the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia (ICI/Macmillan, 1969).

Decisions of the Special Baseball Records Committee

In 1887 eleven men had batting averages higher than .400. It is an astonishing feat, until one learns that bases on balls were counted as hits in the official averages that year. There are other such records based on definitions which were either incom­plete or inconsistent with the rest of baseball history. It was because of these factors that it became necessary to draw up a code of rules governing record-keeping pro­cedures. A group was formed for this purpose and was called the Special Baseball Records Committee.

The Baseball Encyclopedia, 1969.

The Baseball Encyclopedia, 1969.

It should be noted that the committee’s concern was not with laying future ground rules, which is the duty of the Baseball Rules Committee, but rather to establish the rules governing record-keeping procedures that mostly concern past play.

David Grote. director of public relations for the National League, and Robert Holbrook. executive assistant to the president of the American League, served as co-chairmen of the Special Baseball Records Committee.

Other members included Jack Lang, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Joseph Reichler, director of public relations of the office of the Commissioner of Baseball, and Lee Allen, historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Committee met twice in 1968. At the first meeting, which took place in St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 5, they voted on the issues in question. The commit­tee met again in New York City on November 14, and reviewed their decisions after they were given an opportunity to see what changes had resulted in the records after much of the research was completed. In addition to these meetings, the Com­mittee is continually informed of all errors found in the official records.

Most of the important issues concerned the period before 1920. a time that was somewhat chaotic in baseball for record-keeping procedures. The following is a list of the decisions on seventeen issues as voted by the Committee:

1. The following leagues are defined as “major”:

National League, 1876 to the present

American League, 1901 to the present

American Association, 1882-91

Union Association, 1884

Players’ League, 1890

Federal League, 1914-15

The National Association, 1871-1875, shall not be considered as a “major league” due to its erratic schedule and procedures, but it will continue to be recognized as the first professional baseball league.

2. Major league baseball shall have one set of records, starting in 1876, without any arbitrary division into nineteenth- and twentieth-century data.

3. There shall be no change in rules used in past years governing the minimum appearance necessary for recognition as a league leader for averages (batting aver­age, slugging average, fielding average, earned run average, and pitchers’ winning percentage).

4. For all-time single season records, no asterisk or official sign shall be used to indicate the number of games scheduled.

5. Performances in all tie games of five or more innings shall be included in the official averages. (Before 1885 this was not done.)

6. Several games in the National League in 1877, 1879, and 1899 that were subsequently declared “unofficial” for varying reasons, shall now be counted as “official.”

7. All appearances by a player in an official game shall be counted as a game played. (Before 1912 many pinch hitters, pinch runners, and substitutes who did not bat were not credited with a game played.)

8. Bases on balls shall always be treated as neither a time at bat nor a hit for the batter. (In 1887 bases on balls were scored as hits and in 1876 bases on balls were scored as outs.)

9. A distinction shall be made in the definition of stolen bases. Before 1898 stolen bases were credited any time a runner advanced an extra base on a hit or out. Since these bases advanced cannot be separated from bases stolen, according to the modern definition, there shall be two sets of records, one starting with 1898 and the other before 1898.

10. Bases on balls, wild pitches, passed balls, balks, and hit batsmen shall not be counted as errors. (These items were frequently scored as errors before 1889.)

11. A pitcher shall not be credited with an assist on a strike-out. (Before 1889 pitchers were usually awarded an assist on a strike-out.)

12. Scoring rules governing won and lost decisions by a pitcher did not become official until 1950. It was decided that all pitching decisions during the period 1920—49 shall stand as they are in the official records, but that for the period 1876—1919 the 1950 ruling shall be in effect. The reason for this was that since 1920 the official scorer did exist, and he had the explicit authority to award the victory based on common practice, which was very close to the rule adopted in 1950. In the pre-1920 period, however, there was no official scoring rule or common practice for wins by a pitcher and for many years no official scorer.

13. The present definition on earned runs, as was established in 1969 by the Baseball Scoring Rules Committee, shall be effective from that date on in defining earned runs. Prior to that date, the 1917—68 definition of earned runs shall be applied to the years 1876—1911, and to the American League in 1912. (Before 1912 there was a period when there was no official compilation of earned runs, and a time where bases on balls, hit batsmen, and wild pitches were considered errors in the computation of earned runs.)

14. Fractional innings pitched shall be used in the calculation of earned run averages.

15. The earned run average of a pitcher who allowed one or more earned runs during a season without retiring a batter shall be “infinity.”

16. 1894 shall be considered the starting date for exempting a man from a time at bat for a sacrifice bunt hit. Before 1894 a batter was credited with a sacrifice hit and charged with a time at bat every time he advanced a runner on any type of out.

17. Sudden Death Home Runs. Before 1920, when the team batting last won the game in the ninth or in an extra inning, the ruling was that the team could not win by more than one run. If a man hit an outside-the-park home run, which, under present rules, would have resulted in a victory by more than one run, he was given credit for a lesser hit and only the winning run counted. The committee originally voted that before 1920 any ball hit outside the park in a sudden death situation should be counted as a home run. However, after the committee had a further opportunity to review their ruling and polled their colleagues on the issue, they reversed their decision on May 5, 1969. Because the reversal of the commit­tee’s decision occurred when a good portion of this encyclopedia had already gone to the printer, it was possible to include the necessary changes for only eight of the 37 cases where a home run was originally credited to a player. Appearing first are the eight instances where all records were retained in accordance with the scoring procedures in effect at the time:

June 17,1884 Roger Connor N.Y. N.L. Bos. Single
Sept. 6, 1884 Hardy Richardson Buf. N.L. Bos. Triple
July 30, 1885 Tommy McCarthy Bos. N.L. Det. Double
Aug. 20, 1885 Paul Hines Pro. N.L. Bos. Single
July 7, 1892 Buck Ewing N.Y. N.L. St. L. Single
May 13, 1893 Lou Bierbauer Pit. N.L. Lou. Single
Aug. 9, 1893 George Van Haltren Pit. N.L. Chi. Double
July 8, 1918 Babe Ruth Bos. A.L. Cle. Triple

The following are the 29 cases where the records were changed from a lesser hit to a home run. The information shown in the last column under hit indicates the type of hit for which the player was originally credited:

April 21, 1885 Fred Mann Pit. A.A. Lou. Double
June 5,1890 Sam Thompson Phi. N.L. Bkn. Single
July 30, 1890 Al McCauley Phi. N.L. Chi. Triple
June 17,1890 Mike Griffin N.Y. P.L. Phi. Double
May 7, 1891 King Kelly Cin. A.A. Bos. Single
Sept. 13, 1891 George Wood Phi. A.A. Mil. Double
(first game)
Aug. 27, 1895 Bill Lange Chi. N.L. Was. Single
Sept. 2, 1895 Mike Tiernan N.Y. N.L. Cle. Triple
Sept. 27, 1895 Duke Farrell N.Y. N.L. Bal. Triple
July 27, 1896 Charlie Irwin Cin. N.L. Cle. Triple
June 4, 1897 Parke Wilson N.Y. N.L. Lou. Double
July 15, 1899 Jimmy Collins Bos. N.L. Pit. Single
July 24, 1899 Ginger Beaumont Pit. N.L. Phi. Triple
July 24, 1900 Jimmy Collins Bos. N.L. St.L. Single
July 27, 1900 Chick Stahl Bos. N.L. Pit. Single
May 17, 1901 Bill Coughlin Was. A.L. Phi. Single
Sept. 1, 1902 Ed Gremminger Bos. N.L. Cin. Double
June 26, 1903 Pat Moran Bos. N.L. Chi. Triple
Sept. 10, 1904 Roger Bresnahan N.Y. N.L. Phi. Double
May 5, 1906 Sherry Magee Phi. N.L. Bkn. Triple
June 2, 1906 Tim Jordan Bkn. N.L. Bos. Double
May 25, 1908 Joe Tinker Chi. N.L. N.Y. Double
Sept. 28, 1908 Cy Seymour N.Y. N.L. Phi. Single
April 23, 1910 Doc Crandall N.Y. N.L. Bkn. Single
Aug. 24, 1911 Tex Erwin Bkn. N.L. Chi. Triple
June 17,1914 Sherry Magee Phi. N.L. St.L. Double
April 19, 1917 Ping Bodie Phi. A.L. Bos. Triple
July 18, 1918 Frank Baker N.Y. A.L. Det. Single
(second game)
April 19, 1918 Irish Meusel Phi. N.L. Bos. Triple

Next, Jerome Holtzman’s adjustment of 2001, likewise presented verbatim and without comment.

An Important Change to the Official Record of Major League Baseball

Total Baseball, 7th edition (2001).

Total Baseball, 7th edition (2001).

Major League Baseball is pleased to announce that, beginning with this seventh edition of Total Baseball, all batting averages are recorded as they were at the time they were reported, and not in accordance with the decision of a 1968 Special Baseball Records Committee. For the sake of conformity, the committee ruled that the 1887 batting averages be recalculated and that walks not be counted as base hits (as they were that year) or as outs (as they were in 1876).

John Thorn, the eminent editor of Total Baseball, has described it as an attempt to normalize baseball’s “gloriously messy” statistical history and bring the abnormal 1887 season in line with modern statistics. It was the only season when walks were considered hits and hence skewed the averages upwards.

For example, there were eleven .400 hitters, all properly listed in the 1888 Spalding and Reach guides, the official statistical compendiums of the time. (An arithmetic check has revealed that Paul Radford, the eleventh and final such batsman, in fact batted “only” .397.) The acknowledged batting champions were Tip O’Neill, at .492, for the St. Louis Browns of the old American Association, and Cap Anson, .421, for the Chicago National League entry. (As with Radford, an arithmetic correction reduces O’Neill’s average to .485, still the all-time record).

The special committee, in deciding walks were not hits, took 50 hits away from O’Neill, dropping his average to .435. Anson, stripped of 60 hits, fell to .347 and lost his batting title, fairly won. Worse, he no longer qualified for the 3,000 Hit Club of which he was the first member.

Revisionist history is admirable when new and undisputed evidence is brought forth. But this was an abomination, an absolute falsehood and twisting of the known facts for the singular purpose of regulating history to conform to previous and subsequent standards. It was a grievous corruption. If a walk was a hit in 1887 it should stand as a hit forevermore.

The committee was formed by General William Eckert, baseball’s fourth commissioner. Eckert always had good intentions but was ill-equipped and didn’t have a schoolboy’s knowledge of the game. The day after he took office in 1965, during his first press unveiling, it was painfully apparent he was unaware the Los Angeles Dodgers had been transplanted from Brooklyn.

The committee was co-chaired by Dave Grote, public relations director of the National League and Robert Holbrook, his American League counterpart. Neither was qualified to rule on such matters. The other members were Jack Lang, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America; Joseph Reichler, director of public relations of the Commissioner’s Office; and Lee Allen, the historian of the Hall of Fame.

Why the committee was formed remains a puzzle. The general belief is that it was at the request of the Macmillan Company, which was preparing a new encyclopedia, trumpeted as better and more complete than any of its predecessors. It went on sale the next year.

To heighten the launch, the committee mostly reviewed statistics accumulated in the period before 1920, “a time that was somewhat chaotic for record-keeping procedures.” Perhaps the encyclopedia’s editors were eager to find previously published errors; adjustments would strengthen the authenticity and value of the new enterprise.

The only established historians on the committee were Joe Reichler, who had been the national baseball writer for the Associated Press, subsequently elected to the writers wing of the Hall of Fame; and the distinguished Lee Allen, widely respected, the author of a half dozen noteworthy books, including delightful histories of the American and National Leagues.

Reichler knew his stuff. A stickler for accuracy at any cost, he had edited an earlier encyclopedia, published in 1962 by Ronald Press. Allen was a compulsive researcher and known for his fascinating player anecdotes of the late 19th and early 20th century. He also wrote a wonderful weekly column, “Cooperstown Corner,” for The Sporting News and was not concerned with current events. They agreed to the changes. However, a year before he died, Allen admitted to historian David Voigt that “past records ought not to be tampered with.”

The change in record-keeping procedure that commences with publication of this edition of Total Baseball should not be interpreted as a blanket damning of Macmillan’s The Baseball Encyclopedia. In mid-life, it became known, fondly, as the “Big Mac,” and was the final statistical authority, an enormous aid to sportswriters, book-writers, researchers, and super-fans. There were 10 editions. Sales may have approached a million copies.

Nor is this a total condemnation of Eckert’s Special Baseball Records Committee. The committee voted on 17 thorny issues and responded with good reason, with two exceptions: the 1876 scoring of walks as an at bat (if a player drew four walks he was 0 for 4), a practice that has also been restored in this edition; and the 1887 statistical butchery. A listing of the significant 1887 batting averages restored to their proper dimension follows.


Old News in Baseball, No. 1

Newsboy logoTrying something new, and old, beginning this week: a review of baseball events from the past. This week’s offerings, like the others to come, will run from Friday through the following Thursday (in the present instance, May 1 through May 7). I’ll relate what happened, why I think it’s interesting, and where you might find out a bit more if you’re so inclined. Sometimes I’ll link to a story from the burgeoning Our Game archive, other times I’ll link to a SABR biographical profile or a Baseball Prospectus story. And as always there will be pictures, lots of pictures. I am indebted, of course, to the efforts of SABR researchers and that splendid reference source, Jim Charlton’s Baseball Chronology.


1883: New York wins the first MLB game played in Manhattan, defeating Philadelphia‚ 7-5‚ at the original Polo Grounds, located at 110th street between 5th and 6th Avenues. The grounds were leased from James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald; the field had actually been used by the Westchester Polo Association, and thus the name, even as the site and the ball club moved uptown. The National League entry of 1876 had played its home games in Brooklyn, at that time a separate city (which in part accounts for the fierce rivalry between the two over the ensuing decades). Among those in attendance for the opener: former President U.S. Grant. For more, see:

Polo Grounds, Opening Day 1886,  N-YHS.

Polo Grounds, Opening Day 1886, N-YHS.

1920: In Boston‚ Brooklyn’s Leon Cadore and the Braves’ Joe Oeschger duel 26 innings to a 1-1 tie in the longest game ever played in MLB. Oeschger shuts out the Dodgers for the last 21 innings‚ topping Art Nehf’s 20 scoreless frames in a row on August 1‚ 1918. He gives up 9 hits‚ and Cadore allows 12‚ in the 3-hour‚ 50-minute battle. The Dodgers lose to the Phils at home in 13 innings the next day‚ then return to Boston for a Monday game where they lose again in 19.

1991: 44-year-old Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan hurls the record seventh no-hitter of his amazing career‚ defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in Arlington by a score of 3-0. Ryan strikes out 16 batters in the process‚ marking the 209th time he has fanned 10 or more in a game. Today we are amazed that Bartolo Colon, at age 41, takes a regular turn in the rotation, let alone pitches well.


1876: Chicago’s Ross Barnes hits the first NL HR‚ an inside-the-park drive off Cherokee Fisher against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati. Barnes would win the first batting championship too, with a mark of .404—but in this year walks count as outs, so if we computed his batting average by the modern standard, it would be .429.

1939: After carrying out the scorecard to the umpires‚ Lou Gehrig voluntarily benches himself “for the good of the team.” He is batting .143 with one RBI. His consecutive-game string stops at 2‚130. For more, see:

Lou Gehrig, May 2, 1939.

Lou Gehrig, May 2, 1939.

1995: Hideo Nomo hurls 5 innings for the Dodgers in a 13-inning‚ 4-3 loss to the Giants‚ becoming the first Japanese player to appear in the major leagues since Masanori Murakami in 1964.


1927: In the first matchup of pitching brothers in ML history‚ Brooklyn’s Jess Barnes defeats his brother Virgil‚ 7-6. Great trivia question for many years was: Name the pitching-brother tandem with the most victories. Today one might leap to the Niekros or the Perrys, but the answer used to be the Mathewsons (Christy with 373, his brother Henry with none).

1995: David Bell makes his big-league debut at 3B in the Indians 14-7 win over the Tigers. His appearance makes the Bells–with his father Buddy and his grandfather Gus–the second three-generation family in ML history (The Boones are the first). But the Hairstons are the largest three-generation baseball family. Sam, who played in the Negro Leagues as well as MLB, is the father of MLB players Jerry Hairston, Sr. and Johnny Hairston, and the grandfather of Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Scott Hairston. A son, Sammy Hairston Jr., and three grandsons, Johnny Hairston Jr., Jeff Hairston, and Jason Hairston played in the minor leagues.

1869  Cincinnati Reds Disc

1869 Cincinnati Reds Disc


1869: The Cincinnati Red Stockings‚ baseball’s first admittedly all-professional team‚ play their first game of the year‚ defeating the Great Westerns 45-9. For more, see:

1966: Willie Mays hits a National League record 512th home run, topping another Giant‚ Mel Ott as the Giants beat the Dodgers 6-1. At the time Mays retires, his 660 homers are third all-time to Babe Ruth’s 714 and Hank Aaron’s 713.


1904: Boston’s Cy Young pitches a 3-0 perfect game against the Philadelphia Athletics and Rube Waddell. Young stretches his hitless inning skein to 18; it will extend to 25-1/3 innings over three games, running from April 25 through May 11. For more, see:

Cy Young, four years after his perfect game.

Cy Young, four years after his perfect game.

1925: Ty Cobb is 6-for-6‚ including 3 HRs‚ in Detroit’s 14-8 win over the Browns. Before game, he had told writers that there was nothing much to hitting home runs like Babe Ruth if one swung for the fences. On the following day, he hit two more homers‚ giving him five round trippers in 2 games‚ tying Cap Anson’s 1884 feat, later matched by Stan Musial in a doubleheader.


1915: Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth clouts his first big-league homer, off Jack Warhop of the Yanks in the third inning at the Polo Grounds. Ruth loses the game in the 13th‚ 4-3‚ as Cy Pieh is the winner. For more, see:

Jack Warhop.

Jack Warhop.

1962: Mickey Mantle hits homers right- and left-handed for the ninth time‚ in the second game of a doubleheader‚ as the Yankees win 8-0 over the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium. The shutout is Jim Bouton’s first win the majors.

1998: In one of the finest pitching efforts ever‚ Chicago Cub rookie righthander Kerry Wood fans 20 Houston Astros in a 2-0‚ one-hit victory to tie Roger Clemens’ mark for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. Wood does not walk a batter ‚ allowing only an infield single. For more, see:


1891: King Kelly’s drive over the fence in Boston gives Cincinnati (AA) a 10-9 win in the 14th inning. Since Kelly’s blast came in the bottom of the last frame with the score tied and a man on base‚ he is only credited with a triple. For more, see:

1929: Yankee southpaw Tom Zachary wins a 6-5 game in relief at St. Louis‚ the first of his 12 wins without a loss for the year‚ a record. Two years earlier, pitching for the Washington Senators, Zachary had taken a hand in another record: Babe Ruth’s 60th home run.

1957: Gil McDougald of the Yankees hits a wicked line drive that strikes Cleveland’s Herb Score in the right eye. Score‚ with a broken nose and lacerations‚ is carried off the field on a stretcher. Bob Lemon relieves and wins the game‚ 2-1. Score will return the following year but his pitching will not be the same.

See you here next Friday, with some old news for May 8-14.

1914 Hubbard Giants with Jimmy Claxton

Jimmy Claxton, 1916 Zee-Nut.

Jimmy Claxton, 1916 Zee-Nut.

Here is a snappy offering by friend Brian Campf, prompted by his discovery of a new baseball image of one of my favorite players, Jimmy Claxton, who passed for Native American briefly with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in 1916. He thus became the first black in Organized Baseball since Bill Galloway appeared in five games in the Canadian League 1899, and the last until Jackie Robinson signed with Montreal on October 23, 1945. Once his race was suspected , Claxton was shuffled off the roster, but a few days before, he had happened to be present when the Zee-Nut Candy photographers came to the park to secure images for their trading card series. Claxton’s card in the 1916 set is a highly desirable item. One of these rare cards was sold at auction by Sotheby’s for $7,200 in June 2005. Brian offers many interesting images at [cut and paste the link]. I encourage you to take a look at his site. By the way, an outstanding biography of Claxton, by Tom Hawthorn, may be read profitably here: [cut and paste the link]. For now, though let’s  focus on the freshly found image below, and Brian’s writeup.

Southpaw pitcher Jimmy Claxton was both the first African American to play in Organized Baseball in the 20th century–he pitched two games for the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks in 1916–and the first black player to appear on an American baseball card. He sits in the front row, far right of this postcard (below) of the 1914 Hubbard Giants baseball team from Portland, Oregon.

Composed solely of African Americans, the Portland Giants played from 1910 to 1915. In 1914 alone they used the name Hubbard Giants after Lew Hubbard, who managed the team. The postcard can be dated to 1914 because of their Hubbard Giants jerseys and the use of that team name on the postcard. Claxton played for the Giants during both 1914 and 1915 before signing with the Sellwood club (also located in Portland).[1]

The caption of a Hubbard Giants team photo in the Oregon Daily Journal (different from the photo on the postcard shown here) lists a 1914 roster of P. Smith, Goins, Harper, Williams, H. Smith, St. Clair, Hubbard (manager), Lewis, Brown, Harris, Couver (captain), Claxton, Henry, and Vernon.[2] The Oregonian‘s 1914 coverage adds another name, pitcher Elliston.[3]

1914 Hubbard Colored Giants, Jimmy Claxton at lower right.

1914 Hubbard Colored Giants, Jimmy Claxton at lower right.

The St. Helens Mist adds one more player, Hooker, and in the only box score of the team I have seen lists the players from a June 28, 1914 game numbered by position: (1) Henry, p; (2) H. Smith, c; (3) Vernon, 1b; (4) Harper, 2b; (5) Williams, 3b; (6) Conver [Couver], ss; (7) Harris, lf; (8) Hubbard, cf; (9) Hooker, rf.[4]

My best guess after comparing the Oregon Daily Journal photo with the postcard is that the players in the postcard are as follows, left to right. Top row: P. Smith, Goins, St. Clair, Lewis, Vernon, Harper, Couver. Bottom row: Williams, Harris, H. Smith, Hubbard, Unknown, Brown, Claxton.

The Hubbard Giants numbered their 1914 uniforms with the dice game craps in mind, the Oregonian reported on April 2, 1914. The previous day they had bought 12 new uniforms with eight inch square numbers on the back of each jersey. Nobody wanted to wear number 12 for fear of bad luck, so one uniform bore the number 13. Pitchers wore 7 and catchers 11, referring to successful rolls in craps.


1. Oregonian, June 14, 1914; May 16, June 14, June 20, July 26, 1915.
2. Oregon Daily Journal, May 31, 1914.
3. Oregonian, May 31, June 14, June 28, September 6, 1914; March 9 1915.
4. St. Helens Mist, July 3, 1914.


A Peek into the Pocket-book

John Newbery, Base-Ball.

John Newbery, Base-Ball.

This article by David Block, that incomparable scholar of the early game and its bibliography, appeared in Base Ball, Volume 2, Number 1 (Spring 2008). While most students of early baseball know that John Newbery’s Little Pretty Pocket-book represents our earliest printed mention of the game by that name, few know the story behind its publication. Although its initial publication date is everywhere cited as 1744, no specimen of this popular book for children survives until we get to the tenth edition, in 1760. But here I must stop and hand you over to the author of the great Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (Nebraska, 2005).

A game called baseball arose from the primeval playing fields of southern England during the earliest decades of the 18th century. This we can deduce from a smattering of clues that have trickled down from the 1740s and 1750s. While these tidbits generally reveal little about the pastime’s makeup during that era, one specimen rises vividly above the rest: the “base-ball” page from John Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-book.

Many readers of this journal will be familiar with A Little Pretty Pocket-book’s contribution to our slender understanding of early baseball. The iconic children’s book, first published in 1744, has long been recognized as providing an important benchmark for tracking the game’s evolution. Its employment of the term “base-ball” is the earliest known, and its primitive woodcut and accompanying snippet of verse offer our first fragmentary insights into how the game was played.

The Ball once struck off,

Away flies the Boy

To the next destin’d Post,

And then Home with Joy.

These few simple lines capture baseball’s essence. Their mentions of a boy striking a ball, flying to the “next destin’d post,” and then returning to “home” suggest that by the 1740s the incipient game was already recognizable. Augmented by the woodcut — in which a striker, a pitcher, and three posts or bases are pictured — it is no wonder that Newbery’s baseball page is treasured by those of us with an abiding interest in the pastime’s early history. Yet despite our long familiarity with it (the historian Robert W. Henderson first alerted us to the book’s importance in his 1937 essay, “How Baseball Began”), in many ways it remains an enigma. The goal of this article is to take a closer look at A Little Pretty Pocket-book and, the author hopes, persuade it to give up a few more of its secrets.


To the kiddies of mid-18th-century England, A Little Pretty Pocket-book must have seemed like a sneak preview of paradise. Never before had any of them encountered a book that illuminated such a cornucopia of pastimes and amusements for their enjoyment. Everything was there: from kite-flying to hopscotch, from leapfrog to “blindman’s buff,” as the book has it. John Newbery’s startling invitation to play games and have fun was an almost total turnabout from the snarling admonitions against frivolous behavior that had snapped at the heels of young folk for centuries. And while A Little Pretty Pocket-book did not forsake all responsibility for tutoring children to be upright and virtuous (after all, it included letters from Jack the Giant-Killer to Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly promising them a whipping if they misbehaved), the book clearly relegated traditional moral instruction to a secondary role.

Little Pretty Pocket-book, 1760.

Little Pretty Pocket-book, 1760.

Among the pastimes offered for the delight of A Little Pretty Pocket-book’s young readers were five constituents of the extended baseball family. In addition to baseball itself, these included the games of cricket, stool-ball, trap-ball, and tip-cat. The latter four were widely played amusements of the era, and it is no surprise that Newbery would elect to feature them in his book. Far less obvious is why he included the relatively new game of baseball, given the likelihood that many of his potential readers in the mid-18th century would not have been familiar with it. His selection of it suggests that he may well have gained an intimate acquaintance with the pastime during his own childhood, raising the tantalizing premise that baseball’s first steps could have been taken on terrain very close to Newbery’s own upbringing.

That would be in Berkshire County, England, where in 1713 Newbery was born on a farm near the small village of Waltham St Lawrence. Having had no formal education, but motivated by curiosity and ambition, he left home at the age of 16 to become apprenticed to a printer in the nearby city of Reading, about fifty miles west of London. When his master died a few years later, Newbery took over the business and married the widow — not an unusual arrangement for the times. By the early 1740s he was publishing a newspaper in Reading and beginning to produce occasional book titles for an adult readership. It was also during those years that he began experimenting with other commercial ventures, including the one that was to become his most profitable lifelong source of wealth, the sale of patent medicines. In 1746 he signed a contract to be the exclusive marketer of Dr. James’ Fever Powder, a concoction that was to become widely popular in Britain. Meanwhile, Newbery came to realize that his expanding enterprises were outgrowing the limited market opportunities available in Reading, and in the late summer of 1743 he began to shift his base of operations to London.

It was also in the 1740s that the constrained and stuffy world of children’s-book publishing was beginning to undergo a major change. The influences of the Age of Reason and, in particular, the progressive educational ideas of the philosopher John Locke began seeping into juvenile literature, and a trickle of new titles appeared with the revolutionary premise that books might entertain as well as educate. Moral instruction itself, though still an essential component of the genre, no longer threatened children with the throes of hellfire as the penalty for their naughtiness.

Tommy Thumb’s Song-Book.

Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book.

Newbery was always on the lookout for another good business opportunity, and he quickly recognized the potential of this new type of juvenile literature. A Little Pretty Pocket-book was his first entrant in the field, and its great success led him to produce many more children’s titles before his death in 1767. The Pocket-book has been hailed as “the first true children’s book” or, more commonly, “the first book intended primarily for children’s enjoyment.” Evidently it was neither. Preceding it in the early 1740s were Thomas Boreman’s series of “Gigantick Histories,” and Mary Cooper’s two titles, The Child’s New Plaything and Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book. The essayist Mary Thwaite, in her introduction to the 1966 facsimile edition of A Little Pretty Pocket-book, conceded that the Tommy Thumb book “rivalled the Pocket-book in importance in the chronicle of children’s literature.”[1]

But if Newbery wasn’t the very first to see the wisdom in producing books for children’s entertainment, he was certainly the first to go for the fences with the idea. One key to his success was his marketing skill, and particularly his adroitness at “puffing” his works. He carried over to his juvenile publishing venture the same creative persuasion he employed in hawking his assortment of patent medicines. His earliest display of this talent is expressed in the following advertisement that, according to all Newbery sources, first appeared in the June 18, 1744, issue of the Penny London Morning Advertiser:

This Day is publish’d,

According to Act of Parliament

(Neatly bound and gilt.)

A Little pretty POCKET-BOOK,

intended for the Instruction and Amusement of little Master Tommy and pretty Miss Polly; with an agreeable Letter to each from Jack the Giant-Killer; as also a Ball and Pincushion, the Use of which will infallibly make Tommy a good Boy, and Polly a good Girl. To the whole is prefix’d, A Lecture on Education, humbly address’d to all Parents, Guardians, Governesses, &cc., wherein Rules are laid down for making their Children strong, hardy, healthy, virtuous, wise and happy.

Children, like tender OZIERS, take the Bow,

And as they first are fashioned, always grow.

Just as the Twig is bent the Tree’s inclin’d.

’Tis Education forms the vulgar Mind.

Printed for J. Newbery, at the Bible and Crown, near Devereux-Court, without Temple-Bar.

Price of the Book alone 6 d. with a Ball or Pincushion 8 d.

There are many things to be observed about this ad, not the least being its deftness at appealing to both of its target audiences: the parents who might consider purchasing A Little Pretty Pocket-book for their children, and the little kiddies themselves. Notable among Newbery’s inducements to the latter is his optional offer to bundle a ball or pincushion with the book. This revolutionary notion of attaching a toy anticipates by 250 years the Klutz Book series of today.

Isaiah Thomas edition, Little Pretty, 1787.

Isaiah Thomas edition, Little Pretty, 1787.

Scholars who have written about Newbery’s works have assumed that the ball and pincushion were two separate items, the former intended for boys and the latter for girls. A careful reading of the book, however, reveals the objects were one and the same: a soft, red-and-black-colored ball that allowed for the insertion of pins. The “letters” from Jack the Giant-Killer published in A Little Pretty Pocket-book, and addressed to Tommy and Polly respectively, prescribed a common purpose for the ball/pincushion whether its recipient was a boy or a girl. The child was directed to hang the toy up by a string that came attached to it. Then, using 10 pins that were also supplied, the child was instructed to stick a pin in the red half of the ball/pincushion whenever he/she did something good, and a pin in the black half for every bad act. If the child managed to accumulate all 10 pins in the red side, Jack the Giant-Killer pledged (ostensibly) to send the child a penny. Conversely, 10 pins in the black side would result in Jack sending a rod with which the child was to be “whipt.” The publishers of the modern Klutz Books evidently had the good sense not to adopt this darker aspect of Newbery’s innovation.

No one knows how many individual ball/pincushion premiums were sold in tandem with copies of A Little Pretty Pocket-book over the course of the book’s long publishing history in the 18th century. One thing that is certain, though, is that few or none of the toys have survived. The only institution to claim ownership of an original specimen is the Morgan Library in New York. Its example of the ball/pincushion, however, is white on one side with an embroidered design on the other, not at all like the red and black object described in all known editions of the Pocket-book. Moreover, the library’s records cannot document the provenance of its copy, having no information earlier than 1991 when the toy was received as a gift.

Little Pretty, 1760.

Little Pretty, 1760.

To book and baseball historians alike, the most significant contribution of Newbery’s June 1744 advertisement for A Little Pretty Pocket-book may well be its opening phrase: “This day is publish’d….” Here, it would seem, is proof of the exact moment in history when this landmark children’s book first rolled off the presses. Such evidence is vital in establishing the book’s origins, for no actual copies of A Little Pretty Pocket-book from 1744 have survived. In fact, no actual copies of any of the book’s first nine editions are known to exist, which makes, by default, the British Library’s single incomplete copy of the 1760 tenth edition the earliest surviving example. And of all the thousands of copies of the book printed in England in the 18th century, fewer than 10 remain.[2] Why this near extinction? In all likelihood, it is the unfortunate byproduct of two parallel phenomena. On the one hand, the little darlings who were lucky enough to get their hands on the book probably loved their copies to death. And if an original owner didn’t leave the book in tatters, his or her next-youngest sibling or cousin would have finished the job. Parents, all the while, would have had little interest in the book, at best valuing it as a diversion for their kids, but not as something they would bother preserving for posterity (not unlike those ill-fated shoeboxes of baseball cards of more recent memory).

But while the books themselves are gone, we still have Newbery’s helpful advertisement from 1744 to mark the starting point of baseball’s recorded history. Right? Well, not so fast. It seems that even this seemingly safe assumption turns out not to be airtight. Writing in 1973, Newbery’s foremost bibliographer, Sydney Roscoe, offered a cautionary word about relying upon newspaper ads to fix a book’s publication date:

…the unsupported evidence of a newspaper advertisement cannot, as a rule, be relied on for dating purposes…. It may well be that A Little Pretty Pocket-book did bear the date 1744 and did appear in (or near to) June of that year; but the evidence of the advertisements is not sufficient to prove it; it might have been published a year or two before, or even in 1745 or later.[3]

Reading these lines prompted me to see if there was anything further to be discovered about Pocket-book’s publication date. On a recent trip to England I consulted with the longtime archivist of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, a 600-year-old organization that has been registering the publication of individual books for most of its existence. Disappointingly, no entry for A Little Pretty Pocket-book appears in the company’s records, most likely because children’s books in the 1740s were deemed too unimportant for such formality. Thwarted here, my next step was to examine newspapers from the era, especially issues of The Reading Mercury; or Weekly Post, the paper that Newbery owned and operated during those years. I found several ads for Pocket-book in the Mercury, with the earliest appearing on May 28, 1744. This ad, like the one that would appear three weeks later in the Penny London Morning Advertiser, began with the phrase “this Day is publish’d,” confirming that the use of those four words was not a literal announcement of the book’s publishing date.

Moving my search to the many London daily newspapers of the era, I came across a quantity of additional advertisements for A Little Pretty Pocket-book, most with the same “this day is publish’d” lead-in. These were scattered over a period of months and years, with the earliest ones clustered in mid-May 1744. The first three of these appeared on May 18 of that year, and four more showed up the following day. I found none earlier than May 18, despite spending a couple of days with microfilm archives and electronic newspaper databases. Clearly, this concentration of advertisements in mid-May 1744 does not in itself reliably pinpoint when A Little Pretty Pocket-book first rolled off the presses, nor even when it first was sold. It does imply strongly, however, that those two days in May marked the beginning of Newbery’s marketing push for the book, and suggests that his production of it very possibly occurred in the immediate weeks beforehand.

Little Pretty, Stool-Ball.

Little Pretty, Stool-Ball.

My combing of the newspapers also produced several interesting testimonials to the wonderments of A Little Pretty Pocket-book. One of them was dated June 14, 1744, and addressed “to the unknown author of the Little Pretty Pocket-book.” It rambled on and on with flowery praises such as: “here the paths of virtue are painted so as to please and engage, the child is captivated and led into a habit of doing well and made imperceptibly, as it were, both wise and virtuous.” Two more such letters were published on July 16 in Newbery’s own paper, the Mercury. One accurately describes how the book presents “brief descriptions in verse … of the several plays or games with which children usually divert themselves, each game being represented by a small copper plate print, with a suitable moral or rule of life subjoined.” This same writer observed that although “the author has modestly concealed himself … his performance … will undoubtedly meet with the approbation of all who would rather make learning a pleasure to those under their care, than weary themselves and their children with fruitless severities and correction.” While those who wrote testimonials were on the mark with their recognition of Newbery’s educational innovations, none of them, unfortunately, was prescient enough to praise the Pocket-book for its foresighted presentation of baseball.

At least one modern scholar has raised the cynical hypothesis that Newbery himself may have written the newspaper testimonials praising his book, doing so as part of his campaign to puff it to the public. But a more fundamental question is whether Newbery actually wrote A Little Pretty Pocket-book itself. As noted by the two testimonial writers quoted above, the book was issued anonymously. While no hard evidence of the author’s identity has ever been produced, a clear consensus among those who have written about Newbery maintain that he is, by far, the most likely candidate. The style of the book parallels the whimsical approach he displayed in most of the works he is known to have written, especially in the many humorous title pages that introduce all of his many children’s books.

If the advertisements identified above give us more confidence that A Little Pretty Pocket-book was indeed first published in 1744, then the matter of when baseball first appeared in print should now be resolved. Yes, perhaps. But it seems that one small element of doubt still remains. While we know for certain that the 1760 10th edition of Pocket-book included the famous “base-ball” page, as did all subsequent surviving editions of the book, how can we know that it appeared in each of those earlier nine editions that are now extinct? We can’t rule out the small possibility that Newbery tinkered with the book between 1744 and 1760, and that the baseball content was not part of its original makeup. The caveat here is that when we celebrate the iconic year of 1744 for giving us the earliest reference to baseball, we must do so with a small asterisk.

A couple of other little baseball mysteries attach to A Little Pretty Pocket-book, one being that of the missing bat, and the other of the missing ball. The book’s illustration of baseball depicts three boys standing next to three posts or bases. One of the players is seen raising his hands out to his sides, while a second player appears ready to toss a ball. None of them, quite plainly, is holding a bat. What does this mean? Did the artist simply overlook the necessity of drawing a bat, or was a bat not actually part of the game in 1744? To pursue these questions, I examined every known early reference to the game of baseball from both England and the United States. What I found was somewhat surprising. Of the nine instances in the 18th century where the term “baseball” appeared in either a handwritten manuscript or in a printed book, only once was there mention of a bat being part of the game. That came in a description of “English base-ball” from a German book published in 1796, in which an odd-shaped, two-foot-long bat was depicted.[4]

Little Pretty, Cricket.

Little Pretty, Cricket.

Turning next to early-19th-century baseball references from both countries, I continued to find little evidence of bat usage. In fact, after 1796 it was not until 1834, when the American author Robin Carver mentioned the use of a bat in describing “base, or goal ball” in The Book of Sports, that the terms “baseball” and “bat” were again definitively linked with each other.[5] This is not to suggest that American baseball was batless prior to 1834. Obviously, that was not the case. Ballplayers from that era, reminiscing about their experiences many years afterwards, recalled using a bat during those early decades. Moreover, young players standing with bat in hand feature prominently in woodcut illustrations of baseball-like games found in children’s books of the early 1800s.

But the question of when a bat was first introduced to the pastime remains a mystery. It is certainly possible, if not probable, that, at its outset, the game of baseball did not employ a bat, and that a bare hand was used to strike the pitched ball. The innovation of utilizing a bat may not have come about until the latter part of the 18th century. Notwithstanding the evidence of the 1796 German book, the variety of baseball that evolved in England may never have fully embraced the bat, since none of the 19th-century references to the game there mention anything about using such an implement. On the other hand, despite the absence of concrete evidence, it is quite likely that use of a bat became an integral part of the game in the United States well before the end of the 18th century. This divergence in how the pastime developed may be explained by its different social underpinnings in the two countries; in England, baseball became a pastime primarily for girls and young women, while in America it became the near-exclusive province of boys and men. The faster, larger-scaled, and, perhaps, rougher version of the sport that accompanied the adoption of the bat may well have edged beyond what was considered acceptable behavior for young English ladies of that era.

Hugh Gaine, ad for Little Pretty, 1762.

Hugh Gaine, ad for Little Pretty, 1762.

Then there is the matter of the missing ball, which is a puzzling result of A Little Pretty Pocket-book’s adventures in North America. With the great popularity of Newbery’s books in Britain, it was only a matter of time before they would begin to show up in the American colonies. As early as 1750, advertisements for his juvenile works were appearing in newspapers on the eastern seaboard.[6] Surprisingly, these first ads did not include A Little Pretty Pocket-book, despite it being among Newbery’s most successful titles. The first known reference to Pocket-book in the future United States did not materialize until 1762, when it appeared in an advertisement by New York bookseller Hugh Gaine.[7] But rather than importing and reselling copies produced by Newbery in England, Gaine apparently decided to cut costs by producing his own pirated edition of the children’s classic. No copies of Gaine’s edition have survived, leaving us unable to determine whether it exactly replicated Newbery’s content. From his advertisement, however, we know that Gaine abbreviated the book’s title to A Little Pretty Book, but otherwise retained all the verbosity about Master Tommy, Miss Polly, and Jack the Giant-Killer in the subtitle. The printer William Spotswood of Philadelphia appears to have introduced another such unauthorized edition of A Little Pretty Pocket-book in 1786, although, like Gaine’s, no copies are known to have survived.

Producing pirated copies of English books seems to have been a common practice of publishers in the American colonies and the young United States. Isaiah Thomas’s familiar edition of A Little Pretty Pocket-book also falls into this category. Thomas was a prolific book publisher in Worcester, Massachusetts, and in 1787 produced a version of Newbery’s juvenile gem that remains by far the most “common” of all 18th-century editions of this work, with as many as fifty copies still in existence. Thomas, who later founded the American Antiquarian Society, retained the original ninety or so pages of Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-book, but added to it another 35 pages consisting of “rules for behaviour.” Likely these were a concession to the strict Puritan ethic that carried considerable weight in 18th-century New England, though it is somewhat doubtful that Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly would have welcomed their inclusion.

Little Pretty, 1760, with ball.

Little Pretty, 1760, with ball.

Thomas made several slight changes to A Little Pretty Pocket-book’s baseball page, one of which is significant. In Newbery’s original editions, one of the players in the woodcut illustration is shown getting ready to pitch a ball. In Thomas’s Worcester edition that same player’s hand is empty. The ball had disappeared! This is peculiar because, in most other ways, the woodcuts in the two versions of the book are nearly identical. Thomas took care in copying many details of the Newbery image, such as the clothes of the boys and the features of the houses in the background. But he removed the ball. What does it mean? Was it a subliminal attempt to emasculate Newbery? Was it a protest against Newbery’s omission of a bat? We may never know the explanation for this oddity, but, then again, does anyone other than I really care?

Little Pretty, 1787, no ball.

Little Pretty, 1787, no ball.

From what we know, the pirated versions of Thomas, Gaine, and Spotswood comprised most of the copies of A Little Pretty Pocket-book that were sold in 18th-century America. Few booksellers seem to have imported Newbery’s originals for resale, and there is no evidence of any of them having done so earlier than 1772. Still, it is logical to assume that individual copies of the earlier editions printed in England crossed the ocean in the company of families emigrating to the colonies. Would these have marked the earliest landings on American shores of the term baseball? Not necessarily. In the Fall 2007 issue of this journal, I described a second book published by John Newbery, The Card, in which the term baseball also is referenced. Newbery’s publishing company issued The Card in 1755, and its survival rate greatly exceeds that of A Little Pretty Pocket-book, undoubtedly because as a book for adults it was not subject to the ravages of children. Thirty copies of the first edition of The Card still exist in American libraries, some of which reside in the collections of institutions that predate the American Revolution. It is quite possible that The Card preceded A Little Pretty Pocket-book as the earliest bearer of the word baseball to these shores. Then again, this honor may not have gone to any book at all. The author John Rowe Townsend, in describing the early importation of children’s stories and books to America, commented that “old tales and rhymes, needing no cargo space but people’s heads, crossed the ocean like stowaways with the early settlers in American colonies.”[8] These words could well be applied to the innocent games and pastimes enjoyed by those same travelers.

Earlier I mentioned that it was likely during his youthful days in Waltham St Lawrence and Reading that John Newbery acquired his knowledge of baseball. As an exercise, I thought it might be interesting to link those Berkshire locales with other early geographic indicators of the game to plot the periphery of the English landscape in which the pastime, hypothetically, may have first been played. This territory comprises a crescent that curves a few miles beyond the western and southwestern reaches of the London metropolitan area, and encompasses parts of the counties of Berkshire and Surrey, along with tiny slivers of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire counties as well.

John Kidgell, THe Card, Newbery, 1755.

The Card, John Kidgell, Newbery, 1755.

The northern tip of this crescent begins near Cookham, on the River Thames, where stood Cliveden, the 18th-century country estate of Frederick, Prince of Wales. In a 1748 letter, Lady Hervey famously described Frederick’s family engaged at baseball; although she witnessed this activity at Frederick’s London residence, it was at Cliveden where the family members spent the bulk of their time and where they possibly became familiar with the game.[9] Nine miles southwest of Cookham is the tiny village of Harpsden near the town of Henley-on-Thames, located at the southeastern tip of Oxfordshire. This was the site of the childhood home of Jane Austen’s mother, Cassandra Leigh, through whom Jane likely learned about baseball (she employed the word in her novel Northanger Abbey).[10] It was here that Cassandra Leigh’s younger Oxford cousin, also named Cassandra Leigh, would visit her often. Years later that same cousin, by then writing under her married name of Cassandra Cooke, produced the novel Battleridge in which she too mentioned baseball.[11]

Ten miles south from Henley-on-Thames lies the city of Reading, where, as we have noted, John Newbery worked as a young man, and where too Jane Austen went to school for one and a half years. It was also where the author Mary Russell Mitford lived most of her years. Mitford, whose mother was a childhood friend of Austen, found multiple opportunities to use the term “baseball” in her early-19th-century writings.

Completing our tour of early baseball country, we venture 25 miles southeast of Reading to the county of Surrey, and to the village of Shere. This was the home of William Bray, the lifelong diarist whose reference to baseball in 1755 was the subject of my article in the previous issue of this journal. Joining him in having Surrey connections was John Kidgell, the author of the aforementioned, baseball-bearing 1755 book The Card.

The tight geographic concentration of these early baseball references is intriguing. While far from offering decisive proof that the pastime originated within the boundaries of this fertile crescent, it does suggest a target area for further exploration. I only hope the eager burghers of the region don’t set off prematurely to challenge their counterparts in Cooperstown and Pittsfield.

By all accounts, John Newbery was a super guy. He was loving to his children and generous to his friends, who included such literary luminaries as Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith. It is also obvious that he looked fondly upon the little masters and misses who were the target audience for his children’s books — an attitude that seems to have been genuine and not simply a device for ensnaring customers. He maintained a running dialogue with his youthful readers through his writings, conveying to them that he was always looking out for their well being, and revealing a personality that was fatherly and warmly humorous. In Britain, Newbery’s legacy is not widely celebrated, certainly not as much as those of many other literary figures. On my recent visit I asked many Brits what they knew of Newbery, and none but a few librarians were familiar with his name. No archives or libraries there have compiled a special collection of his works, nor have scholars taken a particular interest in him. The lone full biography on Newbery’s life was written in 1885, and only a few short books and a bibliography have been dedicated to him in the years since.

By contrast, his name is better known in the United States, principally because it is attached to the Newbery Medal, the award recognizing the most distinguished children’s book of the year. (Ironically, Newbery knew nothing of the United States, having died eight years before its founding.) But whether his contributions to literature are underappreciated in Britain or overblown in the States are matters of little importance to baseball historians. To us he was that farsighted young man who plucked the nascent pastime of baseball from his childhood memories and slid it into his pioneering opus of games and amusements. Without him we would not be able to gaze back in time at those first tentative steps of that toddler that was to become our National Pastime.


Author’s note: The details of John Newbery’s biography provided in this article are generally known, and have been drawn from a variety of sources, including the Thwaite, Roscoe, and Townsend books cited below.

1. Thwaite, M., ed. 1966. A Little Pretty Pocket-book. London (pp. 14–16).

2. Documents filed in a 1752 legal dispute give an indication of the size of Newbery’s press runs for A Little Pretty Pocket-book. An itemization of his stock on hand stated that he currently held one thousand copies of the book in his warehouse. Welsh, C. 1885. A Bookseller of the Last Century. New York (pp. 33, 293).

3. Roscoe, S. 1973. John Newbery and His Successors 1740–1814, a Bibliography. Wormley, Hertfordshire (p. 392).

4. Gutsmuths, J. 1796. Spiele zur Uebung und Erholung des Körpers und Geistes für die Jugend, ihre Erzieher und alle Freunde Unschuldiger Jugendfreuden. Schnepfenthal (p. 78).

5. Carver, R. 1834. The Book of Sports. Boston (pp. 37–38).

6. See, e.g., Pennsylvania Gazette: Dec. 11, 1750.

7. New York Mercury: Aug. 30, 1762.

8. Townsend, J. 1994. John Newbery and His Books. Metuchen, N.J./London (p. 150).

9. Lepel, M. 1821. Letters of Mary Lepel, Lady Hervey. London (pp. 139–140).

10. Austen, J. 1818. Northanger Abbey: and Persuasion. London.

11. Cooke, C. 1799. Battleridge. London.

The Hidden Game of Baseball, 2015

Hidden Game of Baseball 2015Three decades ago, Pete Palmer and I wrote The Hidden Game of Baseball (Doubleday, 1984), aided greatly by the editing skills of our friend David Reuther. This month The Hidden Game has been reissued by the University of Chicago Press (440 pages, $22.50), in facsimile except for a new tabular appendix, a fine new foreword by Keith Law, and a thirty-years-after introduction that Pete and I wrote together; here it is.

The statistical side of baseball has always gripped me. I believed that in numbers one might uncover truths not visible to the naked eye, in the way that flying at night a pilot will learn things from the instrument panel that his senses can’t show him. In the summer of 1981, I was on assignment for The Sporting News. I went to my first convention of SABR—the Society for American Baseball Research—walked into a reception area, and met Pete Palmer. Pete, I quickly realized, was the best at what he did, which was to think hard about baseball and its numbers. Pete became my dear friend and more or less constant collaborator over the next 20 years.

But our first collaboration was not this book. With David Reuther, Pete and I developed an idea for a new sort of encyclopedia that would provide more revealing stats and tell better stories than the landmark books in the field at the time, which were known as ICI/Macmillan (1969) and Turkin/Thompson (first published in 1951). We called it “Complete Baseball,” I think, and we received a handsome bid for it, but the schedule demanded by the publisher was unworkable. So we walked away from what was at that time very big money and took much less to create The Hidden Game of Baseball, which came out in 1984. (The sort of encyclopedia we proposed did not come out until 1989, as Total Baseball).

We had no idea what impact Hidden Game might have, but our publisher certainly hoped we would enjoy some measure of the success Bill James was having with his first commercially published Baseball Abstract. Bill, of course, was one of the pioneers of what came be known as sabermetrics. He had been releasing his Abstracts annually, focusing on the season just past and the prospects for the next and including essays that articulated his inimitable take on baseball’s statistics and how they might be improved. Like Bill, we had been interested in developing measures that tied runs scored and allowed to player performance—we felt that those numbers were demonstrably related to the outcome of a game or a season. Bill’s best measure, modified over the years, was called Runs Created. Pete’s was Linear Weights, which you can read all about in this book.

I say “Pete’s” rather than “ours” because he was the statistician while I was the historian; he was the genius, I was the explainer. The conventional wisdom about Hidden Game has been that Pete did the numbers and I did the writing. That notion is more right than wrong, but Pete’s words are presented and reflected throughout the book and, oddly, so is some of my statistical noodling. As with any successful collaboration, presumed areas of specialty don’t stay sharply defined for long. Still, none of the innovative measures in Hidden Game may be called mine. I have never been a statistician, though I have been called one. All the same, Thorn & Palmer or Palmer & Thorn have endured as a pioneering sabermetric tandem because of Hidden Game and our subsequent work together.

The hidden game is the one played with statistics. It raises important questions about why we measure, what we think we are measuring, what we are truly measuring, and, most important, what the measurement means. Such questions informed our thinking throughout this book more than thirty years ago, and, even as Big Data and refined statistics sharpen our focus with each new season, sabermetricians today still cannot stray far from them. We were not the first to think unconventionally about baseball statistics, and we were careful to lay out their history from the 1840s on, and to credit those who had innovated in our field long before us. In the original acknowledgments, we even invoke Bernard of Chartres.

Mike Schmidt and Hidden Game in SPORT, 1984.

Mike Schmidt and Hidden Game in SPORT, 1984.

Bill James has remarked that a meeting of sabermetricians at, say, a SABR convention in the early 1980s could have been—and more or less was—held in a hotel room. We were barely a tributary, miles from the mainstream. The chapter titles we chose then reflect the windmills we felt compelled to tilt at. It was much harder back then to convince baseball professionals and beat writers that what we were saying held any water. And yet, now it’s hard to find a baseball professional who does not see the value of analyzing all the data that are available to us.

As general managers and managers came to understand that outs and runs are the currency of the game, as they always have been, they began to value on-base percentage, which measures not just the hits that a batter gets but all the ways he gets on base—and the hidden value of not using up an out and permitting another man to bat with a runner(s) on base. Keeping track of pitch counts was not merely a way to preserve your own pitchers’ arms—it was also a weapon: By having his batters work counts, a manager might force the hand of his opposing number and sooner get to the middle relievers, who are the soft underbelly of every pitching staff.

Today, the thinking in baseball has changed so much from thirty years ago that it is probable that we now overvalue walks where formerly they had been undervalued. Similarly, we scorn risky baserunning, when once it was the prime delight of players and fans. The charm of the grand old game is that it appears to be the same as it ever was, or at least the same as in President McKinley’s day, but of course it has changed radically. In terms of strategy the game is now hardly about baserunning and fielding at all, though recent sabermetric work in these areas may alter the balance yet again.

As much as things have changed, we do think this book can still boast of its own achievements and lasting contributions. Tying individual statistics to team accomplishment—restating batting, pitching, and fielding records in runs scored or saved—still seems worthwhile. Restoring baseball statistical thinking to the 1860s core of the game—securing or conserving outs—was good. Pete came up with the first “Unified Field Theory” of baseball: The Total Player Rating, with all players’ offensive and defensive contributions measured in runs above or below average, with league average performance defined as that which, when aggregated, would produce a .500 record for a team. This baseline troubled some of our colleagues, who contended that Hall of Fame players like Lloyd Waner or Tommy McCarthy could not possibly have been worse than league average over their long careers, as our calculations revealed. The current sabermetric standard is Wins Above Replacement, with some differing notions of what a replacement player (i.e., a somewhat below average one that any team might employ) might look like. Call us old fogies, but Pete and I still think a team of league-average players producing a league-average result (81-81 over the course of a modern season) sounds about right.

We have entertained offers over time to update and revise the original edition of this book, but we think it is better to leave it as it was, a stone along the road to a much greater understanding of how the game might best be played and who has played it best. (Pete has provided a list of the top 500 players of all time as of 2014, though, which appears as an appendix.) The updating, revising, and improving has been better left to the formerly tiny but now vast sabermetric community.

Bill James Baseball Abstract, 1982.

Bill James Baseball Abstract, 1982.

Still, how might we have approached Hidden Game differently—say, if we were to write it afresh today? When we wrote this book, play-by-play data were only beginning to be kept by the Elias Sports Bureau, and retrospective play-by-play had not yet been compiled by Retrosheet. We were compelled to develop our measures based on computer simulations and partial play-by-play. We would benefit from the work reflected at, Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs,,, and so many other websites. We could not ignore the advances of the digital age: live data capture through time-stamped video. PITCHf/x provides pitch trajectory, velocity, and location data, and FIELDf/x tracks all moving objects on the field: fielders, runners, umpires, balls. Our run values were the product of simulations; today those values may be tested against reams of play-by-play data, and they would be slightly different—not so different, however, as to alter any of our basic findings and tenets. More data bits may be available after a single game today than were available to us as of 1984 for all baseball history, but is our understanding of the game radically altered? Or is the way we play it substantially different? Unbalanced defensive alignments—shifting infielders around to compensate for hitters’ directional tendencies—are a novel reaction to data, for which in time there will be a counterreaction. Baseball is an entropic game.

Yet analytics are here to stay, and it is fair to say that the best constructed clubs—the ones that are in contention year after year—are not just the teams with the most money to lavish upon talent, but the teams that spend wisely and exhibit patience with their young players. It has been ever thus. The backlash against sabermetrics, present to some degree as soon as Bill James began to be widely read, is different from the one we experienced in the 1980s.

Most fans believe the game’s useful history begins with when they first started playing it or watching it. In my household, as my three sons grew up in the game, there was always talk at the dinner table about Ken Griffey Jr. and Greg Maddux and Mike Schmidt—and Babe Ruth and Cy Young and Ty Cobb, too. They were all part of the game. Indeed, they were all part of the family—more so than distant cousins and aunts and uncles. We talked about who was better than whom, what Cobb might do if he had to face Maddux, how many homers Ruth would hit today, what Griffey’s OPS might have been against 1920s pitching staffs, that sort of thing.

Baseball fans of earlier generations had fewer statistics at their disposal, but a simpler game perhaps had less need of them. Ultimately, the statistical fragments that were once saved in scrapbooks, or the new measures devised by ingenious fans, become relics that remind us at every moment that our youth was a wonderful if remote time.

Hidden Game of Baseball, 1984.

Hidden Game of Baseball, 1984.

Cory Schwartz of Major League Baseball Advanced Media has said: “I’m old enough to remember when we had to wait two days to find West Coast box scores in the newspaper, and wait until the Monday and Tuesday editions of USA Today.” Pete and I are older than that, and we recall some of the individuals who were tilling this field before us. We are in a bold new Age of Enlightenment, but fans and writers are not unanimous in believing that we are in a new Age of Enjoyment.

Stats contain and crystallize stories but are not stories in themselves. They are something of a fetish, an encapsulation of a thing once alive. A stat serves to recall and revivify the past, and sometimes to transform the future. As fans, Pete and I both follow baseball as closely as we ever did. But sabermetric writing lies more behind us than ahead, and not only because we are nearer to life’s ninth inning. Amid today’s mix of straight-on game account and metric analysis of who is better than whom, we miss the fun that made us come to love the game in the first place.

For this we could blame Bill James, and ourselves too. Early on, what interested us more than fiddling with formulas or lobbying for Dick Allen to enter the Hall of Fame was the web of illusion that stats created for fans and players alike, evading more interesting theoretical or philosophical questions. Read Hidden Game in that spirit, the one that spurred us thirty years ago, and we think you will be rewarded. Others may say better than Pete and I what Hidden Game has meant, but for us it may be simply that it continues to be sought and cited, all these years later. With this reissue, no longer will fans need to scour antiquarian book sites to luck upon a copy.

The PCL and the Color Line

Clarence "Pants" Rowland

Clarence “Pants” Rowland

This is a guest column by my friend Ronald Auther, who joined the SABR community in 2014. He holds a B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts. He writes a blog on African American baseball called The Shadow Ball Express, focusing on western baseball, from St. Louis to the Pacific Coast. His research focuses on social dynamics and social construct developments in arts, entertainment, and sports. Here he tells the story of how the racism of the Pacific Coast League owners may have denied them a a place in major-league history, whether as a third major league or as an incubator of African-American talent.

In January 1914, J. Cal Ewing, owner of the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League, was building a new ballpark, Ewing Field. “If I were a player, working for McCredie,” he said, “and he asked me to go out and play against these colored fellows, I would refuse to do it for him.”

Walter “Judge” McCredie, manager of the Portland Beavers baseball team, had scheduled exhibition games against the Chicago American Giants, a celebrated black club. This series of games would take place along the West Coast, beginning in Santa Maria and Fresno in California and ending up in Portland, Oregon. Finding a venue to play in along the way north would present problems for McCredie. Ewing offered further: “There are two classes of players I bar from playing on my ball parks—colored tossers and bloomer girls. The league has no power to prevent these games between the Beavers and the Chicago Giants, but I am sure that nearly every director in the league would be opposed to these games.”[1]

PCL president Allen T. Baum agreed with Ewing. “I have no jurisdiction in the matter, but my sentiments are strongly against it. I am sure there is not another manager in the league that would consider playing with the Chicago Giants.”[2]

1916 Chicago Americans Giants

1916 Chicago American Giants

When the Chicago Defender headlined a story “Rube Foster’s Team Starving in Oregon,”[3] it was undeniable that the Chicago American Giants had generated ill feelings during their stay. Their talents as baseball exponents captivated Portland’s Walt McCredie but the cool reception by the fans and the other PCL teams spoke volumes.

Fast-forward thirty years to 1944, and what a year it would be when the Pacific Coast League decided to make its move to become a third major league. There was the American League, the National League, and the minors, when Clarence “Pants” Rowland, general manger of the Los Angeles Angels, stated: “…we’ll simply have to get major league baseball when the war is over. This Pacific Coast area is the fastest growing in the nation.”[4]

By December 1944, the PCL moved to boost the draft prices for its stars from $7,500 to $10,000. From there, league vowed to strengthen its territorial restrictions to prevent a postwar Major League Baseball invasion of the West Coast. Rowland’s showdown with the Big Show was placed on the back burner, for now [5]. Waiting for a new commissioner that backed his play would be paramount to forming a new major league on the West Coast.

The PCL used the death of Commissioner K. M. Landis to leverage a new deal for the West Coast minor league. Landis had often been blamed for delaying the integration of African American players into the major leagues. That weight obviously could not be placed on the shoulders of one man alone. Landis and those who thought like him felt that by allowing integration, teams in the Negro Leagues would seek financial redress for monetary losses that might occur.[6].

By September 1945, Ed Harris and C.C. Pittman of the High Marine Social Club made contact with Rowland, by phone and letter, presenting the concept of a full-fledged West Coast Negro League that would operate in every major market already established by the PCL, excluding Hollywood and Sacramento. The stage was being set for a baseball war between the races. Clarence Rowland hadn’t planned for this upstart new league of “professionals” to waylay his well-laid plans to create a major league from the existing Pacific Coast League, which had battled long and hard to be recognized by the American and National Leagues as more than just a “farm.” Rowland had in effect been notified that his battle to be the West Coast big league would be shared with men of color.

The first rule of starting a league would be to secure playing grounds. This was one of the main issues facing the new league, backed by Jesse Owens and Abe Saperstein. Ed Harris was the West Coast Baseball Association chairman, and front man when it came to securing almost everything from players and coaches to the fields they’d play on. To accommodate the crowds required to fund a league, Ed Harris along with Abe Saperstein would do their best to negotiate with owners of Pacific Coast League parks.

The schedule for six new teams would require some tweaking by the Pacific Coast League to accommodate these other ‘professionals’ that hadn’t been sanctioned by anyone to start a league on their own. Even if ball parks like Edmonds, Wrigley, Oaks, and Seals Stadium had dark days or down time, their owners were not required to rent these parks to African Americans, based on the unwritten covenants, conditions, and restrictions that had stood firm since the days of J. Cal Ewing. Rowland reneged on a promised meeting with Ed Harris and Dewey Portlock about the use of the Angels’ park.

Large investments had been made for the development of these Pacific Coast League ballparks by men like Yubi Separovich, Dick Edmonds, and Paul Fagan. For them, the demise of the West Coast Negro League was personal as well as business. By the 1940s, racism on the West Coast had peaked, based on the Great Migration fulfilling the promise of jobs in the war industries for tens of thousands of African Americans, raising their level of income and allowing them to better themselves in West.

Major league baseball had sent Rowland a clear message in July 1945, when it rejected the proposed increase in the price on a draftee to the majors.[8]. He returned fire in December, when the PCL adopted a resolution stating, “Resolved that the Pacific Coast League now become [sic] a major league and to be such beginning with the 1946 season, but provided it must obtain approval of the commission of baseball, of the presidents of two major leagues, and the national association, and that it be accepted as a major league in organized baseball and remain therein.” [9]

Letter Saperstein to Separovich.

Letter from Saperstein to Separovich.

A triumvirate of three—Clarence Rowland; Charles Graham, President of the San Francisco Seals; and Victor Ford Collins of the Hollywood Stars—was the committee selected to begin the negotiations and obtain the necessary approval and agreement [10]. The National League and the American League club owners met in Chicago, on December 11, 1945, one week after Rowland made the announcement to go rogue by starting a West Coast Major league. They quickly voted to put the concept of another major league to rest. While in agreement that Rowland’s Pacific Coast League should be given the consideration of one day becoming a part of Major league baseball, President Ford Frick of the National League announced NL and AL owners’ denial on the basis that the PCL “did not have enough income or seating capacity.” Frick also commented that issuing major league status to the West before it was ready “would serve to weaken baseball,” by “not being able to supply big time baseball, but could hold high class players on the Coast, since the league’s promotion would exempt the clubs from the annual draft.”[11]

Frick was a master of contradiction. It was another way of saying, ‘you’re good enough for us to farm your best players, but you’re not good enough to hold your own with the “bigs.’” While Rowland swallowed his pride and accepted the decision gracefully, the West Coast Baseball Association moved forward with its plan to create a stir.

The initial request by Ed Harris and C.C. Pittman to negotiate the use of Pacific Coast League baseball parks for West Coast Baseball Association games had been ignored. There was money to be made by PCL owners in renting out their fields. To band together and deny access to money required to fund the PCL’s advancement to big-league status illuminates the major leagues’ assessment of their business acumen. Abe Saperstein was a savvy negotiator when it came to gaining access to venues. In his letter to Yubi Separovich, one is given the sense that the unwritten policy of not renting parks on down time was part of the Pacific Coast League’s plan to disavow any and all knowledge that the West Coast Baseball Association even existed.

Men of the 1945 PCL: (L-R, back): Bill Keppler, Portland; Don Stewart, Sacramento; Los Angeles Angels; Yubi Separovich, Sacramento; Emil Sick, Seattle; Victor Ford Collins, Hollywood; Bill Starr, San Diego. Seated: Charles Graham, San Francisco; Commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler, PCL President, Clarence Rowland; Clarence “Brick” Laws, Oakland.

Men of the 1945 PCL: (L-R, back): Bill Keppler, Portland; Don Stewart, Sacramento; Los Angeles Angels; Yubi Separovich, Sacramento; Emil Sick, Seattle; Victor Ford Collins, Hollywood; Bill Starr, San Diego. Seated: Charles Graham, San Francisco; Commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler, PCL President Clarence Rowland; Clarence “Brick” Laws, Oakland.

Jimmy Powers of the New York Daily News had written in 1933, “Another trouble with major league ball certainly would seem to be the color line drawn in the big leagues. There have been good baseball players who were Indians or part Indians, Mexicans, Cubans, etc. A Chinese Hawaiian tried out for the Giants a few years ago, and would have been able to make the team if he had been able to play a little better ball. But good colored ballplayers aren’t eligible; and so there must be a lot of possible fans in Harlem who don’t step over to the Stadium or the Polo Grounds to baseball games. It’s a trend of the times, this decline of baseball. We don’t know what could be done to arrest the trend, unless the big league chiefs could bring themselves to erase the color line, and baseball fans in every city or state burdened with the blue laws could be lined up to fight those laws.”[12]

In 1945 the Pacific Coast League balked by unnecessarily delaying the game, a race game that was being played out on these West Coast baseball fields. The Pacific Coast League principals never saw the writing on the wall, that by year’s end Jackie Robinson would be signed by the Montreal Royals, pointing out the direction baseball was headed. The Pacific Coast League could have been the primary farm source, laying the groundwork for the majors’ intergration. That color line eventually vanished, and the Pacific Coast League never gained major league status. Instead, it was decimated by the 1958 move of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.


1. “Coast Magnates Draw Color Line”, The Morning Oregonian, January 24, 1914, Page 10.

2. Ibid.

3. Robert Petersen, Only The Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams, Oxford University Press, 1970, Page 147.

4. “Los Angeles Seeks Major League Ball,” The Montreal Gazette, January 14, 1944, Page 16.

5. “Minors Silent On Landis Successor,” The Montreal Gazette, December 6, 1944, Page 15.

6. “Seeking A New Deal,” Lawrence Journal World, March 1, 1945, Page 10.

7. “On The Level: Delegates Ignored,” The Oakland Tribune, November 1, 1945.

8. “Majors Rejects Minors Proposal That ‘AA’ Draft Price be Double,” The Montreal Gazette, July 24, 1945, Page 14.

9. “Coast Votes Major Status,” The Eugene Register Guard, December 12, 1945, Page 10.

10. “Pacific Coast Circuit Votes to Become A Major League,” The Spokesman Review, December 5, 1945, Page 11.

11. “Deny Pacific Coast Bid For Major League,” Lodi News-Sentinel, December 12, 1945, Page 9.

12. “More About Negro Ball Players”, The San Francisco Spokesman, March 3, 1933, Page 5.

Ghosting for Babe Ruth

Westbrook Pegler.

Westbrook Pegler.

This is an excerpt from an article in the Augusta Chronicle of Augusta, GA, dated November 12, 1946. Written by Westbrook Pegler, it was originally titled “Some Points About Incomes of Authors.”  Although he is recalled today as a conservative columnist on political affairs, Pegler began as an iconoclastic sports reporter and columnist.

NEW YORK, Nov. 11.—Harrison Smith, a speaker at a book show, had something to say about the effect of big incomes on young writers. He thought the effect was not good.

At first, I was going to agree with him. Then I was going to disagree. But, I find that I do and I don’t. […]

Biographers are the worst liars in the world and often give us direct quotes from people who have been dead a hundred years or more. They make a lot of money, though, and, excusing that fic­tional make-believe with which they dress up their Henrys and Louies and Katherines, they are very good and worth every dollar they get, considering the time and reading they have to put in on a book and then the writing on top of all that. I know because, in collaboration with the late George Phyffe, of the old Evening World, I did not a mere biography but an autobiography of Babe Ruth back in 1922 [Pegler recalls the year incorrectly; it was 1920–ED.] After I had chased the Babe all over the western wheel with the Yankee club and had nailed him for only fifteen minutes one Sunday morning af­ter mass in Chicago for the only personal touch we had to-go on, George and I sat in his apartment with Spalding guides and records and the envelopes out of the mor­gue and did 80,000 words in three days. I would wait for the Babe like a private detective in the hotel lobbies until all hours of the morning but he wouldn’t show up until about nine when he would come bustling in with a silly little cigar-box ukelele that he used to carry around for social evenings, get a little breakfast and barge in on Ping Bodie, his room-mate, to catch a little sleep before time to go to the ball-yard. Then nothing, of course, until night when he would disappear again. He did  promise to talk to me on the train from St. Louis to Chicago, but in­stead he got into a game of hearts in a drawing-room that didn’t bust up until Englewood that Sunday morning. Then I got sore at the big baboon because, after all, he was getting $1,000 and 50 per cent of the gross, and he finally listen­ed to reason and gave me that fifteen minutes. I asked him a few questions and when I asked Mrs. Ruth’s pet name for him he said “Babe.” Then Meusial [Meusel] stuck his face in the room and said they were waiting to play hearts some more and that was all there was to it.

Long afterward. I was talking with George Creel about the dif­ficulty of ghosting autobiographies and George recalled that, back in 1915, he went way out to Kansas to interview Jess Willard for his life story and asked him what he had called a dog that he had had when he was a little boy. Jess said “Rover,” and that was about all George got, too. They just couldn’t give.

Ping Bodie.

Ping Bodie.

This must have been a very fine autobiography of Ruth, in the spots that I did, at least, if Harrison Smith’s theory has any merit be­cause we were having a gaudy in­flation just then and I was getting $50 a week. Phyffe was way up around $150 a week but he was like Charles Dickens, who made an awful lot of money, too. Max Perkins, of Scribners, a great editor whom you never heard of, prob­ably, because he isn’t a celebrity, told me that Dickens used to write those long-winded jobs of his in “parts” or installments which were sold by themselves, not in maga­zines like our present day serials. He said that when the sales of the early installments of Martin Chuzzlewit were drooping, Dickens and his publishers held a story con­ference, such as we have in Hol­lywood now, and decided that the way to hop it up and stimulate business was to knock Americans. Dickens was very good at this and up she went.

The profit motive and wealth didn’t hurt Dickens’ delivery; Shakespeare got so rich that he re­tired and I have heard that when Tennyson was under contract for a guinea a word and wrote “Break, break, break on thy cold, grey stones, oh, seal” the publisher wanted to use ditto marks and dock him two Gns.

Pegler had more to say about his ghostwriting for Ruth a bit later, when Bob Considine’s book on the Babe appeared, as well as an execrable film. From the Reading (PA) Eagle of February 16, 1948:

I desire to supplement an important historical document, the life story of Babe Ruth, a Great American, which has been written for printing and moving pictures by Bob Considine.

The Babe came to New York from the Boston Red Sox in 1919 in a deal that was part of a dis­guised case of syndicate base­ball. Harry Frazee, a theatrical fellow who came from Peoria, had acquired title to the Boston Red Sox and was selling down to the rich and extravagant angels of the New York club a bunch of ivory on the hook, in­cluding Ruth, who were to win several pennants.

The rich and extravagant New York promoters, T. L. Huston and Jake Ruppert, had advanced Frazee a lot of money toward the purchase of the Boston team. He wrecked the Boston team, or, more pleasantly put, he transferred the best of a great club to New York. A little later, an ignorant hillbilly who was pitching well for the Giants got sore at McGraw and solicited a bribe to go fishing. This would have hampered the Giants seriously because he was more or less reliably good for several victories in the time to be covered by the fishing trip. He was banished from organized baseball in perpetual disgrace. I took mischievous pleasure in pointing the parallel between the illicit and the licit, be­tween the perfidy of the alcoholic ignoramus and the civic service to New York of the distinguished sportsmen who demolished the great Boston team and erected the great Yankees for sordid gain.

Ruth had hit an extraordinary number of home runs—19, as I recall—in the 1919 season. Would I be safe in saying that the previous record had been 12 by Cactus Cravath, of the Philadelphia Phillies?

In the early part of the 1920 season, perhaps about May, Fred Ferguson, then the manager of an affair called the United News, a news report known in the trade as the wine, women and song service, had one of his ideas. He left word all over town for Ruth to telephone him, but Ruth had never heard

The Ruth Swing.

The Ruth Swing.

In the early part of the 1920 season, perhaps about May, Fred Ferguson, then the manager of an affair called the United News, a news report known in the trade as the wine, women and song service, had one of his ideas. He left word all over town for Ruth to telephone him but Ruth had never heard of him. Afraid that someone else in the same business might have the same idea, Ferguson observed that the Yankees were playing in Philadel­phia, and went down to proposition him. He found he Babe and a half-dozen other Yankees on their knees in a room playing a game that is played with dice. The hotel was the Aldine, strangely in­fested with elderly ladies, and sedate enough for umpires. It had the finest American-plan dining room in any league. I never could understand why the Aldine took a ball club on the American plan at whatever price. Ferguson observed that the only way he could hope to get close to the Babe was to get into the crap game.

The United Press-Scripps-Macrae concern, of which our wine, women and song service was a part, operated on a frugal budget, and gambling losses never were legitimate expenses. A refund of gam­bling gains incurred on assignment might have received the most careful and fair-minded consid­eration.

Ferguson went crazy and cleaned out the crap game and, with the prestige thus acquired, was able to impress the Babe with his importance and acu­men. He made a contract assuring the Babe $1,000 for the season and $5 each for his home runs, and containing a reserve clause binding him to cover the World Series for us, in person.

Still further, Ruth was to authorize a weekly resume of the activities in both major leagues and an occasional prediction. And, by way of earning his $5 for each home run, he was to send us a wire after each game, telling us, in his own inimitable language, what the situation was at the time and what kind of ball it was.

He had hit about a dozen home runs without sending any such dispatches and I, as his spook, had imaginized the situations and the types of pitches. But Ferguson got petulant, for he is a bargainy fellow, wired the Babe demanding to know. And, furthermore, he demanded a telegram after each home run henceforth.

Two days later, from Detroit, we got a wire late at night, long after the little Babe Ruth essay on the day’s home run had cleared.

“Socked one today,” it read. “Fast ball. High outside. Babe.”

The Babe’s public was expanding and I was assigned to catch the Yankees in St. Louis, inter­view him exhaustively for his life story, and rush back to New York to put it into deathless prose. I waylaid him in the lobby every night and tried to mousetrap him. I wheedled with Ping Bodie, his roommate. But he never came home and just ap­peared at and disappeared from the ball park every day. On the Saturday night we went up to Chicago, but he played cards all night. On the Sunday morning he went to Mass and then played sandlot ball with a lot of kids until about noon. I then had 15 minutes with him and went back to New York, where George Buchanan Fife, of the Evening World, and I produced 80,000 words, some of them very good, in four days, turn and turn-about. We got nothing extra, but I believe the Babe got $500.

The Dodgers and the Indians played the World Series and Ferguson asked Ruth whether he was going to show up to cover the games. He wasn’t acting as though he intended to.

He wasn’t. He had an offer of $1,000 to go barnstorming and he defied Ferguson to sue him. So Sidney Whipple was assigned to go with him and the great essays on the strategy of the 1920 World Series by Babe Ruth were written from Perth Amboy, Camden, Scranton and such points and not a bit the worse for that.

Headin' Home, 1920.

Headin’ Home, 1920.

I also had the honor of attending Mr. Ruth in his debut as a moving-picture actor that year in a drama called “Headin’ Home.” The girl was a nice, buxom blonde whose name unfortunately I do not recall. The villain, who was the pitcher for the opposition, was a skinny little Broadway fellow named Scher, who had done odds and ends as an actor. Ruth had bought some suits from a tailor named Scher and Scher said he would call it square if they would use his brother in the show. Mr. Scher, the actor, threw like an actor. Yet Ruth had to break his back striking out several times to make him look good and in the end he never got a chance to prove he could hit Mr. Scher because, for the great climax, they dubbed in one of his old home runs photographed during the season as thousands cheered.

There were no sound tracks and the actors, for something to say as they moved their lips, would mutter over and over “business, business, business” or “so-and-so-and-so-and-so.” This blonde lady had trouble not laughing at Mr. Ruth as he would grab her in a stiff-arm, self-conscious clinch and say, “Oh, Miss Business. Business, Business; I think you are so-and-so and so-and-so.”

Baltimore has not produced many great men. You may arrange the order as you like, but the list doesn’t amount to many more than Cardinal Gibbons, Joe Gans, Babe Ruth and a H.L. Mencken, the infidel.


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