Baseball’s 100 Most Important People, Part 2

Continuing from yesterday (http://goo.gl/GwKJ4A), here we fill out the top ten. The biographies of those not in the top 20 will be briefer, commensurate with their rankings. Alan and I will lash ourselves to the mast and resist the sirens’ song beckoning us to the rocks of Scylla–rewriting to reflect a current understanding–or Charybdis–reordering the rankings.

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Alan Schwarz and John Thorn

3. ALEXANDER CARTWRIGHT

Cartwright Plaque

Cartwright Plaque

His Hall of Fame plaque reads: “Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr. ‘Father of Modern Base Ball.’ Set bases 90 feet apart. Established nine innings a game and 9 players a team. Organized the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of N.Y. in 1845. Carried baseball to Pacific Coast and Hawaii in pioneer days.” Although the three specific accomplishments credited to him on the plaque cannot be attributed to him alone, he was a powerful influence on the game’s primal years and represents all the indispensable work of his Knickerbocker club.

According to legend, Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 at Cooperstown, New York, but this story has since been thoroughly disproved. Baseball was never really “invented”; it evolved. Young Americans had played the old English games of base and ball and several American variants since the 1700s. Those games gradually metamorphosed into baseball as we know it today, and Cartwright stood tall in making baseball a “manly” and “scientific” game worthy of adult attention.

Born in New York on April 17, 1820, Cartwright left school at age 16 and entered the business world, as was common in those days. Bright and ambitious, he started as a clerk and soon advanced to a position of responsibility.

After work, Cartwright joined other young New Yorkers to play ball. The group included merchants, lawyers and clerks whose professional status allowed them to leave work in mid-afternoon to enjoy healthy recreation. Common laborers usually had to work until dusk.

According to one early Knickerbocker, Dr. Daniel Lucius Adams, the group’s game was called “base ball” rather than rounders or town ball, which in later years were said to have been the direct antecedents of the Knickerbocker, or “New York Game” of ball. Adams began playing after 1839, when he set up his medical practice in New York. His group was preceded by an earlier association, “the New York Base Ball Club,” but according to Adams it had “no definite organization” and did not last long.

Several members of the New York Base Ball Club joined other young men in a new assembly that included Cartwright. In his diary, Cartwright claims to be one of the group’s better players. The jovial and gregarious clerk was a leader of the group when it wrote a formal constitution that named it “the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of September 23, 1845.” Cartwright served as secretary and vice president.

Cartwright may have been the first to suggest to his fellow Knickerbockers that they write down the rules of baseball, thereby codifying the regulations members had been following for years. He and three other members defined 14 playing rules, only three of which differed markedly from the rules of rounders.

They laid out the field in a diamond shape rather than a square, introduced the concept of foul territory, and discarded the practice of retiring a runner by hitting him with a thrown ball (“plunking”). These rules were created out of necessity: the diamond and foul territory were suggested by the dimensions of Madison Square, where the Knickerbockers played until 1846, and plunking was eliminated as ungentlemanly and potentially hazardous.

Alex Cartwright ca. 1850.

Alex Cartwright ca. 1850.

Perhaps more interesting is what the new rules did not include. The bases were not set at 90 feet apart. The length of the game was not set at nine innings, nor were the number of players mandated as nine. Other equally important rules that led to the modern game were also not included by the Knickerbockers. The distance from the pitcher’s mound to the plate was not mentioned; the rules did not state that a ball had to be caught on the fly to record an out (the first bounce was good enough); and there was no system of balls and strikes. The only fixed dimension was the 42 paces from home to second base and from third base to first. (For many years this was interpreted as placing the bases very nearly 90 feet apart. However, the size of a “pace” in 1845 was 2.5 to 3 feet depending on which authority was consulted. The Knickerbocker bases were only about 75 feet apart if the smaller measurement is used.)

After five or more years of intramural play on Manhattan Island, with their rules in hand and their new play ground at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, the Knickerbockers sought an opponent. On June 19, 1846, they met the New York Nine at the Elysian Fields in what is often called the first modern baseball game. The Nine won, 23‑1. The score indicates that the game followed the rules of early ball games, ending after a specific number of runs rather than innings. Although Cartwright was supposedly one of the best Knickerbocker players, he umpired the game and enforced a six-cent fine, payable on the spot, for swearing.

Over the next few years the Knickerbockers rarely played with nine men on a side. More often they had eight men—three outfielders, three infielders, the pitcher, and the catcher—although ten and sometimes as many as twelve players were also used.

Cartwright went to California during the great gold rush of 1849. As he made his way across the Great Plains, he brought a Knickerbocker baseball with him and is said to have taught baseball to anyone willing to play. By August he arrived in San Francisco, too late to strike gold; after only six weeks he gave up and booked passage for New York on a boat taking the Pacific route.

Cartwright became ill and put ashore on the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii. He fell in love with the tropical islands and sent for his family, who joined him in 1851. His interest in baseball continued, and he established leagues throughout the islands. He prospered in business and died a wealthy man on September 9, 1892.

The game continued to evolve in New York. In 1849 and 1850 the position of shortstop was created to facilitate relaying outfield throws. D.L. Adams was the first to play at that position. Initially, the position was set between the outfield and the infield, for at that time the ball was so light that few outfielders could throw it all the way to the infield.

Alexander Cartwright’s contributions to the game’s development might have been forgotten had it not been for Abner Doubleday. In 1938 the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, was nearly ready to open, and a great deal of the publicity named Doubleday as the game’s inventor, following upon a three-year study by the Mills Commission that culminated in “findings” reported in the Spalding Guide of 1908.

This grated on the Cartwright family. Cartwright’s grandson Bruce presented the Hall with his grandfather’s diaries, clippings, and other paraphernalia that showed how Cartwright and the Knickerbockers had codified the transformation of rounders into baseball, thus rendering the Doubleday tale a fairy tale. But by that time publicity surrounding the Doubleday legend was too widespread for the founders of the Hall to reverse their course. After all, the general’s supposed brainstorm was the reason for building the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in the first place.

Fortunately, no one had to call the Civil War hero a liar. He never claimed to have invented baseball and had been dead for a decade before anyone else asserted that he had. The Hall of Fame wisely chose to downplay the myth, and Doubleday was never elected as Cartwright was in 1939—a de facto rejection of the Doubleday claim.

Cartwright’s role in developing the early game in New York and in spreading it across the continent to Hawaii is certainly important. But it is more accurate to view him as a symbol of all those who helped to change the game from an old English diversion and favorite of American schoolboys into our national pastime.

4. MARVIN MILLER

Marvin Miller, 1972

Marvin Miller, 1972

Few men have affected baseball’s history more than Marvin Miller. The Players Association executive director for 18 years, Miller led his union in a revolution that forever changed the balance of power between players and owners. “The players have so much power that they should get one more thing done,” Manager Paul Richards, Miller’s bitter adversary, once said. “They should get Marvin Miller inducted into Cooperstown. That man has taken over.”

Richards, of course, was being sarcastic. But the irony is that Miller might well be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day. Baseball’s establishment failed to see the players’ perspective—that Miller only taught the players how to fight and how to win.

Miller was born in Brooklyn on April 14, 1917 and grew up a staunch Dodgers fan. During World War II he served with the War Labor Board and after the war he worked for the U.S. Reconciliation Service of the Labor Department, the International Association of Machinists, and the United Auto Workers before joining the United Steelworkers of America as a staff economist in 1950. Eventually he became their chief economist and a confidant of union presidents Philip Murray and I.W. Abel.

In 1965 Miller weighed job offers from Harvard and the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace. He also considered staying with the union and ultimately running for its presidency. While he was considering his options, representatives from the Players Association, seeking to replace Judge Robert Cannon, asked to meet with him.

Originally major-league owners had seen the Players Association as a harmless company union. They even offered to fund its operation. But once Miller took over, all bets were off. After almost 100 years of absolute power the owners were not prepared to cede control. But the shrewd Miller was to turn the owners’ arrogance back upon them to devastating effect.

Quickly he took a traditionally antiunion work force and rallied it behind him. “He was able to do it because he was honest and everything he said was the actual truth,” Brooks Robinson contended. Miller was also among the smartest men in baseball. He combined a brilliant mind with an uncanny ability to lay out his position in such a logical manner that it seemed impossible to disagree with him.

In 1969 a strike threatened, but it was averted when management conceded to Miller by increasing the pension fund and the minimum major-league salary and recognizing the right of players to employ agents. But in 1972 the Players Association staged the first general work stoppage in baseball history, delaying the start of the season for 13 days and forcing the cancellation of 86 regular-season games. The players wanted a 17-percent raise in pension benefits to keep pace with the cost of living since enactment of the last Basic Agreement in 1969 and $500,000 to cover increased health-care benefits. The negotiations stalled.

On March 9 the White Sox became the first club to authorize the union’s Executive Board to strike. Through mid-March a strike was unanimously supported. Not until four negative votes were cast by the Red Sox on March 16 did anyone break rank. The final vote was 663-10 in favor of strike authorization, with two abstentions.

Dick Young of the New York Daily News, the most influential sports columnist in the country, led the anti-union movement among the media, a movement that split along generational lines. “Ballplayers are no match for him,” Young wrote of Miller. “He has a steel trap mind wrapped in a melting butter voice. He runs the players through a high-pressure spray the way an auto goes through a car wash, and that’s how they come out, brainwashed. With few exceptions, they follow him blindly, like zombies.”

The way the players saw it, Young was as blind as the owners. He refused to acknowledge that times were changing. Miller played devil’s advocate with his union whenever a strike was near. He wanted to make sure union members understood the consequences of their actions. Finally a strike was authorized by an Executive Board vote of 47-0 with only the Dodgers’ Wes Parker abstaining. Rick Reichardt, the player representative for the White Sox, characterized Miller’s behavior during the vote as “very conservative,” adding, “the whole tone of the meeting was very professional. He wasn’t an instigator.”

The strike began on April 1, five days before the start of the regular season. A storm of fan protest greeted the move. The players eventually won an increased management contribution of $490,000 to their benefits plan, plus a transfer of $400,000 in surplus pension funds to improve retirement benefits and maintain their health benefits.

“The real issues were never a question of pension or money,” Miller said. “They were more of a question of human dignity.” Lost amid the dollar figures in the newspaper stories was a very important concession that had been granted to labor—the right to arbitrate grievances. In just a few years that right would turn baseball on its head.

Coming hard on the heels of baseball’s first strike was the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 19 ruling in the Curt Flood case. Flood had challenged the reserve clause, which effectively bound a player to his team in perpetuity. By a 5-3 majority, the high court reaffirmed the game’s antitrust exemption that kept the reserve clause intact. Yet changes definitely were coming. In 1973 the players won the right to salary arbitration, a huge step for the union.

Then in December of that year arbitrator Peter Seitz voided Catfish Hunter’s Oakland contract due to owner Charles Finley’s failure to comply with its terms. By itself the decision hardly affected free agency, but the frenzied bidding war that erupted for Hunter’s services presaged what would soon come.

The Yankees signed Hunter, one of baseball’s best pitchers, to a multiyear deal worth more than $3 million. That opened a lot of eyes, especially on the players’ side. They began to understand what they would be worth on the open market.

McNally, Messersmith, and Miller.

In December 1975 Seitz let the other shoe drop when he overturned the reserve clause in the Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith cases. The way the owners had always interpreted it, the reserve clause allowed them to renew a contract in perpetuity and thus bind a player to a team for as long as the team wished. In effect, the players contended, they were slaves no matter how high their wages were.

Seitz ruled that the option year in every contract was just that: one option year that could not be renewed unilaterally. Miller was not entirely surprised. In one of Seitz’s rulings involving the National Basketball Association, the arbitrator had cited a 1969 California Court of Appeals decision. It had given Rick Barry the right to sign with an American Basketball Association team after playing out his option year with the San Francisco Warriors. The NBA’s option clause was an exact duplicate of Organized Baseball’s. After Seitz’s ruling, the players and owners worked out a new Basic Agreement that gave players the right to free agency after six years, a requirement still in effect.

Miller faced one more great battle. In 1980 owners wanted to institute compensation for teams losing free agents. Players adamantly opposed the owners’ plan since it would severely damage the players’ negotiating leverage. The first midseason strike in baseball history was barely averted. But a year later on June 11, 1981, with the issue still unresolved, the players struck.

Again public sympathy was hardly with the players, who were now earning a minimum salary of $32,000 a year and an average wage of $193,000. The strike cost the players $28 million in lost wages, and the clubs each lost anywhere from $1.6 million to $7.6 million in revenues. In many cases the losses were offset by the owners’ $50 million in strike insurance, which had been purchased at a cost of $2.2 million. Miller, who was making $160,000 a year, did not accept his salary for the duration of the strike.

The strike was settled on July 31, with one-third of the season lost, in a settlement that included complex compensation formulas. Eventually the owners scrapped the formulas because the union had insisted that all teams, not just those signing free agents, had to submit players to the compensation pool. This did not sit well with teams that opted out of the market but still lost a player.

Throughout the years Miller’s chief antagonist was Bowie Kuhn, the game’s commissioner from 1969 to 1984. He considered Miller an “old-fashioned, 19th- century trade unionist who hated management generally, and the management of baseball specifically.” For his part Miller said of Kuhn, “To paraphrase Voltaire on God, if Bowie Kuhn had never existed, we would have had to invent him.”

When Miller retired in 1984 Reggie Jackson said, “Marvin Miller took on the establishment and whipped them. We never would have been free agents without him.”

5.  BRANCH RICKEY

Robinson & Rickey.

Robinson & Rickey.

Branch Rickey was a baseball genius, the greatest front-office man the game has ever known. He was also a sanctimonious, hypocritical cheapskate, a man who would play fast and loose with the rules and go back on his word when it suited him. That he was a successful general manager for 42 consecutive years, for the Browns, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates, becomes almost irrelevant when compared to how much he did to shape the modern baseball landscape.

First, he literally invented the farm system in the early 1920s when he was with the Cardinals. Before that the minor leagues were composed of independent teams that survived by developing and then selling players to the majors.

Second, he integrated baseball. What Rickey did transcended the game and became a significant event in the history of the United States.

Finally, his plans to form a third major league in 1959 convinced the leaders of Major League Baseball that they had to expand. That was the beginning of a sports explosion in this country that continues to this day.

Raised on an Ohio farm, Wesley Branch Rickey coached and played semipro baseball and football to pay his way through Ohio Wesleyan College. A devout Methodist, he kept a promise to his mother that he would not play or work on Sundays. He wouldn’t even travel on the Sabbath. Of course, later in his career his teams played on Sundays and he always called the ballpark to check on the day’s receipts.

While at Ohio Wesleyan he also coached the baseball team. He had a black first baseman, Charles Thomas, who was refused admission to a South Bend hotel on a trip to play Notre Dame. Rickey finally persuaded hotel management to allow Thomas to share his room. In the room, according to Rickey, Thomas rubbed his hands together and cried to his 21-year-old coach, “Black skin, black skin. If only I could make it white.” Years later, Rickey tearfully retold the story and said it was the genesis of his crusade to break the color barrier in the major leagues.

A catcher with a strong arm, Rickey began his professional career in 1903, and after impressing scouts while playing for Dallas he was purchased by the Reds late in the 1904 season. But Reds manager Joe Kelley released him when he learned that Rickey wouldn’t play on Sundays. Rickey kicked around with other clubs through 1907 (not counting two cameo at bats with the Browns in 1914),

He began taking law classes at Michigan and in 1911 became the school’s baseball coach. After he got his degree and went into practice he also agreed to do some scouting for the Browns. In 1913 Rickey became a full-time employee of the Browns as an executive assistant, and soon after that became their general manager. In the final weeks of the season Hedges gave him the manager’s job as well, which Rickey kept through the 1915 season. True to his oath, he stayed home on Sundays, letting a coach handle the team.

1905 Ohio Wesleyan University; Rickey (back row, right).

1905 Ohio Wesleyan U.; Rickey (rear, right).

His on-field acumen didn’t help the Brownies, but his legal background and Michigan connection did. George Sisler had signed a professional contract as an underage high schooler without parental consent, but he had not accepted any money. He then decided to enroll at Michigan. When the pro contract threatened his eligibility, Rickey advised the family to move to invalidate the agreement. Rickey was thus able to keep the star of his team, and the grateful young Sisler signed with Rickey’s Browns when he graduated in 1915—after Rickey convinced club owner Bob Hedges to break a gentlemen’s agreement that had earmarked Sisler for the Pirates.

By the time Sisler had become a star for the Browns, Hedges had sold the team to Phil Ball, and Rickey had moved across town to the bankrupt Cardinals as club president. After serving as a major in a World War I chemical warfare unit with Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Sisler, Rickey returned to the Cardinals as president and, saving a $10,000 salary, as field manager. After the club finished seventh in 1919 while teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, Sam Breadon bought 72 percent of the stock. Rickey owned the rest.

Breadon demoted Rickey to vice president but allowed him to continue as field manager. About that time Rickey developed his farm system plan—out of necessity. The Cardinals could not afford to compete with other teams to purchase top talent from independent minor league teams. Rickey had to devise a method of acquiring teams. He had to establish a system of tracking and evaluating players in every organization in the majors. He had to hire a network of scouts and organize tryout camps. He also had to develop an organization-wide teaching system. It was a task perfectly suited to Rickey’s energy and intellect, and one he was able to carry out even though he was still the field manager. When he was done, the Cardinals farm system included 33 teams. In contrast, each major-league franchise today operates only five or six minor-league teams.

By 1942 Rickey’s contract was up in St. Louis. He was fed up with Breadon, and vice versa. No one really knows if he was fired or if he quit, but he moved over to the Dodgers without missing a beat. Rickey protégé Larry MacPhail was leaving the Dodgers club after building it into a contender, so Brooklyn hired Rickey as president and general manager. He also bought 25 percent of the team.

Rickey could now move ahead with his plans to integrate baseball. By the end of World War II Rickey sensed the timing was right. He also knew it was a smart move. More and more teams were starting to copy his farm system, and he wanted, as always, to stay a step ahead of the competition. And unlike Bill Veeck, who integrated the American League when he signed Larry Doby in 1947, Rickey never paid a Negro League team for a player, knowing Negro League owners would not want to be blamed for delaying the end of the color barrier.

Rickey’s expansion machinations began in the spring of 1945, when he announced the formation of the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers to play in a new United States Baseball League and dispatched scouts to search the Negro Leagues for talent. However, the Brown Dodgers and USBL were a scam designed to hide Rickey’s real purpose—the integration of the established major leagues.

On October 23, 1945, with the approval of his Dodgers partners, Rickey signed Jackie Robinson. After a brilliant 1946 season in Montreal, Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947 and was an immediate star. Rickey’s Dodgers thus got the jump on the rest of baseball, signing such black stars as pitcher Don Newcombe, catcher Roy Campanella, pitcher Joe Black, and second baseman Jim “Junior” Gilliam. As a result, between 1947 and 1956 the Dodgers won seven pennants in 10 years.

Rickey, however, did not last long enough in Brooklyn to enjoy all the fruits of his labors. Walter O’Malley, one of Rickey’s partners, wanted control of the team and after the 1950 season led a boardroom coup that forced Rickey out. Rickey, however, cried all the way to the bank because a clause in his contract forced the Dodgers to match the highest bid for his stock if he was not rehired. Rickey produced a $1.25-million offer, more than double O’Malley’s estimate of the stock’s value. O’Malley went to his grave believing the offer was a phony.

Rickey moved on to Pittsburgh, laying the foundation for the 1960 Pirates team that won the World Series. His greatest coup with the Pirates was drafting Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers, who were trying to hide him in the minors by not playing him regularly.

Rickey’s last venture was the Continental League, his response to the majors’ repeated refusal to expand beyond 16 teams. One of his fellow “owners” was Joan Payson, who eventually acquired the expansion New York Mets franchise. Rickey was 77 by then, but his involvement in the proposed new league, which presaged the American Football League, the American Basketball Association, and the World Hockey League, was enough to put the fear of God into the major leagues. By 1961 Organized Baseball initiated an expansion program that has since nearly doubled the number of major league teams.

Rickey died in 1965, less than two weeks before his 84th birthday. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.

6. ROBERTO CLEMENTE

Clemente with Montreal, 1954.

Clemente with Montreal, 1954.

Roberto Clemente Walker played the game as if it were his and his alone. His haughty stance at the plate, the way he snared flyballs, and the way he slung the ball from right field to third base were all unique. He won four batting titles and a dozen Gold Gloves. But it is not his on-field exploits that place him this high among our Top 100. As Jackie Robinson broke a barrier for African Americans, Clemente was and remains a beacon for generations of Latin American boys who dream of playing baseball on the big stage. (Fernando Valenzuela may likewise inspire future generations of Mexican lads.)

As a youth in Puerto Rico, Clemente sneaked peeks at his favorite player, Monte Irvin, through the outfield fence. As a teenager he played in the same Puerto Rico winter league outfield with Willie Mays, and the scouts took notice. The Dodgers signed him for $10,000, although he received offers nearly three times that after agreeing to the contract. A rule at the time stated that Clemente could be drafted by any team for $4,000 if he wasn’t brought up to the majors. Yet the Dodgers sent him to their Triple A farm club in Montreal, where Clemente felt he was treated oddly. The Dodgers were trying to hide him from the Giants, but this was never explained to him, and he was so hurt and confused by the way he was handled that he thought of quitting. He recalled, “If I struck out I stayed in the lineup. If I played well I was benched. One day I hit three triples and was benched the next day. Another game I was taken out for a pinch hitter in the first inning with the bases loaded.”

After this disappointing first season Clemente returned to Puerto Rico. While he was visiting his brother, who was dying of a brain tumor, a drunk driver plowed into his car. The crash damaged three spinal discs, an injury that would plague Clemente for the rest of his career.

When the last-place Pirates met after the 1954 season to discuss who they should draft first, Clyde Sukeforth said to Pittsburgh general manager Branch Rickey, who had also been his boss in Brooklyn, “You will never live long enough to draft a boy with this kind of ability for $4,000 again.”

During his first two seasons as the Pirates’ right fielder Roberto Clemente gunned down 18 and 20 runners, respectively, on the bases. In his second year he hit .311. Clemente, and all of Pittsburgh, had a terrific year in 1960. He hit 16 homers and batted .314, and his 94 RBIs led the team as they shocked baseball by upsetting the powerful Yankees in the World Series.

Always a proud man, Clemente took it hard when he got the news that he had only finished eighth in the 1960 Most Valuable Player voting. It pushed him to try even harder. The next season Clemente changed his bat. To avoid over-swinging on bad balls he began to use heavier lumber and went on to enjoy 11 .300-plus seasons in the next 12 years. He won his first batting title in 1961, hitting .351 with 23 homers, 10 triples, and 89 RBIs.

That year Clemente missed the last five games of the season because a Don Drysdale fastball had chipped a bone in his right elbow, requiring off-season surgery. Because of the aggressive way he played, he suffered numerous other injuries. Unlike other players who declined to speak about their physical problems, Clemente discussed his aches and pains with anyone who asked. (“My bad shoulder feels good, but my good shoulder feels bad,” he once said.) His constant complaining about aches and pains didn’t sit well with Pittsburgh sportswriters, who accused him of being a hypochondriac, overlooking the fact that Clemente played more than 140 games for eight seasons in a row.

In 1964 and 1965 he won batting titles again, but the Pirates felt he wasn’t providing as much power as he could. Manager Harry “the Hat” Walker asked him to swing for the fences more often. Clemente responded by belting 29 homers and driving in 119 runs in 1966, although his batting average fell a dozen points to .317.

His defensive abilities never suffered. In one game, in a bases-loaded situation, a batter lined an apparent single to right. The runner on third didn’t see any need to hustle home; Clemente fired a strike to the catcher for a stunning force-out. Clemente won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1966, and he felt that the injustice of 1960 had been rectified.

He suddenly became more open, eagerly taking the reins of leadership in the clubhouse. If a young Pirate had a problem, Clemente discussed it quietly. Manager Walker failed to get new Pirate Matty Alou to quit pulling every pitch and use a heavier bat, but Clemente spoke to Alou. The newcomer responded with a 111-point increase in his batting average and won the league batting title.

With the arrival of rookies Manny Sanguillen, Richie Hebner, and Al Oliver in 1969, Clemente’s role as a leader became even more valuable. From 1969 through 1971 Clemente hit .345,.352, and .341. The Pirates honored him in 1970 at their new Three Rivers Stadium. Puerto Rican fans, who by now viewed him as a demigod, delivered a scroll signed by 300,000 people in Puerto Rico (roughly 10 percent of the island’s population).

More than 43,000 fans showed up for the festivities and game, which the Bucs won, 11‑0. Clemente obligingly had two hits and made a great catch of a Joe Morgan line drive. He also made a running, diving grab of a foul popup by Denis Menke that meant absolutely nothing to the outcome of the game and tore his knee open in the process. “It’s the only way I know how to play baseball,” he explained.

Clemente at Ebbets Field, 1955.

Clemente at Ebbets Field, 1955.

His intensity and skill received their finest showcase in 1971. The Pirates knocked off the Giants in the 1971 National League Championship Series, with Clemente hitting .333 and driving in four runs. In the World Series against the favored Baltimore Orioles, Clemente hit in all seven games, batting .414 and slugging .759. Writer Roger Angell said, “Clemente played a kind of baseball that none of us had ever seen before—throwing and running and hitting at something close to the level of absolute perfection.”

Clemente would never scale such heights again. Injuries allowed him to play in only 102 games in 1972, but he still hit .312. His double off the Mets’ Jon Matlack on September 30 was his 3,000th hit. The Pirates again made it to the NLCS but lost on Bob Moose’s wild pitch in the ninth inning of the final game.

In late December of that year a devastating earthquake struck Nicaragua. More than 6,000 people were killed, 20,000 injured, and tens of thousands left homeless. Clemente raised money and other contributions to help the survivors. As always, he was tireless, pleading for donations personally, negotiating discounts with airlines for transporting the materials, and packing and loading boxes for shipment. While Puerto Rico celebrated the holidays, Clemente was working 16-hour days to see that earthquake victims received what they needed.

After hearing that some of the supplies sent to Nicaragua were not getting to the right people, Clemente decided to take matters into his own hands. He decided to fly to Nicaragua in a cargo plane and make sure that distribution was carried out properly. On New Year’s Eve he boarded an overloaded DC-7 that he had rented for $4,000 to fly to Nicaragua. The plane crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff.

New Year’s Day was to have been a day of great celebration in Puerto Rico, with a new governor being inaugurated. Instead, the inaugural festivities were canceled, and the entire Pirates team flew to Puerto Rico for the funeral.

The Hall of Fame waived the five-year wait between last playing appearance and eligibility for Clemente, as it had done earlier for Lou Gehrig. The first Latin player so honored, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same day as his boyhood idol, Monte Irvin. In 1971 the Commissioner’s Office had started an annual award to the player who best exemplified baseball on and off the field; in 1973 it was renamed the Roberto Clemente Award.

More than 20 years after his death, a video about Clemente on the Three Rivers Stadium scoreboard produced instant, awestruck silence, followed by respectful applause and cheers touched with sadness. A statue of him was unveiled at Three Rivers Stadium at the 1994 All-Star Game. He had said in the late 1960s, “If you have an opportunity to make things better and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on this earth.”

7. HENRY CHADWICK

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

Having played cricket and rounders in his native England, Chadwick came to America with his family in 1837 at age 13. He first played baseball in 1847 and pronounced it a descendant of the earlier English games. When nearly a decade later he first saw games between skilled players, he recognized baseball’s potential to become America’s national game. His writings and influence helped make that potential a fact.

Chadwick began his reporting career with the Long Island Star in 1844. In the late 1850s, he began covering baseball games as a reporter for several newspapers, most notably the New York Clipper and the Brooklyn Eagle. In connection with this, he developed the box score and devised a system of scoring that is little changed today, although he borrowed many aspects of the system from fellow sportswriter M.J. Kelly. In his devotion to making baseball a “scientific” game, he devised new measures of player performance, championed those invented by others, and created the statistical underpinnings that bind the game’s present to its past while providing a roadmap for understanding how teams succeed or fail.

Chadwick influenced the development of playing rules, game strategies, scoring practices, and even the moral tone of the game. Most important, though, was his relentless promotion of baseball as the national pastime, a game that would be a tonic for America as cricket surely was Great Britain.

Chadwick continued to write and comment on baseball for more than 50 years. He originated the first guide, Beadle’s Dime Baseball Player, in 1860, and edited DeWitt’s Guide through the 1870s and Spalding’s Base Ball Guide from 1881 to 1908. His The Game of Base Ball (1868) was the first hardcover book published on the subject.

Widely influential for his writings, he also had a direct influence in shaping the game by serving on various rules committees, beginning in 1858. He opposed gambling, drunkenness, and rowdiness among players, sometimes to no avail. Chadwick considered himself one of “the intelligent majority” who preferred scientific hitting over slugging, and fielding prowess above all.

Chadwick did not win all his battles. He opposed professionalism among players, and chastised the National Association when it decided to pay umpires. He opposed creation of the National League, writing that the latter was “a sad blunder.” But he took on owners and players with equal gusto. In his most enduring squabble, he traced baseball’s origins to the English game of rounders, rejecting the jingoistic notion that it sprang into life fully formed on native soil. He gave credit to the Knickerbockers as the game’s true pioneers, but held fast to his belief that the game migrated to America from England. A long-standing friendly argument with nativist Albert G. Spalding over baseball’s origins prompted Spalding to form a commission to look into the matter. Headed by former NL president Abraham G. Mills, it concluded in the Spalding Guide of 1908 that the game had been invented in Cooperstown by Civil War hero Abner Doubleday.

Chadwick—more the “Father of Baseball” than Doubleday and as much as any man—died from pneumonia in 1908 after attending Opening Day in Brooklyn. Flags around the league flew at half-staff in his honor. In 1938 he was named to the Hall of Fame; he remains the only writer honored not in a separate exhibit but with his own plaque.

8. JIM CREIGHTON

Creighton, 1860.

Creighton, 1860.

Jim Creighton was baseball’s first national star, probably its first professional, and its first martyr. He was the greatest hitter of his time, and his pitching revolutionized the game. Remarkably, he accomplished all this by the age of 21.

In 1857, at the age of 16, Creighton helped to organize a neighborhood team, the Young America Base Ball Club. The next year, he and his friend George Flanley founded the Niagara Club. Creighton played both second and third base. In the ninth inning of a game between the Niagaras and the Brooklyn Stars, perhaps the best junior team in the area, he took over the pitching duties with his team well behind. From that moment on, baseball was never the same.

According to the existing rules, the ball was supposed to be “pitched”—that is, delivered with a stiff-armed, locked-wrist, underhand motion, much like a bowler’s delivery. Throwing the ball was illegal, the calling of balls and strikes was still in the future, and the pitcher’s task was simply to deliver the ball to the batter so that he could hit it. A kind of partnership developed between the pitcher and the batter. As the game grew more competitive, pitchers tried to make batters hit the ball to a location where it would produce an out. But the rules of the day, which limited pitchers to pitching underhanded, left them with few options. Most pitchers tried to keep the ball away from the batter, hoping that frustration would lead to a swing at a “bad” pitch. Consequently, with no bases on balls awarded to limit an at bat, some batters stayed at the plate for up to 15 minutes.

That changed when Creighton became a pitcher. According to an eyewitness account, “When Creighton got to work something new was seen in base ball—a low, swift delivery, the ball rising from the ground past the shoulder to the catcher. The Stars soon saw they could not cope with such pitching.” Creighton was responsible for several important innovations. He threw much faster than other pitchers did, and because there was no mound the ball’s trajectory was nearly horizontal, as opposed to the arcing lobs batters expected. Also, he put spin on the ball in such a way that his fast pitches hopped or darted as they approached the plate. These inventions changed the face of baseball.

As Creighton’s reputation grew, some claimed that he could make the ball dip, rise, or sail at will. A few historians have even suggested that he was the first man to throw a curveball, but if he did it was probably not intentional.

How did Creighton come up with such a revolutionary pitching style? He cheated. As he brought his long right arm around he imparted an almost imperceptible, and completely illegal, wrist snap. Although the ball was still being hurled underhand, Creighton was throwing it instead of pitching it like a horseshoe.

The new style sparked a great deal of controversy. Purists correctly insisted that Creighton’s tosses were illegal. Other pitchers studied Creighton, trying to imitate him. Fans were excited by the way he threw. The game moved faster and was more interesting. Umpires maintained that they saw nothing illegal. When Henry Chadwick, the era’s most influential baseball writer, commended Creighton for his “head work,” the battle was over and the groundwork laid for the game as we know it today: a mortal struggle between pitcher and batter.

After his pitching performance against the Stars, Creighton was recruited for their team. In 1859 he jumped to the top-flight Brooklyn Excelsiors (almost certainly in exchange for under-the-table “emoluments”) and traveled with them throughout the East in 1860 and 1861. With Creighton as their star they regularly won games by such inflated margins as 51‑6 and 45‑16. Not only did Creighton pitch and usually win every game, he went the entire 1860 season with an unparalleled average of zero in the outs-per-game category (which in those rudimentary days of statistical accounting meant that his number of games played exceeded the times he hit into outs). He was also an excellent fielder; and on top of all his baseball accomplishments, he was America’s top young cricket player.

Batters eventually learned how to hit Creighton’s offerings, and it soon became clear that mere speed on the pitch was not enough. Even though the balls were delivered from only 45 feet away, the best batters managed to get around on the pitches. To counter this Creighton developed the ability to change speeds, just as other pitchers of his day were learning to do.

Creighton Monument, Green-Wood Cemtery

Creighton Monument at Green-Wood.

No one knows how much the Excelsiors secretly paid their “amateur” pitching star, but today Creighton is generally considered to have been the first professional ballplayer. He became famous, and large crowds turned out to see him perform. Young players tried to duplicate his style. Teams even adopted his name. Decades later, fans who had seen him pitch would remark that while stars such as Charley Radbourn and Tim Keefe were good pitchers, they weren’t Creightons.

In late 1862, in a game between the Excelsiors and the Unions of Morrisania, a Westchester County team (Morrisania is today a neighborhood in the Bronx, and thus part of New York City), Creighton smashed a home run. As he swung, he heard something pop. Circling the bases, he remarked to George Flanley as he crossed the plate, “I must have snapped my belt.” Then he collapsed. After several days of internal hemorrhaging he died on October 18, 1862, five months shy of his 22nd birthday.

Creighton’s grief-stricken teammates erected a tall granite monument over his grave in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. Carved on it are crossed bats, a base, a cap, a shoe, and a scorebook. A large stone baseball rests on top. The baseball has worn away over time, but the memorial baseball’s first star remains a shrine for baseball antiquarians.

9. KENESAW MOUNTAIN LANDIS 

Judge Landis, ca 1940.

Judge Landis, ca 1940.

Baseball’s first commissioner, the flinty, colorful, and often arbitrary Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis took control of the game when its integrity was in question. When he died nearly a quarter of a century later, baseball’s name had long since been restored.

Landis was the son of Dr. Abraham Landis, who had lost the use of his leg in the Civil War battle of Kennesaw Mountain in northwest Georgia. At his son’s birth on November 20, 1866, Dr. Landis suggested they call him “Kenesaw Mountain.” The name and the misspelling stuck.

His early career gave little indication of the heights Landis would later reach. A high-school dropout, his first ambition was to be a brakeman on the Vandalia and Southern Railroad, but the company’s officials rejected his application. The diminutive Landis won some fame as a bicycle racer at various Indiana fairgrounds and operated a roller-skating rink before moving to journalism. While covering court cases for Indiana’s Logansport Journal, he decided to become a lawyer and enrolled in the YMCA Law School of Cincinnati. In 1891 Landis obtained his degree from Chicago’s Union Law School.

Two of his brothers, Charles and Frederick, were Indiana congressmen. In part through their auspices, while still in his 20s Landis sat in on cabinet meetings representing the State Department. Appointed to the federal judiciary by Theodore Roosevelt, Landis quickly earned a reputation for quirky and newsworthy justice.

He fined Standard Oil $29,240,000, a record penalty at that time. He jailed Industrial Workers of the World members and Socialist Congressman Victor Berger for antiwar activities during World War I. Those cases and others placed him squarely in the public eye, even though his decisions were often overturned.

In one fiery wartime speech Landis demanded that Kaiser Wilhelm II, his six sons, and 5,000 German militarists be “lined up against a wall and shot down in justice to the world and to Germany.” Many thought him a mere grandstander. “His career typifies the heights to which dramatic talent may carry a man in America if only he has the foresight not to go on the stage,” said Heywood Broun.

But Organized Baseball had a high opinion of Landis. During the Federal League war he had done the baseball establishment a great service. The existing major leagues had faced a stiff challenge from the Federal League, both on the field and in the courts, as the upstart circuit sought to overturn baseball’s reserve clause. Landis heard the case within a month, and the owners of the established leagues held their breath.

But then Landis firmly sat on the case. Months passed and he issued no decision. It was obvious he didn’t want to issue one, because he knew what a flimsy legal structure baseball was built upon. “Both sides must understand that any blows at this thing called baseball would be regarded by this court as a blow to a national institution,” Landis had warned from the bench.

Finally, the Federal League threw in the towel, getting the best deal they could from Organized Baseball. Landis’ inaction had been the key. “Many persons felt that Landis had saved baseball in 1915,” wrote J.G. Taylor Spink of The Sporting News. “Had he ruled Organized Baseball to be a gigantic trust, the Federal League contention, he could have thrown the whole game into chaos. There would have been no sanctity of baseball territory. Had he decided against the legality of the reserve and 10-day clauses, the effect would have been free agencies for all the great players of the time.”

Landis had saved the owners’ hides and they knew it. When the 1919 World Series fix became public knowledge in September 1920, they needed someone to restore confidence in the badly shaken institution. Game fixing and gambling had been pervasiv ein the game since the 1860s, with only an occasional scandal becoming public record (such as the 1877 “Louisville Crooks” swindle that nearly tore apart the National League, or Hal Chase’s all-too-open collusion with gamblers in the 1910s). Landis was an obvious choice. He demanded absolute power and got it.

Will Rogers once remarked, “The game needed a touch of class and distinction, and somebody said, ‘Get that old guy who sits behind first base all the time. He’s out here every day anyway.’ So they offered him a season pass and he grabbed it.”

In the summer of 1921 the accused “Black Sox” were acquitted under highly questionable circumstances. Long used to having his decisions overturned by higher courts, Landis, as commissioner of baseball, returned the favor and reversed the jury’s decision. “Regardless of the outcome of juries,” he said, “no player that throws a ball game, no player that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever again play professional baseball.”

Old and new scandals continued to plague baseball for the first few years of Landis’ tenure. Youthful Giants outfielder Jimmy O’Connell and Giants coach Cozy Dolan were banned from the game following a failed bribe attempt. Frankie Frisch, Ross Youngs, and George Kelly were implicated but cleared by Landis. Phil Douglas was also banned after offering to throw a game. Outfielder Benny Kauff was blacklisted for implication in an auto-theft ring; as in the Black Sox scandal, Landis ignored the verdict of a jury, this time with what many critics felt was far less justification.

Landis was a headstrong, autocratic czar. Current Biography termed him “the only successful dictator in United States history.” But Organized Baseball already had a dictator in American League president Ban Johnson. Johnson was by no means ready to relinquish the hold he had on the game. Throughout the early 1920s Landis consolidated power at the expense of his rival. The proud Johnson was left humiliated and stripped of real authority.

The last great scandal of Landis’ tenure involved the biggest names in baseball—Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. In 1926 pitcher Dutch Leonard accused the two stars of conspiring to fix the last game of the 1919 season. Leonard also accused Smokey Joe Wood of placing bets on the contest for Cobb and Speaker. Landis’ verdict exonerating the accused trio has come under heavy criticism from some historians.

Landis letter to Joe Jackson, 1923.

Landis letter to Joe Jackson, 1923.

Landis was a staunch opponent of Branch Rickey’s minor-league farm system and fought it tooth and nail. “It will be the ruination of the individual minor-league club owners,” he declared. He liberated numerous minor-league players during his term in office. In one 1938 case, the commissioner freed 91 Cardinals farmhands, including Pete Reiser and Skeeter Webb. In January 1940 he hit the Detroit system, freeing scores of players and costing the Tigers an estimated $500,000.

One of Landis’ most important personnel decisions came on December 10, 1936, when he awarded young Bob Feller’s contract to Cleveland. Another significant decision involved the freeing of Tommy Henrich from the Indians’ system in April 1937. Henrich was able to sign with the Yankees for a $25,000 bonus.

Landis’ assumption of control over all World Series decisions, his well-publicized disciplining and suspension of Babe Ruth after the 1921 Series, and his removal of Cardinals outfielder Joe Medwick from the field in the riotous seventh game of the 1934 World Series all created headlines.

World War II threatened to interrupt Major League Baseball, but Landis indirectly obtained President Franklin Roosevelt’s green light to continue the national pastime. His last major move was in 1943 when he banned Phillies owner William D. Cox from the game for gambling.

It was not until Landis died that Major League Baseball club owners finally integrated their teams. Many have contended that this was no coincidence. One oft-told tale contended that Landis scuttled Bill Veeck’s plan to buy and integrate the Phillies. Recent scholarship has largely debunked that story.

Just before Landis died on November 25, 1944, his contract was extended to January 1953, when he would have been 86 years old. Such was the hold of Judge Landis on baseball that, even as frail as he was, no one dared oppose him.

Shortly after he died, Landis was voted into the Hall of Fame. Despite his faults, he was passionately devoted to baseball and to preserving its integrity. “Baseball is something more than a game to an American boy,” he declared. “It is his training field for life work. Destroy his faith in its squareness and honesty and you have destroyed something more; you have planted suspicion of all things in his heart.”

10. GEORGE STEINBRENNER 

George M. Steinbrenner

George M. Steinbrenner

Since 1973 George Steinbrenner, the brash, bullying owner of the Yankees, has sided firmly with the long tradition of meddling management who can’t keep their hands off the baseball team. And, true to his character, he has meddled more than anyone else. Everything Steinbrenner does he does to excess. He is truly a Yankee Doodle Dandy, born on the Fourth of July in 1930.

Love him or hate him, his influence on the game has been pervasive and undeniable. The first owner to grasp not only the perils but also the opportunities of free agency, he restored the Yankees to their accustomed perch atop the baseball world after the dismal CBS years (in 1966 the Yankees finished tenth in a ten-team league; two years later thy sported a team batting average of .214). He spent millions more than other owners on free agents because he made more millions—not at the gate, necessarily, but through lucrative, smartly negotiated media alliances.

Steinbrenner put together a money-generating empire that begins and ends with the Yankees’ coveted logo. His tactics, however unnerving, have borne fruit. His Yanks of the late 1970s and early 1980s won five division titles in a six-year span. The juggernaut clubs of the late 1990s were not dissimilar from the other Yankees teams that dominated baseball throughout the 20th century.

During his incorrigible and irrepressible tenure in baseball, Steinbrenner has hired some of the savviest players around, and sooner or later humiliated them off the payroll (usually followed by an acerbic exchange in the papers). One of the first owners to take full advantage of the free-agent system, he built a team that won back-to-back world championships in 1977 and 1978. Then he threw good money after bad on unproductive, expensive free agents, and his team fell into chaos. The once-proud Yankees became known as the “Bronx Zoo.” The 1980s marked the first decade the Yankees hadn’t won a World Series since the 1910s, but the franchise rebounded in the 1990s, culminating in an American League-record 114 regular-season wins in 1998 season and a repeat World Series sweep in 1999.

Steinbrenner was the leader of 15 limited partners who bought the Yankees from CBS for $10 million, $3.2 million less than the network had paid nine years earlier. “I won’t be active in day-to-day club operations at all,” he said at the time. It wasn’t long before one partner commented, “Nothing is more limited than being a limited partner of George’s.”

When Don Baylor was asked why he said he would reject an offer by Steinbrenner to manage the Yanks, he replied, “I came into this game sane, and I want to leave it sane.” No Steinbrenner relationship was ever more typical than his mercurial connection with the scrappy Billy Martin, a man he hired five times and fired five times. It was Martin who said of Reggie Jackson and Steinbrenner, “They deserve each other. One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.”

In 1974, Steinbrenner pleaded guilty to charges of making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him for two years, then reinstated him after 15 months. In 1990, investigations by the commissioner’s office indicated that Steinbrenner had paid a small-time gambler $40,000 to “dig up dirt” on Dave Winfield so that Steinbrenner could back out of his contractual agreement to contribute to Winfield’s educational foundation. Commissioner Fay Vincent banned Steinbrenner from the game. Less than three years later, in one of his last acts as commissioner before he got fired, Vincent reinstated the man they called “The Boss.”

Back in baseball again in 1993, Steinbrenner lectured the press at spring training with predictions on the season and then made headlines during the regular schedule by threatening to move the Yankees to New Jersey unless the city built him a new stadium in a better part of town. The Yankees remained in the Bronx through the end of the decade, but he brought the Garden State a little closer to Yankee Stadium when he created the YankeeNets in 1999, a venture that broke apart in 2004 as the Nets were sold. The purchaser aimed to move the Nets to, of all places, Brooklyn, once the Yankees’ partner in the game’s most storied postseason rivalry.

 

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Yes, he's No. 1.

Yes, he’s No. 1.

This morning Graham Womack, at his fine site Baseball: Past and Present, posted “The 25 most important people in baseball history,” the product of a poll of 262 individuals. I applaud Graham for providing us with great fuel for the hot stove league (http://goo.gl/wIHmh9). An exercise of this sort offers us largely silly but thought-provoking fun: Greg Maddux, George Mitchell, Jerome Holtzman, and I tied for 96th place, each of us getting ten votes to Bill Doak’s one. Such injustices abound, but our outrage is better directed to the newspaper’s front page than to its sports section.

As MLB’s official historian, I declined to vote in Graham’s poll, as 262 estimable individuals did. I think democracy is overrated in such matters–more voters do not assure better results. I also thought it best not to champion anyone, just as I do not take positions on who should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. However, ten years ago Alan Schwarz and I wrote, in Total Baseball, a longish entry titled “Baseball’s 100 Most Important People.” Obviously we did not include many important figures of recent years, and we did rank high some individuals whom later research revealed to be of lesser consequence (I am thinking here especially of Alexander Cartwright). We also ranked some modern individuals lower in this 2004 article than we would today (Bud Selig and Bill James among them). If you will please keep in mind that our list and accompanying biographies are, like fat ties and wide lapels, a bit out of date, they are not, I venture to say, without interest.

Here goes. First the preamble, then the list, followed by biographies of the two who must top any fan’s list, in whatever order, then ten to twenty per day for the rest of this week. Further comparison with Graham’s list may be an irresistible exercise, but we leave that to you.

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Alan Schwarz and John Thorn

Picking the 100 Most Important People in baseball history is an inherently personal—and incendiary—enterprise. “Important” can mean so many things to so many people that 10,000 monkeys at 10,000 typewriters might have an easier time of it, though you can bet even they wouldn’t finish without a good argument over No. 72.

Importance, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. In the realm of baseball history, it can be found in the sheer skill of a player, in the number of home runs he hit and pennant races he influenced. It can lie in the game’s pioneers, the men whose decisions and actions determined how the sport would evolve in its embryonic stages, as well as the more modern executives and innovators who shaped the sport ever since. It can be seen in men like Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, who pried open rosters to new sources of talent but, more enduringly, an entire nation’s reluctant eyes. The candidates go on and on. Heck, to many people, the most important ballplayer ever might be the distant uncle who made the majors—or the hero from their first-ever big-league game, the afternoon when they fell in love with baseball forever.

Any list like this is better for the bouillabaisse. But in panning back and examining more than 150 years of baseball, from the day that Alexander Cartwright scribbled out the first rules to the Florida Marlins’ 2003 World Series championship, we had to set for ourselves some guidelines. They were:

  1. Importance derives from how much baseball, mainly from the fans’ perspective, would have evolved differently had that person not existed. Therefore, executives will often rank much higher than many legendary players. Walter O’Malley couldn’t hit Bob Feller to save his life, but he had more influence on the game.
  2. That influence indeed can come from many directions. While the players serve as the game’s pillars, they would topple without the buttresses of people who make the game possible and accessible. This Top 100 tips our cap to several announcers, one ballpark architect, and the mastermind behind the grandfather of the book you’re holding now, The Baseball Encyclopedia.
  3. Though they are increasingly forgotten by each subsequent generation, 19th- century figures had a tremendous role in shaping the game. There was more at stake in 1870 than 1970; an early nudge in one direction or the other, for good or ill, could have sent baseball on a drastically different course.
  4. The list attempts to sum up what we believe to be educated opinion, but nonetheless represents our own. We made the choices, while an army of other writers penned the biographies.

Now, a word about No. 1. It came down to two people—Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson—who ascended above everyone else for reasons about which you soon will read. But choosing between them for the top spot was an excruciating decision, extending beyond baseball to the United States at large. In fact, it was only after recognizing the breadth of the argument that we finally chose Ruth.

Jackie is No. 2.

Jackie is No. 2.

Babe Ruth, by virtue of his talent and charisma, carried baseball from the depths of the Black Sox scandal into modern eminence; who changed the mindset of the sport from speed to slugging; and who was, lest we forget, baseball’s best all-around talent ever. Jackie Robinson too holds a monumental place in the game’s history, a spectacular player who, by virtue of breaking baseball’s longstanding color barrier and carrying himself with unwavering mettle afterward, receives credit for helping spark the modern civil-rights movement. Robinson was undoubtedly baseball’s most admirable person. We see no shame in his being the second-most important ballplayer to baseball; he remains the most important ballplayer to the United States.

We are loath to allow all this talk of No. 1, No. 2 and all the way down to No. 100 to take away from the accomplishments of each and every person on the list—and the more than 18,000 others that didn’t make it, too. They all deserve their place in our memory, which is of course what fandom is all about.

Without further ado, here are our picks, followed by fairly full profiles of the top 20 and snapshots of the rest. For more information about these and 1900 other worthies, see their entries in the statistical and tabular sections of this volume, as well as The Baseball Biographical Encyclopedia. If you disagree with our selections, or the way they are ordered, we are confident you’ll let us know.

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Jackie Robinson
  3. Alexander Cartwright
  4. Marvin Miller
  5. Branch Rickey
  6. Roberto Clemente
  7. Henry Chadwick
  8. Jim Creighton
  9. Kenesaw Mountain Landis
  10. George Steinbrenner
  11. Joe DiMaggio
  12. Hank Aaron
  13. John McGraw
  14. Connie Mack
  15. Walter O’Malley
  16. John Montgomery Ward
  17. Cal Ripken
  18. Mickey Mantle
  19. Christy Mathewson
  20. Curt Flood
  21. Bud Selig
  22. Jim Bouton
  23. Candy Cummings
  24. Satchel Paige
  25. Willie Mays
  26. Nap Lajoie
  27. Barry Bonds
  28. Harry & George Wright
  29. Ty Cobb
  30. Ted Williams
  31. Walter Johnson
  32. Bruce Sutter
  33. Earl Weaver
  34. Joe Jackson
  35. Judge Bramham
  36. Ray Chapman
  37. Nolan Ryan
  38. Honus Wagner
  39. Alex Rodriguez
  40. Bill James
  41. Sandy Alderson
  42. Sol White
  43. Red Barber
  44. Pete Rose
  45. Larry MacPhail
  46. Rickey Henderson
  47. Greg Maddux
  48. Cy Young
  49. Peter Ueberroth
  50. Tony La Russa
  51. William Hulbert
  52. Ban Johnson
  53. Mark McGwire
  54. Sammy Sosa
  55. Albert Spalding
  56. Ichiro Suzuki
  57. Reggie Jackson
  58. Dan Okrent
  59. Rube Foster
  60. Luis Aparicio
  61. The Spink Family
  62. Ozzie Smith
  63. Jacob Ruppert
  64. Cap Anson
  65. Bill Veeck
  66. Dizzy Dean
  67. Joe Spear
  68. Frank Robinson
  69. Don Fehr
  70. George Weiss
  71. Sadaharu Oh
  72. Abner Doubleday
  73. Lou Gehrig
  74. John Dewan
  75. Bill Doak
  76. Casey Stengel
  77. Rube Waddell
  78. Hank Greenberg
  79. Miles Wolff
  80. King Kelly
  81. Livan Hernandez
  82. Hal Richman
  83. Peter Seitz
  84. Ken Griffey Jr.
  85. Bob Feller
  86. David Neft
  87. John Schuerholz
  88. Minnie Minoso
  89. Harry Caray
  90. Dick Young
  91. Scott Boras
  92. Frank Bancroft
  93. Arch Ward
  94. Martin Dihigo
  95. Roger Kahn
  96. Lefty O’Doul
  97. Ned Hanlon
  98. Whitey Herzog
  99. Carl Hubbell
  100. Mel Allen

1. BABE RUTH

Babe Ruth was not only the greatest baseball player who ever lived, but the most flamboyant. His gargantuan appe­tites and prodigious talents, ensconced in an oversized body with a face like that of a bloated Cupid, made him one of the most recognizable figures in American history. In the 1920s his name appeared in print more often than anyone’s except the president of the United States. In World War II, when American soldiers shouted “To hell with the Emperor!” at their Japanese counterparts, the Japanese hollered back, “To hell with Babe Ruth!”

He was unique.

He was unique.

Ruth revolutionized the game with his unprecedented slugging. At his death in 1948 he owned 56 major league batting records, plus 10 American League marks. His record of 60 home runs in a single season was not sur­passed until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961. Ruth’s lifetime tally of 714 home runs was not bested until 1974, when Henry Aaron hit No. 715 after nearly 3,000 more at bats than Ruth had needed to accomplish the feat. Ruth’s average of one home run for every 11.76 at bats was for long the best in major league history.

In addition to his remarkable batting feats, Ruth was the best left-handed pitcher of his era, and might have finished up as one of the best hurlers of all time had his hitting not necessitated his change to a position player. Pitching for the Boston Red Sox, he won more than 20 games in both 1917 and 1918; lifetime he was 94–46 for a winning percentage of .671. He led the AL with a 1.75 ERA in 1916; nine of his victories were shutouts, and opponents managed to bat only .201 against him. Over the five-year period from 1915 to 1919 Ruth had a 2.16 ERA. He threw 292/3 consecutive scoreless innings in World Series play, another of his records that lasted until 1961.

His legacy went beyond baseball statistics. Because Ruth was well paid by the end of his career, he helped increase salaries for all players. In 1914, as a rookie with Baltimore in the Eastern League, he earned $600, and by 1930 he was up to $80,000. When someone pointed out to Ruth that he was earning $5,000 more than President Herbert Hoover’s annual salary, the Babe supposedly replied, “So what? I had a better year than he did.”

The Babe Ruth who was merely one of baseball’s finest pitchers and the Babe Ruth who would soon become fabled as the game’s greatest slugger began to diverge from one another in 1918. That was the season that Ruth’s teammate Harry Hooper advised Red Sox manager Ed Barrow to move the Babe to the outfield full time. Bar­row’s compromise was to have Ruth pitch in 20 games, and play either the outfield or first base in 72 more. Ruth won 13 games, recorded a 2 22 ERA and tied for the AL’s home-run crown with 11. The experiment was ruled a success. Ruth moved to the outfield for 111 games in 1919 and made only 17 pitching appearances. That year he exploded for 29 home runs, setting a new major-league record. He also led the league in runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, and slugging average.

But the Red Sox finished sixth, and owner Harry Fra­zee, needing money to invest in a Broadway show, sold Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000 and a $300,000 loan, collateralized by Fenway Park. It’s been known ever since as the “Curse of the Bambino.” Boston, which had won the World Series with Ruth pitch­ing in 1918 (the franchise’s fifth title since 1903), would not claim another world championship for the rest of the century; the Yankees, who had never captured a pennant prior to Ruth’s arrival, would become the most successful franchise in baseball history.

In 1920 Ruth hit a mind-boggling 54 home runs, scored 158 runs, and drove in 137. He batted .376, and slugged an incredible .847, a single-season record until Barry Bonds topped it in 2001. The Polo Grounds, which the Yankees shared with the New York Giants, was much friendlier to left-handed long-ball hitters than Fenway Park, and Ruth fell in love with the place. In 1921 he ripped 59 homers, drove in 171 runs, and scored 177 times. The Yankees won the pennant for the first of three straight seasons. Still only 26 years old, Ruth hit his 137th career homer, surpassing Roger Connor’s previous lifetime record.

The Real Babe Ruth, by Dan Daniel

The Real Babe Ruth, by Dan Daniel

Ruth ushered in a new era of power in baseball, win­ning back the fans that had been soured by the Black Sox Scandal. But when the Babe tried to capitalize on his fame by organizing an all-star team for a postseason barnstorm­ing tour, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who wanted to establish the World Series as the definitive postseason event, suspended Ruth and teammate Bob Meusel for the first six weeks of the 1922 season. It would prove the first season since 1917 that Ruth did not lead the league in homers; it would happen only once more in the next nine years.

In 1923 Yankee Stadium opened, and sportswriter Fred Lieb dubbed it “The House that Ruth Built.” On Opening Day, before 74,200 fans, Ruth provided the Yankees’ margin of victory with a three-run homer. That season he led the league in runs, homers, RBIs, walks, slugging, and on-base percentage, just as he had in 1920 and 1921. More importantly, in 1923 the Yankees claimed their first world championship, beating the Giants in the Series after los­ing the two previous years.

After missing much of the 1925 season due to what was diagnosed as an “intestinal abscess” and a suspension for carousing, the Bambino bounced back in 1926. Ruth and Lou Gehrig set off on a seven-year tear the likes of which the sport had never seen. During that span the duo aver­aged 84 homers and 303 RBIs a year. In 1927, when Ruth slugged his record 60 home runs, Gehrig added 47; the big first baseman finished second to the Babe in home runs each season from 1927 to 1931.

The Yanks won pennants in 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1932. They swept the World Series in three of those seasons, with Ruth batting .400, .625, and .333 and slug­ging .800, 1.375, and .733. Game 3 of the 1932 World Series witnessed what has become the Babe’s most legendary home run. With the Yankees down, 4-3, in the fifth inning, Ruth came to bat against Cubs pitcher Charlie Root. When Ruth took strike one, he held up one finger to indicate he knew the count. He repeated the gesture on the second strike. With one strike to go, Ruth held up his bat to indicate he had a single strike left—or, depending upon one’s interpreta­tion, he pointed to center field to signal where he would send Root’s next offering. He then proceeded to slam the ball into the bleachers. The allegedly “called shot” has become an indelible part of baseball lore.

The Yankees did not sign Ruth for 1935. Instead, he was offered a contract with the Boston Braves as player, assistant manager and vice president. The last two were a sham: Boston was only trying to beef up attendance by having the overweight, aging legend around. But Ruth’s bat held one more round of fireworks on May 25, 1935, when he homered three times against the Pirates in Pitts­burgh. The third blast, over the right-field roof of Forbes Field, was his final major-league home run, and it was, typically, a monster shot.

Ruth was one of the five charter members inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936. He spent the final years of his life waiting for some club to offer him a managerial position; the closest he got was a coaching position with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938. When Ruth died of throat cancer in 1948, thousands paid their respects to the great slugger as his body lay in state at Yankee Stadium.

2. JACKIE ROBINSON

One of baseball’s most historic moments came in 1947 when Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson became the first African American player to compete in modern major-league baseball. Instead of fanfare, Robinson was greeted with unprecedented hostility, pressure and publicity, but he was buoyed by the knowledge that every one of his fellow African Americans was counting on him to succeed. The stakes were a lot higher than a pennant race or a batting title. “To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I’ve ever seen in sports,” said Brooklyn teammate Pee Wee Reese, whose gesture of acceptance turned the tide for Robinson the rookie.

Robinson had starred in baseball, football, track, and basketball at Pasadena Junior College and later at UCLA. Alongside Kenny Washington, he nearly took UCLA to the Rose Bowl. He was also All-America in basketball, and he broke a national record for the long jump previously set by his brother, Mack. When his athletic eligibility ended, Robinson left UCLA, got a job with the National Youth Administration, and played briefly with the Honolulu Bears football club.

After World War II broke out, Robinson was accepted at the Army’s Officers Candidate School and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. At Fort Riley, Kansas, he was not allowed to play on either the football or baseball team. When the football team was being formed, Robinson was ordered to go home on leave. When the baseball team held tryouts, he was told to audition for the non-white team, only to discover that the team didn’t exist. Later, after being sent to Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson was court-martialed for violating Jim Crow statutes. Although found innocent, in November 1944 he was given an honorable discharge.

No. 2, but as easily No. 1.

No. 2, but as easily No. 1.

In April 1945 Robinson signed a $450-a-month contract with the Negro American League’s Kansas City Monarchs. But he didn’t enjoy the barnstorming life and segregated facilities and didn’t fit in with his less-educated teammates. Unknown to Robinson, Brooklyn general manager Branch Rickey was hatching a scheme to integrate the major leagues.

The first step of Rickey’s master plan was the formation of the six-team United States Baseball League, an ostensibly new Negro League circuit that was to include a franchise called the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. This enabled Rickey to dispatch scouts to survey black talent without arousing suspicion.

In April 1945, before Robinson heard from Rickey, he was given a tryout by the Boston Red Sox, who ironically were to become the last major league club to integrate. Robinson and fellow Negro Leaguers Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams were each given a perfunctory trial and a quick brush-off.

On August 27, 1945, Rickey brought Robinson to the Dodgers’ offices at 215 Montague Street in Brooklyn. Robinson, who thought Rickey wanted him for the Brown Dodgers, was shocked to learn that the Brooklyn general manager wanted him to sign with the minor-league Montreal Royals. But before any deal could be completed, Rickey needed to evaluate Robinson’s ability to handle the pressure and abuse that, as a pioneer, he was certain to encounter.

To test Robinson, Rickey observed the ballplayer’s responses to a series of hypothetical scenarios, including one in which a white player hurls offensive racial epithets at Robinson and then punches him in the face. Rickey took a mock swing at Robinson, and hollered, “What do you do now, Jackie? What do you do now?” Robinson replied, “I get it, Mr. Rickey. I’ve got another cheek. I turn the other cheek.” That was the answer Rickey wanted to hear. On October 23 he announced that Robinson had signed a contract with Montreal. (Rickey had intended for others to join Robinson as Brooklyn farmhands but his plan went awry; see “Jackie Robinson’s Signing: The Real, Untold Story” by John Thorn and Jules Tygiel in this volume.)

Robinson’s first appearance in Organized Baseball took place at Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium on April 18, 1946. In front of a packed house, Robinson went 4-for-5 with a homer, four RBIs, four runs, and two stolen bases. In what was to become his trademark, he defiantly danced away from the base, unnerving Jersey City pitchers into committing two balks.

It was a good start, but the resistance that Rickey had feared soon followed. Syracuse fans taunted Robinson, there was a rumored protest by Baltimore players, and Robinson’s two black teammates that year washed out. By the end of the season the exhausted Robinson was a nervous wreck. He was also the International League’s batting champion at .349.

Robinson was clearly ready for the big leagues, but Rickey was still playing his cards close to his vest. He sent Robinson to Havana for Dodgers spring training in 1947, at the same time keeping him on the Montreal roster. Rickey was like a chess master, plotting every move and trying to anticipate every countermove.

One countermove he may not have anticipated was a revolt by some of the Dodgers. A number of players, including Dixie Walker, began circulating a petition to present to Rickey stating their opposition to playing with a black man. But Manager Leo Durocher woke the players up late one night for a team meeting and told them to take their petition and stuff it. Rickey arrived the next day and repeated the message. The mutiny was over before it started.

Rickey was not content, however, to have Robinson’s teammates merely accept him; he wanted them to want Robinson. In an effort to win the players over, he scheduled seven exhibition games between Montreal and Brooklyn, during which Robinson’s .625 batting performance opened a few eyes, to say the least. Still, Robinson’s spot in the Dodgers lineup was not announced until five days before Opening Day. Ironically, the news was overshadowed by Durocher’s year-long suspension for consorting with gamblers.

On April 15, 1947, before 26,623 Ebbets Field fans, the majority of whom were African Americans, Robinson played his first major-league game. The 28-year-old went hitless that day and struggled for the first weeks of the season. The behavior of several other National League teams didn’t help.

Jackie Robinson, 1952.

Jackie Robinson, 1952.

The Phillies, under manager Ben Chapman, were so hostile and vicious that they drove Eddie Stanky, a one-time opponent of Robinson, to defend his teammate publicly. In Cincinnati locals made death threats not only against Robinson but also against Reese, his teammate and supporter. A hush fell over the Cincinnati crowd as Reese walked over to Robinson and signaled his support by putting his arm around him. In May, St. Louis management and National League president Ford Frick quashed a threatened strike by Cardinals players.

In June Rickey brought up pitcher Dan Bankhead to room with Robinson. Meanwhile, Robinson had not only started hitting but also began to shake up the entire league with his brash baserunning, daring pitchers to pick him off. With Robinson leading the charge, the Dodgers won the pennant, and he captured both The Sporting News and the Baseball Writers Association Rookie of the Year honors. Even Walker, an early opponent of Robinson’s signing, admitted, “He is everything Branch Rickey said he was when he came up from Montreal.”

Robinson was the sparkplug of the great Dodgers teams of the era. He batted .300 or better six straight years and led the league in 1949 with a .342 average, winning the Most Valuable Player Award in the process.

Robinson had been an “old” rookie—28 in 1947—and for the last few years of his career he was bothered by knee trouble and had problems with Dodgers management. In late 1956 his playing days ended in a swirl of confusion and controversy. He sold a story to Look magazine for $50,000 in which he announced his intention to retire. He did not, however, officially inform the Dodgers, and in December they traded him to the New York Giants for journeyman pitcher Dick Littlefield and $30,000.

The Giants offered Robinson $60,000 to stay on, and he considered the offer. But when Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi claimed that the Look article had only been a ploy by Robinson to get a bigger contract, Robinson stubbornly decided to prove him wrong. He retired at age 37.

Out of baseball, Robinson busied himself with a variety of interests, including a position with a coffee company and the board chairmanship of Freedom National Bank. In 1962 he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Robinson grew increasingly ill with diabetes, suffered two heart attacks, and died from the second one at his Stamford, Connecticut, home in 1972. In 1987 the National League Rookie of the Year Award was renamed for him. In 1997, in an unprecedented move, Acting Commissioner Bud Selig ordered that his No. 42 be retired by every major-league team.

Round Robin Baseball

Phillies Phantom WS Program

Phillies’ Phantom WS Program

Here’s something new–at least I had never heard about it. Remember the National League pennant race of 1964? Phillies fans certainly do. On September 21, with 12 games left in their season, the Phils proceeded to lose 10 straight before finishing with two wins against the Cincinnati Reds who–had they won either–would have finished in a tie with the St. Louis Cardinals for the flag. The Cardinals defeated the Mets on the final day, however, to take the pennant by one game over both the Reds and Phils. Had the Mets won, the NL season would have ended in a three-way deadlock for first place.

Here are the final standings for the three contenders:

Team Name                        G    W    L    T   PCT    GB    RS   RA
St. Louis Cardinals            162   93   69    0  .574     -   715  652
Cincinnati Reds                163   92   70    1  .568   1.0   660  566
Philadelphia Phillies          162   92   70    0  .568   1.0   693  632

1964 world series

1964 WS program

Never in the history of the game had there been more than a two-way tie, and that only in 1908, 1946, 1951, 1959, and 1962. The first of these had been resolved with a one-game playoff. Truly, that was not a playoff at all but a makeup game to cure the tie that had resulted from the Fred Merkle incident of September 23. By the time the Cardinals and Dodgers tied for the 1946 pennant, the established procedure in the NL was to stage a best of three game playoff. This was repeated in 1951, 1959, and 1962. (The Dodgers won in 1959, lost the other times.) Meanwhile, the American League elected to resolve its tied races with a one-game playoff; the first of these occurred in 1948.

But coming into the last days of the 1964 race, what would have happened if the Cardinals lost to the Mets and three clubs tied? No one knew, including myself, so I went digging. From a Tim Horgan article in the Boston Traveler of September 29, 1964, I saw that the NL had prepared for a three-way tie to be played off in a spectacularly messy round-robin style.

As described by Dave Grote of the NL office, in Horgan’s words:

“N.L. Pres. Warren Giles will draw lots–which means flip a coin–to designate the three clubs involved as Team No. 1, Team No. 2, and Team No. 3. The schedule then runs:

“No. 1 vs. No. 2 at No. 1’s park.

“No. 2 vs. No. 3 at No. 2’s park.

“No. 3 vs. No. 1 at No. 3’s park.”

[…]

“‘It’s possible that one of the teams will be eliminated after the first round,’ Grote fervently hoped. Two losses and out you go, you see.

Warren C. Giles

Warren C. Giles

“If that happens, it’ll mean one of the surviving teams sports a 2-0 record, and the other is 1-1. So Giles flips another coin to decide which is Team No. 1 and No. 2. The next game is played in No. 1’s park. If the club that’s 2-0 wins, it’s the champion. But if the team that’s 1-1 prevails, the whole blooming mess moves to Team No. 2’s park for the grand finale.

“Complicated? Not at all, compared to what’ll occur if the three teams wind up  with 1-1 records after the first go-round.

“In this tragic event, Giles gives another flip of his now-famous wrist to determine which will hereinafter be known as Team No. 1, 2 and 3. Then No. 2 plays at No. 1 and the winner meets No. 3 at a site to be decided as soon as Giles can borrow another dime. The winner of this game finally earns the right to get skulled by the Yankees.”

“‘We devised the plan in 1956 when the Braves, Reds and Dodgers were neck-and-neck,’ Grote revealed. ‘Some very intelligent people haven’t been able to understand it yet, so don’t worry if you’re confused.'”

World Series Centennial Review: 1914

Hank Gowdy

Hank Gowdy

In today’s climate of parity, fans are familiar with worst-to-first (and reverse) scenarios, most recently with the Boston Red Sox, last in their division in 2012, champs in 2013 and last again this year. In 1991 both World Series opponents rocketed from the cellar in the previous season to penthouse the next. But baseball has never seen a steeper climb than that supplied by Boston’s Miracle Braves in 1914, culminating in a sweep of the powerhouse Philadelphia Athletics.

Return with me now to that distant time. The Boston National League club had been one of the dominant teams of baseball’s early years, winning eight flags before the turn of the century. But after coming in second in 1899, the club dropped out of pennant contention for 14 years, finishing as far back as 66.5 games (in 1906) and losing as many as 108 (in 1909).

The new American League entry, the Red Sox, became the great attraction in Beantown, winning the inaugural Fall Classic in 1903. In 1912 they defeated the New York Giants in an epic eight-game contest that culminated in an extra-inning finale in which Smoky Joe Wood topped Christy Mathewson. That Boston victory interrupted a great run by the Philadelphia A’s, world champions in 1910, 1911, and 1913 and—after sailing to the AL flag past second-place Boston—the overwhelming favorite to win it all again in 1914.

Adding spice to the 1914 story was the debut of a rival league, the Federals, who lasted only two seasons but threw a scare into the established circuits. And there was another notable debut in 1914—that of pitcher Babe Ruth with the Red Sox on July 11. He won the game even though he struck out in his first at bat and later was lifted for a pinch hitter. The minor-league Baltimore Orioles‚ suffering heavy losses from Federal League competition, had first offered Ruth to A’s manager/owner Connie Mack, who declined.

Dick Rudolph, manager George Stallings, Lefty Tyler, Bill James,  Boston NL, 1914.

Dick Rudolph, manager George Stallings, Lefty Tyler, Bill James, Boston NL, 1914.

Over in the National League, the Boston Braves had risen to fifth in 1913 under new manager George Stallings. But on July 4 of the following season the club was in last place, 15 games behind the Giants and five games out of seventh place. But then the Braves won 52 of their last 66 games to capture the pennant, stunningly, by 10.5 games. Still, the pundits were unimpressed. In September Ring Lardner wrote, in a “Braves A.B.C.” ditty (in full here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/09/30/the-braves-abc-by-ring-lardner/.)

Y is for You, you brave Boston brigade!

You’re made of the stuff of which champions are made!

If you win the title, you ought to feel great,

(Until the Athletics have trimmed you four straight.) 

Z is for Zowie! and Zowie’s the noise

That is made by the bats of the Connie Mack boys,

When the bats meet the ball, as they usually do,

(James, Rudolph, and Tyler, I’m sorry for you.)

Boston’s pitching heroes were Lefty Tyler, with 16 wins, and Bill James and Dick Rudolph, each with 26. At the bat and in the field the upstart Braves were led by their keystone combo of youngster Rabbit Maranville at shortstop and veteran Johnny Evers at second base. The defending champion A’s were led by their “$100,000 Infield” of, from first to third, Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank “Home Run” Baker, plus a pitching staff led by veterans Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, with a supporting cast that included Bob Shawkey, Herb Pennock, and Joe Bush.

Baseball in the Big Leagues, Evers 1910

Baseball in the Big Leagues, Evers 1910

The Series opened at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park with Bender (17-3 during the regular season) being rudely smacked around for six runs in his five-plus innings of work. Dick Rudolph cruised to a 7-1 victory while batterymate Hank Gowdy collected three hits plus a walk, on his way to a Series batting average of .545.

Game 2 was a 1-0 thriller, as Bill James and Eddie Plank matched goose eggs through eight innings. In the top of the ninth, A’s center fielder Amos Strunk lost Charlie Deal’s fly ball in the sun for a double. Deal then stole third and scored on a two-out single by Les Mann. James struggled to hold Boston’s lead in the ninth, allowing two walks around a strikeout of Wally Schang. With the tying run on second, Danny Murphy hit a shot up the middle that Maranville snagged, stepping on second and firing to first to end the game.

For Game 3 the clubs moved to Boston, not to Braves Field but to the larger Fenway Park, which the Red Sox had graciously offered. In another thriller, the A’s took a 4-2 lead into bottom of the tenth inning. But Gowdy opened the Braves’ half with a home run to center field. A sacrifice fly tied the score and sent the game on onto the twelfth, when Gowdy again played the hero, leading off with a double. Pitcher Joe Bush, after his 181st pitch (!), fielded a sacrifice bunt and threw it past the third baseman; Les Mann, running for Gowdy, scored. Lefty Tyler pitched the first ten frames for Boston and Bill James followed with two scoreless innings for his second win.

Philadelphia Athletics dugout prior to start of Game 1 of 1914 World Series at Shibe Park.

Philadelphia Athletics dugout prior to start of Game 1 of 1914 World Series at Shibe Park.

In Game 4 young Bob Shawkey took a turn for Philadelphia, matched against first-game winner Dick Rudolph. A fifth-inning single by Evers plated two and Boston closed out matters with a 3-1 win.

There had been a great upset in the World Series before—in 1906 the Hitless Wonder White Sox (team batting average: .230) had defeated the crosstown rival Cubs, winners of 116 games—and there would be again. But the hugely underdog Braves completed their mission with a sweep, the first in modern World Series history.

Rabbit Maranville, Eddie Collins, Globe-Democrat, August 15, 1915

Rabbit Maranville, Eddie Collins, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 15, 1915

The Braves never won another world championship for Boston, although their Milwaukee and Atlanta descendants won in, respectively, 1957 and 1995. The A’s—whether from humiliation or financial concerns—blew up their team despite four pennants in five years. Within weeks, Connie Mack released Bender and Plank as well as 1910 World Series pitching star Jack Coombs. Before the new year he sold Eddie Collins, his top player, to the White Sox. Baker and Barry did not return, either.

The A’s went from first to worst in 1915, with a record of 43-109. The Braves finished second in 1915, but their wonder years were over; they wouldn’t finish that high again for 33 years.

50 years ago: The World Series of 1964 matched two clubs headed in different directions. For the New York Yankees this was a last hurrah, culminating a run of 15 pennants in 18 years. But they lost to  their old rival, the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, two of them—including the ultimate contest—won by Bob Gibson. Jim Bouton also won two for the Yankees, including a game ended by a Mickey Mantle home run. Ken Boyer’s grand slam supplied all the Cards’ runs in a Game 4 victory. Tim McCarver’s three-run blast in the 12th ended Game 6. Gibson allowed two ninth-inning home runs in the finale but was permitted to stay in. When asked why he didn’t pull his starter, manager Johnny Keane replied, “I had a commitment to his heart.”

His commitment to the Cardinals, however, was not as strong: he submitted his resignation and, after the Yanks fired their manager, Yogi Berra, took his place at the helm.

25 years ago: Who won the 1989 World Series? Few remember that the Oakland A’s swept their cross-bay rivals the San Francisco Giants in four games … perhaps because it was conducted over a span of two full weeks. The intervening event that halted baseball for ten days just prior to Game 3 on October 17 was the Loma Prieta earthquake (magnitude 7.1), which caused 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries. Fortunately for the 62,000 with tickets to the game at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on that day, fewer than half had reached their seats by the time of the quake, reducing the load on the structure of the stadium. As to the World Series outcome, the A’s were led by pitchers Dave Stewart and Mike Moore, each with two wins, and the batting heroics of Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, and Carney Lansford.

This story will run in MLB’s World Series Media Guide, to be published in the coming days.

The Braves’ ABC, by Ring Lardner

You Know Me Al

You Know Me Al

Yesterday some Twitter pals and I were going around about all-time great baseball books, and inevitably Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al came up. (Miss Grundy, I hasten to note that the title bears no comma.) Friend Steven Goldman, MLB Editor for SBNation.com, asked for his pick, replied, “It’s not 100% a baseball book, but I spent a lot of time with the Library of America’s Ring Lardner compendium.” He had that right. The Black Sox Scandal would sour Lardner on baseball for life, though he would continue to write on the subject now and then, concluding in 1933 with Lose with a Smile.

“I got a letter the other day,” Lardner once said, “asking why I didn’t write about baseball no more, as I used to write about nothing else, you might say. Well, friends, I may as well admit that I have kind of lost interest in the old game. A couple of years ago a ballplayer named Babe Ruth, that was a pitcher by birth, was made into an outfielder on account of how he could bust them, and the masterminds that control baseball says to themselves that, If it is home runs that the public wants to see, why, leave us give them home runs!”

But today, with a tip of the hat to a new SABR publication titled The Miracle Braves: Boston’s Original Worst-toFirst World Series Champions, I am thinking about the impending centennial of baseball’s greatest upset. To buy the book, or–better yet–join SABR and get this and many other books free, see: http://sabr.org/latest/sabr-digital-library-miracle-braves-1914.

1914 Boston Braves NL Champions Felt Pennant

1914 Boston Braves NL Champions Felt Pennant

The Braves’ A. B. C. 

Ring W. Lardner
Chicago Daily Tribune, September 4 and 5, 1914

A is for August, a month that is hot.
And some people like it, while others do not.
The Braves seemed to like it in spite of its heat,
For during its progress they couldn’t get beat.

B is for Brown, and he catches the pill
When Gowdy and Whaling are both of them ill.
They say he’s descended from old Mr. Brown
And was born on a farm or perhaps in some town.

1914 Boston Braves warmup jacket

1914 Boston Braves warmup jacket

C is for Catcher and also for Crutcher;
The former’s not much and the latter’s not mucher.
It’s for Collins, Cottrell and for Cocreham, too,
Whom I never heard of and neither did you.

D is for Dugey and Deal and Devore,
And also one other — a total of four;
The other is Davis, whom I never say,
But he once went to school with my brother-in-law.

E is for Evers, whom we’ve not forgotten.
He used to play ball for the Cubs, but was rotten.
He was canned from the beautiful job that’s now Hank’s,
And ever since then he’s been murmuring “Thanks.”

F is for Fred — Freddie Mitchell’s his name.
He seldom infrequently gets in the game.
He once was a catcher, but now he is through;
He merely tells others what they ought to do.

G is for Gilbert, and also for Gowdy.
The latter I know well enough to say “Howdy.”
The dope on young Gilbert is not to be had,
But possibly old Billy Gilbert’s his dad.

Johnny Evers 1914

Johnny Evers 1914

H is for Hess; old, antique Otto Hess,
Who’s seventy-seven years old, more or less.
He pitches left handed and hits the ball well
And hopes the French army will finish in disgrace.

I is for me, who am writing this thing,
I followed the Braves down to Georgia one spring.
But those whom I followed have all got the can,
With one lone exception — George Tyler’s the man.

J is for James, whom his teammates call Bill,
He pitches and puts lots of stuff on the pill.
A lucky young pitcher is William Bill James,
For he pitches but one out of every three games.

K is for Kick, which is part of the pastime
And often prevents its completion in fast time.
It’s also for Kale, which the Braves will all get
If they win this here race, which is not over yet.

L is for Lose, which I’m now telling you
Is something the Braves have forgot how to do.
It’s also for Last, which is where they were at
Before they went crazy as any old hat.

M is for Mann and Moran and Maranville,
Not one of whom comes from Decatur or Danville.
And neither Moran nor Maranville now can
When size is considered, be classed as a man.

N is for Nickerson, Brave secretary.
He once was a capable, clever, and very
Efficient and breezy baseball writing cuss,
And look at him now! There is still hope for us.

Rabbit Maranville, 1914

Rabbit Maranville, 1914

O is for Ouch! Which is frequently spoken
By persons whose knee-caps and knuckles are broken
By Boston men’s wallops, both liners and grounders,
In the game of baseball, which is glorified rounders.

P is for Pitcher Perdue, known as Hub,
Who was recently swapped to the St. Louis club,
And if the Braves cop, I do hope they’ll be fair
And cut in poor Hub for a full (loser’s) share.

Q is for Quinn, now a Federal hurler,
And quite a consid’rable sort of a twirler.
A job as a Boston Brave pitcher was his,
So he’s pulling for Boston to win (Yes he is!).

R is for Rudolph, once canned by the Giants,
And now he’s one-third of the triple alliance,
Consisting of Tyler, himself, and Bill James,
Whose purpose in life is to pitcher all the games.

S is for Strand, Smith, and Schmidt and I guess
That Stallings’ last name is begun with an S.
He’s boss of the Braves, and as such he’s a star,
For look what he’s got! And then see where they are!

T is for Tyler, left handed but sane.
He works like a horse, but he doesn’t complain.
He’s awfully chesty, so I have heard tell,
Because he’s a friend of R. W. L.

George Stallings

George Stallings

U is for Unies, and I will admit
That the Braves’ Uniforms don’t look pretty nor fit,
But as long as they’re winning their games, I suppose
We would love ‘em if they didn’t wear any clo’es.

V is for Verses, things written in rhyme,
I write clever verses when I have the time.
This verse I’m now writing might be very clever,
But I can’t be working on one verse forever.

W stands for both Whitted and Whaling.
The latter’s first catcher when Gowdy is ailing.
And when Mr. Stallings wants some one to hit it,
He sometimes most gen’rallly leaves it to Whitted.

X will now stand for X-cuse me, which I
Am anxious to say to young Connolly. Why?
Because I forgot him when I was at C,
And I don’t want him to be angry with me.

Y is for You, you brave Boston brigade!
You’re made of the stuff of which champions are made!
If you win the title, you ought to feel great,
(Until the Athletics have trimmed you four straight.)

Z is for Zowie! and Zowie’s the noise
That is made by the bats of the Connie Mack boys,
When the bats meet the ball, as they usually do,
(James, Rudolph, and Tyler, I’m sorry for you.)

[Zowie, as it turned out was the noise made by Stallings’ boys, who swept the mighty A’s in four games to win the lone world championship of the Boston Braves in the modern World Series. The next time the Braves won they would be in Milwaukee, in 1957, and then not again until they played in Atlanta (1995).

Ten Things I Think I Think on September 29

Not Such a Long Shot?

Not Such a Long Shot?

First, it’s not me thinking anything today except Wow … a great, memorable season of baseball. The ten things in today’s post are thought by Elliott Kalb, Senior Editorial Director of MLB Network, and the MLB Network Research Department. I received this research packet just moments ago, as I and a limited number of privileged recipients have done each morning throughout the season. These routinely brilliant packets are designed to be particularly useful to those of us thinking about the day ahead, making us appear especially brilliant. Today’s inbox delight is different–the 2014 regular season has passed into history, my turf. It is my privilege to share with a wider readership the sort of pleasure I get every day. Here’s Elliott:

1. Raise the Jolly Roger! Prior to the start of the 2014 season, two young dreamers (Ethan Kleinberg and Elliott Kalb) pooled all of their disposable income and put their last $20 on the Pirates to win the 2014 World Series!

2. The season where everyone is the same.

No team won 100 games

…The only teams to win more than 90 games play either in Southern California (where special effects are instrumental in movie making) or the Nation’s Beltway (where special effects are instrumental in political maneuvering).

….Both Northern California teams (the Giants and Athletics) won exactly 88 games. The Giants spent 91 days in first place this summer (the last being on July 26). The Athletics spent 131 days in first place this summer (the last being on August 25).

3. Stat that may be of interest only to me… The Athletics went 11-21 since August 26. The other four teams that play in the state of California (the Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and Angels) went 77-48 in that span. The Padres went 17-15 in their final 32 games.

4. You can’t kill off the stats and values in baseball that people hold dear to them. Over the weekend, Derek Jeter (whose greatness cannot be quantified by advanced metrics) was feted by the media and fans and opponents alike. On Sunday, the Houston Astros (the Astros!) did everything possible to ensure their second baseman, Jose Altuve, could win a batting title! Also on Sunday, one of the biggest stories of the day concerned a Jordan Zimmermann no-hitter.

Wait a minute! Haven’t Brian Kenny and his believers been telling us that that batting titles, no-hitters, and intangibles that Jeter possesses are worthless?

Altuve also personally made sure his title wouldn’t be tainted by insisting he wanted to play instead of sitting on his average, with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow finally agreeing and reinserting him in the lineup 30 minutes before the game, shortly after an outcry on social media. “This is way better than just sitting on the bench and waiting for something,” said Altuve, who finished with the most hits by a second baseman since 1936.

Altuve said before the game that there was no conversation about the matter, and that a combination of interim manager Tom Lawless, Luhnow and others told him in a morning meeting he would not play.

Hey, Jeff Luhnow, and your team of statistical analysts in the Front Office: if you had any Brian Kenny-like convictions, you would disallow any mention of Altuve’s batting title in your 2015 Astros Media Guide. You would concentrate on Altuve’s .377 OBP.

Oh by the way, Altuve finished 13th in OBP. He walked just 36 times all year.  But I guess, the Astros front office is now touting batting average!

And I love no-hitters, but Zimmermann threw one on the final day of the season against a team with their bags packed and the car engines running. The time of the game was 2:01.  Congrats and job well done to home plate umpire Alan Porter, who sped things along in this one: there was one walk in the entire game.

5. It’s not hard to argue, however, that Victor Martinez had a much better year than Jose Altuve. Victor Martinez led the American League in OBP (.409).  He walked 70 times and struck out just 42 times.

Victor Martinez: 317 total bases, 262 times on base

Jose Altuve: 299 total bases, 266 times on base

6. Dee Gordon had an amazing season, but his “hidden bases” will cost him in the eyes of fans and MVP voters.

Dee Gordon led the majors in infield hits (31).

Dee Gordon led the majors in stolen bases (64).

Dee Gordon led the majors in triples (12).

That tells me this guy took a ton of extra bases (that no one else would get) at first base (on the infield hits). He took a ton of extra bases at second base (steals) that no one else took.  He took a lot of extra bases at third base (triples).

And is it any wonder that a player hitting behind him in the lineup led the majors in RBIs (Adrian Gonzalez)? Gonzalez drove in Gordon 24 times.

7. If you like the Oakland Athletics, do I have a football team for you to root for!

Oakland Athletics:

  • Made the postseason in 2012, lost in Division Series
  • Made the postseason in 2013, lost in Division Series
  • Started 2014 with best record in MLB

Cincinnati Bengals:

  • Made the postseason in 2011, lost in first round
  • Made the postseason in 2012, lost in first round
  • Made the postseason in 2013, lost in first round
  • Started 2014 with best record (3-0) in NFL

Nothing that Josh Donaldson or Andy Dalton does matters in the regular season. Show me some postseason heroics, guys.

8. Are the Boston Red Sox really going to call in other Boston sports legends like Bobby Orr and Paul Pierce to honor Jeter? Paul Pierce, really? You can’t get Bill Russell on a plane, or Larry Bird? I’ll take Danny Ainge (who played some infield in the majors with the Blue Jays).  I’ll take a current Celtic point guard Rajon Rondo. But to take Pierce—now a Wizard, most recently a Nets player—in honoring the one-team, one-team only Jeter…makes no sense.

9. The MLB Network Research Department has seen a ton of major league baseball in 2014…probably more than the recommended daily requirement should allow. We asked them their favorite notes or stats or things that impressed them over the year.

Ken Gold: The Astros employed a major league leading 1,646 defensive shifts. It accounted for saving 54 base hits.

No team scored 800 runs this season. The last time that happened in a full season was 1992.  Compare it to 2000, when MLB teams AVERAGED 832 runs per team!!! 

Nate Purinton: Four of the top 16 pitcher seasons in terms of strikeout to walk ratios occurred in 2014. Whether it’s the result of the batters’ approach or a bigger strike zone (as Tom Verducci has argued), pitchers are posting absurd strikeout to walk rates. And now a list, populated by impressive names such as Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Greg Maddux, is topped by Phil Hughes!

Marc Adelberg: The league ERA was 3.74 in 2014, the lowest since 1989, and it’s only fitting that there were three 1-0 games–including a no-hitter–on the day’s final season.  2014 finished with 69 1-0 games. There was a 1-0 game once every 35 games this year, or once every three days.  That’s the highest rate since Gerry Ford was falling all over the White House. 

Matt Baker: There were 833 pitches thrown this season at 100+ mph – 470 were thrown by Aroldis Chapman and 363 by all other pitchers combined (the next closest was Kelvin Herrera who had 108 pitches 100+ mph). Over 73% of all fastballs thrown by Chapman this season were 100+ mph (470 of 643 fastballs). His average fastball velocity was, to no surprise, 100.3 mph this season. 

Keith Costas: For me it’s Adam Wainwright’s 12 scoreless starts, the most since mound was lowered in 1969, as it relates to his Cy Young candidacy. Obviously Kershaw is going to win the award, marking it the fourth season Wainwright will fall short in a Cy-Young-worthy season…

2009: finished third in an ultra-close race with Lincecum and Carpenter despite receiving the most first place votes

2010: became the first pitcher in over 20 years with 20-plus wins, 230-plus innings and a sub-2.50 ERA to NOT win the Cy Young Award, finishing second to unanimous winner Roy Halladay

2013: returned to form in his second season back from Tommy John Surgery to lead the Majors in innings, finishes second in Cy Young Voting to Kershaw

2014: does something that’s never been done since the mound was lowered (12 scoreless starts) and will have virtually no shot at winning his first Cy Young

The point is we tend to look to awards as one of the first indicators of how good a player’s peak was, and while Wainwright may well retire without a Cy Young on his mantle it’s clear he could have won it multiple times already if circumstances outside of his control had been altered ever so slightly. 

Matt Salvatore:  In a time when strikeouts are on the rise and home runs have decreased, one of my favorite notes from 2014 comes from Victor Martinez. Martinez finished the season with 32 HR and just 42 strikeouts. The last American League hitter  to hit at least 30 homers while striking out fewer times than Martinez did this season was Don Mattingly back in 1987 when he hit 30 HR and struck out just 38 times. (Barry Bonds in ’04 and Sheffield in ’92 from the NL also did this).

Matt Orso: Nelson Cruz led MLB in home runs this season (40). He’s the only player this season to reach the 40 HR mark.  That’s the first time since 1989 when just one player hit 40 home runs or more in a season. (Kevin Mitchell in 47 home runs for the 1989 Giants.) The last time someone led the major leagues with 40 home runs or fewer was Jesse Barfield (40 HR) in 1986. 

Chris Bonetti:  A little love for the Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles hit 25 more home runs than any other team in the majors this season (Rockies) and 34 more than the next closest American League team (Blue Jays).

… And Orioles Pitching:  Since the trade deadline, the Baltimore starting pitchers have posted the best ERA of any American League team to qualify for the Postseason (3.00 ERA).

As far as my favorite off-beat, irrelevant stat/note of the season… This came through from Mike Hughes of Elias back on April 17:

The Phillies defeated the Braves 1-0 today after losing to Atlanta 1-0 last night. It’s the first time ever that these two teams have played back to back 1-0 games against each other (regardless of who wins); the Braves-Phillies rivalry dates back to 1883.

Elliott Kalb: Well, Chris… Here’s my head-scratching note from the season. The Boston Red Sox finished tied for ninth in the majors with 282 doubles this season. They led the majors in doubles (363) last year. They led the majors in doubles (339) in 2012. And in 2011 (352). And in 2010 (358). Did they move the wall back or something?  

And speaking of doubles, I love that the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy broke the record for most doubles (46) as a catcher this season, surpassing Ivan Rodriguez. In my eyes, Lucroy’s accomplishment is totally authentic and meaningful. In a year where nobody hit 50 home runs or saved 50 games, Jonathan Lucroy led the majors with 53 doubles.

Dom Campana:  I’ve got two things that stood out to me this season:

1. Yasiel Puig’s amazing month of May:

Puig's Month of May

2. Puig’s 1.224 OPS in May was the best OPS any player had in a month in which they had at least 85 AB this season. His .776 OPS in all other months combined would have tied Luis Valbuena and Kole Calhoun for the 50th best mark among qualified hitters.

Marc Matcham: Kershaw’s 15 K, 0 BB no-hitter, mixed in with his 1.77 ERA, which gives him MLB’s ERA title for an unprecedented fourth straight season… As an Indians fan, it was great to witness breakout seasons from Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley… Cy Young and MVP worthy. From May 1 on, only Clayton Kershaw (1.78) and Felix Hernandez (2.08) had a better ERA than Kluber (2.13) and nobody had more strikeouts in that span than Kluber (234). But if I had to pick just one, I’d say it’s Jeter, and the way he finished his career at Yankee Stadium Thursday night. The walk-off, opposite field base hit was an instant classic. An amazing moment from a guy that represented everything that is great about the game.

10. For those too young to remember, this is the 20th anniversary of the 1994 postseason, which never took place. It’s hard to believe the bad feelings the nation had towards baseball then. It’s hard to believe we had a year without a World Series.

Fame & Fandom

Hilda Chester

Hilda Chester

A hall of fame for fans may well be a great notion, with attendant creative and commercial possibilities, for it reflects the thinking behind that institution on Cooperstown’s Main Street, the Baseball Hall of Fame. Dedicated in 1939, baseball’s shrine was not the nation’s first Hall of Fame, despite the nearly universal impression that it was: Its inspiration was the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, created on a New York University campus in 1901 to honor men and women who had achieved greatness in any of 16 categories. Yet in the media age ushered in by radio and the talkies, missionaries and explorers were no longer our idols. Athletes were, but they couldn’t enter the Hall of Fame unless they bought a ticket. While Hilda Chester’s cowbell, which assaulted tender ears and sensibilities at Ebbets Field, or Freddy Schuman’s frying pan, which has had a similar effect at Yankee Stadium in recent years, might make it into a Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit, neither Hilda nor Freddy would ever be inducted. They have been denied the 21st century’s inalienable right to immortality, just as athletes once were. If in the metastasizing spread of celebrity there are halls of fame for policemen (Miami Beach), businessmen (Chicago), and clowns (Delavan, Wisc.), why not a shrine for fans?

When baseball arose as a game for spectators as well as players in the late 1850s, originally the watchers were non-playing members of the opposing clubs, sometimes their lady companions, a motley passel of players from other clubs, and the inevitable gamblers and rowdies. As the game grew and professional leagues were formed, the civic attachment grew in intensity, to the point that by 1897, The New York Times stated that “local patriotism is at the bottom of the business which baseball has come to be.”

Lolly Hopkins

Lolly Hopkins

Baseball devotees came to be known as “cranks.” While this term may first have been applied to Charles J. Guiteau, in 1881 the crazed assassin of President Garfield, it immediately drifted over to those afflicted by baseball madness. Sometimes printed as “krank,” the word derives from the German for “sick” as well as the British dialect meaning of “cranky”: feeble-minded. By the dawn of the 20th century, “fan” – whether short for “fanatic” or synecdoche for the flapping tongues of self-proclaimed experts – continued in this vein, labeling grownups who were crazy about a children’s game as, well, nuts. (Devotees of statistics were “figure filberts.”)

Discounting the certifiably lunatic – Thomas J. Murphy, who in 1883 shot Providence outfielder Cliff Carroll; Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who shot Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus in 1949; Cleveland druggist Charley Lupica, who in ’49 perched atop a flagpole until the Indians repeated as pennant winners (they didn’t, and he came down) – some of the game’s most famous fans, the ones most likely to be inducted one day into the Baseball Fan Hall of Fame, have been the sweetly demented or obnoxiously loud, the relentless narcissist or the disquietingly perky wallflower. Lolly Hopkins of Boston used a megaphone to rally her charges in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s; Mary Ott of St. Louis in the ’40s didn’t need one. Neither, at the turn of the last century, did the leather-lunged Arthur “Hi-Hi” Dixwell of Boston or the booming Frank Wood of the Polo Grounds, immortalized in the Zane Grey story titled with his nickname, “Old Well-Well.” (See: http://goo.gl/yPlm4B.)

DeWolf Hopper

DeWolf Hopper

Actors Digby Bell and DeWolf Hopper (the latter famous for his 10,000 recitations of “Casey at the Bat”) and songwriter Harry Ruby ingratiated themselves with the players and even donned uniforms during pregame drills, but they were celebrities who became fans rather than fans who became celebrities. This is probably a useful distinction, enabling us to whiz by Mark Twain, Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Jerry Seinfeld, Donald Sutherland, and Bill Murray. Ben Affleck has been such an egregious and ubiquitous Sox-sniffer that in September 2005, when artist Daniel Edwards exhibited an ironic “death mask” of Ted Williams’s cryogenically frozen and severed head at the First Street Gallery in New York, he titled the assemblage “The Ben Affleck 2004 World Series Collection presents The Ted Williams Memorial Display.”

The most affecting fan tale of late has been that of “Doris from Rego Park” (a working-class neighborhood in Queens), whose cough-wracked voice on WFAN inspired a fan base of its own. Doris Bauer loved the Mets in part because she had little else to root for. She struggled with neurofibromatosis and “social autism,” according to her brother Harold. Doris would set her alarm every morning for 1:00 a.m. to call into the sports-radio show and offer balanced, expert views of her beloved if frustrating team. As her brother told The New York Times, she never drove a car, dated, or married, living instead with her Holocaust-survivor parents until she succumbed to cancer in 2003 at 58.

For a century and a half, many people for whom “real life” was riddled with terror have derived comfort and satisfaction from the order, regularity, justice, and balance of baseball. Fans like Doris from Rego Park, gentle souls who found a home in baseball and a way to live in the world, deserve recognition, honor, maybe even a Hall of Fame. Talk radio made a star of Doris; blogs and other self-published baseball writings have done the same for others.

Boston Red Sox royal rooters, 1912

Boston’s Royal Rooters, 1912 World Series

Fanship has changed in other ways, too, from how we root to – more dangerously for the genus fan and perhaps baseball and the larger culture – why we root, Red Sox Nation notwithstanding. Fantasy baseball has fostered attachment to and investment in the performance of players who belong to no earthly franchise, only to a team of one’s own devise. Where fans once dreamed of being players, today they dream of being general managers or owners.

TOP TENS

The order below is faintheartedly alphabetical; rank ’em as ye will. 

FANS OF FAME

Steve Bartman: his reach for a foul ball exceeded his grasp; it might have been caught by the Cubs left fielder.

Doris Bauer: the raspy-voiced “Doris from Rego Park” came to have a fan base all her own as a caller to WFAN.

Hilda Chester: with her shrill voice and cow bell, Hilda was Noise Incarnate; her favorite phrase was “Eatcha heart out, ya bum.”

Lib Dooley: daughter of Jack Dooley, who himself saw thousands of Boston games, she was a fixture at Fenway from 1944 to 2000.

Wild Bill Hagy: a Baltimore area cab driver who contorted his body to spell out “O-R-I-O-L-E-S,” notably atop the dugout in the1979 World Series

Barry Halper: he began collecting memorabilia as a boy in Newark in the 1940s, eventually amassing a collection nearly the equal of Cooperstown’s.

Nuf Ced McGreevey: a no-nonsense saloonkeeper whose love of the Red Sox is captured in a priceless collection at the Boston Public Library.

Dr. James Penniman: he tried to convince Connie Mack to adopt designated hitters for pitcher and catcher, and a game of four outs and seven innings..

Sam Siannis: the man behind the “Billy Goat Curse” bedeviling the Cubs, originating when he and his pet goat were barred from their box seats in the 1945 World Series.

Frank B. Wood: “Well, Well, Well,” he would boom whenever something went amiss at the Polo Grounds around 1900; became the protagonist of a Zane Grey story.

FIVE NEAR MISSES: Seymour R. Church, Arthur “Hi-Hi”Dixwell, Charles “Victory” Faust, Lolly Hopkins, Ernest Thayer

THE FAMED WHO WERE FANS

Louis Armstrong: Satchmo loved the game so much that he sponsored his own ball team, “Armstrong’s Secret 9,” in New Orleans in 1931.

DeWolf Hopper: the first to recite “Casey at the Bat,” in August 1888, he went on to record it on wax and in a motion picture.

Marianne Moore: Dodgers fan and, oh yes, poet (“Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese”), she somehow became a Yankees fan in 1958.

Stephen King: a Red Sox fan before he was famous and after, he put Tom Gordon into one of his books and with Stewart O’Nan wrote a paean to the 2004 season

Bill Murray: owned a few minor-league baseball teams; as for SNL’s Chico Escuela, beisbol been very, very good for him.

Richard Nixon: many presidents liked the game, from Wilson to Eisenhower to Reagan, but none knew the game as he did.

Harry Ruby: most fanatic of show-biz fans, the songwriter was allowed to play in four official minor-league games with Hollywood and L.A.

John L. Sullivan: the Great John L. was a competent ball-tosser who did not embarrass himself pitching in benefit games with pro clubs.

Mark Twain: Rumored to be the financial backer of the 1887 Hartford team; wrote baseball scene into A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Walt Whitman: briefly covered the game for the Brooklyn Eagle, mentioned it in Leaves of Grass, and in 1888 declared, “Base ball is our game, the American game.”

FIVE NEAR MISSES: Kevin Costner, Bing Crosby, Billy Crystal, William Frawley, Penny Marshall

Cats kill pigs kin

Popular Magazine,  Nov 7 1924

Popular Magazine, Nov 7 1924

Although I wrote this ten autumns ago, for the Woodstock Times, the point holds: that September and October are challenging months for baseball, as America’s other major sports kick into gear. In Nerdville, however,where I live much of the time, clocks are stopped whenever one may wish. Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. (By the way, this article has not appeared in print or online in the ten years since its appearance in our region’s weekly paper, so it will be new to you.)

If in spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, then the first chill evening of August sends his blood racing to the happy prospect of … football. Last weekend, in the heat of Olympic competition, ESPN.com conducted a poll of its cognoscenti, asking “What are you most interested in at this time of year?” Of 122,426 respondents, 19.3 percent cited the Athens Games, while 30.8 percent voted for baseball’s pennant races, building up a head of steam for September, the avid fan’s favorite month. The remaining 49.7 percent went for football: 27.8 percent for the college version, of which not a game had yet been played, and 21.9 percent for NFL preseason, in which the stars make cameo appearances and the games don’t count.

Maybe these numbers ought not to astound. Certain sports stir the soul, or species signals, at certain seasons. Anticipation can be delicious, and after a long winter’s nap baseball fans will awake in mid-February, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in sunny climes, and they will be in full throat for opening day. But their numbers will not approach those of football, which has challenged baseball’s position as our nation’s pastime for forty years now and by nearly all measures has surpassed it.1937-38 O-Pee-Chee Wrapper

What accounts for a dormant sport creating more buzz than one in the heat of competition? Gambling, in the form of the hugely popular fantasy-football drafts, is part of the story. But baseball too has its season of fantasy machinations, as do basketball and hockey. While the start of hockey training camps and regular-season play inspire Canadians of all ages, it leaves those in the United States cold … or hot … anyway, the wrong temperature for welcoming the substantial joys of this great game. Nobody gets percolated about NBA basketball until after the New Year, and the early-season hype about college hoops is patently contrived or downright loony, from the weekly rankings to the painted faces.

Golf? Well, the plaid-pants set may be expected to get schmaltzy about Augusta, the only one of the four major tournaments that is played at the same course each year, but in America the Scotsman’s game knows no season, and there’s the rub. You can’t stir a reawakening of the spirit if you never sleep. Auto racing? Yes, there’s Daytona to kick off the new campaign, but this is a sport in which the human shares the spotlight with his ride (the same may be said of horseracing, but at least there is the wager). Tennis? We’ll get to that in a bit.

There’s no denying the pigskin’s grip but what is the source of its power, and what exactly does it stir within us … memory, sentiment, hormones? Although both baseball and football are stop-action games, conducive to forming enduring memories, baseball is the best game for this because the action is out in the open. Some of football’s best plays and players are obscured in huddled scrums. Additionally, we can remember playing baseball with some measure of proficiency from ages eight through twelve. Last, because baseball is the American game that has changed least over the centuries, it provides not only a tether to personal memory but also to that of a nation.

George Mikan was Clark Kent.

George Mikan was Clark Kent.

For sentiment, baseball has the edge over football because we can view the strain of effort, the joy of success, the agony of failure; baseball players have faces. Alone among sports, baseball is imbued with the notion of an Edenic past, when men were men and ballplayers were giants. No one today believes that George Mikan could compete with Shaq, or that Don Hutson was superior to Jerry Rice; yet Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, are the incomparables of old, much as in Homeric times, when Odysseus challenged the Phaeacians but acknowledged that he could not compete against the “men of old.”

But for schoolboy reruns and raging hormones, football is the champ. The psychosexual stage of development of baseball fans may be pegged earlier than that of football fans, especially the old boys, for whom the first hint of autumn recalls not helmeted exploits so much as a broader variety of conquests, imagined and real. (Here I issue a personal disclaimer: I have always loved football, but I also proudly admit to arrested development — I still care about all the things that obsessed me when I was twelve, from movies to comics and rock ’n’ roll to sports.)

The onset of football, shimmering in the heat rising from the asphalt of August, conveys none of the seasonal associations of baseball, rising with the spring, reaching full flower in the summer, and fading with the fall. Instead we have grafted onto football a powerful seasonal affiliation by connecting it not with the harvest but with the return to school and its strange autumnal rites (bonfires, perky cheerleaders in pleated skirts, pompoms, hated rivals, homecoming … fill in the rest). Yet this is an amazingly recent development, not even 150 years old. For thousands of years football was played in the spring, as all ancient ball games were, going back to the vernal mud of the Nile, 4400 years ago. The only exception would be funerary ball games, played to ease passage of the dead into the next life, such as the Egyptian game of seker-hamat (“batting the ball”).

People played ball games in the spring to promote and mimic fertility, in the relentless pursuit of protein and progeny. These games were often staged between two halves of a community, or wedded versus virgin, in the form of bloody combat with sticks and stones in fight for possession of an effigy of the king, whose actual death was required at the conclusion of the most primitive of such games. Other variants involved kicking the head of an enemy across the field so that symbolically his blood would assure good crops. This is how the ancient Persian game of polo started and it is the origin of pagan football, too, surely an even earlier game of ball because it required neither horse nor mallet. (Similarly, the oldest games that required a ball to be struck in the air employed only the hand; implements like bats and rackets came later.) As Christianity slowly registered its triumph over its ancient rival cults, a leather covered ball, a symbolic head, became a Shrove Tuesday object of contest as early as 470 AD, in Clermont, France.

Medieval Bat and Ball (Strutt 1802)

Medieval Bat and Ball (Strutt 1802)

Games of mock combat like primitive football (two sides, struggling over an object in the center that for victory had to be kicked or carried to a distant goal) continued to provide bunged shins and cracked heads for the participants, with the occasional fatality, but the trend in such games (lacrosse and shinny to name just two) was slowly but surely toward sublimation of homicidal instincts. Games of bat and ball developed in Europe in the second millennium were sublimated too, from male and female anatomy. In such games the ball is the talisman we lose and must recapture—like the female aspect it symbolizes, it is the ball that has the magic within it, not the bat.

In one of the earliest of airborne ball games, “cat and dog”—with the “dog” being the bat and the cat being the ball, or rather, proto-ball, because it was not round. This was a game for three players, two of whom wielded clubs called “dogs,” with which they defend a hole from the player who attempts to toss the “cat” into it. The “cat” was a six-inch piece of wood narrower at the ends than in the center–making it twirl in the air when struck. This whirligig-shaped piece of wood could be tossed to the bat by a playmate or, in such games as trap ball, catapulted up into the air from a spring-like device with a lever that could be depressed by the batter’s foot.

The games employing a cat ranged from Flanders Cat, or Kaat, which may have come to our neck of the woods via the Huguenots, to one ol’ cat, an English game that, in its three-hole version with a ball taking the place of the wooden cat, gave rise to baseball as we know it today sometime in the 1830s.

The Game of Tennis, New York Clipper, November 13, 1858.

The Game of Tennis, New York Clipper, November 13, 1858.

In fact, the distinction, if any, between Cat and Kaat began to interest me about a year ago, when I read on the web, at the splendidly named epodunk.com, that the name of the hamlet of Katsbaan “derives from Dutch for ‘tennis court.” (I told you we’d return to the subject of tennis, but this is not lawn tennis as it is played at Wimbledon or on the municipal courts; this is “real tennis,” the ancient game also called “royal tennis” or “court tennis.”) More poking around on the web revealed that in the Frisian lowlands the residents play to this day a tennis-like game with their hands rather than with rackets, which they call keatsen, a degeneration of the Dutch kaatsen.

A Large Dictionary of English and Dutch

A Large Dictionary of English and Dutch

In the cramped but rich archives of Kingston’s Senate House, I was introduced to a volume titled A Large Dictionary of English and Dutch (Groot Woordenboek der Engelsche en Nederduytsche Taalen). Devised by Englishman William Sewel, it was published in Amsterdam in 1754 by Jakob Ter Beek. In this marvelous guide to the low Dutch spoken by Henrik Hudson and his crew, I found that a kat was, perhaps not surprisingly, a cat, i.e., a small carnivorous mammal of the family Felidae, domesticated or not. A kaats, however, was not a cat at all but a term from tennis or its handball predecessor jeu de paume: it was the “chase,” a line or groove marking the second bound of a ball that a player has failed to return. The chase line forms the target for the player who wins the next point if his second bounce falls nearer to the base line than the chase already laid. Accordingly, kaatsen is defined in the 1754 dictionary as “to play at handball” while, reflecting the shifting usage, tennis, the Dutch word for to play at tennis, which had already come into being from the French tenez, was also defines as kaatsbal or kaatsen.

Stay with me now. When the Half Moon sailed in from the Hudson to a creek, or kil, either the Esopus, Rondout or Catskill, might not the winding groove of the stream have prompted the name Kaatskil for the creek and the mountains toward which it flowed? Tennis or handball have given us our name, not mountain lions or panthers, not Indian tribes who had no name for the mountain range but rather a name for each hill as they paddled along the streams. Not Jacob Cats (1577-1660), the prolific poet whose wisdom the Dutch exalted.

Kaats. Tennis. Cut to the chase.

Mark Twain on Baseball

Mark Twain in his Hartford years

Mark Twain in his Hartford years

I am thinking about Hartford now, and Mr. Clemens, because on Wednesday, September 17, I will be part of a panel at the Mark Twain House, “Base Ball in Mark Twain’s Time.” [http://goo.gl/YQGWQz] Yes, he made the famous speech at Delmonico’s in 1889 honoring the returning World Tourists (in which he called baseball “the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of all the drive and push and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century”). And baseball certainly figures in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: an armor-plated runner sliding into a base, the novelist wrote, “was like an iron-clad coming into port.” But Mark Twain’s only extended passage on the national pastime from the 1870s, when he attended games of the Hartford Base Ball Club in the National League, is this one. It originated as part of a larger work that was to be called A Later Extract from Methuselah’s Diary, set aside and unpublished until 1962. 

By way of explanation, the men in blue hose below were the author’s beloved Hartford Blue Stockings, while the men in carmine leggings were the Red Stockings of Boston. Note that the players of today are not like those of 300 years past, and that pitching dominates to excess. [Addition of paragraph breaks below is mine—jt]

Baseball in Armor Plate

Baseball in armor plate

Tenth Day–It taketh but short space to craze men of indifferent understanding with a new thing. Behold us now but two years gone that a certain ancient game, played with a ball, hath come up again, yet already are all mouths filled with the phrases that describe its parts and movement; insomuch, indeed, that the ears of the sober and such as would busy themselves with weightier matters are racked with the clack of the same till they do ache with anguish. If a man deceive his neighbor with a shrewd trick that doth advantage himself of his neighbor’s hurt, the vulgar say of the sufferer that he was Caught out on a Foul. If one accomplisheth a great and sudden triumph of any sort soever, ’tis said of him that he hath Made a Three-base Hit. If one fail utterly in an enterprise of pith and moment, you shall hear this said concerning him: [*]Hashbat-kakolath. Thus hath this vile deformity of speech entered with familiar insolence into the very warp and woof of the language, and made ugly that which before was shapely and beautiful.

[*] This not translatable into English; but it is about the equivalent to “Lo, he is whitewashed.”

To-day, by command of my father, was this game contested in the great court of his palace after the manner of the playing of it three centuries gone by. Nine men that had their calves clothed in red did strive against other nine that had blue hose upon their calves. Certain of those in blue stood at distances, one from another, stooping, each with his palms upon his knees, watching; these they called Basemen and Fielders—wherefore, God knoweth. It concerneth me not to know, neither to care. One with red legs stood wagging a club about his head, which from time to time he struck upon the ground, then wagged he it again.

Behind him bent one with blue legs that did spit much upon his hands, and was called a Catcher. Beside him bent one called Umpire, clothed in the common fashion of the time, who marked upon the ground with a stick, yet accomplished nothing by it that I could make out. Saith this one, Low Ball. Whereat one with blue legs did deliver a ball with vicious force straight at him that bore the club, but failed to bring him down, through some blemish of his aim.

hartford_bb_1877

Hartford Base Ball Grounds, 1876

At once did all that are called Basemen and Fielders spit upon their hands and stoop and watch again. He that bore the club did suffer the ball to be flung at him divers times, but did always bend in his body or bend it out and so save himself, whilst the others spat upon their hands, he at the same instant endeavoring to destroy the Umpire with his bludgeon, yet not succeeding, through grievous awkwardness. But in the fulness of time was he more fortunate, and did lay the Umpire dead, which mightily pleased me, yet fell himself, he failing to avoid the ball, which this time cracked his skull, to my deep gratitude and satisfaction.

Conceiving this to be the end, I did crave my father’s leave to go, and got it, though all beside me did remain, to see the rest disabled. Yet I had seen a sufficiency, and shall visit this sport no more, forasmuch as the successful hits come too laggingly, wherefore the game doth lack excitement. Moreover was Jebel there, windy with scorn of these modern players, and boastful of certain mighty Nines he knew three hundred years gone by—dead, now, and rotten, praise God, who doeth all things well.

[SOURCE: Bernard DeVoto, Mark Twain: Letters from the Earth.  New York, Evanston and London: Harper & Row, 1962. pp. 70-71.]

Picture Portfolio No. 7: Lost Ballparks

Bob Mayer has written, “When I hear Sinatra’s ‘There Used To Be A Ballpark,’ which was his personal ode to Ebbets Field, I think of the Dodgers and Giants leaving town.  At the time I was dumbfounded and pretty much in denial; when people asked me how I felt about it, I was close to speechless. Even today, [all these] years later, I’m at a loss for words to explain how I feel.  The truth is … even this far removed from then, I have never been as passionate nor as caring about The Game as I once was.”

Thomas Wolfe wrote: “Is there anything that can evoke spring–the first fine days of April–better than the sound of the ball smacking into the pocket of the big mill, the sound of the bat as it hits the horsehide…? And is there anything that can tell more about an American summer than, say, the smell of the wooden bleachers in a small-town baseball park, that resinous, sultry, and exciting smell of old dry wood.”

W.P. Kinsella: “As I look around the empty park, almost Greek in its starkness, I feel an awesome inarticulate love for this very stadium and the game it represents. I am reminded of the story about the baseball fans of Milwaukee, and what they did on a warm fall afternoon, the day after it was announced that Milwaukee was to have a major-league team the next season. According to the story, 10,000 people went to County Stadium that afternoon and sat in the seats and smiled out at the empty playing field-sat in silence, in awe, in wonder, in anticipation, in joy–just knowing that soon the field would come alive with the chatter of infielders, bright as bird chirps.”

Humphrey Bogart: “A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz.”

Count me in with all these gents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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