Yesterday we gathered in Cooperstown to celebrate the annual Baseball Hall of Fame Induction, honoring Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza. This day was about the players, and their fans, and the game, and the glimpse of immortality that baseball provides. It is about celebrating the past and its continuing vitality in our lives, symbolized in the plaques for these men that will speak to future generations of the glory that was theirs. They will become fixtures in the Hall of Fame Gallery, a magnet for fans, but a small part of the museum and library complex that links baseball’s present day with past times.
In an age of sabermetrics, analytics, and microscopic recording well beyond the simple statistics of a century ago, it is instructive to harken back to a time when Outs and Runs were the only categories tracked. Today we know that many things go into the manufacture or saving of outs and runs but, in the end, victory and defeat boil down to these same primitive measures.
The trade card shown at the left is part of a six-card series contrasting “New Style” (1880s) and “Old Style” (1870s). Depicting “The Scorer,” it casts light on an old mystery that I referenced many moons ago in my book Treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I wrote:
We have heard the stories all our lives, and we share them warmly with our children. But we come to the Baseball Hall of Fame to see, to see the instruments of glory, the stuff of legend, the tangible remains of departed heroes and forgotten fields. This is a museum like no other because it is about baseball, that singular American institution by which we mark our days. Not simply historical relics, these artifacts spur us to recall to life an image dormant in our brains for decades. They connect us not only to our own childhood and to our parents, but also to a national, collective past, one whose presence we sense but whose details have been lost.
Time stops in the Museum in the same way it does at a baseball game. At the museum it attaches itself to those things that make us halt in our tracks and reflect upon their essence … and ours. Time doesn’t truly stop, of course; we do. We imagine that we bend time and somehow elude it through the pleasure of play and remembrance.
Which is where I come in, with a “memory” of King Kelly, whom I never saw play, as vivid as my recollection of Mickey Mantle, whom I did. There was a time, in 1980 or so, when during one of my frequent research trips to the National Baseball Library I held in my hand an object that had a story to tell, but I was not yet wise enough to hear it. Looking back, I believe this incident provided the germ of the idea for the Treasures book, and perhaps Baseball in the Garden of Eden too.
At that time, long before its 1993 enlargement, the library was cramped for space and pressed for cataloging services. Some large boxes were filled with unrelated items of mixed provenance and scant documentation. In one such box, packed loosely among some truly notable curios (I recall Cy Young’s rookie contract from 1890 and Christy Mathewson’s from 1899) was a thin wooden stick, with irregular hand-hewn notches along part of its perhaps ten-inch length. With the unquestioning confidence that only comes with ignorance, I snorted at finding this insignificant piece of kindling, in a plastic bag without any indication that it had been cataloged as a gift to the Museum. “I know you’ll take anything here,” I laughingly announced to some library staffers, “but I thought at least it had to have something to do with baseball!”
All of us were puzzled by the stick, and none of us had an answer as to how it had entered into the collections or why it was being retained. I thought no more about the stick for the next five years, until I was reading through Henry Chadwick’s scrapbooks, on deposit at the New York Public Library … and then the stick became The Stick, depicted as the “old style” of scoring in the trade card above. There, in Volume 20, which was dominated by cricket stories, I came upon the following innocuous note:
Previous to 1746, the score was kept by notches on a short lath: hence the term notches for runs. The notching-knife gradually gave way to the pen, and the thin stick to a sheet of foolscap.
The fool’s cap should have been placed on my head. I had dismissed as inconsequential what was surely a scorer’s stick from a very early game of baseball, an artifact perhaps earlier than Doubleday or Cartwright.
I offer this story to illustrate the difficulty of hearing the stories the artifacts have to tell, particularly the ancient ones. Large objects like statues and trophies and plaques may wag comparatively small tales, while small items like pins and ribbons and newsprint may speak volumes. Generally, the more removed the object is from the event that inspired or employed it, the less interesting it is to the historian and the less rich its associations with other events in baseball and the world. What is most fascinating and what moves us most deeply is seldom the stuff that was created in order to be treasured by future generations, although commemorative pieces (like the gifts for Lou Gehrig on his farewell day, July 4, 1939) can be beautiful and meaningful, too. But in my view, the best artifacts are the ones that were meant to be tossed aside yet improbably survived.
This essay appeared in Chasing Dreams: Baseball & Becoming American, the companion book to an exhibition of the same name that launched at the National Museum of American Jewish History in 2014. In the following year “Chasing Dreams” embarked on an extensive national tour; it is currently on view in two locations: a popup exhibition at The American Jewish Historical Society in New York City and a fuller representation, complete with artifacts, at The Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA. As chief consultant to the exhibition I am grateful to curator Josh Perelman and the staff of the museum for permission to publish this story, in some measure a personal one, on the web for the first time.
Fight or flight. That is how a Jew, like anyone else, deals with adversity in life or in that charmed realm that is our present subject, baseball. Contemplating prejudice, one may perceive a rich range of responses—modulated, grayed, complex–hardly binary, it would appear. A plausible, if unsustainable, third alternative may also exist: sitting on the fence in hope that the threat will pass. In real time, though, it all boils down to fight or flight.
Both are honorable choices. Neither victory nor defeat will confirm character; one does what seems possible in the moment. When a Jewish baseball player changed his name in 1905 it was a sensible response to a rabidly anti-Semitic fan base, especially in the rural minor leagues. So was, in later years, challenging a dugout heckler to a fistfight, declining to play on Yom Kippur, or most potently, letting results talk.
Ostracized over centuries, Europe’s Jews gravitated to the occupations permitted them. As immigrants to these shores they at first did the same. How could they know that in America, as in baseball, anything—yes, anything—was possible?
Like other minorities, Jews turned adversity on its head, making of it a fuel for performance and the glue of a faith and a people. As Jews ventured into mainstream culture, perhaps from a “disreputable” profession like theater or sports—in both of which they were “players,” i.e., not themselves—they might be forgiven if they forgot for a moment that they were Jewish. Until the very recent past, however, they could be certain that the world would remind them.
Chasing Dreams—the title of the exhibition that inspired this book—is in large measure a Jewish tale, but it is also the story of all the outsiders who struggled to claim a rightful share of the American Dream, only to find their grip slipping on a traditional, distinct identity. As an immigrant boy myself, born in a displaced persons camp in 1947 to Holocaust survivors, I wished for nothing more fervently than to be one of the gang. Still, I was unwilling to let go entirely of that feeling of being odd, singular, special. Baseball eased the transition, permitting me to be that contradiction in terms describing each member of an American minority: the same but different. As a game emphasizing individual accomplishment within the context of unified effort, baseball offered a model of how one might become part of the team … how an outsider might be an American. To the tempest-tost of Europe, like me, baseball seemed fair: effort would be rewarded no matter where you came from.
What goals were sought by Lipman Pike and Andy Cohen? Barney Pelty and Erskine Mayer? Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax? The very same ones pursued by Jackie Robinson and Minnie Minoso, Hank Aaron and Ichiro Suzuki, Roberto Clemente and Shin-Soo Choo. A level playing field, with respect on and off it.
Issues of inclusion and exclusion plagued baseball from the start: men vs. women (in England both had played baseball separately and together in the 18th century), then gentlemen vs. laborers, then native-born vs. immigrants, then amateurs vs. professionals. Later it became a way to discourage women, Jews, and Hispanics of light skin color, and ultimately a door was closed to African Americans after it had, tantalizingly, been left open in the 1870s.
English immigrant Henry Chadwick, the only writer inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown (all the other writers are in a separate category) wrote in 1876:
What Cricket is to an Englishman, Base-Ball has become to an American. . . . On the Cricket-field—and there only—the Peer and the Peasant meet on equal terms; the possession of courage, nerve, judgment, skill, endurance and activity alone giving the palm of superiority. In fact, a more democratic institution does not exist in Europe than this self-same Cricket; and as regards its popularity, the records of the thousands of Commoners, Divines and Lawyers, Legislators and Artisans, and Literateurs as well as Mechanics and Laborers, show how great a hold it has on the people. If this is the characteristic of Cricket in aristocratic and monarchical England, how much more will the same characteristics mark Base-Ball in democratic and republican America.
Chadwick’s vision of baseball as a model democratic institution would have to wait for the turn of the century to be fully articulated, and for Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey to be fully realized. But his belief that baseball could be more than a game—could become a model of and for American life—has proven true. As Robinson ringingly titled his 1964 book, Baseball Has Done It.
The outsider experience as it has played out on the ball field and in the stands has been a great experiment in equality, the goal of the continuing great experiment that is America itself. Like liberty, baseball lifts a lamp to the entire world. It is a meritocracy more nearly perfect than the nation whose pastime it is, and as such can be both inspiration and scold. “Second only to death as a leveler,” wrote Alan Sangree of baseball in 1907, forty years before Jackie Robinson set foot on a major league field.
After a brief era of good feeling in the 1870s and 1880s when African-Americans and a single Cuban-born American played alongside whites at the highest levels of baseball, people of color were explicitly barred. Irish immigrants had had a relatively easy progress through the baseball ranks, for while they regularly endured attacks on their faith and their allegiance, they at least could sidestep the American obsession with skin color.
So too with the Jews, who, while they participated in baseball to no great extent in the nineteenth century, were never barred or banned. Indeed, Jews began to play the game quite early on (Seaman Lichtenstein, with the New York Base Ball Club of 1845); act as umpire (David D. Hart, with the Knickerbocker Club one year later); lead the first professional league in home runs (Lipman Pike each year from 1871 through 1873); and own a major-league club (Aaron S. Stern of the Cincinnati Reds, beginning in 1883). And yet, by 1905 only ten Jews had played in any of the major leagues.
Unflattering explanations were offered. The Indianapolis News noted in a November 2, 1903 headline: “FEW HEBREWS, SPORT LOVING THOUGH THEY ARE, PLAY BASE BALL.”
“One thing that puzzles me,” says Barry McCormick [infielder with the Chicago Cubs], “is why Jews don’t play base ball. The only Jew in the game today, as near as I can recollect, is Kane, the pitcher, whose right name is Cohen. Back in the ’70s there was a crack Jewish player, Lipman Pike, and Ed. Stein, Anson’s pitcher, was a Hebrew, I believe. Somehow or other, the Jew does not play ball. He is athletic enough, and the great number of Jewish boxers shows that he is an adept at one kind of sport, at least. I see Jewish names in the foot ball elevens and Jewish boys making good in track teams. Jewish gentlemen of means back the ball clubs, and are good, game backers too. Yet the athletic Hebrew does not play ball. Why is it?”
In the month before McCormick’s remarks, the Pittsburgh Pirates, owned by Barney Dreyfuss, a Jew, had been defeated in the first World Series of the modern era. That Dreyfuss had been the driving force behind the institution of a championship series between the National League and its upstart rival, the American League, has been monumentally important and won for him a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Another Jewish owner of the same period, Andrew Freedman of the Giants, was infamous for his highhanded treatment of players, issuing fines that the other owners had to make good so as to avoid lawsuits against the National League. Indeed, Freedman was so roundly hated that his fellow owners responded only half-heartedly to an anti-Semitic remark hurled his way by Baltimore Orioles’ outfielder Ducky Holmes, who formerly played for Freedman in New York. (Before a July 25, 1898 game, Holmes, responding to razzing from his former teammates, shouted across the diamond, “Well, I’m ——- glad I don’t have to work for a sheeny no more.”) Freedman ordered his men off the field, forfeiting the game to Baltimore, despite his own players’ sympathy with Holmes (or antipathy toward Freedman). Holmes was suspended, Freedman was fined. When the suspension was rescinded but the fine was left to stand, intramural conflict followed, boiling over into a war that gave birth to a rival, and saved baseball from destroying itself.
So if they were not barred from the field or the front office—or the press box or the radio booth—what has been the Jews’ particular adversity in baseball, the special obstacle with which they had to contend? Hatred. Jews were distrusted or despised not merely because they were different but also because they seemed recalcitrant about giving up their identity. In The Century of September 1921, Herbert Adams Gibbons offered:
This clannishness would eventually break down were it not for the deliberate efforts of Jewish leaders who are determined that Israel shall remain an imperium in imperio. If the Jews persist in maintaining a distinct ethnic consciousness and an exclusive community life, anti-Semitism will thrive in America as it has thrived in Europe. The American nation, itself the result of fusion, will not tolerate without protest a foreign element in it.
New York Daily News sports editor Paul Gallico wrote a decade later regarding basketball, a game Jews then dominated, that it “appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background [because] the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind and flashy trickiness, artful dodging, and general smartaleckness.”
These Jews were crafty, and they were obdurate. No matter how they may have longed for inclusion, exclusion was what bound them together. They would not cease to be Jewish any more than African-Americans would cease to be themselves. And that is why Jews were hated, I believe, more than any alternative explanation residing in the thousands of academic studies on the subject of anti-Semitism.
As an overserious boy I had asked myself, in the 1950s, that if the slaughter in Europe could happen and be permitted to happen, what made them hate us so much? Must it not be in some measure our fault? It is in a Jew’s nature to look in the mirror when trouble comes, but this was introspection beyond all reason. Though I ceased to ponder this question long ago, when I gave up boyish musings, I have taken comfort recently in discovering—at a sports auction site, no less!—an offering of a letter in German from Albert Einstein to a Mr. Braunstein, who had extended help to a Jewish refugee. Einstein wrote:
Dear Mr. Braunstein, I feel I must thank you especially for the important help that you were willing to lend your namesake. The person is well worth it in every regard, as I have come to learn through reliable information. Judging by our enemies, we Jews must be a very remarkable little people. That is not usually so obvious! I send you my friendly greetings, Yours, A. Einstein.
Chosen. Distinct. Exclusive. Scheming. Flashy. Smart-alecky. At least others were worse. And with each insult or assault came affirmation that we were indeed a very remarkable little people.
So if we were so sure of ourselves, so cocky, why did five ballplayers named Cohen change their names before entering the major leagues? Blacks did not routinely change their names to avoid detection. As David Spaner wrote in Total Baseball:
In 1980, Dorothy Corey Pinzger, the widow of Edward Corey, who pitched for the White Sox in 1918, explained her husband’s decision. “The name was changed from Cohen to Corey due to the ethnic slurs….We have a clipping in the scrapbook which noted that in his appearance in one of the Midwest League games, Ed was loudly and continuously derided about his ethnic background from a few of the unintelligent fans. The clipping further noted that the greatest majority of the fans were ‘good sports,’ but just those few harassed him. The name was changed by this method: The H in COHEN was dropped and the R inserted; likewise the N was dropped, and the Y inserted, and the name became COREY.”
Sammy Bohne and Phil Cooney were also born as Cohen, as were Harry Kane and Reuben Ewing. Jesse Baker was born Michael Silverman. Henry Lifschutz became Henry Bostick. Joe Rosenblum became Joe Bennett. James Herman Soloman became Jimmie Reese. “There must have been at least half a hundred Jews in the game but we’ll never know their real names,” Ford Frick wrote in 1925. “During the early days of this century the Jewish boys had tough sledding in the majors and many of them changed their name.”
Around the time of Frick’s observation, something clickednd Jews began to be courted as box-office draws. Mose Hirsch Solomon—dubbed the Rabbi of Swat after hitting .421 with 49 homers for the Hutchinson Wheat Shockers of the Southwestern League—proved a short-term project for John McGraw’s Giants, washing out after only two games. Andy Cohen enjoyed more success playing The Great Jewish Hope in the late 1920s, lasting two seasons as the Giants’ regular second baseman. The Yankees, desperate to please their Jewish fans in the 1940s—their first Jewish player had been the one-gamer Phil Cooney—even persuaded Ed Whitner to use his stepfather’s name of Levy. “You may be Whitner to the rest of the world,” said general manager Ed Barrow, “but if you are going to play with the Yankees you’ll be Ed Levy, understand.”
Women had been courted as fans (even nonpaying ones) ever since the game’s dawn. Baseball management hoped that their presence would lend “tone” to the proceedings and keep a lid on the rowdies, in the stands and on the field. In fact, women played the game and were involved in management, beginning with St. Louis Cardinals owner Helene Britton. Jewish women, too, from a surprisingly early onset.
Women entered the playing arena at the Seven Sisters schools of the Northeast, at which Jews were less than welcome. In 1866, Annie Glidden, a student at Vassar College wrote home describing campus life: “They are getting up various clubs now for out-of-door exercise….They have a floral society, boat clubs and base-ball clubs. I belong to one of the latter, and enjoy it highly, I can assure you.” Ultimately, women’s baseball largely devolved from such high-toned clubs to novelty acts with a girlie-show air, generally in the form of scantily clad Blondes versus Brunettes, with exotic geographic locators applied to each.
Pulchritudinous Broadway stars like Helen Dauvray would be seen at the Polo Grounds simply to be seen, though they exhibited some interest in baseball and its handsome practitioners. Miss Dauvray went so far as to marry one of them, Giants’ shortstop John Ward. In 1887 she funded the first World Series trophy (the “Dauvray Cup”) and ornate gold pins for each member of the winning Detroit Wolverines. Born Ida Gibson, Miss Dauvray was half Jewish, her mother having been born Louisa De Young, brother of M.H. De Young, future editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Though nonobservant in her practice of the faith, she gave benefit performances in San Francisco for Congregation Shaari Zedeck on March 25, 1875, and Congregation B’nai Israel on July 15, 1875.
The first woman to play in Organized Baseball was not Jewish. On July 5, 1898, Lizzie (Stroud) Arlington, with the blessings of the president of the Atlantic League (a Class B minor league) Ed Barrow, later famous as the man who made pitcher Babe Ruth an everyday player, threw an inning for the Reading Coal Heavers against the Allentown Peanuts. She gave up two hits but no runs.
Women also played with professional traveling teams like the Boston Bloomer Girls (based in Kansas City, actually). Ida Schnall, a Jewish immigrant from Austria and famous swimmer, started up the New York Female Giants and her two squads, composed of Jewish and Gentile young women, played exhibition contests in 1913. Ida invariably pitched. In later years she would make an “aquacade” movie (Undine, 1916) that exploited her curves.
Women were never formally barred from playing in the big leagues (three women played in the Negro Leagues), any more than Jews were. The presumption may well have been that they wouldn’t be good enough, so why bother? Women still await their Lipman Pike, Hank Greenberg, and Sandy Koufax.
Fight or flight? Evading confrontation, eluding adversity—these were the tactics that made sense all the way up to World War II. There was a memorable fight in 1933 between second baseman Buddy Myer of the Washington Senators and the Yankees’ Ben Chapman, who, in 1947 as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies gained infamy for his taunting of Jackie Robinson. Chapman spiked Myer and then hurled a number of anti-Semitic epithets at him. Chapman and Myer’s fight spread to the dugouts and the stands. Myer’s father was Jewish and his mother Christian, and he never considered himself a Jew, but he never felt the need to correct press accounts of his Judaism and, anyway, he took offense at Chapman’s slurs. Only years after his retirement did Myer bother to state publicly that he had always felt he was German rather than Jewish.
Hank Greenberg fought in his own way. A formidable figure who could challenge an entire dugout, the Detroit Tigers’ slugger did his best work in overcoming adversity by letting his bat speak for him. Cleveland’s Al Rosen followed Greenberg’s path—though not averse to using his fists, he spoke loudest through his accomplishments. In 1953 he fell one thousandth of a point shy of winning the batting title that would have given him the American League Triple Crown.
Greenberg’s experience of dealing with prejudice intersected with Jackie Robinson’s struggles as a Brooklyn Dodger rookie on May 17, 1947. Robinson collided with Greenberg, finishing up his career as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first baseman, on a close play and heard the catcalls from the stands. When Robinson reached first base again later in the game, Greenberg reportedly complimented him on his stoic demeanor: “Stick in there. You’re doing fine. Keep your chin.”
I was a month old, not yet an American, when this now legendary moment occurred. But by 1952, only five years later, I had become strongly attached to Robinson—he was still a big-league star, with a dazzling baseball card. Greenberg meanwhile had moved off center stage though still, unbeknownst to me then, a major figure in the game. Jews tend to go with the underdog for obvious historical reasons, and Robinson seemed to me a real hero. He was hated for no good reason. Jews know something about that.
My parents and the Polish immigrants in their New York City social circle, unlike so many Holocaust survivors, told their grisly tales with an unnerving gusto: Max Linden, the jeweler, never tired of telling, over dinner, how he had lain overnight under a pile of corpses, waiting for the propitious moment to act upon the surprising intelligence that he, unlike everyone else who had been shot, was not dead. Thrilling as the story was to me as a very young boy, I soon could not bear to hear it, for all its undertones of dread, helplessness, and dumb luck.
This age of horrors and heroes, ended before I was born, shaped my parents so indelibly that it inevitably shaped me too, fostering fear, shame and, most damaging to a creative soul, a sense of overriding caution. Baseball became my real visa to America and to becoming (almost) one of the guys. Like the American West with its cowboys and Indians, baseball provided an institution with legends that could stand up to Nazis and Jews. And unlike America’s Western frontier, closed since 1890, in baseball heroism still seemed possible.
By my teen years Sandy Koufax had come into his own and, as Greenberg had done, made Jews proud to see one of their own proclaimed as the best. It is now hard to imagine, but when Koufax and the Dodgers left Brooklyn for California in 1958, the Holocaust was thirteen years past, not yet safely distant in the rearview mirror. Looking back now, nearly sixty years later, it may be hard for young Americans to grasp the resonance of a Jewish baseball hero at that time. No similar emotion attached to Ryan Braun when he won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award in 2011; let us hope that America’s Jews never have reason to need a new hero as they needed Koufax.
When the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rookie relief pitcher Larry Sherry became the hero of the 1959 World Series, winning two games and saving the team’s other two victories, I was keenly aware that he—like Koufax, who had lost a 1–0 thriller in Game 5—was Jewish. By the time of Koufax’s sudden retirement after the 1966 World Series, it seemed no longer important that he was a Jew; the principal storyline attaching to him was that he was a great athlete whose time in the sun had sadly been cut short.
This was Sandy’s success, and Jackie’s, and Hank’s. In the end the only question to be asked of those who followed was, “Can you play?”
And then came the murders at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. In case we had forgotten, we were Jews. Mike Epstein, the massive slugger of the Oakland A’s who had won the good-natured nickname “SuperJew”—in itself a sign of our people’s rising acceptance—donned an armband in remembrance of the slain Israeli athletes. So did Jewish teammate Ken Holtzman and outfield star Reggie Jackson, an African-American. When the A’s squared off against the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series a month later, Jackie Robinson was honored for the twenty-fifth anniversary of his breaking the color barrier. Nine days later he died.
With Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson had forced America to confront the falsehood that baseball could truly be a national pastime while intentionally excluding anyone. Although the baseball playing population of African Americans in the major leagues has diminished from a high of, in some published estimates, 28 percent in the late 1960s—actually it peaked near 20 percent in 1975—to perhaps 8 percent today, more people of color play the game in the major leagues than have ever done so before. If you count all dark-skinned people—whatever their nation of origin—the number is over 40 percent today, and the upward trend is inexorable. America is a nation of nations, and its emblematic game is enriched by reflecting that truth.
Recent years have seemed a golden age for Jewish players in Major League Baseball, with sixteen in 2013 alone. Beyond Greenberg and Koufax, Steve Stone won a Cy Young Award and Ryan Braun became an MVP. On May 23, 2002, Shawn Green established a single-game record for the ages, with 19 total bases on four home runs, a double, and a single, scoring five times. Kevin Youkilis became a Moneyball hero. It is today routine, rather than remarkable, for Jews to be baseball players—stars and supernumeraries just like every nationality or creed.
Is that a triumph? Yes, but it is also a challenge. What are those things that make Jews special—chosen, even—if not their outsider status? What will drive us to prove our people’s individual excellence, by ourselves or through our heroes? As a people forged in adversity, America’s Jews will have to find something else to supply the tie that binds. As in the past, baseball will be a help.
My friend Richard Malatzky–SABR’s supersleuth in genealogical research–wrote to me the other day:
John, here is something you may want to share online. I know that you put in a great effort to identify obscure players for Total Baseball so here is a reversal of something Peter Morris, Bill Carle, and I did several years ago regarding Sterling of the infamous game of October 12, 1890.
Early in September 1890, the Athletics of Philadelphia of the American Association went bankrupt. Rather than following the path of minor league clubs and folding, they started letting go of their more well-known players and signed several local minor leaguers … plus some whom we still cannot identify.
I noticed on a research trip to the Hall of Fame Library in 1979 that the Heilbroner books which listed the addresses of all of the umpires had a John F. McBride living in Phillipsburg, NJ but it later turned out that he would have been around 10 years old in 1890 when he is thought to have played in his one game on October 12, 1890. I checked the other missing players from the box score on that game who were listed in the I.C.I. (Macmillan) Baseball Encycopedia of 1969: George Crawford, Sweigert, James (“General”) Stafford, and John Sterling.
Years later I discussed this topic with Morris and Carle and we decided to delete the first names of the four players for whom the Baseball Encyclopedia had supplied them..
There has been a long discussion over many years about the construction of the Baseball Encyclopedia from the earlier Official Encyclopedia of Baseball compiled by Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson (1951, with subsequent editions). Our theories have been verified by Dick Thompson, who worked with Tom Shea, who had more to do with the I.C.I./Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia than with that produced by Turkin & Thompson.
Tom Shea told Dick Thompson that Turkin & Thompson were disappointed that there were so many blanks in the book … so they put in incorrect names and biographical info from places like the Sporting News so that the book would seem less empty. Most of the work that SABR’s Biographical Research Committee has done recently has been correcting Turkin & Thompson.
Morris has been completing so many projects recently that we had worked on together, with great help from Newspapers.com, that I thought that if I put in the same effort I might find some missing players.
The most info that we had among these five was for Sterling. First of all, the Athletics played Sunday games in Gloucester City, NJ, from August 1888 forward. Sunday, October 12, 1890 was the last game of the season, against Syracuse. The starting pitcher for the A’s was a Camden pitcher wearing an unusual black uniform. The original listing (T&T and Baseball Encyclopedia) of John Sterling had been changed so we didn’t have any leads because of lack of access to Camden papers in 1890.
I searched the Times of Philadelphia for “Sterling P” in hopes that a boxscore would have a pitcher named Sterling. I found that Lancaster had a Sterling into midseason A look at the minor-league section of baseball-reference.com showed a John A. Sterling who was with Ashland, PA in 1888, Philadelphia in 1889, and Lancaster for 14 games in 1890. I also found an 1888 roster of Ashland with John A. Sterling. Another article in 1888 says that John Sterling had to go back to Philadelphia because he was sick.
I searched the Philadelphia CDs for John A. Sterling and found him listed in 1888, 1890, and 1899, all as a blacksmith. I searched in New Jersey and found one in 1891 in Camden, also a blacksmith. The listing had him residing with a Henrietta. I looked for Henrietta Sterling in the 1870 census and found his family there in Philadelphia: father Jesse, and John born 1865 in Pennsylvania.
So what do have here? Sterling was from Camden and John A Sterling was living in Camden at the correct time. He was married to Maggie A. and they had a son born in Pennsylvania in 1890 (from the 1910 census) and there was a stillborn child in Gloucester City in early 1891. The other children were born in NJ.
He died November 10, 1908 and Peter Morris found an obit in Billboard that says he died in Gloucester City, NJ, was a minstrel for years (thus explaining the Billboard notice of his death) and in his youth was a baseball pitcher with Minneapolis and Albany.
Has there ever been a more dramatic finish to an All-Star Game? The question is rhetorical; the answer is No. We’re talking about a Midsummer Classic of 75 seasons ago: July 8, 1941.
This year finds the media caravan in San Diego, where two previous All-Star Games have taken place—in 1978 and in 1992, though at Jack Murphy Stadium; this of course is the first such contest at Petco Park. But this city’s most profound connection to the All-Star Game dates to 1941, when the San Diego Padres were a team in the Pacific Coast League whose greatest local product, Ted Williams, was about to leave an indelible stamp on the season. Not only did Ted compile a batting average of .406—unequaled in all the years since—but he also, with one swing in the greatest All-Star Game ever played, turned defeat to victory with two outs in the final inning. This feat, too, has been unequaled since.
The game took place at Briggs Stadium and overnight became the stuff of legend. Here’s a bare-bones account.
The National Leaguers entered the last of the ninth with a 5-3 lead and hopes of nailing down their first back-to-back All-Star victories. The Nationals tied the score in the top of the sixth, but the Americans countered with a run later in the inning. Pittsburgh’s Arky Vaughan then made a bid to be the game’s hero, homering in the seventh off Sid Hudson with a man aboard to restore the NL lead, and homering again an inning later off Edgar Smith for two more runs.
A double and single by the DiMaggio brothers Joe and Dom brought the Americans a run closer in the eighth, but they still needed two to tie as they faced the Cubs’ Claude Passeau in the bottom of the ninth. Two one-out singles and a walk loaded the bases for Joe DiMaggio, with Ted Williams on deck. DiMaggio hit a certain double-play ball sharply to shortstop Eddie Miller, who threw to second baseman Billy Herman. However, Herman’s throw to first was wide, enabling DiMaggio to reach first and Ken Keltner to score from third. With two men now out and the Americans still down a run, Ted Williams homered on a letter-high fastball against the upper parapet in right for three more runs and a 7-5 AL win.
Williams, a stringbean kid who was about to become The Kid, abandoned all reserve and galloped around the bases like a colt, leaping as he turned first base, clapping his hands all the way home. On the radio, Red Barber made the call: “Passeau pitches. Williams swings. There’s a high fly going deep, deep … it is a home run. A home run against the tip top of the right field stands. A tremendous home run that brought in three runs and turned what looked to be a National League win into an American League 7-5 win. Two men were out, and what a wallop!”
Playing in his second All-Star Game—he was inexplicably excluded from the 1939 squad—The Kid was hitting .405. Joe DiMaggio came into the game having hit in 48 consecutive contests, surpassing Willie Keeler’s mark of 44; he would go on, of course, to hit in eight more to reach 56, prompting this writer to reach once again for the phrase “unequaled since.” Has there ever been a season quite like 1941, the last one before Pearl Harbor changed everything?
The exuberant Williams of the All-Star Game had escaped an unhappy home; it was baseball that had given direction and meaning to his life. The Williams residence at 4121 Utah Street was exceedingly modest (it survives) and, with Ted’s mother and father gone all day and much of the night, not a place of care and comfort. Ted’s home had one undeniable plus: North Park playground was only a block and a half away, and its playing fields had lights. If his parents were going to be away from morning until night, at least Ted could play ball instead of sitting on the porch waiting for someone to come home. Roy Engle, Ted’s fellow North Park regular who graduated from high school a class ahead of him, said “We were kind of playground bums, I guess you’d say.”
At age 16 in 1935, he was the star pitcher and slugger of San Diego’s Herbert Hoover High School. He batted .586 and the pro scouts took notice. In 1936 he “slumped” to .403, but signed a contract for $150 a month to play with the new San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League.
In 1936 Red Sox general manager Eddie Collins came to San Diego to check the progress of two Padres he had on option, Bobby Doerr and George Myatt. Collins saw this scrawny 17-year-old part-time pitcher taking batting practice, and he saw the most perfect batting form he had seen, better even than that of his old teammate Joe Jackson. Collins talked Bill Lane, the Padres’ owner, into a handshake deal for an option on the boy who had The Swing. One year later he came back to exercise the option, letting Myatt go to another club, and Williams, like Doerr, became the property of the Boston Red Sox.
The Padres of 1937 finished third with Ted playing left field every day, hitting cleanup, and hitting some of the longest homers ever seen on the Coast. On September 19, in the second game of a doubleheader in San Francisco that marked Ted’s last game of the regular season, he provided a harbinger of things to come: he hit a home run in his final at-bat. Before going out to pitch the seventh inning with the wind whipping at his back, Missions’ pitcher Wayne Osbourne said to his teammates, “If that guy thinks he can hit a homer against this gale he’s gonna have to furnish his own power.” Osbourne lobbed up a soft pitch (not unlike Rip Sewell’s famous “eephus” pitch to Ted in the 1946 All Star Game). Ted ripped the ball through the gale, over the fence, across the street, and against a high wall 425 feet from home.
When Ted Williams reported to the Red Sox spring-training camp in Sarasota, Florida in 1938, as green a pea as ever came off the farm, his reputation preceded him. It wasn’t his statistics that set him apart from mere mortals—in two years in the Pacific Coast League he posted modest batting averages of .271 and .291. It was The Swing. His first day in camp, when he stepped into the batting cage, everything stopped. Even the most veteran players interrupted their drills to watch the Kid strut his stuff: take the wide, erect stance that made him look even taller than his 6’3” height; extend his bat across the plate, as if taking its measure; wiggle his hips and rock his shoulders as if he were searching for solid ground beneath his feet; twist his hands on the bat handle with bad intent. Then, the turn of the hips, the snap of the wrists, the fluid follow-through, and the crack of bat on ball. No student of baseball who saw The Swing will ever forget it.
All the same, Ted failed to win a spot on the big club. He was packed off to Minneapolis, Niccolet Park, and a triple crown: .366, 43 home runs, and 142 RBIs. But his antics in the outfield and on the basepaths drove manager Donie Bush to despair. Maybe the Kid was going to be the game’s next great star, but the comparisons offered by newsmen around the Triple-A circuit were not to Babe Ruth but to Babe Herman—or to Ring Lardner’s “Elmer the Great.” It is hard to fathom today, but as he rose to the majors Ted was universally regarded as a screwball.
Ted made the Red Sox for Opening Day 1939, going on to a sensational rookie year, hitting .327 with 31 homers and a league-high 145 RBIs. After the season he went to Minnesota rather than return to San Diego, where his parents had just separated and his brother Danny was running with a bad crowd. “Home was never a happy place for me,” Ted said, “and I had met a girl in Minnesota.”
The girl was Doris Soule, whom he would later marry. The next year, the Kid incurred the antagonism of Boston writer Harold Kaese, who wrote, “Well, what do you expect from a guy who won’t even go to see his mother in the offseason?” That same year Joe Miley of the New York Post wrote, “When it comes to arrogant and ungrateful athletes, this one leads the league.” Ted never forgave them, not any of “them,” and the long battle between the Kid and the knights of the keyboard was joined.
After a sophomore season in which he failed to meet his own lofty goals, especially in home runs, the Kid began his glory year of 1941 by breaking his ankle in spring training. This may have been a lucky break, as for the first two weeks of the regular season it limited him to pinch hitting duty, thus reducing his plate appearances in the cold weather that he despised. By mid-June he was hitting .436.
The 1941 season was the highlight of Ted’s career for more than that one swing in the All-Star Game, more even than the .406 batting average. He also hit 37 homers to lead the AL and topped the league in runs scored and walks as well—with an astonishing .553 on-base percentage (the highest ever until topped by Barry Bonds) and a .735 slugging average (today seventeenth best).
Williams didn’t win the Most Valuable Player Award, however, as writers were swayed by Joe DiMaggio’s flashier record of hitting safely in 56 consecutive games. And the Yankees won the pennant. And Ted hadn’t gone home to his mother.
Before the War, Ted was impetuous, unable to deal with frustration. He blew up, threw things, raged out of control. With maturity came a measure of outer restraint, but his gut still churned. “In a crowd of cheers,” he said, “I could always pick out the solitary boo.” Ted and Joe DiMaggio competed for the public’s affection while disavowing any concern with it, but they were truly brothers under the skin—both of them hypersensitive, distrustful, and perfectionist.
After the War, Ted’s return to a Red Sox uniform was typically heroic, driving a home run into the bleachers on Opening Day in the nation’s capital. The Fenway fans of 1946 adored him and Ted reciprocated. The Red Sox cruised to the pennant, and all was right with the world, until the disappointing World Series loss to the Cardinals.
In the years that followed, on up to his famous home run in his final at bat in 1960, at age 41, Ted became increasingly standoffish with the fans and the press, though his teammates loved him. In retirement , though, he seemed to enjoy the company of fellow players ever more, especially those with whom he could talk hitting. Things came full circle for the Kid near the end, at the All-Star Game of 1999 that marked the announcement of Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team. Ted seemed especially pleased that another San Diego kid, Tony Gwynn, showered him with attention and love. Gwynn, with his .394 in the shortened season 1994, had come closer than anyone to matching Ted’s .406, and that made for a special bond between them.
Now they are both gone, Ted in 2002 and Tony in 2014. Maybe they’re still talking hitting.
This article appears in the MLB’s 2016 All-Star Game Guide.
James E. Sullivan, right-hand man to Al Spalding’s publishing empire, had a problem in 1912. The hosts of the Stockholm Olympic Games opened the quadrennial competition to female swimmers and divers. As secretary of the United States Olympic Committee, Sullivan, however, viewing himself as a defender of modesty, refused to let American women compete. In the following year, Ida Schnall—one of these barred American swimmers and an all-around athlete as well as a vaudeville entertainer—wrote to the New York Times, now as a member of the New York Female Giants, a baseball club: “He objects to a mild game of ball or any kind of athletics for girls. He objects to girls wearing a comfortable bathing suit. He objects to so many things that it gives me cause to think that he must be very narrow minded and that we are in the last century.”
Sullivan died suddenly one year later, before he could see Miss Schnall in her next starring role, as a movie actress wearing what appeared to be a very comfortable bathing suit. (Indeed, the film precipitated an obscenity trial in Kentucky.) Undine was a gauzy aquacade (“breezy, bewitching nymphs”) of the sort that had made a star of Australian-born swimmer Annette Kellerman. During the filming of Undine, Ida Schnall dove 130 feet off a Santa Cruz Island cliff, though she had never exceeded a drop of 75 feet before. Upon the film’s release in 1916 a reviewer wrote, “No one really cared much about the plot of Undine: It was enough that the sylphlike Ida Schnall showed up from time to time in various states of near-nudity.”
Viewing the picture of the New York Female Giants accompanying this column one would hesitate to call Ida Schnall—third from the left at top—a sylph, but standards for female pulchritude were different then. Largely forgotten today, Ida was a great celebrity in her day. She:
- Won the grand prize at the San Francisco Exhibition of 1915 for being “the most beautifully formed woman in America.
- Won the women’s bicycle race from New York to Philadelphia.
- Starred in the now lost film Undine, in which she dove off a 135-foot cliff in the Channle Islands off California.
- Starred in Al Jolson’s revue, The Passing Show of 1912, where her fancy diving in the harem scene won her plaudits.
I could go on in this vein, but we are about baseball here, so let’s begin with that.
Women entered the playing arena at the Seven Sisters schools of the Northeast. In 1866, Annie Glidden, a student at Vassar College, wrote home describing campus life: “They are getting up various clubs now for out-of-door exercise….They have a floral society, boat clubs and base-ball clubs. I belong to one of the latter, and enjoy it highly, I can assure you.” Ultimately, women’s baseball largely devolved from such high-toned clubs to novelty acts with a girlie-show air, generally in the form of scantily clad Blondes versus Brunettes, with exotic geographic locators applied to each.
Pulchritudinous Broadway stars like Helen Dauvray would be seen at the Polo Grounds simply to be seen, though they exhibited some interest in baseball and its handsome practitioners. Miss Dauvray went so far as to marry one of them, Giants’ shortstop John Ward. In 1887 she funded the first World Series trophy (the “Dauvray Cup”) for the champion Detroit Wolverines.
The first woman to play in Organized Baseball was Lizzie (Stride, sometimes rendered Stroud) Arlington, who on July 5, 1898, with the blessings of the president of the Atlantic League (a Class B minor league) Ed Barrow, later famous as the man who made pitcher Babe Ruth an everyday player, threw an inning for the Reading Coal Heavers against the Allentown Peanuts. She gave up two hits but no runs. Although she never again pitched against men in Organized Baseball, she did so frequently in her many years of barnstorming exhibitions.
Women also played with professional traveling teams like the Boston Bloomer Girls (based in Kansas City, actually). Ida Schnall, a famous swimmer, started up the New York Female Giants and her two squads, composed of Jewish and Gentile young women, played exhibition contests in 1913. Ida invariably pitched and, as a Broadway celebrity, provided the sort of curves that commanded attention.
The Female Giants’ first intrasquad game was played on the grounds of the Westchester Golf links on April 27, and was witnessed by over a thousand fans. A game played on Sunday, May 25, 1913, which culminated in a police shutdown when one of the players attempted to sell scorecards, was reported in the New York Tribune thus on the following day:
The batter hitched up her skirt. The pitcher nervously adjusted a side comb. Girls will be boys, and the Reds and the Blues of the New York Female Giants were playing an exhibition game at Lenox Oval, 145th Street and Lenox Avenue.
The story of Ida Schnall (1889-1973) encompassed so much more than baseball. A Jewish immigrant from Austria–her mother’s maiden name was Priwa Perlmutter–she became a star athlete in every sport she tried, and then a Broadway sensation and a Hollywood attraction. Decade after decade, she kept forming ball clubs (she reorganized the New York Female Giants in Hollywood in 1928), joining the women’s wrestling tour or playing a highly competitive brand of tennis. Gussie Moran, a famous tennis star, said in 1950 that Ida was, even in her fifties, the greatest woman tennis player who ever lived. “Maybe she hasn’t got the snazziest backhand in the world,” Gussie noted, “but she tries real hard and cheats like mad. She’s great because it’s fun to watch her play.”
William Howard Taft invited her to the White House. Howard Chandler Christy painted her portrait.
At the age of 21 she married Adolph W. Schnitzer, an insurance agent ten years her senior, on January 25, 1913. In the anti-German period after World War I, he renamed himself Will Carver; he died in 1962, eleven years before Ida departed this life.
With Sunday’s regular season season game between the Marlins and the Braves set to be played at Fort Bragg, NC, on July 3, members of the media and some fans on social media have asked whether playing a game at a neutral site–not an exhibition contest–but one that counted in the standings–was, if not unprecedented, then at least rare. quickly consulting Green Cathedrals, Phil Lowry’s indispensable book about ballparks that I edited and published for SABR in 1985, I quickly came up with quite a number of neutral-site games in MLB since 1876, a sampling of which I will provide below. But such a list did not include–as Phil did in his Everest of research–neutral-site games in the National Association of 1871-75 (not a major league by today’s definition but certainly baseball’s first professional circuit), or Negro League games.
Then, a brainstorm: why not ask Phil, my friend all these years, to revisit the subject, even though his subsequent writing has reflected new research interests? Here he is, followed by a sampling of MLB’s neutral-site games since 1876.
On Sunday, July 3, 2016, the world will be stunned to see the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves playing a regular season baseball game on an Army Base named Fort Bragg, near Fayetteville, North Carolina, a base where the author was once stationed.
The 12,500-seat stadium has been built solely to host this game. After the game is over, it will be torn down, and the entire site will become a multi-purpose area for military families to play many different sports, take classes, and enjoy trails and bike paths.
But this is nowhere near being the first such neutral site regular season MLB game. Here is just a sampling of such games, including, first, a fuller display for the past 20 years. Note: All of the regular season games, going back to 1871, are listed at Retrosheet, as compiled by David Vincent:
3/28/1999: Cuba vs. Orioles in Havana, Cuba
5/3/1999: Cuba vs. Orioles in Baltimore
3/11-12/2000: Astros vs. Red Sox in Santo Domingo, Dominicana
3/19-20/2000: Devil Rays vs. Braves in Caracas, Venezuela
3/10-11/2001 Astros vs. Indians in Valencia, Venezuela
3/16/2001: Padres vs. Rockies in Culiacan, Mexico
3/18/2001: Devil Rays vs. Athletics in Hermosillo, Mexico
3/15-16/2003: Dodgers vs. Mets in Mexico City, Mexico
3/13-14/2004: Astros vs. Marlins in Mexico City, Mexico
3/15-16/2008: Dodgers vs. Padres in Beijing, China
3/29/2008: Monterrey Sultanes vs. Diamondbacks in Phoenix
3/29-30/2011: Monterrey Sultanes/Quintana Roo Tigres Diamondbacks in Phoenix
3/15-16/2013: Mets vs. Dodgers in Mexico City, Mexico
3/15-16/2014: Marlins vs. Yankees in Panama City, Panama
3/20/2014: Australia vs. Dodgers in Sydney, Australia
3/21/2014: Australia vs. Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia
3/28-29/2014: Blue Jays vs. Mets in Montreal, Canada
3/29-30/2014 Veracruz Red Eagles vs. Astros in Houston
3/??/2015 Rockies vs. Diamondbacks in Hermosillo, Mexico
4/3-4/2015 Reds vs. Blue Jays in Montreal, Canada
4/4/2015 Mexico City Red Devils vs. Padres in San Diego
3/22/2016 Cuba vs. Rays in Havana, Cuba
3/26-27/2016 Astros vs. Padres in Mexico City, Mexico
4/1-2/2016 Red Sox vs. Blue Jays in Montreal, Canada
4/1-7/1996: Blue Jays/Tigers vs. Athletics in Las Vegas due to incomplete football renovations in Oakland Coliseum; author attended one Tigers-Athletics game
8/16-18/1996: Mets vs. Padres in Monterrey, Mexico
4/19-20/1997: Cardinals vs. Padres in Honolulu
4/15/1998: Angels vs. Yankees at New York Shea due to falling concrete in Yankee Stadium
4/4/1999: Rockies vs. Padres in Monterrey, Mexico
3/29-30/2000: Cubs vs. Mets in Tokyo, Japan
4/1/2001: Rangers vs. Blue Jays in San Juan, Puerto Rico
2003: 22 Expos home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico
3/30-31/2004: Yankees vs. Rays in Tokyo, Japan
2004: 21 Expos home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico
9/13-14/2004: Expos vs. Marlins in Chicago, U.S. Cellular Field due to Hurricane Ivan
4/10-12/2007: Angels vs. Indians in Milwaukee due to snow in Cleveland
5/15-17/2007: Rangers vs. Rays in Lake Buena Vista
3/25-26/2008: Red Sox vs. Athletics in Tokyo, Japan
4/22-24/2008: Blue Jays vs. Rays in Lake Buena Vista
9/14-15/2008: Cubs vs. Astros in Milwaukee due to Hurricane Ike
6/28-30/2010: Mets and Marlins in San Juan, Puerto Rico
3/28-29/2012: Mariners and Athletics in Tokyo, Japan
3/22-23/2014: Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia
7/3/2016: Marlins vs. Braves at Fort Bragg
HISTORICAL NEUTRAL SITES
Albany, NY: for home team Troy, September 11, 1880; June 15 and September 10, 1881; May 16-18 and 30, 1882
Baltimore, OH: neutral site use by UA Pittsburgh Stogies September 17, 1884
Brooklyn, NY (separate city before 1898): home team Hartford, April 30 to September 21, 1877
Canton, OH: NL Pittsburgh Burghers September 18, 1890; by AL Cleveland Blues June 15, 1902 and May 10 and June 21, 1903
Chicago, IL: neutral site use by NL Cleveland Spiders some games 1898
Columbus, OH: AL Cleveland Blues August 3, 1902; AL Cleveland Naps May 17, 1903; AL Detroit Tigers July 23-24, 1905
Dayton, OH: AL Cleveland Blues June 8, 1902
Elmira, NY: NL Buffalo Bisons October 10, 1885
Euclid Beach, OH: NL Cleveland Spiders June 12, 1898
Geauga Lake, OH: AA Cleveland Spiders July 22 and 29, August 26, 1888
Geddes, NY: NL Syracuse Stars Sundays 1879
Gloucester City, NJ: AA Philadelphia Athletics Sundays only August 5, 1888 to October 12, 1890
Grand Rapids, MI: AL Detroit Tigers May 24, 1903
Hamilton, OH: AA Cincinnati Reds August 25, 1889
Indianapolis, IN: AA St. Louis Browns one game in 1885; NL St. Louis Maroons September 15, 1885; NL Cleveland Spiders July 28 to August 2, 1890
Jersey City, NJ: NL New York Giants April 24-25, 1889; NL Brooklyn Dodgers seven 1956 games and eight 1957 games
Kansas City, MO: NL St. Louis Browns August 23 and October 15, 1892
Las Vegas, NV: AL Oakland Athletics April 1-7, 1996
Milwaukee, WI: NL Chicago White Stockings September 4 and 25, 1885; AL Chicago White Sox 9 games in 1968 and 11 in 1969
Minneapolis, MN: AA Milwaukee Brewers October 2, 1891
Newark, NJ: AL New York Highlanders July 17, 1904
Newburgh, OH: AA Cleveland Spiders September 2, 1888
New Haven, CT: NL Hartford Dark Blues September 22, 1877 (team’s customary home that year was in Brooklyn, though one game also played in Hartford)
Petersburg, VA: AA Richmond Virginias October 7, 1884
Philadelphia, PA: NL Cleveland Spiders July 29-30, August 5-6, 8, and 11, 1898
Pittsburgh, PA: NL Indianapolis Blues August 22-24, 1878
Rochester, NY: NL Cleveland Spiders August 27 and 29, 1898; also, different Rochester field: NL Cleveland Spiders August 28, 1898
St. Louis, MO: NL Indianapolis Blues July 9, 11, and 13, 1878; NL Cleveland Spiders several games in 1898 and on September 24, 1899
Syracuse, NY: NL Buffalo Bisons June 27, 1885
Three Rivers, NY: AA Syracuse Stars Sundays May 18 to July 20, 1890
Toledo, OH: NL Detroit October 5, 1885; AL Detroit Tigers June 28 and August 16, 1903
Weehawken, NJ: AA New York Mets September 11, 1887
West New York, NJ: NL Brooklyn Bridegrooms September 11 and 18 and October 2, 1898; by NL New York Giants June 4, July 16, August 13, and September 17, 1899
Wheeling, WV: NL Pittsburgh Pirates September 22, 1890
“When I was a boy growing up in Kansas,” an elderly Dwight David Eisenhower recalled, “a friend of mine and I went fishing and as we sat there in the warmth of a summer afternoon on a river bank we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he’d like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish.”
When we were young our first heroes were Mom and Dad. Cast in their mold, we soon sought to be heroes ourselves—ballplayers or movie stars, battlefield stalwarts or national leaders. But we learn that even a hero can go only so far on his own. Playing ball or defending our values, it takes a team.
The upcoming Major League Baseball game at Fort Bragg—the first regular-season game of a professional sport ever played on an active military base—gives rise to thoughts about baseball’s long relationship with our armed services. Indeed, our national pastime’s origin, once thought to be the brainstorm of a boy who grew up to become a hero in battle, goes even farther back, beyond Abner Doubleday to … George Washington!
First in war, first in peace, and first president to play ball: General Washington was documented as playing a game of wicket, a bat-and-ball rival to baseball, at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on May 4, 1778. Revolutionary War soldier George Ewing wrote in a letter: “This day His Excellency [i.e., Washington] dined with G[eneral] Nox [Knox] and after dinner did us the honor to play at Wicket with us.”
Washington the ball club came to be described by sportswriter Charlie Dryden in 1909 as “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” But we can’t blame that on Old George.
Soldiers played variant games of baseball throughout the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The group of who in 1845 would form the pioneer Knickerbocker Base Ball Club began to gather for ball-playing exercise at New York City’s Madison Square three years earlier. Before it would be formally opened as a municipal park in 1847, the Square had consisted of a military arsenal and parade grounds.
While Abner Doubleday did not start baseball, he may be said to have started the Civil War, ordering the first Union barrage in response to the Confederate attach on Fort Sumter in 1861. Not to hint at his paternity, but it is an oddity that Doubleday served in the Mexican War at Saltillo, where on January 30, 1847, Adolph Engelmann, an Illinois volunteer, reported: “During the past week we had much horse racing and the drill ground was fairly often in use for ball games.” The great battle of Buena Vista occurred a few weeks later.
To discover the first clear influence of the military on baseball, we must look to the Civil War. Competitive baseball clubs had proliferated in the years before the war, and many men on both sides of the conflict continued their play when not in active combat. Troops on the march took time out to play ball, prisoners of war staged games, and several men who would go on to play in baseball’s first professional league, the National Association of 1871-75, were veterans of the conflict.
Professional baseball players went on to serve with distinction in the Spanish-American War, the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East. The stories are legion—those who died like Eddie Grant, Elmer Gedeon, and Harry O’Neill; those who returned to play with grievous injuries, like Bert Shepard and Lew Brissie; those who gave up their prime years in the game to defend their nation, like Hank Greenberg, Bob Feller, and Ted Williams. Hundreds of major-league players served; Warren Spahn was in the Battle of the Bulge, while Yogi Berra was at Normandy.
During World War II even oldtimers like Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, and Ty Cobb donned uniforms in service of their country—baseball uniforms, as they staged exhibitions on behalf of war bonds. Servicemen overseas looked to letters from home and the box scores in The Sporting News to keep them in touch with what they had left behind, and what they were fighting for—an American way of life that was a beacon for a world in which the light of freedom had been nearly extinguished.
Pledging allegiance to our national game and our national service, cheering our representatives in victory, sharing their sorrow in defeat, permits us to become larger than our solitary selves, to stand up for our values and honor … to be American. Their heroism becomes, even if in small measure, ours. We are one.
My friend Richard Hershberger called this article to my attention last week, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of June 16, 1884, quoting extensively a story from the New York Sun. I know of no better description of the activity in the stands at a big-league game–even though its anonymous author casually insults each of the various “types” found at the Polo Grounds. This ballpark, by the way, is not the one at that hosted the Giants or the Mets, beneath Coogan’s Bluff, up at 157th Street. This was the first Polo Grounds, which hosted the New York National League club from 1883 through 1888, at 110th to 112th Street, with the first-base line running along Fifth Avenue. The New York Mets of the rival American Association also used this park in 1883-1885.
In Total Baseball, Phil Lowry added: “The Polo Grounds opened for baseball use September 29, 1880. There was a large flagpole in short center field, with a flag saying “NEW YORK.” There were two diamonds here. The NL Gothams and AA Mets both used the Southeast Diamond, until the Southwest Diamond was completed on May 30, 1883. However, the Southwest Diamond was so bad that the Mets always preferred playing on the Southeast Diamond, and would do so whenever they could, sometimes even playing their game there before a Gothams game just so they could avoid playing on the Southwest Diamond. (Raw garbage was used as landfill to make the infield here, so players also hated this diamond, and the Mets would again play at Southeast Diamond whenever they could avoid playing here. Mets’ pitcher Jack Lynch said you could get malaria by just fielding a ground ball.) Baseball ended at this Polo Grounds when the city built 111th Stret through center and right fields in the fall of 1888. The ballpark burned down in the spring of 1889.
Now, let’s step back to June 1884.
LOVERS AND CRANKS.
Some of the Familiar Faces Seen at Base Ball Games.
Base-ball crowds are so similar in their style, complexion and personnel that the following article from the New York Sun will be read with considerable interest. The writer has been making pre-Raphaelite observations and his pen pictures will be immediately recognized.
The first thing that impresses one on a visit to the Polo Grounds on any day of the week is the number of spectators. It makes no difference what day it is or which clubs are to compete, there are always crowds on hand to watch a match. On Fridays and Saturdays there are more persons than on other days. But a match between two of the more prominent nines of the League will call out 7,000 or 8,000 persons, no matter what the day may be. The wonder to a man who works for his living is how so many people can spare the time for the sport. They are obliged to leave their offices down town at 2 or 3 o’clock in order to get to the polo grounds in time, and very many of them are constant attendants on the field. The next thing that impresses the visitor is the absolute and perfect knowledge of base-ball which every visitor at the grounds possesses. Nearly every boy and man keeps his own score, registering base hits, runs and errors as the game goes along, and the slightest hint of unfairness on the part of the umpire will bring a yell from thousands of throats instantaneously. The third notable characteristic of the gathering at the polo grounds is the good nature, affability, and friendliness of the crowd. The slim schoolboy ten years of age, and the fat lager-beer saloon proprietor of fifty talk gracefully about the game as it progresses as though they had known each other for years. Men exchange opinions freely about the game with persons they never saw before, and everybody seems good-natured and happy.
THE MAJORITY OF THE MEN
are intensely interested in the game. Most of them come well provided with their own cigars, and sedulously evade the eye of the man who peddles “sody-water, sarss-a-parilla, lemonade, pea-nuts and seegars.” There is little drinking of any sort and much smoking. Boys peddling cushions “for 5 cents during the hull [whole] game” and score cards push their way into the crowd. When the afternoon papers come up scores of ragged little urchins invade the grand stand, shriek their wares at the top of their lungs and push in among the seats. The spectators take all these interruptions good-naturedly and languidly make room for the boys, while still keeping up their interest in the game. At times when the umpire renders a decision that does not meet with popular approval, there will be a terrific outbreak, and for the next ten minutes the offending one is guyed unmercifully. Every decision he renders is received with jeers, and sarcastic comments are made upon the play. The good sense of the crowd gets the better of this boyishness, however, and unless the umpire is decidedly biased, which rarely occurs, the crowd soon settles back into its accustomed condition of contentment.
Any little incident is seized upon by the spectators if it affords any amusing features. The other day a foul ball flew off the bat and lodged in one of the awnings. The man sitting nearest the awning ropes wore & white nigh hat, a spring suit elaborately faced with drab silk, a red necktie and a small mustache. He smoked cigarettes and looked more or less girlish. He rose daintily from his seat and seized the awning rope. As he did so at least two thousand men bawled such sentiments as, “Ah, there!” “Look out, it will bite!” “Treat it gentry, Geawge,” “Careful, baby,” “How very provoking,” “Deah me,” and the like. He grew very red, made the mistake of showing his anger and pulled very hard at the rope. He succeeded in yanking the awning a little, but not very much. A yell went up which fairly shook the building. Then everyone cried at once: “One, two, three—now let her go.” At the final word the dude made one more frightful effort, but again failed; then, gathering all his strength, he gave a final jerk which dislodged the ball from the creases in the awning. The outburst of applause and congratulations made everybody on the field smile.
AGAIN ANOTHER FOUL BALL
spun from a bat, directly toward an overdressed and effeminate-looking man, who sat at the western end of the grand stand. As the ball came toward him he jumped away from the rest of the crowd and yelled excitedly. The yell was somewhat shrill, and riveted the attention of the crowd. It happened that the bail struck the chair of the overdressed young man, and he picked it up daintily in his loved hand. As he did so two or three hundred voices shouted as though by preconcerted signal:
He did it. Then there was a shout of’ laughter. He looked around foolishly, picked up the ball pettishly, and made a feint to throw it overhand, as women usually throw. As he drew his hand back over his head the crowd again, as though in one voice, cried:
The man hesitated for an instant, and then angrily threw the ball into the field. There was a burst of applause, derision, and comment, above which could be distinctly heard the chorus: “There, you sassy thing!”
Any pretext for a laugh is eagerly seized upon. If any unusually fat man wanders into the grand stand and mates his way blandly to a seat many eyes follow his progress, and the chances are that the time honored “take care” will set his heart palpitating, just as he attempts to take his seat. If he is so unfortunate as to break down a chair, or to break the back—which occasionally happens-—the delight of the spectators is unbounded.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic and expert spectators at the Polo grounds are the stockily built young Irishmen, They may be bartenders, light porters, expressmen, clerks, loungers, policemen off duty, or merchants out on a holiday. One of them is a type of a thousand others. He is usually square-shouldered and well built. Probably he has had a taste of athletics himself and plays base-ball in a vacant lot on Sunday mornings even yet. He wears a cutaway coat, turn-down collar, a modest tie, trousers which are close to the leg but bulge at the bottom, and heavy-soled shoes. His hands do not look as though recently operated upon by a manicure, and there is one day’s growth of beard upon a good-natured and typical Irish face. His pocket usually holds some 5-cent cigars, which he is liberal in offering to his neighbors, and he sits forward in his seat, his elbows on his knees, a cigar in his mouth, and his eyes on the field.
HE KNOWS EVERY MAN
in both the nines by name, remembers where Ward and Welch pitched last, where Ewing made his best record, about a ball that McKinnon batted last year, and so on indefinitely, Sometimes he doesn’t bother with a card, keeps the run of the game in his mind, and is as liberal with censure as with applause. He seldom bets upon the game, and he enjoys the sport thoroughly for the sake of the sport itself. When a man bustles in late, steps on his coat tails, leans on his shoulder, and sits down beside him, he seems utterly unconscious of interruption, and when the man continues to intrude himself upon notice by thumping him in the ribs, and asking him what the score is, he turns around with thorough amiability, explains the game in a few words, adds a sentence of criticism upon the player who happens to be at the bat, takes a fresh light and resumes his inspection of the play. When the game is over he bounces from his seat and races across the ground with 500 other men. If he patronizes the 10-cent hacks he is always ready to help some man upon the box-seat, and then collects the fare for the driver He is companionable and jolly up the tedious flight of stairs to the elevated railroad, and he talks base-ball in the cars with such animation that the conductor forgets to call out the stations.
It has often been remarked that there are at the Polo grounds every day
AN EXTRAORDINARY NUMBER OF FAT MEN.
No one can tell why this is. It is said that men of extraordinary avoirdupois who find it impracticable, inelegant, and more or less sensational to throw hand-springs, steal bases, and run swiftly at 250 pounds weight, enjoy the spectacle of the cat-like and rapid movements of the athletes on the field. A man, in commenting on the prevalence of fat men at the Polo grounds yesterday, said: “I remember, not long ago, there was an extraordinary run of fat women at the Casino. It astonished the managers, demoralized the orchestra and gave rise to derisive comments on the part of the chorus. Fat women swarmed there (it was during the run of “The Merry War”), but there was nothing in the opera to account for the patronage of women of tremendous weight. The battalion which was wont a year ago to disport itself in barrel-shaped bathing suits at Coney Island patronized the Casino assiduously. One night it was observed that three particularly large women occupied a box on the south side of the stage, and that they smiled largely and with dimpled and wrinkled satisfaction whenever Perugini came on the stage. They even went so far as to throw bouquets to him. It was evident that Perugini was the attraction of the fat women.
A good many gray heads and gray beards are to be seen on the grand stand. They belong to men who have been base-bail enthusiasts from boyhood up. They enjoy the sport more than they would any play, horse or boat race, and they are full of reminiscences of the game. Scattered in among them are bright-faced boys, who are well dressed, well mannered and intelligent. They are looked upon by the men as of enough importance to warrant sober treatment, and their opinions are as gravely accepted as those of men. Another pronounced type is the young business man. Hundreds of spruce, well-dressed and wide-awake young men, who are apparently clerks, brokers or business men from down town, are to be seen about the grounds. They talk ball and stocks, but principally ball. They may not know as much about it as the school-boys or the solid young Irishman, but they make up in enthusiasm what they lack in knowledge. Their interest in the game consists largely in the money they have on it. They always bet freely among themselves, and return home happy or crestfallen, according to their winnings.
There are among the ladies who attend ball matches a few, perhaps a dozen in all, who thoroughly understand the game, and are actually and warmly interested in the sport. Most of them, however, have such a superficial knowledge of the game that they grow tired before the ninth inning is reached, and conceal their weariness when they leave early, by expressing a desire to avoid the crowd. Some of them, though, are profound admirers of ball, and sit every match out. There is one little woman whose excitement is watched with a good deal of amusement by the men who sit near her. She usually comes accompanied by a boy about 19 years of age, and sits on the upper floor of the grand stand. She attempts to keep score, but becomes so excited when there is any lively play that she forgets all about it until the game gets ahead of her, when she copies it from the boy, who in turn gets it from the man next to him. When there is an exciting play she rises in her seat, utters a series of inarticulate and half-smothered cries, claps her hands excitedly, and applauds vigorously when the home team make a point. When they are unsuccessful she departs dejectedly. The New York nine say she gives them luck.
I wrote this story in fifteen minutes Saturday morning, when the planets were in alignment, and posted it to “1927: The Diary of Myles Thomas” (ESPN.com/1927), where I appear now and then and which I commend to your attention. Thanks to the 1927 team for its gracious permission to share this with readers of Our Game.
Witnessing the past week’s outpouring of grief and tribute for the departed champ, Muhammad Ali, puts me in mind of — surprise, surprise — baseball.
Ali was a hero larger than life, a legend in his own time, and not only in areas of race and religion. He was True North, a lodestone for a generation wishing to free itself from a troubling past and an uncertain future. We know today, if we did not know it before, how our nation and our world felt about a man who rose from the streets of a racially divided city to become a role model of achievement, principle, and concern for others.
I once said about Jackie Robinson:
For me, baseball’s finest moment is the day Jackie Robinson set foot on a major league field for the first time. . . I’m most proud to be an American, most proud to be a baseball fan when baseball has led America rather than followed it. It has done so several times, but this is the most transforming incident.
Jackie Robinson is my great hero among baseball heroes and he’s my great hero as an American. He is an individual who shaped the crowd.
That pretty well describes what it is a hero does. Unlike the rest of us, he is determined to be himself even while he is acting on behalf of others, or knows that his every move will affect others — which is why these words of Ali’s stuck with me especially:
I don’t have to be what you want me to be.
Nodding toward the responsibility implicit in being a role model for millions, Ali and Jackie became heroes by going their own way. We may respect public servants, but we love those who question the rules, stand up to them, break them.
For those of my age, Jackie was our childhood hero. We graduated to appreciate and today venerate Ali.
For me, Babe Ruth has always been a distant figure of lore and legend, and I love him because I love a good story (I love Davy Crockett and P.T. Barnum, too). But with the passing of Ali, the veil lifts for me regarding how a nation thought about the Babe while he walked among them, and how they felt about him when he, and a piece of them, died in the summer of 1948.
I understand better what it was like to be alive back then, before I was born. And that seems to me the true goal for a historian, one who gathers and reshapes the tales that we tell around the campfire at night to assure ourselves of tomorrow.
You can find a complete collection of my essays for ESPN’s 1927 project at this page.
In 1975, as a youngish book editor at Hart Publishing in New York, I helped to create a line of “Hart Classics”–reissues of once notable volumes that were no longer in print. Among the musty titles I proposed was Mark Twain’s Library of Humor, an anthology of more than 160 stories by such revered if today unread authors as Ambrose Bierce, Josh Billings, Eugene Field, Joel C. Harris, Bret Harte, Oliver W. Holmes, William D. Howells, Bill Nye, and Artemus Ward. Mark Twain contributed twenty of his own stories, while asserting on the book’s flyleaf page that, “Those selections in this book which are from my own works were made by my two assistant compilers, not by me. This is why there are not more.” Because I had not for decades lifted this compendium of jollification from my shelves, I had forgotten that one of the contributors, James M. Bailey (represented with four selections), had contributed a story titled “A Female Base-Ball Club.” It has been forgotten for good reason, perhaps, but it does illustrate how men once viewed the idea of women playing baseball (not to mention other sports), and thus may have some instructive value today. At the very least it is an oddity that scholars will appreciate.
Twain plucked this story from Bailey’s Life in Danbury, published by Shepard & Gill in 1873 and “carefully compiled with a pair of eight-dollar shears, by the compiler” from the pages of the Danbury News. The story thus reflects the state of women’s baseball at some time before the advent of novelty nines later in the decade (Blondes versus Brunettes, and similarly described “pulchritudinous nines”). Now let’s permit Mark Twain to introduce us to the author and his tale.
JAMES MONTGOMERY BAILEY, so widely known as the Danbury News Man, was born at Albany, N. Y., September 25, 1841, and after receiving a common-school education, learned the carpenter’s trade. He fought through the war in a Connecticut regiment, and settled in Danbury at the close as editor of the News.
The only attempt on record of Danbury trying to organize a female base-ball club occurred last week. It was a rather incipient affair, but it demonstrated everything necessary, and in that particular answered every purpose. The idea was cogitated and carried out by six young ladies. It was merely designed for an experiment on which to base future action. The young ladies were at the house of one of their number when the subject was brought up. The premises arc capacious, and include quite a piece of turf, hidden from the street by several drooping, luxuriant, old-fashioned apple-trees. The young lady of the house has a brother who is fond of base-ball, and has the necessary machinery for a game. This was taken out on the turf under the trees. The ladies assembled, and divided themselves into two nines of three each. The first three took the bat, and the second three went to the bases, one as catcher, one as pitcher, and the other as chaser, or, more technically, fielder. The pitcher was a lively brunette, with eyes full of dead earnestness. The catcher and batter were blondes, with faces aflame with expectation. The pitcher took the ball, braced herself, put her arm straight out from her shoulder, then moved it around to her back without modifying in the least its delightful rigidity, and then threw it. The batter did not catch it. This was owing to the pitcher looking directly at the batter when she aimed it. The fielder got a long pole and soon succeeded in poking the ball from an apple-tree back of the pitcher, where it had lodged. Business was then resumed again, although with a faint semblance of uneasiness generally visible.
The pitcher was very red in the face, and said “I declare!” several times. This time she took a more careful aim, but still neglected to look in some other direction than toward the batter, and the ball was presently poked out of another tree.
“Why, this is dreadful!” said the batter, whose nerves had been kept at a pretty stiff tension.
“Perfectly dreadful!” chimed in the catcher, with a long sigh.
“I think you had better get up in one of the trees,” mildly suggested the fielder to the batter.
The observations somewhat nettled the pitcher, and she declared she would not try again, whereupon a change was made with the fielder. She was certainly more sensible. Just as soon as she was ready to let drive, she shut her eyes so tight as to loosen two of her puffs and pull out her back comb, and madly fired away. The ball flew directly at the batter, which so startled that lady, who had the bat clinched in both hands with desperate grip, that she involuntarily cried, “Oh, my!” and let it drop, and ran. This movement uncovered the catcher, who had both hands extended about three feet apart, in readiness for the catch, but being intently absorbed in studying the coil on the back of the batter’s head, she was not able to recover in time, and the ball caught her in the bodice with sufficient force to deprive her of all her breath, which left her lips with earpiercing shrillness. There was a lull in the proceedings for ten minutes, to enable the other members of the club to arrange their hair.
The batter again took position, When one of the party, discovering that she was holding the bat very much as a woman carries a broom when she is after a cow in the garden, showed her that the tip must rest on the ground and at her side, with her body a trifle inclined in that direction. The suggester took the bat and showed just how it was done, and brought around the batt with such vehemence as to almost carry her from her feet, and to nearly brain the catcher. That party shivered, and moved back some fifteen feet.
The batter took her place, and laid the tip of the bat on the ground, and the pitcher shut her eyes again as tightly as before, and let drive. The fielder had taken the precaution to get back of a tree, or otherwise she must have been disfigured for life. The ball was recovered. The pitcher looked heated and vexed. She didn’t throw it this time. She just gave it a pitching motion, but not letting go of it in time it went over her head, and caused her to sit down with considerable unexpectedness.
Thereupon she declared she would never throw another ball as long as she lived, and changed off with the catcher. This young lady was somewhat determined, which augured success. Then she looked in an altogether different direction from that to the batter.
And this did the business. The batter was ready. She had a tight hold on the bat. Just as soon as she saw the ball start, she made a tremendous lunge with the bat, let go of it, and turned around in time to catch the ball in the small of her back, while the bat, being on its own hook, and seeing a stone figure holding a vase of flowers, neatly clipped off its arm at the elbow and let the flowers to the ground.
There was a chorus of screams, and some confusion of skirts, and then the following dialogue took place:
No. 1. “Let’s give up the nasty thing.”
No. 2. “Let’s.”
No. 3. “So I say.”
No. 4. “It’s just horrid.”
This being a majority, the adjournment was made.
The game was merely an experiment. And it is just as well it was. Had it been a real game, it is likely that someone would have been killed outright.
BONUS Bailey clip from the Danbury News:
One of the passengers at the depot yesterday attracted the sympathetic attention of every beholder. The fingers on both hands were horribly deformed. One arm was bent backward at the elbow, and part of one ear was gone. His nose showed the scar of having been broken in two or three places; one eye was entirely gone; the right arm had been fractured, and all the upper front teeth were swept away. There were two scars of scalp wounds, and one long one on the right cheek. There was much speculation as to the cause of these misfortunes. Some thought he must have slipped into a raw volcano when a child; others believed he had attempted to part two colliding locomotives; while others still were equally confident that at some time in his life he had been overtaken by a mowing machine. None of these contemplated the true state of the case, as it afterward transpired that the grand cripple was the captain of a champion base-ball club.