“A Pork Jinx on the Club”

4 Mar

To mark the Oakland Oaks 1916 home opener, J. Cal Ewing, generally known as “The Godfather of the Pacific Coast League” presented Oakland Manager Harold “Rowdy” Elliott with a gift:  The Oakland Tribune said:

“Ewing gave to the Oaks a mascot in the shape of a real ‘rooter,’ a yearling pig, which was kept on the players’ bench throughout the game.”

The Oaks cruised to a 10-2 victory over the Portland Beavers in front 15,000 enthusiastic Oakland fans, and the superstitious among the ball club and their fans attributed the win to “Margaret,” the new mascot.

The Oaks played well in April, and were in first place until the end of the month, but by mid May they were 16-21, fifth place in the six-team league—and it was noticed that no one had seen “Margaret” for some time.

Rowdy Elliott with Margaret

Rowdy Elliott with Margaret

The Tribune was convinced the disappearance of the pig was responsible for the team’s decline:

“Suffering Pigs!  A Pork Jinx on the club!…The wrathful shade of a female porker is responsible for the Oaks’ slump.  Maggie the Pig was compelled to shuffle all her porcine coil to the accompaniment of roast apples and cranberry sauce, which is no nice way to treat an emblem of Good Fortune.”

The paper also noted that the club’s secretary also worked as a cook, and Ewing should have “had sense enough” to take that into account before presenting the team with a pig.

And, the paper composed a poem:

O Maggie, dear, and did ye hear

   The news that’s goin’ round?

The Oaks are losing day by day

   And soon they won’t be found.

They’ve ingestion badly.

   And they’re looking for the hook

They can’t play ball at all, at all

   Since you went to the cook.

It became a bit of a scandal.

The Oaks quickly denied that the pig had been eaten:

“They say the trouble is that they haven’t eaten her pigship.  Margaret was given to the ground keeper to preserve, and that personage refuses to produce the pig.”

Rowdy Elliott was quick to tell The Tribune the reason for the club’s slump had nothing to do with the team mascot.  He said the blame was clearly the result of another team’s mascot:

“Elliott says the Oaks’ slump can be attributed to no less a personage than Erasmus Pinckney Johnson.”

Johnson was the mascot for Frank Chance’s Los Angeles Angels—The Los Angeles Times said the young African American boy had been found, on Chance’s orders, in late April in order to break a week-long losing streak. The Times routinely described “the good luck charm” in the most racist terms.

Part of the “luck” Johnson brought was derived from rubbing the young mascot’s head.  Elliott claimed during the Oaks’ last series in Los Angeles he had rubbed the Johnson’s head “the wrong way.”

“Since that moment Rowdy has had little luck, winning only two games out of the last fourteen played.  Erasmus hasn’t been doing much for the Angles of late, for Chance’s crew has been in a slump, but he has at least succeeded in wrecking the Oakland club.”

Frank Chance

Frank Chance

So desperate were the Oakland fans for answers that The Tribune enlisted two prominent fans, an Alameda County Circuit Court judge and a local doctor to do a “psychological study of the team.”

“Judge Wells…has come to the conclusion that the team has worked itself into a jinx, and needs the aid of the pig mascot they had in the opening game to pull them through.  Dr. Halsey agrees that hits, pitching fielding and psychology and all may have something to do with it, but the real reason, according to the doctor, is that the boys are suffering from a nervous breakdown that followed shortly after seeing such an enormous crowd at the opening game.”

Things quickly got worse for the Oaks. Elliott was suspended for several days for throwing a ball at umpire Jack Doyle, and the team continued to lose in June, and then for the rest of the season.

At the end of July Elliott was sold to the Chicago Cubs, George “Del” Howard, who had purchased the club during the season, replaced him as the Oaks’ manager.

Oakland finished 1916 in last place with a 73-136 record.  Chance’s Angels overcame their May slump and easily won the championship with a 119-79 record.

Margaret the pig was never heard from again.

“There were Absurd Errors, Collisions, Accidents, Spectacular Batting”

2 Mar

William Henry “Josh” Reilly had a memorable big league debut for the Chicago Colts in 1896.

Josh Reilly

Josh Reilly

Reilly filled in at shortstop for Bill Dahlen in a May 2 game against the St. Louis Browns.  The Chicago Tribune said Dahlen was “(E)ngaged at home in holding a hot water bag against a turbulent tooth.”

While the toothache story was reported in the Chicago papers, The Sporting Life was not sold on the reason for the hard-drinking Dahlen’s absence:

“Dahlen laid off—was sick, or—well, you know Dahlen.”

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

The Chicago Inter Ocean called the game “Worse than cough medicine,” and said:

“Of all the untabulated, unscheduled, unexpected, terrible, heartrending, frayed-out exhibitions of something or another that must be classed under the head of baseball, yesterday’s game with St. Louis was the worst.”

The Tribune said:

 “There were absurd errors, collisions, accidents, spectacular batting.”

Reilly was responsible for three of those “absurd errors,” and some of the “spectacular batting,” going 2 for 6 in his debut; he was also responsible for what The Tribune called “The electrifying feature of the game.”

The Inter Ocean described what happened:

(Monte) Cross got to first because (Chicago first baseman) George Decker thought his arm was as long as the legs of a man who has to stand on a ladder to comb his hair.  His arm was short by about six feet.  Then (Tom) Parrott made a single to center… (Duff) Cooley knocked a hot liner, and everybody started to sprint.  Reilly was playing at short, and stuck his finger nail into a loose stitch just as the ball shot past him.  He slammed it to (Harry) Truby, where Cross should have been, but was not, and Truby in turn, tossed it over to Decker to fondle while Parrott endeavored to correct himself.”

That game was the only highlight in Reilly’s major league career.  He played a total of nine games in Chicago—the other 8 at second base—and made a total of 11 errors.  And, after going 2 for 6 in his debut, he was just 6 for 36 thereafter.   Then, in late May Reilly became ill—accounts varied regarding what the illness was, The Sporting News said it was typhoid fever, The Sporting Life, and The Chicago Daily News said pneumonia.

Reilly returned home to the West Coast.  By September, his debut heroics were long forgotten, The Tribune simply said:

“(Reilly) was a disappointment and he was released.”

Despite his brief and relatively inauspicious big league career, Reilly was a popular minor leaguer for more than a decade.

An often told story about him, alleged to have taken place the year before his short trial in Chicago, illustrates just how superstitious 19th Century players could be.

The earliest telling was in 1897 in The Tribune, and it appeared on several occasions, in several papers, over the next 15 years with various embellishments.  There was no byline on the original story, but it was likely written by Hugh Fullerton–who retold it himself several times.

Reilly spent the 1895 season in Texas, playing with the San Antonio Missionaries and the Fort Worth Panthers in the Texas-Southern League.  Reilly opened the season with the Missionaries, who got off to a horrible start; they won just three of their first 28 games:

“The team was discouraged and sore.  They held a meeting and were on the verge of firing their mascot or committing violence upon his person when Josh Reilly…came to the rescue with a new proposition.  The mascot was put into a full dress coat, with gray baseball trousers and a silk hat, and the bats, some half a score of them, were pulled upon his back.  Then the team formed in line and marched down to the hotel, where “The Divine Healer,” Schlatter was stopping.”

Francis Schlatter was, at that time, walking across the American Southwest gaining fame and followers.  Three years earlier he had come to believe he received a “directive from God” to heal the sick, and became a messianic figure for many during his brief time in the spotlight.

Francis Schlatter

Francis Schlatter, “The Divine Healer”

“The divine was brought forth and made to pronounce a blessing upon the bats…and through all the season those inspired bats continued to give out base hits., and the team went close to the top of the league.”

While Reilly never disputed the story–and seemed to tell it himself on occasion–Fullerton’s ending was pure fiction. San Antonio continued to struggle and blessed or not, the Missionaries’ bats were mostly silent all season–the team never left the cellar and was 21-72 in August when they disbanded.

Josh Reilly, 1930--he died in San Francisco in 1938.

Josh Reilly, 1930–he died in San Francisco in 1938.

In different versions of the story, it was claimed that Reilly still used one or more of the “blessed bats.”  In another, Reilly “Hit .344” with one of the bats “and after he broke that bat he hit .189 for the rest of the season.”

Fullerton had one more Reilly story that he told often–first appearing in 1906 but recycled frequently for two decades–this one about his fielding troubles during his brief stay in Chicago and the impact the ire of fans has on a struggling player:

“(Reilly) was pretty bad as a fielder, and getting no better rapidly.  the jeers, hisses and hoots of the crowd merely made him mad.  He wanted to fight back.  His Irish blood was boiling.  For a time it seemed as if he would win and prove himself a great ball player merely by his nerve in playing at all under such a constant shower of criticism.  But one day Josh got through.  I found him frothing at the mouth out at the club house.  He was done.  He never would play again–unless he got a chance to kill a certain man.  When he grew calm enough.  I discovered the cause of it.

“‘He was a big man sitting in the bleachers’ said Josh.  ‘While they were all yelling at me for booting a hot one, he sat still.  I saw him and  said to myself ‘there’s one friend of mine up there.’  He never said a word until the seventh inning.  Then he stood up, stretched himself, walked down two or three steps and yelled:  ‘Reilly, you’re a disgrace to the Irish!’  If I had him I’d killed him.'”

Pete Childs’ Pitch

27 Feb

After seven seasons in the minor leagues, 29-year-old Peter Pierre “Pete” Childs made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals had a brief big league career as a second baseman with the Cardinals. Chicago Orphans and Philadelphia Phillies in 1901 and ’02.

Pete Childs

Pete Childs

He then returned to the minor leagues for more than a decade and became manager with the Portsmouth Cobblers in the Ohio State League, where he also played infield and occasionally pitched in relief.  It was as a member of the Cobblers where he had, arguably, the most efficient relief appearance in the history of organized baseball.

On June 18, 1910, Portsmouth was losing 4 to 3 to the Marion Diggers when the diggers came to bat in the bottom of the eighth.  Portsmouth pitcher Frank Harter gave up four hits and hit a batter; the Cobblers also committed an error.  Three runs had scored and the bases were loaded with no one out.

With his team down 7 to 3 The Marion Star said the manager and second baseman “Childs essayed to do the pitching and traded places with Harter.”

With the bases loaded, Childs faced Marion outfielder William Colligan. He threw one pitch.  The Portsmouth Evening Times said:

“Colligan smashed the first ball to the fence in center field, and (Portsmouth’s Frank) O’Day went up against the fence and made the catch with one hand.  (Emmett “Turk”) Reilly had gone to second and (August “Gus”) Epler counted from third.”

O’Day threw to the cutoff man, Wesley Hornung; he threw to first to put out Reilly, who stood on second with teammate Al Hummel, and first baseman William Scudder threw to third baseman Ed Conwell for the triple play.

The 1910 Portsmouth Cobblers, Manager Pete Childs 7.  Wesley Hornung 1, Frank Harter 4, William Scudder 5, Frank O'Day 8 and Ed Conwell 16.

The 1910 Portsmouth Cobblers, Manager Pete Childs 7. Wesley Hornung 1, Frank Harter 4, William Scudder 5, Frank O’Day 8 and Ed Conwell 16.

Despite the triple play, Childs’ Cobblers dropped a doubleheader that day but went on to win the Ohio State League championship with an 86-52 record.  Childs won three championships during his five seasons as Portsmouth’s manager.

“A Ballplayer can’t chase ‘Chickens’ and Chase Flies”

25 Feb

With money borrowed from his brother Clarence, an oil speculator, Henry “Hen” Berry stepped in to take over ownership of the Los Angeles Angels in 1906.

"Hen" Berry

“Hen” Berry

Berry’s Angels won the Pacific Coast League championship in 1907 and ’08, and that success, along with his own profits in the oil business, made Berry a wealthy man in his own right.

He also managed, during his tenure with the Angels, to sell a player to a big league club for the highest amount ever received by a Coast League Club to that point, when he was paid $5,000 by Charles Comiskey of the Chicago White Sox for 18-year-old Lee “Flame” Delhi in 1911; Delhi appeared in just one game for the Sox the following season and was out of organized ball well before his 25th birthday.

Berry was also the driving force in getting the league to finally adopt a two-umpire system in 1912.

He also had a theory about what the type of lifestyle that best suited his players.  In 1914, he talked about it with a reporter from The Los Angeles Examiner:

“’A ballplayer can’t chase ‘chickens’ and chase flies at the same time with any degree of certainty that he’ll land the flies.’

“That is ‘Hen’ Berry’s way of saying that a player whose head is turned by the hero-worship of the fair patrons on the diamond stands a mighty slim chance at high fielding averages or of shining in the .300 batting class…Wedding bells for all players, he believes, would result in the highest possible efficiency.”

Eighteen of the 21 members of the Angels were married, and it was that way by design:

“’It is his susceptibility to the attentions of pretty hero worshippers that keep many a promising athlete from reaching the high place that otherwise would be his in the world of sport,’ asserts Berry.

“’The ballplayer is perhaps more constantly beset by these fair idolizers than any other professional athlete because women frequent the diamond more generally by far than any other sport.’

“’So we have the very thing which keeps baseball keyed up to concert pitch—the element of personal admiration for the players—becoming the most dangerous possibility in pulling a good man down or keeping him mediocre.’”

"Hen" Berry caricature

“Hen” Berry caricature

While Berry conceded that marriage didn’t guarantee that a player would be “immune from lionizing” by women, it would at least reduce the “social diversions which frazzle a man’s nerves.”

Marriage, said Berry, resulted in “Emotional calm” and provides “stability which goes far towards winning pennants.”

Berry’s theory had not resulted in any recent success; after his two pennants in 1907 and ’08, the Angels had experienced a drought that would continue in 1914 when his predominately married club finished second to the Portland Beavers.

Berry sold the Angels after the 1914 season and moved north, purchasing the San Francisco Seals.

He picked up two more championships with the Seals—it is unclear how many of the players on each pennant-winning club were married– and sold the team to group headed by former Coast League catcher Charlie Graham before the 1918 season.

San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham

Charlie Graham

After leaving baseball, Berry managed the family’s oil holdings in California.  On March 13, 1929 the steering broke on Berry’s car as he rounded a curve while driving near his home in Maricopa.  The car plunged 100 feet into a ravine, and the former West Coast baseball magnate was dead at age 59.

A Bobby Eager Story

23 Feb

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake left the city in ruins; it also put the future of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in serious jeopardy.

Years later PCL veteran Bobby Eager wrote about the league in the aftermath of the quake in The San Jose Evening News:

“Did you ever hear of a bunch of ballplayers owning their club in a league?  I never did, but I came within an ace of being a part owner at one time.”

Bobby Eager

Bobby Eager

Eager, then with the Los Angeles Angels, said the league was “pretty much on the bum,” and while leagues in the East had agreed to help the PCL financially, there was no sense of how the league would operate.

Jim Morley, the owner of a large pool hall in Los Angeles, owned and managed the Angels, but said Eager:

“(H)e got cold feet early.  He practically dismissed the team and said he was through.”

San Francisco Seals owner James Calvin (J. Cal) Ewing, whose deep pockets kept the league afloat, was “furious at Morley, quitting like a hound.”

Local boxing promoter “Uncle” Tom McCarey was asked by Ewing and league president Eugene Bert to take control of the club, but when that failed they reached out to a local businessman.

“They got a fellow by the name of Gil Meade to take over…It was decided to play the San Francisco games at Oakland, and go on with the league and give the fans some ball.  Of course it was an uphill fight all around with no grounds at Frisco.

“Meade shot his $5,000, which was his bankroll, in a couple months and he was done and out.”

At the time, The Los Angeles Examiner said Meade left as a result of the league failing to award him a large block of stock in the team that was promised.

Eager said after Meade departed the team was called together by field manager and Captain Frank “Pop” Dillon:

Frank "Pop" Dillon

Frank “Pop” Dillon

“He first wanted to know how much money we all had and we told him.  Then he laid before us his plans.  He showed us how we could take over the club by putting up three or four hundred dollars apiece.  He said we would not get any salaries that year but the next year he thought the club would pay big.  A few of the players (Eager included) were willing to take a chance but most wanted their salaries.  They were not gamblers.”

Dillon could not convince enough of the Angles and Eager’s dream to own a club died.

“The result was the league dug up (William Henry) “Hen” Berry who was running a little poolroom.  Hen’s brother (Clarence, who made a fortune in the oil and horse businesses) let him have enough to back the club the rest of the season which was about $8,000, but next year we won the pennant and Berry cleaned up big.  I know every stockholder who had a $100 share got a $40 dividend the next year.  If we players had taken the club we would have made just as much and might have started something new in baseball in the way of profit-sharing.”

Clarence, left, and William Henry Berry played for the amateur Selma (CA) Tigers in the 1890s

Clarence, left, and William Henry Berry played for the amateur Selma (CA) Tigers in the 1890s

Another “Hen” Berry story on Wednesday.

Lost Pictures: Dode Paskert Plays Ice Baseball

20 Feb

dode

Ice Baseball made its first appearance in the winter of 1866 when the Athletic Baseball Club of Philadelphia played a game on ice against a “picked nine’ comprised of other local baseball teams.  Games were played occasionally over the next 50 years, but the game never caught on.

That changed briefly the winter following the 1919 season when the game, along with Ice Boxing, became a sensation in Cleveland.  The Cleveland Press said the biggest star among the “many ice baseball clubs” was Chicago Cubs centerfielder, and Cleveland native,  George “Dode” Paskert “an expert skater (who) says the exercise he is getting is going to put him about a month ahead” of his teammates.

Unidentified Ice Baseball players in 1920 photo.

Unidentified Ice Baseball players in 1920 photo.

The paper said Cleveland Indians players Bill Wambsganss and Jack Graney played, and that Ray Chapman, the Indians second baseman,  and William “Pickles” Dillhoefer, catcher for St. Louis Cardinals would be joining teams.

Indians Manager Tris Speaker umpired at least one game.

Like every other short-term Ice Baseball craze, the game quickly faded in Cleveland.

Dode Paskert

Dode Paskert

As for Paskert, after a horrible 1919 season–.196 in 88 games–the 38-year-old seems to have benefitted from his “extra exercise.”  He hit .279 in 139 games in his final full season in the major leagues.

 

 

“Why not bring one of the Big League Teams to Phoenix for Spring Training?”

18 Feb

Grover Cleveland Land was a visionary.

In 1921 The Arizona Republican asked the question the former catcher had put to several major league clubs:

“Why not bring one of the big league teams to Phoenix for spring training?”

Land, a Kentucky native who spent the last 40 years of his life as a Phoenix resident,  was encouraged by a report that Connie Mack had announced that his Philadelphia Athletics would no longer train in Lake Charles, Louisiana;  according to The Associated Press Mack said “certain things happened at the Louisiana resort last March that handicapped” the team.

Grover Land

Grover Land

Land, the former catcher for the Cleveland Naps and the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, said:

“I have played ball in every section of the country, and I have yet to find a climate more suited for baseball training than I find right here in Phoenix…Major league managers have been sending their players to Texas and other southern states for many years and I can safely state that there is not one manager entirely satisfied with the present training camp sites.  Fully one-third of the training period is hampered by rain and storms and by the time the training season is ended the players are just beginning to round into shape.”

He said he understood that “local boosters” had made some effort to bring teams to Arizona in the past—the Chicago White Sox, Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates had played spring exhibition games in the state several times since 1909—but Land said he would “make an effort to induce one of my manager friends to come down here…I am certain that if one of the managers could be induced to come here for a few weeks Phoenix would have no difficulty getting on the sport pages.”

He said the local chamber of commerce was getting behind the push, and that he had “already written to one of the major league managers and I have been corresponding with several sports writers in the east,’ to make the case for Phoenix.

“If the local fans get behind the move and convince Connie Mack that they want his team here next spring I have every confidence that the Philadelphia Athletics will do their 1922 training in Phoenix.”

Land was a bit overconfident in regard to Philadelphia; Mack chose to take the Athletics to Eagle Pass, Texas in the spring of 1922.

No team would train in Arizona until 1929—the Detroit Tigers came to the state for one season—but chose California the following year.

The Detroit Tigers in Arizona, 1929

The Detroit Tigers in Arizona, 1929

But Land, who died in 1958, lived long enough to see his adopted home become the spring training location for four clubs.

“Base-ball Established as a Business calls upon us to revise our Notions of its Usefulness”

16 Feb

Concern over the post-Civil War baseball boom was not isolated to obscure, financially troubled newspapers.  Shortly after The Harrisburg Topic editorialized on the “silly, even foolish” attention to baseball, The New York Times weighed in on the subject.

While not as staunchly against the game as their Pennsylvania counterparts, The Times had serious concerns:

“The game of baseball is, in many respects, worthy of encouragement.  In a community by far too much given to sedentary occupations and dyspepsia, it furnishes and incentive to open-air exercise, and we should be glad to see it even more resorted to than it is, among the class who would profit most by its benefits.”

Yes, said The Times, baseball was a fine outlet for “our merchants and lawyers and over-worked clerks, after their day of harassing mental labor,” but what loomed on the horizon was the cause for grave concern:

“It is one of the defects of our national character, however, that no sooner do we get hold of a good thing of this sort, than we proceed to make it hurtful by excess.  Base-ball as a recreation was well enough, but base-ball established as a business calls upon us to revise our notions of its usefulness.”

The new, professional game, said The Times, even lacked the one benefit the paper supported—a healthy outlet for players:

“On the contrary, it is so dangerous to life and limb, that in insurance language it would be labeled extra hazardous.  Fatal accidents on the ball-filed have been so common of late as hardly to excite remark, and maiming is the rule and not the exception among members of first-class clubs.  One of the best players of the Red Stockings was so injured in a recent match that he is unable to walk without crutches. (George Wright injured his right leg in an August game in Cincinnati against the Troy Haymakers).  In fact a veteran base-ball player, whose teeth have not been knocked out, or whose bones have not been repeatedly broken, is a lucky rarity.”

George Wright

George Wright

And, like many of the other voices against the growing popularity of the game, The Times said the “moral aspect of our national game” was the most troubling issue:

“At its best, it is an excuse for gambling; at its worst, a device for viler ‘jockeying’ and swindling than ever disgraced the turf.”

The professional game was a scourge that needed to be dealt with:

“It seems time, therefore, that we should ask ourselves what is to be gained by giving to the business of ball-tossing the consideration and importance which seem ludicrously disproportionate to the subject, and are well calculated to seduce the unthinking into profitless pursuit.  Perhaps we may set down to the score of journalistic hyperbole the assertion of one Western paper that the dissolution of the Red Stocking Club would be a national calamity.; but nonsense hardly less preposterous is hourly talked and telegraphed over the country on the same topic.  The spectacle of grave merchants calling a public meeting and subscribing thousands of dollars to establish a club which shall be able to beat another club is sufficiently diverting.  But when we come to have printed in our telegraphic column, side by side, with the war dispatches, and scarcely yielding to them in importance, the various interesting announcements, first, that John Smith has been expelled from the Pipkinsville B.B. Club for getting drunk, and then, next day, that he has been restored, apparently for the same reason, and that the fact has been a matter for public rejoicing, amusement in tinctured with disgust.  We are tempted to suspect that we have been worshipping a very senseless idol and that a young man of health and energy may find many ways of earning a livelihood more creditable to himself and more profitable to his country than by playing in baseball matches.”

Despite the concern about the press “worshipping a very senseless idol,” The Times continued to dutifully report baseball stories at the same rate as the paper had before the editorial; including the November announcement that the Red Stockings were disbanding.

“Men who Never did an Honest day’s labor”

13 Feb

In June of 1870, The Harrisburg Topic editorialized that Americans were the “least practical” people in the world.  Why?  Because they are the “easiest led away in admiration of affairs that have ‘nothing in them,’ that are meretricious, silly, even foolish.“  What was leading them away was baseball.

“We are led to these remarks by the returning of base ball fever…If a number of genteel idlers organize a base ball club, and engage with other clubs in rivalries which have no meaning, it is expected that business should be at once suspended, that the telegraph and the newspapers should yield all their facilities to spread before the public a result which does not prove anything.

“The best baseball players in the world are men who never did an honest day’s labor in their lives, yet such fellows will fry what little brains they have, in the heat of a summer solstice, competing with bat and ball for a superiority which does not add a feature to society’s good, physical powers of usefulness or moral dignity.  But it is fashionable.  That’s enough.

”The men or man who does an honest day’s work, where genius and art and mechanism contribute to the wealth and glory of the land, are not made half as reputable by the telegraph and the press as is a baseball club.”

(Image from 1877 Spalding Guide)

“Men who never did an honest day’s labor…”(Image from 1877 Spalding Guide)

The Topic did acknowledge that there was one thing as bad as baseball—the playing of croquet.

“We frequently see young ladies displaying great muscular force in a game of croquet, who would swoon at the base invitation to sweep a parlor carpet or prepare the vegetables for dinner.”

Croquet

Croquet, like baseball, “meretricious, silly, even foolish.”

Not only was the interest in baseball “a ridiculous display of petty vanities “on the part of the public, but it was enabled by the nation’s newspapers who the paper said should be focused on “intelligence of a more useful character than that of reports of baseball contests.”

And, said the paper, the greatest evil was the “criminal features” of baseball.

“Whenever a great game is played, the sporting men and gamblers make it the means of plying their trade, until base ball clubs are used by gamblers to rob the public, one club allowing the other to be victorious, that the gamblers may be enabled to fleece their victims.  Part of the money goes for paying expenses of the clubs in drinking and gluttony.

‘It is also a fact that sometimes those who are called expert players are the mere hirelings of rich men, who use them to win or lose a game as their interests may demand.  From this, it will at once be seen that what is called our national sport is only a degradation—a gamester’s pursuit—outraging athletic exercise and insulting to the good manners of intelligent people.”

The Harrisburg Topic went out of business two months after the anti-baseball diatribe.

“The Longest Three-bagger on Record”

11 Feb

Babe Ruth was the reason American League Umpire Billy Evans called for a rule change after the 1918 season.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

Ruth tied Philadelphia Athletics outfielder Clarence “Tillie” Walker for the league lead with 11 home runs, but Ruth was not given credit for what would have been number 12 on July 8.

Ruth’s Red Sox were in a scoreless tie with the Cleveland Indians in the tenth innings of the first game of a doubleheader.  Stan Coveleski gave up a single to Amos Strunk with one out, and Ruth came to the plate.

The Boston Post said:

“Coveleski will probably hear the crash of Ruth’s bat for many a day.  The ball sped like a bullet far into the right field bleachers almost to the top.”

The Boston Globe said:

“It is getting so now that Ruth is the man of the hour every day.  His mighty crash into the right field bleachers in the 10th inning drove Strunk home.”

Ruth’s blast landed more than half way up into the right field bleachers, and The Boston Herald said a ball had never been hit further at Fenway Park, but noted, because Strunk had crossed the plate with the winning run “The best the scorers could give Ruth was a triple;” or, as The Post called it “The longest three-bagger on record.”

The box score

The box score

That winter, in his nationally syndicated column, Evans called Ruth’s “triple:”

“(O)ne of the longest drives I have ever seen.

“If there was a real, genuine, sure-enough home run, that wallop was the last word.  It was the longest drive Ruth made for the season, yet in the records he is credited with only a three-base hit.”

Ruth hit

Ruth hit “The longest three-bagger on record.”

To Evans, the solution was simple:

“I believe a more just scoring would have had the final result 2 to 0 in favor of Boston.  I believe a rule should be made which said that when a ball was knocked over the fence, or into the bleachers in an extra-inning game, all runners on the bases, as well as the batsman, should be entitles to score.”

For any present day fan, Evans’ suggestion sounds like common sense.  But, in 1918 it was criticized in many quarters.  One of the biggest critics of the potential rule change was William Blythe Hanna of The New York Herald.  Hanna said the rule change would go against everything the game stood for:

“Nothing could smack more of sophism than such advocacy.  Ball games end when the winning run crosses the plate, and any juggling with the rules to give a man a home run under the circumstances noted would be making the game subordinate to individual feats, which, of course, would be contrary to all the well-founded tenets of sport, discipline and organization.  It is surprising that a man of Evans’ intelligence could take so specious, so fallacious a view.”

Evans suggested his proposed rule change again in a column the following year, and sportswriter Fred Lieb of The New York Sun—a non-voting member of the rules committee—introduced the proposal.  The final roadblock was committee member and National League umpire Hank O‘Day, who according to Lieb insisted “I’m telling you, it is illegal.  You can’t score runs after the game is over!”

Despite O’Day’s objection the rule change was officially enacted by the Rules Committee on February 9, 1920 in Chicago.  Hanna had his final word on the rule the following day in The Herald:

 “This is a radical departure, and it is by no means a sure thing that is was based on sound reasoning.”

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