One Minute Talk: Jack Coombs

21 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

With the Brooklyn Robins in first place by four games after beating the Boston Braves 5 to 2 on August 14, Jack Coombs said:



“Baseball is a peculiar game.  The life is hard and the game fast but there is a fascination about it that just holds one.  There is something that comes of matching your eye against a sweeping curveball that can be found in no other game in the world. Once you get inside the flannels you hate to lay them aside.

“We Brooklyn men should win this pennant.  We have a fair lead and at the clip we are traveling should not have much trouble in holding our position.

“We arrived at the top through good baseball and no one can down us.  However, there are 55 games to  play and accidents may cut us down.”

The “Brooklyn men,” managed to hang on to first place through the final 55 games, beating the Boston Braves by two and a half games.

Coombs, who won 80 games for the Philadelphia Athletics between 1910 and 1912, missed nearly all of the next two seasons battling typhoid fever.  Signed as a free agent by Brooklyn in 1915–he was 15-10 2.58 that season and was 13-8 with a 2.66 ERA for the 1916 pennant winners; he posted Brooklyn’s only victory in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox–a 4 to 3 victory in game 3.

Coombs was also true to his observation that “Once you get inside the flannels you hate to lay them aside.”  After a brief, unsuccessful tenure as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1919, Coombs was a coach for the Detroit Tigers in 1920. He then spent the next 32 years as a college baseball coach at Williams College, Princeton, and Duke–remaining in the game until he was forced to retire from Duke at the age of 70.

Coombs at Williams College, 1921

Coombs at Williams College, 1921

When he arrived at Williams, in Williamstown, Massachusetts in the spring of 1921, The New York Tribune said Coombs, having discovered that “training rules had not been observed,” by Williams players in previous years–the two previous coaches at Williams were former teammates of Coombs with the Athletics, Ira Thomas, and Harry Davis, “(A)sked the student body to encourage the members of the squad to train, to criticise them if they did not, and to help them with their studies.”


One Minute Talk: Art Wilson

19 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Art Wilson

Art Wilson

Art Wilson of the Chicago Cubs talked about the least favorite ballpark of  fellow catcher and former New York Giants teammate, the 6′ 5″ 230 pound Larry McLean:

“The distance from the home plate to the backstop in Pittsburgh (Forbes Field) used to be a terrible strain on Larry in the hot weather.  Every time a wild pitch or a passed ball got by him Larry would cuss out the man who laid out the Pirate plant.



“One night (Pirates owner) Barney Dreyfuss was seated on the veranda of the hotel where the Giants were stopping.  Larry had chased eight balls that afternoon.  He approached Dreyfuss and tapped him on the shoulder.

“‘Barney,’ he said, ‘you’ve got a great ballpark but it’s lacking in one detail.  You should have taxicab service  at the home plate for catchers to help them chase wild pitches and passed balls.'”

One Minute Talk: Christy Mathewson

17 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Christy Mathewson, if the first days in his new role as manager of the Cincinnati Reds said:

“Of course I was willing to go to Cincinnati apropos of the deal which brought me there to manage the Reds.

Cartoon accompanying the announcement of Mathewson's appointment.

A cartoon accompanying the announcement of Mathewson’s appointment as Cincinnati’s manager

“The worries of management don’t appeal to me particularly, especially after knowing the hours that (John) McGraw has lain awake nights, but, on the other hand, I’m too fond of baseball to want to get out of it before I have to.

“The problem of building up a team that is in last place, watching it grow and learn baseball is fascinating and that, with my desire to stay in the game, makes me willing to tackle the job.”

Christy Mathewson with John McGraw

Christy Mathewson with John McGraw

Mathewson had a 164-176 record as manager of the Reds before stepping down in August of 1918.

One Minute Talk: Hooks Dauss

14 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

George “Hooks” Dauss, Detroit Tigers pitcher, told the story of a teammate’s misfortune:


“Catchers are often put on the pan for mistakes which cost their teams ballgames but there are times when the mistakes are unavoidable.”

Dauss said his teammate Raymond “Red” McKee had made an “unavoidable” mistake recently that cost Detroit a game against the Cleveland Indians.

(Ray) Chapman was on first base, one out and (Elmer) Smith at bat at the time. Chapman made a bluff to steal and McKee tore off his mask to see better where he was throwing. In doing so he hit one eye with the mask and temporarily blinded himself.

“McKee made a perfect peg, had anyone been covering second, but as Chapman didn’t go down no one was there and the ball sailed out to center field.”

One Minute Talk: Joe Jackson

12 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox, on his way to hitting .341—third in the American League behind Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb—had some advice for pitchers about saving their arms:



“If you want to put your arm on the blink just start fooling with the fadeaway ball.

“I’ve had one experience and it cured me. After pitching four or five fadeaways I developed a kink in my elbow and decided to quit experimenting.

“Some fellows have studied the thing and got it down to a fine art. They tell me it doesn’t affect their arms, but if they pitched it as steadily as some fellows throw the spitter they wouldn’t last long in any league.”

“When Wilson wanted to Play he was a Star”

10 Oct

When campaigning for Woodrow Wilson in 1912, former North Carolina Governor Robert Broadnax Glenn would tell crowds about the year he spent as Wilson’s teammate on the Davidson College baseball team.

Governor Glenn

Governor Glenn

The Baltimore American said, while stumping for Wilson in Maryland, Glenn told supporters that the candidate had an “(A)rm like iron and the speed of the wind,” and could have been a great player:

“Woodrow Wilson was a fine baseball player but too darn wrapped up in reading to come out for practice…(he) was a good player but he was too confounded lazy to make a star. When the team would be called out for practice, we’d have to go to his room and drag him away from a book.



“But when Wilson wanted to play he was a star. He played left field and while he had an awkward way of running, he covered a lot of ground and was the best pinch hitter on the team.  His only trouble was he cared more for history than for Spalding’s rule.”

Wilson withdrew from Davidson in 1874 when he became ill, Glenn said:  “After that, Wilson went to Princeton and I went back to the plow.”

Not much else was said about Wilson’s interest in the game, and after he was elected, some questioned if the new president would support baseball the way his predecessor William Howard Taft had.  The Associated Press said:

“Washington fans have wondered whether or not the new administration, of which a former college president is the head, would give as much support to the great game as did President Taft, an irrepressible fan.”

The question was answered April 11, 1913, when Wilson threw out the first pitch for the Washington Senators’ home opener:

The Washington Star said:

“Wind, weather, and press of duties permitting, President Wilson is believed likely to be a frequent attendant at the American League Baseball Park…The belief is based on the interest shown by the president in the first game of the season and his applause when the bird of victory which had shown itself exceedingly coy, finally decided to perch on the shoulders of the Nationals.”

The paper noted that excitement overtook the chief executive on one occasion:

“President Wilson at one point in the game arose to his feet in his enthusiasm.  Official dignity prevented his yelling.  A cheer arose in his throat, but did not pass his lips. He could and did applaud frantically, however, by clapping his hands.”

The American Press Association said:

“There is no doubt about it—President Wilson is a real baseball fan.  He knows all about the game, and he is going to be seen often at the ballpark here.  At the opening game of the season between the Washingtons and the Yankees the president was given a new ball in a box by Clark Griffith, manager of the Senators, and he threw it—not tossed it, mind you—with speed and precision into the hands of pitcher Walter Johnson…For a few hours he forgot all about the intricacies of the tariff situation and gave himself up to enjoyment.

Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 Opener--"Catching new ball in Box from Clark Griffith" and "Wilson the fan."

Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 Opener–“Catching new ball in Box from Clark Griffith” and “Wilson the fan.”

And Wilson did appear often, attending five Washington games during the first six weeks of the 1913 season.  He would attend just one more that season and a total of six more during his presidency.

Wilson, program in hand, after throwing first pitch to umpire Billy Evans in 1915.

Wilson, program in hand, after throwing first pitch to umpire Billy Evans in 1915.

“It is a democratic game for Americans”

7 Oct

Charles Phelps Taft, owner of the Philadelphia Phillies and brother of President William Howard Taft, told The Cincinnati Times-Star his brother’s visit to Chicago’s West Side Grounds for the September 16, 1909, Cubs-Giants game was meant to send a message to the American public:

Charles Phelps Taft

Charles Phelps Taft

“That is one of the reasons why my brother attended (the game) just after starting on his long tour around the country…He wanted to put his stamp of approval upon what he and I regard as our country’s greatest outdoor institution for pleasure.  He was as glad to shake hands with the players that day as they were to meet him.  My brother is very fond of the game for the mere sake of personal enjoyment as well as to observe its bearing on the country at large.”

President Taft at West Side Grounds

President Taft at West Side Grounds

Taft told the paper that he and the president were of the same opinion:

“Baseball…is strictly American in every particular.  It deserves  its great popularity because it is clean and wholesome.  It offers opportunity for the rich boy, the poor boy, the educated boy and the uneducated boy.  It is a democratic game for Americans.  Professional baseball has an important effect upon the young men of the country.  It offers to many of them the chance of quitting vacant lots, where unhappily, a number would otherwise become mere idlers.”

Baseball, Taft said, was aspirational:

“Once they become proficient enough as ball players to reach the big league they get an insight into the better things in life and immediately they become ambitious.  They realize then what it means to neglect education. It stimulates them to go higher and higher, and when they return to their homes then stimulate those left behind by example.

“The future of baseball is in keeping the game clean.  The players must be manly.  The day is coming when so called toughness will be a thing of the past in baseball.  The personnel of the players is improving every year and will continue to improve.

“Any game that can give the unfortunate youth of neglected training a chance to rub elbows with the boy from college on an even footing is a great game.  Both the college boy and the less fortunate boy are benefitted.  It is democracy.”

President Taft meets Giants catcher John "Chief" Meyers after the game in Chicago

President Taft meets Giants catcher John “Chief” Meyers after the game in Chicago

When asked about his personal experience playing baseball, Taft, born in 1843,said:

“Oh, no, I got old before baseball got to be so popular.”

And about the president, fourteen years his junior:

“As to whether my brother played or not—well, I don’t really know whether he ever played at Yale.  Anyway, we both like the game just as well as if we had played.”

President Taft “Not only Likes the Game, but Knows it”

5 Oct


President William Howard Taft,  above shaking hands with Cubs pitcher Mordecai Brown, attended the September 16, 1909 game at Chicago’s West Side Grounds.  Tickets for the game went quickly and scalpers who expected a windfall were foiled by Cubs’ management.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Ticket scalpers who tried to dip their hands into the pockets of local baseball fans  through the opportunity offered to see President Taft at Thursday’s Cub-Giant game were foiled in a novel way by the Cub officials.  How thoroughly did not develop until (the morning after the game).”

The Cubs limited the number of tickets to three for each purchase, but “A flock of scalpers and their agents obtained a couple hundred seats in blocks of three,” but the paper said they were unable to sell most of them.

Taft attended a make-up game, necessitated by a June 9 postponement.

“(Cubs management) had no set of reserved and box seat tickets for (the make-up date).  Instead the regular set printed for the game of June 9, which was postponed, was revised for president’s day…when (scalpers) tried to hawk and dispose of them around the ‘L’ stations and elsewhere prospective buyers were seeing the date ‘June 9,’ became suspicious and would not buy.  Consequently, practically all the seats the scalpers purchased were left in their hands.”


A syndicated cartoon that appeared the day before the game.

In addition to shutting down the scalpers, the paper said the Cubs went to great lengths to ensure that the game would be incident free:

“Few of those who thronged the park knew of the preparations made to insure safety not only of the nation’s chief but of every person present, nor how ‘carefully the seat reserved for President Taft was guarded from danger that might arise from the presence of any crank.

“On the day before the game the entire plant was inspected by the police and building departments.  Wednesday night three watchmen spent the night in the park.  From early morning two Pinkerton men remained beneath the section of the stand in which the president’s seat was located, and from noon until the president left the grounds there were twelve detectives and secret service men directly beneath that section of the stand.

“The actual number of guardians of the president was close to 500 aside from his own immediate bodyguard.”

The paper said the security force included 50 Secret Service agents, 60 Chicago police detectives and nearly 400 uniformed officers.

The overflow crowd 0f nearly 30,000 watched the Giants behind Christy Mathewson further dash the Cubs pennant hopes with a 2 to 1 victory–over Mordecai Brown–dropping the Cubs six and a half games behind the Pittsburg Pirates.


President Taft meets Giants first baseman Fred Tenney after the game.

The visit by Taft–and his interest in baseball in general–was, important for the game according to The Chicago Daily News:

“The prestige which baseball gains by numbering among its admirers a President of the United States who has graced three major league diamonds during the current season is inestimable.”

Taft attended games at Washington’s American League Park and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh in addition to his Chicago trip.  His presence sent a message to the public that:

“(I)t’s leading citizen, blessed with a clear mind and a great one, approves of its favorite pastime.”

The paper said that while at the game in Chicago, “Taft for an hour and 30 minutes…ate popcorn and drank lemonade as simply as a big boy enjoying a long-expected holiday.”

And, the paper said, his interest in the game was real:

“President Taft is not a baseball fan because it is the popular pastime, but because he is one and because he not only likes the game, but knows it.  That was manifest by the closeness with which he followed each play, scarcely ever taking his eyes off the ball while it was in action.  A leading constituent might be confiding an important party secret to the presidential left eat while another citizen whose name appears often in headlines might be offering congratulations on the outcome of the battle for revision downward to the right auricle, but while both ears were absorbing messages from friends both presidential eyes were steadily watching Christy Mathewson and the Giants revise downward the standing of the Cubs.”

Taft attended games at major league ballparks 10 more times during his presidency.

“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.


Lost Pictures–Ty Cobb’s “Outburst of Historic Art”

30 Sep

After the 1916 season, Ty Cobb spent four weeks on Long Island shooting the first feature film starring a major league ballplayer.

The story for “Somewhere in Georgia” was written by Grantland Rice, then of The New York Tribune.

Ty Cobb and leading lady Elsie MacLeod

Ty Cobb and leading lady Elsie MacLeod

Rice said of the film:

“For the matter of twelve years Tyrus Raymond Cobb, the first citizen of Georgia, has proved that when it comes to facing pitchers he has no rival…It may have been that facing such pitchers as (Ed) Walsh, (Walter) Johnson, (Babe) Ruth and others has acclimated Ty to facing anything under the sun, even a moving picture camera.  At any rate, when Director George Ridgewell, of the Sunbeam Motion Picture Company, lined Ty up in various attitudes before the camera he was astounded at the way the star ballplayer handled the job.

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

“These paragraphs should be enough to break the news gently that Cobb, wearying of competition with (Tris) Speaker, (Joe) Jackson and (Eddie) Collins through so many years, has decided to go out and give battle to Douglas Fairbanks and Francis X. Bushman.  Not for any extended campaign, but for just one outburst of historic art.”

Director George Ridgeway said of his star:

“The most noticeable thing about Cobb’s work was this:  I’ve never had to tell him more than once what I wanted done.  I had an idea that I would have to take half my time drilling him for various scenes in regard to expression and position. But, on the contrary, he seemed to have an advance hunch as to what was wanted, and the pictures will show that as a movie star Ty is something more than a .380 hitter.  In addition to this, he is a horse plus and elephant for work. Twelve hours a day is nothing to him, and when the rest of us are pretty well worn out Cobb is ready for the next scene. I believe the fellow could work twenty hours a day for a week and still be ready for overtime.”

Rice noted that Cobb balked at just thing during the filming:

“Ty was willing enough to engage in mortal combat with anywhere from two to ten husky villains.  He was willing enough ti dive headfirst for the plate or to jump through a window, but when it came to one of our best known pastimes, lovemaking, he balked with decided abruptness.

“Despite the attractiveness and personal appeal of the heroine, Miss Elsie MacLeod, Ty was keen enough to figure ahead, not what the spectators might think of it, but what Mrs. Tyrus Raymond Cobb of Augusta think. The love making episode, therefore, while more or less thickly interspersed, had to be handled in precisely the proper way to meet Ty’s bashful approval”

The "bashful" star

The “bashful” star

The New York Tribune claimed that “More than 100 motion picture scenarios” were presented to Cobb before he agreed to appear in Rice’s.  The paper said, “(H)e would not, he emphatically stated, appear in anything that was not compatible with both his dignity and his standing in the baseball world.”

The Ty Cobb character in “Somewhere in Georgia” is a bank clerk who plays ball for the local baseball team—he, along with the bank’s cashier are vying for the love of  the banker’s daughter.  Cobb is scouted and offered a contract by the Detroit Tigers but the banker’s daughter tells him he must choose between baseball and her.  At the same time, the cashier, Cobb’s rival for the banker’s daughter, bets against the home team and plots to have Cobb kidnapped by “a gang of thugs.”

Cobb accosted by thugs

Cobb accosted by thugs

After being held hostage in a cabin, Cobb escapes with the help of “a local farm boy,” and:

”Commandeering a mule team, Ty succeeds in reaching home just in time to make a spectacular play and save the game for his team.  He then turns the tables on the cashier, wins the girl and winds things up in a manner appealing to ball fans and picture fans alike.”

Cobb escaping with the aid of a local farm boy.

Cobb escaping with the aid of a local farm boy.

Billed in advertisements as “A thrilling drama of love and baseball in six innings,” no prints of the six-reel film survive, but Cobb received better reviews than most of his brethren who attempted a film career.

After the film’s release in 1917, The Tribune said:

“(A)s an actor Ty Cobb is a huge success.  In fact, he is so good that he shows all the others (in the cast) up.”

When the film premiered at the Detroit Opera House in August of 1917 The Detroit Free Press said:

Ad for the film in Detroit

Ad for the film in Detroit

“(The film) is not only a most interesting baseball picture, but it gives views of “The Georgia Peach” that one does not see at Navin Filed…One seldom gets a chance to take a peep at Ty in civilian clothes and he shows himself to be as much at home in this story of love and romance into which a few baseball surroundings have been woven as he is on the diamond.  He makes a pleasing film hero, wooing and winning the bank president’s daughter and performing other exploits that one would expect from Douglas Fairbanks and his like.”