Baseball’s “Growing Evil”

24 Jun

By 1913 newspaper articles under the byline of a famous player were common in newspapers across the country, and most of the game’s biggest stars were represented.

Most fans of that era assumed the players did their own writing until an expose appeared in The Washington Herald in March of 1913.  Sports Editor William Peet wrote:

“The dear old public fell for this stuff and swallowed hook, bait and sinker.  An article under the signature of Christy Mathewson led three-fourths of the fans to believe that the great pitcher himself wrote it.”

According to Peet, players were paid between $250 and $1000 for each story “and not one of them wrote a single word,” but it was still a good investment:

“The newspapers themselves regarded these feature articles as good investments, for the reason that the stories were syndicated to 25 or more outside publications and the revenues derived not only paid the amount guaranteed the baseball player for the use of his name, but left a handsome profit.”

Peet exposed the writers behind the articles “written” by the game’s biggest stars:

Christy Mathewson and Jeff Tesreau/John Wheeler, The New York Herald

Walter Johnson/Ralph MacMillan, The Boston Journal/The Boston Herald

John McGraw/Walter Turnbull, The New York Evening Sun

John “Chief” Meyers/Jim McBeth, The New York American

Richard “Rube” Marquard/Bill Farnsworth, The Atlanta Georgian/Hearst Newspapers

Denton “Cy” Young/Sam Carrick, The Boston Post

Tris Speaker/Tim Murnane, The Boston Globe

“Smokey” Joe Wood/Jim O’Leary, The Boston Globe

Ty Cobb/Roger Tidden, The New York World

Hughie Jennings/George “Stoney” McLinn, The Philadelphia Press

John McGraw and Christy Mathewson

John McGraw and Christy Mathewson

Peet called the practice dishonest, and said it had gone too far, and in New York and Boston the practice   had “become a mania.”  Peet singled out an article “written” by John McGraw criticizing “Chief” Myers that caused an “explosion,” and said the articles featuring “Rube” Marquard’s byline, and written by Farnsworth got Marquard “in bad with his teammates, for Farnsworth spared no one is his scathing criticisms.”

Pittsburgh Pirate manager Fred Clarke disagreed with the practice, telling Peet:

“I do not think it is any ball player’s place to butt into the newspaper end of the game…I think it is foolish for any player, especially those who take part in the world’s Series, to write about the games.”

As a result of Peet’s revelations the American League club owners condemned the practice of players’ names appearing on articles they did not write, but came just short of officially banning the practice. In September, the Baseball Writers Association petitioned the National Commission to end the “growing evil” of players authoring or appearing to author articles during the upcoming World Series.

The commission agreed, and American League President Ban Johnson informed Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack on the eve of the World Series that star players Eddie Collins and Frank Baker “have been instructed not to write baseball stories or give the impression they are writing them.  If they ignore this request, a way of punishing them would be found. “

Frank Baker, center, Eddie Collins, far right,

Frank Baker, center, Eddie Collins, far right,

Johnson even threatened “Collins and Baker would not be permitted to take part in the World Series,” if they wrote articles or permitted their names to be attached to articles.

At one point Johnson and National Commission Chairman August Hermann said they would consider calling off the series if players refused to comply.  Dave Fultz, the former player, practicing attorney, and president of the Fraternity of Baseball Players, said members of the commission could be personally liable for damages if the series was cancelled.  Johnson and Herman’s threat to cancel the series as a whole was put to rest.

Mack argued that the players had contracts with newspapers and that Johnson had said earlier that players who were “capable” of writing their own articles would be permitted to do so, but as he prepared his team to play the New York Giants, he prepared for the worst, telling The Associated Press:

“(I)f the commission decides the players must not write under any conditions and players decide not to abide by the ruling, I will be prepared to put a team on the field,” The AP speculated that utility infielder John “Doc” Lavan  would play second base  and outfielder Rube Oldring would be moved to third base, with Amos Strunk taking Oldring’s place in the outfield.

Mack’s adjustments weren’t required.  Collins was allowed to write for The Philadelphia Record because his deal with the paper predated the commission’s ruling, and Baker did not write articles.  Together they led the Athletics to a 4-1 Series win, hitting .421 and .450.

Ghost written articles, and articles actually written by players never disappeared, but the practice became much less popular after the revelations and battles of 1913.

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19 Responses to “Baseball’s “Growing Evil””

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