“Because Players are apt to be Foolish”

25 Jul

In 1887 John Montgomery Ward shared with The New York Sun his wisdom about what it takes for a ballplayer to get in shape.

“Gymnasium apparatus and gymnastic exercise are going out of favor among ball players for several reasons, and very few of them now attempt to keep in condition through the winter.  When you hear a player going into a gymnasium that usually means he goes in there, tries some feat and lames himself…It is not a good thing for a player to fool with the apparatus.  He does not want to develop big bunches of muscle.  What he needs is agility, suppleness, quickness of eye, hand and foot.  If he goes into a gymnasium he exercises muscles that he does not use in the field, and he either develops them at the expense of his useful muscles, so he puts too much strain upon them, thinking himself as strong in one part as another, and breaks a cord or otherwise injures himself.”

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

He said the gym contained “too many temptations in the apparatus for trials of strength…Because players are apt to be foolish about the use of apparatus managers now discourage gymnasium use as a rule.”

Ward said he, and others were injured in this way:

(Larry) Twitchell of the Detroits hurt his shoulder and could not pitch well afterward.  The parallel bars broke some small sinew in my shoulder and spoiled me for pitching, and I can feel the pain now when I raise my arm in a certain way. “

Larry Twitchell

Larry Twitchell was primarily an outfielder after 1887, appearing in just 23 games as a pitcher .

Ward then laid out his vision for how he would prepare a team for the season:

 “If I were training a nine, I would call the men together about two weeks before the opening of the season, and put them at work in a hand-ball court, watching them very closely.  Hand-ball is the best form of exercise they could have, excepting base ball, of course.  When you come right down to the point, no exercise is as good for a base ball player as base ball itself, but in this climate it is not practicable to put a nine at work on the diamond much before the opening of the regular season.  Hand ball comes next to the real thing, as it requires the same agility and quickness of eye, and it is much better than the gymnasium, because it is a game in itself and is full of amusement and excitement.  When the players get interested in a game of hand ball they forget that they are working, and before they know it they are perspiring, and their blood is circulating finely through all their muscles.  The throwing in this game is easy, and there is no danger of a player’s straining his arm or shoulder, as he might if he tried to make a long throw in the field after a long rest.   In catching the ball on the bound and returning it to the wall, activity is necessary, and the work is so quick that it keeps a player on a jump all through the game.  The constant striking of the ball with the palm of the hand accustoms the hand to the impact, and if it does not harden the palm it tends to deaden the nerves on the surface.

“In the handball court the pitcher and catcher and pitcher can pass the ball when not playing in the game, and so get the special practice that the battery needs.  Batting exercise should be kept up by the whole nine also.  The director of this training ought to understand the men thoroughly and adapt the exercise to their individual peculiarities.  The stout man needs to be worked hard and the thin man restrained.  A nervous man is inclined to go in too enthusiastically and do more than is good for him, while the stout, phlegmatic man is averse to exertion, and will not do enough unless he is urged.”

Ward said the parallel bars ruined him as a pitcher

Ward said the parallel bars ruined him as a pitcher

Ward said it was necessary to make players understand that each one should be treated differently when getting in condition for the season:

 “This makes the director’s position anything but pleasant.  The heavy men think that they are doing more than their share, and attribute the difference in work to partiality.  All expect to be treated alike, but that cannot be done, and it is difficult to make some players understand why the work should be varied.

“I would have the men begin to practice throwing about the 1st of March, insisting upon starting with light, easy work, and getting into it gradually.  They ought also to walk some and take short jogs out of doors.  A man may be in good gymnasium condition and still be unfit for hard outdoor work.  Indoor condition is different from outdoor condition.  Let a man work all winter in a gymnasium and then go outside and take a violent exercise, and he will surely stiffen up at first.  He must accustom himself to the open air and difference in temperature before trying to do too much outside.  Hand ball playing will put him in outdoor condition without laming him.  If he does not attend to this matter, but attempts to go right out of the gymnasium and play base ball, he will feel the effects very unpleasantly.  Last year the New York nine played a game the very next day after being called together, having had no preliminary outdoor training to harden the muscles and the next day the men were sore and lame all over.  It took them several weeks to get into condition.  They had to train in the field, and the result was the spring practice was greatly interfered with, and they did not begin the championship series in as good condition as they would have if they had received the proper amount of preliminary training.  A man just out of a gymnasium, with lots of spare flesh, feels strong and thinks he can do anything.  Before the public he will attempt to do more than his condition warrants.  He will try to throw a ball in from the field to home plate, and strain his shoulder or lame his arm so that he can’t throw worth a cent for the next week or two.  Or he will make a good hit and try to get in a home run, the result being lame legs or a strained knee that makes him almost useless for several games.  An injury to a good player at the first of the season may be thousands of dollars damage to the club, but some men do not seem to appreciate that fact.  When the St. Louis Browns were trained by Comiskey they came into the field in splendid condition, and took such a lead in the first part of the season that no club could catch up with them.  The Chicago Club was trained well last year, and won the championship.  This year the Chicago men are having five weeks of outdoor work at Arkansas Hot Springs under (Cap) Anson’s direction, and they will show up in fine form and be able to play well right from the start.

“Many ball players show up for the first game about 25 pounds overweight, and they have to work that off before they can handle themselves well.  It is not advisable to begin in what a trainer calls condition, because one soon feels tired; but neither is it well to have a great deal of extra flesh.  The exact condition to be recommended depends upon the temperament of the player, and must be decided by common-sense rules.  The subject of proper training has been too much neglected by base ball men, but it is beginning to receive attention, and eventually a system will be adopted and its observance enforced by discipline in the clubs.  Some players are sensible enough to see the importance of rational training and will take care of themselves and study up the best methods; but there are many foolish fellows who never think of anything in that line, don’t understand themselves well enough to work properly, and need to be directed and compelled to follow instructions.  The calling together of most of the clubs several weeks earlier this year than heretofore indicates that the managers are waking up to the importance of having their men fit for work at the start.”

He provided a glimpse of the type of manager he would be three years later when he le Brooklyn’s Ward’s Wonders to a second place finish in the Players League:

”Discipline ought to be more strict during the base ball season, and men should not be allowed to knock about and abuse their stomachs as many of them do.  While traveling about the country and getting frequent changes of food and water, it is difficult enough to keep the stomach right with the greatest care.  A nine has been disabled more than once by one man’s recklessness in eating.  A base ball player never ought to be seen in a barroom during the season.  He may go in to get a glass of beer, but he meets friends who insist upon treating, gets four or five drinks that do him no good and that he doesn’t want, and somebody goes about reporting that he was drunk.

“A thin player may get some benefit from a bottle of ale with his meal after the game, but he should not drink before the game; and the stout man should not drink at all, because he does not need anything of the kind.  Base ball players ought to keep regular hour also, go to bed early and get plenty of sleep, and be up by breakfast time.  This staying up until 2 in the morning and then sleeping until noon is all foolishness, and it ought to be prohibited.”

Ward’s views on training had a larger purpose, they were in keeping with his role as the leader of baseball’s first labor movement; in order for players to achieve the status the Brotherhood sought Ward knew they needed to take every aspect of the game seriously, including preparation:

“The sum and substance of the whole thing is that a base ball player must recognize the fact that base ball is a business, not simply a sport.  It is no longer just a summer snap, but a business in which capital is invested.  A base ball player is not a sporting man.  He is hired to do certain work, and do it as well as he possibly can.  The amount of his salary depends entirely on the way he does his work, and it is for his own interest to keep himself in the best condition and study how to get the best results.  If he does not know how to train himself, he should submit to the direction of somebody who understands the business.  Players are beginning to see this, but they need to see it more clearly yet.  They have been through the gymnasium experience and learned that performing feats of strength and turning on the rings is not good for them, and many of them have given up winter training on that account, but they have yet to learn that there is a proper system of exercising and training that is indispensable.  Those who do appreciate the importance of the matter are glad to see the growing interest and discussion, but the success of clubs that exercise systematically will o more than all the talking toward bringing about a general recognition of the benefits or training and the adoption of a perfect system of discipline.”

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One Response to ““Because Players are apt to be Foolish””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “Random Notes on the Leading Members of the Brotherhood.” | Baseball History Daily - September 29, 2014

    […] “Lawrence G. Twitchell, five years ago, was a carpenter, working for $2 per day.  Today he is a capable left fielder, and earns $2,500 for working about six months in the year.  Tony, as he is familiarly known, is remarkable for his fine physique.  No more perfect man physically ever set foot on a diamond.  The trip east from his house in Ohio to attend the convention cost him $500.  He married a wealthy young woman, who became enamored of him while playing ball at Zanesville, Ohio…Tony says he is not obliged to play ball for a livelihood.  He does it for love of the game.  He is young, beardless and handsome;  also enthusiastic as to the ultimate success of the new league. […]

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