Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #12

3 Nov

The Cost of Superstitions, 1913

John Phalen “Stuffy” McInnis his .324 and drove in 90 runs for the 1913 Philadelphia Athletics, but the first baseman hit just .118—2 for 17—during the World Series.

Stuffy McInnis

Stuffy McInnis

The Washington Post told how one superstition among the athletics players might have contributed to McInnis’ slump:

“Those boys believe that they can change the luck at a crucial moment by hurling their bats in the air and letting them fall where they will.  Probably you fans have often seen them do it.  They also believe that they can keep up their good luck by continuing this practice.

“During the first game, in which (Frank “Home Run”) Baker hit a home run, the Athletics started tossing their bats the minute the ball was hit.  As the bats came down Stuffy McGinnis couldn’t get out of the way in time and one of them struck him in the ankle, causing a painful bruise.  He limped to first base and for a while (Connie) Mack was afraid he couldn’t go on with the game.”

Despite McInnis’ slump, the Athletics beat the Giants four games to one.

The Case against the Spitball, 1905

Baseball’s greatest pitcher hated the games most controversial pitch.  In 1905 Denton True “Cy” Young was quoted in The Sporting Life saying it wouldn’t be long before the pitch disappeared entirely:

“I don’t think the ‘spit ball’ is going to cut a much a figure as was thought early in the season.  Many of the pitchers that were using it at the start of the campaign have cut it now, and from now on the twirlers that use it will be dropping it one by one.  I used it against Philadelphia and Washington and had it working nicely, but it hurt my arm and I have cut it altogether.  An old pitcher like myself has no business using it at all.”

Cy Young

Cy Young

Young said the pitch injured his forearm and said he was not alone.  He claimed Jack Chesbro, George Mullin, (Guy) “Doc” White all received similar injuries.   And Washington’s Case Patten, who a year earlier so loved the pitch The St. Louis Republic said he was often “giving the ball a shower bath preparatory to flinging,” was now saying the pitch “lamed his arm.”

Young said even for those who weren’t injured, the spitter would ultimately lead to pitchers losing “control of his curve ball and his fast ones.”

While Chesbro disagreed with Young’s claim that his arm problems were the result of throwing spitballs, his effectiveness diminished greatly after the injury.

Young’s prediction of the demise of the pitch was premature.  At the time of his statement, Chicago White Sox pitcher “Big Ed” Walsh was perfecting the pitch, which he learned from teammate Elmer Stricklett—who had also been instrumental in Chesbro’s use of the spitter.   Walsh started throwing the spitball regularly in 1906.

Ed Walsh circa

Ed Walsh circa

A month before his death, on his 78th birthday and bed-ridden, Walsh remained an advocate for the pitch Cy Young detested.  He told a reporter for The Associated Press:

“I admire the pitchers today who throw the pitch.  Some people call ‘em cheaters.  They’re not.  They’re just guys doing everything they can to win.”

Wahoo Sam’s Scouting Report, 1914

Coming off of the New York Giants off-season world tour with the Chicago White Sox, the consensus opinion seemed to be that Giants Manager John McGraw did not make a mistake in signing Jim Thorpe, the world’s greatest all-around athlete, to a three-year contract worth–depending on the source—from $5,000 to $6,500 per season.  Many doubted Thorpe’s prospects after he hit just .143 in 19 games for the Giants in 1913.

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe

But, not to worry, said McGraw:

“All Thorpe needed was every day action, instead of idleness, although of course sitting on the bench all summer gave him a chance to learn lots of things that will stand him in good stead later on.”

The baseball world generally agreed with McGraw’s assessment.

Hugh Fullerton predicted Thorpe would be “the most sensational baseball player of 1914.”

Damon Runyon declared Thorpe was “now a star.”

Gustave (G.W.) Axelson, Sports Editor of The Chicago Record-Herald, who traveled with the teams, said of Thorpe’s development during the trip:

“The fans in the United States will see an entirely different kind of player when Thorpe Lines up for the season. “

White Sox pitcher Joe Benz, who played against Thorpe on the tour, agreed saying Thorpe “improved greatly” and would be of “great assistance to the Giants,” in 1914.

But, “Wahoo” Sam Crawford, the Detroit Tigers outfielder who traveled with the tour as a member of the White Sox disagreed with all the glowing accounts of Thorpe’s progress.  The Detroit Times said:

“Thorpe’s speed is all that commends him, according to Sam.  He is not a particularly good fielder, and he cannot hit.  He is not a natural hitter at all, but he gives the bat a little upward chop as he swings at the ball in a way that Crawford never saw any man do before.

“Furthermore Thorpe doesn’t seem to have that baseball instinct that is so necessary for a big league player, say Crawford.  He is a very chesty fellow for a man who has yet to prove that he is of big league caliber, is the assertion made by Wahoo Sam.”

Sam Crawford

Sam Crawford

Crawford’s assessment was the most accurate.  Despite the fanfare that accompanied Thorpe’s return from the tour, Thorpe was never better than a mediocre outfielder (career .951 fielding percentage) and he hit just .252 over parts of nine major league seasons.

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4 Responses to “Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #12”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Lost Pictures–Tris Speaker and Laddie Boy’s Brother | Baseball History Daily - April 10, 2015

    […] promote his breeding business–Oorang Kennel Company–hired another one of his customers, Jim Thorpe, and together they organized the Oorang Indians National Football League […]

  2. Murphy’s “Billion Dollar Team” | Baseball History Daily - August 17, 2015

    […] “(John) ‘Stuffy’ McInnis, Jake Daubert, Eddie Konetchy, Fred Merkle, and Jack (Dots) Miller are all stars, but they are ‘also rans’ in the class with Prince Hal of the White Sox.” […]

  3. “Pulling a Lave Cross,” Eddie Collins on the Life of a Ballplayer | Baseball History Daily - February 24, 2016

    […] “Boardwalk”) Brown, the young pitcher who did so well for us last year, is a billiard expert… (Stuffy) McInnis and (Eddie) Murphy are the ‘movie fiends’ of our club and are the only ones (Collins said many […]

  4. Baseball History Daily - March 11, 2016

    […] Stock, Jim Thorpe and Moose McCormick at Marlin, […]

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