“This kind of Argument is the Veriest kind of Twaddle”

1 Dec

After just one season in the National League—a 24-36 record and a fifth place finish in 1878–the Indianapolis Blues disbanded.  Four members of the Blues joined the Chicago White Stockings—Silver Flint, Joe Quest, Ned Williamson, and Orator Shafer.

The 1879 White Stockings

The 1879 White Stockings

The White Stockings had been a disappointment in 1878, finishing in fourth place with a 30-30 record under Manager Bob Ferguson.  President A.G. Spalding, who had named Ferguson as his successor when he retired from the field, announced that first baseman “Cap” Anson would replace Ferguson for 1879.

The changes gave the Chicago press high hopes for 1879.

But, The Cincinnati Enquirer did not agree.  The paper said while the Chicago club was “greatly strengthened where it was very weak,” they would still finish no better than fourth place unless they were “properly managed.”  Boston Red Stockings Manager “Harry Wright could take this team and run it up to second place at least.”

In January The Enquirer implied that in addition to questionable management, Chicago’s new players were going to be a detriment:

“A prominent baseball official of Boston, in a private letter written recently, sententiously remarks: ‘Look out for the Indianapolis element in the Chicago Club next year.’  There’s a text for everybody’s thoughts.”

The Chicago Tribune quickly fired back with an article under the headline:

“Harmony” vs. Energy

 “There has been a great deal said at one time and another concerning ‘harmony’ in nines, and those who had the most to say on the subject contended that it was an essential point to be carefully looked after in the formation of any club which hoped for success on the diamond field.  Now The Tribune does not wish to set itself up in opposition to the judgment of men who have made baseball and the management of those who play it a study and a business venture, but it does say that many of them have harped so long upon this matter of ‘harmony’ that it has become a kind of second nature, whereby their judgment has been sadly warped.  Of late a paragraph, started in Cincinnati, has been going the rounds, in which the general public is solemnly warned to ‘look out for the Indianapolis element in the Chicago Club’ during 1879.

“Now the President and Manager of the Chicago Club are probably about as astute and far-seeing as any in the business and in view of this fact and reflection on their judgment or sagacity is in bad taste, and the parties who make ill-advised criticisms on the course of any club in hiring men, are very apt to undergo the unpleasant experience of persons not brought up in New Zealand who indulge in the pastime of throwing boomerangs; their weapons may come back and inflict considerable damage on those who threw them.  Whether or not the White stocking nine of next season will be a ‘harmonious’ one, it is doubtful if anybody knows, and still more doubtful if anybody cares.

“At the risk of being howled at by several papers, the baseball columns which are presided over by young men whose practical ignorance of the game is exceeded only by their ability to construct tables which not even themselves can understand when printed.”

One of the “Young men” referred to was The Enquirer’s sports Editor Oliver Perry “O.P.” Caylor.

One of O.P. Caylor's tables "which not even themselves can understand when printed.”

One of O.P. Caylor’s tables “which not even themselves can understand when printed.”

The Tribune will say that the question of whether or not the Chicago nine of next season ‘harmonizes’ will probably make very little difference with its play.  Some of the men who enjoy the reputation of being first-class kickers and disorganizers are nevertheless very handy individuals to have around when a base hit or good field play in wanted.  Without intending either to arouse the wrath or flatter the vanity of the very amiable and stalwart young man, Anson, it may be said that his reputation as an experienced and prolonged kicker is one that any man might be proud of; but, in spite of those who preach that harmony is everything, he is acknowledged to be one of the best and most useful ball-players in the country.  (Cal) McVey, of the Cincinnatis, can also make quite a conspicuous kick, even when not specially called upon to do so; still he is a good ball-player.

Lip Pike is a disorganizer of the first water, but last season, when he used to hoist a ball out among the freight cars on the lake shore, people who were presumed to know a good player yelled themselves hoarse in his praise.  The list could be extended indefinitely, but such action is not necessary.  Those who organize nines on the basis of ‘harmony’ alone will never grow rich at the baseball business.  It is not possible to get together nine men who could travel around the country eating, sleeping, and playing ball together that would never get out of tune.  Nine angels could not do it, much less nine mortals, subject to the little idiosyncrasies that human nature is afflicted with. “

The Tribune likely assumed the “prominent baseball official of Boston,” was Manager Harry Wright, and next turned its attention to him, his brother, and his championship teams.

“Harry Wright has always been the prophet whom the ‘harmony’ men delighted to honor, and the success of the Cincinnati and Boston Clubs under his management has been laid entirely to the dove-like dispositions of the men engaged by him.  This kind of argument is the veriest kind of twaddle, and the history of the Boston Club proves the truth of this assertion.  George Wright and Tommy Beals went many a day without the interchange of a friendly word, and George and (Charlie) Gould did the same thing.  For one whole season Ross Barnes and Gould never exchanged a word, and glared at each other like opposing game chickens, but the Boston’s won the pennant that year (1872—National Association) all the same harmony or no harmony.

“Other instances of like character could be adduced were there any necessity therefore, but these, from the fountain head of ‘harmony,’ will suffice.  If a club wins the championship it will be because its men play ball, not because they are ‘goody-goody’ boys.  Your man who gets hot at something during a game, and then relieves his feelings by making a two or three base hit, is much more valuable than one who, although possessed of a Sunday-school temperament at all times, manifests a decided aversion to reaching first base., when the occupancy of that particular bag of sawdust would be of some value to the men who pay him high wages for playing ball.”

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Caylor would not let the insult to him and to Harry and George Wright, go unchallenged:

The Chicago Tribune published some strange statements against the argument that in harmony there was always strength.  To prove that harmony was not always necessary to create strength in a baseball club, the writer made bold to say among other things that Tommy Beales [sic] when a member of the Boston Club, went many a day without the interchange of a friendly word with George Wright, and that the same feeling existed between George and Gould.  The writer knew from the first these statements were fiction, but in order to crush the fallacious argument our reporter left it to George Wright himself for an answer.  The letter is before us from which we quote, though we half suspect George would demur to its publication out of modesty if he knew it. “

Wright wrote to Caylor:

“(The Tribune) said Tommy Beales [sic] and I went many a day without the interchange of a friendly word, and that Gould and I did the same thing.  While they were with the Boston nine they were about my best friends.  Most of the time Beales [sic] boarded at my house, while Charley and I roomed together on trips.  I think the reporter was wrong in his argument against ‘Harmony’ as it was the great cause of the Boston Club’s success.  The credit for this mostly belonged to Captain Harry Wright.”

George Wright

George Wright

Although it appears Wright spelled the name of his good friend Tommy Beals incorrectly, he got the spelling right 12 months later when he named his son—tennis Hall of Fame member –Beals Wright after his former teammate.

The Tribune allowed Wright, and Caylor, the last word, and dropped the dialogue regarding “harmony.”

Despite Caylor’s prediction, the White Stockings, under Manager Cap Anson, led the National League from opening Day through August 15.  Anson became ill during July, and as his performance slipped, so did the team’s fortunes.

Suffering from what The Tribune called “an acute affection of the liver…that had sadly impaired his strength and capacity for play,” Anson left the club on August 26 with a 41-21 record, in second place, just a game and a half back.

With Silver Flint serving as manager, and without Anson’s bat—he led the team with a .317 average—the White Stockings were 5-12 in the last 17 games, and a fourth place finish.

Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings finished second; his team, winners of the previous two National League championships lost some of the “harmony” that made them winners when his brother George Wright and Jim O’Rourke signed with the Providence Grays.  George Wright, in his only season as a manager, led the Grays to the 1879 National League championship.

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