Tim Murnane, who began his career as a first baseman for Middletown Mansfields in the National Association in 1872 and later was a member of the Boston Red Stockings in the National League’s inaugural season in 1876, would go on to become one of the most influential baseball writers in the country.
Writing in The Boston Globe in 1906, he said he had discovered the one thing that caused the greatest harm to a baseball player.
“Over-feeding kills off more ballplayers than accidents or hard work on the ball-field.”
Murnane suggested two solutions. First, he recommended that, “The Fletcher system should be taken up by the veteran ballplayers without delay.”
The “Fletcher System” or “Fletcherizing” was a then very popular diet technique put forth by a “self-taught nutritionist” named Horace Fletcher. Fletcher claimed, in several books published during the first decade of the 20th Century that the key to weight loss was to chew food so completely that it was virtually liquefied before swallowing. Called “The Great Masticator,” Fletcher counted Thomas Edison, Henry James, Franz Kafka, John D. Rockefeller, J.C. Penny—and apparently Tim Murnane—among his adherents. His theories had fallen out of favor, replaced by diets based on calorie intake, by the time of his death in 1919.
Secondly, Murnane said, “(T)he rules of eating should be laid down by the management of every club.”
He said Harry Wright, who had been Murnane’s manager in Boston, “(W)as about the first baseball man to keep a close watch over his players during meal time,” and insisted they eat lightly before games.
“’Just a plate of soup. That’s plenty,’ would be Mr. Wright’s cry as the players filed into the dining room for lunch. The greatest athletic performances on the field have been accomplished on practically empty stomachs.”
“I have known at least half a dozen good ballplayers being passed up in Boston on account of paying no heed to the manager’s advice about overloading their stomachs. Frank Selee was just as much of a stickler in this line as was Harry Wright, and both were remarkably successful baseball managers. The manager who does not pay especial attention to this end of the players’ life must lose out, for his team will be unable to keep up a fast clip very long after the boys commence to take on flesh as the result of overfeeding and drinking.”
Murnane had other diet tips for readers:
“A ballplayer cannot drink too much good milk. The greatest drinker of milk I ever knew was James O’Rourke, and Jim, after thirty-three years on the ball-field, is just as lively a 10-year-old today. O’Rourke never used tobacco in any form, nor ever indulged in malt liquors, but what a milk drinker he has been all his life and what credit to the national game, from every angle you view the old sport!’
Murnane blamed the disappointing performance of the Boston Americans in 1905 (Fourth place, 78-74, 16 games out of first) on the dietary habits of the team:
“To be honest, I think the Boston Americans last season practically ignored condition from first to last. I never witnessed on one ball team so many men out of form by being overweight…This club would have won at least one dozen more games had they taken good care of their stomachs, and no one knows this better than Captain (Manager Jimmy) Collins himself, who has said it will be a much different season with the Boston club next season.”
The next season, 1906, was much different, but not in the way Collins had hoped. The team was 35-79 when Collins was replaced as manager by Charles “Chick” Stahl, and finished in last place with a 49-105 record.
“Baseball was never intended for a fat man’s game, and Captain Anson was the only heavyweight who ever piloted a pennant winner, although my old friend Charley Comiskey was growing a bit stout when his boys carried off the prize five years ago.”