“It was just as Hard to Hit a Curve Ball in 1885 as it is Now”

29 Jan

Cap Anson was visiting New York shortly after the death of his wife in February of  1916, when he was asked by Bozeman Bulger of The New York Globe the question put to every former player:

"Cap" Anson

Cap Anson

“’How do you think the ball players of today compare to the boys back in the eighties?’

“’I was always of the belief,’ the Captain answered, ‘that ball players are born and not made according to set rules.  Therefore, a ballplayer had just as much chance being born in 1885 as in 1915.  Really, I can’t see a great deal of difference.’”

While Anson didn’t believe the players of his generation were better, he strenuously disagreed when it was suggested that there had been, in general terms, “a big improvement in the game itself” since his playing days:

“’Where?’ parried the veteran.  ‘The rules are practically the same.  The diamond, the bases, the ball and the bat are exactly the same.  The gloves they wear now make fielding even easier.’

“’Believe me,’ he added with emphasis, ‘it was just as hard to hit a curve ball in 1885 as it is now. We had a few great hitters then just like you have now.  Yes, and we had just as many weak ones.’”

As far as Anson was concerned, there were really only two significant changes in the game:

“The only new thing in baseball that I know of is the spitball.  In the old days, they used to pitch something like it, but not so perfectly and not with such a sharp break.  The spitball is really built on a new principle. That is practically the only new thing.  In the old days, we bunted and stole bases just as you do now, and the runners were blocked away from the plate in exactly the same manner.”

He was honest when asked if he thought he could hit a spitball:

“’No, I don’t. A few years ago when Jack Chesbro was in his prime with the spitter Clark Griffith bet me a hat that Jack could strike me out.  The argument arose over my disbelief in the spitball.  I really did think it simply a lot of newspaper talk then.  Well, we went out and tried it, and Jack did strike me out.’”

Jack Chesbro

Jack Chesbro

Anson said the other “important change in the methods of baseball,” was the number of players on each roster.

“In the old days we rarely ever had over 14 players…I don’t know whether that is a good thing or not.  When we carried a few men each of them felt that he was expected to do his part.  They all worked harder because they had to.  Nowadays if a player doesn’t feel exactly right there are two or three on the bench waiting and anxious to take his place.”

As for salaries, Anson said:

“Yes, there’s been a change there.  What an ordinary ballplayer gets nowadays would have been a star’s salary some years ago.  At that, I always got pretty good money.”

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