“Pulling a Lave Cross,” Eddie Collins on the Life of a Ballplayer

24 Feb

In 1914, Eddie Collins contributed an article about the life of a major leaguer in The National Sunday Magazine, a syndicated insert that appeared in several papers across the country.

Eddie Collins

Eddie Collins

He described the beginning of his first road trip in the big leagues:

“It happened two days after I had joined the Philadelphia Athletics.  As ‘Mr. Sullivan,’ (Collins initially played under the name Edward T. Sullivan), still being an undergraduate at Columbia, I had watched two games from the grandstand at Shibe Park.

“The series over, Manager (Connie) Mack told me to report at the railroad station in time to catch a train that was leaving at six o’clock.  The Athletics were to make a quick September (1906) swing around the circuit.”

Collins said he was “about the first one at the depot,” and “eager as a boy” to begin his big league career.

Once on the train, he described the reaction of the players the first time the porter announced that dinner would be served:

“What transpired, immediately, might have led one to believe that the porter had insulted nearly everyone in the car.  There was a stampede.  Every one of the Athletics was up and rushing down the aisle, throwing aside magazines and newspapers, tumbling and pitching toward the door. The porter was knocked over and it is no exaggeration to state that one of our players—a very fleshy outfielder with elephantine tread (Topsy Hartsel)—walked over him in his haste.

“’What’s the matter with those fellows?’ I asked a veteran who had not joined the stampede.

“In justice to him, be it explained that he had a sprained ankle and couldn’t run.

“’They’re pulling a Lave Cross,’ he threw over his shoulder, as he hobbled after the others as fast as his lame ankle would permit.

“I came to know what ‘Pulling a Lave Cross’ meant.”

Lave Cross

Lave Cross

Collins explained the term, which referenced the former Athletics player:

“He was in the big leagues for years and during that period, he was never beaten into a dining car or eating room of any sort.  He always caught the first cab out of the station; he always was the first to plunge into the sleeper and select the best berth.  He never ran second where personal comforts or tastes were at stake.  During all his years, and the competition is keen, he was supreme.”

Collins said while Cross’ behavior might have been extreme, “haste” was “a habit inbred in all successful” ballplayers:

“I have noticed that after the game we all dress like firemen getting three alarms, race back the hotel, race into the dining room, race through our meal.  Then we saunter out into the lobby and kill two or three hours trying to see which foot we can stand on longer.  At first I marveled at this, then I found myself racing along with the rest of them.”

Calling himself, and his colleagues “rather peculiar individual(s)” Collins said of ballplayers:

“On the field, all his energies and thoughts are concentrated on one idea—the winning of the game.  His day’s work done, however, he throws that all off.  His first desire is to avoid the crowds and excitement.  Then he persistently refuses to talk baseball.  If you want to make yourself unpopular with big league ballplayers, drop into their hotel some night and try to talk baseball to them. “

Collins next provided readers with “some idea of ballplayers out of spangles,” to bring them into “closer touch.”

Honus Wagner, he said, was not a fan of fans:

“Down in Carnegie (PA) there are about twenty unfortunates…who are taken care of solely through Wagner’s generosity.  He has a heart as big as his clumsy looking body, but he hates the baseball ‘bug.’  Frequently wealthy fans have called at Wagner’s hotel on the road and tried to engage him in conversation.  Generally he will excuse himself and going over to the elevator boy will sit and chat with him for an hour at a time.  Wagner’s worst enemy will not tell you he is conceited, but he hates the fans prying into his affairs.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Connie Mack, he said, “is the same kind of man” as Wagner:

“Connie is forever handing out touches to old time players.  He is always thinking of anybody connected with baseball from the bat boys up. I know he insisted out little hunchback mascot (Louis Van Zelst) getting a share of the World Series’ money—not that any players objected—but it was Connie’s thought first.

“’Little Van comes in on this,’ he said.”

Louis Van Zelst

Louis Van Zelst

 

Collins also talked about how his teammates occupied themselves on the road:

“You will never find Chief Bender, our Indian pitcher, hanging around the hotel.  Too many original fans are apt to salute him with a war-whoop.  Besides, he is golf mad and when not on the diamond, he is to be found on the links… (Carroll “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 players were scared to go to the movies because they thought it would damage their eyes).  They can call the name of every star as soon as they see the face on the screen. Jack Barry, our shortstop, is inordinately fond of Hebrew literature and Biblical history.  This, although he, as well as his name, is Irish.”

Collins also shared his manager’s rules for the Athletics when the team was traveling:

 “It is one of Mack’s rules that we are only allowed to play cards on the trains…Connie is against card playing, which only leads to-night after night sessions, ill feelings and finally, disruption. I could tell you of at least one American League team that was broken by card games…Everybody has to be in bed by half past eleven and report in Mack’s room at half past ten in the morning.  For an hour Mack talks baseball, planning our campaign for the day.”

After Mack’s meeting, it was time to eat, and Collins shared his insights on ballplayers and food:

He said a “young pitcher on our club” should be a star, but “he has a weakness for roast beef,” and “persists in stuffing himself at noon time.”  He didn’t name the pitcher.

 “Walter Johnson, the greatest pitcher in baseball, also has a noonday weakness.  It is ice cream, but he seems to thrive on it.  Jack Barry feels off-color if he does not get his slice of pie…On the day he is going to pitch, Eddie Plank, our veteran left-hander, always eats tomato soup.  He thinks he would lose if he did not observe this ritual.”

Collins concluded:

“There is great temptation for the young minor league player, being put up at first class hotels…to eat his head off.  I honestly believe that more good youngsters have been ruined for big league work simply from overeating than any other extraneous cause.”

Other than their general disdain for ‘bugs,’ Collins said, in the end, players of the current era were unrecognizable from their counterparts of a generation earlier:

“Ballplayers today are scrupulously careful never to offend anyone in any way.  Especially do they take pride in being Chesterfields when women are around.”

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3 Responses to ““Pulling a Lave Cross,” Eddie Collins on the Life of a Ballplayer”

  1. Ken Samoil February 24, 2016 at 9:09 am #

    Re: “a very fleshy outfielder with elephantine tread (Topsy Hartsel)”
    Topsy Hartsel was just 5’5″ and ~155 lbs. It’s hard to imagine him with elephantine tread. This seems more like a description of Socks Seybold.

    • Thom Karmik February 24, 2016 at 10:23 am #

      It would seem so, but when he told the same story a few years later he identified Hartsel.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “Cobb is Essentially an Individual Player” | Baseball History Daily - February 29, 2016

    […] picking the man who does most to win games for the club he represents.  That man is unquestionably Eddie Collins…Here is one player who is willing to sacrifice all personal gain to help his club.  When he is […]

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