“One of the Biggest Jokes of Baseball”

16 Mar

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner had decried spring training as an “Annual display of foolishness” in 1914.  Four years later, he was convinced the First World War had been its death knell:

“One of the biggest jokes of baseball will be eliminated to a great degree when the game is resumed, and one of the most fruitful sources of publicity will be cut down to the essentials.  The spring training trip as an institution practically will cease to be.  No longer will team be taken on long, expensive junkets South and West to ‘train’ for the season.”

Fullerton said “The thing has been overdone,” and claimed that players and owners alike were against the practice continuing.

“The expenses will be heavier than ever before and long junkets would cost too much.  But even greater than these, the next generation of professional ballplayers will be workers.  They will work all winter instead of striving to live on the cheers saved up from the preceding season.  They will not have time to spend five or six weeks loitering in the South, and further, they will report to their teams in better condition than they usually have been.”

He conceded that pitcher and catchers might be “sent somewhere” for a couple of weeks, but declared:

“(The) spring barnstorming era is ended.”

While Fullerton remained adamant that spring training was a useless waste of time and money, he did say:

“But what a lot of fun will be missed…In the spring, the teams always have with them the ‘nuts’ and peculiar characters that the scouts have a habit of discovering.  Sometimes I suspect those fellows dig up ‘bugs’ merely for their advertising value or else the minor league managers have a way of selling all their eccentrics to the big leagues.”

He said of traveling with the Chicago Cubs in Mississippi:

“We had one back in the early part of this century who beat almost all records.  He joined the club with two trunks, one partly filled with clothes and the other containing six one gallon bottles of ‘strength medicine’ which his mother had concocted.  It was made of boneset, hops, mullein, tincture of iron, garlic, asafetida, sulphur and rotgut whiskey.”

Fullerton then told the story of when the unnamed (or apocryphal) player arrived at the ballpark the following day:

“That fellow was suspicious.  He reached the practice grounds at Vicksburg, looked around cautiously, scratched a hole in the sand and buried his diamond ring.  Then he filled his pipe, lighted it and started to practice.  Pretty soon (Manager Frank) Chance yelled at him to get back of the bat and warm up the (batting practice pitchers).  He adjusted his mask, stuck the pipe through the wires and went to work.  That finished his major league career.”

Frank Chance

Frank Chance

Fullerton said Chicago’s 1898 training camp with Manager Tom Burns was “Probably the strangest” a team had ever chosen, and the one that convinced him spring training trips weren’t necessary:

Tom Burns

Tom Burns

“Hudson (New Mexico) consists of one of the finest hot springs in the world, a wide-porched, one-story hotel called Casa del Consuelo  and it is five miles from the railroad and twenty-five from Silver City.”

Fullerton said because of the terrain, and the lack of a suitable location to play:

“The team made one effort to play ball and gave up, and yet, after three weeks of horseback riding, hunting, and mountain climbing, and with only tossing the ball as practice, it was the best conditioned team I ever saw open a season.”

While Chicago might have started the season as the “best-conditioned team” Fullerton had ever seen, and won five of their first six games, they finished the season in fourth place, 17 ½ games behind the Boston Beaneaters.

The 1921 map of spring training locations shows how quickly Fullerton was proven wrong:

1921stmap

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