“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.

 

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