“The Most Graceful Player of All-Time”

25 Jun

Writing in The New York Herald Tribune in 1952, Grantland Rice, in his 51st year covering baseball, set out to choose his all-time “Most graceful” team.

The idea was borne out of a conversation with Charles Ambrose Hughes, who covered baseball for several Chicago and Detroit papers during a career that started one year after Rice’s–Hughes left the newspaper business to serve as secretary of the Detroit Athletic Club, he published the club’s magazine and led the group of investors who founded the National Hockey League Detroit Cougers in 1926–the team became the Red Wings in 1932 .

hughes

Hughes

In an earlier column that year, Rice quoted Hughes on Napoleon Lajoie:

“Big Nap, or Larry, was the most graceful player of all time.  Every move he made was a poem in action.  He was even more graceful in the infield than Joe DiMaggio was in the outfield—and that means something.”

Rice agreed:

“I was another Lajoie admirer.  I never say Larry make a hard play.  Every play looked easy—just as it so often looked to DiMaggio, (Tris) Speaker, and Terry Moore.”

The comments apparently caused a spike in the volume of mail Rice received, and he said in a later column:

“Old timers in baseball still have the keener memories.  This thought developed in the number of letters received by admirers of Napoleon Lajoie, the Woonsocket cab driver…they were writing of baseball’s most graceful player. But almost as many modern fans stuck with Joe DiMaggio.”

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Rice

Rice said the issue caused him to think about “grace or rhythm” among players:

“(It) does not mean everything.  Honus Wagner looked like a huge land crab scooping up everything in sight.  He had a peculiar grace of his own, but it was hardly grace as we know it. Yet he was the game’s greatest shortstop”

Rice based his team on “the beauty of movement,” on the field:

Rice’s team:

Pitchers—Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Bugs Raymond

Catcher—Johnny Kling

First Base—Hal Chase

Second Base—Lajoie

Third Base—Jimmy Collins

Shortstop—Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion

Outfield—Speaker, DiMaggio, Moore

Rice said:

“(T)his is the team we’d rather see play.  This doesn’t mean the greatest team in baseball…it leaves out many a star.

“But for beauty of action this team would be a standout…Looking back I can see now some of the plays Lajoie, Chase, DiMaggio, Speaker, Collins, Moore, Rizzuto, and Marion made without effort.”

Rice said Kling was not as good as Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey, “But he was a fine, smooth workman—smart and keen.”

He said he chose Raymond as one of the pitchers because of John McGraw:

“In an argument far away and long ago, I named Walter Johnson.  McGraw picked Raymond.

“’Raymond has the finest pitching motion I ever say,’ he said.  ‘It is perfect motion from start to finish—no wasted effort anywhere.”

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Bugs

Rice reiterated that the  “Woonsocket cab driver” was the most graceful of the graceful:

“The all-time top was Lajoie.  Here was the final word in grace, in the field or with a bat.  After Lajoie the next two selections belong to Hal Chase and Joe DiMaggio.  Speaker isn’t too far away.”

Rice concluded:

“Gracefulness does not mean greatness.  It means Jim Corbett in boxing, Hobey Baker in hockey, Bobby Jones in golf, Red Grange in football, Lajoie in baseball, (Paavo) Nurmi in running, It means (Eddie) Arcaro in the saddle. It means smoothness, ease, lack of effort where sensational plays are reduced to normal efforts.”

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