“Baseball has Kept me so Happy”

27 Sep

Like every ballplayer of his era, Jim O’Rourke spent a lot of time in his 1910 interviews with Tip Wright of The United Press comparing the current game to his days on the diamond:

o'r

Jim O’Rourke

“They talk about their speed and curves these days, but the raise ball little (Candy) Cummings—he weighed only 115 pounds—used to throw is a lost art.

“The present day men can’t do it.  The nearest thing is a little upshot, which (Joe) McGinnity of Newark through last year.  You simply couldn’t hit Cummings’ raise ball squarely.  It was bound to climb the face of the bat, and the best you could get was a little pop-up.”

O’Rourke told Wright, “The greatest catcher I ever knew was ‘Buck’ Ewing,” of his former Giants teammate, he said:

“He led in batting, running, catching, fielding and base-stealing, and he could think quicker than any other man I ever saw in a game.”

As for pitchers:

Amos Rusie leads them all, and he promised to make  a record no pitcher in baseball, unless he were a genius could outdo; but poor old Amos disappeared!  I think Tim Keefe was a great curve pitcher, but for endurance I have to hand the laurels to Charles Radbourn, of the Providence Nationals.  In 1883, when his team was after the pennant, Radbourn pitched 72 games [sic 76] 37 of which were consecutive, and of the 37 games 28 were victories (Radbourn was 48-25, Providence finished third).

“If you ask me the difference between the pitchers of today and the pitchers of former days, I would say that the pitchers today have the cunningness not to go into a box oftener than once or twice a week, while the old timers used to think nothing of pitching six or seven games a week.”

radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

O’Rourke saved his greatest praise for his Boston Red Stockings teammate Ross Barnes.  He told Wright:

“Before telling you about Ross Barnes as a batter, I want to tell something about his work at second base…Barnes had long arms that he could snap like a whip.  His throws from second to the plate were the most beautiful I have ever seen.

“His speed was so tremendous that the ball did not seem to have any trajectory at all and it landed in the catcher’s hands at the same height it started from.”

O’Rourke said, Barnes was “even more wonderful,” at the plate:

“It was Barnes’ wonderful third base hits that caused the rule to be made that a ball, even if it struck within the diamond, must be declared a foul if it rolled outside the baseline…He had a trick of hitting the ball so it would smash on the ground near the plate just inside of the third base line, and then would mow the grass over the line (in foul territory)…No third baseman could get away from his position quickly enough to stop one of Barnes’ hits.”

barnestbhit

Barnes’ “third base hit”

O’Rourke mentioned two other “wonderful hitters” he saw “when a mere boy;” Dickey Pearce and Tom Barlow:

“I have seen these men with little short bats, which I believe were later ruled out of the game, make the wonderful bunt hits which we have taken to calling a modern institution.”

O’Rourke said both became “ordinary players” after they were no longer able to use the shorter bats, “not realizing that a bunt could be made with a long bat.”

And, like all old-timers, O’Rourke knew how to “fix” the modern game:

“The one big question in baseball today is how to make the game more interesting.”

O’Rourke advocated for removing the foul strike rule to increase hitting and wanted to “place the pitcher farther away from the plate.”

O’Rourke summed up his forty plus years in the game to Wright:

“Baseball has kept me so happy and healthy that there is not a minute of my past life I would not willingly live over.”

 

 

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