“Baseball is a lot Faster now”

18 Oct

Bill Gleason was the shortstop for three of the four straight American Association champion St. Louis Browns team—he was with the 1885-1887 teams—and, apparently, very superstitious.  After his baseball career ended in 1891, the St. Louis native returned home and became a fire fighter.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t spend his later years complaining about how the game wasn’t as good as when he played.

In 1926, the captain of the city’s Engine Company Number 38, sat in the Sportsman’s Park press box for game three of the World Series, and spoke to a reporter from The Post-Dispatch:

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Bill Gleason Fire Captain

“’It’s a fast team, a fast team,’ Gleason repeated again and again as the Cardinals infield worked.  ‘And baseball is a lot faster now than it was when we played it back in the old days.’”

And Gleason was aware of how most of his contemporaries felt:

“’I’m not one of these old codgers who’d tell you there are no times like the old times.  These boys out there are faster than we were, I think, and the game’s gone a long way ahead.  And I wouldn’t like to say we had any players quite up to the big fellow out there,’ waving a hand toward ‘Babe’ Ruth who was emerging from the Yankee dugout.”

Gleason noted that while his three Browns teams “were champions of the world,” he said they were not as great as the current Cardinals:

“’This man (Jesse) Haines who pitched today is a wonder.  He had everything, speed, curves, and absolute control (Haines shut the Yankees out on five hits in a game delayed by rain for 30 minutes during the fourth inning)…Sometimes it seems to me that we don’t have the pitching now that we used to, but Haines certainly furnished it for us today.  He puts me in mind of old Tim Keefe of the New York team.  He was a great pitcher in my day.”

But Gleason was even more impressed with the Cardinals infield:

“’Then there’s that double play combination.  (Tommy) Thevenow to (Rogers) Hornsby to (Jim) Bottomley.  Thevenow is lightening fast, Hornsby’s play is as smooth as silk, and Bottomley is just a beauty.”

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Gleason, 1886

Gleason said Hornsby’s play at second reminded him of his Browns teammate Yank Robinson:

“’(He) handled himself a lot like Hornsby.  You didn’t realize how fast he was moving. He worked so easily.’”

Gleason said the Cardinals had better hitting than his Browns and said of outfielder Billy Southworth:

“’He’s like Curt Welch, the center fielder of the Browns.  Goes back on a fly ball and gets set for it just like old Curt did.  And (catcher Bob) O’Farrell is a lot like Doc Bushong of the Browns—steady and dependable.’”

Gleason also talked about how the 1926 incarnation of Sportsman’s Park differed from the first version which hosted the 1886 world’s championship against the Chicago White Stockings:

“’In those days,’ he said, ‘the grounds were laid out so that we batted from Grand Avenue, and what is now home plate was then left field. “

Gleason said the following season, when the Browns again played the White Stockings in a post series, that the decision to make the series a “winner take all” for the gate money was Albert G. Spalding’s idea:

“’(Browns owner) Chris von der Ahe (wanted to) split the gate.  (Spalding) said he would play only on the basis of winner take all and we played on that agreement.  The Browns won the series four games to two.  We won the last three games here, and I think it’s likely the Cardinals will do the same thing.”

His prognostication was off—the Cardinals dropped the next two games to the Yankees, but did come back to win the final two to take the World Series in seven games.

Gleason remained with the St. Louis fire department until his death at age 73 in 1932—there was general confusion about Gleason’s age at the time of his death, The Post-Dispatch said “Records vary to his age but he was about 70,” The St. Louis Star and Times and The Associated Press said he was 66.

The Post-Dispatch said he was recovering from an infection he got from stepping on a nail at a fire, when “he insisted on going down to the corner drug store.  On the way home he collapsed from the heat and never left his bed again.”

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