“Great Ball Players are not to be had now”

24 May

In August of 1904, Ted Sullivan came through the Midwest on his way  to the West Coast on a scouting trip for the Cincinnati Reds He stopped long enough in Decatur, Illinois to talk baseball with the town’s daily papers, The Herald and The Review:

“He belonged on the diamond in the days of Anson. When it came time for him to quit he did not retire, rather he took up other lines of the game.”

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan had traveled the world, become “something of a philosopher, and “seems proudest of the fact that the National League selected him as its agent to see minor league players in action and report on the promising ones.”

Sullivan said the assignment was, “proof of the confidence the best of them of today place in my judgment.”

It was, he said, “not safe to take a man from the minor leagues on the showing of the score cards,” which were “often doctored.”

Sullivan had been visiting towns around the Three-I League, and was in Decatur to watch catcher Ed Krebs and shortstop Louie Gruebner, who, The Herald said:

“Fields fine and bats like an old lady.”

Krebs took 1905 off, in part, he told The Review, because baseball cut into his fishing time.

Sullivan was among the games pioneers who thought the days of the best players were in the past.

“No, the great ball players are not to be had now, they are all dead. Ball playing is not all in the arms and legs, most of it is in the head. It is in that head quality that the men of today are lacking. Who is there to take the place of Mike Kelly of old? Why that man showed them every trick they know today, they don’t do anything worth counting that Kelly did not show them.”

Sullivan scoffed at “talk about the Pittsburgh team…being a match for Anson’s team when it was at its best and had Kelly; why, Pittsburgh is not in the same class.”

He said, “everything else in the world today is showing better brain than it ever did before,” except, of course, baseball.

“I was at Harvard watching a ball game and I sat next to the president of that university. I mentioned to him that we needed brains in the game today and he told me he thought the college men could furnish that. I told him know that we could not get that from the colleges.”

Sullivan said the best brains for baseball came out of the “vacant lot leagues,” and mentioned, “one ball player who had to make a cross as his signature, but he was getting $4,000 a year…because he had it in his head to play the game.”

There were “a better class of men” playing currently, but:

“It is a mistaken idea to think that the college athlete by breaking into the game has elevated it.”

The Review said Sullivan was, “also faithful to the ‘Old Sod,’ and maintained that the Irish made the best baseball players:

“Not one that comes from Ireland, but one whose veins are filled with the blood of the Celt.”

But while baseball would never be the same as it was during his prime, Sullivan said the game still, “shows what a great we have,” as there were players who could earn “twice the sum,” of members of the US Senate.

Sullivan’s most significant “discovery” of the 1904 trip was Orval Overall; the 23-year-old “college man was amid a 32-25 season with a 2.78 ERA for the Tacoma Tigers in the Pacific Coast League. He was the only player Sullivan scouted out West “who will be drafted.” He told The San Francisco Chronicle:

Orville Overall

“I do not consider that Overall is the best pitcher in the league by any means…but Overall has it in him to make a great pitcher and with the coaching and development he will get in big league company it will be brought out.”

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