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Fullerton on Drinking

6 May

At the beginning of the 1914 season, The Chicago Examiner’s Hugh Fullerton attempted to determine the impact of drinking on performance on the diamond.

“Boys, here is another temperance lecture in baseball averages.  It isn’t an argument or a statement of principles. Of course, we all know that a bottle of beer once in a while ‘ain’t never going to do no one no harm.’  I think during the last twenty years four or five hundred ballplayers have confided that information to me.  So it ought to be true.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Fullerton said he had compiled a list of players who were drinkers.

 “I took an even twenty of these fellows. Then I took 14 players who to my certain knowledge do not drink at all.  I jotted down the batting and fielding averages of these men using no pitchers or catchers, for six years (1907-1913), and made a composite average.  Here are the figures:
drinkersnondrinkers

“Then it occurred to me perhaps there may be some dope to show how drink acts upon pitchers.  Here are the composite averages of then men, their percentage of victories for five years:

drinkersnondrinkerspitchers

“Possibly I have picked some pitchers lucky enough to be with winning clubs; and some drinkers unlucky enough to be with losers.  As a matter of fact, one fellow on the drink side has been with a winning team and he boosts the averages of his fellows.”

A photo of baseball's premier teetotaler Eddie Collins appeared with Fullerton's story.

A photo of baseball’s premier teetotaler Eddie Collins appeared with Fullerton’s story.

His conclusion:

“Maybe these figures prove that a bottle of beer once in awhile ‘ain’t goin’ to hurt no one.” Anyhow, there are the figures.  Either the wets or the drys may use them.”

“The Realization of Their Carelessness”

1 Jun

After the 1910 season, Hugh Fullerton, writing in “The American Magazine” said baseball had no universal language.

“Each team has its different system of coaching, its different language of signs, motions, cipher words, or phrases, and no one man can hope to learn them all.”

Fullerton said the “worst of trying to study” the signs of various clubs was trying to track when they changed:

“If Arlie Latham jumps into the air and screams ‘Hold your base!’ it may mean ‘Steal second,’ today and tomorrow it may mean ‘Hit and run.’ One never can tell what a sign means. Hughie Jennings hoists his right knee as high as his shoulder, pulls six blades of grass and Jim Delahanty bunts. You are certain that Jennings signaled him to sacrifice, so the next day when Ty Cobb is bat and Jennings goes through the same motions, you creep forward and Cobb hits the ball past you so fast you can’t see it.

“If Connie Mack tilts his hat over his eyes and Eddie Collins steals second as the next ball is pitched, naturally you watch the hat, and lo, Jack Barry plays hit and run. You hear Clark Griffith yelp ‘Watch his foot!’ and see two of his players start a double steal. The next time he yells ‘Watch his foot!’ you break your neck to cover the base, and both players stand still.”

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Arlie Latham 

Fullerton said most fans gave up trying to figure out signs but they “mustn’t do that. Someday right in the middle of a game, you’ll strike the key to the language and read through clear to the ninth inning.”

He compared that moment to getting “away one good drive,” in golf, “forever afterward you are a victim,” and can’t stop.

“Did you ever watch Hugh Jennings on the coaching line near first base during a hard-fought game? He doubles his fists, lifts one leg and shakes his foot, screams ‘E-yah’ in piercing tomes and stooping suddenly plucks at the grass, pecking at it like a hen. It looks foolish. I have heard spectators express wonder that a man of ability and nearing middle age could act so childishly. Yet hidden somewhere in the fantastic contortions and gestures of the Tigers’ leader there is a meaning, a code word, or signal that tells his warriors what he expects them to do.”

Jennings said of his signs:

“I change almost every day. I change every time I suspect there is a danger of the meanings being read. I am a believer in as few signals as possible and of giving them when they count, and I find that a lot of antics are effective in covering up the signals.”

Fullerton said Mack was “one of the most successful men” at “interpreting” opponents’ signs:

“Before the Chicago Cubs went into their disastrous series against the Athletics they were warned that if such a thing were possible Mack would have their signals. At the end of the game they called a meeting to revise signals, changing entirely, being certain the Athletics knew almost every kind of ball that was going to be pitched.”

Fullerton allowed that the Cubs instead might be tipping their pitches, because he was sitting with Ty Cobb during the series, and:

“(He) repeatedly called the turn on the ball that would be pitched before it was thrown, judging from the pitcher’s motion, and the Athletics may have been doing the same thing.”

Fullerton also said of the Cubs, that although they were “the cleverest baseball team in America, composed of smart men and a great manager, for years paid less attention to active coaching on the baselines,” than other teams.

“Possibly the reason was the confidence in their own judgment and their continued success, Frank Chance’s men made few blunders and the neglect was not noticeable, except to constant observers until 1908. Any player who happened to be idle went to the coaching lines and most of the time inexperienced substitutes did line duty. In 1908 during their fierce fight for the pennant, the realization of their carelessness was brought home to them and since then Chance has employed quick-thinking, clever men on the base lines, principally relying on (Ginger) Beaumont and (John) Kane.”

john kane

John Kane

Fullerton dated Chance’s new appreciation for competent coaching to July 17, 1908; that day the Cubs beat Christy Mathewson and the Giants 1 to 0 on an inside the park home run by Joe Tinker. Heinie Zimmerman was coaching third base for the Cubs.

The Chicago Inter Ocean described the play:

“Joe, the first man up in the fifth, hit one of Matty’s best as far as any ball could be hit in the grounds without going into the stands. Where the center field bleachers join the right field 25 cent seats is a V-shaped inclosure. Joe drove the ball away into this dent, and it took Cy Seymour some time to gather the elusive sphere. When Cy finally retrieved the ball, Tinker was rounding third.

“Zimmerman grasped this as the psychological moment to perpetrate one of the most blockheaded plays ever pulled off. He ran out onto the line and seized Joe, trying to hold him on third, when the ball was just starting to the diamond from deep center field. Joe struggled to get away, as his judgment told him he could get home, but Heinie held on with a grip of death. Finally, Tink wriggled away and started for the plate.”

 

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Zimmerman

The paper said Tinker would have been thrown out had Al Bridwell’s throw to the plate been on target:

“Had Tinker been caught at the plate the 10,000 frenzied fans would have torn Zim limb from limb. Chance immediately sent Evers out to coach at third base and retired Zim to the dark confines of the Cubs’ bench.”

Thus, said Fullerton:

“Chance began to develop scientific coaching, and discovering its full value, took the lead in the matter, employing skilled coachers.”

“He Dresses as he Darn Well Pleases”

1 May

In 1914, writing about Honus Wagner in “The Baseball Magazine”, William A. Phelon said:

“Wagner’s dislike for fancy clothing is well known. I have seen the massive Teuton lounging in the swellest hotels with a grey flannel shirt and no sign of a necktie, while the fashionables were trooping by. Eccentricity? No—Honus doesn’t pose as an eccentric. Boorishness, ignorance of etiquette? Not that bird, for Hans Wagner is as pleasing a country gentleman as anyone could hope to meet.

“Presswork, publicity stuff? He does not need any. He is as independent as he is powerful; as solid and determined in mind as he is in body, and he dresses as he darn well pleases. He is Hans Wagner and he is worth five or six dressy dudes that look in agony upon his tieless flannels.”

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Wagner

Phelon shared several stories about Wagner—Phelon, like Hugh Fullerton, was known for his active imagination—the magazine said in the sub headline of the article: “We shall not endeavor to trace their origin any farther.”

Phelon described a night in Hot Springs with the Pirates shortstop:

“He commands attention and gets respect, even before folks know him for the great ballplayer…Wagner, correctly clad, a splendid picture of strength and manly perfection, was listening to the music in the big ballroom. Sitting beside me was a Chicago plutocrat who has his millions, all won by hustling every minute of his business hours. This man who did not know Hans Wagner, was studying the ballplayer’s general makeup. Finally, turning in his chair, the rich man exclaimed, ‘Who the devil is that man? He’s the sort of fellow I’d like to have working for me. Bulldog, fighter; think; learn a trick and never lose it; honest as the day is long—I wish I had him. Say, Bill who is that?’

“’Hans Wagner, Mr. ——-,’ I answered, strangling a grin. The millionaire took another long, long look. ‘So, that’s Wagner, hey?’ he murmured. ‘Now I understand why he has his reputation.’’

Phelon said it “delights a crowd” to see Wagner strike out “especially if the feat is performed by some kid pitcher.”

He then suggested:

“Perhaps I am wrong, but it has seemed to me, on several occasions, as if Honus deliberately struck out just to give the crowd a ration of glee and flatter the youngster on the slab. When the Pirates are safely ahead, and some young hurler has been sent to the hill by the losing foe, Hans actually seems to strike out far oftener than at any other time, and it always looked to me as if he did so—always making a terrific wild swing at the last one—just through good heartedness.

“And how the crowd always yells and bellows in sheer ecstasy! And how the kid pitcher swells up and hugs himself, while he thinks of the glory that is his—the joy of telling everybody, to the last day he lives, about the time he struck out Hans Wagner—and made him miss the big one by a mile.

“Of course, all these strikeouts may be accidental, and the old boy may be trying—but why is it that you will so often see Wagner miss three under such circumstances, while it’s blamed seldom you’ll see him fan is a tight game, with men on, and some star pitcher working against him?”

“Fifty bucks, Buck”

10 Feb

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune called Buck Ewing “the greatest of them all,” after Ewing died in 1906.

Fullerton said, “Ewing stories will be told for generations,” and shared one about a bet with Mike “King” Kelly.

”It happened back in the days when the players of the different clubs were friendly and met at night to discuss and argue over their games instead of sulking separately and discussing their woes.”

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Ewing

He said that day, Kelly had stolen two bases “off the king of catchers,” and Kelly, “kept harping on it until Buck was a bit nettled.”

Ewing told Kelly:

“Well Mike, if Danny Richardson plays second tomorrow, I’ll bet you $50 you don’t steal a base.”

Kelly took the bet, and Fullerton said the following day “three or four of us who knew of the bet sat together in the stands.”

 

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Kelly

Kelly singled in the third inning:

“(O)n the first ball pitched; he tore for second with a fair start. Buck threw. The ball went like a shot, straight towards the bag, perhaps three feet up the line towards first, a perfect throw to catch any runner—except Kelly. Richardson got the ball five feet ahead of the runner. He was stooped over and swung his body quickly to tag Mike, he expecting the King to make one of his famous twisting slides. Instead, Kelly leaped, jumped clear over Richardson, and lighted flat on his back on top of second base.

“Above the roar of the crowd arose Kelly’s voice, and what he said was this:

“Fifty bucks, Buck.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things: Clark Griffith

3 Feb

Griff out West

Griffith loved to tell stories about his time playing in Montana, one story the “truthfulness” of he “vouched” he told The Cleveland Leader in 1912:

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Griffith

“The scene was at Butte, back in the nineties (1892), and the story resulted from a baseball game between Missoula and Butte at the latter town. There were a lot of gamblers in Butte who wanted to back the team, so about $5000 was bet on the game.”

Griffith was on the mound for Missoula:

“Everything went along nicely for a while, with a monster crowd on hand hollering for everything it was worth for Butte to win.

“In the ninth inning Missoula was leading by one run, but after two were out Butte got a man on third and then the catcher let the ball get away from him. It rolled a short distance, but when the catcher went to retrieve it one bug leaned over the stand with a six-shooter in his hand. ‘Touch that ball and you are dead,’ he shouted. And the catcher stood stock still in his tracks.”

Griffith said the players “were scared stiff” and watched the tying run cross the plate.  He claimed Missoula scored in the 10th and won the game 5 to 4.

Griff on Lajoie

In 1900, Griffith and Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune were watching Napoleon Lajoie take ground balls during practice:

“He looks less like a ballplayer, handles himself less like an infielder, goes at a ball in the strangest style, and gets them more regularly than any fellow I ever watched. He fights every ball he picks up, scoops them with without looking, and keeps me nervous all the time.

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Napoleon Lajoie

 

“Every time a grounder goes down to him, I want to bet about three to one he will fumble, but he always gets them. He has some system for making the ball hit his hands which I don’t understand.  And I’ll tell you a secret: He has a system of making his bat hit a ball which drives pitchers to drink.”

Griff’s All-Time Team

In “Outing Magazine” in 1914, Griffith presented his all-time team:

P: Amos Rusie

P: Walter Johnson

P: Cy Young

P: Christy Mathewson

C: Buck Ewing

1B: Charles Comiskey

2B: Eddie Collins

3B: Jimmy Collins

SS: Herman Long

LF: Bill Lange

CF: Tris Speaker

RF: Ty Cobb

Griffith’s most surprising pick was choosing Comiskey over his former teammate and manager Cap Anson. He told the magazine:

“(Comiskey) was the first man to see the possibilities of the position. Before his day a first baseman was only a basket. He stood glued to the bag, received the balls thrown to him, but never moved away.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

He said Anson, “Although a great player, was not Comiskey’s equal.”

He chose Long over Honus Wagner he said, because “Hans has a barrel of ability, but he’s not such a foxy player as many persons think, but he is a wonderful batter.”

Griffith called Jimmy Collins, “The most graceful fielding third baseman the game has ever seen,” and said Tris Speaker ”is the most remarkable outfielder that ever lived.”

As or his chosen catcher, Griffith said:

“Buck Ewing never has known an equal as a catcher. I call him the best ballplayer the world ever has known. The only man who approached him was Mike Kelly of the old Chicago White Sox, Kelly too, was a wonder, but not quite equal to Ewing.”

Slagle Climbs a Hill

20 May

Wilbur Goode had just been traded to the Chicago Cubs by the Boston Rustlers in an eight-player deal in June of 1911, when Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Record-Herald asked the 25-year-old to describe the greatest play he had ever witnessed:

“Of course, I haven’t been in fast company long enough to tell much about great plays, maybe not long enough to pretend to judge which are really great.”

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Goode

But Goode said Jimmy Slagle, his teammate the previous season with the Baltimore Orioles in the Eastern League made the greatest play he had ever seen:

“The play was made on the Rochester grounds and by Jimmy Slagle. The fans in the big circuit know Slagle perhaps better than I do and they have seen him make some wonderful plays—but perhaps never one under such circumstances.”

Goode said Slagle still had enough speed to live up to his nickname “Rabbit” even though he was 36 and playing his final season of professional baseball.

He said the field conditions in Rochester were thus:

“The grounds are rather strangely laid out. The diamond and outfield are cut down to a perfect level, and to make the outfield level part of a hillside was scraped down, leaving a terrace around the field, which in some spots is six feet higher than the field itself.”

Goode said it was late in a game with the Orioles holding a one-run lead over the Bronchos; Rochester had runners on first and second with no one out:

“The next batter raised the ball high and far to left center.

“Slagle had been playing deep, expecting a long fly, or at least to prevent a long hit from going through and beating us right there. The ball went high and on the line. There was a row of carriages and autos on the terrace. The runners held their bases for an instant, saw that the ball was going far up on top of the terrace, and believing no one could reach it, they both started for the plate.”

slagle.jpg

Slagle

Slagle raced to the base of the terrace:

“He leaped, put one foot against the side of the embankment and leaped again, shooting himself upward and landing on top of the terrace. The ball was going over and straight at a big red automobile. I remember the women in the machine screeched and dodged. Just then Slagle came bounding up onto the terrace, leaped again, stuck up both hands and grabbed that ball.”

After making the catch:

“Slagle ran to the edge of the bank, shot the ball in, and although the runner got back to first, the one returning to second was doubled and the game was saved.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #31

25 Mar

The Best Off-Hand Cusser

Louis Santop was one of the favorite players of Rollo Wilson, the long-time baseball writer for The Pittsburgh Courier.

Wilson put many nicknames on the Texas-born Santop over the years, including “My boyfriend from Rio Pecos,” “the swaggering Longhorn,” “The big Bertha of the Bats” and the “Disappearing Gun.”  He also once described Santop—known for his colorful language–as “the best off-hand cusser who ever piloted a Missouri mule through a Texas mudhole.”

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Santop

Wilson wrote Santop’s baseball eulogy after the catcher played his final game for Hilldale—or Clan Darbie as Wilson referred to the club which originated in Darby, Pennsylvania– in 1926:

“That countless army of athletes who have earned their final plaudits of the fickle fans has been augmented by the once incomparable catcher of Clan Darbie—Louis Napoleon Santop.  News of his unconditional release was sent out last week and this time methinks the firing will stick.  For years ‘Top’ was one of the most colorful players in the game and his deadly bat was known and feared far and wide.  As a drawing card with certain groups he ranked second to none.  It was the usual thing for neighborhood fans to cry, ‘Put Santop in,” whenever someone else donned the catcher’s regalia for Hilldale.  But that time has gone, and his day is done and now he lives in the world of ‘used to be.’  The Lone Star Ranger has ridden herd on his last ball game.  The clarion ring of that famous bat when the lusty swing and mighty pitch met fair and true is stilled forever. (Of course, he may fill in temporarily now and then, but regular ball diet is no longer the food on which the Caesar will feed.)

“When someone—for instance, Rube Foster—with an intimate knowledge of Negro baseball and its players writes a history of the game his All-Time team will have as its first-string catcher our boyfriend of the Rio Pecos, Santop.”

Shortly after Santop’s exit, Foster was committed to the asylum in Kankakee, Illinois and never had a chance to write “a history of the game.”

Hoblitzel’s ‘X-Ray eye’

Dick Hoblitzel told The Cincinnati Times-Star in the spring of 1911 he was “training his batting eye,” and:

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Hoblitzell

“(B)elieves he will soon be able to count the stitches on a ball before it leaves the pitcher’s hand.  ‘It’s the X-ray eye that does this,’ he avers, and he has made a bet of a suit of clothes that he will finish in the .275 class or better.”

Hoblitzel, perhaps as a result of his “X-ray eye,” improved his average 11 points to .289 in 1911.

Seventh Inning Stretch

In the July 1912 edition of “The American Magazine,” Hugh Fullerton set out to understand “the custom” of the seventh inning stretch.

“(It) has become almost universal and almost as much a part of the ceremony as is the tea interval at cricket. There are variations.  In some cities the fans stand and yawn widely, ‘stretching’ before resuming their seats.  In others everyone takes out a handkerchief and brushes hat and clothes until the flapping of handkerchiefs makes an astonishing amount of commotion. The custom is based on the superstition that seven is lucky.”

fullerton

Fullerton

Fullerton claimed:

“The fact is a larger percentage of baseball games are won and lost in the seventh than in any other inning.  I examined 860 scores last winter to study this phenomenon, and discovered that 184—over a fifth, were decided in the seventh inning; an abnormal number.  But a further study of the figures convinced me that the superstition is responsible for the ‘luck’ rather than the other way around.  For the home team won in 151 out of the 184 games, proving, to my satisfaction at least, that the rooting of the crowd does affect visiting players.  It is evident that the custom of rooting wildly for the break to come in the seventh inning has the effect of shaking the nerve and the confidence of the opposing teams and from a study of those 184 scores it looked as if the effect was principally upon the pitcher.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #28

19 Dec

Satch on Segregation, 1943

In 1943, The Associated Press asked Satchel Paige about the prospect of integration in major league baseball:

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Paige

“’It’s the only sport we haven’t cracked,’ the big, loose-jointed star of the Kansas City Monarchs said last night.

“’I think some of our boys will get major tryouts next spring; in a couple of years I believe they’ll be in the lineups. I wish we could start out with a club of own—all colored boys,’ he asserted.  ‘Later, when they got used to us playing, they could mix the teams up.’”

Fat Cupid, 1901

When the Chicago Orphans released veteran Cupid Childs on July 8, 1901, The Chicago Daily News eulogized the big league career of the one-time star.  Some highlights:

“The passing of Childs removes from the National League, probably forever, one of it’s best known characters… (He was) remarkably fast on grounders and flies, despite his fat shape and short limbs… (Chicago manager Tom) Loftus though he could make the fat man renew his youth, and Childs has certainly done the best he knew how.  Through years of experience the league fielders had learned how to play for his hits; his batting became light in consequence, and his fielding continued very good for a fat old player.”

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Childs

The paper was correct that Childs’ major league career had come to an end, he played three and a half more seasons in the minor leagues before calling it quits for good.

World Series Souvenirs, 1906

Two of the highlights of the surprise win by the 1906 White Sox over the Cubs in the World Series were the bases loaded triple by weak-hitting George Rohe that accounted for the all scoring in the 3-0 White Sox victory in game three; and Frank Isbell’s four doubles in game five.

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune, who made his reputation as a prognosticator that year by being one of the few experts to pick the Sox, told his readers about an encounter with Isbell after the series:

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Isbell

“I dropped in at the South Side Grounds…I discovered (Isbell) under the grand stand, staggering under a load of bats, and followed him along under the stand.  Then he dragged out a bushel basket filled with old practice balls and began packing balls and bats into a big dry goods box.

“’What the dickens are those, Issy,” I asked.

“’Balls and bats.’ Calmly remarked the Terrible Swede.

“’what are you going to do with them?’

“’I’ll tell you,’ remarked Issy, seating himself on the edge of the box.  ‘I began collecting them in July and saving them up.  I knew everyone in Wichita (Kansas, Isbell’s off-season home) would want one of the balls that was used in the world’s championship series.

“’Those, he added serenely if ungrammatically, pointing at the bushel of baseballs, “are the balls Rohe  made that triple when the bases were full.’ And those,’ he added, pointing to the bats, ‘are the bat used when I made those four doubles in one game.’”

Corbett on Gentleman Jim, 1916

After his baseball career, Joe Corbett worked for several years as a deputy to the San Francisco County Clerk.  In 1916, The San Francisco Call & Post said the younger brother of former Heavyweight Champion Gentleman Jim Corbett, had a way of dealing with fans who wanted to talk to him about his brother’s prowess in the ring—he would tell them:

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Corbett

“They tell me he was a great fighter; you see, I don’t know.  I only saw him in the ring twice; I guess he wasn’t fighting then.  (Bob) Fitzsimmons won the first time and Jeff (Jim Jeffries) knocked him out the second time.  But they tell me he was some fighter.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #23

4 Jun

Evers Shuts Down Donlin

Mike Donlin’s final comeback ended with a final stop with the New York Giants as a coach and pinch hitter.

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Mike Donlin

Frank Menke of Hearst’s International News Service said Donlin tried to get under Johnny Evers’ skin in the last series the Giants played with the Braves:

“Evers, the peppery captain of the Boston Braves, walked up to the plate…watched three strikes whizz by and was declared out.

“’Oh, I say, Johnny,’ chirped up Donlin.  ‘What was you waiting for?’

“Quick as a flash Johnny shot back:

“’I wasn’t waiting for the first and fifteenth of the month so as to get rent money, anyway.’

“The retort hurt Mike who was holding down the job as pinch hitter and coach for the Giants not because of his ability in either department, but through the friendship of Manager (John) McGraw.”

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Johnny Evers,

Donlin appeared in just 35 games for the Giants, all as a pinch hitter, he hit just .161.

Comiskey Can’t Understand Padden

By 1906, Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune said of the importance of “a man whose brain is as agile as his body…Never was this fact so impressed upon me as a few years ago when I was sitting with (Charles) Comiskey.”

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Charles Comiskey

Fullerton and Comiskey were watching the White Sox play the St. Louis Browns:

“Commy was talking, half to himself, about Dick Padden, who was about as quick a thinker as ever played the game.

“’I can’t understand it,’ soliloquized the Old Roman.  ‘He can’t hit. He can’t run. He isn’t good on ground balls.  He’s not any too sure of thrown balls, and his arm is bad.’ He stopped a moment and then added: ‘But he’s a hell of a good ballplayer.’”

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Dick Padden

Jones Shuts Down Altrock

Nick Altrock won 20 games for the 1906 White Sox, after an arm injury and his general disinterest in staying in shape, Altrock slipped to 7-13 the following season.

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Nick Altrock

Late in 1907, The Washington Evening Star said:

“Altrock is the champion mimic and imitator of the American League…Nick delights to give his various imitations, and much amusement do his companions find in these diversions of Altrock.

“The other day at Chicago, and just a few minutes before the game between the New Yorks and the Windy City aggregation began, the big pitcher was delighting the members of his own team, as well as several of the New York bunch, with his clever imitations of notable people, when he suddenly turned to Fielder Jones, the captain and manager of the Chicagos, and asked:

‘”What shall be my last imitation for the evening, Fielder?’

“’Why,’ replied Jones, with that sober look of his, ‘as I am going to pitch you this evening, Nick, suppose when you get in the box you give us an imitation of a winning pitcher.”

Wagner is the Nearest Approach to a Perfect Baseball Machine”

30 May

Claude Johnson was the long-time sports editor for The Kansas City Star.  Al Spink, in his book “The National Game,” called the paper “one of the greatest newspapers in the Western world,” and said of Johnson:

”He is a real baseball enthusiast… (The) sports pages are widely read and perfectly edited by little Johnson… (he) ought to be dancing in the big league.”

When the Pittsburgh Pirates came to town to play exhibition games with the American Association Kansas City Blues, Johnson wrote a long profile of Honus Wagner:

“Hugh Fullerton, who writes on baseball topics, has said that Hans Wagner is the nearest approach to a perfect baseball machine ever constructed.  ‘Constructed ‘ is good.  Wagner is put up solidly, after the fashion of government architecture.  And you may take it straight from any bug who ever saw Hans Wagner that he is some baseball machine.“

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 Honus Wagner

Johnson said in the Kansas City games Wagner had the “star role:”

“Do you know, it’s lots of fun to watch Hans Wagner play ball.  A good deal of this is due to the fact that Honus enjoys it himself.  He has as much fun playing ball as a kid on a corner lot.  He romps about and kids the opposition…and nags good naturedly the umpire. For Hans is field captain this year and feels that he must do some beefing.  But beefing is hard work for Hans.  He is too good natured.  Hans would much rather take a bun decision with a humorously protesting wave of his enormous hands and make up for it later by one of his terrific wallops.

“Hans has a lot of little mannerisms on the field.  He is a born comedian, though so bashful he will hide himself under the bat rack if he sees a reporter coming.”

Johnson said Kansas City fans were as impressed with his work in the field as at the plate:

“Most of what you read of Hans is about his tremendous hitting, and it is all true, too.  But Hans is a miraculous fielder, also.  He has a style that is all his own.  No bush leaguer would dare try to play short like Hans Wagner.  He plays wherever he pleases; retreating to the edge of the outfield grass, whence only his mighty arm would carry to first in time to head off a fast runner.  When he goes after a ground hit he goes after it like a runaway gondola loaded with coal—but he gets it, if it is getable.  And when once one of those ponderous hands clamps down on the pellet there it remains quietly until the great shortstop wings it on its way.

“Wagner’s pegging is something to ponder.  Several times in the Kansas City series he would field a sharply hit line drive lazily, merely lobbing the ball over to first and beating the runner only by a step.

“’Shucks,’ remarked some of the bugs who were watching Honus for the first time, ‘that guy’s as slow as molasses.  A fast man would have beat him.’

“Wait a bit though.  There goes a fast man—and his hit was a slow one .  But he’s out, by the same distance.  And if you want to see Honus really peg, watch him finishing up a double play.  The big frame moves like a streak.  He gets the ball away in a twinkle—and it nearly knocks the first baseman off the bag.”

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Wagner

Next Johnson described Wagner at the plate:

“At bat Honus is a study.  He is built like a piano mover above the waist and below he resembles a pair of parenthesis.  He is one of the few celebrities who can stand bowlegged and pigeon-toed at one and the same time, and he does it with ease and aplomb.  At least it looks very much like aplomb.

“Hans twiddles his ponderous bat as if it weighed about as much as a feather duster.  He balances it between his fingers, pulls down his cap and takes his stand–bowlegged and pigeon-toed—well back of the plate.  You see the reason for the latter.

“Wagner watches the ball from the time pitcher starts his delivery.  He steps into the pitch with a long, swinging stride, and meets the ball with a heave of his whole powerful frame.  It looks very easy, and there is a certain grace about it too.  But what you mainly notice is the streaky appearance of the ball, whatever way it may travel, tearing its way through the hands of an infielder or flying like an arrow over the outfield.”

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Wagner

Johnson said, in the final game of the series, Wagner “walked into the first” pitch he saw in the eighth inning:

“He did not seem to hit the ball hard, yet, it soared away into the top of the center field bleachers—one of the longest hits ever made inside the park.”

The Pittsburgh Post called the home run, “a wallop into the center field bleachers…the longest hit of the series.”

As for Wagner himself, Johnson said:

“Hans is a likable chap—a retiring, modest sort of star.  He is fond of dogs and collects strays in nearly every city he visits.  He can’t bear to see a dog hungry.  If he can’t provide for them elsewhere he ships them home, where he has a dog farm collected in that way.  Hans’ main pet is a Dachshund, whose legs, he says, are dead ringers for his own.

“And he’s a great old boy, is Honus.  And you can start something with nearly any bug by suggesting that there is a greater player doing business today.”