Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

The 1925 Homestead Grays

18 Jun

Twenty-five games into the 1925 season, the independent Homestead Grays had won 23 games, lost one and tied one according to The Pittsburgh Courier.

Bill Nunn of The Courier called the club, “Pittsburgh’s one winning ballclub,” and regionally the “greatest drawing card in baseball.”

He estimated that more than 70,000 fans, “male and female, white and black” had attended Grays games to that point of the season.

Nunn provided rare sketches of the players “From the plate to the fence.”

Of the team’s three catchers he said:

Bill Pierce was, “colorful and forceful, with a mighty arm and powerful bat. William “Pep” Young, he said was, “A veteran with a wise head, and an almost uncanny ability to detect the opposing batter’s weakness.” Harry “Rags” Roberts was, “The Nick Altrock of the Grays,” and the converted outfielder was, “a wonderful utility man.”

The pitchers:

Oscar Owens was, “a speedball artist. The strength of his arm and the power of his bat had made him a popular idol.” Smokey Joe Williams was, “showing the way to all others …his fastball, which travels a bit faster than Oscar’s, is sending him to the top with leaps and bounds.”

Smokey Joe Williams

Charles “Lefty” Williams, “The Grays little southpaw” had been with the club since 1921 and, “His work has done much to place the Grays in the enviable position they hold today.” Laudie “Pete” Walker was, “A protégé of ‘Dizzy’ Dismukes, and the latest addition to the staff,” had, “a world of speed and a puzzling curve ball.”

First baseman Willie “Dolly” Gray had, “the flashiness of a (Charlie) Grimm and the speed of a reindeer (he) is hitting like a demon.”

Second baseman Raymond “Mo” Harris was, “Reliable, cool under fire and a dangerous man at the bat by reason of the fact that he seldom goes after bad ones, and makes a pitcher lay it ‘in the groove.’ Mo fits in nicely.”

Shortstop Gerard Williams, “Captain of the club…first appeared in Pittsburgh playing with Dismukes’ Keystones…Williams is one of the greatest shortstops of modern days.”

Third baseman Jasper “Jap” Washington had, “a pair of the biggest hands in baseball, a powerful arm, and a mighty bat. Jap’s colorful work, his fighting heart and withal, his good nature, has endeared him here.”

Right fielder Dennis “Peaches” Graham was, “The Grays most consistent hitter…a former schoolteacher and a college graduate is quiet and unassuming, but when a drive goes into right, or a hit is needed to score a run, Graham is sure to produce.” Nunn said Graham had hit safely in all 25 games and was, “the fastest man on the Grays team going down to first base and is hailed by opposing teams everywhere as the greatest all-around ball player, white or black, they have ever seen.”

Center Fielder Willis Moody, “a product of the West Virginia hills…is said by old fans to be as good a fly chaser as Oscar Charleston in his palmiest days.”

Left Fielder Vic Harris completed “the greatest outfield combination the grays have ever known, and one of the greatest in the country. Harris was, “a sure fielder and his bat peals a merry tune.”

Vic Harris

Sam “Lefty” Streeter, who Nunn identified as “Joe,” had yet to pitch for the Grays but had arrived in Pittsburgh that week after having started the season with the Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro National League. His acquisition provided the Grays with “a pitching staff equal to any in Negro baseball.” The Alabama native was, “said to be one of the greatest pitchers ever developed in the south.”

By August, The Courier reported the Grays had played 100 games, with a record of 84-14-2

1925 Grays Back Row, left to right: Washington, Walker, J. Williams, Pierce, Charlie Craig, Young, Owens R. Harris Front row left to right: Moddy, J. Williams, G. Williams, Graham, V. Harris, Roberts, Streeter, Gray. Scales is not pictured.

Nunn’s opinion of the club did not wane. In September he called manager Cum Posey a, “shrewd diplomat of human merchandise,” who had “built up a team of stars which includes on his roster some of the greatest baseball players of modern times.”

Nunn claimed that Owens threw “four no-hit games” that season, and in In another column in July, he described the Grays hurler:

“One of the most picturesque figures in independent baseball…The muscular Adonis has won 19 games, lost two, and twirled in one tie engagement…Owens is one of the miracles of modern baseball, hereabouts. When asked as to how he kept in such remarkable physical trim, Oscar replied: ‘My wife, regular hours, and abstinence from strength destroying habits, have kept me in the shape I am.”

Nunn said Owens’ wife served as the pitcher’s personal trainer, “using a special preparation on (his arm) after each game.”

Mid-season, George Scales had joined the Grays, moving Washington to first and moved Dolly Gray to the outfield where he supplanted Moddy.

 Of the new infield combination, he said: “Speed and intelligence together with a punch at the bat are rolled up” in the four.

The club won the Tri-State (Pennsylvania-Ohio-West Virginia) Independent League. The Courier simply said the team had “played over 150 games this season and won more than 125.”

“Pop Lloyd was the Paragon of Deportment”

16 Jun

Randy Dixon was a World War II correspondent for The Pittsburgh Courier, reporting on the Tuskegee Airman among the many stories that carried his byline. Before leaving for Europe, he had sometimes written about baseball for The Courier.

In a 1940 column, he said he participated in a “fanning bee in which were engaged a blend of old timers and an opposite cast of comparative youngsters,” to select the greatest Negro League player of all-time and the best player(s) in other categories.

After “a maze of testimony, pro and con,” the group decided:

“Pop Lloyd was the paragon of deportment.”

John Henry “Pop” Lloyd

Buck Leonard was, “the least colorful,” player while Luis Santop was “the biggest box-office attraction.”

Dick Redding, Satchel Paige, Stuart “Slim” Jones, and “Smokey” Joe Williams were “the speed kings among pitchers,” Paige was also said to be the “goofiest” player.

”Martin Dihigo was the most versatile and possessed the best throwing arm, but was also the most mechanical.”

The best baserunners were Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Pop Lloyd Dick Lundy and Rap Dixon, Bell was the fastest runner, he described the long-forgotten Alfredo Barro, referred to as only “Cuban Baro” as “a close runner up.”

Oscar Charleston

The pugnacious George “Chippy” Britt—who Dixon referred to as “Oscar”—was one of “baseball’s Joe Louises.” Jud Wilson was the other. Wilson also “zoomed the ball hardest off his bat.”

Frank Warfield was the most graceful player, while “Jake Stevens [sic, Stephens] was the trickiest.”. Toussaint Allen, “had no peer” playing first base. Josh Gibson was “the longest hitter.”

Willie Foster had the best pickoff move. Biz Mackey possessed “that uncanny sixth sense that anticipated proper spots for pitchouts and for inside manipulations.”

”Willie “Devil” Wells lived up to his nickname among Dixon’s panel, he was “the toughest for fellow club members to get along with.”

Rube Foster was the best manager. The Hilldale Club was said to be “the best paying proposition in Negro Baseball.”

The Harrisburg Giants, when managed by Charleston and with a roster that included Rap Dixon, Fats Jenkins, and John Beckwith, was “the gas house crew of all time.”

Wendell Smith, Dixon’s colleague at The Courier, just three years into a writing career that would earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame did not make the list of the all-time best black best baseball writers. The group chose Romeo Dougherty of The New York Amsterdam News, Frank (Fay) Young of The Chicago Defender, W. Rollo Wilson and Bill Nunn of The Courier, and John Howe, the editor of The Philadelphia Tribune; Howe had died 12 years earlier.

And finally, the consensus of the group for “greatest player, all things considered,” was Oscar Charleston.

“A Blatantly-Cruel Job”

14 Jun

After James “Cool Papa” Bell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974, “an old-time Negro League baseball star—one of the all-time greats for certain,” had a few thoughts on Negro Leaguers and the Hall of Fame.

The former player, who, “is not the beneficiary of big-time publicity,” talked to Andrew Spurgeon “Doc” Young of The Chicago Defender.

Bell

Young said:

“The old-timer knows he was better than many of the Negro League players who are being touted for that ‘special niche’ reserved in the Hall of Fame for unfortunate blacks—those superior blacks who were barred out of organized baseball by racial bigots.”

The “old-timer,” according to Young said the committee instituted by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn in 1971 and chaired by Monte Irvin, “has done a terribly bad job…a ridiculous job, a blatantly-cruel job.”

His chief complaint:

“Andrew, ‘Rube’ Foster should have been the first man from Negro League ball admitted to the Hall of Fame. He did more for Negro League baseball than anyone else. He was outstanding on four levels: Player, manager, team operator, and league czar.”

Young recalled that Joe Green, who played with and against Foster during his nearly two decades with several Chicago clubs, told him:

“Joe Greene [sic] knew Rube Foster well and he told me: ‘When Rube Foster died, the league died with him.”

Foster

The “old-timer” said:

“I know something about Rube Foster first-hand. He was a great man…One reason why Rube hasn’t been honored is that the committee is dominated by Easterners, Foster’s greatest triumphs were achieved in the Midwest. It’s a damn shame, really.”

 Then, he called out the most recent honoree:

“It’s got to be a damn shame when players who were twice as good as Cool Papa Bell can’t make it. I played against Cool Papa Bell, and I know he wasn’t an all-around star. He could run fast but he couldn’t throw and couldn’t hit with power. I think Satch (Paige) helped to promote him into the Hall of Fame.”

Young would not share his opinion of Bell but said the “old-timer” was “essentially right” about the failings of the committee.

“’Sure, I’m right,’ the old-timer said. ‘Jelly Gardner was a better player than Cool Papa Bell. Martin Dihigo was one of the greatest players who ever lived. Oscar Charleston, Bullet Joe Rogan, Bingo DeMoss—all three of them were better than Cool Papa Bell.’

“’You should know,’ the writer said. ‘You played against them all.’

“’Absolutely,’ the old-timer said. ‘And he didn’t crack a smile.”

Young never revealed who the “old-timer” was.

Foster was finally inducted in 1981, after Charleston (1976) and Dihigo (1977). Rogan would not be honored until 1998. Gardner and DeMoss have remained overlooked for induction.

“I Know I Made a Bum Play”

4 Jun

Harry George “H.G.” Salsinger spent nearly 50 years as sports editor of The Detroit News and was posthumously honored with the J. G. Spink Award in 1968.

In a 1924 article he said:

“Baseball historians, setting down how a pennant was won, often point to one series that was the break in a season’s race. One can point to a certain game as the deciding one of that particular series and that game probably had one play that was the break of the game and that one play came on a certain pitched ball.”

Salsinger said in the Tigers 1907 pennant winning season:

“All who studied the matter were agreed that one series decided the pennant, a series between Detroit and Connie Mack’s crack Philadelphia machine, played late in the season (September 27 and 30). And one game decided that series, a 17-inning tie that broke the Athletics.”

The pennant, he said, was won because “that game was snatched from Philadelphia” when Ty Cobb hit the game-tying home run off Rube Waddell in the ninth.

“The most important hit of the season of 1907,” was “because Cobb outguessed” Waddell.

The story of how the pitcher was “outguessed” was told to him by Waddell himself:

“Up comes this Cobb, and I feeds him a fast one on the inside where he wasn’t supposed to particularly like to see ‘em pitched. I always figured that if this fellow had any weakness is was on a ball pitched close in. The way he stood at bat made him shift too quick to get a good hold of the ball.

“Well, I shoved the first one in over the inside corner of the plate an’ he never looks at it. The umpire calls it a strike, but he pays no attention to it. I immediately figures this bird is looking for a certain ball, thinking I’d give him just what he wanted on the next one or the one after that. He figures I’m going to be working him. So, I see my chance to cross him up. I says to myself, ‘I’ll feed this cuckoo on in the same spot an’ get him in a hole then guess what’s coming.’”

Rube

Waddell threw the next pitch:

“Once more I shoots a fast one for the inside corner an’ the second the ball leaves my hand I know a made a bum play. This Cobb, who didn’t seem to have noticed the first one, steps backlike he had the catcher’s sign, takes a toe hold and swings on her. I guess that ball is going yet.”

Waddell told Salsinger he talked to Cobb about the pitch:

“Later on, I meets this Cobb on the street, and I says to him, “Listen here Cobb, it’s all over an; everything, an’ there ain’t no hard feelin’ or nothin’, so tell me, why don’t you swing at that first one, the fast one I sends over. You don’t give it a look an’ you’re all set for the same thing when I repeats. Did you have the catcher’s signal or something.”

“An’ this Cobb says to me: ‘Why I figures if I lets the first one pass and makes out I don’t notice it and is lookin’ for somethin’ else, you’ll try to cross me up and shoot the next one over the same spot, feeling sure you double crosses me. I feel so sure that so soon as the ball leaves your hand I jumpback, take a toe hold an’ swing. Sure enough I was right. You hand me the same thing back.’

“An’ I says to this Cobb, ‘Kid you had me doped 100 percent right, an sure enough the lucky stiff did.”

Cobb

Cobb, Salsinger said, “made this observation,” to the reporter, about outguessing pitchers:

“Most pitchers follow a set system of pitching to you. You can get them once or twice. If they throw you a fast ball, slow ball, curve, fast one, in that order the first time at bat it is almost certain that they will throw you the same thing in the same order the next time you come up. Few pitchers vary from the system, and the few that do are the leading pitchers.

“Knowing what is coming is one thing but hitting the ball is another. You often know just where the ball will be pitched, but often it carries so much stuff that you cannot get the proper hold on the ball and you fail to hit safely even when you have the advantage of knowing what it is.”

Willie Keeler: “How I Win”

2 Jun

As part of a syndicated syndicated series of articles asking star players and managers to explain, “How I Win,” writer Joseph B. Bowles spoke to the “brainiest outfielder in the business,” Wee Willie Keeler, then in his final season in the major leagues:

“The study of batting and of batters has done more for me in winning games and helping the team win than anything else.”

Keeler

Keeler said, “through long experience,” he knew where batters would hit “any kind of pitched ball,” but:

“(T)he modern game changes so rapidly a fielder has to keep studying all the time to keep up with it. The batters change their styles sometimes in a few days, and I have seen many games lost by fielders misplaying a batter who has changed his direction of hitting.”

He said he spent every morning reading and studying to see, “how each man is hitting and the general direction of his hits,” and who was pitching.

“At the end of the week I get all the scores in some sporting paper and take each man separately and go through all the games to study his batting. In that way I generally know just what each batter is likely to do, and I play for him accordingly.”

Keeler said in Brooklyn one season, after being out of the lineup for several days with an injury and not “studying box scores during the layoff, “It was surprising to see how many of them I misplayed when I got back into the game.”

The man nicknamed “Hit ‘em where they ain’t,” said, “The study of fielders by hitters is almost as important,” particularly for fast runners.

“Indeed, I think this is one of the most neglected points in baseball. No man can hit a ball to any point he wants to, but many can accomplish the feat a fair percentage of times.”

Keeler said throughout the game:

“I study the positions taken by the opposing players and very frequently it is possible to catch a player out of position or pull him out of position and hit into his territory.”

One of the “most effective forms of place hitting,” was drawing corner infielders in by feigning a bunt, “then poking the ball over his head or hitting it fast past him.”

Many players, rather than considering where they were being played, “see only the pitcher, and slam away at the ball without any idea of where it is going.”

He called himself an advocate for “hitting the ball squarely rather than hitting it hard,” and:

“If anyone will study how many hits are made after two strikes and the batter ‘chokes up’ his bat and hits squarely without swinging hard at the ball he will be convinced that style of batting is best.”

“Remarkable Series of Accidents in a Memorial Day Baseball Game”

31 May

The San Francisco Examiner described it as a, “Remarkable series of Accidents in a Memorial Day Baseball game.”

The 1899 Decoration Day game between the Bakersfield and Merced in the semi-pro San Joaquin Valley League was said to be:

“The banner record for baseball accidents…No less than six Bakersfield athletes were rendered hors du baseball, and one Merced player was carried off the field of carnage in a litter. Two pitchers were disabled by getting hit on the salary arm, and the third hero who took the slab for Bakersfield threw his shoulder out of gear trying to locate the plate.”

The Fresno Morning Republican said of what had been a highly anticipated game in the newly formed league:

“Never in the history of baseball in the valley has such interest been shown in the game…Nearly 500 people had gathered to witness the sport long before ethe time announced for the game to commence.”

The Bakersfield, Californian said the crowd was enthusiastic, but the contest did not live up to expectations.

“Not that it was a good game of ball from a professional standpoint, as it was full of errors from start to finish and many a rank play was responsible for unearned runs.”

And there were more injuries. The Examiner said:

“While the Red Cross corps wrestled with the dislocated shoulder an outfielder who came into pitch split the hand of the catcher. He went to the hospital and then the shortstop got hysterical or something and broke his ankle. Next a Bakersfield man collided with a Merced man. They both stove in their figureheads and air compartments, and the ambulance was called again.

The Californian concluded:

“(N)ot withstanding the crippled condition of the (Bakersfield) team, the boys managed to keep in the lead.”

Bakersfield won 15 to 14 in a game that included 30 hits, 15 errors, eight passed balls, and six hit batsmen.

“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.”

Mike Mitchell: “How I Win”

21 May

Mike Mitchell spent eight seasons in the major leagues with four different clubs; he hit .278 and one of the game’s best outfield arms. He also differed from most of his contemporaries who were interviewed by syndicated writer Joseph B. Bowles in 1910 for a series of articles where the game’s best players and managers explained, “How I Win.”

Mitchell’s explanation:

“Luck I think is the biggest element in winning baseball games, and in the success of any individual player. I have known many good ballplayers who were sent back to the minor leagues and have never arisen again because luck broke against them during their early careers, and they were never lucky enough to get another chance.”

Mitchell

He reasoned:

“Scoring runs wins, hitting scores runs and luck is the best part of hitting…There are mysteries in batting that even the batters do not understand…Often a man hit hard and steadily without getting safe hits for weeks and then suddenly the luck will turn and everything he hits will go safe.”

Michell hit .222 in his second season after a .292 rookie year, and rebounded in 1909 with what would be a career best .310:

“(In 1909) I stood up and hit that ball as hard as ever I did in my life and hit it steadily yet had hard work to get above .200 and the next season hits rolled out of the bats. I could not trace it to any fault of my own, for the swings and stride seemed the same.”

He also believed that, “There is no way for a man to learn to bat,” with one exception:

“I think left-handed batters who are extremely fast actually can be taught to bat whether they are natural hitters or not. They can learn to poke and push the ball and chop at it, mixing it up with their swings and by practice become pretty good hitters whether they were at the start or not.”

Despite it being luck, Mitchell offered some advice to hitters:

“Try to keep a steady footing, both feet on the ground but with the body balanced on the balls of the feet. Never hit flatfooted.”

He also preached contact over power:

“Notice the best major league batters. They may take two hard swings at the ball, then see them shorten up their grips on the bat and make sure of hitting the ball to save a strikeout.”

His advice to young players:

“Keep cool, watch closely and study all the time and you may hit—if you are lucky.”

“The Sinister Scout of the New York Giants”

19 May

Damon Runyon took credit for tagging John McGraw’s favorite scout, Dick Kinsella with the nickname “Sinister Dick.” Runyon said in his column for the Hearst Newspapers in 1930 that the sobriquet might not make sense any longer:

“The nickname is perhaps misleading. You look for a dour fellow of wicked aspect—a piratical-appearing bloke with perhaps a cutlass between his teeth. Instead, you see a well-dressed, quiet man, deep in his fifties, with kind eyes wrinkled by smiles…Well, twenty years back the man from Springfield (IL) was indeed a sinister looking chappy. He had beetling black brows, and a fierce black mouser, or mustachio, which gave him a positively violent appearance.”

“Sinister Dick” Kinsella

McGraw told Runyon:

“It isn’t the fellows he sends to me that makes him great. It’s the ones he keeps me from buying. He saves my ballclub a lot of money every year by keeping me off the dead ones.”

Kinsella had spent more than 20 years scouting for McGraw, though Runyon said:

 “(H)e used to retire at frequent intervals. So often, in fact, that you never could tell when he was officially a scout or just a businessman.”

Damon Runyon

In addition to providing his nickname, Runyon was also responsible for a story about how Kinsella supposedly missed signing Edd Roush for the Giants in 1912, when Roush was playing in the Kitty League.  The earliest version of the story appeared in Runyon’s column in The New York American in 1913, with a more complete version appearing in 1916:

“One broiling hot summer day a couple of years ago a sinister looking man arrived in the town of Evansville, Indiana. This sinister looking man was of somber aspect. His hair was a sinister black. His sinister eyebrows hung heavy above a glowering, sinister glare. He wore sinister city clothes, and there was a sinister bulge to his coat just above the right hip.

“With sinister deportment, he accosted a citizen of the town of Evansville and made inquiry of him with sinister significance in his voice.

“’Where’s the ball orchard?’ demanded Sinister Dick Kinsella for it was none other than the sinister scout of the New York Giants, as you doubtless have already divined from the sinister import of this narrative.”

According to Runyon, Kinsella went for a haircut after watching that day’s game and said to the barber:

“That’s a right likely looking outfielder that fellow Roush,’ suggested Sinister Dick. ‘Hits good, and can go fetch ‘em, but don’t throw much, hey? Bad arm hey?’

“’Well, I’ll tell you about that stranger,’ said the barber, pausing in his operations and assuming the attitude of a man about to impart grave news. ‘He used to have as good a throwin’ arm as anybody you ever see, but he hurt that arm and he’s been learnin’ hisself to throw with the other arm.”

With that, said Runyon, “a sinister train bore Sinister Dick on his sinister way” out of town, while a scout for the White Sox, Ted Sullivan, “Purchased Roush for $4000 [sic, $3,000]”

Kinsella left the Giants after the 1930 season, John B. Foster of The New York Sun suggested that an instance of the scout not saving money for McGraw’s ballclub might have led to his departure. In 1927 Kinsella had signed pitcher Bill Walker for $25,000. After Walker finished 1930, 17-15 with a 3.93 ERA and Kinsella had departed, Foster wrote:

“The failure of Walker to succeed may be one of the reasons why Dick Kinsella failed to remain with the New York club as a scout, because a large outlay was made for Walker.”

“Most of These Kids Today Can’t Take it”

17 May

Grantland Rice of The New York Herald interviewed Ty Cobb on a fairly regular basis when the retired star was living on the West Coast.

In 1940, after the two met in San Francisco, he said, “Cobb was the bluebird harbinger of spring,” and recalled when, in 1904, “Cobb kept writing me letters, signing Smith, Jones, Brown, and Robinson—all telling me what a great player young Tyrus Raymond Cobb was.”

Rice

Rice said he “fell for the gag,” and thanked Cobb for making him, “quite a prophet” for writing about him based on the letters.

Rice asked Cobb about his famous batting grip:

“It shows what habit will do in sports. I began playing baseball with much older and bigger kids.” I couldn’t grip the big bats that they had near the handle. I had to spread my hands to poke at the ball.

“I couldn’t swing the big bats any other way. After that I couldn’t change. But I was probably better off as a place hitter than I might have been as a slugger. I never believed in slugging anyway.

“I believe in getting on—and then getting around. Today they only believe in hitting a fast ball out of the park.”

Cobb said he was “still for speed and science,” over power:

“Base stealing today is a lost art. It seems to be gone forever. Did you know that several high-class ballplayers last season failed to steal a base? I remember one year I had 96 steals. That’s almost the same as 96 extra base hits, for those steals put me in a position to score.”

Rice asked the 56-year-old Cobb what the biggest difference between the “present crop” and the players of his era was:

“Stamina, I mean legs and arms. I’ve lived on my legs most of my life. As you may remember in 24 big league years, I never spared my legs. I’ve played many a game with almost no skin on either thigh.

“I believed then and I believe know in toughening up your system—not sparing it. Between seasons I hunted all winter, eight or ten hours a day. That’s what Bill Dickey has done—and you know where Bill Dickey stands in baseball.”

Cobb

Cobb had little use for current pitchers either:

“The modern crop has weak arms. Look at Cy Young, winning 512 ball games. Show me a pitcher today who can even pitch 400 games. Remember Ed Walsh? One year Ed won 40 games and saved 12 others [sic, 6]. He worked in 66 games that year, around 1908. And then pitched through a city series, working in almost every game.

“Most of these kids today can’t take it. They have come up the easy way. They have to be pampered. A lot of them need a nurse. We had to come up the hard way. What a difference that makes—in any game.”

Cobb lamented that any current pitcher “is almost a hero” for winning 20 games:

“Can you imagine Cy Young, who averaged over 20 games for wee over 20 years, out there today.

“The kids today rarely use their legs. They ride in place of walking. I always had to walk.  Maybe five miles—maybe 20 miles. The old-time pitchers had to work in 50 or 60 games. Maybe more. I’ve seen them come out long before the ball game was scheduled to start in order to get the kinks out of their tired arms, working out slowly for over 30 minutes. But not today.”

Cobb said he believed Dizzy Dean would be “a throwback” until he hurt his arm:

“He always wanted to pitch. To be in there. But there are not many left like that. They’d rather be resting up.

“In my opinion, a real pitcher should be good for at least 45 ball games—maybe 50 if he is really needed. I mean men like Walsh, Cy Young, Alexander, Matty, Chesbro, Joe Wood—the top guys. They could take it—and they loved it. Not this modern crowd. At least most of them. They haven’t the stamina needed to go on when there is no one to take their place.”

Cobb had good things to say of two other modern stars:

“I’ll say this for Babe Ruth. He could always take it—and like it. So could Lou Gehrig. You never had to pamper Ruth or Gehrig. They were ballplayers of the old school. So was Matty. So was Alexander, drunk or sober. What a pitcher.”

Cobb said what mattered in all things was stamina, fortitude, brains and speed:

“They still count. When they don’t then you haven’t either a game or civilization. You haven’t anything worthwhile.”

Note: As indicated below, Cobb conflated Walsh’s 1908 regular season performance and his 1912 post-season work in Chicago’s City Series. I failed to include that note and this link in the original post: https://baseballhistorydaily.com/tag/chicago-city-series/