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Lost Advertisements: Ball Players Know

6 Mar

 

ballplayersknow

A 1929 Mail Pouch Tobacco advertisement featuring Bubbles Hargrave, Hack Wilson, and Goose Goslin

“Ball Players Know!”

“Any Mail Pouch chewer will tell you that here is one tobacco that does not cause indigestion or heartburn no matter how often you chew it”

Hargrave, who spent of his career in Cincinnati, settled in that city, owning a tavern for a time and was a frequent source for local reporters to reminisce about his career and opine on the current state of the game.  In 1956, he was asked by The Enquirer if the game had improved in the last 30 years. Hargrave said it had, for the most part, but pointed out that it could still be improved:

“There’s too much delay–too much changing of pitchers and running out to the mound every time a pitcher gets into a jam. I’d stop all consultation between pitcher and manager out on the rubber.

“When we were going to make a change, the manager announced to the umpire who was coming in to pitch and that was it, except for a short session between pitcher and catcher to make sure of the signs.

“In my years under Pat Moran he would ask me about a pitcher with, ‘How is he?’ If I replied, ‘Not so hot,’ he’s just pitch somebody else.”

 

 

 

 

“Fellows Like Cy are Rather few”

27 Feb

In his nationally syndicated column on 1909, umpire Billy Evans said:

billyevans

Billy Evans

“If it were possible for the American League umpires to issue any special dispensation, they would give Cy Young the right to go on pitching forever.”

Evans said the leagues ball and strike callers liked Young so much:

“Did you ever hear of a bunch of umpires coming across with the cold cash and making a present to a ballplayer? No? Well that’s just what the American League staff did last year, and Cy was the recipient of the gift.”

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Cy Young

Evans said that when the Red Sox held a benefit day honoring Young in 1908 “and gifts galore were heaped on him,” he was working the game.

The decision to give Young a gift was made by the dean of American League umpires, Tim Hurst, who told Evans:

“Well, Billy, I’ve been umpiring about as long as Cy has been pitching, and I pride myself on having a pretty good memory, but I’ll be blamed if I ever remember Cy kicking over a decision, no matter how rotten it may have been. Perhaps I’ve missed a thousand strikes on him in the last ten years, but never a protest has he uttered.

“Fellows like Cy are rather few in this strenuous game, and I tell you the umpires ought to give the old fellow some little token, just to show him that we appreciate the way he has always acted on the ballfield.”

Hurst suggested that each umpire “come across with a five-spot.”

timhurst

Tim Hurst

Evans said his colleagues were all on board:

“’I’m in on the deal. Go as far as you like with money,’ was Jack Sheridan’s reply.

‘”Count me in on anything that old Cy is connected with,’ was Tom Connolly’s answer.

“’Buy anything you like and send me my share of the bill; glad you thought of the stunt,’ was (Silk) O’Loughlin’s reply.

“’Sure, count me in on anything you want,’ wired Jack Egan.”

At the game, Evans said, “In a very humble” he presented the pitcher with “a swell traveling bag to old Cy as a little gift from the umpires.”

Young told Evans:

“Well, of all the gifts, I never did expect one from the umpires, but just tell the boys for me that I prize it more highly than anything ever given to me.”

Evans said he once heard Young explain to a fan why he never argued calls:

“What’s the use of kicking? The umpires, like me, are doing their level best, and doing it honestly. Of course, they make mistakes; lots of them; we all do. On the whole, however, I think the breaks of the year are about even. Often, I pitch a ball that I think is just over the corner of the plate and is a strike, but the umpire calls it a ball. Then again, I send one up to the batter, that I figure is an inch or two outside, but the judge of play calls it a strike. No real umpire has ever been known to change a decision of judgement, so it’s simply wasting time to kick.”

“That was Base Ball Playing with more Science”

24 Feb

Sargent Perry “Sadie” Houck played for seven National League and American Association clubs from 1879 to 1887. After his retirement, the Washington D.C. native owned a roadhouse on Conduit Road (renamed MacArthur Boulevard after World War II in honor of General Douglas MacArthur), and was occasionally sought out by local reporters for his views on the modern game.

sadie

In 1907, The Washington Evening Star said of Houck:

“(N)ext to Charley (Pop) Snyder and Doug Allison, none is remembered more by the old boys.”

And his name, “always brings the smile of fond remembrance” from fans and he was “a player that ranked with George Wright and Davy Force.”

The paper said that Houck and Snyder had played amateur ball for “the Creighton club,” which played their games on the White Lot—current site of The Ellipse, south of the White House and north of the National Mall.

The Evening Star said Houck was:

“A ‘dirty ball player,’ and by this we do not mean that he tried to injure another player, for he was never known to do an act that ever brought discredit on his fame as a straight player. But in the history of the game, no one, not even Uncle Nick Young, can recall the time when he ever saw Houck in a neat, trim condition as far as his uniform went, for he always had the appearance of a football player after a gridiron struggle on a wet and soggy field.”

Houck, who still took “a lively interest in the game,” had a strong opinion about bunting:

“Say, it gives me a pain to read about players laying down a neat bunt or playing for a sacrifice in order to advance a runner a base. Any old player who gets long green for playing base ball ought to be able to bunt or sacrifice or hie away to the tall timbers in disgust.”

Houck said:

“It is dead easy to poke your bat out in front of a pitched ball and let it hit your bat, and the fellow that is unable to do that ought to go out and chop stones.”

It was a better game he said, before “bunting was discovered by Mike Kelly.”

Houck much preferred the “science” of the “old fair foul hits,” he said:

“(They) struck on fair ground, but glanced off into foul grounds ere it reached either first or third base, and to successfully hit the ball this way required all the skill and grace of a skillful billiardist getting in his best carom work. It was impossible to hit the ball similar to the way the present-day bunters and doing, slow and methodical, but on the contrary it had to be met at a certain angle with a heavy swing in order to get the best results, and hence when success was accomplished the batsman invariably made a two-base hit.”

Houck said the best practitioners of the “clever piece of batting,” were:

“Davy Force, Ross Barnes, Joe Gerhardt, Buck Ewing, Levi Meyerle, myself,”

rossbarnes

Ross Barnes

The tactic was so successful he said, that “pitchers of the country united and forced the new rule.”

Houck’s conclusion on how the rule change impacted the game:

“That was base ball playing with more science than these modern gladiators show in their ‘baby bunting’ plays, and I would cut out all such business. Make the players lace them out and the game will get back to the fine batting matinees that used to take place in the good old days.”

And the “modern” game:

“Nowadays the pitcher can pitch, but can’t hit; the catcher can catch, but can’t throw; the fielders can bat, but are too loggy to run, and so on through the entire crowd. Do away with your bunting a sacrificing squads and give us good old-time free batting and running.”

Houck remained in Washington D.C. for the rest of his life; by the time he died in 1919, he was so forgotten that local death notices didn’t mention he had been a major league player.

“There is a Fault in the Armor of the Greatest Slugger”

21 Feb

 

babe

In 1927, a News Enterprise Association syndicated series of columns promised readers the secrets to “Fooling the great batters.”

Of Babe Ruth, the article said:

“There is a fault in the armor of the greatest slugger of them all, the man who has inspired more fear in the breasts of more pitchers than any other hitter, present day or past.”

St. Louis Browns pitcher Hub Pruett’s success against Ruth as a rookie in 1921 was noted as the gold standard for shutting him down—in six appearances against the Yankees that season, Pruett struck Ruth out 10 times; overall, Ruth was 2 for 13 with a home run and three walks in his 16 plate appearances against the 21-year-old lefty:

“(Pruett)  found that Ruth couldn’t hit a slow curve ball which sank close to the knees…Time and again it came up, slow and twisting, so that you could almost read the Ban Johnson signature, and time out of mind the Great Ball Murderer swung and missed.”

The scouting report on Ruth:

“A curve which sinks towards the batter can be hit by the Babe, but one which sinks away is harder. That was the great Pruett discovery. It is still in the big leagues, but Pruett isn’t”

Pruett, was 14-18 over three seasons for the Browns with a 3.55 ERA, and had less success against Ruth in 1923 and ’24 than he had during his rookie season. He never faced Ruth after 1924. He spent two years in the Pacific Coast League then returned to the major leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1927 and ’28; and in between two stints in the International League, he pitched for the New York Giants in 1930 and the Boston Braves in 1932.

“The Purest Rot”

17 Feb

Johnny Evers, shortly before becoming manager of the Chicago Cubs in 1913, joined the pantheon of baseball legends who advocated for rule changes that would have radically altered the game.

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Johnny Evers

Before attending the rules committee meeting that winter, Evers told a reporter from The Chicago Evening Post, that he would recommend three new rules.

That rules committee meeting, incidentally, was the same in which National League Secretary John Heidler also made a recommendation he would later attempt to promote when he became the league’s president in 1918; he told The Associated Press:

heydler

John Heydler

“With few exceptions practically, all pitchers are weak hitters and weaker base runners. When they come to bat they literally put a drag on the game…Now it is my idea that this could be eliminated with the adoption of a rule permitting a pinch hitter to do the batting for the pitcher each time the pitcher’s regular time at bat came around without forcing the removal of the pitcher from the game…there doubtless are several details that would have to be worked out later. For one, I think it would be best if the same pinch hitter did all the batting for one pitcher and that this batter be designated by the manager before game time.”

Evers’ equally radical rule suggestions were, first:

“When a pitcher intentionally gives a base on balls to a heavy hitter to get a weaker one to the plate baseball crowds usually cry out in protest. It is often the case that players will reach third and second bases with a strong batsman coming up. The latter is passed purposely and the next man, a comparatively poor hitter, is disposed of easily.”

Evers solution:

“If the pitcher walked a big hitter with a man on third the latter would be permitted to score a run, while a man on second would go to third. It is my idea that a pitcher should be compelled to put the ball over the plate under these conditions.”

Evers also proposed another rule change to increase run production:

“The foul strike rule has increased the effectiveness of the pitchers to an alarming degree so that, in my opinion, they should not be allowed to tighten their grip on the batsman. That is why I will suggest that the number of called balls be reduced from four to three. Then it would be impossible for a pitcher to waste balls to handicap the chances of base runners.”

The third suggestion was to move the “coachers box” back five feet, thus making it more difficult for coaches to steal signs.

Washington Senators manager Clark Griffith told Ed Grillo of The Washington Post that he agreed with Evers’ suggestion to re-position first and third base coaches but said his other two ideas we “The purest rot,” that would be laughed out of the meeting:

clarkgriffith

Clark Griffith

“Evers would have three balls give a base, and we all know that right now the average pitcher has trouble enough getting the ball over.”

Griffith said Evers’ intentional walk rule would “Penalize the pitcher because he displays a little judgment and takes a chance.”

Griffith declared:

“The rules are satisfactory and should not change.”

Evers’ suggestions to increase run production and Heydler’s rule for a “designated” pinch hitter for the pitcher did not gain any traction among the rules committee in 1913.

Lost Advertisements: Big Six for Coke

14 Feb

bigsix1915

A 1915 advertisement:

“Big Six Drinks Coca-Cola–They’re fine teammates, these two–universally popular, always reliable, tested by time and proved good.”

After 12 straight seasons winning at least 22 games, Mathewson was on his way to a 8-14 record with a career high 3.58 ERA in 1915. Towards the end of that season he wrote in his syndicated column:

“Fans are enough interested in me to write and ask whether I think I am at the end of my days as a pitcher. Of course all big leaguers are optimistic when it comes to a question of age. And they are more sensitive about this than an unmarried lady over 35. But I don’t think this will be my last season in big league ‘spangles.’ Can’t a man who has been working it for fifteen years have an off summer once in awhile?”

Mathewson did return in 1916 at 35; he was 4-4 3.01 ERA in his final season with the Giants and Reds.

Ted Sullivan’s Rule Change

12 Feb

Suggested rule changes—even ones that would materially change the game—are nothing new.

Former manager, scout, baseball pioneer, and the “discoverer of Charlie Comiskey,” Ted Sullivan spent his later years telling stories and talking about the game’s origins and occasionally suggesting radical changes to the rules.

tedsullivan

Ted Sullivan

In 1912, he told The Chicago Daily News he had a rule change that “would meet with unanimous approval of the players.”

Sullivan’s plan “would unquestionably ameliorate the severity of baseball in respect to broken bones, wrenched tendons,” and other injuries:

“I would have this amendment put in the rules. I would allow players to overrun second and third bags just as they do first…this skidding into the bags feet first, headfirst or any old way to get there has put more good men out of business than anything else.”

Sullivan said, “As long as a base runner touches either bag that ought to be sufficient.”

He told the paper he had shared the idea with Ned Hanlon:

hanlon

Ned Hanlon

“(H)e thought pretty well of it, although he was inclined to argue that it might spoil the beauty of the game. He thought base sliding was one of the features of baseball, and if layers were allowed to overrun the bags this feature would go and baseball would suffer, but I don’t agree.”

Sullivan found little agreement and his idea gained no momentum.

“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.”

“That is something Mr. Chesbro”

5 Feb

In 1905, The Chicago Tribune promised readers that an interview would “Undoubtedly cause a sensation.”

The subject?

“Jack Chesbro for the first time tells of the ‘spit ball,’ by which he won forty-one victories last year”

According to The Tribune:

“All last summer Chesbro persistently refused to tell the secret. Manager Clark Griffith did not know how Chesbro got his control and scores of pitchers in the two big leagues vainly tried to emulate him.”

chesbro

Jack Chesbro

Chesbro attributed “over thirty of the forty-one victories” to his use of the spit ball, and the paper said:

“Many baseball pitchers will be surprised when they read Chesbro’s explanation, and, according to him, fans and experts who have thought they really knew something of the ball have been groping in the dark.

“The wetting of the ball by Chesbro is done simply and solely in order in order that the ball may slip off the index and middle fingers first and from the thumb last…It has been supposed that the spit ball must be pitched slowly. Chesbro, on the contrary, says the ball is only effective when pitched with speed.”

Chesbro told the paper:

“The spitball has come to stay and is easily the most effective ball that possibly be used. It is easy to pitch once you have acquired its secrets. I have never yet read an explanation of it that was anywhere near correct.”

Chesbro said he injured the fingers of New York’s catchers Deacon McGuire and Red Kleinow early in the season, but later he was able to let them know “just how far the ball would drop and whether it would drop straight or outside,” before throwing a pitch.

Chesbro said old time players would find the pitch impossible to hit:

“Cap Anson couldn’t hit the spitball in a hundred years. In fact, I would be willing to bet Anson couldn’t even catch it.”

Chesbro said Norwood Gibson of Boston had “better control of the ball” than any spitball pitcher he saw.  Chesbro said his wild pitch that “gave Boston the pennant” on the final day of the season was because “I simply put a little too much force on the ball,” and because Boston pitcher Bill Dinneen was throwing the spitball too, “so that it was slippery.”

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Norwood Gibson

Chesbro who had seen Elmer Stricklett throw the spitball in Sacramento in 1902 and again in the spring of 1904, said of the second encounter:

“It was down at New Orleans last spring. I saw Stricklett throw one, and I quickly said: That is something Mr. Chesbro, that you must acquire. I watched Stricklett closely and noticed how he wet his fingers. I did the same and soon discovered it was the thumb that did the work”

The Tribune sad Chesbro was spending the winter tending to “two of the fastest horses in western Massachusetts,” one purchased for him by Highlanders owner Frank Farrell which “bears the name spitball.”

After revealing the secrets of his spitball after his 41-12 season in 1904, Chesbro was 66-72 for the remainder of his career which ended in 1909.

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:

leetgriffith

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.”