Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

The Very Life of the Game Depends on This”

5 Jun

Bill Klem said, “There is only one thing I like as well as umpiring or seeing a game of ball, and that is playing golf.”

Klem “wrote” an article for The Pittsburgh Press about his career in 1916:

“It was shear love of the national pastime that impelled me to become an umpire.”



As for his philosophy of how to do his job, Klem said an Abraham Lincoln quote, “impressed me in connection with umpiring baseball games.”

Except it wasn’t a Lincoln quote:

“He remarked that a government that is least governed is best governed, and I think that applied to our national sport in a large degree.”

The quote, “that government is best which governs least,” is usually attributed to Henry David Thoreau; the quote appears in Civil Disobedience” published in 1849, but a form of the quote was in popular use for at least a decade before that. Regardless, Klem wrongly attributed the quote that informed his career as an umpire.

“There must not be too many umpires. The making of decisions must rest with one or two men and their ruling must be the final word. The very life of the game depends on this. Baseball has attained its tremendous popularity because of the extreme fairness with which the game is played.”

And “the umpiring systems in both major leagues” were critical to that popularity:

“The umpires have had a lot to do in making baseball the grand institution it is today. Every umpire of my acquaintance, and I dare say, others in the smaller leagues whom I do not know, strive at all times to be strictly impartial, to render decisions according to the dictates of their judgment.  In all my career as an umpire I have striven to do this, ever in the belief that I was doing my mite to keep the game at the high moral standard it enjoys today.”

Klem reminded fans that umpires “are always in a much better position from which to judge a play” than their critics:

“(O)ften our decisions ruffle the partisans. I suppose baseball always will be so. This uncertainty and excitement is the very fabric of the game itself. Baseball soon would relinquish its hold on public interest if it were otherwise. However, I should like the ‘fans’ to remember that umpiring is not the easiest pursuit in the game of life. Like all humans, an empire may err occasionally. But it is safe to say that 90 times out of a hundred he is right in his decisions.”

Filling in the Blanks—Eastman, Huntington 1913

18 Feb

Baseball Reference lists “Eastman” as a player with the 1913 Huntington Blue Sox in the Ohio State League— he quickly became one of the biggest baseball stories in the spring of 1913, and just as quickly disappeared from the game.

George A. Eastman was born in South Dakota.  In 1862 his grandfather was one of the 284 Santee Sioux warriors who participated in the  Dakota War and  had their death sentences commuted by Abraham Lincoln—38 others were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota.

His father John Eastman was a farmer and Presbyterian minister in Flandreau, South Dakota and his uncle, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman was a prominent writer, nationally known lecturer and activist.

Exactly when Eastman began playing baseball is unclear, but in 1912 he played on a semi-pro team in Sisseton, South Dakota with former Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Homer Hillebrand.  According to The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times Hillebrand “Considered him very promising material,” and recommended Eastman to Pirate manager Fred Clarke, the paper said “Clarke says Indian players are the style, and the Pittsburgh club will be in style.”

George Eastman in Hot Springs, 1913

George Eastman in Hot Springs, 1913

When Eastman joined the Pirates in Hot Springs, Arkansas, The Gazette-Times, who of course dubbed him “Chief,” said:

“Eastman is a well built fellow, from the baseball standpoint.  He is 5 feet 10 ½ inches tall, weighs 150 pounds and is very fast.”

The paper said Eastman’s preacher father “does not know much about baseball, and does not think very well of it as a profession.”

A shortstop, Eastman quickly became the source of great interest in Hot Springs.  The Associated Press said even the Pirates best player took notice:

“Honus Wagner has taken more than a passing interest in the Indian Chief Eastman.  (Wagner) isn’t given to indulging in extravagant statements and when he says a recruit is a ‘mighty good ballplayer’ it means something…and he added that “chief throws like Mickey Doolan (Doolin) and fields just like Jack Miller.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

The Associated Press said:

“(A) Sioux Indian is burning up things around short field at Hot Springs with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Fred Clarke probably will retain him as an understudy to Hans Wagner.”

The Sporting Life thought he was bound for stardom:

“The Pittsburgh players are very enthusiastic over George Eastman, the Sioux Indian player, now being tried out at short. They say that he is a wonderful natural ball player, including hitting ability. They say he is sure of a place on the team, as he can play most any position and can ‘outhit Larry Lajoie.’

Despite the fanfare, Eastman did not make the team and was released to the Steubenville Stubs of the Interstate League.  It’s unclear whether Eastman ever appeared in a game with Steubenville, and was returned to the Pirates in early May; he was then sent to Huntington for the remainder of the 1913 season.

Eastman hit .210 in 57 games for Huntington.  There is an Eastman who appeared in 18 games in the Central League in 1914, but there’s no evidence that it’s George Eastman, who is never mentioned in connection with professional baseball again.

In fact, the trail for Eastman goes cold from the end of the 1913 until 1937 when he became the first tribal president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.  He served seven terms as tribal president before his death in 1954.

George Eastman, circa 1937

George Eastman, circa 1937

Abe Lincoln and Baseball

26 Jul

As detractors denounced baseball in the 19th century for drunkenness, gambling, and bad behavior, there were numerous attempts to link the game to Abraham Lincoln. The many stories linking the martyred President to baseball helped contribute to its acceptance and popularity.

The connections were more invention than fact.  There is no supporting evidence for A.G. Spalding’s story in his 1911 book “America’s National Game that Lincoln was informed of his nomination in 1860 while playing baseball in Springfield, Illinois.  Stories that Lincoln mentioned baseball on his death bed; as well as the 1914 claim by Rachel Billington, an alleged former neighbor of Lincoln that he played baseball regularly and “Could hit the ball every time it was pitched to him” have been thoroughly discredited.

It was a scandal involving a minor league player that became Lincoln’s closest link to the national pastime.

By all accounts Warren Wallace Beckwith led an interesting life.  Born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa in 1874, his father was a wealthy railroad executive and Beckwith was said to have inherited a fortune upon his father’s death in 1905..  He played college football at Iowa Wesleyan and played baseball and football professionally, and served in the Spanish-American War and World War I.

His life got more interesting in 1897 when he became front page news in every paper in the country.  Beckwith had eloped with Jesse Lincoln, granddaughter of the late President.  Her father Robert Todd Lincoln, former Secretary of War, was quoted calling Beckwith a “Baseball Buffoon.”

The Beckwith-Lincoln marriage played out like a soap opera in the newspapers for the next decade.

Beckwith spent most of 1897 playing in the Texas League with Dallas, Paris and Denison/Sherman/Waco teams.  The New York Times reported that Beckwith’s nicknames in Texas were “The Dude” and “Lady Killer,” and that “He would never go into a game to pitch without first combing or brushing his hair faultlessly.”

Warren Wallace Beckwith

Beckwith made headlines again when he entered the service as war was declared with Spain. When he returned from Cuba and after the birth of the couple’s first child, a daughter, he joined Sacramento in the California League, which resulted in another round of stories about Robert Todd Lincoln’s disapproval of his son-in-law’s profession.

According to contemporary news reports neither Robert Todd Lincoln nor his wife, Mary Eunice Harlan Lincoln, daughter of former Iowa Senator James Harlan, ever accepted the marriage.

Lincoln Family Tree

News stories announcing the couple’s divorce in 1900 turned out to be incorrect and they had a second child, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, who upon his death in 1985 was the final direct descendent of President Lincoln.  Beckwith and Lincoln did divorce in 1907.

Beckwith never played professionally after 1899, but played extensively on semi-professional teams in Illinois and Iowa.  Beckwith’s final appearance in organized ball was as the manager of Oshkosh in the Wisconsin State League for part of the 1905 season.

After serving in France in World War I Beckwith settled in La Jolla, California.  He died in La Jolla in 1955 and is buried at the Forest Home Cemetery in Mount Pleasant.

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