Tag Archives: Billy Gilbert

“More Bunk is Written about Baseball”

22 Mar

Myron Townsend, the sports editor of The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune said:

“More bunk is written about baseball than any professional sport.

“In dwelling on the details of ‘Inside’ ball the scribes allow their imaginations to run away with them.”

In 1910, after the publication of Johnny Evers’ and Hugh Fullerton’s book, “Touching Second; The Science of Baseball,” talk of “inside baseball” was all the rage: or “a favorite subject of the space killers,” as Townsend put it:

“Many fans believe that baseball players are mental gymnasts. They swallow whole all they read about the ‘science’ of the game.

“Touching Second,” Evers’ and Fullerton’s collaboration on “Inside Baseball.”

“For this reason, the speculative typewriter tickler never grows weary of pounding out epistles about the marvelous mental attainments of professional players.”

Townsend ridiculed the idea that, “According to the critics baseball is very complex. The moves and counter moves are fairly bewildering. A great chess master is a child when compared to a baseball manager.”

He said the baseball writer of the rival Cincinnati Times-Star had it right:

“No writer perforates the ‘signal’ theory more neatly or thoroughly than “Billy Phelon.”

Phelon had written on the subject:

“A kick of the coacher’s right foot means one movement for the batsman and baserunner; a kick of the left foot means another; pulling grass with the right hand means to do this and jerking it violently with the left hand means to do the other thing. If the manager on the bench shades his eyes with his palm it means a steal, if he hits the water barrel viciously with his left foot it means to sacrifice.

“In short—according to the magazine writers and the brilliant critics of the day—baseball is controlled, all the way through the stages of the active play, by these intricate, complex, recurring, and crisscrossing signs and codes.

“All of which would be extremely instructive were it not for the fact that it isn’t so; and that, in all these stories, the writers either built upon their imagination; or—more likely—were ‘stung’ and ‘joshed’ by the ballplayers to whom they went for information”

Phelon said it was “a plain, hard fact, no ball team ever played the game under a long and complex code of signals.” He called it “an utter impossibility and mental absurdity.”

Instead, Phelon said:

“The generalship of the ballfield is an ever-shifting series of quickly devised schemes, not a fifth part of them figured out or practices before each individual game begins. The signal code of the ball field is limited to eight or ten simple tricks and must ever be so for the reason that the brain of the ballplayer is not that of Euclid, Plato or Archimedes.”

Townsend said, “Mr. Phelon is right,” and told Cincinnati fans to “disabuse their minds of all such rot.”

Reds Manager Clark Griffith, said Townsend:

“Does not have to tell (Bob) Bescher when to steal bases. Instinct tells the speed boy what to do when he reaches first. A certain amount of teamwork between batter and baserunner may be necessary, but as a third party a manager is a ‘butter in.’”

Bescher

The Commercial Tribune Editor accused Evers of attempting to “bunk the fans about the elaborate set of signs and counter signs the Cubs use.”

Townsend said the “brainy second baseman” said he and Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker “never made a move” with signaling one another. He contrasted that with the second baseman and shortstop of the 1904 New York Giants, Billy Gilbert and Bill Dahlen, who:

“(N)ever used a signal of any kind. The duties of their positions were second nature to them.”

Contrary to the trend, It was a game of spontaneity, not science:

“No one should underestimate ‘generalship’ and strategy as a component part of the game, but the decisive plays come up on the spur of the moment. They cannot be rehearsed in the clubhouse…’Inside ball’ will always be a favorite theme, but the speed boys and hard hitters, aided and abetted by a start staff of pitchers and a master workman behind the bat, will continue to win games, knowing nothing about the ‘signs and signals’ which ignorant fans imagine they are wise to.”

Bugs Finds the “Plate”

17 May

John McGraw called the erratic, talented, and tragic Arthur “Bugs” Raymond, one of the best pitchers he ever managed.  Raymond might be the best pitcher to finish his career with a record 12 games under .500 (45-56); he drank himself out of organized ball by age 29, and he was dead the following year.

bugs pix

Bugs

When Raymond was traded to the New York Giants after the 1908 season, Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald told a story about how St. Louis Cardinals infielder Billy Gilbert helped cure Raymond of a bout with wildness the previous year.

hughf

“Bugs sometimes lacks control, and during one period early last season in St. Louis, he got so wild that (Manager John) McCloskey was in despair.  ‘Bugs’ couldn’t get one over the plate, let alone cutting the corners, and McCloskey began to believe he never would.  One afternoon just before a game, Mack, who is a born worrier, was sitting on the bench and turning to Gilbert, said: ‘Gil, what’s the matter with the Bug? Isn’t there any way he can get control?’

‘Let me catch him for awhile and I’ll fix him,’ said Gilbert.

‘All right.  Take him back of the stand and work with him.’”

billyg

Billy Gilbert

Fullerton said before taking Raymond “back of the stand,’ Gilbert went in search of something.

“(S)ecuring a big beer mug (he) placed it on the ground and standing behind it, ordered Raymond to proceed.

“’Here’s where you get control, Bugs,’ said Gil.  ‘You can hit this every time.’”

Said Fullerton:

“And whether faith, confidence, or luck did it, he got perfect control pitching over the stein, and it was a week before Gilbert dared tell McCloskey how he did it.”