Tag Archives: Bobby Byrne

“The Hook Slide is the Hardest for the man Handling Throws to Gauge”

7 Apr

When Johnny Evers was acquired by the Braves in 1914, Melville E. Webb Jr., writing in The Boston Globe shared a “never published” interview with the second baseman, in order to give readers “a better idea of the little fellow.”

evers2

Johnny Evers

“In all my years of ball playing, the man I have found it hardest to touch with the ball as he came down to second base from first is Bill Dahlen…(he) always came straight down the baseline, directly at the base, but in the last ten feet there was no telling what he would do.

“He had a great way of anticipating where the throw from the catcher was coming, and he played his slide to a nicety. Coming straight along, he suddenly would fall down on his hips, to one side or the other, spread his legs ad then use the greatest cleverness in pulling out of reach and twisting himself to hook the base with either foot.”

billdahlen

Bill Dahlen

Evers said Dahlen was not the only man who used a hook slide, but did it better than others:

“He never was a particular dangerous man to try to block but blocking him off never seemed to do much good. He was almost sure to get better of the close plays around second base, and nothing was sure to go right, even when throws apparently were on the mark.”

Others Evers found difficult to tag out at second:

“Hans Lobert, Charley Herzog, (Vin) Campbell, (Bob) Bescher, (Bobby) Byrne, (Sherry) Magee, Miller Huggins and (Honus) Wagner. Wagner was a big mark to try to tag, but often when it came to putting the ball on him he was not there.”

bescher2

Bescher

In general, he concluded “I think the hook slide is the hardest for the man handling throws to gauge.”

Evers said while he “never had any experience playing defensively” against Frank Chance:

“(He) was one of the greatest base runners who ever played, and this because he so very often did the unexpected and used his head as well as his excellent speed. Infielders have told me that Chase was the hardest man they found to tag.”

 

“Even when he Wins he Loses”

18 Apr

During his most successful season as a major leaguer, Bobby Byrne had some advice for the children who wished to follow in his footsteps:

“If they asked me I would tell them everything I could to keep them from starting.  Not that I knock the profession, but I think it is a poor one to choose, not because of the life itself, but because of its temptation and hardships, and worse than that, the small chances of being successful.”

Bobby Byrne

Bobby Byrne

That answer was given to syndicated journalist Joseph B. Bowles during the 1910 season when he asked Byrne questions about how he started in baseball “in order to help young and aspiring players.”

Despite being the starting third basemen for the defending World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and on his way to leading the National League in hits (tied with Honus Wagner) and doubles (178, 43), while hitting a personal-best .296 in 1910, he told Bowles:

“If I had it to do over again I do not think I ever would become a professional ballplayer, in spite of the fact that I love the game and love to play it.  I think a young fellow would do better to devote himself to some other line than to take the chances of success in the national game, for even when he wins he loses.”

He talked about how he started, and offered a theory about where the best players come from:

“I wanted to be a ballplayer and was educated at the game in a good school, on the lots around St. Louis.  I think that ballplayers develop faster when they are in the neighborhood of some major league team.  One or two of the players on a ‘prairie’ team are at every game the big league (team) plays.  They see how the game is played, and being at that age as imitative as monkeys, they work the same things on their own teams and teach all the other boys.  I have noticed when any city has a pennant winning club the quality of baseball played by the boys and the amateurs in that vicinity are much improved.”

Byrne

Byrne

Byrne said because of his time playing on the sandlots of St. Louis, he “picked up the game rapidly,” but said it wasn’t until he began to play professionally, first in Fort Scott, Arkansas, then in Springfield, MO, that he corrected the biggest flaw in his game:

“The hardest thing I had to learn was when to throw.   I think I must have thrown away half the games we played before I learned not to throw when there was no chance to get the runner. I think that is one of the first things a young player should learn; to look before he throws and only throw when he has a chance to make a play.  The next thing, it seems to me, is to learn to handle one’s feet and to keep in the game all the time, and be in position to move when the ball is hit.”

Even at the pinnacle of his career, the man who discouraged children from following in his path, was also somewhat cynical about his own experience:

“The biggest thing I had learned was that, no matter how far a fellow gets up in the business, there still is a lot he does not know, and by dint of watching and learning I held on, and still am learning and willing to learn.  When I know it all I’ll quit, or be released.”

Byrne continued “learning” for seven more seasons, and the end of his career was fitting for someone who warned that a young man should steer clear of baseball because “even when he wins he loses.” After being acquired on waivers by the Chicago White Sox in September of 1917, he appeared in just one game, on September 4.  He was with the team when they clinched the pennant 20 days later; and was released the day after he appeared in the team photo commemorating their American League Championship.

Group portrait of American League's Chicago White Sox baseball team posing in front of a section of the grandstands on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1917.

White Sox team photo after clinching 1917 pennant, Byrne is fourth from right in second row–he was released the following day.

While the Sox were beating the Giants in the World Series, Byrne was back in St. Louis operating a bowling alley.   After three years away from baseball, he managed minor league teams—the Miami (OK) Indians and Saginaw (MI) Aces—in 1921 and ’22 before returning again to the bowling business.

His admonition against professional baseball didn’t stop his two sons from having their own brief minor league careers; Bobby played for several clubs between 1939 and 1941, and Bernie (listed as “Byrnes” on Baseball Reference) played for the Paragould (AK) Browns in the Northeast Arkansas League in 1940.  Both had their careers interrupted by WWII, Bernie was an airforce fighter pilot in Asia, while Bobby was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Purple Heart while flying for the airforce in the Mediterranean Theater.