Tag Archives: Boyden Sparkes

“Is the Home Run a Menace to Baseball?”

8 Apr

Boyden Sparkes worked on newspapers in Cincinnati, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, and later became a feature writer for “The Saturday Evening Post,” and was the author of several fiction and nonfiction books. In 1922, he asked the question in The New York Tribune, “Is the home run a menace to baseball?”

Sparkes talked to Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbetts about Babe Ruth and the increase in home runs.:

“All of the home runs are to be accounted for by heavier bats. I don’t mean that the bat actually weighs more, but there is more of the body of the wood down where it meets the ball.

“Rule 15 says the bat must be round and no longer than forty-two inches and no thicker than two and three-quarter inches and didn’t concern themselves so much with heft or thickness. Now they are mostly using bludgeons…I’d say 85 percent of the increased number of home runs is due to this.”

Ruth’s Bat

Sparkes then sought out:

“(A) mortal with a perspective on the true merits of the rise in the home-run market…But where is one to find a baseball star who was lost from the firmament a decade ago?

“It is not so difficult when the star is (Willie) Keeler and information is sought in Brooklyn, a few months ago in an invalid’s wheelchair he was trundled off the boat that ferries between Sheepshead Bay and Rockaway Point.”

Keeler, just 50, was only months away from death:

“(H)is friend and physician, Dr. Charles Wuest watches with tender solicitude while the old ballplayer who used to go from home to first like a flash doles out a precious energy ration for a short walk on the beach.”

Asked what the “old boy” thought of Babe Ruth, Keller said:

“He’s got a beautiful swing. Yes, he’s got a beautiful swing. Ruth is better than anyone. I don’t mean that he is a scientific hitter (Billy shook his head here), but he certainly is a wonder with home runs.

“I don’t know whether the ball is anymore ‘live’ or not. I’ve only seen one game—the last championship—since they claim the ball has been changed, and I couldn’t judge by that, but there are several factors that have altered the chances of the pitchers and the batters.”

Keeler

Keeler called those factors “a changing struggle.”

He said:

“Every baseball player who studies the game is really an inventor seeking ways to alter it. It’s like the centuries-old contest between the makers of armor and the makers of projectiles…It’s the same way with bank burglars and bank vaults.”

Keeler said outlawing the spitball was a key factor in aiding hitting:

“The spitball was one I couldn’t figure. I never did approve of it either. It doesn’t look right to see fellow spitting on a ball. It’s unhealthy, too, as far as that goes. Then they got to using all sorts of tuff on the ball, rubbing it with emery paper and putting paraffin on it.”

Noting the many changes in baseball’s rules over the years, Sparkes said, “Other countries do not change the rules of their national sports as Americans do. A bull fighter of today could use the swords of a matador of a century ago.”

This, he said was true of cricket as well and spoke to Harry Rushton, secretary of New York’s Metropolitan District Cricket League, who said:

“What? Revise the rules of cricket! Why, my dear sir it wouldn’t be cricket.”

Rushton said:

“The revision of rules in cricket is usually for clarification. The only change that I can recall which altered the balance of chance between the batsman and the bowler was really due to the American influence, I should say, and England, of course, has never accepted the change.”

Rushton said a “movement among American cricketers” attempted to “increase and ‘over’ from six to ten balls.” A change from six to eight was made in Australia, but “the Briton at home clings to the six ball over.”

After talking to Ebbetts and Keeler, and the cricketer, Sparkes arrived at the conclusion that many have when faced with another radical change to the game:

“Clearly, if baseball is to remain baseball. The men who control it will have to stop tampering with it.”