Tag Archives: Chicago White Sox

Frank Isbell and Big Betsy

16 May

Frank Isbell of the Chicago White Sox started hitting in 1905—having never hit better than .257, and after batting just .210 the previous season, Isbell posted a .296 average in 351 at bats in ’05.

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Frank Isbell

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune suggested it was due to his bat, “Big Betsy.”  Fullerton said:

“The early history of the bat is unknown, but it was believed Issy discovered Betsy in a lot of bats purchased by the club.  He fell in love with her and was always ready when hits were needed.”

In 1906, Isbell led the Hitless Wonders’ regulars with a .279 average, and hit .308 in the World Series versus the Chicago Cubs, including four doubles in his first four at bats in game 5.

Publishers Press News Service said:

“Big Isbell was a tower of strength with the stick.  Four crashing doubles the lanky Swede tore off and besides scoring three runs himself, he drove in three more.”

Isbell added three more hits in game 6, and according to The Chicago Record-Herald, Isbell told Sox owner Charles Comiskey he was going to retire Betsy:

“That grand old bat has seen its last hard work on the ball field.  It’s going to pass the rest of its days in peace.  That stick helped skin the Cubs…Oh, it’s a great bat, but you’ll never see it on a ball field again.  That’s the souvenir I prize above all the rest.”

Isbell changed his mind during the off season.

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Isbell

Charles Dryden of The Tribune told the story of Big Betsy’s debut in 1907:

“By far the most important arrival of (opening) day was Big Betsy, which traveled by registered letter from Wichita, Kansas.  She is too priceless to be risked any other way.  Big Betsy is the bat from which the talented Mr. Isbell fired four two-baggers in the fifth game of the World’s Series.  News that Betsy had reported sent some high grade chills chasing up and down the spine of the (St. Louis) Browns.”

Isbell, Dryden said, had brought the bat to Mexico City where the Sox trained in 1907, and when he later took a train from New Orleans home to Wichita, “Izzy took a top berth and let Betsy have the lower.”  Isbell then shipped the bat to St. Louis for the opener because, “He had two grips, one in either hand, and there was no secure place for Betsy.  He would not trust the porter.”

Dryden said the bat arrived the Southern Hotel in St. Louis at 11 o’clock on the morning of the game:

“Oozy Ed Walsh helped Izzy receive the stick and together they fondled it with loving hands.  It was Oozy Ed who trained Big Betsy, using her to hit fungoes with in practice.

“The same tarred tape is sticking to the handle, and across the butt end of the weapon Izzy had carved lifelike portraits of the love doubles he smote on that fearful West Side day.”

Four days later with Isbell slightly hobbled by a leg injury, tragedy struck Big Betsy in Detroit.  Dryden said in The Tribune:

“Izzy is in a bad way mentally and physically.  Big Betsy, the fat bat that brought fame and dollars, is no more.  Her shattered fragments wound about with crepe and forget me nots now are in the baggage coach ahead, bound for Wichita, Kansas.  The remains will be framed and hung up in Izzy’s boudoir for future generations to rubber.  It was G. (Sox Shortstop, George) Davis who put Big Betsy in the morgue.  He borrowed her yesterday when Izzy was not looking and busted Betsy wide open hitting into a double play.”

Without Big Betsy and hampered by a season-ending hand injury in August, Isbell hit just .243 in 1907, he hit .247 in 1908 after holding out until June, and .224 in 1909.  Isbell requested, and was granted, his release by Comiskey before the 1910 season in order to accept an offer to become player-manager of his hometown Wichita Jobbers in the Western League.

“I am Glad to be Away From Mack’s Team”

14 May

The winter of 1914-1915 was eventful for Eddie Collins.  There were stories which claimed he would never actually appear in a game for the Chicago White Sox, how close he came to not being sold to the Sox because of his wife, and a story about a letter that nearly destroyed his reputation in Philadelphia.

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Eddie Collins

Collins was sold by the Philadelphia Athletics to the White Sox on December 8, 1915, four days after The Chicago Tribune reported that Walter Johnson had jumped to the Federal League’s Chicago Whales, or the “Tinx” as I. E. Sanborn of The Tribune called the club managed by Joe Tinker.  The paper’s headline said:

“Johnson Signs with ‘Feds;’ to Play With Tinx”

The Chicago press greeted the Collins sale with as much excitement as the Johnson signing, and after the dust cleared a month later, Johnson was back with Washington having come to terms with Clark Griffith.

One of the January stories about Collins was borne out of the belief in some quarters in Chicago that Charles Comiskey only bought Collins because, as Ed Grillo of The Washington Star said: “If Johnson had not jumped to the Chifeds, Collins undoubtedly would have (been sold to the New York Yankees).”

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Charles Comiskey

The Chicago Daily News implied that Comiskey only made the deal to steal the press thunder from the Federal League club’s signing of Johnson and that Collins would be sold to the Yankees before the 1915 season.  Comiskey vehemently denied the story to James Crusinberry, The Tribune’s sports editor:

“The Walter Johnson affair never entered into our plan of getting Eddie Collins.  I wanted a second baseman and a great hitter, and the reason I wanted him was because I want to win a pennant…Eddie Collins will be playing for the white Sox for the next five years if he lives.”

According to Collins, his wife–Mabel Harriet Doane Collins–almost kept the deal from happening in the first place.  According to Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald-Examiner:

“Eddie Collins came near never being a member of the Chicago White Sox because his wife refused to believe the biggest men in baseball wanted to see him.”

According to Fullerton, Collins was out when the phone rang:

“’Hello,’ said a voice.  ‘This is President (Ban) Johnson of the American League.  I want to speak to Mr. Collins.’

“’We’ve had practical jokers call us up before,’ replied Mrs. Collins sweetly, as she hung up the receiver.

“Five minutes later the telephone rang again, and a voice said,’ This is President Comiskey of the Chicago White Sox, I would like to speak to Mr. Collins.’

‘”Our friend Mr. Johnson must have lost his voice and asked you to call,’ responded Mrs. Collins, and hung up again.

“Another five minutes passed.  Then Connie Mack called up.  Mrs. Collins recognized his voice…’Did Mr. Johnson and Mr. Comiskey really telephone?’ she asked surprised.

“’Yes,’ answered Mack.

“’Eddie is at a friend’s house, but I’ll get him right away.’

“If Mrs. Collins had had the telephone cut off, Collins might still be a member of the Athletics.”

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Mabel Collins, with sons Eddie Jr. and Paul (1925)

But the last story about Collins that winter nearly caused a rift with his former manager and threatened to tarnish the Collins’ image as the era’s most gentlemanly ballplayer.

In January, The Detroit News said White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte told a reporter that Collins had written him a letter regarding his enthusiasm to play in Chicago.  According to Cicotte, Collins said:

“(H)e is glad to get away from Philadelphia because the fans there are not as loyal to the players as they ought to be.”

The News—in an article with no byline–quoted the letter:

“Here is one thing I have been waiting to say, I am glad to be away from Mack’s team.  I say that sincerely, and of all the cities of the American League I prefer Chicago.  The fans are loyal there.  A player’s mistakes of the day (and we all have them) are overlooked because it is known a man is doing his best.  I have always wanted to play in Chicago; now that I’m with the team I am going to give it my best efforts.”

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Ed Cicotte

Collins denied he said the things The News quoted and told The Philadelphia Press:

“I not only did not write anything of the kind to Cicotte, but never did say any such thing.  I do not believe either that Cicotte ever said that I wrote him the letter which was published.”

Collins told The Press he had received a telegram from Cicotte, but said his response to the Sox pitcher simply said:

“Dear Eddie—I have just received your wire of congratulations and say that I greatly appreciate it.  I am glad that the members of the club feel as they do about the deal.  We ought to have a good club next season and I am sure we will be up in the running for the pennant.”

While The Sporting News quoted the same version of the letter as The Detroit News, The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger chose to accept Collins’ version of events:

“The efforts of some sporting writers to construct ‘stories’ from material gathered from the surrounding atmosphere indicate two things:  First that the writer not only has a glaring disregard for the truth but that he is even willing to injure the standing of a person in a community for the sake of putting over a fake ‘story.’ The dispatch which came from Detroit purporting to give a portion of Eddie Collins’ letter to Eddie Cicotte was false from start to finish…that writer took it upon himself to write a quotation which contained not one iota of truth.  It made the fans of Philadelphia who have always been loyal to Collins angry and no matter what is stated later there will always be some people here who believe that Collins wrote that letter who will still be his enemies.  And all because someone writing a story in Detroit has regard for neither truth nor for the feelings of an individual.  Such a person, if his identity were known, should be barred in the future from writing anything whatever.  Any man who attempts to to enter the field of sport writing should at least stand on his merits and not try to advance his personal cause by unfair, underhand, despicable means.”

Collins played the next 12 seasons with the White Sox, returning to Mack and the less “loyal” Philadelphia fans in 1927.

Roy Counts

30 Apr

The Arizona State League was formed in 1928—the four-team league had teams in Bisbee, Miami, Tucson, and Phoenix.

There seemed to be little information about Phoenix Senators second baseman Roy Counts in local papers.  Counts had spent the previous two years in the outlaw Copper League with the Fort Bayard (NM) Veterans where he was a teammate of banned White Sox pitcher Claude “Lefty” Williams, but otherwise little was written about Counts.

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The Fort Bayard Veterans in Juarez, Mexico after a 1926 game, Claude “Lefty” Williams is sixth from left, Roy Counts is 14th (with arms crossed)

The Arizona Republic said after an April exhibition game with the barnstorming House of David club, that Counts and third baseman Henry Doll:

“(H)ave been working out in good style and appear in perfect condition.  Both are fast fielders and have wicked pegs to the initial sack.”

On May 20, the Senators beat the Tucson Waddies 11-0.  Counts was 1 for 4 with no errors in five chances at second—it was his final professional game.

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Roy Counts, 1928

Roy Counts it turned out was not really Roy Counts.

Roy Counts was actually Laster Fisher—an Arkansas born fugitive who had previously played professional baseball under his given name.

Fisher—his unusual first name a result of his mother’s maiden name, Lasater—was born in Mulberry, Arkansas on October 8, 1901, and broke into professional ball with the Salina (KS) Millers in the Southwestern League in 1922.  Fisher played third base and shortstop, he hit .269.  In October, the Minneapolis Millers purchased his contract.

That same month, Fisher was arrested in Salina for passing a bad check for $10.50 at a local restaurant.  Whether he was only charged with the writing the one bad check was unclear, but The Salina Evening Journal said his father, “Settled all claims against his son.”

Despite the brush with the law, Fisher spent the spring of 1923 with Minneapolis but was farmed out to the Clarksdale Cubs in the Cotton States League before the season began.  In mid July, he joined Minneapolis, he appeared in 69 games—67 at shortstop—he hit 273 and committed 34 errors in 365 total chances.

The Minneapolis Star said of Fisher’s performance he was, “not of the double A caliber yet.”

He was let go by Minneapolis and signed by the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League—according to The Houston Post he was the first player to arrive at Tulsa’s spring training camp in Marlin, Texas—Fisher appears to have been let go before the season started.

In May, The St. Joseph (MO) News-Press said:

“Lester [sic] Fisher, former Tulsa Western League shortstop, who was reported missing a while back with a drive-it-yourself car…(was) returned to Tulsa and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary.  Fisher is only twenty-two years old and gave promise of being one of the best shortstops in the Western League.  He told the judge who sentenced him that at the time he stole the car he was drunk, and when he got sober he was afraid to return it.”

Fisher had driven the rented Maxwell automobile to Greenwood, Mississippi, and according to The Greenwood Commonwealth left the car in that town; he was later arrested in Leland, Mississippi and returned to Oklahoma.

After entering the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, Fisher joined the prison baseball team.  On May 13, 1925, according to The Associated Press, Fisher “Kept running after a game in Holdenville.”

His three year run over, Fisher was returned to prison in Oklahoma.  He never returned to pro ball.

He moved to Texas after his release and was working as a maintenance man at the Victory Baptist Church when he died of congestive heart failure on July 5, 1959.

“They Have Baseball ‘Rooting’ Down to a Science in Chicago”

26 Apr

The 1907 Chicago White Sox stayed in the American League pennant race all season, they were within one game of first place as late as September 24.

Eddie “Hotspur” McBride, the sports editor of The Buffalo Enquirer, credited some fans for the club’s success:

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Eddie “Hotspur” McBride

“They have baseball ‘rooting’ down to a science in Chicago, according to baseball fans from other cities who have taken in games in the Windy City this year.  In fact, they have their own poet laureate and every now and then he spiels off a few verses, has them printed by a committee appointed by the fans and the slips are passed through the grandstand, where at a signal they are sung in unison by the big crowds and many is the opposing pitcher on the White Sox grounds who has gone down to defeat unable to stand the awful shrieks of those singing fans.”

McBride said he received a “Dissertation on scientific rooting,” from the leaders of the singing fans “an attorney by the name of Cantwell,” and the “poet laureate,” a man named Robert Farrell:

“’A lot of rooters go to the park and just yell,’ said Cantwell.  ‘They don’t know what they yell and they don’t know why they are yelling.  They just yell because it’s customary to yell when you attend a baseball game.’”

Cantwell said:

“’That used to be the theory of rooting.  But that isn’t effective rooting.’

“’Today’s rooting is a science.’

“’When you root you root because you want to gain some effect.  For instance, you know the pitcher can be sent into the air.  So you root to send him on his balloon ascension.  But you can’t hope to do it by just exercising your lungs.’”

Cantwell offered “the most effective manner” for rooting:

“’Just yell one sentence at him for a long time. Keep it up.  Don’t get discouraged if you don’t rattle him in the first inning.’

‘”If you’re a wise rooter you won’t expect to.’

“’Take (Ed) Siever of Detroit for instance.  He’s a grand pitcher, an icicle, but can be sent on a balloon ascension. How?  By yelling the same sentence at him time after time.

“’This is a good one to hand him: you can’t put it over. You can’t put it over.’

“’At first it doesn’t bother him.  Inning after inning passes and he sticks to earth. But pretty soon it begins to worry him.  You don’t yell another thing at him.  All the time it’s just ‘You can’t put it over.’

“’Thousands are now yelling that sentence.  It gets on his nerves.  He begins to lose to control.  The next thing you know he’s up in the air, you’ve got three or four runs and the game is won.’”

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Ed Siever

Cantwell said the fans had gotten to Siever earlier in September:

“He was pitching in grand form.  We conceived the idea of predicting.’

“’When he went into the box we yelled:  ‘We’ll chase you in the fifth,’ He just smiled at us  All the first inning we yelled nothing else…well, we were so persistent in it that finally it began to tell:’

“’In the fifth inning the Sox scored six runs, drove Siever from the box.  Wild Bill Donovan finished the game which we lost, 9 to 6.”

Cantwell got a couple key details wrong—Siever lasted until the seventh in the September 3 game, although he did allow six runs in that inning, and he was relieved by George Mullin, not Donovan.

The Detroit Free Press said the group totals around 150 in total and was primarily comprised of employees of the Chicago Board of Trade.

McBride claimed that Charles Comiskey said the rooters were “worth ten games a season for the Sox.”

Cantwell told McBride:

“(T)he men in the stands can win every doubtful game.”

The rooters and the White Sox fell short, finishing in third place, five and a half games behind the champion Tigers.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #22

24 Apr

Ty Cobb Rates American League Fans

In 1907, The Washington Evening Star asked Ty Cobb was asked how he was treated by fans in all of the American League cities:

“All ballplayers coming in sometimes for a little guying, but that is what makes the game.  If the fans did not do this it would show they had lost interest and baseball would soon die.  The fact that I am a Southern man has never made any difference in the way I have been treated by the public in the North.  The fans all over the American League have always been kind to me.”

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Cobb

However, Cobb said, fans in some cities were tougher on visiting players:

“Take Philadelphia, for instance, old Philly is sometimes rough with the visiting clubs, and we have been treated to a little warm reception once or twice.

“Chicago is not as kind to visiting players as some of the other cities. They are so loyal to their city and their clubs that sometimes a go too far with the guying.

“In New York the people are fair and clever, and so is Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Boston.  St. Louis is somewhat like Chicago.

“I am sure that the fact that I am from the South has never influenced the fans in the slightest.  If it has, it has been in my favor.”

The not as Smart Coveleski

Billy Murray managed Harry Coveleski during the pitcher’s three years with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1907-1909.  Years later, he told Bozeman Bulger of The New York World, that Harry was not as bright as his brother, Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski, who was “Smart as a whip” according to Bulger.

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Harry Coveleski

“Coveleski got out of a tight predicament mostly by luck and came back to the bench to face an enrages Murray.

“’What do you mean by taking that wind up with men on bases, especially on first and second?’

“’I didn’t know there were any men on the bases. Nobody told me,’ Coveleski replied

“’Now listen men,’ Murray turned to the players on the bench, don’t let this happen again.  When there are runners on the bases you go out and tell ‘Covvie’—you hear me?  We’ll have no more secrets on this club.’

“’That’s right, Billy,’ agreed the unperturbed Coveleski, oblivious to Murray’s biting sarcasm.  ‘Keeping secrets always hurts a ballclub.’”

An Umpire’s dilemma

The Associated Press reported in 1912 about an umpire’s dilemma during a game played in an unincorporated town near Boulder, Colorado called Canfield:

“Albert Billings kicked his cork leg across the home plate yesterday afternoon in the ninth inning, the score a 5 to 5 tie, the umpire called the runner safe.  Then the last baseball game of the season broke up in a row.  However, umpire Jerry Carter consulted the rule book, declared that there was no precedent, and held to his decision.

“Billings had knocked a beautiful two-bagger.  He stole third and started home when the batter tapped one to the infield.  The ball was thrown to the catcher in time to get Billings out by at least ten feet.  Billings cork leg flew off, however, and hit the plate.  The catcher tagged Billings as he lay on the ground ten feet from the plate.  The umpire ruled that the foot at the end of the cork leg touched the home base first.  Billings was therefore called safe with the winning run.”

Segregation and Spring Training, 1961

11 Apr

Will Grimsley was a New York based sportswriter for The Associated Press for nearly forty years; he covered 35 World Series and at least that many spring training’s.

Before teams opened their camps in 1961, he reported on segregated living arrangement.

Grimsley introduced readers to the woman who housed the Milwaukee Braves

“Mrs. K. W. Gibson’s boarding house at 211 Ninth Avenue is a modest, spotlessly clean two-story dwelling which stands out in the dilapidated Negro section of Bradenton.

“Mrs. Gibson prides herself on “setting the best table in town.”

“The tiny, gray-haired matron for years has been house mother for Negro members of the Milwaukee Braves baseball team.  ‘I’ve treated them like my own sons,’ she said.

“At Mrs. Gibson’s place, the Negro players have basic comfort and ‘eat high on the hog’ as the saying goes.  Yet, they sleep two to a room; queue up for use of the two bathrooms and sometime bicker over the choice of a television program on the single set in the living room.”

Hank Aaron said:

“Sometimes the place is so crowded they have two guys sleeping in the hall.  You wake up in the morning and rush for the bathroom and if you’re the last one all the hot water is gone.”

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Mr. and Mrs. K.W. Gibson in their Bradenton home.

Grimsley said of their teammates’ accommodations:

“The white members of the team meanwhile have headquartered in a Bradenton motel. This year they move into a new motel in the center of town—glistening glass and stone, wall-to-wall carpeting, private baths, television sets and a modern central dining area”

“Aaron, Wes Covington and Andre Rodgers have been most outspoken in criticism of Jim Crow treatment.”

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Aaron and Covington

Duffy Lewis, traveling secretary of the Braves, expressed shock that Aaron and some of his teammates were not thrilled with the situation:

“Why, we thought they had an ideal setup and we’ve never heard a fuss.  That Mrs. Gibson sets the best table I’ve ever seen.  I’ve eaten there myself.”

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Braves in Bradenton

Grimsley conducted “A reporter’s survey” of each team’s spring training quarters with details provided by the teams and/or their spring training hotels. He said hotel managers were, “generally jumpy and gun-shy on the issue but many (were) ready to acknowledge that the problem soon must be met head on—maybe next year.”

Some highlights:

Yankees:  “Have trained at St. Petersburg for years.  The Soreno, a resort hotel, has politely said ‘no’ to Yankee owner Dan Topping’s request that all players…be housed ‘under one roof.”

Tigers: “Local ordinance in Lakeland, FL forbids four Negro players to stay at club headquarters, New Florida Hotel.

Athletics:  General Manager Frank Lane told Grimsley “We are not spearheading any political movements,” when asked why Bob Boyd, the only African-American with the club would not be staying with the rest of the team at the George Washington Hotel in West Palm Beach, FL.

Reds:  “Eight Negros on roster to be housed and fed in private homes, not at team headquarters at Floridian Hotel, Tampa.  Both club and hotel said they never had difficulty and not rocking the boat.”

Pirates:  “Headquarters at Bradford Hotel, Fort Myers, FL.  ‘We don’t anticipate any trouble,’ said the hotel’s resident manager, Howard Green.  ‘The colored players will get excellent accommodations in private homes.”

Phillies:  “Again will stay at Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater.  General Manager John Quinn wants all players in same hotel, but no immediate prospect.”

Twins:  “Five Negro players to be housed in new motel, while headquarters will be Cheery Plaza in Orlando, FL”

Senators:  “(T)o train at Pompano Beach, FL. The chamber of commerce is working on housing which will be segregated.”

White Sox: “Bill Veeck, president, is negotiating with Sarasota, FL., civic leaders to have six Negro players…stay with rest of team at Sarasota Terrace.  Negroes likely will wind up at motel.”

Orioles: “McAlister Hotel in Miami…says there has been no correspondence on the matter.”

According to Grimsley, the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Indians, Angels, and Red Sox all had integrated accommodations—the Dodgers—who housed all players “together at old air base in Vero Beach,” were the only team in Florida with such an arrangement.  The other five trained in Arizona and California.

Grimsley concluded:

“Next year or the year later perhaps, but not now—the baseball clubs must abide by the traditions of the people whose land they have invaded for a couple of months of each year.”

Bill Nunn Jr., sports editor of The Pittsburgh Courier, interviewed Aaron a week after the original story:

“’I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating that I don’t like the situation the way it now stands,’ Aaron disclosed here.  ‘I think it’s wrong for us to have to live apart from the rest of the team.’

“At the same time Aaron went out of his way to emphasize that he didn’t want the numerous Negro friends he has made in Bradenton to be offended by his stand on this matter.

“Aaron was speaking specifically of Mr. and Mrs. K. W. Gibson, the people in whose home he and members of the Braves stay while in Florida.

“’Mrs. Gibson was hurt over all the things she heard concerning our statements about Bradenton.  She thought we were being critical of her and her home.’

“’Actually that wasn’t the case at all.  We were trying to get over the point that we didn’t like being segregated against our will.  I explained all this to Mrs. Gibson.  I told her about the moral issues concerned.  I think she’s on our side now.'”

United Press International (UPI) reported the following spring that, “The Braves switched their Bradenton hotel headquarters to nearby Palmetto this spring to permit integration of their athletes.”

UPI said six clubs “still have the integration problem:” the Orioles, Tigers, Athletics, Twins, Senators, and Pirates.

One Minute Talk: Joe Jackson

12 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox, on his way to hitting .341—third in the American League behind Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb—had some advice for pitchers about saving their arms:

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Jackson

“If you want to put your arm on the blink just start fooling with the fadeaway ball.

“I’ve had one experience and it cured me. After pitching four or five fadeaways I developed a kink in my elbow and decided to quit experimenting.

“Some fellows have studied the thing and got it down to a fine art. They tell me it doesn’t affect their arms, but if they pitched it as steadily as some fellows throw the spitter they wouldn’t last long in any league.”

“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.

 

One Minute Talk–Lefty Williams

19 Sep

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Claude “Lefty” Williams, on his way to winning 13 games for the Chicago White Sox during his first full season as a major league pitcher, after two brief trials with the Detroit Tigers:

“The boy who enters baseball will never be a success until he takes the profession seriously.  I learned my lesson (in 1913 and 1914) when I had my first chance in the majors.  I had always regarded baseball as a game just for fun but Manager (Hughie) Jennings of the Detroit Tigers  soon showed me the error of my way, by shipping me to the Salt Lake club of the Pacific  Coast (League).  Once in the minors I got wise to myself and determined to regain a big league job.

Lefty Williams

Lefty Williams

“I started in baseball as a pitcher for the school team at Springfield, MO., and though I was only a kid I was a pretty successful southpaw.  Now that I am back in the majors I’m certainly going to work my head off to remain here.”

Williams won 33 games for the Salt Lake City Bees in 1915 which earned him his return to the major leagues.  Williams, who vowed to “work my head off to remain here,” won 81 games over five seasons with the White Sox before being banned for his role in the Black Sox scandal.

One Minute Talk: Braggo Roth

15 Sep

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Robert “Braggo” Roth, in the midst of a .286 season for the Cleveland Indians:

“I certainly feel as if I owe Leslie Nunamaker of the Yankees a vote of thanks for consenting to trade bats with me earlier in the season.

“At the start of the season I was using a bat I had obtained from Joe Jackson (Roth was one of three players traded by the Chicago White Sox for Jackson in 1915) in a trade but one afternoon during preliminary practice I borrowed a big black bat from Nunamaker who had been hitting to beat the band.  I thought I might change my luck.  Sure enough, I started to hit ‘em on the nose with my new ‘Betsy’ and have been going good ever since.

Roth and his "Betsy"

Roth and his “Betsy”

“I suppose I’ll hit a slump the minute I lose that stick.”

Nunamaker appears to have done OK with the “trade” as well; he hit .296 in 260 at bats that season.  Jackson hit .341 for the White Sox.