Tag Archives: Christy Mathewson

“Most of These Kids Today Can’t Take it”

17 May

Grantland Rice of The New York Herald interviewed Ty Cobb on a fairly regular basis when the retired star was living on the West Coast.

In 1940, after the two met in San Francisco, he said, “Cobb was the bluebird harbinger of spring,” and recalled when, in 1904, “Cobb kept writing me letters, signing Smith, Jones, Brown, and Robinson—all telling me what a great player young Tyrus Raymond Cobb was.”

Rice

Rice said he “fell for the gag,” and thanked Cobb for making him, “quite a prophet” for writing about him based on the letters.

Rice asked Cobb about his famous batting grip:

“It shows what habit will do in sports. I began playing baseball with much older and bigger kids.” I couldn’t grip the big bats that they had near the handle. I had to spread my hands to poke at the ball.

“I couldn’t swing the big bats any other way. After that I couldn’t change. But I was probably better off as a place hitter than I might have been as a slugger. I never believed in slugging anyway.

“I believe in getting on—and then getting around. Today they only believe in hitting a fast ball out of the park.”

Cobb said he was “still for speed and science,” over power:

“Base stealing today is a lost art. It seems to be gone forever. Did you know that several high-class ballplayers last season failed to steal a base? I remember one year I had 96 steals. That’s almost the same as 96 extra base hits, for those steals put me in a position to score.”

Rice asked the 56-year-old Cobb what the biggest difference between the “present crop” and the players of his era was:

“Stamina, I mean legs and arms. I’ve lived on my legs most of my life. As you may remember in 24 big league years, I never spared my legs. I’ve played many a game with almost no skin on either thigh.

“I believed then and I believe know in toughening up your system—not sparing it. Between seasons I hunted all winter, eight or ten hours a day. That’s what Bill Dickey has done—and you know where Bill Dickey stands in baseball.”

Cobb

Cobb had little use for current pitchers either:

“The modern crop has weak arms. Look at Cy Young, winning 512 ball games. Show me a pitcher today who can even pitch 400 games. Remember Ed Walsh? One year Ed won 40 games and saved 12 others [sic, 6]. He worked in 66 games that year, around 1908. And then pitched through a city series, working in almost every game.

“Most of these kids today can’t take it. They have come up the easy way. They have to be pampered. A lot of them need a nurse. We had to come up the hard way. What a difference that makes—in any game.”

Cobb lamented that any current pitcher “is almost a hero” for winning 20 games:

“Can you imagine Cy Young, who averaged over 20 games for wee over 20 years, out there today.

“The kids today rarely use their legs. They ride in place of walking. I always had to walk.  Maybe five miles—maybe 20 miles. The old-time pitchers had to work in 50 or 60 games. Maybe more. I’ve seen them come out long before the ball game was scheduled to start in order to get the kinks out of their tired arms, working out slowly for over 30 minutes. But not today.”

Cobb said he believed Dizzy Dean would be “a throwback” until he hurt his arm:

“He always wanted to pitch. To be in there. But there are not many left like that. They’d rather be resting up.

“In my opinion, a real pitcher should be good for at least 45 ball games—maybe 50 if he is really needed. I mean men like Walsh, Cy Young, Alexander, Matty, Chesbro, Joe Wood—the top guys. They could take it—and they loved it. Not this modern crowd. At least most of them. They haven’t the stamina needed to go on when there is no one to take their place.”

Cobb had good things to say of two other modern stars:

“I’ll say this for Babe Ruth. He could always take it—and like it. So could Lou Gehrig. You never had to pamper Ruth or Gehrig. They were ballplayers of the old school. So was Matty. So was Alexander, drunk or sober. What a pitcher.”

Cobb said what mattered in all things was stamina, fortitude, brains and speed:

“They still count. When they don’t then you haven’t either a game or civilization. You haven’t anything worthwhile.”

Note: As indicated below, Cobb conflated Walsh’s 1908 regular season performance and his 1912 post-season work in Chicago’s City Series. I failed to include that note and this link in the original post: https://baseballhistorydaily.com/tag/chicago-city-series/

Ed Barrow’s All-Time All-Stars

26 Mar

“The old-timers. They were better hitters! No question about it.”

Said Ed Barrow after he became president of the New York Yankees in 1939 and Jimmy Powers of The New York Daily News had the 71-year-old pick his all-time team.

Barrow

Powers said of Barrow:

“The beetle-browed executive, one of the few remaining links between the gas-lit, coach-and-four, Wee Willie Keeler era and the moderns, boomed at us across his wide, flat-topped desk in the offices of the New York baseball club.”

Barrow was “a great believer in ‘natural born’ stars,’ telling Powers, “A fellow has it—or he hasn’t it.”

He explained his theory:

“Once in a while a manager will make a few minor corrections in stance, or change something here and there, but if player hasn’t the natural coordination, the God-given physique, the reflexes for rhythm and timing, he’ll never get ‘em. Sometimes one man will get more mileage out of his talents than another because he will work harder. That’s why the old-timers were better hitters. They looked at better pitching, and they practiced and practiced and practiced.”

Barrow said there was one reason in particular for why old-timers were better hitters:

“The tipoff is in the strikeout column. The moderns strikeout oftener—and there’s your answer. The present-day hitter is so homerun crazy that half the time he closes his eyes and swings; four bases or nothing! Usually, it’s nothing.”

Barrow’s told Powers:

“Now, on my All-Star, All-Time team I’d put Cobb, Speaker and Ruth in the outfield. Chase, Lajoie, Wagner, and Jimmy Collins in the infield. Matty, Johnson, Waddell, and McGinnity, pitchers. And Bill Dickey, catcher…I’d put Joe DiMaggio on that team as utility outfielder. I’d put Lou Gehrig as substitute first baseman and pinch hitter. Bill Bradley, Eddie Collins, Swede Risberg, and Buck Weaver would also get contracts on this ‘Dream Team.’ Keeler would be another utility outfielder and Bresnahan would be my second catcher. Ruffing and Gomez would fill out my pitching staff!”

Barrow’s All-Stars

Barrow said he could offer “a million reasons’ for the rationale for each selected player. 

“(R)ecords can be misleading…I won’t quote you records of my All-Timers…A man must be in the dugout or in the stands to weigh the merits of a player and not be influenced by a record book.”

He said in choosing his team, he held “no grudges,” which is why he selected Risberg and Weaver, “Black Sox scandal or not.”

He said he would add Joe Jackson to the team, “if I thought he was smart enough. But Jackson, strange to say, was the only dumb one on that whole team. Up until 1938s Yankees—those Black Sox were the best team in baseball!”

As for some of his picks:

“Chase on first base! Nobody near him. He could throw a ball through a knothole, covered the whole infield like a cat, and remember he used a glove that just covered his fingers and seldom had a palm. The ‘peach baskets’ first basemen use today would have been barred years back, Chase could hit behind the runner, bunt, steal, fake a bunt at third and then bunt over the third baseman’s head. He could do all the tricks.”

Chase

He called Napoleon Lajoie “the most graceful second baseman I have ever seen. He had a rifle arm and was as slick as a panther,” and gave him the edge “by a slight margin” over Eddie Collins.

Honus Wagner, who Barrow signed for the Patterson Silk Weavers in 1896, “is my nomination as the greatest individual ballplayer of all time.”

Of his first impression of Wagner, he said:

“He was pretty terrible when I first ran across him, looked awkward as all get-out. But suddenly he would come through with a perfectly dazzling play that had everybody on our bench swallowing his tobacco cud in astonishment.”

Like Lajoie, Barrow said Jimmy Collins just edged out the second choice—Bill Bradley—because:

“Collins could make perfect throws to first from any position. When an infielder makes an off-balance throw today the crowd gives him a big hand. The old timers did it every play because the old ball was slow dribbling out there. Today the lively ball comes out fast in one or two hops, and this gives the third baseman a chance to make his throw from a ‘straightened up’ stance.…Remember, in the old days the ball was dark, wet with slippery elm juice; often it was smudged with grass stains, hard to follow.”

In the outfield, Barrow said, “I don’t think anyone will give you an argument on Cobb-Speaker-Ruth.”

He called Ty Cobb “the greatest hitter of all time,” with “a lightning-quick brain and plenty of gut.”

Babe Ruth, he said was, in addition to the being the “great slugger of all-time,” changed the game because of “His salary, his magnetic personality, and his publicity.”

Tris Speaker “was superb. A good hitter, a great fielder, a brainy man. He was so confident of his ability ‘to go back’ he practically camped on second base.”

Of the pitching staff, he said Christy Mathewson “could do almost everything with a baseball—practically make it talk.”

Of Walter Johnson he said:

“He had awe-inspiring speed. You’d stand up there watching and suddenly—pfffft—pfffft—pfffft. Three phantom bullets whizzed past. Too fast for your eyes to focus ‘em.”

Rube Waddell was “the best lefthander” he had seen.

Joe McGinnity appeared to be a sentimental choice:

“(He) was a work horse, a competent soul who loved the game so much I believe he’d work for nothing.”

Bill Dickey, he said was not “given the credit” he deserved:

“He’s a hitter. A workmanlike receiver. Handles pitchers marvelously. Has a good arm. Is fast. Is always one jump ahead of the opposition. Dickey does everything well.”

“Gibson Comes as Close to Ruth as You’ll Ever get”

24 Mar

In July of 1944, Jim McCulley of The New York Daily News sat with two men watching a game:

“’The greatest ball players I ever saw?’ Said the fellow on my left. ‘That’s easy.’

“’Pitchers? Well, there was Christy Mathewson, old Pete Alexander, Walter Johnson and Three-Fingered Brown. There was Ty Cobb, a fat guy named Ruth and Joe Jackson in the outfield. Catchers? Let’s see now; there was Roger Bresnahan and I guess I have to put Ray Schalk in there along with Roger; There was (Pie) Traynor at third and the old Dutchman at short, of course, but do I have to tell you his name, Hans Wagner? Rogers Hornsby at second and Georg Sisler at first. They were the greatest I ever played against or saw, anyway, and I don’t think they can come much better.

“’Speaker? He was great all right, but naw, not in their class.”

McCulley’s other companion responded that Hal Chase belonged in place of Sisler.

“The fellow on the left smiled and said: ‘Leave me out of it.”

Hal Chase, 61 years old and in failing health, was on the East Coast “on a little vacation” attending games and attempting to rehabilitate his reputation. Although he shaved three years off his age and told McCulley his birthday was in a “couple of days, July 21st to be exact;” Chase’s birthday was February 13.

Chase

McCulley said the former first baseman, despite his many illnesses and injuries, “still has that athletic figure and moves around quickly and with the same grace which made him so outstanding on the ball field.”

Chase said he watched a dozen games on his trip East:

“Even went out to see Josh Gibson play the other day. There’s a hitter. One of the greatest of all time. He hit two home runs and they were belts. Say, if he played in the Polo Grounds 75 games a year, he’d hit 75 home runs.”

Chase even told an apocryphal story about the Negro League star:

“’You know how Gibson happened to start playing pro ball?’ asked Chase. ‘Well, one day the old Pittsburgh Crawfords were moving out of Pittsburgh in a bus. They happened to stop along side of a sandlot diamond on account of a traffic tie up. So they all took a look out the windows to watch the in progress. There was a mighty loud crack and a couple of seconds later a ball bounced off the top of the bus, which was parked about 400 feet from the home plate. Oscar Charleston, who managed the Crawfords at the time, got right out of the bus and hot-footed after the kid who had socked the ball.”

It is not clear whether the story was invented by Chase or a story he had picked up, but it ignores that Gibson began his professional career with the Homestead Grays and was well-known as a semi-pro player before his first professional game.

Chase said Gibson was the second-best player he’d ever seen:

“That fat guy was the greatest, of course. Nobody can come close to Ruth. He was the greatest that ever lived, better than Cobb or anybody else. If Ruth ever shortened up on the bat, he’d have hit over .400 every year. But Gibson comes as close to Ruth as you’ll ever get.”

Gibson

As for his own legacy:

“Chase still gets emotionally upset when the talk gets around to his final days as a player. It’s a well-known fact that he didn’t leave the game of his own accord, but we won’t go into that here.”

McCulley said the “name of Chase belongs alongside those of other all-time greats of the diamond,” and:

“The fact that his name isn’t listed in the Cooperstown museum cuts deeper and deeper into Hal as time goes on. It’s the one regret and the one dark thought in an otherwise brilliant baseball saga.”

Chase was dead less than three years later with thesame regret and dark thought unresolved.

His first major league manager, Clark Griffith told Shirley Povich of The Washington Post:

“You wouldn’t believe a man could do all the things on a ball field Chase could do. There wasn’t a modern first baseman who can come close to him. There wasn’t ever any ‘second Hal Chase.’ He was in a class by himself.”

“Funny Thing, this Spring Training Business”

8 Mar

In 1912, Joe Tinker traveled the West performing a “baseball monologue” on vaudeville stages. On January 8, he appeared, with a juggler as his opening act, at the Empress Theater in Los Angeles.

Ad for Tiner at the Empress

The Los Angeles Examiner published part of his monologue:

“Funny thing, this spring training business is anyway. It’s uncertain any way you look at it, but, of course, all of us have to go through it.”

He said players all had, “slightly different ideas about how to get in condition,” and said he trained off season and reported each spring in shape.

Pitchers needed to be “the strongest men” and required the most work, but:

“I do not believe in any long runs for any ballplayer, for he does not have that kind of stuff in a game. What a ballplayer needs, as a fighter does, is to strengthen his legs.”

He thought distance running negatively impacted speed for position players.

Tinker

Tinker said pitchers should simply get used to running the bases regularly:

“This is necessary, so that when they get on bases in a game they would not be worn out if they should run around and score a run.

“You take a pitcher that is all tired out by making a run, for instance, and he is in no shape to pitch the next inning. He is almost sure to lose his control and that is what a heaver needs in a game more than anything else. This weakness of many young pitchers is often due to being winded after running the bases.”

Tinker said the best pitchers—Christy Mathewson, Ed Walsh, and Mordecai Brown—and others were successful because “they are strong. Their legs are good and they can go through a hard game without becoming weak.”

He said “ a month of training is long enough” for each club:

“Sometimes teams train too long. At that, it is often hard to get teams into the strid euntil three weeks after the season begins, for no player takes the same interest in a practice game as he does in the real thing.

“Speaking of my own club, the Cubs, (Frank) Chance has always given the men a lot of leeway. Many of us have always been in pretty fair shape when we started.”

Tinker’s final advice:

“Ballplayers should be very careful of their stomachs, as should all athletes. They should not overeat. An overloaded stomach makes you loggy, heavy, and dull-witted, and ballplayers, you know, must have their wits with them. You cannot go to sleep in the big leagues.”

Collins, Evers and Umpires

27 Jan

Billy Evans said:

“No American League umpire can ever recall the time that Walter Johnson questioned a ruling. In fact, I have often heard him tell other members of his team that the umpire was right when the general opinion was that the official had erred in his ruling.”

Evans

In 1916, Evans, the umpire and syndicated columnist claimed that “real stars” seldom argued calls—he said National League umpires told him Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Mathewson “the two best pitchers in the league…never dispute a called ball or strike.”

It wasn’t just limited to pitchers, he said:

“(T)he really great catchers, the crack infielders, and the brilliant outfielders, as a rule, accept the decisions of the umpires without any protest to speak of…They often believe the umpire has erred in a good many cases they let the official know just what they think of the decision, but they invariably do it in such a way that any umpire with any common sense would have no reason for taking offense.”

Evans cited Eddie Collins as an example, sating people often told him the second baseman wasn’t aggressive enough:

“They form this opinion because Collins is not being put out of the game ever so often.  . It is a fact that Eddie Collins is an aggressive player, but of a type that is not known to the public. Collins can protest as strongly as any player in the business. When he believes the umpire has erred, he never fails to register his protest, but there is nothing of the grandstand variety in the protest. He does nothing by word or action that will cause the crowd to believe the umpire has erred.”

Collins

He said, as a result, Collins was “always listened to and given consideration” when he questioned a call.

“The real good ballplayer can always make good on natural ability,” and Evans said “they never find it necessary to seek an alibi in order to cover up either lack of ability or failure to have properly completed a play.”

He said he had the most problems with players who “believe they are start yet fall considerably shy of that class.”

He said Johnny Evers was one of the “few really great players” who was “in constant hot water” with umpires.

“Evers has just one thing strongly in his favor in this respect—his kicks are actually from the heart, not actuated by a desire to alibi. Evers is one of the greatest players of all times, reputed to be one of the brainiest infielders in the history of the game, yet he is unable to see the error of his way toward the umpire.”

Evers

In comparing the two second basemen, Evans said:

“In all his career Collins has never been put out of a ball grounds, while Johnny has been given the gate in so many contests that he has probably quit keeping track of his banishments a long time ago.”

To that end, he said “Collins has a decided and distinct advantage over Evers. He is always in the game, giving his club his very best efforts. Evers does the same when in the game, but Johnny is often playing the role of spectator, because of his failure to see things as the judge of the play did. Taking Collins and Evers from the game is just like taking the leading man from a play.”

“An Awkward Bunch of Monkeys”

24 Dec

Arlie Latham was the oldest living former major leaguer in 1951—the 91-year-old made his major league debut 71 years earlier.

Will Grimsley of The Associated Press tracked down “The Freshest Man of Earth” and had him pick his all-time all-star team:

“(Latham) has seen them all from Cap Anson right down to Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial.

“’It is tough picking this team,’ said the thin, bent old infielder of baseball’s cradle days, whose memory is still razor-sharp. ‘There are so many good players—so many, especially today.”

Unlike many 19th Century veterans, Latham only selected three players whose careers began before 1900. He said:

“I think the players today are far better than back in the old times. Why, on the whole there is no comparison. Where we had one or two stars on a team back then today every man has to be standout to hold his position.”

Latham at 91

Latham’s team:

P: Cy Young, Rube Waddell, Carl Hubbell, Christy Mathewson

C: Bill Dickey

1B: Bill Terry

2B; Frankie Frisch

#B: Pie Traynor

SS: Honus Wagner

OF Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio

Latham called Cobb, “the greatest all-around player there was.”

He gave Terry the nod over Lou Gehrig because “he was a smoother fielder.”

Buck Ewing was the only catcher “he’d mention in the same breath” as Dickey.

He said “it was hard” to keep Walter Johnson off.

Of his own career, Latham said:

“I was the best man of my day at getting out of the way of a hard-hit ball.”

Arlie Latham

He called the players of his era, “an awkward bunch of monkeys.”

Latham died the following year at age 92.

“The Realization of Their Carelessness”

1 Jun

After the 1910 season, Hugh Fullerton, writing in “The American Magazine” said baseball had no universal language.

“Each team has its different system of coaching, its different language of signs, motions, cipher words, or phrases, and no one man can hope to learn them all.”

Fullerton said the “worst of trying to study” the signs of various clubs was trying to track when they changed:

“If Arlie Latham jumps into the air and screams ‘Hold your base!’ it may mean ‘Steal second,’ today and tomorrow it may mean ‘Hit and run.’ One never can tell what a sign means. Hughie Jennings hoists his right knee as high as his shoulder, pulls six blades of grass and Jim Delahanty bunts. You are certain that Jennings signaled him to sacrifice, so the next day when Ty Cobb is bat and Jennings goes through the same motions, you creep forward and Cobb hits the ball past you so fast you can’t see it.

“If Connie Mack tilts his hat over his eyes and Eddie Collins steals second as the next ball is pitched, naturally you watch the hat, and lo, Jack Barry plays hit and run. You hear Clark Griffith yelp ‘Watch his foot!’ and see two of his players start a double steal. The next time he yells ‘Watch his foot!’ you break your neck to cover the base, and both players stand still.”

latham2

Arlie Latham 

Fullerton said most fans gave up trying to figure out signs but they “mustn’t do that. Someday right in the middle of a game, you’ll strike the key to the language and read through clear to the ninth inning.”

He compared that moment to getting “away one good drive,” in golf, “forever afterward you are a victim,” and can’t stop.

“Did you ever watch Hugh Jennings on the coaching line near first base during a hard-fought game? He doubles his fists, lifts one leg and shakes his foot, screams ‘E-yah’ in piercing tomes and stooping suddenly plucks at the grass, pecking at it like a hen. It looks foolish. I have heard spectators express wonder that a man of ability and nearing middle age could act so childishly. Yet hidden somewhere in the fantastic contortions and gestures of the Tigers’ leader there is a meaning, a code word, or signal that tells his warriors what he expects them to do.”

Jennings said of his signs:

“I change almost every day. I change every time I suspect there is a danger of the meanings being read. I am a believer in as few signals as possible and of giving them when they count, and I find that a lot of antics are effective in covering up the signals.”

Fullerton said Mack was “one of the most successful men” at “interpreting” opponents’ signs:

“Before the Chicago Cubs went into their disastrous series against the Athletics they were warned that if such a thing were possible Mack would have their signals. At the end of the game they called a meeting to revise signals, changing entirely, being certain the Athletics knew almost every kind of ball that was going to be pitched.”

Fullerton allowed that the Cubs instead might be tipping their pitches, because he was sitting with Ty Cobb during the series, and:

“(He) repeatedly called the turn on the ball that would be pitched before it was thrown, judging from the pitcher’s motion, and the Athletics may have been doing the same thing.”

Fullerton also said of the Cubs, that although they were “the cleverest baseball team in America, composed of smart men and a great manager, for years paid less attention to active coaching on the baselines,” than other teams.

“Possibly the reason was the confidence in their own judgment and their continued success, Frank Chance’s men made few blunders and the neglect was not noticeable, except to constant observers until 1908. Any player who happened to be idle went to the coaching lines and most of the time inexperienced substitutes did line duty. In 1908 during their fierce fight for the pennant, the realization of their carelessness was brought home to them and since then Chance has employed quick-thinking, clever men on the base lines, principally relying on (Ginger) Beaumont and (John) Kane.”

john kane

John Kane

Fullerton dated Chance’s new appreciation for competent coaching to July 17, 1908; that day the Cubs beat Christy Mathewson and the Giants 1 to 0 on an inside the park home run by Joe Tinker. Heinie Zimmerman was coaching third base for the Cubs.

The Chicago Inter Ocean described the play:

“Joe, the first man up in the fifth, hit one of Matty’s best as far as any ball could be hit in the grounds without going into the stands. Where the center field bleachers join the right field 25 cent seats is a V-shaped inclosure. Joe drove the ball away into this dent, and it took Cy Seymour some time to gather the elusive sphere. When Cy finally retrieved the ball, Tinker was rounding third.

“Zimmerman grasped this as the psychological moment to perpetrate one of the most blockheaded plays ever pulled off. He ran out onto the line and seized Joe, trying to hold him on third, when the ball was just starting to the diamond from deep center field. Joe struggled to get away, as his judgment told him he could get home, but Heinie held on with a grip of death. Finally, Tink wriggled away and started for the plate.”

 

heinie

Zimmerman

The paper said Tinker would have been thrown out had Al Bridwell’s throw to the plate been on target:

“Had Tinker been caught at the plate the 10,000 frenzied fans would have torn Zim limb from limb. Chance immediately sent Evers out to coach at third base and retired Zim to the dark confines of the Cubs’ bench.”

Thus, said Fullerton:

“Chance began to develop scientific coaching, and discovering its full value, took the lead in the matter, employing skilled coachers.”

Oyster Joe Martina

26 May

Joseph John “Oyster Joe” Martina made a name for himself in New Orleans before he threw his first professional pitch. Martina’s father Anthony was at one time the city’s largest oyster dealer, a business he passed on to his sons.

Martina was playing semi-pro ball for the Sam Bonarts—a team sponsored by the owner of a local clothing store, and for a club called the Beavers  when he decided in addition to pitching, he had a talent for distance throwing.

He won $25 in a contest at Pelican Park in July of 1909, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said Martina “threw the sphere from home plate over the back fence.”

martina

Martina, circa 1909

The throw was said to be 394 feet; just 11 feet short of what was considered the world record—there was some dispute in contemporaneous accounts about who actually held the record, some credited it to Larry Twitchell, said to have accomplished the feat in 1888 and others to Same Crane, whose was made in 1884.

Martina made his next attempt on July 31.

The New Orleans Picayune said:

“Joe Martina met with success this afternoon in his effort to break the world’s record for throwing a baseball, his best throw being 416 feet and 2 inches.”

The paper said he “threw a standard league baseball, which was inspected by several representatives of the southern division of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).”

The event was of interest to local gamblers and when Martina made the record-setting throw it created a stir:

“Disputes also arose over Martina being allowed five throws. Those placing wagers against his breaking the record claimed that only three throws should be allowed. It was on the fifth throw that Martina made the record.”

There was also initially some doubt that the record would be accepted by the AAU because of the five throws. The Times-Democrat said:

“Usually only three throws are allowed. But as there are no definite rules governing contests of that kind, Martina’s record will likely stand. Whether it was his fifth of fiftieth it was a great heave and one which should go as a record.”

The Picayune said there might be another problem with the record:

“One regret remains, that the throw was not measured with a steel tape. It was measured with a linen tape, and may not be accepted by the AAU officials, although the throw was so much over the record the is no question of it being farther than Crane’s”

The record, and Marina’s performance in New Orleans’ semi-pro league earned him a tryout the following spring with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association—pitching three innings in the first game of Atlanta’s exhibition series with the Philadelphia Athletics. Marina gave up one run and struck out three.

The Atlanta Georgian and News said:

“Martina is nothing if not confident.

“After his try-out against Philadelphia he said: ‘Why, it’s just as easy to pitch against those big leaguers as it is against the New Orleans semi-pros. I don’t see anything very hard. I think I can make good in the Southern league all right I certainly had the steam against the Athletics. How many his did they make, anyhow’”

The Crackers did not agree, and sold the 20-year-old to the Savannah Indians in the Sally League

Martina bounced from Georgia, to Louisiana, to Mississippi and then Texas over the next four years.

In the spring of 1914, entering his third season with the Beaumont Oilers in the Texas League, Martina faced the New York Giants.  The Giants beat him 5 to 2, but The New York Sun said:

“The Giants had practice hitting speed the other day. Joe Martina, who prescribed the medicine for the National League champions, had it in caloric quantities…I yearned for a chance in the majors, felt I had more stuff than many pitchers sent up from the South but the big opportunity always passed me by.”

Red Murray of the Giants, barely avoided getting hit in the head with a Martina fastball, and told the paper:

“’That fellow’s got as much speed as I ever saw.’ Said John after the game, and the other Giants corroborated him. He’s as fast as (Chief) Bender.”

The Sun took notice of more than the pitcher’s speed:

“This Martina is something of a character. In the course of the game the umpire announced that Mathewson would pitch today. ‘Mathewson?’ queried Martina, who appears to be n iconoclast. ‘What busher’s that?’

“’Say,’ exclaimed the skeptical Martina to Chief Meyers when the latter made a base hit after several fruitless tries in that direction, ‘you’re lucky to get a hit off of me,’ and then, by the way of an afterthought: ‘All the hits you ever get are lucky.’

“Evidently, Mr. Martina is no hero worshiper.”

When he struck out Fred Snodgrass, he asked, “How do you like that, busher?”

Throughout his 20s, Martina was considered an “iron man,” pitching from 261 to 330 innings every year from 1910 through 1915; he also, according to The Picayune regularly pitched Sunday games in New Orleans throughout each off season.
In 1916, he injured his arm—or as The Arkansas Democrat said, his “arm cracked after hard usage.”

Speed Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald compared Martina to White Sox ace Ed Walsh, “The spitball king of other days now is a bench-warmer.”

Johnson said Chattanooga Lookouts manager Kid Elberfeld was the culprit:

“Performing under orders from (Elberfeld) Martina pitched seven games in the first sixteen games of the season. From May 1 to May 13 he officiated in five engagements, toiling with a sore arm.”

Elberfeld claimed that Martina injured his arm throwing too many spitballs, Johnson said, “it behooves young pitchers bent on winning fame as iron men to work only in their turn.”

Despite the reported injury, and a release from Chattanooga, Martina pitched 278 innings in 1916 with three teams.

Martina went back to the Texas League for four more seasons—including a 28-win season for Beaumont in 1919.

In 1921 he came back to the Southern Association, with his hometown Pelicans. From 1921-1923 he won 56 games, including a 22-6 mark in 1922. He told The Times-Picayune:

“It’s the old story, “You don’t learn how to pitch until your arm is gone.”

His three-year run with the Pelicans finally earned him a major league contract in 1924.  Umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“Speaking of miracle workers, supermen, and rookie phenoms of baseball, don’t overlook pitcher Joe Martina of the Washington Nationals.

“At the age of 34, when most big leaguers are wondering how much longer they will be able to stand the pace, Joe Martina is making his debut.”

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Martina, 1924

Martina told Evans:

“I had as much stuff fifteen years ago as I have today, and with-it youth, but somehow the major leagues scouts would annually pass me up.”

He was 6-8 for the World Series Champion Senators, he pitched one perfect inning in game three of the World Series. In the off season, Washington Manager Bucky Harris told The Washington Post that Martina “will win at least 15 games this year and may reach the 20 mark.”

He was due to join the Senators in Tampa, Florida on February 19, 1925, but failed to show up. The Post said Martina wired President Clark Griffith and asked to report later because he was having a new home built. Griffith refused and he was “notified by telegraph” that he was suspended. The Washington Evening Star said he would be fined and forced “to labor at a smaller salary,” for the season.  The paper suggested that the pay cut would not impact him greatly because:

“The Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, with the resulting big crowds in attendance and the consequent increase in the oyster business conducted by Martina probably mean that the pitcher can suffer these financial setbacks and still be ahead of the game.”

He arrived in Tampa on March 1; The Star said Griffith withdrew the fine because Martina claimed he had received a letter from the Washington owner that he could report late:

“Griff admitted that in the stress of arranging for the annual pilgrimage South of his club he might have forgotten the original letter to Joe.”

On April 9, Martina, along with left-handers–Jim Brillheart and Jim McNamara—were released by Griffith. The Star said

 “(Martini’s) work this spring indicated he has passed the peak of his form which is not quite good enough for fast company.”

He returned to New Orleans for four more seasons—winning 77 games and leading the Pelicans to Southern Association championships in 1926 and 1927. The 39-year-old went back to the Texas League for one more season in 1929; after a disappointing 10-13 campaign for the Dallas Steers, Martina purchased—or bartered for—his release. The Times-Picayune said:

“Martina has been given his unconditional release at the price of two barrels of oysters. This was the price demanded by Fred McJunkin, president of the Dallas club.”

He played two more seasons in the Cotton States League and took a crack at managing with the Baton Rouge Standards in 1931—he was released mid-season at age 41.

With both the Pelicans and the Knoxville Smokies hopelessly out of the 1931 Southern Association pennant race, Knoxville signed Martina to pitch against New Orleans on the final day of the season. He started the first game of a double header, gave up six runs over eight innings and lost his final game as a professional.

Zipp Newman, sports editor of The Birmingham News and official scorer for the Birmingham Barons for 44 years said Martina’s strong arm was with him to the very end::

“After pitching a full game for Knoxville against New Orleans Sunday, Joe went to the outfield and made the longest throw-in. Joe threw the ball right up to the grandstand. There wasn’t a youngster on the field who could come close to him. Joe Martina arms are few and far between in baseball.”

Martina, who died of a heart attack in 1962, said in an interview with Newman in 1941:

“I am convinced I had more human endurance than any man who ever lived. In all my life I was never tired, even when it was 110 out there on the mound. The answer is simple: I was a good boy. I behaved myself and every at 8 o’clock I was in bed…When my arm was live the ball would sail slightly upward, and nobody could hit me. When it was dead, although the pitch was just as fast, the ball went straight, like on a string, and I was a goner.”

“Almost Every Ballplayer has his Individual Superstition”

4 May

“Almost every ballplayer has his individual superstition,” said The Philadelphia Record in 1918:

On days when Cy Young pitched, “he would always see that the bat boy placed the bats with the handles towards the infield,” Young would not tolerate crossed bats.

“Christy Mathewson always placed his glove, face up, near the sideline, and would never allow anyone to hand it to him when returning to the box.”

Bob Harmon wore his hat crookedly on the right side of his head during his first big league win, and “always wore his cap on one side of his head when working.”

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Harmon

Philadelphia’s two former aces, Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, had theirs:

“Bender always pitched his glove to the sideline as he walked out of the box, He never was known to lay it down. He would get his signal from the catcher and step into the box from behind and always right foot first…Plank would never warm up with a new ball on the days he worked. He always hung his sweater on a certain nail in the dugout and ‘woe be unto’ the player who moved it.”

Eddie Collins—arguably the most superstitious player among his contemporaries— “has a certain way to put on his uniform. He always dresses from his feet up.”

Johnny Evers—who believed himself to be one of the most superstitious among his contemporaries— “always believes that his club would win if he put one stocking on with the wrong side out.”

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Johnny Evers

Napoleon Lajoie and Honus Wagner’s superstitions were tied to bats:

“Lajoie had a certain bat which he used in the game and under no conditions would he allow anyone to use it, for the reason that the player using it might get a hit which really belonged to the owner of the bat…Wagner would never allow a player or bat boy to make any move to disarrange the bats or to start putting them away until the last man was out in the last inning, no matter how the score stood.”

Prince Hal Chase, said the paper, believed he could not get a hit “unless he spits in his hands and touches his cap before a pitcher delivers a ball.”

Lost Advertisements: Big Six for Coke

14 Feb

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A 1915 advertisement:

“Big Six Drinks Coca-Cola–They’re fine teammates, these two–universally popular, always reliable, tested by time and proved good.”

After 12 straight seasons winning at least 22 games, Mathewson was on his way to a 8-14 record with a career high 3.58 ERA in 1915. Towards the end of that season he wrote in his syndicated column:

“Fans are enough interested in me to write and ask whether I think I am at the end of my days as a pitcher. Of course all big leaguers are optimistic when it comes to a question of age. And they are more sensitive about this than an unmarried lady over 35. But I don’t think this will be my last season in big league ‘spangles.’ Can’t a man who has been working it for fifteen years have an off summer once in awhile?”

Mathewson did return in 1916 at 35; he was 4-4 3.01 ERA in his final season with the Giants and Reds.