Tag Archives: Edgar Forrest Wolfe

“There is a Game on Every Sandlot Nearly Every day”

29 Jul

Like Edgar Forrest Wolfe (Jim Nasium) two years later, Joe S. Jackson, baseball writer for The Detroit Free Press, “discovered” quality baseball in Cuba.

Reporting from Havana in November of 1909 he wrote:

“(T)he Cuban baseballist probably has something on the big leaguer of the states. The game is in its infancy here, and the gravy is the players. Those promoting the game are doing very nicely, thank you, but the home-grown players are the big winners.”

Jackson said native Cuban players had not adopted the “oratory” of American players that they were, “slaves ‘bought and sold and paid just what they want to give us.’”

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Joe S. Jackson

Jackson said, “in cold hard figures,” Cuban players were receiving “three times as much out of the game as the man who backs it.”

He said the Cuban fans had a decided preference for native born players which explained why:

“Almendares, which finished second in the championship race last season, still have a much greater following of fans than Havana, which has several American players, and which last year (1908) was piloted to the pennant by (Rip) Hagerman, who was with the Chicago Cubs this past summer.”

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Rip Hagerman

While still in its “infancy,” baseball had taken over the island, said Jackson:

“There is a game on every sandlot nearly every day, and even the roustabouts on the Havana docks toss a sphere about in their idle time.”

However, Jackson said native players with the necessary skills were not yet plentiful; Jackson felt native Cubans were not encouraged to excel, and used the island’s other major sport as an example:

“The (jai-alai) court (in Havana) keeps nearly 30 professionals on its payroll, and salaries of the stars range from $600 to $800 a month, for an eight months’ season. While ordinary players draw from $300 to $400 per month. Still there isn’t a Cuban on the roster. All of the players are brought from Spain.”

Jackson said Cuban baseball was lucrative for players because:

“As yet the Cuban managers haven’t come to the regular baseball idea of handing their men so much a month and clinging to the big end. Their baseball, in its business in still in process of evolution. In effect, it is the old scheme of match games with winners and losers’ ends of a purse.”

Jackson explained the business end of the Cuban system:

“There is but one baseball park in Havana enclosed and having regular stands. Eugenio Jimenez controls this. All league games are played on this lot. He handles the tickets and takes care of all the business details. When the money is counted up, 25 percent of the gross goes to Mr. Jimenez for use of the field. There is a slight amount of money, something like $100, to be taken out for certain fixed charges like license fee etc., which do not come under regular operating expenses. Barring this slight sum, 75 percent left after the park manager takes his is divided between the players. The team that wins takes 60 percent and the loser gets 40.”

The pitcher and catcher were paid slightly more than the rest of the team, dividing one extra share of the total between them.

It was, said Jackson, “customary to Grand Opera the prices,” of tickets when major leaguers were barnstorming in Cuba:

“In the series such as the Detroit club is now playing in Cuba, it is necessary of course, to depart a little from the methods obtaining during the Cuban league season. Detroit has to be paid for its work, and the expenses of bringing the club to Havana and of maintaining it while here, are pretty stiff.”

The Cuban clubs agreed to take the usual losers share, 40 percent, for the games with the Tigers:

“In the first Sunday game played here for instance, the receipts were $6,310. They would have been bigger had Almendares been Detroit’s opponent, or had (George) Mullin, whom the natives were most anxious to see, been slated to pitch. After Mr. Jimenez took out the 25 percent…the Havana team’s 40 percent of the balance amounted to $1,851.66…each Cuban got $162.30. The lowest money yet split, that being by Havana on a Thursday afternoon, was about $40 to the players and $60 to the battery.”

Jackson said there was always a large police presence at the games in Havana, “a patrol wagon, backed up to the fence near the bench, has a tendency to restrain from any undue hilarity.”

He told a story about a game in 1908:

“One-time last season three Cuban players in a league game took exception to an umpire’s rulings, and left the field, subs being used to complete the contest.”

Havana had a “censor of amusements” who oversaw all behavior in public venues:

“Before the three men left the clubhouse (the censor) had them arrested. All were sent to the bastille, and next morning a judge who agreed with the censor—later maintaining that the public had paid to see these certain players perform, and had been disappointed  and deprived of the value of their money by the withdrawal—sent the three players to jail for five days each. They don’t leave the field anymore unless they are carried off for removal to a hospital.”

The police, he said, would remove a player “in the patrol wagon” and he would be fined if he left a game, and “They don’t stand for any disorder, either on the part of a player or the populace.”

The Tigers lost eight of their 12 games on the Cuba trip, Jackson said major league teams learned a valuable lesson:

“The Tigers trip was sufficient to impress on American ballplayers the fact that they cannot go down with patched-up teams and walk through games to victory. The Cubans can field, throw and run, have good pitchers and are always in shape.”

“Mendez is a Wonder”

15 May

Edgar Forrest Wolfe, the cartoonist and sports columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer who wrote under the pen name Jim Nasium, joined the Phillies on their Cuban barnstorming tour after the 1911 season.

When he returned, he told readers:

“Baseball fans throughout the United States, in trying to dig up an answer that will explain away the wallopings that have been handed our big league ball teams by the Cubans during their annual winter pilgrimages to the ‘Sunny Isle.’”

 

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He said some fans tried to claim it was “change of climate” or players not adhering to “strict discipline,” but:

“While you can work this stuff and probably get away with it if you happen to be conversing with some guy who has never been south of Oshkosh, Michigan [sic]”

No, Wolfe said, climate and discipline were not the issue— “Good pitching and sensational fielding is the bulk of the answer.”

In particular, Wolfe singled out Jose Mendez, in an article that flirted with the progressive idea of integrating baseball while loaded with the racist ideas and language of the time.

Phillies manager Hans Lobert told Wolfe:

“Mendez is a wonder, and so is his catcher (Gervasio) Gonzalez. If we could give those two coons a coat of white paint and ring them in with the Phillies next summer, we’d win the pennant.”

Referring to Mendez’ first start against major leaguers in 1908, Wolfe noted:

“Mendez not only showed his ability as a pitcher, but his nerve and absolute immunity from stage fright, but going in and shutting out the Cincinnati team in this game with but one little hit, and that was a little scratch affair made by Miller Huggins in the ninth inning. Mendez fanned nine of the Reds in this game and as his own team could get him but one run to win with, you will see that he had to go some to win even with that great pitching.”

Wolfe chronicled what are now well-known highlights of Mendez’ performances against white professionals from 1908 to 1911, and then described what made him so unhittable:

“Mendez’ chief asset in a pitching way is terrific speed with a fast-breaking jump to the ball, which he mixes with a fast breaking curve, and excellent control and fine judgment in working the batsmen. Ballplayers from the states who have batted against Mendez or tried to, rather, assert that there is no pitcher in baseball, barring possibly Walter Johnson, who has as much ‘smoke’ as this ‘Black Mathewson’ of Cuba. The thing that causes the most wonderment among our players who have played in Cuba, however, is the wonderful ability of Mendez in fielding his position. He is remarkably fast on his feet and a quick starter, has a cool head and excellent judgment, and can throw from any position like a rifle shot.

“Mendez plays the whole infield when he is pitching, and it is almost impossible to lay down a safe bunt against him or even sacrifice, as he will invariably get the ball in time to nail the advance man.”

Wolfe said Mendez was so good fielding his position that he allowed his fielders to play “closer to the foul lines and leaving Mendez to plug up the holes in the center.”

And, he said Mendez worked “twice as hard” as other pitchers because of how much ground he covered fielding his position in the heat of Cuba:

“What a corking hot weather pitcher he would make up here if he could only be whitewashed.”

Wolfe also noted that Mendez had “never been the author of a boneheaded play,” and highlighted his character:

“Mendez is known in Havana as a modest and well-behaved gentleman at all times, both on the field of play and off, as he seems to realize that his color bars him from many privileges accorded to the white baseball hero. While pitching he is constantly smiling, showing his teeth in a broad grin, their whiteness forming a vivid contrast with his black skin. Every cent Mendez earns through his ball playing goes to the support of his mother, whom he can now afford to give every pleasure of the wealthy class of Cubans.”

Wolfe said during November of 1911, the pitcher earned $584 from gate receipts when he pitched:

“(A)s every time Mendez works down there, they play to capacity, the fans in Havana, white as well as colored, idolizing their ‘Black Mathewson’ much in the same way as New Yorkers idolize their white one.”

In closing, Wolfe lamented:

“It is one of the pathetic instances of life to see this Cuban negro, possessing all the characteristics of a gentleman and an ability that would make him one of the great figures in a great pastime, qualities that would bring him worldwide fame and popularity and wealth, barred from reaping the full benefits of these qualifications through the misfortune of birth. Jose Mendez will always have to be content just to be Cuba’s ‘Black Mathewson’”