Tag Archives: Frank Baker

“It was Hard for me to get Used to Some of the Boneheads”

4 Oct

Most baseball writers and dozens of baseball figures caught the twenty greatest “fever” during 1911 and 1912.

After Frank Baker hit .375 with two home runs and five RBIs, leading the Philadelphia Athletics to their 1911 World Series victory over the New York Giants, Grantland Rice opined in The New York Mail:

baker2

Frank Baker

“The twenty greatest ballplayers, picked exclusively for this column by John McGraw and the Giants—John Franklin Baker.”

The Washington Times said Germany Schaefer was asked to put his twenty greatest list together shortly after the end of his best season in 1911:

“Write ‘em out and send ‘em to me,’ the newspaperman suggested.

“Germany did.  The list read as follows: ‘Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, and Germany Schaefer.’”

Germany Schaefer

Schaefer

The Philadelphia Record asked Connie Mack for his twenty greatest list, Mack refused but told the paper “if his life depended on any game of ball,” he would start Chief Bender:

“Do you know, Bender has never yet failed me in a crisis?  Whenever there is a game that the fortunes of our club hinge on I’ve sent in the Chief and he has delivered every time.”

Billy Hamilton, who made a couple of the lists that circulated during 1911 and 1912, told The Boston Globe he was upset no one had named his former teammate Marty Bergen:

“Why, I can’t see how you can possibly leave him out…He and Buck Ewing were in a class by themselves among the men I have seen behind the bat.  I have never seen anything like that snap throw of Martin’s, with the ball always on the runner.”

Wild Bill Donovan then put Bergen on the list he chose for The Detroit News:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Jim Hughes
  • Christy Mathewson
  • Duke Farrell
  • Marty Bergen
  • Hal Chase
  • Fred Tenney
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jimmy Collins
  • John McGraw
  • Hughie Jennings
  • Herman Long
  • Ty Cobb
  • Bill Lange
  • Ed Delahanty
  • Willie Keeler
  •  Fielder Jones
  • Fred Clarke
  • Bobby Wallace

Donovan told the paper of Ed Walsh:

“If Walsh were worked about once in four days, instead of being asked to go in three times a week as often is the case now, I believe that he would be unbeatable.”

edwalsh

Ed Walsh

In lauding Farrell, his teammate in Brooklyn, Donovan took a swipe at many of the catchers he worked with during his career:

“The big Duke was a wonderfully heady man, and the only catcher who ever lived on whom it was impossible to work the hit and run game.  Any time Duke called for a waste ball, you could bet your next paycheck that the runner was going to go down.  After pitching to man of his intelligence it was hard for me to get used to some of the boneheads that I encountered later.”

One more list—attributed to several papers and sportswriters at the time—appeared first in The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, and chronicled the “Twenty greatest blunders in baseball:”

20blunders

As the craze was dying down, The Chicago Tribune said Ted Sullivan, the man who I credited with discovering Charles Comiskey—and Comiskey’s favorite scout, would put together “a list of the twenty greatest baseball actuaries of all time were he not a bit doubtful about the other nineteen.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking Up Other Things #24

1 Aug

Pitching to Ruth

According to the International News Service, during a discussion before a game in 1919, Frank Baker was talking to his Yankees teammates about “the days when batters demanded the sort of delivery they could hit best.”

ruth

Babe Ruth

The players agreed:

“If that rule were in force in the present day the outfielders would have to be mounted on motorcycles, and Muddy Ruel said that the playing field would have to be as big as the parade grounds at old Camp Pike, where he was at officers training camp.

Just imagine Babe Ruth coming up with the bases filled and a hit needed if he had the privilege of demanding a fastball waist high.  The question of how to pitch to him under such conditions was placed in open discussion.  Ping Bodie solved it.  ‘I’d get back on second base, throw the ball and then duck,’ said Ping.”

Negotiating with Murphy

When it was first rumored that Fred Mitchell would step down as president of the Chicago Cubs in the summer of 1919, there was speculation that Charles Webb Murphy might return to the club as president (Bill Veeck Sr. was ultimately given the position)

Hearing word of Murphy’s possible return, Johnny Evers told The Sporting News what it was like to negotiate a contract with Murphy after the team’s back to back World Series wins in 1907 and 1908:

charlesmurphy

Charles Webb Murphy

“We had made lots of money for the Cubs and certainly expected owner Murphy to give us a big boost in salary.  I received my contract, gave it the once over and returned it to C.W. with the curt reply that I thought I deserved more money for my labors.

“It was not a big salary,  In fact, the sum mentioned was so small that if I were to tell you the amount it would shock you.  Mr. Murphy was shrewd enough to get around my request for a raise.  His reply was to the effect that I might deserve more money, but should be satisfied to work for the amount he mentioned in view of the fact that I had such wonderful stars to help me as Frank Chance on my left and Joe Tinker on my right.

“Joe Tinker also protested against the figures mentioned in his contract that year and the crafty Mr. Murphy’s reply to him was that he should be satisfied to play for almost anything since he was teamed up with such stars as (Harry) Steinfeldt on his right, Evers on his left and Frank Chance at first base.  There was no way to get around an argument like that, and when the season opened Tinker and I were playing at the original figures offered by chubby Charley.”

Arguing with Browning

The Louisville Courier-Journal recalled in 1908 an incident “When Pete Browning played with the Louisville club.”

Browning, said the paper, was “no prize beauty…still he was sensitive regarding his un-Apollo like appearance and would get angry in a moment if any allusion was made to his lack of pulchritude.”

petebrowning

Pete Browning

During a game in Cincinnati, umpire John Gaffney called Browning out on strikes.

 “The big fellow rushed up the umpire roaring like a toreador stuck bull.  But John Gaffney was afraid of no living man, and he ruled the field with a rod of iron, but he was also a reasonable man and would explain his decisions.  However, Pete would listen to no explanations.  Finally, Gaffney became angry, and walking up to Browning, he shook his finger in his face and said:

“’I would like to have a photograph of your face, Browning.’

“’And for why,’ shot back Pete, who was taken wholly by surprise, and began to color up when allusion was made to his face.

“’Why, I have a chicken farm back home,’ said Gaffney, ‘and I would like to put your picture in the coop so as to frighten eggs out of the hens.’”

“The Draft is Worrying the Baseball Players a lot.” 

28 Jun

John Brinsley “J.B.” Sheridan of The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said the war in Europe was on every ballplayer’s mind in the summer of 1917:

“The draft is worrying the baseball players a lot.  They do not want, as a whole, to go into the army. Not that they are afraid.  Not at all.  But every baseball player knows that one month’s absence from the game is very liable to end his playing career.  A baseball player must keep training all the time, never miss a day if he can, or get out of the game.”

Cardinals’ pitcher Bill Doak agreed:

“Ballplayers are all fearful of the draft, not because they are cowards or do not want to serve their country, but because they feel if they miss one week of training or play, catch cold, are stiffened up or even slightly wounded they are done as athletes.

“I may say that ballplayers do not worry about death or wounds.  If they are taken into the army and miss one month of spring practice they are practically done.  What may happen thereafter won’t worry them much.  They will know they are through with baseball when they miss training in March 1918.”

 

doak

Bill Doak

 

Doak said when he had “salary differences” with the Cardinals in 1917, he was scared to miss any time with the team:

“I know that I was worried sick about missing training.  In fact, I was so much worried that I packed up and joined the team in Texas a few days after I got there, and took the chance of settling my differences with the manager afterwards.  I did not want to miss that spring training.”

Doak cited examples of players he had spoken to about missing time:

Hans Wagner told me this summer that missing the spring training had slowed him up 30 percent…Frank Baker, the great slugger of the New York Yankees, missed training and daily play in 1915…Baker told me that the loss of training and regular daily play in 1915 had done him a great deal of harm and that when he missed training or regular season again he would quit for good.

“That is the way most ballplayers look at it.  They feel that if they miss a training season they are done.”

wagnerwbat

Honus Wagner

Of his own training regimen, Doak said:

“For myself, I may say that I do not smoke or drink or stay up late and am always taking a little exercise, walking gymnasium work, etc…That won’t help any.  If you want to stay in baseball you must be in the game every minute of the season.  You must go out with the team in the spring, first day, and stick with the team until the last ball is pitched, hit and caught.”

Doak noted that given the small window of time for a ballplayer to earn a living as a professional, they were particularly vulnerable to the impact of military service:

“The young player of 25 or 26 is in a quandary under the draft.  He has spent seven or eight years fitting himself for the position he has, after tremendous effort, obtained.  He may reasonably expect three to seven years more of high salary.  Then comes the draft and he sees his profession swept away from him.

“The moment the ballplayer misses the training season or playing season or gets a cold in his arm or is slightly wounded it is all off with him.

“In other words, the ballplayer kisses his business goodbye when he misses March in the training camps.”

But he concluded:

“Of course, ballplayers owe more to the country than most other men.  They are a fortunate class, well paid, pampered, made much of, given many valuable opportunities.  They owe it to their country, to the game and to themselves to set a good example to the youth of the nation, which looks to them with admiration and respect.  The ballplayers will go.”

Doak, who claimed a dependent family exemption, and who was hampered by a bad back throughout his career, was not drafted during World War I.

“Baseball will Never be a Science”

2 Sep

By 1912, Ed Remley of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram had had enough of talk of “scientific” and “inside” baseball, which he called a “Figment  of writers’ too active brains:”

“This ‘Inside baseball’ stuff and statistical dope that is being given so much space in the low-priced magazines, makes us tired.  Yesterday we read a story in which an attempt was made to prove that when ‘Good Night’ (Frank) Baker came to bat against (Christy) Mathewson (in game 3 of the 1911 World Series) the chances were 367 and 2/5 to 1 against his making a home run.  Once we read a story by (Hugh) Fullerton and Johnny Evers in which those gentlemen attempted to prove that there were just three places, six inches each in width, where a ground hit ball could pass safely through the infield.

"Touching Second," Evers' and Fullerton's collaboration on "Inside Baseball."

“Touching Second,” Evers’ and Fullerton’s collaboration on “Inside Baseball.”

“This line of bunk listens well to the public who attend all their baseball games through the newspapers—we sometimes think they are a majority of the fans—but to the close follower of the game they look like far-fetched attempts to make a story where no story is.  Some of this stuff is so thin that even a schoolboy athlete will snort when he reads, but the magazine editors but it up and illustrate it with cuts borrowed from the sporting page.”

Fullerton

Fullerton

Remley said it wasn’t about baseball, but selling magazines:

“Five years ago about one baseball story in three years drifted into the covers of the big 10-cent monthlies.  Now scarce an issue of any of the popular ones is without its baseball yarn of some character.  It can betoken one of two things, either there is  a stronger interest in baseball  or else the magazine editors are just beginning to wake  up and see its possibilities as a feature.

“If baseball has become a magazine subject because of a natural public demand for that species of pabulum, well and good, and the more of it the public gets the better…On the other hand, if this writing all around the subject of baseball is a result of an exaggerated view of its value on the part of the editors it is going to do the game no good, for the public will soon tire of that kind of hysteria just as it does of anything else that is boomed too much—towns, religions, etc…”

The emphasis on statistics bothered Remley more than anything:

“Meanwhile the fact remains that you can’t reduce the game to figures.  Not even the most skillful statistician can make out the story of a game from the box score.  The figures are an interesting commentary, sometimes, but the real story of baseball will not fit within the box.

“Analyzing the factors which go up to make a successful baseball team, the following ratio is discovered: physical fitness, 20 percent; skill, 60 percent; chance, 20 percent.  That’s mere opinion, too, for the exact ratio never can be determined, but it is evident that some such ratio must obtain.  It is the existence of this large percent of chance in baseball which makes it impossible to reduce the probabilities of the game to figures.  By tossing a dime in the air 2000 times it will be discovered the coin will fall heads up approximately half the time.  Just so, by taking a large enough number of cases generalizations may be arrived at in baseball, but when the attempt is made to apply these generalizations to concrete  cases, the theory falls down. “

Remley concluded:

Baseball will never be a science, therefore, and the attempts to make it appear so are bound to be discredited sooner or later.  It is about time for the magazines to can this statistical dope from their pages.”

The following year, Remley left Fort Worth and joined the staff of The Chicago Inter-Ocean.  Tne Inter-Ocean and The Chicago Record-Herald were consolidated into The Chicago Herald in 1914, and Remley for a time–until his death from pneumonia in 1915–became a co-worker of Hugh Fullerton, whose “inside baseball” he so abhorred.

 

Lost Advertisements–“Come on, Boys!”

10 Jun

holmes

A 1916 advertisement for Holmes’ Milk-Made Bread featuring Walter Johnson.

“Come on, Boys!

“Get a Baseball Outfit for the whole team, Free!

“In order to promote the wholesome habit of eating Holmes’ Milk-Made Bread among the baseball Fans of Washington we have introduced a Great Baseball Outfit Contest.”

In order to win the contest, all 200 of the cards (one in each 10 cent loaf) would have to be collected and returned to the company.

The first prize was a complete set of 10 uniforms, second prize was 10 gloves, third prize was a complete set of catcher’s gear, and fourth prize was a framed sheet of the 200 cards.

The company encouraged kids to:

“Get busy–go around your home folks and friends, and tell them to buy Holmes’ Milk-Made Wrapped Bread every day and save the baseball pictures for you .  With a little hustling on your part, you will soon get the complete collection of pictures and cop out one of the prizes.”

Another ad included pictures of some of the cards–Hughie Jennings, Frank Baker, Johnson, Honus Wagner and Eddie Collins:

holmes'bread

There is no evidence that anyone actually collected 200 cards and won any of the prizes.

The Jim Thorpe card from the set

The Jim Thorpe card from the set

“Soldiers ‘Over There’ Sore on Baseball Players”

25 Jan

In August of 1918 Harry “Moose” McCormick returned to the United States from the front lines in France—he served in the 42nd Infantry, The Rainbow Division, and according to The Washington Herald “has been in the front line trenches for nearly six months.”

Moose McCormick

Moose McCormick

The former outfielder-pinch hitter, who played his final big league game with the New York Giants in 1913, was at the Polo Grounds to watch the Giants sweep a doubleheader from the Boston Braves, and he came to deliver a message; one that had come repeatedly from the general public, but not yet from someone within baseball.

McCormick told reporters that while baseball was hugely popular among the troops in Europe, the major leagues were not.  The Washington Times said, under the headline:

Soldiers ‘Over There’ Sore on Baseball Players

“It may surprise the professional ball players of the United States to know that the American soldiers now fighting in France do not hold them in high esteem; that they do not scramble for news of how the big league races are going, and that they do not care whether (Ty) Cobb, and (Tris) Speaker, and (Frank) Baker are hitting .300 or 3,000.

“The fact that the ball players aren’t hitting in the big, big game across the water is the reason for this feeling.”

The Washington Times said McCormick, then a Lieutenant, “who had just returned from the shell-swept front,” and was in the states “under orders, the nature of which is secret.”

There were various reports as to why McCormick had returned.

The New York Globe said he had come home with “Wound Chevrons on his arm,” having received the badge after being “Mussed up considerably by a German shell.”  The New York Tribune said he had been “Invalided home” suffering from “Shell shock.”  The New York World said he returned with “A hacking cough caused by gas.”

McCormick told reporters:

“The feeling among the boys over there seems generally to be that the ball players haven’t acted on the level.  The soldiers feel that there has been too much evasion, too much hanging back, too much side stepping by the ball players when other men, just as good, have given up paying places and gone into the big game.  That seems to them the ONLY thing for real men just now.

“The boys are generally incensed over the statements they read to the effect that ball players have sought work in munitions plants and shipyards, where they can keep playing ball.  They regard that as ducking, as a sort of dodging of the issue.”

McCormick said, so complete was the disgust with baseball that “Stars and Stripes, the soldiers’ paper, has stopped printing the big league scores and standings.  That, it seems to me, ought to make baseball men, both players and owners, wake up.”

He said the men at the front were still “interested in baseball,” and “like to play ball,” but were having trouble getting enough baseballs:

Baseball game with members of the Twenty-eighth Division, Three Hundred and Second U.S. supply train in France

US Soldiers play in France

Governor (John) Tener sent me two every week, and they were worth their weight in gold.  The soldiers get plenty of chance to play it themselves.  They don’t take any interest in men playing it here anymore.”

McCormick, who would be promoted to the rank of captain by the war’s end, concluded that the consensus at the front was that America’s game had failed the country:

“The talk of the soldiers is that the ball players should have volunteered in a body and made up one big organization and gone into the country’s service to fight right at the start.  That would have been a great thing to do.”

Murphy’s “Billion Dollar Team”

17 Aug

“Money will not buy a pennant winner;” so said William George “Billy” Murphy, the sports editor of The St. Louis Star.  In 1914, he set out to select a team that not even “John D. Rockefeller… (With) all his wealth could buy a club that would win a World’s championship from the one we have picked…The Billion Dollar Team.”

Murphy said:

“You fans of towns that have never won a flag, how would you feel to wake up some morning and find that Dame Fortune had so arranged matters that this club had suddenly been picked to represent your fair city.”

Jimmy Archer, catcher

Behind the plate he acknowledged “There are many who would doubtless pick (John) Chief Meyers…but considering the Indian’s slowness of foot and propensity for clogging up the bases and stealing when the bags are full, we must remark we cannot see the “Chief” for a minute with Jimmy Archer, who, although not so good a hitter, is faster, a quicker thinker, greater fielder and better pegger.”

Jimmy Archer

Jimmy Archer

Murphy was in the minority questioning the baseball intelligence of Meyers, who was widely considered one of the most intelligent and articulate players of his era.  He also rated Ray Schalk and Wally Schang as superior, saying:

“In the writer’s humble opinion they are much more valuable men to their team than Meyers.”

Walter Johnson, pitcher

“There will hardly be a dissenting vote cast against Walter Johnson.  Unquestionably he is the greatest of all the pitchers.

(Charles Chief) Bender and (Christy) Mathewson are also great—great when they should show class—in championship games.  Every nerve, every fiber of their brains, every muscle necessary to their craft, is at its best when big games are being fought.

“Wonderful as they are, we must pick Johnson, who also has class and is game to the core.”

Hal Chase, first base

“For first base, there is only Hal Chase.  He is a great hitter, marvelous fielder, can run the sacks, and is a brilliant tactician.

(John) ‘Stuffy’ McInnis, Jake Daubert, Eddie Konetchy, Fred Merkle, and Jack (Dots) Miller are all stars, but they are ‘also rans’ in the class with Prince Hal of the White Sox.”

Prince Hal of the White Sox

Prince Hal of the White Sox

Eddie Collins, second base

“At second base, Eddie Collins in the potentate.  Johnny Evers, Larry Doyle, and Larry Lajoie occupy seats in the second sackers’ hall of fame, but Collins rules over the roost.”

Honus Wagner, shortstop

“At short, notwithstanding his age, the palm goes to Hans Wagner.  Taken all in all he is still the greatest man at the position in the game.  He can do everything and does it better than any of his contemporaries.  When will we look upon his like again?”

Frank Baker, third base

“At third base, there is that wonderful silent son of swat, Frank Baker, the conqueror of the wonderful Mathewson and Richard (Rube) Marquard.”

Joe Jackson, right field

“In right field we have Joe Jackson, the young Southerner with the Cleveland club.  He is one of the greatest batsmen in the game today and is a fielder and base runner of unusual ability.”

Joe Jackson

Joe Jackson

Ty Cobb, center field

“In center, there is Tyrus Raymond Cobb, the Royston, Georgia marvel, who is the greatest player baseball has ever known.”

Tris Speaker, left field

“And in left field, there is Tris Speaker of the Boston Red Sox—second only to Cobb.”

Lost Advertisements–Bull Durham’s Fan for a Fan

29 May

1913fan

A 1913 advertisement for the “A Fan for A Fan” offer from Bull Durham Tobacco:

Keep Cool at the Ballgame

 Free (for a few days only)

A Fan for a Fan

 To Every Purchaser of a 5 cent sack of “Bull” Durham Tobacco

A realistic imitation of a baseball, with an excellent likeness in colors of some famous baseball player in every fan!  All real baseball “fans” will want this on site!  All the ladies will want them–because these fans are so novel, attractive, and handy to have in hot weather to keep you cool and comfortable!  Go right away to your dealer for a 5 cent muslin sack of “Bull” Durham, and get this “Fam for a Fan,” Free!

In addition to the Christy Mathewson fan featured in the ad,  Ty Cobb, Hal Chase, Frank Baker, and Larry Doyle were also available; the fans themselves included a facsimile signature of the player and no mention of Bull Durham.  Apparently they are rare enough that auctions date them only to “Circa 1910,” and make no mention of them being distributed by the tobacco company.

fan

Chase, Mathewson and Doyle fans from a 2005 auction; the three sold for $3,480.

 

“Is Napoleon Lajoie a Hoodoo?”

14 Nov

Napoleon Lajoie had his share of superstitions and sought to avoid “Hoodoo,” like most players of his era.  But, as Lajoie was winding down his long career, hitting un-Lajoie like .246 for a horrible Philadelphia Athletics team (36-117) in 1916, The Philadelphia Bulletin presented a case that Lajoie himself was the problem:

“Is Napoleon Lajoie a hoodoo?

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

“Several baseball managers and ‘Larry’ himself would like to know the answer.  And here is why:

“Lajoie, for many years recognized as the king of second basemen and dubbed ‘King Larry,’ now has visions of the waning of his baseball star of fame, and he has never played on a pennant-winning team…For years he hit well over the .300 mark—once over .400—was one of the most dangerous men to pitch to in a pinch, and fielded his position around second base in a finished, manner—so finished in fact, that he won the distinction of being the classiest second-sacker in baseball.  Every move of the big Frenchman was grace personified.

“Notwithstanding the fact that he was a star of the first magnitude, ranking with Hans Wagner of Pittsburgh—and they are the two real stars of baseball of former years—he never was able to help his team to the pennant.  So, when Lajoie was sold to Connie Mack dopesters and Larry himself thought he eventually would get into a World Series.  But alas!

“Larry joined the Athletics in the spring of 1915, and while his admirers were expecting him to get back his batting eye, which had apparently been dimmed while he was in Cleveland, Connie Mack decided to tear down his wonderful machine.  (Eddie) Collins, (Ed) Plank, (Charles “Chief”) Bender, (Jack) Coombs, and (Jack) Barry were sold (or released), while (Frank) Baker played bush league ball because Connie would not meet his salary demands, and the famous $100,000 infield of the Athletics was wrecked and the run making machine of the world champions was put out of commission.  And the hopes of Larry and his enthusiastic followers went glimmering.  He is on a tail-end team, just like he was at Cleveland.

“And worst of all from Lajoie’s point of view, the Cleveland team has been holding down first place in the American League for many weeks and is a contender for the pennant.

“The question, ‘Is Napoleon Lajoie a hoodoo?’ Again presents itself.”

While Cleveland was in first place as late as July 12, the Lajoie-hoodoo-free Indians still faltered and finished seventh in 1916.

After Philadelphia’s disastrous season—they finished 54 and a half games back—Lajoie accepted the position of player-manager with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League.  The 42-year-old second baseman hit a league-leading .380 and led the Maple Leafs to the championship in 1917—the first, and only of his career.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #12

3 Nov

The Cost of Superstitions, 1913

John Phalen “Stuffy” McInnis his .324 and drove in 90 runs for the 1913 Philadelphia Athletics, but the first baseman hit just .118—2 for 17—during the World Series.

Stuffy McInnis

Stuffy McInnis

The Washington Post told how one superstition among the athletics players might have contributed to McInnis’ slump:

“Those boys believe that they can change the luck at a crucial moment by hurling their bats in the air and letting them fall where they will.  Probably you fans have often seen them do it.  They also believe that they can keep up their good luck by continuing this practice.

“During the first game, in which (Frank “Home Run”) Baker hit a home run, the Athletics started tossing their bats the minute the ball was hit.  As the bats came down Stuffy McGinnis couldn’t get out of the way in time and one of them struck him in the ankle, causing a painful bruise.  He limped to first base and for a while (Connie) Mack was afraid he couldn’t go on with the game.”

Despite McInnis’ slump, the Athletics beat the Giants four games to one.

The Case against the Spitball, 1905

Baseball’s greatest pitcher hated the games most controversial pitch.  In 1905 Denton True “Cy” Young was quoted in The Sporting Life saying it wouldn’t be long before the pitch disappeared entirely:

“I don’t think the ‘spit ball’ is going to cut a much a figure as was thought early in the season.  Many of the pitchers that were using it at the start of the campaign have cut it now, and from now on the twirlers that use it will be dropping it one by one.  I used it against Philadelphia and Washington and had it working nicely, but it hurt my arm and I have cut it altogether.  An old pitcher like myself has no business using it at all.”

Cy Young

Cy Young

Young said the pitch injured his forearm and said he was not alone.  He claimed Jack Chesbro, George Mullin, (Guy) “Doc” White all received similar injuries.   And Washington’s Case Patten, who a year earlier so loved the pitch The St. Louis Republic said he was often “giving the ball a shower bath preparatory to flinging,” was now saying the pitch “lamed his arm.”

Young said even for those who weren’t injured, the spitter would ultimately lead to pitchers losing “control of his curve ball and his fast ones.”

While Chesbro disagreed with Young’s claim that his arm problems were the result of throwing spitballs, his effectiveness diminished greatly after the injury.

Young’s prediction of the demise of the pitch was premature.  At the time of his statement, Chicago White Sox pitcher “Big Ed” Walsh was perfecting the pitch, which he learned from teammate Elmer Stricklett—who had also been instrumental in Chesbro’s use of the spitter.   Walsh started throwing the spitball regularly in 1906.

Ed Walsh circa

Ed Walsh circa

A month before his death, on his 78th birthday and bed-ridden, Walsh remained an advocate for the pitch Cy Young detested.  He told a reporter for The Associated Press:

“I admire the pitchers today who throw the pitch.  Some people call ‘em cheaters.  They’re not.  They’re just guys doing everything they can to win.”

Wahoo Sam’s Scouting Report, 1914

Coming off of the New York Giants off-season world tour with the Chicago White Sox, the consensus opinion seemed to be that Giants Manager John McGraw did not make a mistake in signing Jim Thorpe, the world’s greatest all-around athlete, to a three-year contract worth–depending on the source—from $5,000 to $6,500 per season.  Many doubted Thorpe’s prospects after he hit just .143 in 19 games for the Giants in 1913.

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe

But, not to worry, said McGraw:

“All Thorpe needed was every day action, instead of idleness, although of course sitting on the bench all summer gave him a chance to learn lots of things that will stand him in good stead later on.”

The baseball world generally agreed with McGraw’s assessment.

Hugh Fullerton predicted Thorpe would be “the most sensational baseball player of 1914.”

Damon Runyon declared Thorpe was “now a star.”

Gustave (G.W.) Axelson, Sports Editor of The Chicago Record-Herald, who traveled with the teams, said of Thorpe’s development during the trip:

“The fans in the United States will see an entirely different kind of player when Thorpe Lines up for the season. “

White Sox pitcher Joe Benz, who played against Thorpe on the tour, agreed saying Thorpe “improved greatly” and would be of “great assistance to the Giants,” in 1914.

But, “Wahoo” Sam Crawford, the Detroit Tigers outfielder who traveled with the tour as a member of the White Sox disagreed with all the glowing accounts of Thorpe’s progress.  The Detroit Times said:

“Thorpe’s speed is all that commends him, according to Sam.  He is not a particularly good fielder, and he cannot hit.  He is not a natural hitter at all, but he gives the bat a little upward chop as he swings at the ball in a way that Crawford never saw any man do before.

“Furthermore Thorpe doesn’t seem to have that baseball instinct that is so necessary for a big league player, say Crawford.  He is a very chesty fellow for a man who has yet to prove that he is of big league caliber, is the assertion made by Wahoo Sam.”

Sam Crawford

Sam Crawford

Crawford’s assessment was the most accurate.  Despite the fanfare that accompanied Thorpe’s return from the tour, Thorpe was never better than a mediocre outfielder (career .951 fielding percentage) and he hit just .252 over parts of nine major league seasons.