Tag Archives: Frank Baker

“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.

Lost Advertisements–25 Pictures of the Baseball Stars

15 Nov

bostonstoreadAn April 1917 advertisement for the Boston Store baseball card set at the chain’s Chicago store located on Madison Street between State and Dearborn. The 200 card set was sold in groups of 25 for 2 cents. This ad was for cards numbers 1 through 25.

 

bostonstore

“Most every Fan will want a set, and surely every boy in town will–for baseball is destined to be more popular than ever before.  Here are 25 pictures, each size 3 1/4 x 2 inches, that look exactly like photographs, all new and up-to-date, of the most popular players at the very low price of 2 cents.

“You won’t take a quarter or more for the set once you see it.  Special to-day on Seventh Floor (No Mail or Telephone Orders Filled).  While 5,000 sets last at the extremely low price of 2 cents for the set of 25 pictures.”

 

Joe Benz, Chicago White Sox, Boston Store card

Joe Benz, Chicago White Sox, Boston Store card

The Boston Store card reverse

The Boston Store card reverse

 

The First 25:

Sam Agnew

Grover C. Alexander

W.E. Alexander

Leon Ames

Fred Anderson

Ed Appleton

Jimmy Archer

Jimmy Austin

Jim Bagby

H.D. Baird

Frank Baker

Dave Bancroft

Jack Barry

Joe Benz

Al Betzel

Ping Bodie

Joe Boehling

Eddie Burns

George Burns

George J. Burns

Joe Bush

Owen Bush

Bobbie Byrne

Forrest Cady

Max Carey