Tag Archives: Fred Lieb

The Story of the Story of Browning’s bat

12 Aug

On the Louisville Slugger website, the simple story of how 17-year-old Bud Hillerich “changed the game of baseball forever,” is told.

According to company, Hillerich watched Browning break his bat during a Louisville Eclipse game in 1884, and offered to make him a new one—Browning sat at his side as he made the bat, and with that, “one of the most iconic brands,” was born.

browning2

Pete Browning

That humble origin story was not enough for two of the most prominent baseball writers of the 1920s, who both told their readers more dramatic versions of the story nearly 20 years after Browning’s death.

Fred Lieb, then sports editor of The New York Telegram, told his version in February of 1923 as part of a series of articles he wrote on the game’s history for the Al Munro Elias Sports Bureau:

lieb

Fred Lieb

“They still tell a story around the Hillerich and Bradsby factory in Louisville about Pete when he came in one night and would not leave the factory until they had made him a new bat.”

Lieb said Browning was “brooding,” having cracked “his most successful bat,” and walked to the factory:

“(F)ortunately, some of the men were working. He insisted that one of the workmen leave his lathe and get busy on making him a new bat. Personally, he selected the piece of timber and then had it put on the lathe.

“He had his old bat with him as a model, and insisted the new bludgeon be an exact duplicate. From time to time he would have it taken out of the lathe to see how it ‘felt.’ Then he would want a little more taken off here and a little more there. If too much was taken off, then an entirely new club would be prepared.

“It was early in the morning when he left the factory satisfied and happy. An exact duplicate of his lucky bat had been reproduced.”

And while the “official” story on the company website says Browning had “a trio of hits,” the following game, Lieb did them one better:

“That afternoon he slapped out four hits.”

Lieb closed by asking his readers:

“Can anyone imagine a player of today staying up all night to superintend the making of a new bat?”

One year later, just after Bud’s father, John Frederick “Fred,” Hillerich died, Bozeman Bulger, the sports editor of The New York World, who also wrote a nationally syndicated column, further embellished the story.

bulger

Bozeman Bulger

In Bulger’s version, it was Fred who “never tired of telling the story of Browning’s night visit to the then small factory,” in Louisville:

“His favorite bat had been cracked. None other would do.”

In Bulger’s story, Browning arrived just as the factory workers were leaving.

“’I got to have a bat, and have it tonight,’ said Pete, ‘or I can’t sleep. If I don’t get my hits tomorrow, I’ll go daffy.’”

After Browning, “with an expert eye,” picked out the piece of timber “having the most solid wood,” the shop foreman told him:

“’(W)e’ll turn it for you tomorrow. We know your model.’”

In Bulger’s version, Browning had not brought the broken bat with him:

“’Tomorrow,’ exclaimed Browning. ‘Listen, I don’t care what it costs, and I’ll but supper for the gang. You fellows stay here and get the man on the lathe. I want that bat turned just right. But I’ve got to have it tonight.”

After feeding the factory workers, “The foreman and the lathe man,” returned to the factory with Browning, and after “They turned the stick again and again,” Browning said the bat “felt just right.”

It was “well after midnight,” and in Bulger’s version, Browning also had four hits that day, and soon “Others took up the fad.”

Six months after Fred’s death,  his hometown paper, The Louisville Courier-Journal, in a long article, under the headline “Baseball bat industry brings fame to city,” told the story.

In this version it was not Hillerich, but one of “the turners” who was “an ardent fan,” who stayed late to make Browning’s bat. When it was to his liking, Browning was so pleased with the bat he left with it “without waiting for the final polishing.” The paper qualified the claim about Browning’s performance the following day, saying “Tradition has it,” that he had four hits.

Lieb, Bulger, and The Courier-Journal did not mention Hillerich attending the Eclipse game on the day in question.

Bud Hillerich, who spent his winters in Florida, told his version the story to The Miami Herald in 1944.

budhillerich

Bud Hillerich

In his own telling, he doesn’t mention having attended the game that day, but instead says Browning approached his father about making a bat:

“Dad refused. He said, ‘we don’t have time to turn out such junk. Besides baseball is just a passing fancy. But if you can find my son, Bud, he might make a bat for you.”

Bud Hillerich died in 1946 in Chicago, en route to the winter meeting in Los Angeles, his obituary in The Courier-Journal failed to mention the Browning story.

“The Longest Three-bagger on Record”

11 Feb

Babe Ruth was the reason American League Umpire Billy Evans called for a rule change after the 1918 season.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

Ruth tied Philadelphia Athletics outfielder Clarence “Tillie” Walker for the league lead with 11 home runs, but Ruth was not given credit for what would have been number 12 on July 8.

Ruth’s Red Sox were in a scoreless tie with the Cleveland Indians in the tenth innings of the first game of a doubleheader.  Stan Coveleski gave up a single to Amos Strunk with one out, and Ruth came to the plate.

The Boston Post said:

“Coveleski will probably hear the crash of Ruth’s bat for many a day.  The ball sped like a bullet far into the right field bleachers almost to the top.”

The Boston Globe said:

“It is getting so now that Ruth is the man of the hour every day.  His mighty crash into the right field bleachers in the 10th inning drove Strunk home.”

Ruth’s blast landed more than half way up into the right field bleachers, and The Boston Herald said a ball had never been hit further at Fenway Park, but noted, because Strunk had crossed the plate with the winning run “The best the scorers could give Ruth was a triple;” or, as The Post called it “The longest three-bagger on record.”

The box score

The box score

That winter, in his nationally syndicated column, Evans called Ruth’s “triple:”

“(O)ne of the longest drives I have ever seen.

“If there was a real, genuine, sure-enough home run, that wallop was the last word.  It was the longest drive Ruth made for the season, yet in the records he is credited with only a three-base hit.”

Ruth hit

Ruth hit “The longest three-bagger on record.”

To Evans, the solution was simple:

“I believe a more just scoring would have had the final result 2 to 0 in favor of Boston.  I believe a rule should be made which said that when a ball was knocked over the fence, or into the bleachers in an extra-inning game, all runners on the bases, as well as the batsman, should be entitles to score.”

For any present day fan, Evans’ suggestion sounds like common sense.  But, in 1918 it was criticized in many quarters.  One of the biggest critics of the potential rule change was William Blythe Hanna of The New York Herald.  Hanna said the rule change would go against everything the game stood for:

“Nothing could smack more of sophism than such advocacy.  Ball games end when the winning run crosses the plate, and any juggling with the rules to give a man a home run under the circumstances noted would be making the game subordinate to individual feats, which, of course, would be contrary to all the well-founded tenets of sport, discipline and organization.  It is surprising that a man of Evans’ intelligence could take so specious, so fallacious a view.”

Evans suggested his proposed rule change again in a column the following year, and sportswriter Fred Lieb of The New York Sun—a non-voting member of the rules committee—introduced the proposal.  The final roadblock was committee member and National League umpire Hank O‘Day, who according to Lieb insisted “I’m telling you, it is illegal.  You can’t score runs after the game is over!”

Despite O’Day’s objection the rule change was officially enacted by the Rules Committee on February 9, 1920 in Chicago.  Hanna had his final word on the rule the following day in The Herald:

 “This is a radical departure, and it is by no means a sure thing that is was based on sound reasoning.”

Irwin Howe

3 Feb

irwinhowebb

 

Irwin M. Howe founded Howe News Service in Chicago in 1910, published an annual record book and served as the primary statistician for several minor leagues, including the Western and the Three-I leagues.

After the 1911 season American League Secretary Robert McRoy, who was responsible for compiling statistics, left the league office to become an executive with the Boston Red Sox.  President Ban Johnson named Howe the league’s statistician; he served in that capacity until his death in 1934.

Irwin Howe

Irwin Howe

Howe leveraged his position with the American League.  He became the official statistician of several more leagues, including the American Association and the Federal League, wrote a nationally syndicated column called “Pennant Winning Plays,” became editor of the annual “Wilson Baseball Record and Rule Book,” and published an instructional pamphlet for kids.

The ad from 1914 pictured above is for Howe’s 48-page “Pitching Course,” which he called “A correspondence school for baseball.” The pamphlets sold for one dollar, but were also offered by many small newspapers across the country for free to children who signed up subscribers (the pictured ad is from The Commoner, the Lincoln, Nebraska newspaper published by William Jennings Bryan).

Boys Learn Scientific Baseball Free

Ed Walsh of the Chicago White Sox will teach you the detail of his Spit Ball

Joe Wood of the Boston World Champions (1912) will teach you his great secret of breaking over his world famous Smoke Ball

Walter Johnson of the Washingtonians will teach you how to acquire and maintain speed

“Nap” Rucker of the Brooklyns will teach you the mastery of his famous knuckler

Christy Mathewson of the N.Y. Giants will explain fully his Fadeawy Ball

These lessons are so plain, practical and so profusely illustrated, that by following the instructions given, you can not only develop pitching ability…You will also learn to Increase Your Batting Average and more effectively Hit Any Pitcher.  Every lesson edited by Irwin M. Howe, the official statistician of the American League, the new Federal League and there organizations and an Eminent Authority on Baseball.

The pamphlet also included a lesson from Guy Harris “Doc” White of the Chicago White Sox “which deals in part with proper methods of training and living.”

Howe claimed his one dollar pamphlet was “Well worth $100 to any man or boy whether or not he ever expects to become a big ball player.”

Howe's pamphlet

Howe’s pamphlet

Perhaps Howe’s most famous contribution to baseball was certifying Ty Cobb as a .400 hitter in 1922.

On a rainy day in New York (years later in his book “Baseball as I Have Known It,” Fred Lieb said the game took place in August—contemporary newspaper accounts say it was May 15), Cobb beat out a ground ball hit to Yankee shortstop Everett Scott.  John Kieran of The New York Tribune (he was later a columnist with The New York Times) was the official scorer.  He charged Scott with an error.

Fred Lieb of The New York Telegram, who was compiling The Associated Press (AP) box score for the game, credited Cobb with a hit.  Lieb said “Considering the soggy field and Cobb’s speed, I gave it a hit.”

Fred Lieb

Fred Lieb

Howe’s habit was to rely upon The AP box score that appeared in the Chicago newspapers while awaiting the arrival of the “official” box score by mail.

When compiling the final averages at the end of the season Howe chose to accept Lieb’s scoring of the game rather than Kieran’s, and released a statement with the season’s final statistics:

 “I noted that the averages reached from my official scoring sheets had Cobb hitting .3995 (actually .3992).  With the unofficial averages giving him .401, I felt how can we deprive this great player of a third .400 average over a fractional point.”

Ban Johnson approved Howe’s decision.  Lieb, as president of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s (BBWAA) New York chapter was put in the uncomfortable position of attempting to repudiate his own scoring judgment.  He argued that the Kieran’s “official” score should be accepted, and said in a statement:

“Obviously, when there was a difference of opinion between the two scorers, the official and not the unofficial decision, should have been accepted.  There would be no further need for members of the Baseball Writers Association serving as official scorers if they were regulated to a secondary position.”

In a letter to Lieb, Ban Johnson said the “official” box score “was plainly in error in one other particular” besides the Cobb “hit” and “I requested a report of the official score of the game of May 15.  Mr. Howe had previously made a careful investigation of all facts surrounding the scoring.”  Johnson also chided Lieb asking “Are we to believe that you reversed your judgment at this late date?”

The 1923 “Wilson Record and Rule Book”–edited by Howe–contained an asterisk next to Cobb’s .401 average and noted that it was “not recognized” by the BBWAA—Howe was secretary of the association’s Chicago chapter.

The asterisk eventually disappeared, and Ty Cobb, thanks to Howe’s decision,  remains a .400 hitter for the 1922 season.