Tag Archives: James Sherman

“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.

 

Congress Plays Ball

11 Mar

On July 16, 1909, the United States Congress took over Washington’s American League Park.  More than 1000 Washingtonians paid 75 cents to watch Democrats and Republicans in, what The Washington Post called an “affair (that) was advertised as a ball game.”

The Washington Herald said:

 “Hurrah for the Democratic party!

”No joking—the faithful followers of Jefferson, or whoever it was that gave (William Jennings) Bryan’s friends their principles, certainly did do things to the tried and true lieutenants of Speaker (Joseph Gurney) Cannon at the National Park yesterday afternoon, when two baseball teams composed of members of the House of Representatives fought it out for seven innings in some of the hottest rays Old Sol has dealt out to Washington this summer.”

[…]

“Republicans and Democrats alike were free traders, so far as errors and two or three base hits were concerned.”

The game ended after seven innings, the Democrats winning 26-16.

The Democrats

The Democrats

The Associated Press (AP) said:

“More varieties of baseball were played in that game than ever crowded into seven innings before and strange as it may seem not all of the varieties were bad.  The Democrats put up a rattling good game in the field—sometimes.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

The AP said one of the highlights of the game was the collision between Republican catcher James F. Burke (PA) and pitcher Joseph H. Gaines (WV) in front of home plate on a pop up, “While (Burke) and the pitcher were doing the ‘Alphonse and Gaston,’ three Democrats with a warped idea of chivalrous courtesy raced home.”

The Republicans

The Republicans

The Washington Times was more critical of the abilities of the lawmakers, singling out several:

“Before going further it is necessary to state that for the Democrats the man who attracted the most unfavorable notice was Handsome (James Thomas) Heflin of Alabama, who, with the help of a collie dog, covered left field for his party in a lamentable, sad and sorrowful style.  Heflin is tall and stout, and not to say sebaceous, and he and the dog went on the principle that they could catch every fly and stop every grounder by simply staring the ball out of countenance.  Heflin played the position like a merycotherium.  He probably does not know what that mean, but a glance at the dictionary reveals it to be an animal like a rhinoceros, ruminant, contemplative and far from agile.”

Nick Longworth (OH), who was dressed in a golfing suit, and hit at the ball as if he thought it had been teed for him (he struck out twice) is suffering this afternoon from a wrenched erector spinae muscle, caused by continually looking up and seeing flies, which he had misjudged go sailing over his head in center field.”

congressman Longworth at the plate.

Congressman Longworth at the plate, Congressman Kinkead is the catcher

The Times said, in general:

“Most of the players in trying to catch the ball held up their hand as if they expected someone to place in them very gently a salary check or a piece of pie.  On grounders they all had holes in their legs and could not stop a thing.”

Despite the overall criticism, the paper did mention three players on each team for being, at least, passable on the field.

Among the three Republicans was former big league pitcher, turned Pennsylvania Congressman, John Tener who played shortstop and had two hits and made just one of his team’s nine errors.  The other two Republican standouts were Albert F. Dawson of Iowa and Leonard Paul Howland of Ohio.

The three ”best fielders” among the  Democrats were Eugene F. Kinkead and William Hughes  of New Jersey and William Oldfield of Arkansas.

Congressman Hushes at the plate.

Congressman Hughes at the plate.

The game raised $320.55 to for the Washington Playgrounds Association “for the benefit of the children of Washington.”

The nation’s biggest baseball fan, President William Howard Taft skipped the game to play golf with Vice President James S. Sherman.