Tag Archives: Johnny Evers

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.’”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #23

4 Jun

Evers Shuts Down Donlin

Mike Donlin’s final comeback ended with a final stop with the New York Giants as a coach and pinch hitter.

donlin

Mike Donlin

Frank Menke of Hearst’s International News Service said Donlin tried to get under Johnny Evers’ skin in the last series the Giants played with the Braves:

“Evers, the peppery captain of the Boston Braves, walked up to the plate…watched three strikes whizz by and was declared out.

“’Oh, I say, Johnny,’ chirped up Donlin.  ‘What was you waiting for?’

“Quick as a flash Johnny shot back:

“’I wasn’t waiting for the first and fifteenth of the month so as to get rent money, anyway.’

“The retort hurt Mike who was holding down the job as pinch hitter and coach for the Giants not because of his ability in either department, but through the friendship of Manager (John) McGraw.”

johnnyevers

Johnny Evers,

Donlin appeared in just 35 games for the Giants, all as a pinch hitter, he hit just .161.

Comiskey Can’t Understand Padden

By 1906, Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune said of the importance of “a man whose brain is as agile as his body…Never was this fact so impressed upon me as a few years ago when I was sitting with (Charles) Comiskey.”

comiskeypix

Charles Comiskey

Fullerton and Comiskey were watching the White Sox play the St. Louis Browns:

“Commy was talking, half to himself, about Dick Padden, who was about as quick a thinker as ever played the game.

“’I can’t understand it,’ soliloquized the Old Roman.  ‘He can’t hit. He can’t run. He isn’t good on ground balls.  He’s not any too sure of thrown balls, and his arm is bad.’ He stopped a moment and then added: ‘But he’s a hell of a good ballplayer.’”

padden

Dick Padden

Jones Shuts Down Altrock

Nick Altrock won 20 games for the 1906 White Sox, after an arm injury and his general disinterest in staying in shape, Altrock slipped to 7-13 the following season.

altrockpix

Nick Altrock

Late in 1907, The Washington Evening Star said:

“Altrock is the champion mimic and imitator of the American League…Nick delights to give his various imitations, and much amusement do his companions find in these diversions of Altrock.

“The other day at Chicago, and just a few minutes before the game between the New Yorks and the Windy City aggregation began, the big pitcher was delighting the members of his own team, as well as several of the New York bunch, with his clever imitations of notable people, when he suddenly turned to Fielder Jones, the captain and manager of the Chicagos, and asked:

‘”What shall be my last imitation for the evening, Fielder?’

“’Why,’ replied Jones, with that sober look of his, ‘as I am going to pitch you this evening, Nick, suppose when you get in the box you give us an imitation of a winning pitcher.”

Chicago Cubs, Charity Patients

4 Apr

The Chicago Daily News noted the day Charles Webb Murphy gave up on the idea of his Chicago Cubs winning the 1913 National League pennant.

The local papers had counted the Cubs out for weeks; Murphy hung on until they were mathematically eliminated on September 19:

“Murphy today drew down the advertisement he has been running in the local papers: ‘The Cubs may yet cop the pennant.’”

1913cubs

One of Murphy’s ads

The paper pointed out that they could finish no better than second, but said to do so, “the Cubs will need the services of an earthquake.”

Webb didn’t get his earthquake and quickly found himself at the center of a major scandal just outside the West Side Grounds as the Cubs limped to a third place finish.

The Cubs’ neighbor, Cook County Hospital became the subject of a large-scale corruption investigation that hit the papers just as Webb’s ads were disappearing.

westsidecountyhosp

West Side Grounds, Cook County Hospital is visible beyond the grandstand

An investigation ordered by Cook County Board President Alexander Agnew McCormick had revealed that the hospital’s warden, Henry L. Bailey had, according to The Chicago Inter Ocean, allowed politically connected county residents who could afford medical services to receive treatment for free—he was also accused, but cleared, of pocketing the profits derived from selling corpses for medical research.

On September 22, The Chicago Tribune reported a new charge:

“The investigation will also be directed into the alleged exchange of season tickets to the National League baseball games for free medical attention and medicine for indisposed ballplayers. Investigators have brought in evidence that indicating to them that the million dollar baseball club of Charles Webb Murphy received the same solicitous care as did those undeserving ones who entered the free wards on the personal cards of politicians.”

The Tribune said “a number” of passes “found their way” into the hands of hospital administrators.

Murphy immediately denied that any of his players received free treatment.

charlesmurphy

Charles Webb Murphy

Within a day, The Chicago Evening Post said otherwise:

“The hospital authorities admitted treating members of the Cubs’ team without charge. President Murphy said no ballplayer of his team had ever been treated free at the hospital.

“The records of the hospital show among the charity patients a man named John Evers, American, baseball player, treated for two weeks and discharged from the hospital much improved.

“Another man named Henry Zimmerman, American, baseball player, was entered as a charity patient in the institution several times.

“Another page in the record bore the name of James Sheckard who was treated gratis for a broken finger.”

evers

Johnny Evers

Additionally, The Tribune alleged that “a number of ballplayers had photographs taken of their injuries at no cost.” The paper said x-rays usually cost between $10 and $25, and said it was difficult to say exactly how many players received free x-rays because many names and patient records were falsified, but quoted one record which included a payment waiver and said:

“For Mr. Murphy, by personal order of Henry L. Bailey.”

Murphy dug his heels in and told the papers none of his players received free hospital care.

From New York, Frank Chance took the opportunity to contradict the denials of the owner who he had spent most of 1912 feuding with before being dismissed and sent to the Yankees , telling The Daily News:

“Whenever a Cub player was injured it was customary to go over to the County Hospital and be cared for. I couldn’t attempt to say how many x-ray examinations have been made of the players there. Murphy was always friendly to the officials at the institutions.”

Webb became an early example of waiting out the news cycle,

He never backed down. Never admitted that his players had received free services and the story disappeared later in the fall of 1913. Forgotten forever by the time Murphy sold his interest in the Cubs to to Charles Phelps Taft before the 1914 season.

Chance versus Mack II

2 Nov

After explaining some of Frank Chance’s best virtues in a 1910 article in The Chicago Herald, Johnny Evers got down to explaining why he felt his manager was superior to the manager of the Cubs’ World Series opponent:

Johnny Evers

Johnny Evers

Connie Mack, and my information comes from men in the American League, directs the play of his team by a series of signals given from the bench.

“We will say, for instance, that a Philadelphia player reaches first.  From that moment he has two things to do.  First, he must watch the pitcher.  And with a man like (Mordecai) Brown on the slab, this alone is sufficient to keep a man busy.  In addition to this, he must also watch Connie Mack, who, by a signal, given with a scorecard, by the crossing of his legs or something of the sort, tells him that he must steal on the next ball, that the hit and run will be tried, or signals some other play.  That method keeps the base runner’s attention divided between the bench and the pitcher.  He dares not take his eyes off of either.

“With Chance it is different.  He has his signals so perfected that all the base runner must do is to watch the man following.

Frank Chance

Frank Chance

“Say that Cub player reaches first.  When the next batter goes to the plate he has been instructed as to what is expected of him and also what is expected of the base runner.

“And it becomes his duty to signal the man on the bases concerning his duty.

“Maybe Chance has told the man going up to try the hit and run on the second ball.  The batter slips the signal to the man on the base…And since (the batter) and the pitcher are on  a line, you can see that the whole process is simplified.”

Evers said Chance’s system was better because “it makes it all the more difficult” for opponents to steal signs.

He said his manager was also not rigid in his orders, which “won him the enduring friendship of his men.”  And Chance rarely sent players to the plate “with ironclad instruction.”

Evers said:

“He tells you to do the unexpected, and that if you believe you can catch the enemy unawares to do it.  That is the reason that the Cubs ‘pull off’ plays.”

Evers said of managers in general:

“I have played under the playing manager and under the man who manages from the bench, and I can’t for the life of me see where the latter is nearly as effective as the playing leader.

(Frank) Selee was a bench manager and a good one in his prime.  Yet he was never part of the play as Chance is, and the reason was because he was not on the field.  Even after the ball is hit the playing manager has an opportunity of instructing his players.

“He can tell where to make the play.  It’s utterly impossible for a bench manager to do this.  Again, the playing manager at a critical stage of the game, and especially if he is playing an infield position, as Chance does, can issue instructions to the pitcher, telling him what and where to pitch.  He can do this in a natural manner and without attracting the attention of the crowd.”

Evers noted that for Mack to do the same:

Connie Mack

Connie Mack

“(H)e would have to stop the game and send some player to the diamond.  That procedure never did any pitcher any good.

“Say that there is a man on second or third and that a dangerous man is up.  I have heard Chance tell the pitcher to make the batter hit a bad one, and if the man at the plate refused that it would be alright if he was passed.  Mack could not do this.  It would be too complicated for signals.  About all he could do would be to signal the pitcher to pass the man.

“Connie Mack may have excellent judgment in the selection of his pitchers and in appraising the value of his men, but I am confident that he has nothing on Manager Chance in this department of the game.

“The Chicago man is adept at picking the man who is ‘right.’  Time and again I have known the fellows to pick a certain man to pitch and Chance would select some other.  But he usually picked the right one, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind but that he will pick the right ones in the big series.”

The bench manager beat the playing manager in the 1910 series;  Mack and the Athletics beat Chance and the Cubs four games to one.

Chance versus Mack

31 Oct

On the eve of the 1910 World Series, Chicago Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers made the case in The Chicago Herald that his manager was better than the manager of their American League opponent:

Johnny Evers,

Johnny Evers,

“It is but natural that I should favor Chance.  Just the same sentiment alone does not sway me when I say that he will outwit Connie Mack and that his managerial ability will be one of the greatest assets of the Cubs.

“Chance is without an equal in putting fight into a team.  Here is a concrete example of his ability to fight against odds.  Incidentally, it throws a mighty interesting sidelight into our fight for the pennant of 1908.

“In the latter part of the season, we were playing in Philadelphia.  We lost a game which seemed to put us hopelessly out of the race.”

After losing 2 to 1 to the Phillies on September 18, the Cubs dropped 4 and ½ games behind the league-leading New York Giants.

“In those days we were riding to and from the grounds in carriages and we were pretty thoroughly licked that evening.

“We didn’t have a thing to say, for it seemed that our last hope had vanished and that we could not possibly get into the World Series.

“I think it was (Joe) Tinker who finally broke the silence.  ‘Well, cap, we are done and we might as well celebrate our losing tonight,’ he said.

“Chance thought a few minute.  ‘No, we won’t,’ he answered.  ‘Boys, we have been pretty good winners.  Now let’s show the people that we can be good losers.  Let’s show then that we never give up; that we are never beaten.  Let’s show then we play as hard when we lose as when we win, and that we fight for the pure love of fighting, whether it means victory or defeat.’

“Well, sir, you can’t imagine how that cheered us.  We did fight and the baseball world knows that we won.”

Frank Chance

Frank Chance

The Cubs went 13-2 after that loss to the Phillies, setting the stage for the October 8 game with the Giants to decide the pennant—the replay of the September 23, Merkle’s boner game:

“Chance’s ability as a fighter is not his only asset, for he mixes shrewdness with his fighting.

“And to my mind, he never gave a better illustration of his shrewdness than he did on that memorable afternoon that we met the giants in that single game.”

Evers said “a scheme had been framed up to beat” the Cubs, and when the team was six minutes into their allotted 20 minute of batting practice:

(John) McGraw came up with bat and ball. We were told that we had been given all the time that was ours and would have to quit.  Well, we were careful to find out just how long we had been batting, and Manager Chance then went up to protest.

Joe McGinnity, the old pitcher, shoved him from the plate and struck him on the chest with a bat.  The first impulse of Chance was to strike back.  He restrained himself, and, looking the old pitcher squarely in the eye, he told him that he would smash his nose the first time they met outside the ballpark.

Joe McGinnity

Joe McGinnity

“Chance returned to the bench and we talked it over.  Chance guessed the scheme in an instant, and within a few hours what we suspected became a fact.  McGinnity was there to invite an attack.  Had Chance fought him, a policeman would have been called and both men would have been escorted from the field.  The Giants would have lost a man they had no intention of losing, while the Cubs would have lost their manager as well as their first baseman, and the team would have been demoralized.”

Evers said Chance’s restraint “gave me a better insight into his real character than anything I ever witnessed before.”

Evers continues making his case for Chance on Wednesday.

A Pair of Reveries

5 Sep

A couple of lost baseball poems on a holiday:

Grantland Rice, in The New York Tribune, 1919:

By Way of Revery

But yesterday I watched them start,

Young wonders all in serried row;

By now I’ve seen them all depart–

The years flow faster than we know

For I remember, young and slim,

How Matty gathered game by game;

Today how many mention him?

The years flow faster than all fame.

Matty

Matty

Where Wagner swung out for his blow–

Where Larry leaned against the ball–

How swift they were last week or so–

The years flow faster than them all.

Today, fresh from the corner lot,

We praise some youngster on the team;

Tomorrow’s page will know him not–

The years flow faster than we dream.

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

And five years earlier, Ed Remley of The Chicago Inter-Ocean was nostalgic for Cubs teams past:

Reverie

I was feeling both dusty and bare–

rocky and sober

And the stands were both

The stands were deserted and bare;

‘Twas a day like in lonesome October

And nineteen-fourteen was the year;

I was out at the Cubs’ lonely ballpark

And the ghosts of gone heroes were there;

It was out at the Cubs’ lonesome ballpark

And the Cubs played a ball game out there.

I was sleepy and fell in a trance;

I saw Tinker and Evers and Chance.

Tinker, Evers and Chance

Tinker, Evers and Chance

Is that Steinfeldt or just Heinie Zim?

Well, it looks much like Harry.  It’s him;

Old Mordecai Brown did a dance

On the rubber–a one-step and prance–

And the ball shot to Kling

Like a hell-possessed thing;

I saw all of this stuff at a glance.

But I woke–ouch, I woke from the dream

And I gazed at the laboring team–

Well, they looked pretty good,

But I wished that I could

See again the sweet team of my dream.

“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.

 

“We had to take a Bath with the Cows and the Pigs”

6 Jul

Johnny Evers was another in a long line of former players who felt baseball began to decline sometime around the day they stopped playing.

In 1931, he made his case to reporter James L. Kilgallen of the International News Service.  Kilgallen, called “an editor’s dream of a reporter,” by Damon Runyon, occasionally wrote about baseball in between covering, as he said, “every conceivable type of story in this country and abroad.” He was also the father of columnist Dorothy Kilgallen.

James L. Kilgallen

James L. Kilgallen

Evers told him:

“What a cinch they have nowadays.  And look at the dough they get.  Today everything is hunky dory for the ballplayer who makes the big league grade.  Fine hotels.  Excellent grub.  Best trains.  Pullman accommodations.  Taxi’s to the ballparks.

“What a difference from the old days, why, do you know when I used to play with the Cubs we had to take a bath with the cows and the pigs in that old West Side ballpark in Chicago.  No needle shower baths for us in those days.”

Kilgallen said of the former Cubs second baseman:

“I found Evers an interesting personality.  He did not display any bitterness when he compared the game today with his time.  Rather there was a note of surprise in his conversation because of the fact he does not believe the players now in the major leagues appreciate the easy comforts they enjoy in these times and the sensational salaries they receive.

“Evers used to be a slim, nervous, crabby little player, full of the old fight when he was in his prime.  The National League never had a scrappier player and he can be pardoned for showing impatience for the ‘easy come easy go’ attitude of some of the players of today.  Evers, now a middle-aged man is still well-preserved.  He is heavier of course but he has no paunch.  The glint in his light blue eyes is not as combative as it used to be but the old, aggressive underslung jaw of his suggests there’s a lot of scrap left in the old boy yet.”

Johnny Evers

Johnny Evers

As for that “easy come easy go attitude” of current players, Evers said “With a tinge of asperity in his voice:”

“It used to be an honor to break into the big leagues.  Nowadays, however, a lot of fellows who are signed up take it as a matter of course.  They don’t seem to feel the pride in our uniforms that we used to in the old days.  Today they play for a big batting average, knowing that when they talk salaries it’s their batting average that governs their pay to a large extent.”

The man who co-authored a book with the subtitle “The Science of Baseball,” had something to say about that as well:

“And if I do say it myself, we played as good ball—if not better—than they do today.  We played more scientific ball, at any rate.”

In the end, the not “bitter” Evers was convinced that many of the players who followed in his footsteps just didn’t care that much about playing the game:

“A stool pigeon is just what a lot of fellows in uniform develop into.  This type sit on the bench month in and month out, and don’t seem to care whether they are in the lineup or not.  They’d have to keep me out of the lineup.  That’s the way we all used to be.  Fighters for our place on the team.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things–Lost Quotes

30 Jun

The Detroit Free Press had no love for Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings, and observed in 1888:

“The majority of the Chicago players are courteous, gentlemanly fellows, and as Anson naturally finds no pleasure in their companionship he is generally rather lonesome.”

Cap Anson

Cap Anson

The Cincinnati Enquirer had a similarly low view of the entire White Stockings team in 1879:

“The Boston Herald says the greatest trouble with the new Chicago nine will be able to tell whether it will try to win.  We think its greatest problem will be whether or not it will keep sober.”

Charles Webb Murphy was often asked after giving up his interest in the Chicago Cubs if he regretted leaving baseball for much less glamorous businesses.  In 1914, Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner said Murphy answered the question by telling people:

 Charles Webb Murphy

Charles Webb Murphy

“Well, not one of my gravel pits has jumped to the Federal League.”

Arthur Irwin was one of the best-known scouts of his time, but by 1912, he declared that most of the good players were gone:

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

“Scouting isn’t like it used to be.  There was a time when a man could go through the bushes and pick up all kinds of men; but times have changed since then.  The scout who is lucky to pick up one really good ballplayer in a season can congratulate himself and feel satisfied he has earned his salary.”

Fred Clarke gave a toast on Honus Wagner’s 42nd birthday.  The Pittsburgh Press quoted him:

“During all the years we played together I never knew him to make a wrong play.”

Wagner

Honus Wagner

The previous year’s celebration of Wagner’s birthday included this quote in a letter from Johnny Evers:

“You hear about ‘second’ Cobbs, ’another’ Lajoie, but you never hear about ‘second’ Wagner’s. Why?  Simply because there never will be a second Wagner.”

“Playing the Third Base is Pretty much of a Gamble”

22 Jun

In May of 1911, Chicago Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers suffered a mental breakdown—The Chicago Daily News said that in a letter to club President Charles Webb Murphy:

“Evers complains that his nerves are completely gone.  He is unable to remain on his feet for 10 minutes at a time and the attack is so severe that it has caused large swellings about his face.”

Evers rejoined the team in June, but his condition required another five-week absence from the team in July and August, resulting in him being limited to just 46 games, including 11 at third base—he had previously played the position just three times during his career.

Johnny Evers

Johnny Evers

Late in the season he talked to a reporter from The Chicago Evening Post about playing third:

“Right now it strikes me that there is more luck in playing third base.  You get them or you don’t.  I mean by that the hot shots. When one of those line drives or swift bounders comes at you the isn’t time to play the ball.  You leap and knock the ball down if you can.  If it isn’t right at you it is past you so quickly that you can’t get a square crack at it.”

“Playing the third base is pretty much of a gamble.  If the ball happens to be hit right at you then you get it.  Otherwise, there is nothing doing.”

Evers compared it to his usual position at second base:

“Down on second, it is different.  There you have to play the ball, come in or go back.  That’s one condition which makes the play at third more difficult than at second.

“There is a whole lot more inside baseball at second then there is at third. You play in for a bunt or you play deep.  There is no moving to right or to left.  When you are at second you have more opportunities. You study the batter and you play him accordingly.  Maybe you take a step or two nearer second or a step or two nearer first.

Johnny Evers,

Evers

“Nothing like that at third.  You play in for a bunt or you play back for a clout.

“When it comes to throwing, third base is by far more difficult than second…And the difficulty is not in making the throw so much as it is that a man scarcely has enough to do to keep his arm in shape.  It is this which makes it so much easier for a man to injure his arm playing third.  We’ll say that he goes six or seven innings without a ball being hit to him.  In the eighth or ninth he grabs the ball and checks it to first.  The chances of injuring his arm on a play like that are greater…Down at second base, a man probably handled the ball 20 times.”

In the end, he was not ready for a permanent switch:

“After playing both positions it is my opinion that second base overshadows third as a place for inside baseball.  There is where a man has opportunities of applying his knowledge of batters.  It is the position where he can play the ball as well as the batter.  At third a man attempts to stab a fierce drive.  If he succeeds all well and good, and if he doesn’t, he can turn and watch the outfielder chase it.  It’s hit or miss.”

Evers never mastered third base; he made three errors in 31 chances during those 11 games in 1911—and committed eight errors in 61 total chances in the 21 games he played at third throughout his career, an .869 fielding percentage at the position.

In 1912, fully recovered–he told reports he “felt nothing from his breakdown,” Evers appeared in 143 games, and had his best season at the plate, hitting .341.